Provis says he has spent most of his life in and out of jail. He was abandoned as a child to live to the best of his wits. He did odd jobs when he could, but mostly he supported himself by crime. He learned to read from a deserting soldier.
Twenty years ago at the Epsom Races, he met a man named Compeyson. Compeyson was a gentleman. A landlord of Compeyson’s told him that Provis was the type of man he was looking for. Compeyson set an appointment for Provis to meet him the next night. He made Provis his partner in swindling, forging, etc. Compeyson was a cold man.
Another man, named Arthur, was also in league with Compeyson. They had swindled a handsome sum from a rich lady, but Compeyson had gambled it away. Arthur was dying in ruin, and Compeyson’s wife pitied him.
Arthur was tormented by visions of a ghostly bride with a bleeding heart who he believed was after him. Compeyson tells Arthur it can’t be her, for she is alive and has a living body that would have to come through a door. Arthur dies during one of these hallucinations.
Provis was always in debt to Compeyson. The man was craftier than him and could trick him easily. Eventually, they did get caught. They were tried separately. Compeyson’s defense put the blame on Provis, making him the mastermind. Compeyson’s good looks, good upbringing, and education helped convince the jury he was a good man who got mixed up with the wrong company. He got sentenced to seven years, whereas Provis got fourteen.
It took him a long time, but eventually Provis made good his vow to smash Compeyson’s face. He escaped to the shore from the prison ship, and that is when he met Pip. When he learned Compeyson had also escaped, he made sure that he’d get caught again. Compeyson again got a lighter sentence for escaping, since it was considered self-defense. Provis was sentenced to life. Pip asks if Compeyson is dead, but Provis doesn’t know.
Herbert writes Pip a note saying that Arthur was the name of Miss Havisham’s borther, and Compeyson was the name of her lover.