He could not so much as get his breath to speak, until they

were both separately handcuffed, but leaned upon a soldier to keep

himself from falling.

"Take notice, guard - he tried to murder me," were his first words.

"Tried to murder him?" said my convict, disdainfully. "Try, and not

do it? I took him, and giv' him up; that's what I done. I not only

prevented him getting off the marshes, but I dragged him here -

dragged him this far on his way back. He's a gentleman, if you

please, this villain. Now, the Hulks has got its gentleman again,

through me. Murder him? Worth my while, too, to murder him, when I

could do worse and drag him back!"

The other one still gasped, "He tried - he tried - to - murder me.

Bear - bear witness."

"Lookee here!" said my convict to the sergeant. "Single-handed I

got clear of the prison-ship; I made a dash and I done it. I could

ha' got clear of these death-cold flats likewise - look at my leg:

you won't find much iron on it - if I hadn't made the discovery that

he was here. Let him go free? Let him profit by the means as I found

out? Let him make a tool of me afresh and again? Once more? No, no,

no. If I had died at the bottom there;" and he made an emphatic

swing at the ditch with his manacled hands; "I'd have held to him

with that grip, that you should have been safe to find him in my

hold."

The other fugitive, who was evidently in extreme horror of his

companion, repeated, "He tried to murder me. I should have been a

dead man if you had not come up."

"He lies!" said my convict, with fierce energy. "He's a liar born,

and he'll die a liar. Look at his face; ain't it written there? Let

him turn those eyes of his on me. I defy him to do it."

The other, with an effort at a scornful smile - which could not,

however, collect the nervous working of his mouth into any set

expression - looked at the soldiers, and looked about at the

marshes and at the sky, but certainly did not look at the speaker.

"Do you see him?" pursued my convict. "Do you see what a villain he

is? Do you see those grovelling and wandering eyes? That's how he

looked when we were tried together. He never looked at me."

The other, always working and working his dry lips and turning his

eyes restlessly about him far and near, did at last turn them for a

moment on the speaker, with the words, "You are not much to look

at," and with a half-taunting glance at the bound hands. At that

point, my convict became so frantically exasperated, that he would

have rushed upon him but for the interposition of the soldiers.

"Didn't I tell you," said the other convict then, "that he would

murder me, if he could?" And any one could see that he shook with

fear, and that there broke out upon his lips, curious white flakes,

like thin snow.

"Enough of this parley," said the sergeant. "Light those torches."

As one of the soldiers, who carried a basket in lieu of a gun, went

down on his knee to open it, my convict looked round him for the

first time, and saw me. I had alighted from Joe's back on the brink

of the ditch when we came up, and had not moved since. I looked at

him eagerly when he looked at me, and slightly moved my hands and

shook my head. I had been waiting for him to see me, that I might

try to assure him of my innocence. It was not at all expressed to

me that he even comprehended my intention, for he gave me a look

that I did not understand, and it all passed in a moment. But if he

had looked at me for an hour or for a day, I could not have

remembered his face ever afterwards, as having been more attentive.

The soldier with the basket soon got a light, and lighted three or

four torches, and took one himself and distributed the others. It

had been almost dark before, but now it seemed quite dark, and soon

afterwards very dark. Before we departed from that spot, four

soldiers standing in a ring, fired twice into the air.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

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