Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 54

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"Right! He was not to come down till he saw us. Can you see his signal?"

"Not well from here; but I think I see it.—Now I see him! Pull both. Easy, Herbert. Oars!"

We touched the stairs lightly for a single moment, and he was on board, and we were off again. He had a boat-cloak with him, and a black canvas bag; and he looked as like a river-pilot as my heart could have wished.

"Dear boy!" he said, putting his arm on my shoulder, as he took his seat. "Faithful dear boy, well done. Thankye, thankye!"

Again among the tiers of shipping, in and out, avoiding rusty chain-cables frayed hempen hawsersw and bobbing buoys, sinking for the moment floating broken baskets, scattering floating chips of wood and shaving, cleaving floating scum of coal, in and out, under the figure-head of the John of Sunderland making a speech to the winds (as is done by many Johnsh), and the Betsy of Yarmouth with a firm formality of bosom and her knobby eyes starting two inches out of her head; in and out, hammers going in ship-builders' yards, saws going at timber, clashing engines going at things unknown, pumps going in leaky ships, capstansw going, ships going out to sea, and unintelligible sea-creatures roaring curses over the bulwarks at respondent lightermen,w in and out,—out at last upon the clearer river, where the ships' boys might take their fendersw in, no longer fishing in troubled waters with them over the side, and where the festooned sailsw might fly out to the wind.

At the Stairs where we had taken him abroad, and ever since, I had looked warily for any token of our being suspected. I had seen none. We certainly had not been, and at that time as certainly we were not either attended or followed by any boat. If we had been waited on by any boat, I should have run in to shore, and have obliged her to go on, or to make her purpose evident. But we held our own without any appearance of molestation.

He had his boat-cloak on him, and looked, as I have said, a natural part of the scene. It was remarkable (but perhaps the wretched life he had led accounted for it) that he was the least anxious of any of us. He was not indifferent, for he told me that he hoped to live to see his gentleman one of the best of gentlemen in a foreign country; he was not disposed to be passive or resigned, as I understood it; but he had no notion of meeting danger half way. When it came upon him, he confronted it, but it must come before he troubled himself.

"If you knowed, dear boy," he said to me, "what it is to sit here alonger my dear boy and have my smoke, arter having been day by day betwixt four walls, you'd envy me. But you don't know what it is."

"I think I know the delights of freedom," I answered.

"Ah," said he, shaking his head gravely. "But you don't know it equal to me. You must have been under lock and key, dear boy, to know it equal to me,—but I ain't a going to be low."

It occurred to me as inconsistent, that, for any mastering idea, he should have endangered his freedom, and even his life. But I reflected that perhaps freedom without danger was too much apart from all the habit of his existence to be to him what it would be to another man. I was not far out, since he said, after smoking a little:—

"You see, dear boy, when I was over yonder, t'other side the world, I was always a looking to this side; and it come flat to be there, for all I was a growing rich. Everybody knowed Magwitch, and Magwitch could come, and Magwitch could go, and nobody's head would be troubled about him. They ain't so easy concerning me here, dear boy,—wouldn't be, leastwise, if they knowed where I was."

X [w] hawsers

Things

"A large rope or cable, in size...between 5 and 10 inches in circumference," used especially for mooring ships (OED).

X [h] Johns

The figurehead's mouth must be expressively open, as if it is proclaiming something. John the Baptist, who preached "in the wilderness of Judea," made John a popular Christian name, allowing Dickens to imagine any number of people with that name preaching or speaking to the many. 

X [w] capstans

Things

An early form of the winch used for hoisting sails and raising and lowering heavy objects such as the anchor.

X [w] lightermen,

People

A lighterman captained a lighter, "A boat or vessel, usually a flat-bottomed barge, used in lightening or unloading (sometimes loading) ships that cannot be discharged (or loaded) at a wharf, etc., and for transporting goods of any kind, usually in a harbour" (OED).

X [w] fenders

Things

The bumpers, made then often of old ropes or similar material, that hung over the side of a boat or ship and protected the hull from being scraped by another vessel or the dock.

X [w] festooned sails

Sails that had been loosely furled.