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Stig of the Dump
By Clive King, Edward Ardizzone
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1963 Clive King
All rights reserved.
1. The Ground Gives Way
If you went too near the edge of the chalk pit the ground would give way. Barney had been told this often enough. Everybody had told him. His grandmother, every time he came to stay with her. His sister, every time she wasn't telling him something else. Barney had a feeling, somewhere in his middle, that it was probably true about the ground giving way. But still, there was a difference between being told and seeing it happen. And today was one of those gray days when there was nothing to do, nothing to play, and nowhere to go. Except to the chalk pit. The dump.
Barney got through the rickety fence and went to the edge of the pit. This had been the side of a hill once, he told himself. Men had come to dig away chalk and left this huge hole in the earth. He thought of all the sticks of chalk they must have made, and all the blackboards in all the schools they must have written on. They must have dug and dug for hundreds of years. And then they got tired of digging, or somebody had told them to stop before they dug away all the hill. And now they did not know what to do with this empty hole and they were trying to fill it up again. Anything people didn't want they threw into the bottom of the pit.
He crawled through the rough grass and peered over. The sides of the pit were white chalk, with lines of flints poking out like bones in places. At the top was crumbly brown earth and the roots of the trees that grew on the edge. The roots looped over the edge, twined in the air and grew back into the earth. Some of the trees hung over the edge, holding on desperately by a few roots. The earth and chalk had fallen away beneath them, and one day they too would fall to the bottom of the pit. Strings of ivy and the creeper called Old Man's Beard hung in the air.
Far below was the bottom of the pit. The dump. Barney could see strange bits of wreckage among the moss and elder bushes and nettles. Was that the steering wheel of a ship? The tail of an airplane? At least there was a real bicycle. Barney felt sure he could make it go if only he could get at it. They didn't let him have a bicycle.
Barney wished he was at the bottom of the pit.
And the ground gave way.
Barney felt his head going down and his feet going up. There was a rattle of falling earth beneath him. Then he was falling, still clutching the clump of grass that was falling with him.
This is what it's like when the ground gives way, thought Barney. Then he seemed to turn a complete somersault in the air, bumped into a ledge of chalk halfway down, crashed through some creepers and ivy and branches, and landed on a bank of moss.
His thoughts did those funny things they do when you bump your head and you suddenly find yourself thinking about what you had for dinner last Tuesday, all mixed up with seven times six. Barney lay with his eyes shut, waiting for his thoughts to stop being mixed up. Then he opened them.
He was lying in a kind of shelter. Looking up he could see a roof, or part of a roof, made of elder branches, a very rotten old carpet, and rusty old sheets of iron. There was a big hole, through which he must have fallen. He could see the white walls of the cliff, the trees and creepers at the top, and the sky with clouds passing over it.
Barney decided he wasn't dead. He didn't even seem to be very much hurt. He turned his head and looked around him. It was dark in this den after looking at the white chalk, and he couldn't see what sort of a place it was. It seemed to be partly a cave dug into the chalk, partly a shelter built out over the mouth of the cave. There was a cool, damp smell. Woodlice and earwigs dropped from the roof where he had broken through it.
But what had happened to his legs? He couldn't sit up when he tried to. His legs wouldn't move. Perhaps I've broken them, Barney thought. What shall I do then? He looked at his legs to see if they were all right, and found they were all tangled up with creeper from the face of the cliff. Who tied me up? thought Barney. He kicked his legs to try to get them free, but it was no use, there were yards of creeper trailing down from the cliff. I suppose I got tangled up when I fell, he thought. Expect I would have broken my neck if I hadn't.
He lay quiet and looked around the cave again. Now that his eyes were used to it he could see further into the dark part of the cave.
There was somebody there!
Something, or Somebody, had a lot of shaggy black hair and two bright black eyes that were looking very hard at Barney.
"Hallo!" said Barney.
Something said nothing.
"I fell down the cliff," said Barney.
"My name's Barney."
Somebody-Something made a noise that sounded like "Stig."
"D'you think you could help me undo my feet, Mr. Stig?" asked Barney politely. "I've got a pocketknife," he added, remembering that he had in his pocket a knife he'd found among the wood shavings on the floor of Grandfather's workshop. It was quite a good knife except that one blade had come off and the other one was broken in half and rather blunt.
Good thing I put it in my pocket, he thought. He wriggled so he could reach the knife, and managed to open the rusty half-blade. He tried to reach the creepers round his legs, but found it was difficult to cut creepers with a blunt knife when your feet are tied above your head.
The Thing sitting in the corner seemed to be interested. It got up and moved toward Barney into the light. Barney was glad to see it was Somebody after all. Funny way to dress though, he thought, rabbit-skins round the middle and no shoes or socks.
"Oh puff!" said Barney, "I can't reach my feet. You do it, Stig!"
He handed the knife to Stig.
Stig turned it over and felt it with his strong hairy hands, and tested the edge with a thumb. Then instead of trying to cut the creepers he squatted down on the ground and picked up a broken stone.
He's going to sharpen the knife, thought Barney.
But no, it seemed more as if he was sharpening the stone. Using the hard knife to chip with, Stig was carefully flaking tiny splinters off the edge of the flint, until he had a thin sharp blade. Then he sprang up, and with two or three slashes cut through the creeper that tied Barney's feet.
Barney sat up. "Golly!" he said. "You are clever! I bet my Granddad couldn't do that, and he's very good at making things."
Stig grinned. Then he went to the back of the cave and hid the broken knife under a pile of rubbish.
"My knife!" protested Barney. But Stig took no notice. Barney got up and went into the dark part of the cave.
He'd never seen anything like the collection of bits and pieces, odds and ends, bric-Ã -brac and old brock, that this Stig creature had lying about his den. There were stones and bones, fossils and bottles, skins and tins, stacks of sticks and hanks of string. There were motorcar tires and hats from old scarecrows, nuts and bolts and bobbles from brass bedsteads. There was a coal scuttle full of dead electric light bulbs and a basin with rusty screws and nails in it. There was a pile of bracken and newspapers that looked as if it were used for a bed. The place looked as if it had never been given a tidy-up.
"I wish I lived here," said Barney.
Stig seemed to understand that Barney was approving of his home and his face lit up. He took on the air of a householder showing a visitor round his property, and began pointing out some of the things he seemed particularly proud of.
First, the plumbing. Where the water dripped through a crack in the roof of the cave he had wedged the mud-guard of a bicycle. The water ran along this, through the tube of a vacuum cleaner, and into a big can with writing on it. By the side of this was a plastic football carefully cut in half, and Stig dipped up some water and offered it to Barney. Barney had swallowed a mouthful before he made out the writing on the can: it said WEEDKILLER. However, the water only tasted of rust and rubber.
It was dark in the back of the cave. Stig went to the front where the ashes of a fire were smoking faintly, blew on them, picked up a book that lay beside his bed, tore out a page and rolled it up, lit it at the fire, and carried it to a lamp set in a niche in the wall. As it flared up Barney could see it was in fact an old teapot, filled with some kind of oil, and with a bootlace hanging out of it for a wick. In the light of the lamp Stig went to the very back of the cave and began to thump the wall and point, and explain something in his strange grunting language. Barney did not understand a word but he recognized the tone of voice — like when grown-ups go on about: "I'm thinking of tearing this down, and building on here, and having this done up ..." Stig had been digging into the wall, enlarging his cave. There was a bit of an old bed he had been using as a pick, and a baby's bath full of loose chalk to be carried away.
Barney made the interested sort of noises you are supposed to make when people tell you they are going to put up plastic wallpaper with pictures of mousetraps on it, but Stig reached up to a bunch of turnips hanging from a poker stuck in the wall. He handed Barney a turnip, took one for himself, and began to eat it. Barney sat down on a bundle of old magazines done up with string and munched the turnip. The turnip at least was fresh, and it tasted better to him than the cream of spinach he'd hidden under his spoon at dinner time.
Barney looked at Stig. Funny person to find living next door to you, he thought. Stig did not seem much bigger than himself, but he looked very strong and his hands looked cleverer than his face. But how old was he? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand?
"You been here long?" asked Barney.
Stig grinned again. "Long," he said. "Long, long, long." But it sounded more like an echo, or a parrot copying somebody, than an answer to his question.
"I'm staying at my Grandmother's house," said Barney. Stig just looked at him. Oh well, thought Barney, if he's not interested in talking I don't mind. He stood up.
"I better go now," he said. "Thank you for having me. Can I have my knife back, please?"
Stig still looked blank.
"Knife," said Barney, and made cutting movements with his hand. Stig picked up the sharp worked flint from the floor of the cave and gave it to Barney.
"Oo, can I have that?" exclaimed Barney. "Thank you!"
He looked at the stone, hard and shiny, almost like a diamond and much more useful. Then he put it in his pocket, said goodbye again, and went out of the low door of the shelter.
It was getting late in the autumn evening, and it was already dark and gloomy in the pit. Barney knew there was a way out right at the other end of the pit, and by going a long way round he could get back to the house. There were rustlings in dry leaves and muffled sounds from the middle of bramble patches, but somehow Barney found he didn't mind. He felt the hard stone in his pocket and thought of Stig in his den under the cliff. You weren't likely to find anything stranger than Stig wherever you looked. And, well, Stig was his friend.
When he got back to the house his Grandmother and his sister Lou were just coming in from feeding the hens.
"Where have you been all the time?" asked his Grandmother.
"I went to the chalk pit," said Barney.
"All by yourself!" exclaimed Lou.
"Yes, of course," he said.
"What have you been doing?" his Grandmother asked.
"Well, I fell and bumped my head."
"Poor old Barney!" said Lou, and laughed.
"But it was all right," Barney went on. "Because I met Stig."
"Who's Stig?" they both asked together.
"He's a sort of boy," replied Barney. "He just wears rabbit-skins and lives in a cave. He gets his water through a vacuum cleaner and puts chalk in his bath. He's my friend."
"Good gracious!" exclaimed his Grandmother. "What funny friends you have, dear!"
"He means he's been playing Cave Men," Lou exclaimed helpfully. "Stig's just a pretend-friend, isn't he, Barney?"
"No, he's really true!" Barney protested.
"Of course he's true," his Grandmother smiled. "Now, Lou. Don't tease Barney!"
"Let's pretend Stig's a wicked wizard who lives in a cave and turns people into stone," Lou began eagerly. She was always inventing stories and games like that.
"No," said Barney quietly, feeling the sharp flint in his pocket. "Stig's nice. He's my friend."
That night he kept the flint under his pillow, and thought of Stig out there in the pit sleeping on his bed of bracken and old newspapers. He wished he lived all the time at Granny's house so that he could get to know Stig. He had to go back the day after tomorrow. Never mind, he'd visit Stig in the morning.CHAPTER 2
Digging with Stig
It was a fine autumn morning and the grass was very wet with dew outside. Barney pushed his breakfast down as fast as he could manage.
"What do you want to do today?" his Grandmother asked as she drank her coffee. "I have to go in to Sevenoaks this morning. Do you want to come?"
Barney's heart sank. Go in to Sevenoaks? Well it was all right if you had nothing else to do. But he had to go and see Stig.
"No thank you, Granny," he said. "I don't think I want to go in to Sevenoaks."
"You'll be quite happy just messing about here?" asked his Grandmother.
"Yes thank you. I just want to mess about. With — with Stig."
"Oh, I see," Granny smiled. "With your friend Stig. Well, Mrs. Pratt will be here all the morning, so if you like you can stay with her. And with Stig, of course."
Lou said she would like to go in to the town as she wasn't particularly interested in playing with Stig. Barney knew from the way she said it that she still thought Stig was only a pretend-friend. But that was all right. If she didn't want to meet Stig, she needn't.
"Can I go out now?" he asked.
"All right," said Granny. "Put your boots on!" she called after him as he shot through the door.
Barney's feet made dark prints in the dew as he headed across the lawn toward the chalk pit. Then he stopped, and stood still in the middle of the lawn. Suppose he didn't find Stig after all?
The sun was bright. Yellow leaves fluttered down from the elm tree on to the grass. A robin puffed its breast on a rose tree and squeaked at him. Barney suddenly wasn't sure that he believed in Stig himself. It wasn't a Stiggish day, like yesterday when he had fallen down the pit.
He had fallen, hadn't he? He felt the bump on the back of his head. Yes, that was real enough. He'd fallen and bumped his head. And then what? Funny things did happen when you bumped your head. Perhaps you only saw Stigs when you fell and bumped your head. He didn't think he wanted to fall over the cliff again on purpose and bump his head again.
Was Stig a person you could just go and play with like the children at the end of the road at home? He had to find out, but he didn't want to go to the chalk pit and find nothing! He stood with his hands in his pockets in the middle of the lawn, his fingers playing with something hard in the left-hand pocket of his jeans.
He remembered something, and pulled out the thing he had in his hand. Of course — the flint! He looked at it glinting in the sunlight, like a black diamond with its chipped pattern. He'd seen Stig make it! There was no mistake about that. Of course Stig was real!
He set off again at a run, climbed the fence into the paddock, and waded through the long wet grass on the other side. The copse round the edge of the chalk pit looked dark beyond the sunlit grass.
In the middle of the paddock he found himself slowing down and stopping again.
Something at the back of his mind was telling him that he'd seen pictures of chipped flints in books, and real ones in museums, and that they were made thousands of years ago by rough people who weren't alive any longer. People found them and put them in cases with notices on them. Perhaps he'd just found this one. And imagined everything else.
And supposing he hadn't imagined Stig, was he the sort of person who liked people coming to play?
Well, he told himself, all he really wanted to do was to look at the place where he had fallen over yesterday. Have another look down the dump. There was that bicycle, anyway.
He walked to the edge of the paddock. A clump of brown grass jumped up from under his feet and bounced away toward a bramble patch, showing a white tail and two long ears. Barney's heart bumped, but it was only a rabbit. He ran after it, but it had disappeared in the thick of the undergrowth.
Feeling bolder, he climbed over the fence and went carefully toward the edge of the pit, making sure this time that he kept near a big tree that seemed to be well anchored to the side, and peeped over.
He could see the patch of raw earth and white chalk where the ground had given way under him, the dangling creepers lower down, and a scatter of broken chalk at the bottom. He craned over to see the hole he had made in the roof of the den. There was a pile of branches and rubbish against the foot of the cliff, but no gaping hole. Not a sign of a hole, of a roof, of a den — of a Stig. He listened. A blackbird turning over dry leaves in search of worms was making a noise much too big for itself. But apart from that the pit was silent and empty.
Barney walked away from the edge of the pit and climbed over the fence into the sunshine of the paddock, thinking hard. He looked at the stone in his hand, he felt the bump on his head. He had seen the raw patch where the ground had given way. He remembered crashing through a sort of roof and leaving a big gaping hole. And yet there wasn't a hole.
So he couldn't have made one.
But he must have landed somewhere. And he had that clear picture in his head of looking up through a hole at the side of the cliff and the clouds passing over the sky.
And suddenly, as he stood in the middle of the paddock, he gave a big jump as the answer came to him like getting a sum right.
Excerpted from Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Edward Ardizzone. Copyright © 1963 Clive King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. The Ground Gives Way,
2. Digging with Stig,
3. It Warms You Twice,
4. Gone A-Hunting,
5. The Snargets,
6. Skinned and Buried,
7. Party Manners,
8. Midsummer Night,
9. The Standing Stones,
About the Author,