And if my men can beat a hand anywhere, they'll make

themselves useful." With that, he called to his men, who came

trooping into the kitchen one after another, and piled their arms

in a corner. And then they stood about, as soldiers do; now, with

their hands loosely clasped before them; now, resting a knee or a

shoulder; now, easing a belt or a pouch; now, opening the door to

spit stiffly over their high stocks, out into the yard.

All these things I saw without then knowing that I saw them, for I

was in an agony of apprehension. But, beginning to perceive that

the handcuffs were not for me, and that the military had so far got

the better of the pie as to put it in the background, I collected a

little more of my scattered wits.

"Would you give me the Time?" said the sergeant, addressing himself

to Mr. Pumblechook, as to a man whose appreciative powers justified

the inference that he was equal to the time.

"It's just gone half-past two."

"That's not so bad," said the sergeant, reflecting; "even if I was

forced to halt here nigh two hours, that'll do. How far might you

call yourselves from the marshes, hereabouts? Not above a mile, I

reckon?"

"Just a mile," said Mrs. Joe.

"That'll do. We begin to close in upon 'em about dusk. A little

before dusk, my orders are. That'll do."

"Convicts, sergeant?" asked Mr. Wopsle, in a matter-of-course way.

"Ay!" returned the sergeant, "two. They're pretty well known to be

out on the marshes still, and they won't try to get clear of 'em

before dusk. Anybody here seen anything of any such game?"

Everybody, myself excepted, said no, with confidence. Nobody

thought of me.

"Well!" said the sergeant, "they'll find themselves trapped in a

circle, I expect, sooner than they count on. Now, blacksmith! If

you're ready, his Majesty the King is."

Joe had got his coat and waistcoat and cravat off, and his leather

apron on, and passed into the forge. One of the soldiers opened its

wooden windows, another lighted the fire, another turned to at

the bellows, the rest stood round the blaze, which was soon

roaring. Then Joe began to hammer and clink, hammer and clink, and

we all looked on.

The interest of the impending pursuit not only absorbed the general

attention, but even made my sister liberal. She drew a pitcher of

beer from the cask, for the soldiers, and invited the sergeant to

take a glass of brandy. But Mr. Pumblechook said, sharply, "Give him

wine, Mum. I'll engage there's no Tar in that:" so, the sergeant

thanked him and said that as he preferred his drink without tar, he

would take wine, if it was equally convenient. When it was given

him, he drank his Majesty's health and Compliments of the Season,

and took it all at a mouthful and smacked his lips.

"Good stuff, eh, sergeant?" said Mr. Pumblechook.

"I'll tell you something," returned the sergeant; "I suspect that

stuff's of your providing."

Mr. Pumblechook, with a fat sort of laugh, said, "Ay, ay? Why?"

"Because," returned the sergeant, clapping him on the shoulder,

"you're a man that knows what's what."

"D'ye think so?" said Mr. Pumblechook, with his former laugh. "Have

another glass!"

"With you. Hob and nob," returned the sergeant. "The top of mine to

the foot of yours - the foot of yours to the top of mine - Ring

once, ring twice - the best tune on the Musical Glasses! Your

health. May you live a thousand years, and never be a worse judge

of the right sort than you are at the present moment of your life!"

The sergeant tossed off his glass again and seemed quite ready for

another glass. I noticed that Mr. Pumblechook in his hospitality

appeared to forget that he had made a present of the wine, but took

the bottle from Mrs. Joe and had all the credit of handing it about

in a gush of joviality. Even I got some. And he was so very free of

the wine that he even called for the other bottle, and handed that

about with the same liberality, when the first was gone.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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