Charles Dickens

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.