As I watched them while they all stood clustering about the forge,
enjoying themselves so much, I thought what terrible good sauce for
a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not
enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was
brightened with the excitement he furnished. And now, when they
were all in lively anticipation of "the two villains" being taken,
and when the bellows seemed to roar for the fugitives, the fire to
flare for them, the smoke to hurry away in pursuit of them, Joe to
hammer and clink for them, and all the murky shadows on the wall to
shake at them in menace as the blaze rose and sank and the red-hot
sparks dropped and died, the pale after-noon outside, almost seemed
in my pitying young fancy to have turned pale on their account,
At last, Joe's job was done, and the ringing and roaring stopped.
As Joe got on his coat, he mustered courage to propose that some of
us should go down with the soldiers and see what came of the hunt.
Mr. Pumblechook and Mr. Hubble declined, on the plea of a pipe and
ladies' society; but Mr. Wopsle said he would go, if Joe would. Joe
said he was agreeable, and would take me, if Mrs. Joe approved. We
never should have got leave to go, I am sure, but for Mrs. Joe's
curiosity to know all about it and how it ended. As it was, she
merely stipulated, "If you bring the boy back with his head blown
to bits by a musket, don't look to me to put it together again."
The sergeant took a polite leave of the ladies, and parted from Mr.
Pumblechook as from a comrade; though I doubt if he were quite as
fully sensible of that gentleman's merits under arid conditions, as
when something moist was going. His men resumed their muskets and
fell in. Mr. Wopsle, Joe, and I, received strict charge to keep in
the rear, and to speak no word after we reached the marshes. When
we were all out in the raw air and were steadily moving towards our
business, I treasonably whispered to Joe, "I hope, Joe, we shan't
find them." and Joe whispered to me, "I'd give a shilling if they
had cut and run, Pip."
We were joined by no stragglers from the village, for the weather
was cold and threatening, the way dreary, the footing bad, darkness
coming on, and the people had good fires in-doors and were keeping
the day. A few faces hurried to glowing windows and looked after
us, but none came out. We passed the finger-post, and held straight
on to the churchyard. There, we were stopped a few minutes by a
signal from the sergeant's hand, while two or three of his men
dispersed themselves among the graves, and also examined the porch.
They came in again without finding anything, and then we struck out
on the open marshes, through the gate at the side of the
churchyard. A bitter sleet came rattling against us here on the
east wind, and Joe took me on his back.
Now that we were out upon the dismal wilderness where they little
thought I had been within eight or nine hours and had seen both men
hiding, I considered for the first time, with great dread, if we
should come upon them, would my particular convict suppose that it
was I who had brought the soldiers there? He had asked me if I was
a deceiving imp, and he had said I should be a fierce young hound
if I joined the hunt against him. Would he believe that I was both
imp and hound in treacherous earnest, and had betrayed him?
It was of no use asking myself this question now. There I was, on
Joe's back, and there was Joe beneath me, charging at the ditches
like a hunter, and stimulating Mr. Wopsle not to tumble on his Roman
nose, and to keep up with us. The soldiers were in front of us,
extending into a pretty wide line with an interval between man and
man. We were taking the course I had begun with, and from which I
had diverged in the mist. Either the mist was not out again yet, or
the wind had dispelled it.