In England, in a lonely village not far from London, there once lived a little orphan boy named Philip Pirrip, whom everybody called, for short, "Pip." His parents had died when he was a baby, and he had been brought up by his older sister, the wife of Joe Gargery, a blacksmith whose forge looked out across wide marshes and a river that flowed through them.
Joe, the blacksmith, was a fair-faced man with flaxen whiskers and very bright blue eyes. He was a mild, honest, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow, tender-hearted and kind to little Pip and yet a Hercules for strength.
Very different, indeed, was "Mrs. Joe," as everybody spoke of her. She was tall and bony and had black hair, a red skin and a continual habit of scolding. She may have loved Pip in her way, but that way was a very cross-grained one. She treated Joe, the big blacksmith, and Pip, the little boy, just alike, and they were both equally in dread of her. This made them quite like partners. Whenever[Pg 132] Pip came into the house he used to look at Joe's fingers; if Joe crossed them that was a sign Mrs. Joe was cross and that Pip was to look out for himself.
Joe had an uncle named Pumblechook, who was a corn seller in the next town and a pompous old hypocrite. He had a way of standing Pip before him, rumpling up his hair and asking him hard questions out of the multiplication table. And whenever he told a story of any one who was ungrateful or wicked he would glower at Pip in a way that made him feel very uncomfortable.
Another who came as often and was almost as dismal to see was Wopsle, the clerk, who read the lesson in church every Sunday. He had an idea he would make a great actor and used to recite whole pages from Shakespeare when he could find any one to listen to him.
Worst of all was a workman of Joe's named Orlick. He was a loose-limbed, swarthy, slouching giant with a hangdog look. He used to tell Pip that the devil lived in a certain corner of the forge, and once in every seven years the fire had to be rekindled with a live boy. Orlick at heart disliked everybody—especially harmless little Pip—and often quarreled with Mrs. Joe.
Beside the blacksmith, the only one who understood Pip was a little girl named Biddy, about his own age and an orphan, too. She liked him and used to help him with his lessons at school.[Pg 133]
But in spite of Joe and Biddy, Pip was sometimes so lonely and miserable that he would steal off alone to the village churchyard, where his father and mother lay buried, to cry.
One afternoon—it was the day before Christmas—Pip was more wretched than usual, and was sitting crying among the graves when suddenly a rough voice spoke behind him. "Keep still, you little imp!" it said, "or I'll cut your throat!" With the words a man rose up from behind a tombstone and seized him.
He was a fearful-looking man, dressed all in gray clothes, with a great iron band riveted on his leg. His shoes were torn, he had no hat and wore a ragged, dirty handkerchief tied around his head. He was soaked with water, caked with mud and limped and shivered as he walked. He set Pip on a tombstone and tilted him so far back that the church steeple seemed to turn a somersault, growling at him in a terrible voice.
Pip had never been so frightened in his life. With a trembling voice he begged his captor to spare him. The man asked him his name and where he lived, and told him he would let him go on one condition. He had to promise to come next morning at daybreak to a certain spot in the marshes and to bring a file and something to eat. And the man said if Pip did not do so, or if he told any one what he was going to do, he would catch him again and cut out his heart and eat it.[Pg 134]
This terrible threat frightened poor little Pip more than ever. His voice shook so that he could hardly promise, and when the man set him down he ran home as fast as his legs would carry him.
The evening was a miserable one. Pip thought he would save his own supper for the man in case he should not be able to get into his sister's pantry, so instead of eating his bread and butter he slipped it down his trouser-leg.
Before long a great gun began to boom, and he asked Joe what it was. The blacksmith told him that in the river across the marshes were anchored some big hulks of ships, like wicked Noah's arks, where convicts were kept prisoners, and that the gun was a signal that some of these convicts had escaped. Then Pip knew the man he had promised to help was a criminal—perhaps a murderer—who had got away and was hiding from the soldiers.
All night he did not sleep. He hated to steal the food, but he felt certain he would be killed if he did not. So at dawn he slipped down stairs, got a file from the forge, unlocked the pantry, took some bread and cheese and a pork pie that Uncle Pumblechook had sent for Christmas dinner, and ran out through the foggy morning to the marshes.
He had not got quite there when he came on a man in gray, sitting on the ground, with an iron fetter on his leg. Pip thought he was the one he was in search of, but as soon as the other turned his face he saw by a bruise on the cheek that he was[Pg 135] not. This second man in gray, as soon as he saw him, sprang to his feet and ran away.
Greatly wondering, Pip went on, and at the right spot he found the man who had frightened him in the graveyard. He seemed now to be almost starved, for he snatched the food and ate it like a hungry dog. He asked Pip if he had seen any one else on his way there, and Pip told him of the other man in gray who also wore an iron on his leg.
He asked Pip to describe the other, and when Pip told of the bruised cheek, the man he was feeding flew into a rage. He began to curse, and, seizing the file, set to filing like mad at his fetter. Pip could see that he hated the other convict, and was sorry he had escaped; but he had fulfilled his promise now, so he turned and ran home again, and the last thing he heard was the rasp of the file as the man worked madly at the iron.
Very guilty Pip felt all that Christmas morning. He went to church with Joe, and after service Uncle Pumblechook, Wopsle, the clerk, and other company came to dinner. He could not enjoy the good things to eat, for he knew now his sister must discover that the pork pie was gone. Just as she went to get it he got up from the table to run away, but as he opened the door he ran plump into a file of soldiers.
He was sure at first they had come to arrest him for helping the convict, but he was soon relieved, when the officer at their head explained that they[Pg 136] were on their way to search the marshes for the escaped men and wanted the blacksmith to mend a broken handcuff.
In the flurry of their arrival the pork pie was forgotten, while Joe mended the handcuff in the forge. When the soldiers left, the blacksmith set Pip on his broad shoulder, and he and Wopsle went striding with them to see the result of the hunt.
It was sunset as the party entered the marshes, and the searchers opened out into a wide line. On a sudden all stopped, for a confused shouting had come from the distance. They ran toward it, cocking their guns, and Wopsle and Joe, with Pip on his shoulder, followed. The shouts became plainer and plainer. All at once they came to a ditch and in it the convict Pip had fed and the one with the bruised cheek were struggling fiercely together.
The soldiers seized and handcuffed them both, the man with the bruised cheek pale and trembling, the other boasting that he had dragged the man he hated back to captivity, even though it cost him his own freedom.
While the soldiers were preparing to take their prisoners back, Pip's convict saw the boy standing there with Joe. Pip hoped he would not think he had had anything to do with bringing the soldiers. He was pretty sure the man did not, because he presently told the officer, in every one's hearing, that the night before he had broken into a house[Pg 137] where a blacksmith lived, near a church, and had stolen a pork pie. Joe heard this and so Pip knew that he himself would be clear of any blame.
The convicts were taken back to their cells and Joe and Pip went home to tell the company of their adventure. But neither then nor ever afterward did Pip find courage to tell Joe the part he had played; for Pip loved the honest blacksmith and did not want him to think him worse than he really was.
Time went on and Pip grew older and bigger, and though he never forgot the adventure of the churchyard, yet the memory of it grew dimmer. In the next few years only one thing happened to recall it to him.
One evening Mrs. Joe sent Pip to the village inn, The Three Jolly Bargemen, with a message. Pip found Joe there, sitting with a stranger—a secret-looking man, who held his head on one side and kept one eye perpetually shut as if he were taking aim with a gun. This man, when he heard Pip's name, looked at him with a curious wink, and when no one but Pip was looking he took out of his pocket, to stir his drink with, the very file Pip had stolen from Joe's forge.
Pip knew that minute that the man was a friend of the convict he had aided. When Pip left the inn the stranger called him back and gave him a shilling wrapped up in a piece of paper.
When he got home Mrs. Joe (who took the prize[Pg 138] away from him) discovered that the piece of paper was in reality two bank-notes, and both Joe and she wondered at it. The blacksmith tried next day to find the stranger to restore the money, but he had left the inn.
So it always remained a mystery—to all but Pip of course, who knew in his heart that the convict had remembered his aid and had taken this means of repaying him.
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