فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER TEN

Abel Magwitch

Two years passed and I was twenty-three years old. I was still living with Herbert, but we now had rooms near the river. Herbert’s business was doing very well. His company now had offices overseas and Herbert often went away on business.

The weather had been stormy all day. The strong wind was blowing the rain hard against the windows. Herbert was in France on business, and I was alone.

A church bell struck eleven. I closed the book I was reading. It was time to go to bed. But as I stood up, I heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

For a moment, I felt afraid. Then I picked up the lamp and opened the door.

‘Who’s there? Who do you want?’ I called.

‘Mr Pip. Top floor,’ a rough sounding voice answered.

‘That is my name,’ I said. ‘Is anything wrong?’

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ the voice replied.

I held the lamp higher.

A man was coming slowly up the stairs. He was about sixty years old. The man had long, grey hair that lay over his shoulders. His face was wrinkled and brown and he was roughly-dressed.

To my surprise, the man was holding out his arms to greet me.

‘Do you wish to come in? Have you business with me?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I wish to come in, master,’ the man answered quietly. He walked slowly into the room. He looked around him with pleasure.

‘What do you want?’ I asked.

The man took off his hat and sat down.

‘Just give me a little time,’ he said in his rough voice. ‘I’ve come a long way and had a hard journey. You are alone here, aren’t you?’ he added.

‘Why do you, a stranger, ask me that question?’

‘A stranger?’ the man repeated. ‘That’s a disappointing word to hear, when I’ve come so far. But you’re a brave fellow, I can see that. Don’t harm me, Pip. You’ll be sorry if you do.’

And then I knew him. I fell back against the wall. He was the convict I had helped so long ago on the marshes!

The man stood up and again held out his arms to me.

‘Yes, young sir. I am the convict you helped. You were brave then, my boy,’ he said. ‘I have never forgotten it, Pip, never.’

‘Stop!’ I cried, as he moved towards me. ‘That was a long time ago. I was a little child then. I am pleased you are grateful. And I hope you have changed your way of life. But you must understand…’

The man looked at me sharply.

‘Understand? What must I understand?’ he said.

‘… understand that our lives are different now,’ I went on. ‘There is no further reason for us to meet. But you are wet and you look tired. Let me get you a drink before you go.’

The man sat down again.

‘I will have a drink before I go,’ he said slowly. ‘Hot rum and water, if you please.’

I prepared the drink quickly. When I handed him the glass, I saw that the old convict’s eyes were full of tears.

I sat down near him with my own glass.

‘I do not wish to be hard on you,’ I said. ‘Indeed, I wish you well. How have you been living?’

‘I’ve been in Australia. I’ve been a sheep farmer, and I’ve done well, marvellously well,’ the old convict replied.

‘I am glad to hear it,’ I said.

‘Thank you, dear boy. And I see that you have done well since I last saw you. May I ask how?’

‘I… I’ve come into some property,’ I said.

‘May I ask what property? May I ask whose?’

For some reason, I began to shake with fear.

‘I don’t know,’ I answered.

‘Could I guess your yearly income, since you came of age?’ the man asked quietly. ‘Would it be - five hundred pounds?’

My heart was beating wildly now. I stood up and held tightly to the back of my chair. I stared at the man in terror.

‘I suppose you had a guardian. A lawyer maybe?’ the convict went on. ‘Did his name begin with J?’

I could not speak. I felt faint and the room began to move around me.

‘Do you want to know how I found you?’ the convict went on. ‘Well, that lawyer has a clerk called Wemmick. He sent me your address.’

I could not breathe. I gave a cry and almost fell to the ground. The old convict caught hold of me and placed me gently on a chair.

‘Yes, Pip, dear boy,’ he said. ‘It’s me what’s made a gentleman of you. I swore that I would make you a gentleman and I have. Every guinea I’ve made has been for you. I’ve lived a poor life, so that you could live well. Yes, Pip, that starving convict you met on the marshes has made you a gentleman. I’ve sent money all these years for you to spend. And now I’ve come to see the gentleman I’ve made!

‘Look at your clothes,’ he went on, ‘a gentleman’s clothes. And these are your books,’ he added, looking around the room. ‘Hundreds and hundreds of books. You shall read them to me, dear boy, for I’ve had no education. But it’s me what’s had you educated. I’m proud of you, Pip, dear boy, proud!’

And he took my cold hands and put them to his lips.

I felt very ill. I could not speak.

‘Don’t try to talk, Pip,’ the old convict went on. ‘You weren’t prepared for this, I see. Didn’t you ever think it could be me?’

‘Never, no, never!’ I whispered.

‘Well, it was me. And no one knew about it but Mr Jaggers.’

The old man smiled. ‘How good looking you’ve grown, my boy,’ he said. ‘You’re in love with a beautiful girl, I’m sure. She shall be yours, if money can help you.’

Estella, oh, Estella, I thought.

‘Yes, you’ve grown to be a fine gentleman, Pip,’ the convict said. ‘I promised myself I would see you one day, and now I have. It wasn’t safe to come, but I came.’

‘Not safe? What do you mean?’ I asked in surprise.

‘I was transported for life,’ he answered quietly. ‘If you’re sent as a convict to Australia, it’s death to return. If I am caught, I shall be hanged, hanged by the neck until I’m dead.’

I held my head in my hands. This wretched man was my benefactor! By coming to see me, he had ruined all my dreams. And he had put his own life in danger too.

I could not send him away. I stood up slowly. I closed the shutters over the windows and locked the door. I prepared the bed in Herbert’s room for the man and, at last, he went to sleep.

Later, I sat by the fire, trying to think. Miss Havisham’s plans for me? All a dream. Estella? She was not meant for me.

And because of this man, a convict, I had forgotten Joe and Biddy. I could never undo the wrong I had done them.

What should I do with the man in the next room? What was going to become of him? What was going to become of me?

At last I fell asleep by the fire. I awoke to hear the church bell striking five. The room was dark. The wind was still blowing the rain hard against the windows.

I made breakfast. The old convict ate in great mouthfuls. I was disgusted by him. He then lit his pipe and stood in front of the fire. He took out a wallet of money and threw it onto the table.

‘There, my boy, spend that,’ he said. ‘I’ve come back to see my boy spend money like a gentleman!’

‘No, no, we must talk!’ I cried. ‘I don’t even know your name. How long are you staying in England? Where do you plan to live?’

‘My name is Magwitch, Abel Magwitch,’ he said. ‘And I’m staying in England forever, though it’s death by hanging if I’m caught.’

I decided that I had to speak to Mr Jaggers. Leaving Magwitch alone, I locked the door of my rooms and hurried to the lawyer’s office.

When he saw me, Mr Jaggers held up his hand.

‘Don’t tell me anything - I don’t want to know,’ he said quickly.

‘I must know one thing, Mr Jaggers,’ I said. ‘I have been told something about my benefactor. Is it true?’

‘You cannot have been “told” anything. “Told” means you have talked to that person. You cannot have talked to him. He is in Australia. You must have been “informed”,’ Mr Jaggers warned me.

I understood then that Mr Jaggers knew Abel Magwitch was in England. And he knew that his client was in danger.

‘“Informed”, then,’ I agreed, ‘“informed” that Abel Magwitch is my benefactor.’

‘That is true. Your benefactor is the man in Australia.’

‘But I thought that Miss Havisham…’ I began.

‘You have misunderstood. Miss Havisham was never your benefactor. Your benefactor is far away. But he has plenty of money for you. You will have it soon.’

I did not want the money now. I knew that Estella would never be mine. I left Mr Jaggers’ office without another word.

On my way home I bought some new clothes for Abel Magwitch. But when I had cut his hair and he was dressed in the new clothes, he still looked like a convict - a murderer perhaps. The more I saw the man, the more I feared and hated him.

Herbert returned from France that afternoon. When I heard his step on the stairs, I opened the door quickly.

‘Hello, Pip!’ Herbert said cheerfully. Then he added, ‘How pale you look! What’s the matter?’

Then he saw Magwitch.

‘Who is this?’ he asked in surprise.

‘Herbert, my dear friend,’ I said, shutting and locking the door behind him, ‘something very strange has happened.’

Before I could explain, Magwitch took a little black bible from his pocket and held it out to Herbert.

‘Take the Holy Book in your right hand, dear boy,’ he said to him. ‘Swear to God that you will never repeat what Pip is going to tell you.’

‘Do it, Herbert,’ I whispered. So Herbert took the bible and repeated the words and then the old convict shook him by the hand.

‘Now you have sworn on the Bible. God has heard your promise. Sit down and listen to what Pip is going to tell you.’

So I told Herbert everything.

‘I need your help, Herbert,’ I said at last. ‘What should I do now?’

‘My poor dear Pip,’ Herbert exclaimed. ‘I am so confused that I cannot think clearly. But the first thing is to find rooms for… Mr Magwitch. Then, I’m afraid, there is only one thing to do.’

Herbert turned to Abel Magwitch, who was listening carefully.

‘You must leave England,’ Herbert told him. ‘Go to France or Germany. You will be safe there. And you must go with him, Pip,’ Herbert went on. ‘This man’s life is in danger because he came to see you. It is only right that you should get him out of danger.’

I stared at the floor unhappily. I did not care where I went. I had no expectations now - for I could never take money from Magwitch again. My life had been ruined by this man who I hated and feared.

‘Very well,’ I said at last. I turned to Magwitch.

‘If I am to help you, I must know everything about you. Why were you put in prison? Who was that other man on the marshes? Tell us.’

He stared at the fire for a moment and then began to speak.

‘Dear boy and Pip’s friend, my story can be told in a very few words,’ the convict began. ‘I don’t know where I was born. I know nothing about myself but my name. The first thing I remember was stealing food to keep alive. In jail and out of jail, in jail and out. I was punished wherever I went. I had no education. I only learnt to read and write a little.’

Magwitch stopped for a moment and then went on.

‘About twenty years ago, I met Compeyson, the man I fought on the marshes. He looked like a gentleman, but he was very wicked and very clever. He asked me to help him with his plans. And he made sure, that if anything went wrong, I would be blamed for it.

‘Compeyson had a friend, a young man with a rich sister. The two men treated this woman very badly and stole her money.’

When Herbert heard this, he looked up quickly, but he said nothing.

‘Later, the young man died,’ Magwitch went on. ‘Compeyson had more and more power over me. All the wicked things he planned were done by me. When we were caught, I was blamed for everything. I sold everything I had to pay the lawyer, Mr Jaggers, to speak for me in court. But when Compeyson and me stood up in court, he was dressed like an honest gentleman and I looked wicked and dishonest. So he was sent to prison for seven years. I was sent to prison for fourteen years. And we were both sent to the Hulks.

‘One day, I had a fight with Compeyson and cut his face. I escaped from the Hulks onto the marshes. That’s where you helped me, dear boy. When I found out that Compeyson had escaped too, I caught him and waited for the soldiers to come. So instead of escaping, I was transported to Australia for life.’

‘And Compeyson?’ I asked quietly. ‘Where is he now?’

‘I never heard of him again. He may be alive or dead. I don’t know. But if he finds me here, it’s death for me or him!’

The old convict said no more, but smoked his pipe and stared at the fire.

Herbert passed a piece of paper to me. On it, he had written these words:

Miss Havisham’s brother was the young man. Compeyson was the man who was going to marry her. But he stole her money and left her on her wedding-day.

I looked at Herbert, but said nothing. I was trying to think.

If Compeyson was alive, he might find out that Magwitch had returned. Herbert was right. Magwitch was in danger in London. I had to take the old man away as soon as possible.

That same day, we found a cheap room for him to stay in. Some days later, Herbert took Magwitch to the house where Clara lived with her father. The house was at Old Mill Bank, a quiet place, near the river. Magwitch could live there on the top floor. As soon as possible, we would get him out of England.

We told Wemmick of our plan. He promised to warn us if anyone asked about Magwitch.

Every time I went out, I thought that someone was following me. Was Compeyson alive and in London? Had he seen his old enemy? Did Compeyson know about me and Abel Magwitch?

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