BY CHARLES DICKENS.
THE apparition of a file of soldiers ringing
down the buttt-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 gentlemen," 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 blacksmith."
"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
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 bear 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
"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
"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 reckon?"
"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.
"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
Everybody, myself excepted, said no, with
confidence. Nobody thougnt of me.
"Well!" said the sergeant, " they'll find them-
selves 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
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
Dickens Journals Online