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by Charles Dickens
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
"Great Expectations," first published as a serial in "All the Year Round," in 1861, is generally seen as one of Dickens's finest works. The book originally ended with Pip briefly meeing Estella in London; after she had married Bentley Drummle, he then died and she remarried, the version given here is from the 1863 revision.
For more works by Dickens, see The Index
My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, I called myself with my infant tongue Pip, and came to be called Pip.
My first most vivid impression of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon, one Christmas Eve. Ours was the marsh country, down the river, within twenty miles of the sea; and I had wandered into a bleak place overgrown with nettles called a churchyard.
"Hold your noise," cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and cut by stones; who limped and shivered, and glared and growled.
'Magwitch in the marshes', by John McLenan
"Oh! don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it, sir."
"Tell us your name! quick!"
"Show us where you live," said the man. "P'int out the place. Who d'ye live with?"
I pointed to where our village was, and said, "With my sister, sir - Mrs. Joe Gargery - wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."
"Blacksmith, eh?" said he, and looked down at his leg. Then he took me by the arms. "Now lookee here. You know what a file is?"
"And you know what wittles is?"
"You get me a file, and you get me wittles. You bring 'em both to me, or I'll have your heart and liver out. You bring the lot to me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles you bring the lot to me at that old battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word concerning your having seen me, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted, and ate. Now what do you say?"
I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the Battery, early in the morning.
As soon as the darkness outside my little window was shot with grey, I got up and went downstairs. I stole some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket handkerchief), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had used for Spanish liquorice water up in my room), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round pork pie.
There was a door in the kitchen communicating with the forge; I unlocked and unbolted that door, got a file from among Joe's tools, put the fastenings as I had found them, and ran for the marshes.
It was a rainy morning, and very damp. I knew my way to the Battery, for I had been down there on a Sunday with Joe, and had just scrambled up the mound beyond the ditch when I saw the man sitting before me - with his back toward me.
I touched him on the shoulder, and he instantly jumped up, and it was not the same man, but another man - dressed in coarse grey, too, with a great iron on his leg.
He aimed a blow at me, and then ran into the mist, stumbling as he went, and I lost him.
I was soon at the Battery after that, and there was the right man waiting for me. He was awfully cold. And his eyes looked awfully hungry.
He devoured the food, mincemeat, meatbone, bread, cheese, and pork pie, all at once - more like a man who was putting it away somewhere in a violent hurry, than a man who was eating it, only stopping from time to time to listen.
"You're not a deceiving imp? You brought no one with you?"
"No, sir! No!"
"Well," said he, "I believe you. You'd be but a fierce young hound indeed if at your time of life you could help to hunt a wretched varmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched varmint is."
While he was eating I mentioned that I had just seen another man dressed like him, and with a badly bruised face.
"Not here?" he exclaimed, striking his left cheek.
He swore he would pull him down like a bloodhound, and then crammed what little food was left into the breast of his grey jacket, and began to file at his iron like a madman; so I thought the best thing that I could do was to slip off home.
I must have been about ten years old when I went to Miss Havisham's, and first met Estella.
My uncle Pumblechook, who kept a cornchandler's shop in the high-street of the town, took me to the large old, dismal house, which had all its windows barred. For miles round everybody had heard of Miss Havisham as an immensely rich and grim lady who led a life of seclusion; and everybody soon knew that Mr. Pumblechook had been commissioned to bring her a boy.
He left me at the courtyard, and a young lady, who was very pretty and seemed very proud, let me in, and I noticed that the passages were all dark, and that there was a candle burning. My guide, who called me "boy," but was really about my own age, was as scornful of me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen. She led me to Miss Havisham's room, and there, in an armchair, with her elbow resting on the table, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.
'Miss Havisham's wedding-cake', by John McLenan
She was dressed in rich materials - satins and lace and silks - all of white - or rather, which had been white, but, like all else in the room, were now faded yellow. Her shoes were white, and she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and bridal flowers in her hair; but her hair was white. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress.
"Who is it?" said the lady at the table.
"Pip, ma'am. Mr. Pumblechook's boy."
"Come nearer; let me look at you; come close. You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?"
"Do you know what I touch here?" she said, laying her hands, one upon the other, on her left side.
"Yes, ma'am; your heart."
"Broken!" She was silent for a little while, and then added, "I am tired; I want diversion. Play, play, play!"
What was an unfortunate boy to do? I didn't know how to play.
"Call Estella," said the lady. "Call Estella, at the door."
It was a dreadful thing to be bawling "Estella" to a scornful young lady in a mysterious passage in an unknown house, but I had to do it. And Estella came, and I heard her say, in answer to Miss Havisham, "Play with this boy! Why, he is a common labouring boy!"
I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer, "Well? You can break his heart."
We played at beggar my neighbour, and before the game was out Estella said disdainfully, "He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy! And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!"
I was very glad to get away. My coarse hands and my common boots had never troubled me before; but they troubled me now, and I determined to ask Joe why he had taught me to call those picture cards Jacks which ought to be called knaves.
For a long time I went once a week to this strange, gloomy house - it was called Satis House - and once Estella told me I might kiss her.
And then Miss Havisham decided I was to be apprenticed to Joe, and gave him £25 for the purpose; and I left off going to see her, and helped Joe in the forge. But I didn't like Joe's trade, and I was afflicted by that most miserable thing - to feel ashamed of home.
I couldn't resist paying Miss Havisham a visit; and, not seeing Estella, stammered that I hoped she was well.
"Abroad," said Miss Havisham; "educating for a lady; far out of reach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feel that you have lost her?"
I was spared the trouble of answering by being dismissed, and went home dissatisfied and uncomfortable, thinking myself coarse and common, and wanting to be a gentleman.
It was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship when, one Saturday night, Joe and I were up at the Three Jolly Bargemen, according to our custom.
A stranger, who did not recognise me, but whom I recognised as a gentleman I had met on the stairs at Miss Havisham's, was in the room; and on his asking for a blacksmith named Gargery and his apprentice named Pip, and, being answered, said he wanted to have a private conference with us two.
Joe took him home, and the stranger told us his name was Jaggers, and that he was a lawyer in London.
"Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow, your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures at his request and for his good?"
"No," said Joe.
"The communication I have got to make to this young fellow is that he has great expectations."
Joe and I gasped, and looked at one another.
"I am instructed to tell him," said Mr. Jaggers, "that he will come into a handsome property. Further, it is the desire of the present possessor of that property that he be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and be brought up as a gentleman, and that he always bear the name of Pip. Now, you are to understand that the name of the person who is your liberal benefactor remains a profound secret until the person chooses to reveal it, and you are most positively prohibited from making any inquiry on this head. If you have a suspicion, keep it in your own breast."
Mr. Jaggers went on to say that if I accepted the expectations on these terms, there was already money in hand for my education and maintenance, and that one Mr. Matthew Pocket, in London (whom I knew to be a relation of Miss Havisham's), could be my tutor if I was willing to go to him, say in a week's time. Of course I accepted this wonderful good fortune, and had no doubt in my own mind that Miss Havisham was my benefactress.
When Mr. Jaggers asked Joe whether he desired any compensation, Joe laid his hand upon my shoulder with the touch of a woman. "Pip is that hearty welcome," said Joe, "to go free with his services, to honour and fortun', as no words can tell him. But if you think as money can make compensation to me for the loss of the little child - what come to the forge - and ever the best of friends!" He scooped his eyes with his disengaged hand, but said not another word.
I went to London, and studied with Mr. Matthew Pocket, and shared rooms with his son Herbert (who, knowing my earlier life, decided to call me Handel), first in Barnard's Inn and later in the Temple.
On my twenty-first birthday I received £500, and this (unknown to Herbert) I managed to make over to my friend in order to secure him a managership in a business house.
My studies were not directed in any professional channel, but were pursued with a view to my being equal to any emergency when my expectations, which I had been told to look forward to, were fulfilled.
Estella was often in London, and I met her at many houses, and was desperately in love with her. But though she treated me with friendship, she was proud and capricious as ever, and a few years later married a man whom I knew and detested - a Mr. Bentley Drummle, a bully and a scoundrel.
When I was three-and-twenty I happened to be alone one night in our chambers reading, for I had a taste for books. Herbert was away at Marseilles on a business journey.
The clocks had struck eleven, and I closed my books. I was still listening to the clocks, when I heard a footstep on the staircase, and started. The staircase lights were blown out by the wind, and I took my reading-lamp and went out to see who it was.
"There is someone there, is there not?" I called out. "What floor do you want?"
"The top - Mr. Pip."
"That is my name. There is nothing the matter?"
"Nothing the matter," returned the voice. And the man came on.
I made out that the man was roughly but substantially dressed; that he had iron-grey hair; that his age was about sixty; that he was a muscular man, hardened by exposure to weather. I saw nothing that in the least explained him, but I saw that he was holding out both his hands to me.
I could not recall a single feature, but I knew him. No need to take a file from his pocket and show it to me. I knew my convict, in spite of the intervening years, as distinctly as I knew him in the churchyard when we first stood face to face.
He sat down on a chair that stood before the fire, and covered his forehead with his large brown hands.
"You acted nobly, my boy," said he.
I told him that I hoped he had mended his way of life, and was doing well.
"I've done wonderful well," he said. And then he asked me if I was doing well. And when I mentioned that I had been chosen to succeed to some property, he asked whose property? And, after that, if my lawyer-guardian's name began with "J."
All the truth of my position came flashing on me, and quickly I understood that Miss Havisham's intentions towards me were all a mere dream.
"Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you. It's me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you. I swore afterwards, sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, that you should get rich. Look 'ee here, Pip. I'm your second father. You're my son - more to me nor any son. I've put away money, only for you to spend. You ain't looked slowly forward to this as I have. You wasn't prepared for this as I wos. It warn't easy, Pip, for me to leave them parts, nor it wasn't safe. Look 'ee here, dear boy; caution is necessary."
"How do you mean?" I said. "Caution?"
"I was sent for life. It's death to come back. There's been overmuch coming back of late years, and I should of a certainty be hanged if took."
As Herbert was away, I put the man in the spare room, and gave out that he was my uncle.
He told me something of his story next day, and when Herbert came back and we had found a bed-room for our visitor in Essex Street, he told us all of it. His name was Magwitch - Abel Magwitch - he called himself Provis now - and he had been left by a travelling tinker to grow up alone. "In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail - that's my life pretty much, down to such times as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend." But there was a man who "set up fur a gentleman, named Compeyson," and this Compeyson's business was swindling, forging, and stolen banknote passing. Magwitch became his servant, and when both men were arrested, Compeyson turned round on the man whom he had employed, and got off with seven years to Magwitch's fourteen. Compeyson was the second convict of my childhood.
On consideration of the case, and after consultation with Mr. Jaggers, who corroborated the statement that a colonist named Abel Magwitch, of New South Wales, was my benefactor, and admitted that a Mr. Provis had written to him on behalf of Magwitch, concerning my address, we decided that the best thing to be done was to take a lodging for Mr. Provis on the riverside below the Pool, at Mill Pond Bank. It was out of the way, and in case of danger it would be easy to get away by a packet steamer.
The only danger was from Compeyson - for he had gone in terror of his life, and feared the vengeance of the man he had betrayed.
We were soon warned that Compeyson was aware of the return of his enemy, and that flight was necessary. Both Herbert and I noticed how quickly Provis had become softened, and on the night when we were to take him on board a Hamburg steamer he was very gentle.
We were out in mid-stream in a small rowing boat, moving quietly with the tide, when, just as the Hamburg steamer came in sight, a four-oared galley ran aboard of us, and the man who held the lines in it called out, "You have a returned transport there. That's the man wrapped in the cloak. His name is Abel Magwitch - otherwise Provis. I call upon him to surrender, and you to assist."
At once there was great confusion. The steamer was right upon us, and I heard the order given to stop the paddles. In the same moment I saw the steersman of the galley lay his hand on the prisoner's shoulder, and the prisoner start up, lean across his captor, and pull the cloak from the neck of a shrinking man in the galley. Still in the same moment I saw that the face disclosed was the face of the other convict of long ago, and white terror was on it. Then I heard a cry, and a loud splash in the water, and for an instant I seemed to struggle with a thousand mill weirs; the instant past, I was taken on board the galley. Herbert was there, but our boat was gone, and the two convicts were gone. Presently we saw a man swimming, but not swimming easily, and knew him to be Magwitch. He was taken on board, and instantly menacled at the wrists and ankles.
It was not till we had pulled up, and had landed at the riverside, that I could get some comforts for Magwitch, who had received injury in the chest, and a deep cut in the head. He told me that he believed himself to have gone under the keel of the steamer, and to have been struck on the head in rising. The injury to his chest he thought he had received against the side of the galley. He added that Compeyson, in the moment of his laying his hand on his cloak to identify him, had staggered up, and back, and they had both gone overboard together, locked in each other's arms. He had disengaged himself under water, and swam away.
He was taken to the police-court next day, and committed for trial at the, next session, which would come on in a month.
"Dear boy," he said. "Look 'ee, here. It's best as a gentleman should not be knowed to belong to me now."
"I will never stir from your side," said I, "when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!"
When the sessions came round, the trial was very short and very clear, and the capital sentence was pronounced. But the prisoner was very ill. Two of his ribs had been broken, and one of his lungs seriously injured, and ten days before the date fixed for his execution death set him free.
"Dear boy," he said, as I sat down by his bed on that last day. "I thought you was late. But I knowed you couldn't be that. You've never deserted me, dear boy."
I pressed his hand in silence.
"And what's the best of all," he said, "you've been more comfortable along of me since I was under a dark cloud than when the sun shone. That's best of all."
He had spoken his last words, and, holding my hand in his, passed away.
And with his death ended my expectations, for the pocket-book containing his wealth went to the Crown.
Herbert took me into his business, and I became a clerk, and afterwards went abroad to take charge of the eastern branch, and when many a year had gone round, became a partner.
It was eleven years later when I was down in the marshes again. I had been to see Joe Gargery, who was as friendly as ever, and had strolled on to where Satis House once stood. I had been told of Miss Havisham's death, and also of the death of Estella's husband.
Nothing was left of the old house but the garden wall, and as I stood looking along the desolate garden walk a solitary figure came up. I saw it stop, and half turn away, and then let me come up to it. It faltered as if much surprised, and uttered my name, and I cried out, "Estella!"
I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me I saw no shadow of another parting from her.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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