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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 1)


Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Chapter 1

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip,my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or moreexplicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be calledPip.

I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of histombstone and my sister - Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married theblacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never sawany likeness of either of them (for their days were long before thedays of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they werelike, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape ofthe letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was asquare, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the characterand turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," Idrew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long,which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and weresacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave uptrying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universalstruggle - I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertainedthat they had all been born on their backs with their hands intheir trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this stateof existence.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the riverwound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broadimpression of the identity of things, seems to me to have beengained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a timeI found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown withnettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of thisparish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried;and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infantchildren of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that thedark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykesand mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was themarshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; andthat the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, wasthe sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of itall and beginning to cry, was Pip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up fromamong the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, youlittle devil, or I'll cut your throat!"

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. Aman with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tiedround his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smotheredin mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung bynettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glaredand growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized meby the chin.

"O! Don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't doit, sir."

"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"

"Pip, sir."

"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"

"Pip. Pip, sir."

"Show us where you live," said the man. "Pint out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among thealder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church.

The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down,and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece ofbread. When the church came to itself - for he was so sudden andstrong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw thesteeple under my feet - when the church came to itself, I say, Iwas seated on a high tombstone, trembling, while he ate the breadravenously.

"You young dog," said the man, licking his lips, "what fat cheeksyou ha' got."

I believe they were fat, though I was at that time undersized formy years, and not strong.

"Darn me if I couldn't eat em," said the man, with a threateningshake of his head, "and if I han't half a mind to't!"

I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn't, and held tighter tothe tombstone on which he had put me; partly, to keep myself uponit; partly, to keep myself from crying.

"Now lookee here!" said the man. "Where's your mother?"

"There, sir!" said I.

He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over hisshoulder.

"There, sir!" I timidly explained. "Also Georgiana. That's mymother."

"Oh!" said he, coming back. "And is that your father alonger yourmother?"

"Yes, sir," said I; "him too; late of this parish."

"Ha!" he muttered then, considering. "Who d'ye live with -supposin' you're kindly let to live, which I han't made up my mindabout?"

"My sister, sir - Mrs. Joe Gargery - wife of Joe Gargery, theblacksmith, sir."

"Blacksmith, eh?" said he. And looked down at his leg.

After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he camecloser to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back asfar as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfullydown into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

"Now lookee here," he said, "the question being whether you're tobe let to live. You know what a file is?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you know what wittles is?"

"Yes, sir."

After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to giveme a greater sense of helplessness and danger.

"You get me a file." He tilted me again. "And you get me wittles."He tilted me again. "You bring 'em both to me." He tilted me again."Or I'll have your heart and liver out." He tilted me again.

I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him withboth hands, and said, "If you would kindly please to let me keepupright, sir, perhaps I shouldn't be sick, and perhaps I couldattend more."

He gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the churchjumped over its own weather-cock. Then, he held me by the arms, inan upright position on the top of the stone, and went on in thesefearful terms:

"You bring me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles.You bring the lot to me, at that old Battery over yonder. You doit, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a signconcerning your having seen such a person as me, or any personsumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from mywords in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heartand your liver shall be tore out, roasted and ate. Now, I ain'talone, as you may think I am. There's a young man hid with me, incomparison with which young man I am a Angel. That young man hearsthe words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar tohimself, of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver.It is in wain for a boy to attempt to hide himself from that youngman. A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himselfup, may draw the clothes over his head, may think himselfcomfortable and safe, but that young man will softly creep andcreep his way to him and tear him open. I am a-keeping that youngman from harming of you at the present moment, with greatdifficulty. I find it wery hard to hold that young man off of yourinside. Now, what do you say?"

I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him whatbroken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at theBattery, early in the morning.

"Say Lord strike you dead if you don't!" said the man.

I said so, and he took me down.

"Now," he pursued, "you remember what you've undertook, and youremember that young man, and you get home!"

"Goo-good night, sir," I faltered.

"Much of that!" said he, glancing about him over the cold wet flat."I wish I was a frog. Or a eel!"

At the same time, he hugged his shuddering body in both his arms -clasping himself, as if to hold himself together - and limpedtowards the low church wall. As I saw him go, picking his way amongthe nettles, and among the brambles that bound the green mounds, helooked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the deadpeople, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get atwist upon his ankle and pull him in.

When he came to the low church wall, he got over it, like a manwhose legs were numbed and stiff, and then turned round to look forme. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and madethe best use of my legs. But presently I looked over my shoulder,and saw him going on again towards the river, still hugging himselfin both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among thegreat stones dropped into the marshes here and there, forstepping-places when the rains were heavy, or the tide was in.

The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as Istopped to look after him; and the river was just anotherhorizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the skywas just a row of long angry red lines and dense black linesintermixed. On the edge of the river I could faintly make out theonly two black things in all the prospect that seemed to bestanding upright; one of these was the beacon by which the sailorssteered - like an unhooped cask upon a pole - an ugly thing whenyou were near it; the other a gibbet, with some chains hanging toit which had once held a pirate. The man was limping on towardsthis latter, as if he were the pirate come to life, and come down,and going back to hook himself up again. It gave me a terrible turnwhen I thought so; and as I saw the cattle lifting their heads togaze after him, I wondered whether they thought so too. I lookedall round for the horrible young man, and could see no signs ofhim. But, now I was frightened again, and ran home withoutstopping.

Chapter 2

My sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older thanI, and had established a great reputation with herself and theneighbours because she had brought me up "by hand." Having at thattime to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowingher to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit oflaying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that JoeGargery and I were both brought up by hand.

She was not a good-looking woman, my sister; and I had a generalimpression that she must have made Joe Gargery marry her by hand.Joe was a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of hissmooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that theyseemed to have somehow got mixed with their own whites. He was amild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dearfellow - a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness.

My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailingredness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it waspossible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap.She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron,fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a squareimpregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles.She made it a powerful merit in herself, and a strong reproachagainst Joe, that she wore this apron so much. Though I really seeno reason why she should have worn it at all: or why, if she didwear it at all, she should not have taken it off, every day of herlife.

Joe's forge adjoined our house, which was a wooden house, as manyof the dwellings in our country were - most of them, at that time.When I ran home from the churchyard, the forge was shut up, and Joewas sitting alone in the kitchen. Joe and I being fellow-sufferers,and having confidences as such, Joe imparted a confidence to me,the moment I raised the latch of the door and peeped in at himopposite to it, sitting in the chimney corner.

"Mrs. Joe has been out a dozen times, looking for you, Pip. Andshe's out now, making it a baker's dozen."

"Is she?"

"Yes, Pip," said Joe; "and what's worse, she's got Tickler withher."

At this dismal intelligence, I twisted the only button on mywaistcoat round and round, and looked in great depression at thefire. Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth bycollision with my tickled frame.

"She sot down," said Joe, "and she got up, and she made a grab atTickler, and she Ram-paged out. That's what she did," said Joe,slowly clearing the fire between the lower bars with the poker, andlooking at it: "she Ram-paged out, Pip."

"Has she been gone long, Joe?" I always treated him as a largerspecies of child, and as no more than my equal.

"Well," said Joe, glancing up at the Dutch clock, "she's been onthe Ram-page, this last spell, about five minutes, Pip. She's a-coming! Get behind the door, old chap, and have the jack-towelbetwixt you."

I took the advice. My sister, Mrs. Joe, throwing the door wide open,and finding an obstruction behind it, immediately divined thecause, and applied Tickler to its further investigation. Sheconcluded by throwing me - I often served as a connubial missile -at Joe, who, glad to get hold of me on any terms, passed me on intothe chimney and quietly fenced me up there with his great leg.

"Where have you been, you young monkey?" said Mrs. Joe, stamping herfoot. "Tell me directly what you've been doing to wear me away withfret and fright and worrit, or I'd have you out of that corner ifyou was fifty Pips, and he was five hundred Gargerys."

"I have only been to the churchyard," said I, from my stool, cryingand rubbing myself.

"Churchyard!" repeated my sister. "If it warn't for me you'd havebeen to the churchyard long ago, and stayed there. Who brought youup by hand?"

"You did," said I.

"And why did I do it, I should like to know?" exclaimed my sister.

I whimpered, "I don't know."

"I don't!" said my sister. "I'd never do it again! I know that. Imay truly say I've never had this apron of mine off, since born youwere. It's bad enough to be a blacksmith's wife (and him a Gargery)without being your mother."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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