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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 47

Great Expectations

Chapter 47

Some weeks passed without bringing any change. We waited for

Wemmick, and he made no sign. If I had never known him out of

Little Britain, and had never enjoyed the privilege of being on a

familiar footing at the Castle, I might have doubted him; not so

for a moment, knowing him as I did.

My worldly affairs began to wear a gloomy appearance, and I was

pressed for money by more than one creditor. Even I myself began to

know the want of money (I mean of ready money in my own pocket),

and to relieve it by converting some easily spared articles of

jewellery into cash. But I had quite determined that it would be a

heartless fraud to take more money from my patron in the existing

state of my uncertain thoughts and plans. Therefore, I had sent him

the unopened pocket-book by Herbert, to hold in his own keeping,

and I felt a kind of satisfaction - whether it was a false kind or

a true, I hardly know - in not having profited by his generosity

since his revelation of himself.

As the time wore on, an impression settled heavily upon me that

Estella was married. Fearful of having it confirmed, though it was

all but a conviction, I avoided the newspapers, and begged Herbert

(to whom I had confided the circumstances of our last interview)

never to speak of her to me. Why I hoarded up this last wretched

little rag of the robe of hope that was rent and given to the

winds, how do I know! Why did you who read this, commit that not

dissimilar inconsistency of your own, last year, last month, last


It was an unhappy life that I lived, and its one dominant anxiety,

towering over all its other anxieties like a high mountain above a

range of mountains, never disappeared from my view. Still, no new

cause for fear arose. Let me start from my bed as I would, with the

terror fresh upon me that he was discovered; let me sit listening

as I would, with dread, for Herbert's returning step at night, lest

it should be fleeter than ordinary, and winged with evil news; for

all that, and much more to like purpose, the round of things went

on. Condemned to inaction and a state of constant restlessness and

suspense, I rowed about in my boat, and waited, waited, waited, as

I best could.

There were states of the tide when, having been down the river, I

could not get back through the eddy-chafed arches and starlings of

old London Bridge; then, I left my boat at a wharf near the Custom

House, to be brought up afterwards to the Temple stairs. I was not

averse to doing this, as it served to make me and my boat a

commoner incident among the water-side people there. From this

slight occasion, sprang two meetings that I have now to tell of.

One afternoon, late in the month of February, I came ashore at the

wharf at dusk. I had pulled down as far as Greenwich with the ebb

tide, and had turned with the tide. It had been a fine bright day,

but had become foggy as the sun dropped, and I had had to feel my

way back among the shipping, pretty carefully. Both in going and

returning, I had seen the signal in his window, All well.

As it was a raw evening and I was cold, I thought I would comfort

myself with dinner at once; and as I had hours of dejection and

solitude before me if I went home to the Temple, I thought I would

afterwards go to the play. The theatre where Mr. Wopsle had achieved

his questionable triumph, was in that waterside neighbourhood (it

is nowhere now), and to that theatre I resolved to go. I was aware

that Mr. Wopsle had not succeeded in reviving the Drama, but, on the

contrary, had rather partaken of its decline. He had been ominously

heard of, through the playbills, as a faithful Black, in connexion

with a little girl of noble birth, and a monkey. And Herbert had

seen him as a predatory Tartar of comic propensities, with a face

like a red brick, and an outrageous hat all over bells.

I dined at what Herbert and I used to call a Geographical

chop-house - where there were maps of the world in porter-pot rims

on every half-yard of the table-cloths, and charts of gravy on

every one of the knives - to this day there is scarcely a single

chop-house within the Lord Mayor's dominions which is not

Geographical - and wore out the time in dozing over crumbs, staring

at gas, and baking in a hot blast of dinners. By-and-by, I roused

myself and went to the play.

There, I found a virtuous boatswain in his Majesty's service - a

most excellent man, though I could have wished his trousers not

quite so tight in some places and not quite so loose in others -

who knocked all the little men's hats over their eyes, though he

was very generous and brave, and who wouldn't hear of anybody's

paying taxes, though he was very patriotic. He had a bag of money

in his pocket, like a pudding in the cloth, and on that property

married a young person in bed-furniture, with great rejoicings; the

whole population of Portsmouth (nine in number at the last Census)

turning out on the beach, to rub their own hands and shake

everybody else's, and sing "Fill, fill!" A certain

dark-complexioned Swab, however, who wouldn't fill, or do anything

else that was proposed to him, and whose heart was openly stated

(by the boatswain) to be as black as his figure-head, proposed to

two other Swabs to get all mankind into difficulties; which was so

effectually done (the Swab family having considerable political

influence) that it took half the evening to set things right, and

then it was only brought about through an honest little grocer with

a white hat, black gaiters, and red nose, getting into a clock,

with a gridiron, and listening, and coming out, and knocking

everybody down from behind with the gridiron whom he couldn't

confute with what he had overheard. This led to Mr. Wopsle's (who

had never been heard of before) coming in with a star and garter

on, as a plenipotentiary of great power direct from the Admiralty,

to say that the Swabs were all to go to prison on the spot, and

that he had brought the boatswain down the Union Jack, as a slight

acknowledgment of his public services. The boatswain, unmanned for

the first time, respectfully dried his eyes on the Jack, and then

cheering up and addressing Mr. Wopsle as Your Honour, solicited

permission to take him by the fin. Mr. Wopsle conceding his fin with

a gracious dignity, was immediately shoved into a dusty corner

while everybody danced a hornpipe; and from that corner, surveying

the public with a discontented eye, became aware of me.

The second piece was the last new grand comic Christmas pantomime,

in the first scene of which, it pained me to suspect that I

detected Mr. Wopsle with red worsted legs under a highly magnified

phosphoric countenance and a shock of red curtain-fringe for his

hair, engaged in the manufacture of thunderbolts in a mine, and

displaying great cowardice when his gigantic master came home (very

hoarse) to dinner. But he presently presented himself under

worthier circumstances; for, the Genius of Youthful Love being in

want of assistance - on account of the parental brutality of an

ignorant farmer who opposed the choice of his daughter's heart, by

purposely falling upon the object, in a flour sack, out of the

firstfloor window - summoned a sententious Enchanter; and he,

coming up from the antipodes rather unsteadily, after an apparently

violent journey, proved to be Mr. Wopsle in a high-crowned hat, with

a necromantic work in one volume under his arm. The business of

this enchanter on earth, being principally to be talked at, sung

at, butted at, danced at, and flashed at with fires of various

colours, he had a good deal of time on his hands. And I observed

with great surprise, that he devoted it to staring in my direction

as if he were lost in amazement.

There was something so remarkable in the increasing glare of Mr.

Wopsle's eye, and he seemed to be turning so many things over in

his mind and to grow so confused, that I could not make it out. I

sat thinking of it, long after he had ascended to the clouds in a

large watch-case, and still I could not make it out. I was still

thinking of it when I came out of the theatre an hour afterwards,

and found him waiting for me near the door.

"How do you do?" said I, shaking hands with him as we turned down

the street together. "I saw that you saw me."

"Saw you, Mr. Pip!" he returned. "Yes, of course I saw you. But who

else was there?"

"Who else?"

"It is the strangest thing," said Mr. Wopsle, drifting into his lost

look again; "and yet I could swear to him."

Becoming alarmed, I entreated Mr. Wopsle to explain his meaning.

"Whether I should have noticed him at first but for your being

there," said Mr. Wopsle, going on in the same lost way, "I can't be

positive; yet I think I should."

Involuntarily I looked round me, as I was accustomed to look round

me when I went home; for, these mysterious words gave me a chill.

"Oh! He can't be in sight," said Mr. Wopsle. "He went out, before I

went off, I saw him go."

Having the reason that I had, for being suspicious, I even

suspected this poor actor. I mistrusted a design to entrap me into

some admission. Therefore, I glanced at him as we walked on

together, but said nothing.

"I had a ridiculous fancy that he must be with you, Mr. Pip, till I

saw that you were quite unconscious of him, sitting behind you

there, like a ghost."

My former chill crept over me again, but I was resolved not to

speak yet, for it was quite consistent with his words that he might

be set on to induce me to connect these references with Provis. Of

course, I was perfectly sure and safe that Provis had not been


"I dare say you wonder at me, Mr. Pip; indeed I see you do. But it

is so very strange! You'll hardly believe what I am going to tell

you. I could hardly believe it myself, if you told me."

"Indeed?" said I.

"No, indeed. Mr. Pip, you remember in old times a certain Christmas

Day, when you were quite a child, and I dined at Gargery's, and

some soldiers came to the door to get a pair of handcuffs mended?"

"I remember it very well."

"And you remember that there was a chase after two convicts, and

that we joined in it, and that Gargery took you on his back, and

that I took the lead and you kept up with me as well as you could?"

"I remember it all very well." Better than he thought - except the

last clause.

"And you remember that we came up with the two in a ditch, and that

there was a scuffle between them, and that one of them had been

severely handled and much mauled about the face, by the other?"

"I see it all before me."

"And that the soldiers lighted torches, and put the two in the

centre, and that we went on to see the last of them, over the black

marshes, with the torchlight shining on their faces - I am

particular about that; with the torchlight shining on their faces,

when there was an outer ring of dark night all about us?"

"Yes," said I. "I remember all that."

"Then, Mr. Pip, one of those two prisoners sat behind you tonight. I

saw him over your shoulder."

"Steady!" I thought. I asked him then, "Which of the two do you

suppose you saw?"

"The one who had been mauled," he answered readily, "and I'll swear

I saw him! The more I think of him, the more certain I am of him."

"This is very curious!" said I, with the best assumption I could

put on, of its being nothing more to me. "Very curious indeed!"

I cannot exaggerate the enhanced disquiet into which this

conversation threw me, or the special and peculiar terror I felt at

Compeyson's having been behind me "like a ghost." For, if he had

ever been out of my thoughts for a few moments together since the

hiding had begun, it was in those very moments when he was closest

to me; and to think that I should be so unconscious and off my

guard after all my care, was as if I had shut an avenue of a

hundred doors to keep him out, and then had found him at my elbow.

I could not doubt either that he was there, because I was there,

and that however slight an appearance of danger there might be

about us, danger was always near and active.

I put such questions to Mr. Wopsle as, When did the man come in? He

could not tell me that; he saw me, and over my shoulder he saw the

man. It was not until he had seen him for some time that he began

to identify him; but he had from the first vaguely associated him

with me, and known him as somehow belonging to me in the old

village time. How was he dressed? Prosperously, but not noticeably

otherwise; he thought, in black. Was his face at all disfigured?

No, he believed not. I believed not, too, for, although in my

brooding state I had taken no especial notice of the people behind

me, I thought it likely that a face at all disfigured would have

attracted my attention.

When Mr. Wopsle had imparted to me all that he could recall or I

extract, and when I had treated him to a little appropriate

refreshment after the fatigues of the evening, we parted. It was

between twelve and one o'clock when I reached the Temple, and the

gates were shut. No one was near me when I went in and went home.

Herbert had come in, and we held a very serious council by the

fire. But there was nothing to be done, saving to communicate to

Wemmick what I had that night found out, and to remind him that we

waited for his hint. As I thought that I might compromise him if I

went too often to the Castle, I made this communication by letter.

I wrote it before I went to bed, and went out and posted it; and

again no one was near me. Herbert and I agreed that we could do

nothing else but be very cautious. And we were very cautious indeed

- more cautious than before, if that were possible - and I for my

part never went near Chinks's Basin, except when I rowed by, and

then I only looked at Mill Pond Bank as I looked at anything else.

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