My first thought was one of great thankfulness that I had never breathed this last baffled hope to Joe. How often, while he was with me in my illness, had it risen to my lips. How irrevocable would have been his knowledge of it, if he had remained with me but another hour!
“Dear Biddy,” said I, “you have the best husband in the whole world, and if you could have seen him by my bed you would have — But no, you couldn’t love him better than you do.”
“No, I couldn’t indeed,” said Biddy.
“And, dear Joe, you have the best wife in the whole world, and she will make you as happy as even you deserve to be, you dear, good, noble Joe!”
Joe looked at me with a quivering lip, and fairly put his sleeve before his eyes.
“And Joe and Biddy both, as you have been to church to-day, and are in charity and love with all mankind, receive my humble thanks for all you have done for me and all I have so ill repaid! And when I say that I am going away within the hour, for I am soon going abroad, and that I shall never rest until I have worked for the money with which you have kept me out of prison, and have sent it to you, don’t think, dear Joe and Biddy, that if I could repay it a thousand times over, I suppose I could cancel a farthing of the debt I owe you, or that I would do so if I could!”
They were both melted by these words, and both entreated me to say no more.
“But I must say more. Dear Joe, I hope you will have children to love, and that some little fellow will sit in this chimney corner of a winter night, who may remind you of another little fellow gone out of it for ever. Don’t tell him, Joe, that I was thankless; don’t tell him, Biddy, that I was ungenerous and unjust; only tell him that I honoured you both, because you were both so good and true, and that, as your child, I said it would be natural to him to grow up a much better man than I did.”
“I ain’t a-going,” said Joe, from behind his sleeve, “to tell him nothink o’ that natur, Pip. Nor Biddy ain’t. Nor yet no one ain’t.”
“And now, though I know you have already done it in your own kind hearts, pray tell me, both, that you forgive me! Pray let me hear you say the words, that I may carry the sound of them away with me, and then I shall be able to believe that you can trust me, and think better of me, in the time to come!”
“O dear old Pip, old chap,” said Joe. “God knows as I forgive you, if I have anythink to forgive!”
“Amen! And God knows I do!” echoed Biddy.
“Now let me go up and look at my old little room, and rest there a few minutes by myself, and then when I have eaten and drunk with you, go with me as far as the finger-post, dear Joe and Biddy, before we say good-bye!”
I sold all I had, and put aside as much as I could, for a composition with my creditors — who gave me ample time to pay them in full — and I went out and joined Herbert. Within a month, I had quitted England, and within two months I was clerk to Clarriker and Co., and within four months I assumed my first undivided responsibility. For, the beam across the parlour ceiling at Mill Pond Bank, had then ceased to tremble under old Bill Barley’s growls and was at peace, and Herbert had gone away to marry Clara, and I was left in sole charge of the Eastern Branch until he brought her back.