In the same
moment, I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire
blazing all about her, and soaring at least as many feet above her
head as she was high.
I had a double-caped great-coat on, and over my arm another thick
coat. That I got them off, closed with her, threw her down, and got
them over her; that I dragged the great cloth from the table for
the same purpose, and with it dragged down the heap of rottenness
in the midst, and all the ugly things that sheltered there; that we
were on the ground struggling like desperate enemies, and that the
closer I covered her, the more wildly she shrieked and tried to
free herself; that this occurred I knew through the result, but not
through anything I felt, or thought, or knew I did. I knew nothing
until I knew that we were on the floor by the great table, and that
patches of tinder yet alight were floating in the smoky air, which,
a moment ago, had been her faded bridal dress.
Then, I looked round and saw the disturbed beetles and spiders
running away over the floor, and the servants coming in with
breathless cries at the door. I still held her forcibly down with
all my strength, like a prisoner who might escape; and I doubt if I
even knew who she was, or why we had struggled, or that she had
been in flames, or that the flames were out, until I saw the
patches of tinder that had been her garments, no longer alight but
falling in a black shower around us.
She was insensible, and I was afraid to have her moved, or even
touched. Assistance was sent for and I held her until it came, as
if I unreasonably fancied (I think I did) that if I let her go, the
fire would break out again and consume her. When I got up, on the
surgeon's coming to her with other aid, I was astonished to see
that both my hands were burnt; for, I had no knowledge of it
through the sense of feeling.
On examination it was pronounced that she had received serious
hurts, but that they of themselves were far from hopeless; the
danger lay mainly in the nervous shock. By the surgeon's
directions, her bed was carried into that room and laid upon the
great table: which happened to be well suited to the dressing of
her injuries. When I saw her again, an hour afterwards, she lay
indeed where I had seen her strike her stick, and had heard her say
that she would lie one day.
Though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she
still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they
had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she
lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of
something that had been and was changed, was still upon her.
I found, on questioning the servants, that Estella was in Paris,
and I got a promise from the surgeon that he would write to her by
the next post. Miss Havisham's family I took upon myself; intending
to communicate with Mr. Matthew Pocket only, and leave him to do as
he liked about informing the rest. This I did next day, through
Herbert, as soon as I returned to town.
There was a stage, that evening, when she spoke collectedly of what
had happened, though with a certain terrible vivacity. Towards
midnight she began to wander in her speech, and after that it
gradually set in that she said innumerable times in a low solemn
voice, "What have I done!" And then, "When she first came, I meant
to save her from misery like mine." And then, "Take the pencil and
write under my name, 'I forgive her!'" She never changed the order
of these three sentences, but she sometimes left out a word in one
or other of them; never putting in another word, but always leaving
a blank and going on to the next word.
As I could do no service there, and as I had, nearer home, that
pressing reason for anxiety and fear which even her wanderings
could not drive out of my mind, I decided in the course of the
night that I would return by the early morning coach: walking on a
mile or so, and being taken up clear of the town.