From Little Britain I went, with my check in my pocket, to Miss Skiffins’_rother, the accountant; and Miss Skiffins’s brother, the accountant, goin_traight to Clarriker’s and bringing Clarriker to me, I had the grea_atisfaction of concluding that arrangement. It was the only good thing I ha_one, and the only completed thing I had done, since I was first apprised o_y great expectations.
Clarriker informing me on that occasion that the affairs of the House wer_teadily 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, an_hat Herbert in his new partnership capacity would go out and take charge o_t, I found that I must have prepared for a separation from my friend, eve_hough my own affairs had been more settled. And now, indeed, I felt as if m_ast anchor were loosening its hold, and I should soon be driving with th_inds and waves.
But there was recompense in the joy with which Herbert would come home of _ight 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 lan_f the Arabian Nights, and of me going out to join them (with a caravan o_amels, I believe), and of our all going up the Nile and seeing wonders.
Without being sanguine as to my own part in those bright plans, I felt tha_erbert’s way was clearing fast, and that old Bill Barley had but to stick t_is 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 n_ad symptoms, took, in the natural course, so long to heal that I was stil_nable to get a coat on. My right arm was tolerably restored; disfigured, bu_airly serviceable.
On a Monday morning, when Herbert and I were at breakfast, I received th_ollowing letter from Wemmick by the post.
“Walworth. Burn this as soon as read. Early in the week, or say Wednesday, yo_ight 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 w_ad both got it by heart—we considered what to do. For, of course my bein_isabled could now be no longer kept out of view.
“I have thought it over again and again,” said Herbert, “and I think I know _etter course than taking a Thames waterman. Take Startop. A good fellow, _killed hand, fond of us, and enthusiastic and honorable.”
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, bu_ secret one, until the morning comes: then let him know that there is urgen_eason for your getting Provis aboard and away. You go with him?”
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,—th_lace signified little, so that he was out of England. Any foreign steame_hat fell in our way and would take us up would do. I had always proposed t_yself to get him well down the river in the boat; certainly well beyon_ravesend, which was a critical place for search or inquiry if suspicion wer_foot. 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 i_ome quiet spot until we could pull off to one. The time when one would be du_here we lay, wherever that might be, could be calculated pretty nearly, if w_ade inquiries beforehand.
Herbert assented to all this, and we went out immediately after breakfast t_ursue our investigations. We found that a steamer for Hamburg was likely t_uit 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 sam_ide, and we satisfied ourselves that we knew the build and color of each. W_hen separated for a few hours: I, to get at once such passports as wer_ecessary; Herbert, to see Startop at his lodgings. We both did what we had t_o without any hindrance, and when we met again at one o’clock reported i_one. I, for my part, was prepared with passports; Herbert had seen Startop, and he was more than ready to join.
Those two should pull a pair of oars, we settled, and I would steer; ou_harge would be sitter, and keep quiet; as speed was not our object, we shoul_ake way enough. We arranged that Herbert should not come home to dinne_efore going to Mill Pond Bank that evening; that he should not go there a_ll to-morrow evening, Tuesday; that he should prepare Provis to come down t_ome stairs hard by the house, on Wednesday, when he saw us approach, and no_ooner; that all the arrangements with him should be concluded that Monda_ight; and that he should be communicated with no more in any way, until w_ook 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 th_ox, directed to me; a very dirty letter, though not ill-written. It had bee_elivered by hand (of course, since I left home), and its contents wer_hese:—
“If you are not afraid to come to the old marshes to-night or tomorrow nigh_t nine, and to come to the little sluice-house by the limekiln, you ha_etter come. If you want information regarding your uncle Provis, you had muc_etter come and tell no one, and lose no time. You must come alone. Bring thi_ith 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 decid_uickly, or I should miss the afternoon coach, which would take me down i_ime for to-night. To-morrow night I could not think of going, for it would b_oo close upon the time of the flight. And again, for anything I knew, th_roffered 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 coac_tarted within half an hour,—I resolved to go. I should certainly not hav_one, but for the reference to my Uncle Provis. That, coming on Wemmick’_etter and the morning’s busy preparation, turned the scale.
It is so difficult to become clearly possessed of the contents of almost an_etter, in a violent hurry, that I had to read this mysterious epistle agai_wice, 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 fo_erbert, telling him that as I should be so soon going away, I knew not fo_ow long, I had decided to hurry down and back, to ascertain for myself ho_iss Havisham was faring. I had then barely time to get my great-coat, lock u_he chambers, and make for the coach-office by the short by-ways. If I ha_aken 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 th_nly 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 s_ewildered me, ensuing on the hurry of the morning. The morning hurry an_lutter 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 mysel_or being in the coach, and to doubt whether I had sufficient reason for bein_here, and to consider whether I should get out presently and go back, and t_rgue against ever heeding an anonymous communication, and, in short, to pas_hrough all those phases of contradiction and indecision to which I suppos_ery few hurried people are strangers. Still, the reference to Provis by nam_astered everything. I reasoned as I had reasoned already without knowing it, —if that be reasoning,—in case any harm should befall him through my no_oing, 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 disable_tate. Avoiding the Blue Boar, I put up at an inn of minor reputation down th_own, and ordered some dinner. While it was preparing, I went to Satis Hous_nd inquired for Miss Havisham; she was still very ill, though considere_omething better.
My inn had once been a part of an ancient ecclesiastical house, and I dined i_ little octagonal common-room, like a font. As I was not able to cut m_inner, the old landlord with a shining bald head did it for me. This bringin_s into conversation, he was so good as to entertain me with my own story,—o_ourse with the popular feature that Pumblechook was my earliest benefacto_nd 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 neighborhood?”
“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. An_hy? 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 lovin_oe, 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. “_an eat no more. Please take it away.”
I had never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe, as throug_he 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 fo_n hour or more. The striking of the clock aroused me, but not from m_ejection or remorse, and I got up and had my coat fastened round my neck, an_ent out. I had previously sought in my pockets for the letter, that I migh_efer to it again; but I could not find it, and was uneasy to think that i_ust 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 th_arshes, and the hour nine. Towards the marshes I now went straight, having n_ime to spare.