Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Great Expectations Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapters 54 and 55 Summary

Chapter 54

Pip, Herbert, and Startop begin to row with Magwitch, who is disguised as a river-pilot. Pip keeps alert for any signs that they are being followed but sees none. He marvels that Magwitch seems the least anxious out of all four of them. Magwitch says Pip would envy him if he could understand how happy Magwitch is to be sitting with him there and not trapped "betwixt four walls" anymore. Pip responds that he understands the "delights of freedom," and Magwitch tells Pip that he couldn't understand in the same way unless he had been a prisoner.

After rowing for some time, the group finally arrives at a public-house with a warm room, food, and beds. The rooms are dirty and airless, but Pip is happy with how empty the house is. After dinner, the "Jack" asks if Pip and his crew saw a "four-oared galley" going up when they were on the water. He says the boat passed both up and down the shore, and its crew stopped for beer. Pip and the others are nervous about this potential obstacle.

Pip convinces Magwitch to go to bed and goes outside with Startop and Herbert to discuss their circumstances. They decide that they should stay at the house until the galley is about an hour from departure and then leave so they can drift in its tide as they originally planned. Having decided, they all go to bed. Pip wakes up after a few hours and, looking out the window, sees two men searching their boat. He watches the two men from his window until they disappear from his view. The next morning, Pip tells Magwitch, Herbert, and Startop about what he saw. He suggests that he and Magwitch should walk to a further location and have the boat pick them up at that spot a few hours later. The group agrees.

Pip is very careful as they walk, and as they get to the meeting point, Pip tells Magwitch to hide and wait until Pip signals it's safe to wait openly for the boat. Pip looks for signs from the men left the night before but sees none; he reasons that the tide might have washed footprints away.

Herbert and Startop arrive with the boat, and they wait for the steamer. At half-past one, the smoke from two steamers appears, and Pip and Magwitch say goodbye to Herbert and Startop. As they say goodbye, Pip catches sight of a ship cutting into the steamers' path from the shore. The ship acts strangely, matching Pip's boat's actions and steering, and all the crew on the ship are watching them. Pip notices that there is a cloaked figure on the ship who whispers instructions to the steerer. A man from the ships calls out, identifying Magwitch as a "returned Transport" and saying, "I apprehend that man, and call upon him to surrender, and you to assist."

Chaos ensues as the ship cuts off Pip's boat. As the steersman grabs Magwitch, Magwitch pulls the cloak off the man on the ship; Pip recognizes the man as Compeyson. The boat capsizes, and everyone ends up in the water. When Pip is pulled aboard the ship's galley, Herbert and Startop are there, but Magwitch and Compeyson are gone, as is Pip's boat. Pip sees a dark object in the water that turns out to be Magwitch, alive. He is dragged onboard and "instantly manacled at the wrists and ankles."

The ship goes ashore, and the parties return to the same tavern where they had spent the night before. Magwitch has sustained serious injury to his head and chest. He tells Pip he believes he was struck on the head by the keel of the steamer and hurt his chest on the side of the ship. He also tells Pip that he and Compeyson struggled in the water after the ship and boat capsized. Pip says he has no reason to doubt Magwitch's account of what happened, as the officer steering the galley had the same story. Pip is asked to hand over all of Magwitch's possessions, including the pocketbook Pip had been holding.

Magwitch's chest wound causes him breathing trouble, and he spends the night in...

(The entire section is 1,064 words.)