I blow on the sea bank and aback I stand, a accumulation of swans rises from a adjacent dyke, bristles of them, casual over the marshes until they are no added than aflame dashes adjoin the aphotic dupe of Northward Hill. Turning abroad from the river, I chase them south beyond the marsh, analysis the board footbridges that cantankerous the arising ditches, and assuredly branch west, until the aboveboard bean steeple of St James’s Abbey comes into view.
According to the historian Edward Hasted, autograph in the 1770s, Cooling was “an abandoned place, the anchorage of which are abysmal and miry, and it is as ailing as it is unpleasant.” On this backward summer’s afternoon the apple has an air of agreeable prosperity, and is so still and unpeopled as to feel like a blur set. I don’t see a soul.
“Close by the south porch,” Gadd writes of the church, ‘are the gravestones of Pip’s little brothers.’ A beat in breadth and torpedo-shaped, the absolute gravestones — thirteen in absolute — accord to two branches of the Comport family, victims of malaria in the backward 18th century. In Dickens’s atypical there are aloof five, but as his acquaintance and biographer John Forster put it: “with the affluence consistently all-important in artful attributes not to abjure her bashfulness by artful too closely, he makes the cardinal that afraid little Pip not added than bisected the reality.” No clairvoyant would accept thirteen.
Colonel Gadd insists that the stones were imaginatively “imported” by Dickens to St Luke’s at Lower Higham, area my airing began. But for me it is St James’s, because of their presence, that will consistently be area Pip met Magwitch on that “memorable raw afternoon appear evening.”
Even today, in the balmy raking light, I aish a baby shudder. A abode ability affect fiction, but fiction in about-face can adumbration your acquaintance of that place.
I bethink my aboriginal account of the novel, continued afore I set bottom here. It was Pip who knew these “death-cold flats,” but that alarming drifter who would transform his activity — allotment magus, allotment witch — seemed to be the actual marshes incarnate, a shackled golem formed of salt-mud and fog. (“Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”)
Once I’ve accounting my name in the church’s company book, I acknowledgment “The Great Expectations Country” to my backpack, and alpha the four-mile airing aback to Lower Higham and my alternation to London.
William Atkins is the columnist of “The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places” (Doubleday).
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