فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

Christmas Day

When I got home, Mrs Joe was too busy preparing our Christmas dinner to ask me questions. I sat down quietly by Joe.

Our dinner was to be at half past one. Long before that, I was scrubbed clean by Mrs Joe and dressed in my best clothes. It was my job to open the door to our guests - three of our neighbours, and Uncle Pumblechook.

Uncle Pumblechook was a fat, stupid man with hair that stood up on his head. He greatly admired my sister but thought very little of Joe and myself. He had brought two bottles of wine and he gave them to Mrs Joe with a bow and a smile.

Everyone was soon eating and drinking happily. Everyone except me. I was terrified. Was Mrs Joe going to serve the pie today? When would she discover it was missing?

Dinner seemed to be finished, when my sister suddenly spoke to Joe.

‘Fetch clean plates!’ she ordered. I held on tight to the table leg. I knew what was going to happen.

My sister smiled at her guests.

‘And now you must all taste another gift from Uncle Pumblechook,’ she said. ‘It’s a delicious meat pie!’

‘Well, Mrs Joe, this has been a wonderful meal,’ Uncle Pumblechook said happily. ‘But I think I could eat a slice of that meat pie!’

My sister hurried into the pantry and Uncle Pumblechook picked up his knife and fork.

‘You shall have a slice of pie, Pip,’ Joe whispered to me.

I could not sit there any longer. Did I cry out or not? I can’t remember. But I jumped up and ran towards the front door. At the same moment, Mrs Joe came back from the pantry.

‘What’s happened to the meat pie?’ she cried.

I opened the door and ran - straight into a group of soldiers. Their leader, a sergeant, was holding out a pair of handcuffs!

‘Now then, young man!’ the sergeant said sharply, as he marched into our kitchen.

‘Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,’ he went on. ‘We’re chasing escaped convicts and we need the blacksmith.’

‘What do you want him for?’ my sister asked in surprise.

‘Well I’d like to stay and talk to his charming wife,’ the sergeant replied. ‘But today we’re busy with the King’s business. We need the blacksmith to do a little job for us.’

Joe stood up and the sergeant held out the handcuffs.

‘There’s something wrong with these, blacksmith,’ the sergeant said. ‘We need them today, so I’d like you to mend them.’

Joe took the handcuffs in his great hand.

‘I’ll have to light the fire in the forge,’ he said. ‘This job will take about two hours.’

‘That’ll be all right,’ the sergeant answered. ‘We’re sure that the convicts are still on the marshes. We’ll capture them before it’s dark. No one has seen them, I suppose?’

Everyone except me shook their heads. No one thought of asking me.

Joe took off his coat and got ready for work. With the soldiers’ help, the forge fire was soon burning fiercely. As Joe hammered the white-hot iron, we all stood round and watched him.

Mrs Joe gave the soldiers some beer. Uncle Pumblechook poured out wine for the sergeant and then poured some for everyone else. Even I got a little wine.

We stood in the forge, laughing and talking. I thought sadly of the two convicts, cold and hungry on the marshes.

At last the handcuffs were mended. Joe asked the sergeant if he could follow the soldiers while they searched for the convicts.

‘Certainly, blacksmith. Bring the boy with you, if you like,’ the sergeant answered.

‘Well,’ my sister said sharply, ‘if he gets his head shot off, don’t ask me to mend it.’

Joe lifted me up onto his broad shoulders. As we began to follow the soldiers, I whispered in his ear.

‘I hope, Joe, that we don’t find them!’

And Joe whispered back. ‘Let’s hope they’ve got away, Pip old chap.’

It was dark now. On our way to the marshes, the bitter wind blew icy rain into our faces.

The group of soldiers moved quickly. We went at a fast pace, sometimes stumbling on the rough ground, sometimes falling. At last we were on the marshes, splashing in and out of the ditches full of icy water.

Suddenly, we heard a shout. We stopped and listened. The shout was repeated and then we heard another.

The sergeant sent us to the right. On we ran, even faster, splashing through ditches, up and down steep banks.

And now we could hear that two men were shouting.

‘Murder!’ one cried.

‘Convicts! This way for the escaped convicts!’ shouted the other.

The two men were fighting at the bottom of a ditch. They were splashing in the muddy water. The men were cursing and hitting out at each other.

When the soldiers pulled the men from the ditch, both of the convicts were torn and bleeding.

My convict wiped the blood from his face with his torn sleeve.

‘I caught this man! I’m giving him to you!’ he cried. ‘Don’t forget that. I caught him for you!’

‘That won’t help you,’ the sergeant answered, as the two convicts were handcuffed.

‘I don’t expect it to help me. I caught him and that’s enough for me,’ my convict answered.

The other convict’s clothes were torn and his face was bloody. But I could still see the scar on his cheek.

‘He tried to murder me, sergeant!’ the young man said.

‘Tried?’ my convict repeated. ‘Do you think I would try and not succeed? No, I caught him and held him here. I could have escaped, but I wouldn’t let this gentleman get away. He tricked me once. I’ll not let him trick me again!’

‘He tried to murder me,’ the other man repeated weakly.

‘He’s lying. He always was a liar,’ my convict answered. ‘We were put on trial together and he lied at the trial. He was scared of me then and he’s scared of me now. Look at him! Look at the gentleman convict, shaking with fear!’

‘That’s enough!’ the sergeant said. ‘Light the torches there!’ he shouted to the soldiers.

It was very dark now. There was no moon. In the light of the torches, my convict turned and saw me for the first time.

‘Wait a minute,’ my convict said to the sergeant. ‘I wish to say something. I don’t want anyone to be blamed for what I did. A man must eat. I took drink and food from the village. I took bread, cheese, brandy and a meat pie. From the blacksmith’s house.’

‘Has a pie been stolen from you?’ the sergeant asked Joe.

‘Yes, my wife found out it was missing - at the very moment you came in,’ Joe answered. ‘That’s right, isn’t it, Pip?’

‘Then I’m very sorry I ate your pie, blacksmith,’ the convict said, not looking at me.

‘You’re welcome to it, poor miserable fellow,’ Joe said kindly. ‘We don’t know what you’ve done, but we wouldn’t want you to starve, would we, Pip?’

The convict wiped his torn sleeve across his eyes and turned away. Joe and I watched as the two men were led away towards the sea and the prison-ships.

Days later, when I saw Joe looking for his file in the forge, I nearly told him the truth. But I was a coward and too afraid of what he would think of me.

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