Thursday, September 17

My Great Expectations (by Charlie Dickens)

My father's family name being Pippit, and my Christian name Richard, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Dicka Dip. So, I called myself Dip, and came to be called Dip.

I give Pippit as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister, Mrs. Joe Garganey, who married the forgeman. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them, my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their most excellent bird records published within the County's Annual Reports. To me, they lived on the coast, surrounded by rares and scarces. Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.

My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overrun with nettle-birds was the churchyard; and that the dark flat wilderness without a hide beyond said churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates and burnt-out carts, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes reserve; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Dip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a creaky voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Just keep still, you l’il low lister, or I'll cut your binstrap!"

A fearful man, all in coarse prison grey save for a torn clergyman’s collar, and with a great iron scopac on his back. A man with a broken Birdfayre pinbadge, split wellies, and an old rag convict bandana tied atop his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and whinged, and whined; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he poked me on the chin.

"Tell me your name!" barked the man. "Quickly!"

"Dip, sir."

"Show me where you live, Dip." said the man. "I pray thee point out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church, just beyond the fly-tipped hillocks.

"Who d'you live with-- supposing you are kindly let to go, which I have yet to make up my mind about?"

"My sister, sir,--Mrs. Joe Garganey,--wife of Joe Garganey, the Village Forger, sir."

"Forger, eh?" said he. And smiled the smile of a man with a cunning plan.

"Now look here," he said, "the question now being as to whether you are to be let go, or not." He paused, smiled and said more quietly "Do you know what a rares description file is Dip?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Garganey forges them."

"And you know what a Collinses is?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well Master Dip, you must get me a blank description file. And you must get me a Collinses. Then bring both here to me." He tilted me again, and tried to sound both authorative and threatening, like a Committee man. "Or I will have your records struck out forever and a day."

"You bring me Dip, tomorrow morning early, that file and that Collinses. You bring the lot to me, at that old coal burning station yonder. 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, and you shall be left to a'bird. You fail, or you go from my words in any particular, no matter how small it is, and your sightings and your descriptions shall be tore out, roasted, and ate."

I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the old coal station, early in the morning.

"Say may the County string up your reputation if you don't!" said the man.

I said so, and he tilted me down.

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

He hugged his shuddering body in both his arms,--clasping himself, as if to hold himself together,--and limped towards the low church wall. As I saw him go, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the adjudications of undead committees, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his tales and pull him under.

When he came to the low church wall, he got over it, like a man whose legs were numbed and stiff, and then turned round to look for me. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs. But presently I looked over my shoulder, and saw him going on again towards the river, still hugging himself in both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among the great rubber cart tyres and corner store trollies tipped into the fill-dykes here and there, and he called out, "Ah a Sandgrouse, a Willet, a Great Snipe!".

The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed. The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the a Websman. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so, for such wader counterers were but ghosts about here; and as I saw twittering sheep lift heads to listen for his shouts, I wondered what they thought. Now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping until I could hear the sound of "Tattler, Slender-billed, Corks! how lovely a Robin.." no more.

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