Under the low red glare of sunset, the

beacon, and the gibbet, and the mound of the Battery, and the

opposite shore of the river, were plain, though all of a watery

lead colour.

With my heart thumping like a blacksmith at Joe's broad shoulder, I

looked all about for any sign of the convicts. I could see none, I

could hear none. Mr. Wopsle had greatly alarmed me more than once,

by his blowing and hard breathing; but I knew the sounds by this

time, and could dissociate them from the object of pursuit. I got a

dreadful start, when I thought I heard the file still going; but it

was only a sheep bell. The sheep stopped in their eating and looked

timidly at us; and the cattle, their heads turned from the wind and

sleet, stared angrily as if they held us responsible for both

annoyances; but, except these things, and the shudder of the dying

day in every blade of grass, there was no break in the bleak

stillness of the marshes.

The soldiers were moving on in the direction of the old Battery,

and we were moving on a little way behind them, when, all of a

sudden, we all stopped. For, there had reached us on the wings of

the wind and rain, a long shout. It was repeated. It was at a

distance towards the east, but it was long and loud. Nay, there

seemed to be two or more shouts raised together - if one might

judge from a confusion in the sound.

To this effect the sergeant and the nearest men were speaking under

their breath, when Joe and I came up. After another moment's

listening, Joe (who was a good judge) agreed, and Mr. Wopsle (who

was a bad judge) agreed. The sergeant, a decisive man, ordered that

the sound should not be answered, but that the course should be

changed, and that his men should make towards it "at the double."

So we slanted to the right (where the East was), and Joe pounded

away so wonderfully, that I had to hold on tight to keep my seat.

It was a run indeed now, and what Joe called, in the only two words

he spoke all the time, "a Winder." Down banks and up banks, and

over gates, and splashing into dykes, and breaking among coarse

rushes: no man cared where he went. As we came nearer to the

shouting, it became more and more apparent that it was made by more

than one voice. Sometimes, it seemed to stop altogether, and then

the soldiers stopped. When it broke out again, the soldiers made

for it at a greater rate than ever, and we after them. After a

while, we had so run it down, that we could hear one voice calling

"Murder!" and another voice, "Convicts! Runaways! Guard! This way

for the runaway convicts!" Then both voices would seem to be

stifled in a struggle, and then would break out again. And when it

had come to this, the soldiers ran like deer, and Joe too.

The sergeant ran in first, when we had run the noise quite down,

and two of his men ran in close upon him. Their pieces were cocked

and levelled when we all ran in.

"Here are both men!" panted the sergeant, struggling at the bottom

of a ditch. "Surrender, you two! and confound you for two wild

beasts! Come asunder!"

Water was splashing, and mud was flying, and oaths were being

sworn, and blows were being struck, when some more men went down

into the ditch to help the sergeant, and dragged out, separately,

my convict and the other one. Both were bleeding and panting and

execrating and struggling; but of course I knew them both directly.

"Mind!" said my convict, wiping blood from his face with his ragged

sleeves, and shaking torn hair from his fingers: "I took him! I give

him up to you! Mind that!"

"It's not much to be particular about," said the sergeant; "it'll do

you small good, my man, being in the same plight yourself.

Handcuffs there!"

"I don't expect it to do me any good. I don't want it to do me more

good than it does now," said my convict, with a greedy laugh. "I

took him. He knows it. That's enough for me."

The other convict was livid to look at, and, in addition to the old

bruised left side of his face, seemed to be bruised and torn all

over.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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