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ALL that little Philip Pirrip, usually called Pip, knew about his father and mother, and his five little brothers, was from seeing their tombstones in the churchyard. He was cared for by his sister, who was twenty years older than himself. She had married a blacksmith, named Joe Gargery, a kind, good man, while she, unfortunately, was a hard, stern woman, and treated her little brother and her amiable husband with great harshness. They lived in a marshy part of the country, about twenty miles from the sea.
One cold, raw day towards evening, when Pip was about six years old, he had wandered into the churchyard, and was trying to make out what he could of the inscriptions on his family tombstones. The darkness was coming on, and feeling very lonely and frightened, he began to cry.
"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice; and a man started up from among the graves close to him. "Keep still, you little imp, or I'll cut your throat!"
He was a dreadful looking man, dressed in coarse gray cloth, with a great iron on his leg. Wet, muddy, and miserable, he limped and shivered, and glared and growled; his teeth chattered in his head, as he seized Pip, by the chin.
"Oh! don't cut my throat, sir," cried Pip, in terror. "Pray don't do it, sir."
"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"
"Once more," said the man, staring at him, "Give it mouth."
"Pip. Pip, sir."
"Show us where you live," said the man. "Point out the place."
Pip showed him the village, about a mile or more from the church.
The man looked at him for a moment, and then turned him upside down and emptied his pockets. He found nothing in them but a piece of bread, which he ate ravenously.
"You young dog," said the man, licking his lips, "what fat cheeks you ha' got.... Darn me if I couldn't eat 'em, and if I han't half a mind to!"
Pip said earnestly that he hoped he would not.
"Now lookee here," said the man. "Where's your mother?"
"There sir," said Pip.
At this the man started and seemed about to run away, but stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"There, sir," explained Pip, showing him the tombstone.
"Oh, and is that your father along of your mother?"
"Yes, sir," said Pip.
"Ha!" muttered the man, "then who d'ye live with--supposin' you're kindly let to live, which I han't made up my mind about?"
"My sister, sir, Mrs. Joe Gargery, wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."
"Blacksmith, eh?" said the man, and looked down at his leg. Then he seized the trembling little boy by both arms, and glaring down at him, he said--
"Now lookee here, the question being whether you're to be let to live. You know what a file is?"
"And you know what wittles is. Something to eat?"
"You get me a file, and you get me wittles--you bring 'em both to me." All this time he was tilting poor Pip backwards till he was so dreadfully frightened and giddy that he clung to the man with both hands.
"You bring me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live." Then he threatened all sorts of dreadful and terrible things to poor Pip if he failed to do all he had commanded, and made him solemnly promise to bring him what he wanted, and to keep the secret. Then he let him go, saying, "You remember what you've undertook, and you get home."
"Goo--good-night, sir," faltered Pip.
"Much of that!" said he, glancing over the cold wet flat. "I wish I was a frog or a eel!"
Pip ran home without stopping. Joe was sitting in the chimney-corner, and told him Mrs. Joe had been out to look for him, and taken Tickler with her. Tickler was a cane, and Pip was rather downhearted by this piece of news.
Mrs. Joe came in almost directly, and, after having given Pip a taste of Tickler, she sat down to prepare the tea, and, cutting a huge slice of bread and butter, she gave half of it to Joe and half to Pip. Pip managed, after some time, to slip his down the leg of his trousers, and Joe, thinking he had swallowed it, was dreadfully alarmed and begged him not to bolt his food like that. "Pip, old chap, you'll do yourself a mischief--it'll stick somewhere, you can't have chewed it, Pip. You know, Pip, you and me is always friends and I'd be the last one to tell upon you any time, but such a--such a most uncommon bolt as that."
"Been bolting his food, has he?" cried Mrs. Joe.
"You know, old chap," said Joe. "I bolted myself when I was your age--frequent--and as a boy I've been among a many bolters; but I never see your bolting equal yet, Pip, and it's a mercy you ain't bolted dead."
Mrs. Joe made a dive at Pip, fished him up by the hair, saying, "You come along and be dosed."
It was Christmas eve, and Pip had to stir the pudding from seven to eight, and found the bread and butter dreadfully in his way. At last he slipped out and put it away in his little bedroom.
Poor Pip passed a wretched night, thinking of the dreadful promise he had made, and as soon as it was beginning to get light outside he got up and crept down-stairs, fancying that every board creaked out "Stop thief!" and "Get up, Mrs. Joe!"
As quickly as he could, he took some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mince-meat, which he tied up in a handkerchief, with the slice of bread and butter, some brandy from a stone bottle, a meat-bone with very little on it, and a pork-pipe, which he found on an upper shelf. Then he got a file from among Joe's tools, and ran for the marshes.
It was a very misty morning, and Pip imagined that all the cattle stared at him, as if to say, "Halloa, young thief!" and one black ox with a white cravat on, that made Pip think of a clergyman, looked so accusingly at him, that Pip blubbered out, "I couldn't help it, sir! It wasn't for myself I took it."
Upon which the ox put down his head, blew a cloud of smoke out of his nose, and vanished with a kick-up of his hind legs and a flourish of his tail.
Pip was soon at the place of meeting after that, and there was the man--hugging himself and limping to and fro, as if he had never all night left off hugging and limping. He was awfully cold, to be sure. Pip half expected to see him drop down before his face and die of cold. His eyes looked so awfully hungry, too, that when Pip handed him the file it occurred to him he would have tried to eat it, if he had not seen the bundle. He did not turn Pip upside down, this time, to get at what he had, but left him right side upward while he opened the bundle and emptied his pockets.
"What's in the bottle, boy?" said he.
"Brandy," said Pip.
He was already handing mince-pie down his throat in the most curious manner, more like a man who was putting it away somewhere in a violent hurry than a man who was eating it--but he left off to take some of the liquor, shivering all the while so violently that it was quite as much as he could do to keep the neck of the bottle between his teeth.
"I think you have got the chills," said Pip.
"I'm much of your opinion, boy," said he.
"It's bad about here. You've been lying out on the marshes, and they're dreadful for the chills. Rheumatic, too."
"I'll eat my breakfast before they're the death of me," said he. "I'd do that, if I was going to be strung up to that there gallows as there is over there directly arterward. I'll beat the shivers so far, I'll bet you a guinea."
He was gobbling mince-meat, meat-bone, bread, cheese, and pork-pie all at once, staring distrustfully while he did so at the mist all round, and often stopping--even stopping his jaws--to listen. Some real or fancied sound, some clink upon the river or breathing of beasts upon the marsh, now gave him a start, and he said, suddenly:
"You're not a false imp? You brought no one with you?"
"No, sir! No!"
"Nor told nobody to follow you?"
"Well," said he, "I believe you. You'd be but a fierce young hound indeed, if at your time of life you should help to hunt a wretched warmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched warmint is!"
Something clicked in his throat, as if he had works in him like a clock, and was going to strike. And he smeared his ragged, rough sleeve over his eyes.
Pitying his desolation, and watching him as he gradually settled down upon the pie, Pip made bold to say, "I am glad you enjoy it."
"Did you speak?"
"I said I was glad you enjoyed it."
"Thankee, my boy--. I do."
Pip had often watched a large dog eating his food; and he now noticed a decided similarity between the dog's way of eating and the man's. The man took strong, sharp, sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger of somebody's coming to take the pie away. He was altogether too unsettled in his mind over it to enjoy it comfortably, Pip thought, or to have anybody to dine with him, without making a chop with his jaws at the visitor. In all of which particulars he was very like the dog.
Pip watched him trying to file the iron off his leg, and then being afraid of stopping longer away from home, he ran off.
Pip passed a wretched morning, expecting every moment that the disappearance of the pie would be found out. But Mrs. Joe was too much taken up with preparing the dinner, for they were expecting visitors, and were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls, a mince-pie, and a pudding.
Just at the end of the dinner Pip thought his time had come to be found out, for his sister said graciously to her guests--
"You must taste a most delightful and delicious present I have had. It's a pie, a savory pork-pie."
Pip could bear it no longer, and ran for the door, and there ran head foremost into a party of soldiers with their muskets, one of whom held out a pair of handcuffs to him, saying, "Here you are, look sharp, come on." But they had not come for him, they only wanted Joe to mend the handcuffs, for they were on the search for two convicts who had escaped and were somewhere hid in the marshes. This turned the attention of Mrs. Joe from the disappearance of the pie, without which she had come back, in great astonishment. When the handcuffs were mended the soldiers went off, accompanied by Joe and one of the visitors, and Joe took Pip and carried him on his back.
Pip whispered, "I hope, Joe, we shan't find them," and Joe answered, "I'd give a shilling if they had cut and run, Pip."
But the soldiers soon caught them, and one was the wretched man who had talked with Pip; and once when he looked at Pip, the child shook his head to try and let him know he had said nothing.
But the convict, without looking at anyone, told the sergeant he wanted to say something to prevent other people being under suspicion, and said he had taken some "wittles" from the blacksmith's. "It was some broken wittles, that's what it was, and a dram of liquor, and a pie."
"Have you happened to miss such an article as a pie, blacksmith?" inquired the sergeant.
"My wife did, at the very moment when you came in. Don't you know, Pip?"
"So," said the convict, looking at Joe, "you're the blacksmith, are you? Then, I'm sorry to say, I've eat your pie."
"God knows you're welcome to it," said Joe. "We don't know what you have done, but we wouldn't have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature. Would us, Pip?"
Then the boat came, and the convicts were taken back to their prison, and Joe carried Pip home.
* * * * *
Some years after, some mysterious friend sent money for Pip to be educated and brought up as a gentleman; but it was only when Pip was quite grown up that he discovered this mysterious friend was the wretched convict who had frightened him so dreadfully that cold, dark Christmas eve. He had been sent to a far away land, and there had grown rich; but he never forgot the little boy who had been kind to him.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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