In vain should I attempt to describe the astonishment and disquiet of Herbert, when he and I and Provis sat down before the fire, and I recounted the whol_f the secret. Enough, that I saw my own feelings reflected in Herbert’s face, and not least among them, my repugnance towards the man who had done so muc_or me.
What would alone have set a division between that man and us, if there ha_een no other dividing circumstance, was his triumph in my story. Saving hi_roublesome sense of having been “low’ on one occasion since his return,—o_hich point he began to hold forth to Herbert, the moment my revelation wa_inished,—he had no perception of the possibility of my finding any fault wit_y good fortune. His boast that he had made me a gentleman, and that he ha_ome to see me support the character on his ample resources, was made for m_uite as much as for himself. And that it was a highly agreeable boast to bot_f us, and that we must both be very proud of it, was a conclusion quit_stablished in his own mind.
“Though, look’ee here, Pip’s comrade,” he said to Herbert, after havin_iscoursed for some time, “I know very well that once since I come back—fo_alf a minute—I’ve been low. I said to Pip, I knowed as I had been low. Bu_on’t you fret yourself on that score. I ain’t made Pip a gentleman, and Pi_in’t a going to make you a gentleman, not fur me not to know what’s due to y_oth. Dear boy, and Pip’s comrade, you two may count upon me always having _en-teel muzzle on. Muzzled I have been since that half a minute when I wa_etrayed into lowness, muzzled I am at the present time, muzzled I ever wil_e.”
Herbert said, “Certainly,” but looked as if there were no specific consolatio_n this, and remained perplexed and dismayed. We were anxious for the tim_hen he would go to his lodging and leave us together, but he was evidentl_ealous of leaving us together, and sat late. It was midnight before I too_im round to Essex Street, and saw him safely in at his own dark door. When i_losed upon him, I experienced the first moment of relief I had known sinc_he night of his arrival.
Never quite free from an uneasy remembrance of the man on the stairs, I ha_lways looked about me in taking my guest out after dark, and in bringing hi_ack; and I looked about me now. Difficult as it is in a large city to avoi_he suspicion of being watched, when the mind is conscious of danger in tha_egard, I could not persuade myself that any of the people within sight care_bout my movements. The few who were passing passed on their several ways, an_he street was empty when I turned back into the Temple. Nobody had come ou_t the gate with us, nobody went in at the gate with me. As I crossed by th_ountain, I saw his lighted back windows looking bright and quiet, and, when _tood for a few moments in the doorway of the building where I lived, befor_oing up the stairs, Garden Court was as still and lifeless as the staircas_as when I ascended it.
Herbert received me with open arms, and I had never felt before so blessedl_hat it is to have a friend. When he had spoken some sound words of sympath_nd encouragement, we sat down to consider the question, What was to be done?
The chair that Provis had occupied still remaining where it had Stood,—for h_ad a barrack way with him of hanging about one spot, in one unsettled manner, and going through one round of observances with his pipe and his negro-hea_nd his jackknife and his pack of cards, and what not, as if it were all pu_own for him on a slate,—I say his chair remaining where it had stood, Herber_nconsciously took it, but next moment started out of it, pushed it away, an_ook another. He had no occasion to say after that that he had conceived a_version for my patron, neither had I occasion to confess my own. W_nterchanged that confidence without shaping a syllable.
“What,” said I to Herbert, when he was safe in another chair,—“what is to b_one?”
“My poor dear Handel,” he replied, holding his head, “I am too stunned t_hink.”
“So was I, Herbert, when the blow first fell. Still, something must be done.
He is intent upon various new expenses,—horses, and carriages, and lavis_ppearances of all kinds. He must be stopped somehow.”
“You mean that you can’t accept—”
“How can I?” I interposed, as Herbert paused. “Think of him! Look at him!”
An involuntary shudder passed over both of us.
“Yet I am afraid the dreadful truth is, Herbert, that he is attached to me, strongly attached to me. Was there ever such a fate!”
“My poor dear Handel,” Herbert repeated.
“Then,” said I, “after all, stopping short here, never taking another penn_rom him, think what I owe him already! Then again: I am heavily in debt,—ver_eavily for me, who have now no expectations,—and I have been bred to n_alling, and I am fit for nothing.”
“Well, well, well!” Herbert remonstrated. “Don’t say fit for nothing.”
“What am I fit for? I know only one thing that I am fit for, and that is, t_o for a soldier. And I might have gone, my dear Herbert, but for the prospec_f taking counsel with your friendship and affection.”
Of course I broke down there: and of course Herbert, beyond seizing a war_rip of my hand, pretended not to know it.
“Anyhow, my dear Handel,” said he presently, “soldiering won’t do. If you wer_o renounce this patronage and these favors, I suppose you would do so wit_ome faint hope of one day repaying what you have already had. Not ver_trong, that hope, if you went soldiering! Besides, it’s absurd. You would b_nfinitely better in Clarriker’s house, small as it is. I am working u_owards a partnership, you know.”
Poor fellow! He little suspected with whose money.
“But there is another question,” said Herbert. “This is an ignorant, determined man, who has long had one fixed idea. More than that, he seems t_e (I may misjudge him) to be a man of a desperate and fierce character.”
“I know he is,” I returned. “Let me tell you what evidence I have seen of it.” And I told him what I had not mentioned in my narrative, of that encounte_ith the other convict.
“See, then,” said Herbert; “think of this! He comes here at the peril of hi_ife, for the realization of his fixed idea. In the moment of realization, after all his toil and waiting, you cut the ground from under his feet, destroy his idea, and make his gains worthless to him. Do you see nothing tha_e might do, under the disappointment?”
“I have seen it, Herbert, and dreamed of it, ever since the fatal night of hi_rrival. Nothing has been in my thoughts so distinctly as his putting himsel_n the way of being taken.”
“Then you may rely upon it,” said Herbert, “that there would be great dange_f his doing it. That is his power over you as long as he remains in England, and that would be his reckless course if you forsook him.”
I was so struck by the horror of this idea, which had weighed upon me from th_irst, and the working out of which would make me regard myself, in some sort, as his murderer, that I could not rest in my chair, but began pacing to an_ro. I said to Herbert, meanwhile, that even if Provis were recognized an_aken, in spite of himself, I should be wretched as the cause, howeve_nnocently. Yes; even though I was so wretched in having him at large and nea_e, and even though I would far rather have worked at the forge all the day_f my life than I would ever have come to this!
But there was no staving off the question, What was to be done?
“The first and the main thing to be done,” said Herbert, “is to get him out o_ngland. You will have to go with him, and then he may be induced to go.”
“But get him where I will, could I prevent his coming back?”
“My good Handel, is it not obvious that with Newgate in the next street, ther_ust be far greater hazard in your breaking your mind to him and making hi_eckless, here, than elsewhere. If a pretext to get him away could be made ou_f that other convict, or out of anything else in his life, now.”
“There, again!” said I, stopping before Herbert, with my open hands held out, as if they contained the desperation of the case. “I know nothing of his life.
It has almost made me mad to sit here of a night and see him before me, s_ound up with my fortunes and misfortunes, and yet so unknown to me, except a_he miserable wretch who terrified me two days in my childhood!”
Herbert got up, and linked his arm in mine, and we slowly walked to and fr_ogether, studying the carpet.
“Handel,” said Herbert, stopping, “you feel convinced that you can take n_urther benefits from him; do you?”
“Fully. Surely you would, too, if you were in my place?”
“And you feel convinced that you must break with him?”
“Herbert, can you ask me?”
“And you have, and are bound to have, that tenderness for the life he ha_isked on your account, that you must save him, if possible, from throwing i_way. Then you must get him out of England before you stir a finger t_xtricate yourself. That done, extricate yourself, in Heaven’s name, and we’l_ee it out together, dear old boy.”
It was a comfort to shake hands upon it, and walk up and down again, with onl_hat done.
“Now, Herbert,” said I, “with reference to gaining some knowledge of hi_istory. There is but one way that I know of. I must ask him point blank.”
“Yes. Ask him,” said Herbert, “when we sit at breakfast in the morning.” Fo_e had said, on taking leave of Herbert, that he would come to breakfast wit_s.
With this project formed, we went to bed. I had the wildest dreams concernin_im, and woke unrefreshed; I woke, too, to recover the fear which I had los_n the night, of his being found out as a returned transport. Waking, I neve_ost that fear.
He came round at the appointed time, took out his jackknife, and sat down t_is meal. He was full of plans “for his gentleman’s coming out strong, an_ike a gentleman,” and urged me to begin speedily upon the pocket-book whic_e had left in my possession. He considered the chambers and his own lodgin_s temporary residences, and advised me to look out at once for a “fashionabl_rib” near Hyde Park, in which he could have “a shake-down.” When he had mad_n end of his breakfast, and was wiping his knife on his leg, I said to him, without a word of preface,—
“After you were gone last night, I told my friend of the struggle that th_oldiers found you engaged in on the marshes, when we came up. You remember?”
“Remember!” said he. “I think so!”
“We want to know something about that man—and about you. It is strange to kno_o more about either, and particularly you, than I was able to tell las_ight. Is not this as good a time as another for our knowing more?”
“Well!” he said, after consideration. “You’re on your oath, you know, Pip’_omrade?”
“Assuredly,” replied Herbert.
“As to anything I say, you know,” he insisted. “The oath applies to all.”
“I understand it to do so.”
“And look’ee here! Wotever I done is worked out and paid for,” he insiste_gain.
“So be it.”
He took out his black pipe and was going to fill it with negro-head, when, looking at the tangle of tobacco in his hand, he seemed to think it migh_erplex the thread of his narrative. He put it back again, stuck his pipe in _utton-hole of his coat, spread a hand on each knee, and after turning a_ngry eye on the fire for a few silent moments, looked round at us and sai_hat follows.