Eight o’clock had struck before I got into the air, that was scented, no_isagreeably, by the chips and shavings of the long-shore boat-builders, an_ast, oar, and block makers. All that water-side region of the upper and lowe_ool below Bridge was unknown ground to me; and when I struck down by th_iver, I found that the spot I wanted was not where I had supposed it to be, and was anything but easy to find. It was called Mill Pond Bank, Chinks’_asin; and I had no other guide to Chinks’s Basin than the Old Green Coppe_ope-walk.
It matters not what stranded ships repairing in dry docks I lost myself among, what old hulls of ships in course of being knocked to pieces, what ooze an_lime and other dregs of tide, what yards of ship-builders and ship-breakers, what rusty anchors blindly biting into the ground, though for years off duty, what mountainous country of accumulated casks and timber, how many ropewalk_hat were not the Old Green Copper. After several times falling short of m_estination and as often overshooting it, I came unexpectedly round a corner, upon Mill Pond Bank. It was a fresh kind of place, all circumstance_onsidered, where the wind from the river had room to turn itself round; an_here were two or three trees in it, and there was the stump of a ruine_indmill, and there was the Old Green Copper Ropewalk,—whose long and narro_ista I could trace in the moonlight, along a series of wooden frames set i_he ground, that looked like superannuated haymaking-rakes which had grown ol_nd lost most of their teeth.
Selecting from the few queer houses upon Mill Pond Bank a house with a woode_ront and three stories of bow-window (not bay-window, which is anothe_hing), I looked at the plate upon the door, and read there, Mrs. Whimple.
That being the name I wanted, I knocked, and an elderly woman of a pleasan_nd thriving appearance responded. She was immediately deposed, however, b_erbert, who silently led me into the parlor and shut the door. It was an od_ensation to see his very familiar face established quite at home in that ver_nfamiliar room and region; and I found myself looking at him, much as _ooked at the corner-cupboard with the glass and china, the shells upon th_himney-piece, and the colored engravings on the wall, representing the deat_f Captain Cook, a ship-launch, and his Majesty King George the Third in _tate coachman’s wig, leather-breeches, and top-boots, on the terrace a_indsor.
“All is well, Handel,” said Herbert, “and he is quite satisfied, though eage_o see you. My dear girl is with her father; and if you’ll wait till she come_own, I’ll make you known to her, and then we’ll go up stairs. That’s he_ather.”
I had become aware of an alarming growling overhead, and had probabl_xpressed the fact in my countenance.
“I am afraid he is a sad old rascal,” said Herbert, smiling, “but I have neve_een him. Don’t you smell rum? He is always at it.”
“At rum?” said I.
“Yes,” returned Herbert, “and you may suppose how mild it makes his gout. H_ersists, too, in keeping all the provisions up stairs in his room, an_erving them out. He keeps them on shelves over his head, and will weigh the_ll. His room must be like a chandler’s shop.”
While he thus spoke, the growling noise became a prolonged roar, and then die_way.
“What else can be the consequence,” said Herbert, in explanation, “if he wil_ut the cheese? A man with the gout in his right hand— and everywher_lse—can’t expect to get through a Double Gloucester without hurting himself.”
He seemed to have hurt himself very much, for he gave another furious roar.
“To have Provis for an upper lodger is quite a godsend to Mrs. Whimple,” sai_erbert, “for of course people in general won’t stand that noise. A curiou_lace, Handel; isn’t it?”
It was a curious place, indeed; but remarkably well kept and clean.
“Mrs. Whimple,” said Herbert, when I told him so, “is the best of housewives, and I really do not know what my Clara would do without her motherly help.
For, Clara has no mother of her own, Handel, and no relation in the world bu_ld Gruffandgrim.”
“Surely that’s not his name, Herbert?”
“No, no,” said Herbert, “that’s my name for him. His name is Mr. Barley. Bu_hat a blessing it is for the son of my father and mother to love a girl wh_as no relations, and who can never bother herself or anybody else about he_amily!”
Herbert had told me on former occasions, and now reminded me, that he firs_new Miss Clara Barley when she was completing her education at a_stablishment at Hammersmith, and that on her being recalled home to nurse he_ather, he and she had confided their affection to the motherly Mrs. Whimple, by whom it had been fostered and regulated with equal kindness and discretion, ever since. It was understood that nothing of a tender nature could possibl_e confided to old Barley, by reason of his being totally unequal to th_onsideration of any subject more psychological than Gout, Rum, and Purser’_tores.
As we were thus conversing in a low tone while Old Barley’s sustained grow_ibrated in the beam that crossed the ceiling, the room door opened, and _ery pretty, slight, dark-eyed girl of twenty or so came in with a basket i_er hand: whom Herbert tenderly relieved of the basket, and presented, blushing, as “Clara.” She really was a most charming girl, and might hav_assed for a captive fairy, whom that truculent Ogre, Old Barley, had presse_nto his service.
“Look here,” said Herbert, showing me the basket, with a compassionate an_ender smile, after we had talked a little; “here’s poor Clara’s supper, served out every night. Here’s her allowance of bread, and here’s her slice o_heese, and here’s her rum,—which I drink. This is Mr. Barley’s breakfast fo_o-morrow, served out to be cooked. Two mutton-chops, three potatoes, som_plit peas, a little flour, two ounces of butter, a pinch of salt, and al_his black pepper. It’s stewed up together, and taken hot, and it’s a nic_hing for the gout, I should think!”
There was something so natural and winning in Clara’s resigned way of lookin_t these stores in detail, as Herbert pointed them out; and something s_onfiding, loving, and innocent in her modest manner of yielding herself t_erbert’s embracing arm; and something so gentle in her, so much needin_rotection on Mill Pond Bank, by Chinks’s Basin, and the Old Green Coppe_opewalk, with Old Barley growling in the beam,—that I would not have undon_he engagement between her and Herbert for all the money in the pocket-book _ad never opened.
I was looking at her with pleasure and admiration, when suddenly the grow_welled into a roar again, and a frightful bumping noise was heard above, a_f a giant with a wooden leg were trying to bore it through the ceiling t_ome at us. Upon this Clara said to Herbert, “Papa wants me, darling!” and ra_way.
“There is an unconscionable old shark for you!” said Herbert. “What do yo_uppose he wants now, Handel?”
“I don’t know,” said I. “Something to drink?”
“That’s it!” cried Herbert, as if I had made a guess of extraordinary merit.
“He keeps his grog ready mixed in a little tub on the table. Wait a moment, and you’ll hear Clara lift him up to take some. There he goes!” Another roar, with a prolonged shake at the end. “Now,” said Herbert, as it was succeeded b_ilence, “he’s drinking. Now,” said Herbert, as the growl resounded in th_eam once more, “he’s down again on his back!”
Clara returned soon afterwards, and Herbert accompanied me up stairs to se_ur charge. As we passed Mr. Barley’s door, he was heard hoarsely mutterin_ithin, in a strain that rose and fell like wind, the following Refrain, i_hich I substitute good wishes for something quite the reverse:—
“Ahoy! Bless your eyes, here’s old Bill Barley. Here’s old Bill Barley, bles_our eyes. Here’s old Bill Barley on the flat of his back, by the Lord. Lyin_n the flat of his back like a drifting old dead flounder, here’s your ol_ill Barley, bless your eyes. Ahoy! Bless you.”
In this strain of consolation, Herbert informed me the invisible Barley woul_ommune with himself by the day and night together; Often, while it was light, having, at the same time, one eye at a telescope which was fitted on his be_or the convenience of sweeping the river.
In his two cabin rooms at the top of the house, which were fresh and airy, an_n which Mr. Barley was less audible than below, I found Provis comfortabl_ettled. He expressed no alarm, and seemed to feel none that was wort_entioning; but it struck me that he was softened,—indefinably, for I coul_ot have said how, and could never afterwards recall how when I tried, bu_ertainly.
The opportunity that the day’s rest had given me for reflection had resulte_n my fully determining to say nothing to him respecting Compeyson. Fo_nything I knew, his animosity towards the man might otherwise lead to hi_eeking him out and rushing on his own destruction. Therefore, when Herber_nd I sat down with him by his fire, I asked him first of all whether h_elied on Wemmick’s judgment and sources of information?
“Ay, ay, dear boy!” he answered, with a grave nod, “Jaggers knows.”
“Then, I have talked with Wemmick,” said I, “and have come to tell you wha_aution he gave me and what advice.”
This I did accurately, with the reservation just mentioned; and I told him ho_emmick had heard, in Newgate prison (whether from officers or prisoners _ould not say), that he was under some suspicion, and that my chambers ha_een watched; how Wemmick had recommended his keeping close for a time, and m_eeping away from him; and what Wemmick had said about getting him abroad. _dded, that of course, when the time came, I should go with him, or shoul_ollow close upon him, as might be safest in Wemmick’s judgment. What was t_ollow that I did not touch upon; neither, indeed, was I at all clear o_omfortable about it in my own mind, now that I saw him in that softe_ondition, and in declared peril for my sake. As to altering my way of livin_y enlarging my expenses, I put it to him whether in our present unsettled an_ifficult circumstances, it would not be simply ridiculous, if it were n_orse?
He could not deny this, and indeed was very reasonable throughout. His comin_ack was a venture, he said, and he had always known it to be a venture. H_ould do nothing to make it a desperate venture, and he had very little fea_f his safety with such good help.
Herbert, who had been looking at the fire and pondering, here said tha_omething had come into his thoughts arising out of Wemmick’s suggestion, which it might be worth while to pursue. “We are both good watermen, Handel, and could take him down the river ourselves when the right time comes. No boa_ould then be hired for the purpose, and no boatmen; that would save at leas_ chance of suspicion, and any chance is worth saving. Never mind the season; don’t you think it might be a good thing if you began at once to keep a boa_t the Temple stairs, and were in the habit of rowing up and down the river?
You fall into that habit, and then who notices or minds? Do it twenty or fift_imes, and there is nothing special in your doing it the twenty-first o_ifty-first.”
I liked this scheme, and Provis was quite elated by it. We agreed that i_hould be carried into execution, and that Provis should never recognize us i_e came below Bridge, and rowed past Mill Pond Bank. But we further agree_hat he should pull down the blind in that part of his window which gave upo_he east, whenever he saw us and all was right.
Our conference being now ended, and everything arranged, I rose to go; remarking to Herbert that he and I had better not go home together, and that _ould take half an hour’s start of him. “I don’t like to leave you here,” _aid to Provis, “though I cannot doubt your being safer here than near me.
“Dear boy,” he answered, clasping my hands, “I don’t know when we may mee_gain, and I don’t like good by. Say good night!”
“Good night! Herbert will go regularly between us, and when the time comes yo_ay be certain I shall be ready. Good night, good night!”
We thought it best that he should stay in his own rooms; and we left him o_he landing outside his door, holding a light over the stair-rail to light u_own stairs. Looking back at him, I thought of the first night of his return, when our positions were reversed, and when I little supposed my heart coul_ver be as heavy and anxious at parting from him as it was now.
Old Barley was growling and swearing when we repassed his door, with n_ppearance of having ceased or of meaning to cease. When we got to the foot o_he stairs, I asked Herbert whether he had preserved the name of Provis. H_eplied, certainly not, and that the lodger was Mr. Campbell. He als_xplained that the utmost known of Mr. Campbell there was, that he (Herbert) had Mr. Campbell consigned to him, and felt a strong personal interest in hi_eing well cared for, and living a secluded life. So, when we went into th_arlor where Mrs. Whimple and Clara were seated at work, I said nothing of m_wn interest in Mr. Campbell, but kept it to myself.
When I had taken leave of the pretty, gentle, dark-eyed girl, and of th_otherly woman who had not outlived her honest sympathy with a little affai_f true love, I felt as if the Old Green Copper Ropewalk had grown quite _ifferent place. Old Barley might be as old as the hills, and might swear lik_ whole field of troopers, but there were redeeming youth and trust and hop_nough in Chinks’s Basin to fill it to overflowing. And then I thought o_stella, and of our parting, and went home very sadly.
All things were as quiet in the Temple as ever I had seen them. The windows o_he rooms on that side, lately occupied by Provis, were dark and still, an_here was no lounger in Garden Court. I walked past the fountain twice o_hrice before I descended the steps that were between me and my rooms, but _as quite alone. Herbert, coming to my bedside when he came in,—for I wen_traight to bed, dispirited and fatigued,—made the same report. Opening one o_he windows after that, he looked out into the moonlight, and told me that th_avement was a solemnly empty as the pavement of any cathedral at that sam_our.
Next day I set myself to get the boat. It was soon done, and the boat wa_rought round to the Temple stairs, and lay where I could reach her within _inute or two. Then, I began to go out as for training and practice: sometime_lone, sometimes with Herbert. I was often out in cold, rain, and sleet, bu_obody took much note of me after I had been out a few times. At first, I kep_bove Blackfriars Bridge; but as the hours of the tide changed, I took toward_ondon Bridge. It was Old London Bridge in those days, and at certain state_f the tide there was a race and fall of water there which gave it a ba_eputation. But I knew well enough how to “shoot’ the bridge after seeing i_one, and so began to row about among the shipping in the Pool, and down t_rith. The first time I passed Mill Pond Bank, Herbert and I were pulling _air of oars; and, both in going and returning, we saw the blind towards th_ast come down. Herbert was rarely there less frequently than three times in _eek, and he never brought me a single word of intelligence that was at al_larming. Still, I knew that there was cause for alarm, and I could not ge_id of the notion of being watched. Once received, it is a haunting idea; ho_any undesigning persons I suspected of watching me, it would be hard t_alculate.
In short, I was always full of fears for the rash man who was in hiding.
Herbert had sometimes said to me that he found it pleasant to stand at one o_ur windows after dark, when the tide was running down, and to think that i_as flowing, with everything it bore, towards Clara. But I thought with drea_hat it was flowing towards Magwitch, and that any black mark on its surfac_ight be his pursuers, going swiftly, silently, and surely, to take him.