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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 42

Great Expectations

Chapter 42

"Dear boy and Pip's comrade. I am not a-going fur to tell you my

life, like a song or a story-book. But to give it you short and

handy, I'll put it at once into a mouthful of English. In jail and

out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail.

There, you got it. That's my life pretty much, down to such times

as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend.

"I've been done everything to, pretty well - except hanged. I've

been locked up, as much as a silver tea-kettle. I've been carted

here and carted there, and put out of this town and put out of that

town, and stuck in the stocks, and whipped and worried and drove.

I've no more notion where I was born, than you have - if so much. I

first become aware of myself, down in Essex, a thieving turnips for

my living. Summun had run away from me - a man - a tinker - and

he'd took the fire with him, and left me wery cold.

"I know'd my name to be Magwitch, chrisen'd Abel. How did I know

it? Much as I know'd the birds' names in the hedges to be

chaffinch, sparrer, thrush. I might have thought it was all lies

together, only as the birds' names come out true, I supposed mine


"So fur as I could find, there warn't a soul that see young Abel

Magwitch, with us little on him as in him, but wot caught fright at

him, and either drove him off, or took him up. I was took up, took

up, took up, to that extent that I reg'larly grow'd up took up.

"This is the way it was, that when I was a ragged little creetur as

much to be pitied as ever I see (not that I looked in the glass,

for there warn't many insides of furnished houses known to me), I

got the name of being hardened. "This is a terrible hardened one,"

they says to prison wisitors, picking out me. "May be said to live

in jails, this boy. "Then they looked at me, and I looked at them,

and they measured my head, some on 'em - they had better a-measured

my stomach - and others on 'em giv me tracts what I couldn't read,

and made me speeches what I couldn't understand. They always went

on agen me about the Devil. But what the Devil was I to do? I must

put something into my stomach, mustn't I? - Howsomever, I'm a

getting low, and I know what's due. Dear boy and Pip's comrade,

don't you be afeerd of me being low.

"Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could -

though that warn't as often as you may think, till you put the

question whether you would ha' been over-ready to give me work

yourselves - a bit of a poacher, a bit of a labourer, a bit of a

waggoner, a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most

things that don't pay and lead to trouble, I got to be a man. A

deserting soldier in a Traveller's Rest, what lay hid up to the

chin under a lot of taturs, learnt me to read; and a travelling

Giant what signed his name at a penny a time learnt me to write. I

warn't locked up as often now as formerly, but I wore out my good

share of keymetal still.

"At Epsom races, a matter of over twenty years ago, I got

acquainted wi' a man whose skull I'd crack wi' this poker, like the

claw of a lobster, if I'd got it on this hob. His right name was

Compeyson; and that's the man, dear boy, what you see me a-pounding

in the ditch, according to what you truly told your comrade arter I

was gone last night.

"He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he'd been to a

public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to

talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was

good-looking too. It was the night afore the great race, when I

found him on the heath, in a booth that I know'd on. Him and some

more was a sitting among the tables when I went in, and the

landlord (which had a knowledge of me, and was a sporting one)

called him out, and said, 'I think this is a man that might suit

you' - meaning I was.

"Compeyson, he looks at me very noticing, and I look at him. He has

a watch and a chain and a ring and a breast-pin and a handsome suit

of clothes.

"'To judge from appearances, you're out of luck,' says Compeyson to


"'Yes, master, and I've never been in it much.' (I had come out of

Kingston Jail last on a vagrancy committal. Not but what it might

have been for something else; but it warn't.)

"'Luck changes,' says Compeyson; 'perhaps yours is going to change.'

"I says, 'I hope it may be so. There's room.'

"'What can you do?' says Compeyson.

"'Eat and drink,' I says; 'if you'll find the materials.'

"Compeyson laughed, looked at me again very noticing, giv me five

shillings, and appointed me for next night. Same place.

"I went to Compeyson next night, same place, and Compeyson took me

on to be his man and pardner. And what was Compeyson's business in

which we was to go pardners? Compeyson's business was the

swindling, handwriting forging, stolen bank-note passing, and

such-like. All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head,

and keep his own legs out of and get the profits from and let

another man in for, was Compeyson's business. He'd no more heart

than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of

the Devil afore mentioned.

"There was another in with Compeyson, as was called Arthur - not as

being so chrisen'd, but as a surname. He was in a Decline, and was

a shadow to look at. Him and Compeyson had been in a bad thing with

a rich lady some years afore, and they'd made a pot of money by it;

but Compeyson betted and gamed, and he'd have run through the

king's taxes. So, Arthur was a-dying, and a-dying poor and with the

horrors on him, and Compeyson's wife (which Compeyson kicked

mostly) was a-having pity on him when she could, and Compeyson was

a-having pity on nothing and nobody.

"I might a-took warning by Arthur, but I didn't; and I won't

pretend I was partick'ler - for where 'ud be the good on it, dear

boy and comrade? So I begun wi' Compeyson, and a poor tool I was in

his hands. Arthur lived at the top of Compeyson's house (over nigh

Brentford it was), and Compeyson kept a careful account agen him

for board and lodging, in case he should ever get better to work it

out. But Arthur soon settled the account. The second or third time

as ever I see him, he come a-tearing down into Compeyson's parlour

late at night, in only a flannel gown, with his hair all in a

sweat, and he says to Compeyson's wife, 'Sally, she really is

upstairs alonger me, now, and I can't get rid of her. She's all in

white,' he says, 'wi' white flowers in her hair, and she's awful

mad, and she's got a shroud hanging over her arm, and she says

she'll put it on me at five in the morning.'

"Says Compeyson: 'Why, you fool, don't you know she's got a living

body? And how should she be up there, without coming through the

door, or in at the window, and up the stairs?'

"'I don't know how she's there,' says Arthur, shivering dreadful

with the horrors, 'but she's standing in the corner at the foot of

the bed, awful mad. And over where her heart's brook - you broke

it! - there's drops of blood.'

"Compeyson spoke hardy, but he was always a coward. 'Go up alonger

this drivelling sick man,' he says to his wife, 'and Magwitch, lend

her a hand, will you?' But he never come nigh himself.

"Compeyson's wife and me took him up to bed agen, and he raved most

dreadful. 'Why look at her!' he cries out. 'She's a-shaking the

shroud at me! Don't you see her? Look at her eyes! Ain't it awful to

see her so mad?' Next, he cries, 'She'll put it on me, and then I'm

done for! Take it away from her, take it away!' And then he catched

hold of us, and kep on a-talking to her, and answering of her, till

I half believed I see her myself.

"Compeyson's wife, being used to him, giv him some liquor to get

the horrors off, and by-and-by he quieted. 'Oh, she's gone! Has her

keeper been for her?' he says. 'Yes,' says Compeyson's wife. 'Did

you tell him to lock her and bar her in?' 'Yes.' 'And to take that

ugly thing away from her?' 'Yes, yes, all right.' 'You're a good

creetur,' he says, 'don't leave me, whatever you do, and thank


"He rested pretty quiet till it might want a few minutes of five,

and then he starts up with a scream, and screams out, 'Here she

is! She's got the shroud again. She's unfolding it. She's coming out

of the corner. She's coming to the bed. Hold me, both on you - one

of each side - don't let her touch me with it. Hah! she missed me

that time. Don't let her throw it over my shoulders. Don't let her

lift me up to get it round me. She's lifting me up. Keep me down!'

Then he lifted himself up hard, and was dead.

"Compeyson took it easy as a good riddance for both sides. Him and

me was soon busy, and first he swore me (being ever artful) on my

own book - this here little black book, dear boy, what I swore your

comrade on.

"Not to go into the things that Compeyson planned, and I done -

which 'ud take a week - I'll simply say to you, dear boy, and Pip's

comrade, that that man got me into such nets as made me his black

slave. I was always in debt to him, always under his thumb, always

a-working, always a-getting into danger. He was younger than me,

but he'd got craft, and he'd got learning, and he overmatched me

five hundred times told and no mercy. My Missis as I had the hard

time wi' - Stop though! I ain't brought her in--"

He looked about him in a confused way, as if he had lost his place

in the book of his remembrance; and he turned his face to the fire,

and spread his hands broader on his knees, and lifted them off and

put them on again.

"There ain't no need to go into it," he said, looking round once

more. "The time wi' Compeyson was a'most as hard a time as ever I

had; that said, all's said. Did I tell you as I was tried, alone,

for misdemeanour, while with Compeyson?"

I answered, No.

"Well!" he said, "I was, and got convicted. As to took up on

suspicion, that was twice or three times in the four or five year

that it lasted; but evidence was wanting. At last, me and Compeyson

was both committed for felony - on a charge of putting stolen notes

in circulation - and there was other charges behind. Compeyson says

to me, 'Separate defences, no communication,' and that was all. And

I was so miserable poor, that I sold all the clothes I had, except

what hung on my back, afore I could get Jaggers.

"When we was put in the dock, I noticed first of all what a

gentleman Compeyson looked, wi' his curly hair and his black

clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of

a wretch I looked. When the prosecution opened and the evidence was

put short, aforehand, I noticed how heavy it all bore on me, and

how light on him. When the evidence was giv in the box, I noticed

how it was always me that had come for'ard, and could be swore to,

how it was always me that the money had been paid to, how it was

always me that had seemed to work the thing and get the profit.

But, when the defence come on, then I see the plan plainer; for,

says the counsellor for Compeyson, 'My lord and gentlemen, here you

has afore you, side by side, two persons as your eyes can separate

wide; one, the younger, well brought up, who will be spoke to as

such; one, the elder, ill brought up, who will be spoke to as such;

one, the younger, seldom if ever seen in these here transactions,

and only suspected; t'other, the elder, always seen in 'em and

always wi'his guilt brought home. Can you doubt, if there is but

one in it, which is the one, and, if there is two in it, which is

much the worst one?' And such-like. And when it come to character,

warn't it Compeyson as had been to the school, and warn't it his

schoolfellows as was in this position and in that, and warn't it

him as had been know'd by witnesses in such clubs and societies,

and nowt to his disadvantage? And warn't it me as had been tried

afore, and as had been know'd up hill and down dale in Bridewells

and Lock-Ups? And when it come to speech-making, warn't it

Compeyson as could speak to 'em wi' his face dropping every now and

then into his white pocket-handkercher - ah! and wi' verses in his

speech, too - and warn't it me as could only say, 'Gentlemen, this

man at my side is a most precious rascal'? And when the verdict

come, warn't it Compeyson as was recommended to mercy on account of

good character and bad company, and giving up all the information

he could agen me, and warn't it me as got never a word but Guilty?

And when I says to Compeyson, 'Once out of this court, I'll smash

that face of yourn!' ain't it Compeyson as prays the Judge to be

protected, and gets two turnkeys stood betwixt us? And when we're

sentenced, ain't it him as gets seven year, and me fourteen, and

ain't it him as the Judge is sorry for, because he might a done so

well, and ain't it me as the Judge perceives to be a old offender

of wiolent passion, likely to come to worse?"

He had worked himself into a state of great excitement, but he

checked it, took two or three short breaths, swallowed as often,

and stretching out his hand towards me said, in a reassuring

manner, "I ain't a-going to be low, dear boy!"

He had so heated himself that he took out his handkerchief and

wiped his face and head and neck and hands, before he could go on.

"I had said to Compeyson that I'd smash that face of his, and I

swore Lord smash mine! to do it. We was in the same prison-ship,

but I couldn't get at him for long, though I tried. At last I come

behind him and hit him on the cheek to turn him round and get a

smashing one at him, when I was seen and seized. The black-hole of

that ship warn't a strong one, to a judge of black-holes that could

swim and dive. I escaped to the shore, and I was a hiding among the

graves there, envying them as was in 'em and all over, when I first

see my boy!"

He regarded me with a look of affection that made him almost

abhorrent to me again, though I had felt great pity for him.

"By my boy, I was giv to understand as Compeyson was out on them

marshes too. Upon my soul, I half believe he escaped in his terror,

to get quit of me, not knowing it was me as had got ashore. I

hunted him down. I smashed his face. 'And now,' says I 'as the

worst thing I can do, caring nothing for myself, I'll drag you

back.' And I'd have swum off, towing him by the hair, if it had

come to that, and I'd a got him aboard without the soldiers.

"Of course he'd much the best of it to the last - his character was

so good. He had escaped when he was made half-wild by me and my

murderous intentions; and his punishment was light. I was put in

irons, brought to trial again, and sent for life. I didn't stop for

life, dear boy and Pip's comrade, being here."

"He wiped himself again, as he had done before, and then slowly

took his tangle of tobacco from his pocket, and plucked his pipe

from his button-hole, and slowly filled it, and began to smoke.

"Is he dead?" I asked, after a silence.

"Is who dead, dear boy?"


"He hopes I am, if he's alive, you may be sure," with a fierce

look. "I never heerd no more of him."

Herbert had been writing with his pencil in the cover of a book. He

softly pushed the book over to me, as Provis stood smoking with his

eyes on the fire, and I read in it:

"Young Havisham's name was Arthur. Compeyson is the man who

professed to be Miss Havisham's lover."

I shut the book and nodded slightly to Herbert, and put the book

by; but we neither of us said anything, and both looked at Provis

as he stood smoking by the fire.

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