BY CHARLES DICKENS.
IT was a dark night, though the full moon
rose as I left the enclosed lands, and passed
out upon the marshes. Beyond their dark line
there was a ribbon of clear sky, hardly broad
enough to hold the red large moon. In a few
minutes she had ascended out of that clear field,
in among the piled mountains of cloud.
There was a melancholy wind, and the marshes
were very dismal. A stranger would have found
them insupportable, and even to me they were
so oppressive that I hesitated, half inclined to
go back. But I knew them well, and could
have found my way on a far darker night, and
had no excuse for returning, being there. So,
having come there against my inclination, I
went on against it.
The direction that I took, was not that in
which my old home lay, nor that in which we
had pursued the convicts. My back was turned
towards the distant Hulks as I walked on, and,
though I could see the old lights away on the
spits of sand, I saw them over my shoulder. I
knew the limekiln as well as I knew the old
Battery, but they were miles apart; so that if
a light had been burning at each point that
night, there would have been a long strip of the
blank horizon between the two bright specks.
At first, I had to shut some gates after me,
and now and then to stand still while the cattle
that were lying in the banked-up pathway, arose
and blundered down among the grass and reeds.
But after a little while, I seemed to have the
whole flats to myself.
It was another half-hour before I drew near
to the kiln. The lime was burning with a sluggish
stifling smell, but the fires were made up
and left, and no workmen were visible. Hard
by, was a small stone-quarry. It lay directly in
my way, and had been worked that day, as I
saw by the tools and barrows that were lying
Coming up again to the marsh level out of
this excavation—for the rude path lay through
it—I saw a light in the old sluice-house. I
quickened my pace, and knocked at the door
with my hand. Waiting for some reply, I
looked about me, noticing how the sluice was
abandoned and broken, and how the house—
of wood with a tiled roof—would not be proof
against the weather much longer, if it were so
even now, and how the mud and ooze were
coated with lime, and how the choking vapour
of the kiln crept in a ghostly way towards me.
Still there was no answer, and I knocked again.
No answer still, and I tried the latch.
It rose under my hand, and the door yielded.
Looking in, I saw a lighted candle on a table,
a bench, and a mattress on a truckle bedstead.
As there was a loft above, I called, " Is there
any one here?" but no voice answered. Then I
looked at my watch, and, finding that it was
past nine, called again, " Is there any one here?"
There being still no answer, I went out at the
door, irresolute what to do.
It was beginning to rain fast. Seeing nothing
save what I had seen already, I turned back
into the house, and stood just within the shelter
of the doorway, looking out into the night.
While I was considering that some one must
have been there lately and must soon be coming
back, or the candle would not be burning, it
came into my head to look if the wick were
long. I turned round to do so, and had taken
up the candle in my hand, when it was
extinguished by some violent shock, and the next
thing I comprehended, was, that I had been
caught in a strong running noose, thrown over
my head from behind.
"Now," said a suppressed voice with an oath,
"I've got you!"
"What is this?" I cried, struggling. " Who
is it? Help, help, help!"
Not only were my arms pulled close to my
sides, but the pressure on my bad arm caused
me exquisite pain. Sometimes a strong man's
hand, sometimes a strong man's breast was set
against my mouth to deaden my cries, and with
a hot breath always close to me, I struggled
ineffectually in the dark, while I was fastened
tight to the wall. " And now," said the
suppressed voice with another oath, "call out again,
and I'll make short work of finishing you!"
Faint and sick with the pain of my injured
arm, bewildered by the surprise, and yet
conscious how easily this threat could be put in
execution, I desisted, and tried to ease my arm
were it ever so little. But it was bound too
tight for that. I felt as if, having been burnt
before, it were now being boiled.
The sudden exclusion of the night and the
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