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towards Camberwell Green, and when we were thereabouts, Wemmick said suddenly:
"Halloa! Here's a church!"
There was nothing very surprising in that; but a gain, I was rather
surprised, when he said, as if he were animated by a brilliant idea:
"Let's go in!"
We went in, Wemmick leaving his fishing-rod in the porch, and looked all
round. In the mean time, Wemmick was diving into his coat-pockets, and getting
something out of paper there.
"Halloa!" said he. "Here's a couple of pair of gloves! Let's put 'em on!"
As the gloves were white kid gloves, and as the post-office was widened to
its utmost extent, I now began to have my strong suspicions. They were
strengthened into certainty when I beheld the Aged enter at a side door,
escorting a lady.
"Halloa!" said Wemmick. "Here's Miss Skiffins! Let's have a wedding."
That discreet damsel was attired as usual, except that she was now engaged
in substituting for her green kid gloves, a pair of white. The Aged was likewise
occupied in preparing a similar sacrifice for the altar of Hymen. The old
gentleman, however, experienced so much difficulty in getting his gloves on,
that Wemmick found it necessary to put him with his back against a pillar, and
then to get behind the pillar himself and pull away at them, while I for my part
held the old gentleman round the waist, that he might present and equal and safe
resistance. By dint of this ingenious Scheme, his gloves were got on to
The clerk and clergyman then appearing, we were ranged in order at those
fatal rails. True to his notion of seeming to do it all without preparation, I
heard Wemmick say to himself as he took something out of his waistcoat-pocket
before the service began, "Halloa! Here's a ring!"
I acted in the capacity of backer, or best-man, to the bridegroom; while a
little limp pew opener in a soft bonnet like a baby's, made a feint of being the
bosom friend of Miss Skiffins. The responsibility of giving the lady away,
devolved upon the Aged, which led to the clergyman's being unintentionally
scandalized, and it happened thus. When he said, "Who giveth this woman to be
married to this man?" the old gentlemen, not in the least knowing what point of
the ceremony we had arrived at, stood most amiably beaming at the ten
commandments. Upon which, the clergyman said again, "WHO giveth this woman to
be married to this man?" The old gentleman being still in a state of most
estimable unconsciousness, the bridegroom cried out in his accustomed voice,
"Now Aged P. you know; who giveth?" To which the Aged replied with great
briskness, before saying that he gave, "All right, John, all right, my boy!" And
the clergyman came to so gloomy a pause upon it, that I had doubts for the
moment whether we should get completely married that day.
It was completely done, however, and when we were going out of church,
Wemmick took the cover off the font, and put his white gloves in it, and put the
cover on again. Mrs. Wemmick, more heedful of the future, put her white gloves
in her pocket and assumed her green. "Now, Mr. Pip," said Wemmick, triumphantly
shouldering the fishing-rod as we came out, "let me ask you whether anybody
would suppose this to be a wedding-party!"
Breakfast had been ordered at a pleasant little tavern, a mile or so away
upon the rising ground beyond the Green, and there was a bagatelle board in the
room, in case we should desire to unbend our minds after the solemnity. It was
pleasant to observe that Mrs. Wemmick no longer unwound Wemmick's arm when it
adapted itself to her figure, but sat in a high-backed chair against the wall,
like a violoncello in its case, and submitted to be embraced as that melodious
instrument might have done.
We had an excellent breakfast, and when any one declined anything on table,
Wemmick said, "Provided by contract, you know; don't be afraid of it!" I drank
to the new couple, drank to the Aged, drank to the Castle, saluted the bride at
parting, and made myself as agreeable as I could.
Wemmick came down to the door with me, and I again shook hands with him,
and wished him joy.
"Thankee!" said Wemmick, rubbing his hands. "She's such a manager of
fowls, you have no idea. You shall have some eggs, and judge for yourself. I
say, Mr. Pip!" calling me back, and speaking low. "This is altogether a
Walworth sentiment, please."
"I understand. Not to be mentioned in Little Britain," said I.
Wemmick nodded. "After what you let out the other day, Mr. Jaggers may as
well not know of it. He might think my brain was softening, or something of the
He lay in prison very ill, during the whole interval between his committal
for trial, and the coming round of the Sessions. He had broken two ribs, they
had wounded 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 low
as to be scarcely audible; therefore, he spoke very little. But, he was ever
ready 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 the
first day or so, into the infirmary. This gave me opportunities of being with
him that I could not otherwise have had. And but for his illness he would have
been put in irons, for he was regarded as a determined prison-breaker, and I
know not what else.
Although I saw him every day, it was for only a short time; hence, the
regularly recurring spaces of our separation were long enough to record on his
face any slight changes that occurred in his physical state. I do not recollect
that I once saw any change in it for the better; he wasted, and became slowly
weaker and worse, day by day, from the day when the prison door closed upon him.
The kind of submission or resignation that he showed, was that of a man who
was tired out. I sometimes derived an impression, from his manner or from a
whispered word or two which escaped him, that he pondered over the question
whether he might have been a better man under better circumstances. But, he
never justified himself by a hint tending that way, or tried to bend the past
out of its eternal shape.
It happened on two or three occasions in my presence, that his desperate
reputation 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 trustful look,
as if he were confident that I had seen some small redeeming touch in him, even
so long ago as when I was a little child. As to all the rest, he was humble and
contrite, and I never knew him complain.
When the Sessions came round, Mr. Jaggers caused an application to be made
for the postponement of his trial until the following Sessions. It was
obviously made with the assurance that he could not live so long, and was
refused. The trial came on at once, and, when he was put to the bar, he was
seated in a chair. No objection was made to my getting close to the dock, on
the outside of 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
him, were said - how he had taken to industrious habits, and had thriven
lawfully and reputably. But, nothing could unsay the fact that he had returned,
and was there in presence of the Judge and Jury. It was impossible to try him
for that, and do otherwise than find him guilty.
At that time, it was the custom (as I learnt from my terrible experience of
that Sessions) to devote a concluding day to the passing of Sentences, and to
make a finishing effect with the Sentence of Death. But for the indelible
picture 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 put before 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 in him.
The whole scene starts out again in the vivid colours of the moment, down
to the drops of April rain on the windows of the court, glittering in the rays
of April sun. Penned in the dock, as I again stood outside it at the corner
with his hand in mine, were the two-and-thirty men and women; some defiant, some
stricken with terror, some sobbing and weeping, some covering their faces, some
staring gloomily about. There had been shrieks from among the women convicts,
but they had been stilled, a hush had succeeded. The sheriffs with their great
chains and nosegays, other civic gewgaws and monsters, criers, ushers, a great
gallery full of people - a large theatrical audience - looked on, as the
two-and-thirty and the Judge were solemnly confronted. Then, the Judge
addressed them. Among the wretched creatures before him whom he must single out
for special address, was one who almost from his infancy had been an offender
against the laws; who, after repeated imprisonments and punishments, had been at
length sentenced to exile for a term of years; and who, under circumstances of
great violence and daring had made his escape and been re-sentenced to exile for
life. That miserable man would seem for a time to have become convinced of his
errors, when far removed from the scenes of his old offences, and to have lived
a peaceable and honest life. But in a fatal moment, yielding to those
propensities and passions, the indulgence of which had so long rendered him a
scourge to society, he had quitted his haven of rest and repentance, and had
come back to the country where he was proscribed. Being here presently
denounced, he had for a time succeeded in evading the officers of Justice, but
being at length seized while in the act of flight, he had resisted them, and had
- he best knew whether by express design, or in the blindness of his hardihood -
caused the death of his denouncer, to whom his whole career was known. The
appointed punishment for his return to the land that had cast him out, being
Death, and his case being this aggravated case, he must prepare himself to Die.
The sun was striking in at the great windows of the court, through the
glittering drops of rain upon the glass, and it made a broad shaft of light
between the two-and-thirty and the Judge, linking both together, and perhaps
reminding some among the audience, how both were passing on, with absolute
equality, 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, the prisoner
said, "My Lord, I have received my sentence of Death from the Almighty, but I
bow to yours," and sat down again. There was some hushing, and the Judge went
on with what he had to say to the rest. Then, they were all formally doomed, and
some of them were supported out, and some of them sauntered 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 of herb 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 he held 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) and pointed 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 Report
was made, but, in the dread of his lingering on, I began that night to write out
a petition to the Home Secretary of State, setting forth my knowledge of him,
and how it was that he had come back for my sake. I wrote it as fervently and
pathetically as I could, and when I had finished it and sent it in, I wrote out
other petitions to such men in authority as I hoped were the most merciful, and
drew up one to the Crown itself. For several days and nights after 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, I could not keep away
from the places where they were, but felt as if they were more hopeful and less
desperate when I was near them. In this unreasonable restlessness 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 the present hour, the weary western
streets of London on a cold dusty spring night, with their ranges of stern
shut-up mansions and their long rows of lamps, are melancholy to me from this
The daily visits I could make him were shortened now, and he was more
strictly kept. Seeing, or fancying, that I was suspected of an intention of
carrying poison to him, I asked to be searched before I sat down at his bedside,
and told the officer who was always there, that I was willing to do anything
that would assure him of the singleness of my designs. Nobody was hard with
him, or with me. There was duty to be done, and it was done, but not harshly.
The officer always gave me the assurance that he was worse, and some other sick
prisoners in the room, and some other prisoners who attended on them as sick
nurses (malefactors, but not incapable of kindness, God be thanked!), always
joined in the same report.
As the days went on, I noticed more and more that he would lie placidly
looking at the white ceiling, with an absence of light in his face, until some
word 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
with slight pressures on my hand, and I grew to understand his meaning very
The number of the days had risen to ten, when I saw a greater change in him
than I had seen yet. His eyes were turned towards the door, and lighted up as I
"Dear boy," he said, as I sat down by his bed: "I thought you was late.
But I knowed 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."