He lay in prison very ill, during the whole interval between his committal fo_rial and the coming round of the Sessions. He had broken two ribs, they ha_ounded one of his lungs, and he breathed with great pain and difficulty,
which increased daily. It was a consequence of his hurt that he spoke so lo_s to be scarcely audible; therefore he spoke very little. But he was eve_eady to listen to me; and it became the first duty of my life to say to him,
and read to him, what I knew he ought to hear.
Being far too ill to remain in the common prison, he was removed, after th_irst day or so, into the infirmary. This gave me opportunities of being wit_im that I could not otherwise have had. And but for his illness he would hav_een put in irons, for he was regarded as a determined prison-breaker, and _now not what else.
Although I saw him every day, it was for only a short time; hence, th_egularly recurring spaces of our separation were long enough to record on hi_ace any slight changes that occurred in his physical state. I do no_ecollect that I once saw any change in it for the better; he wasted, an_ecame slowly weaker and worse, day by day, from the day when the prison doo_losed upon him.
The kind of submission or resignation that he showed was that of a man who wa_ired out. I sometimes derived an impression, from his manner or from _hispered word or two which escaped him, that he pondered over the questio_hether he might have been a better man under better circumstances. But h_ever justified himself by a hint tending that way, or tried to bend the pas_ut of its eternal shape.
It happened on two or three occasions in my presence, that his desperat_eputation was alluded to by one or other of the people in attendance on him.
A smile crossed his face then, and he turned his eyes on me with a trustfu_ook, as if he were confident that I had seen some small redeeming touch i_im, even so long ago as when I was a little child. As to all the rest, he wa_umble and contrite, and I never knew him complain.
When the Sessions came round, Mr. Jaggers caused an application to be made fo_he postponement of his trial until the following Sessions. It was obviousl_ade with the assurance that he could not live so long, and was refused. Th_rial came on at once, and, when he was put to the bar, he was seated in _hair. No objection was made to my getting close to the dock, on the outsid_f it, and holding the hand that he stretched forth to me.
The trial was very short and very clear. Such things as could be said for hi_ere said,—how he had taken to industrious habits, and had thriven lawfull_nd reputably. But nothing could unsay the fact that he had returned, and wa_here in presence of the Judge and Jury. It was impossible to try him fo_hat, and do otherwise than find him guilty.
At that time, it was the custom (as I learnt from my terrible experience o_hat Sessions) to devote a concluding day to the passing of Sentences, and t_ake a finishing effect with the Sentence of Death. But for the indelibl_icture that my remembrance now holds before me, I could scarcely believe,
even as I write these words, that I saw two-and-thirty men and women pu_efore the Judge to receive that sentence together. Foremost among the two-
and-thirty was he; seated, that he might get breath enough to keep life i_im.
The whole scene starts out again in the vivid colors of the moment, down t_he drops of April rain on the windows of the court, glittering in the rays o_pril sun. Penned in the dock, as I again stood outside it at the corner wit_is hand in mine, were the two-and-thirty men and women; some defiant, som_tricken with terror, some sobbing and weeping, some covering their faces,
some staring gloomily about. There had been shrieks from among the wome_onvicts; but they had been stilled,and a hush had succeeded. The sheriff_ith their great chains and nosegays, other civic gewgaws and monsters,
criers, ushers, a great gallery full of people,—a large theatrica_udience,—looked on, as the two-and-thirty and the Judge were solemnl_onfronted. Then the Judge addressed them. Among the wretched creatures befor_im whom he must single out for special address was one who almost from hi_nfancy had been an offender against the laws; who, after repeate_mprisonments and punishments, had been at length sentenced to exile for _erm of years; and who, under circumstances of great violence and daring, ha_ade his escape and been re-sentenced to exile for life. That miserable ma_ould seem for a time to have become convinced of his errors, when far remove_rom the scenes of his old offences, and to have lived a peaceable and hones_ife. But in a fatal moment, yielding to those propensities and passions, th_ndulgence of which had so long rendered him a scourge to society, he ha_uitted his haven of rest and repentance, and had come back to the countr_here he was proscribed. Being here presently denounced, he had for a tim_ucceeded in evading the officers of Justice, but being at length seized whil_n the act of flight, he had resisted them, and had—he best knew whether b_xpress design, or in the blindness of his hardihood—caused the death of hi_enouncer, to whom his whole career was known. The appointed punishment fo_is return to the land that had cast him out, being Death, and his case bein_his aggravated case, he must prepare himself to Die.
The sun was striking in at the great windows of the court, through th_littering drops of rain upon the glass, and it made a broad shaft of ligh_etween the two-and-thirty and the Judge, linking both together, and perhap_eminding some among the audience how both were passing on, with absolut_quality, to the greater Judgment that knoweth all things, and cannot err.
Rising for a moment, a distinct speck of face in this way of light, th_risoner said, “My Lord, I have received my sentence of Death from th_lmighty, but I bow to yours,” and sat down again. There was some hushing, an_he Judge went on with what he had to say to the rest. Then they were al_ormally doomed, and some of them were supported out, and some of the_auntered out with a haggard look of bravery, and a few nodded to the gallery,
and two or three shook hands, and others went out chewing the fragments o_erb they had taken from the sweet herbs lying about. He went last of all,
because of having to be helped from his chair, and to go very slowly; and h_eld my hand while all the others were removed, and while the audience got up
(putting their dresses right, as they might at church or elsewhere), an_ointed down at this criminal or at that, and most of all at him and me.
I earnestly hoped and prayed that he might die before the Recorder’s Repor_as made; but, in the dread of his lingering on, I began that night to writ_ut a petition to the Home Secretary of State, setting forth my knowledge o_im, and how it was that he had come back for my sake. I wrote it as ferventl_nd pathetically as I could; and when I had finished it and sent it in, _rote out other petitions to such men in authority as I hoped were the mos_erciful, and drew up one to the Crown itself. For several days and night_fter he was sentenced I took no rest except when I fell asleep in my chair,
but was wholly absorbed in these appeals. And after I had sent them in, _ould not keep away from the places where they were, but felt as if they wer_ore hopeful and less desperate when I was near them. In this unreasonabl_estlessness and pain of mind I would roam the streets of an evening,
wandering by those offices and houses where I had left the petitions. To th_resent hour, the weary western streets of London on a cold, dusty sprin_ight, with their ranges of stern, shut-up mansions, and their long rows o_amps, are melancholy to me from this association.
The daily visits I could make him were shortened now, and he was more strictl_ept. Seeing, or fancying, that I was suspected of an intention of carryin_oison to him, I asked to be searched before I sat down at his bedside, an_old the officer who was always there, that I was willing to do anything tha_ould assure him of the singleness of my designs. Nobody was hard with him o_ith me. There was duty to be done, and it was done, but not harshly. Th_fficer always gave me the assurance that he was worse, and some other sic_risoners in the room, and some other prisoners who attended on them as sic_urses, (malefactors, but not incapable of kindness, God be thanked!) alway_oined in the same report.
As the days went on, I noticed more and more that he would lie placidl_ooking at the white ceiling, with an absence of light in his face until som_ord of mine brightened it for an instant, and then it would subside again.
Sometimes he was almost or quite unable to speak, then he would answer me wit_light pressures on my hand, and I grew to understand his meaning very well.
The number of the days had risen to ten, when I saw a greater change in hi_han I had seen yet. His eyes were turned towards the door, and lighted up a_ entered.
“Dear boy,” he said, as I sat down by his bed: “I thought you was late. But _nowed you couldn’t be that.”
“It is just the time,” said I. “I waited for it at the gate.”
“You always waits at the gate; don’t you, dear boy?”
“Yes. Not to lose a moment of the time.”
“Thank’ee dear boy, thank’ee. God bless you! You’ve never deserted me, dea_oy.”
I pressed his hand in silence, for I could not forget that I had once meant t_esert him.
“And what’s the best of all,” he said, “you’ve been more comfortable alonge_e, since I was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone. That’s best o_ll.”
He lay on his back, breathing with great difficulty. Do what he would, an_ove me though he did, the light left his face ever and again, and a film cam_ver the placid look at the white ceiling.
“Are you in much pain to-day?”
“I don’t complain of none, dear boy.”
“You never do complain.”
He had spoken his last words. He smiled, and I understood his touch to mea_hat he wished to lift my hand, and lay it on his breast. I laid it there, an_e smiled again, and put both his hands upon it.
The allotted time ran out, while we were thus; but, looking round, I found th_overnor of the prison standing near me, and he whispered, “You needn’t g_et.” I thanked him gratefully, and asked, “Might I speak to him, if he ca_ear me?”
The governor stepped aside, and beckoned the officer away. The change, thoug_t was made without noise, drew back the film from the placid look at th_hite ceiling, and he looked most affectionately at me.
“Dear Magwitch, I must tell you now, at last. You understand what I say?”
A gentle pressure on my hand.
“You had a child once, whom you loved and lost.”
A stronger pressure on my hand.
“She lived, and found powerful friends. She is living now. She is a lady an_ery beautiful. And I love her!”
With a last faint effort, which would have been powerless but for my yieldin_o it and assisting it, he raised my hand to his lips. Then, he gently let i_ink upon his breast again, with his own hands lying on it. The placid look a_he white ceiling came back, and passed away, and his head dropped quietly o_is breast.
Mindful, then, of what we had read together, I thought of the two men who wen_p into the Temple to pray, and I knew there were no better words that I coul_ay beside his bed, than “O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner!”