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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 46

Great Expectations

Chapter 46

Eight o'clock had struck before I got into the air that was

scented, not disagreeably, by the chips and shavings of the

long-shore boatbuilders, and mast oar and block makers. All that

water-side region of the upper and lower Pool below Bridge, was

unknown ground to me, and when I struck down by the river, I found

that the spot I wanted was not where I had supposed it to be, and

was anything but easy to find. It was called Mill Pond Bank,

Chinks's Basin; and I had no other guide to Chinks's Basin than the

Old Green Copper Rope-Walk.

It matters not what stranded ships repairing in dry docks I lost

myself among, what old hulls of ships in course of being knocked to

pieces, what ooze and slime and other dregs of tide, what yards of

ship-builders and ship-breakers, what rusty anchors blindly biting

into the ground though for years off duty, what mountainous country

of accumulated casks and timber, how many rope-walks that were not

the Old Green Copper. After several times falling short of my

destination and as often over-shooting it, I came unexpectedly

round a corner, upon Mill Pond Bank. It was a fresh kind of place,

all circumstances considered, where the wind from the river had

room to turn itself round; and there were two or three trees in it,

and there was the stump of a ruined windmill, and there was the Old

Green Copper Rope-Walk - whose long and narrow vista I could trace

in the moonlight, along a series of wooden frames set in the

ground, that looked like superannuated haymaking-rakes which had

grown old and lost most of their teeth.

Selecting from the few queer houses upon Mill Pond Bank, a house

with a wooden front and three stories of bow-window (not

bay-window, which is another thing), I looked at the plate upon the

door, and read there, Mrs. Whimple. That being the name I wanted, I

knocked, and an elderly woman of a pleasant and thriving appearance

responded. She was immediately deposed, however, by Herbert, who

silently led me into the parlour and shut the door. It was an odd

sensation to see his very familiar face established quite at home

in that very unfamiliar room and region; and I found myself looking

at him, much as I looked at the corner-cupboard with the glass and

china, the shells upon the chimney-piece, and the coloured

engravings on the wall, representing the death of Captain Cook, a

ship-launch, and his Majesty King George the Third in a

state-coachman's wig, leather-breeches, and top-boots, on the

terrace at Windsor.

"All is well, Handel," said Herbert, "and he is quite satisfied,

though eager to see you. My dear girl is with her father; and if

you'll wait till she comes down, I'll make you known to her, and

then we'll go up-stairs. - That's her father."

I had become aware of an alarming growling overhead, and had

probably expressed the fact in my countenance.

"I am afraid he is a sad old rascal," said Herbert, smiling, "but I

have never seen him. Don't you smell rum? He is always at it."

"At rum?" said I.

"Yes," returned Herbert, "and you may suppose how mild it makes his

gout. He persists, too, in keeping all the provisions upstairs in

his room, and serving them out. He keeps them on shelves over his

head, and will weigh them all. His room must be like a chandler's


While he thus spoke, the growling noise became a prolonged roar,

and then died away.

"What else can be the consequence," said Herbert, in explanation,

"if he will cut the cheese? A man with the gout in his right hand -

and everywhere else - can't expect to get through a Double

Gloucester without hurting himself."

He seemed to have hurt himself very much, for he gave another

furious roar.

"To have Provis for an upper lodger is quite a godsend to Mrs.

Whimple," said Herbert, "for of course people in general won't

stand that noise. A curious place, Handel; isn't it?"

It was a curious place, indeed; but remarkably well kept and clean.

"Mrs. Whimple," said Herbert, when I told him so, "is the best of

housewives, and I really do not know what my Clara would do without

her motherly help. For, Clara has no mother of her own, Handel, and

no relation in the world but old Gruffandgrim."

"Surely that's not his name, Herbert?"

"No, no," said Herbert, "that's my name for him. His name is Mr.

Barley. But what a blessing it is for the son of my father and

mother, to love a girl who has no relations, and who can never

bother herself, or anybody else, about her family!"

Herbert had told me on former occasions, and now reminded me, that

he first knew Miss Clara Barley when she was completing her

education at an establishment at Hammersmith, and that on her being

recalled home to nurse her father, he and she had confided their

affection to the motherly Mrs. Whimple, by whom it had been fostered

and regulated with equal kindness and discretion, ever since. It

was understood that nothing of a tender nature could possibly be

confided to old Barley, by reason of his being totally unequal to

the consideration of any subject more psychological than Gout, Rum,

and Purser's stores.

As we were thus conversing in a low tone while Old Barley's

sustained growl vibrated in the beam that crossed the ceiling, the

room door opened, and a very pretty slight dark-eyed girl of twenty

or so, came in with a basket in her hand: whom Herbert tenderly

relieved of the basket, and presented blushing, as "Clara." She

really was a most charming girl, and might have passed for a

captive fairy, whom that truculent Ogre, Old Barley, had pressed

into his service.

"Look here," said Herbert, showing me the basket, with a

compassionate and tender smile after we had talked a little;

"here's poor Clara's supper, served out every night. Here's her

allowance of bread, and here's her slice of cheese, and here's her

rum - which I drink. This is Mr. Barley's breakfast for to-morrow,

served out to be cooked. Two mutton chops, three potatoes, some

split peas, a little flour, two ounces of butter, a pinch of salt,

and all this black pepper. It's stewed up together, and taken hot,

and it's a nice thing for the gout, I should think!"

There was something so natural and winning in Clara's resigned way

of looking at these stores in detail, as Herbert pointed them out,

- and something so confiding, loving, and innocent, in her modest

manner of yielding herself to Herbert's embracing arm - and

something so gentle in her, so much needing protection on Mill Pond

Bank, by Chinks's Basin, and the Old Green Copper Rope-Walk, with

Old Barley growling in the beam - that I would not have undone the

engagement between her and Herbert, for all the money in the

pocket-book I had never opened.

I was looking at her with pleasure and admiration, when suddenly

the growl swelled into a roar again, and a frightful bumping noise

was heard above, as if a giant with a wooden leg were trying to

bore it through the ceiling to come to us. Upon this Clara said to

Herbert, "Papa wants me, darling!" and ran away.

"There is an unconscionable old shark for you!" said Herbert. "What

do you suppose he wants now, Handel?"

"I don't know," said I. "Something to drink?"

"That's it!" cried Herbert, as if I had made a guess of

extraordinary merit. "He keeps his grog ready-mixed in a little tub

on the table. Wait a moment, and you'll hear Clara lift him up to

take some. - There he goes!" Another roar, with a prolonged shake

at the end. "Now," said Herbert, as it was succeeded by silence,

"he's drinking. Now," said Herbert, as the growl resounded in the

beam once more, "he's down again on his back!"

Clara returned soon afterwards, and Herbert accompanied me

up-stairs to see our charge. As we passed Mr. Barley's door, he was

heard hoarsely muttering within, in a strain that rose and fell

like wind, the following Refrain; in which I substitute good wishes

for something quite the reverse.

"Ahoy! Bless your eyes, here's old Bill Barley. Here's old Bill

Barley, bless your eyes. Here's old Bill Barley on the flat of his

back, by the Lord. Lying on the flat of his back, like a drifting

old dead flounder, here's your old Bill Barley, bless your eyes.

Ahoy! Bless you."

In this strain of consolation, Herbert informed me the invisible

Barley would commune with himself by the day and night together;

often while it was light, having, at the same time, one eye at a

telescope which was fitted on his bed for the convenience of

sweeping the river.

In his two cabin rooms at the top of the house, which were fresh

and airy, and in which Mr. Barley was less audible than below, I

found Provis comfortably settled. He expressed no alarm, and seemed

to feel none that was worth mentioning; but it struck me that he

was softened - indefinably, for I could not have said how, and could

never afterwards recall how when I tried; but certainly.

The opportunity that the day's rest had given me for reflection,

had resulted in my fully determining to say nothing to him

respecting Compeyson. For anything I knew, his animosity towards

the man might otherwise lead to his seeking him out and rushing on

his own destruction. Therefore, when Herbert and I sat down with

him by his fire, I asked him first of all whether he relied on

Wemmick's judgment and sources of information?

"Ay, ay, dear boy!" he answered, with a grave nod, "Jaggers knows."

"Then, I have talked with Wemmick," said I, "and have come to tell

you what caution he gave me and what advice."

This I did accurately, with the reservation just mentioned; and I

told him how Wemmick had heard, in Newgate prison (whether from

officers or prisoners I could not say), that he was under some

suspicion, and that my chambers had been watched; how Wemmick had

recommended his keeping close for a time, and my keeping away from

him; and what Wemmick had said about getting him abroad. I added,

that of course, when the time came, I should go with him, or should

follow close upon him, as might be safest in Wemmick's judgment.

What was to follow that, I did not touch upon; neither indeed was I

at all clear or comfortable about it in my own mind, now that I saw

him in that softer condition, and in declared peril for my sake. As

to altering my way of living, by enlarging my expenses, I put it to

him whether in our present unsettled and difficult circumstances,

it would not be simply ridiculous, if it were no worse?

He could not deny this, and indeed was very reasonable throughout.

His coming back was a venture, he said, and he had always known it

to be a venture. He would do nothing to make it a desperate

venture, and he had very little fear of his safety with such good


Herbert, who had been looking at the fire and pondering, here said

that something had come into his thoughts arising out of Wemmick's

suggestion, which it might be worth while to pursue. "We are both

good watermen, Handel, and could take him down the river ourselves

when the right time comes. No boat would then be hired for the

purpose, and no boatmen; that would save at least a chance of

suspicion, and any chance is worth saving. Never mind the season;

don't you think it might be a good thing if you began at once to

keep a boat at the Temple stairs, and were in the habit of rowing

up and down the river? You fall into that habit, and then who

notices or minds? Do it twenty or fifty times, and there is nothing

special in your doing it the twenty-first or fifty-first."

I liked this scheme, and Provis was quite elated by it. We agreed

that it should be carried into execution, and that Provis should

never recognize us if we came below Bridge and rowed past Mill Pond

Bank. But, we further agreed that he should pull down the blind in

that part of his window which gave upon the east, whenever he saw

us and all was right.

Our conference being now ended, and everything arranged, I rose to

go; remarking to Herbert that he and I had better not go home

together, and that I would take half an hour's start of him. "I

don't like to leave you here," I said to Provis, "though I cannot

doubt your being safer here than near me. Good-bye!"

"Dear boy," he answered, clasping my hands, "I don't know when we

may meet again, and I don't like Good-bye. Say Good Night!"

"Good night! Herbert will go regularly between us, and when the

time comes you may be certain I shall be ready. Good night, Good


We thought it best that he should stay in his own rooms, and we

left him on the landing outside his door, holding a light over the

stair-rail to light us down stairs. Looking back at him, I thought

of the first night of his return when our positions were reversed,

and when I little supposed my heart could ever be as heavy and

anxious at parting from him as it was now.

Old Barley was growling and swearing when we repassed his door,

with no appearance of having ceased or of meaning to cease. When we

got to the foot of the stairs, I asked Herbert whether he had

preserved the name of Provis. He replied, certainly not, and that

the lodger was Mr. Campbell. He also explained that the utmost known

of Mr. Campbell there, was, that he (Herbert) had Mr. Campbell

consigned to him, and felt a strong personal interest in his being

well cared for, and living a secluded life. So, when we went into

the parlour where Mrs. Whimple and Clara were seated at work, I said

nothing of my own interest in Mr. Campbell, but kept it to myself.

When I had taken leave of the pretty gentle dark-eyed girl, and of

the motherly woman who had not outlived her honest sympathy with a

little affair of true love, I felt as if the Old Green Copper

Rope-Walk had grown quite a different place. Old Barley might be as

old as the hills, and might swear like a whole field of troopers,

but there were redeeming youth and trust and hope enough in

Chinks's Basin to fill it to overflowing. And then I thought of

Estella, and of our parting, and went home very sadly.

All things were as quiet in the Temple as ever I had seen them. The

windows of the rooms on that side, lately occupied by Provis, were

dark and still, and there was no lounger in Garden Court. I walked

past the fountain twice or thrice before I descended the steps that

were between me and my rooms, but I was quite alone. Herbert coming

to my bedside when he came in - for I went straight to bed,

dispirited and fatigued - made the same report. Opening one of the

windows after that, he looked out into the moonlight, and told me

that the pavement was a solemnly empty as the pavement of any

Cathedral at that same hour.

Next day, I set myself to get the boat. It was soon done, and the

boat was brought round to the Temple stairs, and lay where I could

reach her within a minute or two. Then, I began to go out as for

training and practice: sometimes alone, sometimes with Herbert. I

was often out in cold, rain, and sleet, but nobody took much note

of me after I had been out a few times. At first, I kept above

Blackfriars Bridge; but as the hours of the tide changed, I took

towards London Bridge. It was Old London Bridge in those days, and

at certain states of the tide there was a race and fall of water

there which gave it a bad reputation. But I knew well enough how to

"shoot' the bridge after seeing it done, and so began to row about

among the shipping in the Pool, and down to Erith. The first time I

passed Mill Pond Bank, Herbert and I were pulling a pair of oars;

and, both in going and returning, we saw the blind towards the east

come down. Herbert was rarely there less frequently than three

times in a week, and he never brought me a single word of

intelligence that was at all alarming. Still, I knew that there was

cause for alarm, and I could not get rid of the notion of being

watched. Once received, it is a haunting idea; how many undesigning

persons I suspected of watching me, it would be hard to calculate.

In short, I was always full of fears for the rash man who was in

hiding. Herbert had sometimes said to me that he found it pleasant

to stand at one of our windows after dark, when the tide was

running down, and to think that it was flowing, with everything it

bore, towards Clara. But I thought with dread that it was flowing

towards Magwitch, and that any black mark on its surface might be

his pursuers, going swiftly, silently, and surely, to take him.

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