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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 3

Great Expectations

Chapter 3

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on

the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying

there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief.

Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like

a coarser sort of spiders' webs; hanging itself from twig to twig

and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the

marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post

directing people to our village - a direction which they never

accepted, for they never came there - was invisible to me until I

was quite close under it. Then, as I looked up at it, while it

dripped, it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom

devoting me to the Hulks.

The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that

instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at

me. This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind. The gates and

dykes and banks came bursting at me through the mist, as if they

cried as plainly as could be, "A boy with Somebody-else's pork pie!

Stop him!" The cattle came upon me with like suddenness, staring

out of their eyes, and steaming out of their nostrils, "Holloa,

young thief!" One black ox, with a white cravat on - who even had

to my awakened conscience something of a clerical air - fixed me so

obstinately with his eyes, and moved his blunt head round in such

an accusatory manner as I moved round, that I blubbered out to him,

"I couldn't help it, sir! It wasn't for myself I took it!" Upon

which he 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


All this time, I was getting on towards the river; but however fast

I went, I couldn't warm my feet, to which the damp cold seemed

riveted, as the iron was riveted to the leg of the man I was

running to meet. I knew my way to the Battery, pretty straight, for

I had been down there on a Sunday with Joe, and Joe, sitting on an

old gun, had told me that when I was 'prentice to him regularly

bound, we would have such Larks there! However, in the confusion of

the mist, I found myself at last too far to the right, and

consequently had to try back along the river-side, on the bank of

loose stones above the mud and the stakes that staked the tide out.

Making my way along here with all despatch, I had just crossed a

ditch which I knew to be very near the Battery, and had just

scrambled up the mound beyond the ditch, when I saw the man sitting

before me. His back was towards me, and he had his arms folded, and

was nodding forward, heavy with sleep.

I thought he would be more glad if I came upon him with his

breakfast, in that unexpected manner, so I went forward softly and

touched him on the shoulder. He instantly jumped up, and it was not

the same man, but another man!

And yet this man was dressed in coarse grey, too, and had a great

iron on his leg, and was lame, and hoarse, and cold, and was

everything that the other man was; except that he had not the same

face, and had a flat broad-brimmed low-crowned felt that on. All

this, I saw in a moment, for I had only a moment to see it in: he

swore an oath at me, made a hit at me - it was a round weak blow

that missed me and almost knocked himself down, for it made him

stumble - and then he ran into the mist, stumbling twice as he went,

and I lost him.

"It's the young man!" I thought, feeling my heart shoot as I

identified him. I dare say I should have felt a pain in my liver,

too, if I had known where it was.

I was soon at the Battery, after that, and there was the right

man-hugging himself and limping to and fro, as if he had never all

night left off hugging and limping - waiting for me. He was awfully

cold, to be sure. I half expected to see him drop down before my

face and die of deadly cold. His eyes looked so awfully hungry,

too, that when I handed him the file and he laid it down on the

grass, it occurred to me he would have tried to eat it, if he had

not seen my bundle. He did not turn me upside down, this time, to

get at what I had, but left me right side upwards while I opened

the bundle and emptied my pockets.

"What's in the bottle, boy?" said he.

"Brandy," said I.

He was already handing mincemeat 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. He shivered 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, without biting it off.

"I think you have got the ague," said I.

"I'm much of your opinion, boy," said he.

"It's bad about here," I told him. "You've been lying out on the

meshes, and they're dreadful aguish. Rheumatic too."

"I'll eat my breakfast afore 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 afterwards. I'll beat the shivers

so far, I'll bet you."

He was gobbling mincemeat, meatbone, bread, cheese, and pork pie,

all at once: staring distrustfully while he did so at the mist all

round us, and often stopping - even stopping his jaws - to listen.

Some real or fancied sound, some clink upon the river or breathing

of beast upon the marsh, now gave him a start, and he said,


"You're not a deceiving imp? You brought no one with you?"

"No, sir! No!"

"Nor giv' no one the office 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 could 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, I 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."

I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I 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 in every direction, of somebody's

coming to take the pie away. He was altogether too unsettled in his

mind over it, to appreciate it comfortably, I 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.

"I am afraid you won't leave any of it for him," said I, timidly;

after a silence during which I had hesitated as to the politeness

of making the remark. "There's no more to be got where that came

from." It was the certainty of this fact that impelled me to offer

the hint.

"Leave any for him? Who's him?" said my friend, stopping in his

crunching of pie-crust.

"The young man. That you spoke of. That was hid with you."

"Oh ah!" he returned, with something like a gruff laugh. "Him? Yes,

yes! He don't want no wittles."

"I thought he looked as if he did," said I.

The man stopped eating, and regarded me with the keenest scrutiny

and the greatest surprise.

"Looked? When?"

"Just now."


"Yonder," said I, pointing; "over there, where I found him nodding

asleep, and thought it was you."

He held me by the collar and stared at me so, that I began to think

his first idea about cutting my throat had revived.

"Dressed like you, you know, only with a hat," I explained,

trembling; "and - and" - I was very anxious to put this delicately

- "and with - the same reason for wanting to borrow a file. Didn't

you hear the cannon last night?"

"Then, there was firing!" he said to himself.

"I wonder you shouldn't have been sure of that," I returned, "for

we heard it up at home, and that's further away, and we were shut

in besides."

"Why, see now!" said he. "When a man's alone on these flats, with a

light head and a light stomach, perishing of cold and want, he

hears nothin' all night, but guns firing, and voices calling.

Hears? He sees the soldiers, with their red coats lighted up by the

torches carried afore, closing in round him. Hears his number

called, hears himself challenged, hears the rattle of the muskets,

hears the orders 'Make ready! Present! Cover him steady, men!' and

is laid hands on - and there's nothin'! Why, if I see one pursuing

party last night - coming up in order, Damn 'em, with their tramp,

tramp - I see a hundred. And as to firing! Why, I see the mist

shake with the cannon, arter it was broad day - But this man;" he

had said all the rest, as if he had forgotten my being there; "did

you notice anything in him?"

"He had a badly bruised face," said I, recalling what I hardly knew

I knew.

"Not here?" exclaimed the man, striking his left cheek mercilessly,

with the flat of his hand.

"Yes, there!"

"Where is he?" He crammed what little food was left, into the

breast of his grey jacket. "Show me the way he went. I'll pull him

down, like a bloodhound. Curse this iron on my sore leg! Give us

hold of the file, boy."

I indicated in what direction the mist had shrouded the other man,

and he looked up at it for an instant. But he was down on the rank

wet grass, filing at his iron like a madman, and not minding me or

minding his own leg, which had an old chafe upon it and was bloody,

but which he handled as roughly as if it had no more feeling in it

than the file. I was very much afraid of him again, now that he had

worked himself into this fierce hurry, and I was likewise very much

afraid of keeping away from home any longer. I told him I must go,

but he took no notice, so I thought the best thing I could do was

to slip off. The last I saw of him, his head was bent over his knee

and he was working hard at his fetter, muttering impatient

imprecations at it and at his leg. The last I heard of him, I

stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going.

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