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
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.
"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