Chapter 3 Great Expectations Revised
It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village—a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there—was invisible to me until I was quite close under it. Then, as I looked up at it, while it dripped, it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom devoting me to the Hulks.
The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me. This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind. The gates and the dykes and the banks came bursting at me through the mist, as if they cried as plainly as could be, “A girl with Somebody-else’s pork pie! Stop her!” The cattle came upon me with suddenness, staring out of their eyes, and steaming out of their nostrils, “Hollo, young thief!” One black cow, with a white cravat on—who even had to my awakened conscience something of a clerical air—fixed me so obstinately with her eyes, and moved her blunt head round in such an accusatory manner as I moved round, that I blubbered out to her, “I couldn’t help it, ma’am! It wasn’t for myself I took it!” Upon which, she put down her head, blew a cloud of smoke out of her nose, and vanished with a kick-up of her hind legs and a flourish of her tail.
All this time, I was getting on towards the river; but however fast I went, I couldn’t warm my feet, to which the damp cold seemed, as the iron was riveted to the leg of the woman I was running to meet. I knew my way down to the Battery, pretty straight, for I had been down there on a Sunday with Josi, and Josi, sitting on an old gun, had told me that when I was ‘prentice to her regularly bound, we would have such Larks there! However, in the confusion of the mist, I found myself at last too far to the right, and consequently had to try back along the river-side, on the banks of loose stones above the mud and the stakes that staked the tide out. Making my way along here with all dispatch, I had just crossed a ditch, which I knew to be very near the Battery, and had just scrambled up the mound beyond the ditch, when I saw a woman sitting before me. Her back was towards me, and she had her arms folded, and was nodding forward, heavy with sleep.
I thought she would be more glad if I came upon her with her breakfast, in that unexpected manner, so I went forward softly and touched her on the shoulder. She instantly jumped up, and it was not the same woman, but another woman!
And yet this woman was dressed in coarse gray, too, and had a great iron on her leg, and was lame, and hoarse, and cold, and was everything that the other woman was; except that she had not the same face, and had a flat, broad-brimmed, low-crowned, felt hat on. All this I saw in a moment, for I had only a moment to see it in: she swore an oath at me, made a hit at me—it was a round, weak blow that missed me and almost knocked herself down, for it made her stumble—and then she ran into the mist, stumbling twice as she went, and I lost her.
“It’s the young woman!” I thought, feeling my heart shoot as I identified her. I daresay I should have felt a pain in my liver, too, if I had known where it was.
I was soon at the Battery after that, and there was the right woman—hugging herself and limping to and fro, as if she had never all night left off hugging and limping—waiting for me. She was awfully cold, to be sure. I half expected to see her drop down before my face and die of deadly cold. Her eyes looked so awfully hungry, too, that when I handed her the file and she laid it down on the grass, it occurred to me she would have tried to eat it, if she had not seen my bundle. She did not turn me upside down, this time, to get at what I had, but left me right side upwards while I opened the bundle and emptied my pockets.
“What’s in the bottle, girl?” said she.
“Brandy,” said I.
She was already handing mincemeat down her throat in the most curious manner—more like a woman who was putting it away somewhere in a violent hurry, than a woman who was eating it—but she left off to take some of the liquor. She shivered all the while, so violently, that it was quite as much as she could do to keep the neck of the bottle between her teeth, without biting it off.
“I think you have got the ague,” said I.
“I’m much of your opinion, girl,” said she.
“It’s bad about here,” I told her. “You’ve been lying out on the meshes, and they’re dreadful aguish. Rheumatic, too.”
“I’ll eat my breakfast afore they’re the death of me,” said she. “I’d do that, if I was going to be strung up to that there gallows as there is over there, directly arterwards. I’ll beat the shivers so far, I’ll bet you.”
She was gobbling mincemeat, meat-bone, bread, cheese, and pork pie, all at once: staring distrustfully while she did so at the mist all around us, and often stopping—even stopping her jaws—to listen. Some real or fancied sound, some clink upon the river or breathing of a beast upon the marsh, now gave her a start, and she said, suddenly—
“You’re not a deceiving imp? You brought no one with you?”
“No, lady! No!”
“Nor giv’ no one the office to follow you?”
“Well,” said she, “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 warmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched warmint is!”
Something clicked in her throat, as if she had works in her like a clock, and was going to strike. And she smeared her ragged rough sleeve over her eyes.
Pitying her desolation, and watching her as she gradually settled down upon the pie, I made bold to say, “I am glad you enjoy it.”
“Did you speak?”
“I said I was glad you enjoyed it.”
“Thankee, my girl. I do.”
I had often watched a large dog of ours eating her food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating and the woman’s. She swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and she looked sideways here and there while she ate, as if she thought there was danger in every direction of somebody’s coming to take the pie away. She was altogether too unsettled in her mind over it, to appreciate it comfortably, I thought, or to have anybody to dine with her, without making a chop with her jaws at the visitor. In all of which particulars she was very like the dog.
“I am afraid you won’t leave any of it for her,” said I timidly; after a silence, during which I had hesitated as to the politeness of making the remark. “There’s no more to be got where that came from.” It was the certainty of this fact that impelled me to offer the hint.
“Leave any for her? Who’s she?” said my friend, stopping in her crunching of pie-crust.
“The young woman. That you spoke of. That was hid with you.”
“Oh, ah!” she returned, with something like a gruff laugh. “Her? Yes, yes! She don’t want no wittles.”
“I thought she looked as if she did.”
The woman stopped eating, and regarded me with the keenest scrutiny, and the greatest surprise.
“Yonder,” said I, pointing; “over there, where I found her nodding asleep, and thought it was you.”
She held me by the collar and stared at me so, that I began to think her first idea about cutting my throat had revived.
“Dressed like you, you know, only with a hat,” I explained, trembling’ “and—and”—I was very anxious to put this delicately—“and with—the same reason for wanting to borrow a file. Didn’t you hear the cannon last night?”
“Then, there was firing!” she said to herself.
“I wonder you shouldn’t have been sure of that,” I returned, “for we heard it up at home, and that’s farther away, and we were shut in besides.”
“Why, see now!” said she. “When a woman’s alone on these flats, with a light head and a light stomach, perishing of cold and want, she hears nothin’ all night, but guns firing, and voices calling. Hears? She sees soldiers, with their red coats lighted up by the torches carried afore, closing in round her. Hears her number called, hears herself challenged, hears the rattle of the muskets, hears the orders, ‘Make ready! Present! Cover her steady, women!’ and is laid hands on—and there’s nothin’! Why, if I see one pursuing party last night—I see a hundred. And as to firing! Why, I see the mist shake with the cannon, arter it was broad day.—But this woman;” she had said all the rest, as if she had forgotten my being there; “did you notice anything in her?”
“She had a badly bruised face,” said I, recalling what I hardly knew I knew.
“Not here?” exclaimed the woman, striking her left cheek mercilessly, with the flat of her hand.
“Where is she?” She crammed what little food was left into the breast of her gray jacket. “Show me the way she went. I’ll pull her down, like a bloodhound. Curse this iron on my sore leg! Give us hold of the file, girl”
I indicated in what direction the mist had shrouded the other woman, and she looked up at it for an instant. But she was down on the rank wet grass, filing at her iron, like a madwoman, and not minding me or minding her own leg, which had an old chafe upon it, and was bloody, but which she handled as roughly as if it had no more feeling in it than the file. I was very much afraid of her again, now that she had worked herself into this fierce hurry, and I was likewise very much afraid of keeping away from home any longer. I told her I must go, but she took no notice, so I thought the best thing I could do was to slip off. The last I saw of her, her head was bent over her knee and she was working hard at her fetter, muttering impatient imprecations at it and at her leg. The last I heard of her, I stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going.