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.
"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
"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
"Not here?" exclaimed the man, striking his left cheek mercilessly,
with the flat of his hand.
"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.
I fully expected to find a Constable in the kitchen, waiting to
take me up. But not only was there no Constable there, but no
discovery had yet been made of the robbery. Mrs. Joe was
prodigiously busy in getting the house ready for the festivities of
the day, and Joe had been put upon the kitchen door-step to keep
him out of the dust-pan - an article into which his destiny always
led him sooner or later, when my sister was vigorously reaping the
floors of her establishment.
"And where the deuce ha' you been?" was Mrs. Joe's Christmas
salutation, when I and my conscience showed ourselves.
I said I had been down to hear the Carols. "Ah! well!" observed Mrs.
Joe. "You might ha' done worse." Not a doubt of that, I thought.
"Perhaps if I warn't a blacksmith's wife, and (what's the same
thing) a slave with her apron never off, I should have been to hear
the Carols," said Mrs.