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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 5

Great Expectations

Chapter 5

The apparition of a file of soldiers ringing down the butt-ends of

their loaded muskets on our door-step, caused the dinner-party to

rise from table in confusion, and caused Mrs. Joe re-entering the

kitchen empty-handed, to stop short and stare, in her wondering

lament of "Gracious goodness gracious me, what's gone - with the -


The sergeant and I were in the kitchen when Mrs. Joe stood staring;

at which crisis I partially recovered the use of my senses. It was

the sergeant who had spoken to me, and he was now looking round at

the company, with his handcuffs invitingly extended towards them in

his right hand, and his left on my shoulder.

"Excuse me, ladies and gentleman," said the sergeant, "but as I

have mentioned at the door to this smart young shaver" (which he

hadn't), "I am on a chase in the name of the king, and I want the


"And pray what might you want with him?" retorted my sister, quick

to resent his being wanted at all.

"Missis," returned the gallant sergeant, "speaking for myself, I

should reply, the honour and pleasure of his fine wife's

acquaintance; speaking for the king, I answer, a little job done."

This was received as rather neat in the sergeant; insomuch that Mr

Pumblechook cried audibly, "Good again!"

"You see, blacksmith," said the sergeant, who had by this time

picked out Joe with his eye, "we have had an accident with these,

and I find the lock of one of 'em goes wrong, and the coupling

don't act pretty. As they are wanted for immediate service, will

you throw your eye over them?"

Joe threw his eye over them, and pronounced that the job would

necessitate the lighting of his forge fire, and would take nearer

two hours than one, "Will it? Then will you set about it at once,

blacksmith?" said the off-hand sergeant, "as it's on his Majesty's

service. 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


"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.

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,

poor wretches.

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. 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. 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


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. Presently we

saw other torches kindled at some distance behind us, and others on

the marshes on the opposite bank of the river. "All right," said

the sergeant. "March."

We had not gone far when three cannon were fired ahead of us with a

sound that seemed to burst something inside my ear. "You are

expected on board," said the sergeant to my convict; "they know you

are coming. Don't straggle, my man. Close up here."

The two were kept apart, and each walked surrounded by a separate

guard. I had hold of Joe's hand now, and Joe carried one of the

torches. Mr. Wopsle had been for going back, but Joe was resolved to

see it out, so we went on with the party. There was a reasonably

good path now, mostly on the edge of the river, with a divergence

here and there where a dyke came, with a miniature windmill on it

and a muddy sluice-gate. When I looked round, I could see the other

lights coming in after us. The torches we carried, dropped great

blotches of fire upon the track, and I could see those, too, lying

smoking and flaring. I could see nothing else but black darkness.

Our lights warmed the air about us with their pitchy blaze, and the

two prisoners seemed rather to like that, as they limped along in

the midst of the muskets. We could not go fast, because of their

lameness; and they were so spent, that two or three times we had to

halt while they rested.

After an hour or so of this travelling, we came to a rough wooden

hut and a landing-place. There was a guard in the hut, and they

challenged, and the sergeant answered. Then, we went into the hut

where there was a smell of tobacco and whitewash, and a bright

fire, and a lamp, and a stand of muskets, and a drum, and a low

wooden bedstead, like an overgrown mangle without the machinery,

capable of holding about a dozen soldiers all at once. Three or

four soldiers who lay upon it in their great-coats, were not much

interested in us, but just lifted their heads and took a sleepy

stare, and then lay down again. The sergeant made some kind of

report, and some entry in a book, and then the convict whom I call

the other convict was drafted off with his guard, to go on board


My convict never looked at me, except that once. While we stood in

the hut, he stood before the fire looking thoughtfully at it, or

putting up his feet by turns upon the hob, and looking thoughtfully

at them as if he pitied them for their recent adventures. Suddenly,

he turned to the sergeant, and remarked:

"I wish to say something respecting this escape. It may prevent

some persons laying under suspicion alonger me."

"You can say what you like," returned the sergeant, standing coolly

looking at him with his arms folded, "but you have no call to say

it here. You'll have opportunity enough to say about it, and hear

about it, before it's done with, you know."

"I know, but this is another pint, a separate matter. A man can't

starve; at least I can't. I took some wittles, up at the willage

over yonder - where the church stands a'most out on the marshes."

"You mean stole," said the sergeant.

"And I'll tell you where from. From the blacksmith's."

"Halloa!" said the sergeant, staring at Joe.

"Halloa, Pip!" said Joe, staring at me.

"It was some broken wittles - that's what it was - and a dram of

liquor, and a pie."

"Have you happened to miss such an article as a pie, blacksmith?"

asked the sergeant, confidentially.

"My wife did, at the very moment when you came in. Don't you know,


"So," said my convict, turning his eyes on Joe in a moody manner,

and without the least glance at me; "so you're the blacksmith, are

you? Than I'm sorry to say, I've eat your pie."

"God knows you're welcome to it - so far as it was ever mine,"

returned Joe, with a saving remembrance of Mrs. Joe. "We don't know

what you have done, but we wouldn't have you starved to death for

it, poor miserable fellow-creatur. - Would us, Pip?"

The something that I had noticed before, clicked in the man's

throat again, and he turned his back. The boat had returned, and

his guard were ready, so we followed him to the landing-place made

of rough stakes and stones, and saw him put into the boat, which

was rowed by a crew of convicts like himself. No one seemed

surprised to see him, or interested in seeing him, or glad to see

him, or sorry to see him, or spoke a word, except that somebody in

the boat growled as if to dogs, "Give way, you!" which was the

signal for the dip of the oars. By the light of the torches, we saw

the black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like

a wicked Noah's ark. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty

chains, the prison-ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like

the prisoners. We saw the boat go alongside, and we saw him taken

up the side and disappear. Then, the ends of the torches were flung

hissing into the water, and went out, as if it were all over with


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