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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 52

Great Expectations

Chapter 52

From Little Britain, I went, with my cheque in my pocket, to Miss

Skiffins's brother, the accountant; and Miss Skiffins's brother,

the accountant, going straight to Clarriker's and bringing

Clarriker to me, I had the great satisfaction of concluding that

arrangement. It was the only good thing I had done, and the only

completed thing I had done, since I was first apprised of my great


Clarriker informing me on that occasion that the affairs of the

House were steadily progressing, that he would now be able to

establish a small branch-house in the East which was much wanted

for the extension of the business, and that Herbert in his new

partnership capacity would go out and take charge of it, I found

that I must have prepared for a separation from my friend, even

though my own affairs had been more settled. And now indeed I felt

as if my last anchor were loosening its hold, and I should soon be

driving with the winds and waves.

But, there was recompense in the joy with which Herbert would come

home of a night and tell me of these changes, little imagining that

he told me no news, and would sketch airy pictures of himself

conducting Clara Barley to the land of the Arabian Nights, and of

me going out to join them (with a caravan of camels, I believe),

and of our all going up the Nile and seeing wonders. Without being

sanguine as to my own part in these bright plans, I felt that

Herbert's way was clearing fast, and that old Bill Barley had but

to stick to his pepper and rum, and his daughter would soon be

happily provided for.

We had now got into the month of March. My left arm, though it

presented no bad symptoms, took in the natural course so long to

heal that I was still unable to get a coat on. My right arm was

tolerably restored; - disfigured, but fairly serviceable.

On a Monday morning, when Herbert and I were at breakfast, I

received the following letter from Wemmick by the post.

"Walworth. Burn this as soon as read. Early in the week, or say

Wednesday, you might do what you know of, if you felt disposed to

try it. Now burn."

When I had shown this to Herbert and had put it in the fire - but

not before we had both got it by heart - we considered what to do.

For, of course my being disabled could now be no longer kept out of


"I have thought it over, again and again," said Herbert, "and I

think I know a better course than taking a Thames waterman. Take

Startop. A good fellow, a skilled hand, fond of us, and

enthusiastic and honourable."

I had thought of him, more than once.

"But how much would you tell him, Herbert?"

"It is necessary to tell him very little. Let him suppose it a mere

freak, but a secret one, until the morning comes: then let him know

that there is urgent reason for your getting Provis aboard and

away. You go with him?"

"No doubt."


It had seemed to me, in the many anxious considerations I had given

the point, almost indifferent what port we made for - Hamburg,

Rotterdam, Antwerp - the place signified little, so that he was got

out of England. Any foreign steamer that fell in our way and would

take us up, would do. I had always proposed to myself to get him

well down the river in the boat; certainly well beyond Gravesend,

which was a critical place for search or inquiry if suspicion were

afoot. As foreign steamers would leave London at about the time of

high-water, our plan would be to get down the river by a previous

ebb-tide, and lie by in some quiet spot until we could pull off to

one. The time when one would be due where we lay, wherever that

might be, could be calculated pretty nearly, if we made inquiries


Herbert assented to all this, and we went out immediately after

breakfast to pursue our investigations. We found that a steamer for

Hamburg was likely to suit our purpose best, and we directed our

thoughts chiefly to that vessel. But we noted down what other

foreign steamers would leave London with the same tide, and we

satisfied ourselves that we knew the build and colour of each. We

then separated for a few hours; I, to get at once such passports as

were necessary; Herbert, to see Startop at his lodgings. We both

did what we had to do without any hindrance, and when we met again

at one o'clock reported it done. I, for my part, was prepared with

passports; Herbert had seen Startop, and he was more than ready to


Those two should pull a pair of oars, we settled, and I would

steer; our charge would be sitter, and keep quiet; as speed was not

our object, we should make way enough. We arranged that Herbert

should not come home to dinner before going to Mill Pond Bank that

evening; that he should not go there at all, to-morrow evening,

Tuesday; that he should prepare Provis to come down to some Stairs

hard by the house, on Wednesday, when he saw us approach, and not

sooner; that all the arrangements with him should be concluded that

Monday night; and that he should be communicated with no more in

any way, until we took him on board.

These precautions well understood by both of us, I went home.

On opening the outer door of our chambers with my key, I found a

letter in the box, directed to me; a very dirty letter, though not

ill-written. It had been delivered by hand (of course since I left

home), and its contents were these:

"If you are not afraid to come to the old marshes to-night or

tomorrow night at Nine, and to come to the little sluice-house by

the limekiln, you had better come. If you want information

regarding your uncle Provis, you had much better come and tell no

one and lose no time. You must come alone. Bring this with you."

I had had load enough upon my mind before the receipt of this

strange letter. What to do now, I could not tell. And the worst

was, that I must decide quickly, or I should miss the afternoon

coach, which would take me down in time for to-night. To-morrow

night I could not think of going, for it would be too close upon

the time of the flight. And again, for anything I knew, the

proffered information might have some important bearing on the

flight itself.

If I had had ample time for consideration, I believe I should still

have gone. Having hardly any time for consideration - my watch

showing me that the coach started within half an hour - I resolved

to go. I should certainly not have gone, but for the reference to

my Uncle Provis; that, coming on Wemmick's letter and the morning's

busy preparation, turned the scale.

It is so difficult to become clearly possessed of the contents of

almost any letter, in a violent hurry, that I had to read this

mysterious epistle again, twice, before its injunction to me to be

secret got mechanically into my mind. Yielding to it in the same

mechanical kind of way, I left a note in pencil for Herbert,

telling him that as I should be so soon going away, I knew not for

how long, I had decided to hurry down and back, to ascertain for

myself how Miss Havisham was faring. I had then barely time to get

my great-coat, lock up the chambers, and make for the coach-office

by the short by-ways. If I had taken a hackney-chariot and gone by

the streets, I should have missed my aim; going as I did, I caught

the coach just as it came out of the yard. I was the only inside

passenger, jolting away knee-deep in straw, when I came to myself.

For, I really had not been myself since the receipt of the letter;

it had so bewildered me ensuing on the hurry of the morning. The

morning hurry and flutter had been great, for, long and anxiously

as I had waited for Wemmick, his hint had come like a surprise at

last. And now, I began to wonder at myself for being in the coach,

and to doubt whether I had sufficient reason for being there, and

to consider whether I should get out presently and go back, and to

argue against ever heeding an anonymous communication, and, in

short, to pass through all those phases of contradiction and

indecision to which I suppose very few hurried people are

strangers. Still, the reference to Provis by name, mastered

everything. I reasoned as I had reasoned already without knowing it

- if that be reasoning - in case any harm should befall him through

my not going, how could I ever forgive myself!

It was dark before we got down, and the journey seemed long and

dreary to me who could see little of it inside, and who could not

go outside in my disabled state. Avoiding the Blue Boar, I put up

at an inn of minor reputation down the town, and ordered some

dinner. While it was preparing, I went to Satis House and inquired

for Miss Havisham; she was still very ill, though considered

something better.

My inn had once been a part of an ancient ecclesiastical house, and

I dined in a little octagonal common-room, like a font. As I was

not able to cut my dinner, the old landlord with a shining bald

head did it for me. This bringing us into conversation, he was so

good as to entertain me with my own story - of course with the

popular feature that Pumblechook was my earliest benefactor and the

founder of my fortunes.

"Do you know the young man?" said I.

"Know him!" repeated the landlord. "Ever since he was - no height

at all."

"Does he ever come back to this neighbourhood?"

"Ay, he comes back," said the landlord, "to his great friends, now

and again, and gives the cold shoulder to the man that made him."

"What man is that?"

"Him that I speak of," said the landlord. "Mr. Pumblechook."

"Is he ungrateful to no one else?"

"No doubt he would be, if he could," returned the landlord, "but he

can't. And why? Because Pumblechook done everything for him."

"Does Pumblechook say so?"

"Say so!" replied the landlord. "He han't no call to say so."

"But does he say so?"

"It would turn a man's blood to white wine winegar to hear him tell

of it, sir," said the landlord.

I thought, "Yet Joe, dear Joe, you never tell of it. Long-suffering

and loving Joe, you never complain. Nor you, sweet-tempered Biddy!"

"Your appetite's been touched like, by your accident," said the

landlord, glancing at the bandaged arm under my coat. "Try a

tenderer bit."

"No thank you," I replied, turning from the table to brood over the

fire. "I can eat no more. Please take it away."

I had never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe,

as through the brazen impostor Pumblechook. The falser he, the

truer Joe; the meaner he, the nobler Joe.

My heart was deeply and most deservedly humbled as I mused over the

fire for an hour or more. The striking of the clock aroused me, but

not from my dejection or remorse, and I got up and had my coat

fastened round my neck, and went out. I had previously sought in my

pockets for the letter, that I might refer to it again, but I could

not find it, and was uneasy to think that it must have been dropped

in the straw of the coach. I knew very well, however, that the

appointed place was the little sluice-house by the limekiln on the

marshes, and the hour nine. Towards the marshes I now went

straight, having no time to spare.

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