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1  Pip meets a stranger

 

My first name was Philipbut when I was a small child I could only manage to say PipSo Pip was what every-body called meI lived in a small village in Essex with my sisterwho was over twenty years older than meand married to Joe Gargerythe village blacksmithMy parents had died when I was a babyso I could not remember them at allbut quite often I used to visit the churchyardabut a mile from the villageto look at their names on their gravestones

My first memory is of sitting on a gravestone in that church-yard one coldgreyDecember afternoonlooking out at the darkflatwild marshes divided by the black line of the River Thamesand listening to the rushing sound of the sea in the distance

Don't say a word!’cried a terrible voiceas a man jumped up from among the graves and caught hold of me.‘If you shout I'll cut your throat!’He was a big mandressed all in greywith an iron chain on his legHis clothes were wet and tornHe looked exhaustedand hungryand very fierceI had never been so frightened in my whole life

OhDon't cut my throatsir!’I begged in terror

Tell me your nameboyQuick!’he saidstill holding me.‘And show me where you live!’

My name's PipsirAnd I live in the village over there.’

He picked me up and turned me upside-downNothing fell out of my pocket except a piece of old breadHe ate it in two biteslike a dogand put me back on the gravestone

So where are your father and mother?’he asked

Theresir,’I answeredpointing to their graves

What!’he criedand was about to runwhen he saw where I was pointing.‘Oh!’he said.‘ I seeThey're deadWellwho do you live withif I let you livewhich I haven't decided yet?’

With my sistersirwife of Joe Gargerythe blacksmith.’

Blacksmithyou sayAnd he looked down at his legThen he held me by both arms and stared fiercely down into my eyes

Now look hereYou bring me a fileYou know what that isAnd you bring me some foodIf you don'tor if you tell anyone about meI'll cut your heart out.’

I promise I'll do itsir,’I answeredI was badly fright ened and my whole body was trembling .

You see,’he continuedsmiling unpleasantly,‘I travel with a young mana friend of minewho roasts boyshearts and eats themHe'll find youwherever you areand he'll have your heartSo bring the file and the food to that wooden shelter over thereearly tomorrow morningif you want to keep your heartthat is Rememberyou promised!’

I watched him turn and walk with difficulty across the marshesthe chain hanging clumsily around his legThen I ran home as fast as I could

My sisterMrs Joe Gargerywas very proud of the fact that she had brought me upby hand’.Nobody explained to me what this meantand because she had a hard and heavy handwhich she used freely on her husband as well as meI supposed that Joe and I were both brought up by handShe was not a beautiful womanbeing tall and thinwith black hair and eyes and a very red faceShe clearly felt that Joe and I caused her a lot of troubleand she frequently complained about itJoeon the other handwas a gentlekind man with fair hair and weak blue eyeswho quietly accepted her scolding

Because Joe and I were in the same position of being scolded by Mrs Joewe were good friendsand Joe protected me from her anger whenever he couldSo when I ran breathless into the kitchenhe gave me a friendly warning.‘She's out look-ing for youPipAnd she's got the stick with her!’This stick had been used so often for beating me that it was now quite smooth

Just then Mrs Joe rushed in

Where have you beenyou young monkey?’she shoutedI jumped behind Joe to avoid being hit with the stick

Only to the churchyard,’I whisperedstarting to cry

ChurchyardIf I hadn't brought you upyou'd be in the churchyard with our parentsYou'll send me to the church-yard one dayNow let me get your supper readyboth of you!’

For the rest of the eveningI thought of nothing but the stranger on the marshesSometimesas the wind blew round the houseI imagined I heard his voice outsideand I thought with horror of the young man who ate boys hearts

Just before I went to bedwe heard the sound of a big gun on the marshes.‘Was that a gunJoe?’I asked

Ah!’said Joe.‘Another convict's escapedOne got away last nightThey always fire the gun when one escapes.’

Who fires the gun?’I askedJoe shook his head to warn me

Too many questions,’frowned my sister.‘If you must know it's the men in the prison-ships who fire the gun.’

I wonder who is put into prison-shipsand why?’I askedin a general wayquietly desperate to know the answer

This was too much for Mrs Joe.‘Listenmy boyI didn't bring you up by hand to annoy people to deathThere are ships on the river which are used as prisonsPeople who steal and murder are put in the prison-shipsand they stay there for years sometimesAnd they always begin their life of crime by asking too many questionsNowgo to bed!’

I could not sleep at all that nightI was in terror of the young man who wanted my heartI was in terror of the man with the iron chainI was in terror of my sisterwho would soon discover I had stolen her foodAs soon as there was a lit-tle light in the sky outside my window I got up and went qui-etly down to the kitchenI stole some breadcheese and a big meat piehoping thatas there was a lot of food ready for Christmasnobody would notice what was missingI did not dare take the whole brandy bottleso I poured some into a smaller bottle to take away with meThen I filled up the brandy bottle with what I thought was water from a big brown bottleI took a file from Joe's box of toolsand ran out on to the dark marshes

The mist was so thick that I could not see anythingAl-though I knew my way to the shelter very wellI almost got lost this timeI was near it when I saw a man sitting on the groundhalf asleepI went up and touched his shoulderHe jumped upand it was the wrong manHe was dressed in greytooand had an iron chain on his legHe ran away into the mist

It's the young man!’I thoughtfeeling a pain in my heart

When I arrived at the shelterI found the right manHe looked so cold and hungry that I felt sorry for himTrembling violently he swallowed the brandy and ate the food like a hunt-ed animallooking around him all the time for danger

You're sure you didn't tell anyoneOr bring anyone?’

NosirI'm glad you're enjoying the foodsir.’

Thank youmy boyYou've been good to a poor man.’

But I'm afraid there won't be any left for him.’

Him Who's that?’My friend stopped in the middle of eating

The young man who travels with you.’

Ohhim!’he repliedsmiling.‘He doesn't want any food.’

I thought he looked rather hungry,’I answered

He stared at me in great surprise.‘LookedWhen?’

Just nowover thereI found him half asleep and I thought it was youHe was dressed like youand—’I was anxious to express this politely-he had the same reason for wanting to borrow a file.’

Then I did hear them fire the gun last nightYou knowboywhen you're on the marsh alone at nightyou imagine all kinds of thingsvoices callingguns firingsoldiers marchingBut show me where this man wentI'll find him and I'll fin-ish with himI'll smash his faceGive me the file first.’

I was afraid of him now that he was angry again

I'm sorryI must go home now,’I saidHe did not seem to hearso I left him bending over his leg and filing away at his iron chain like a madmanHalfway home I stopped in the mist to listenand I could still hear the sound of the file

 


 

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