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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 - pie!'
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 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 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 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. 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 lightened 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 had, 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 are 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,' aid 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 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. 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 the 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 first.

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 articles as a pie, blacksmith?' asked the sergeant, confidentially.

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

`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 torches, we was 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 him.

 

这队士兵一出现在我家门口,便把装了子弹的滑膛枪放下来,哗哗啦啦地发出一阵乱响。围桌而坐的客人们不得不丢弃宴席,慌乱一团地站起来。我姐姐正两手空空地从食品间回来,本来嘴里骂骂咧咧地说着:“老天啊,这块肉馅饼——到——哪去了呢?”一看到这局面,便立刻停止了还想讲的话,大吃一惊,目瞪口呆。

乔夫人正像个木鸡一样站在那里的时候,那巡官和我已经进入了厨房。在这个关键时刻,我紧张的神志反而有些安定下来。这个巡官就是刚才对我说话的人,现在正巡视着在座的每一个人,把右手拿着的手铐冲他们扬了一扬,似乎想请他们戴上。与此同时,他的左手搭在我的肩膀上。

“女士们,先生们,十分抱歉,”这位巡官对大家说道,“我是以皇家的名义来追捕逃犯的,刚才我已把这来意对这位聪明伶俐的小伙子说过了(他根本没有说过)。现在,我要找的是铁匠。”

“请问,你找他干什么?”我姐姐一听要找铁匠,心中立刻来火,便顶撞地问道。

“夫人,”这位骑士般的英勇巡官说道,“以我个人的名义,我应该说,今日拜见了他的贵夫人乃三生有幸,但是从皇家的立场说,我来找铁匠干件小事。”

这位巡官说得干净利落,有礼有节,连彭波契克先生都大声叫起好来:“说得真棒!”

这时,巡官用他的利眼已经认出了乔,对他说道:“铁匠师傅,你看,我们这个东西出了点故障,有一个锁失灵了,这两个零件也不好使唤了。由于我们急等着用,是不是请你帮我们检查一下?”

乔用他的目光扫了一下,便说干这种活儿一定要把风炉生起来,而且一个小时不够,非得两个小时才行。“真的吗?铁匠师傅,那么你马上就动手好吗?”这位脑筋灵活的巡官立刻说道,“这是为皇上陛下效劳,你要是人手不够,我的人都可供使唤。”说毕,他便召唤他的士兵。他们一个接一个地进入厨房,把兵器堆在一个角落里。然后,他们都遵照士兵的纪律站在那里:一会儿双手在身前松弛地交握着,一会儿放松一只膝盖或一侧肩膀,一会儿又松松裤带,松松子弹袋,一会儿又打开门,从他们又高又宽的军服领子上艰难地转过头,吐一口痰到院子中去。

所有发生的事情我都看到了,但对这些发生的事几乎视而不见,因为我处在极度的惊恐之中。但是我渐渐悟出,这副手铐并不是来铐我的,而且这列士兵的开进已使馅饼的事被丢在了一边,我的理智这才又恢复了不少。

“你能告诉我现在的时间吗?”巡官对着彭波契克先生问道。他一眼就看出彭波契克有判断能力,并且得出结论,彭波契克先生就等于时间,问他绝对没错。

“刚好两点半。”

“那还行,”巡官想了一下说道,“即使被阻在这里两小时左右也没有关系,时间足够。从你们这儿到沼泽地要走多远的路程?我想不超过一英里,是吗?”

“正好一英里。”乔夫人说道。

“行,到黄昏的时候我们开始挺进,上面的命令也是要我在天黑之前开始追捕,肯定来得及。”

“是追逃犯,巡官?”沃甫赛先生装出一副不言而喻的神态说道。

“嗯!”巡官答道,“两个逃犯。据我们掌握的情况,他们现在还躲在沼泽地里,在黄昏之前他们是不会向外逃的。你们有谁见到过他们吗?”

每一个人,当然我不算在内,都说没有。当然他们也不会知道我晓得。

“不管怎样,”巡官说道,“这两个逃犯绝对想不到这么快他们就陷在我们的包围圈中了。铁匠师傅,皇家的队伍已准备就绪,现在就看你的行动如何了。”

乔已把他的上衣和背心脱掉,解下领带,系上了皮围裙,走进他的铁匠铺。一个士兵跑来帮他打开木窗,另一个士兵帮他生了火,还有一个拉起了风箱,其余的士兵都站在风炉的四周,观看着正旺起来的火焰。接着,乔开始又锤又打起来,发出叮叮当当的声音。我们都站在一旁看着。

马上就要进行的追捕不仅吸引了大家的注意力,而且使我姐姐也慷慨起来了。她先从啤酒桶里舀出一壶啤酒给士兵们喝,然后又邀请巡官饮一杯白兰地。但彭波契克先生机警地说道:“给他喝葡萄酒吧,夫人,我看葡萄酒里没有掺柏油水。”巡官听后十分感谢他的提醒,说他喜欢喝不掺柏油水的酒,所以还是葡萄酒好,只要喝葡萄酒不造成麻烦就行。他接过了葡萄酒,先祝国王陛下健康,再祝他们节日愉快,然后一口饮尽,咂着嘴唇回味无穷。

“这是顶呱呱的货色,巡官,你说呢?”彭波契克先生说道。

“恕我冒昧,”巡官答道,“我猜想,这一定是你提供的货色吧。”

彭波契克先生开心地笑着说:“噢,噢,你怎么知道?”

巡官拍了一下他的肩头,答道:“因为你是一个识货的人。”

“你真这样想吗?”彭波契克先生依然笑容可掬地说道,“再来一杯怎么样?”

“你也来,我也来,你一杯,我一杯,”巡官说道,“杯底碰杯头,杯头碰杯底,碰一次,再一次,两杯相碰的音乐最动听!来,祝你健康,祝你长命千岁,现在能识货,将来更加能识货。”

巡官高高地把酒杯举起,一饮而尽。看上去他劲头十足,还想再来一杯。我看得很清楚,彭波契克先生慷慨大方得忘乎所以,竟忘掉这是送给别人的礼物,干脆从乔夫人手中接过酒瓶行起了地主之谊,凭一时高兴依次给大家敬酒,连我也尝了几口。一瓶喝完,他又大方地把第二瓶酒也要过来,像第一瓶一样,阔气大方地为大家一一斟酒。

我看着他们群集在熔炉的旁边,谈笑风生,兴高采烈。这不由不使我想起那位逃亡的朋友,他简直成了这顿午饭可怕的鲜味佐料,虽然他本人这时还藏身于沼泽地中。他们本来兴致也不高,一加上了他这调味品,顿时神情焕发,精神为之一振。现在,他们都生气勃勃地打赌,说“这两个歹徒”一定会被逮捕。风箱为了追捕逃犯而怒吼着,火光为了捉拿他们在闪耀着,烟雾在催促着去追赶他们,乔也在为了抓住他们而敲着打着。映照在墙上的阴郁可怕的影子,随着火光的起伏,威胁性地摇曳着,炽热的闪亮火星跌落下来,消失得无影无踪。我是个富于怜悯和幻想的孩子,幼稚地认为那天下午室外的一片暗淡,也是为了那可怜的人而变得如此苍白无光。

最后,乔的任务完成了,敲打的声音和风箱的声音也随之停止。乔穿起了他的大衣,并且鼓起勇气建议我们几个人尾随着士兵们一起去,看看追捕犯人的结果究竟如何。彭波契克先生和胡卜先生推辞说不能去,因为他们要抽烟,而且要参加妇女活动,而沃甫赛先生说,只要乔跟着去,他一定也去。乔说他自然乐意,并且愿意带着我去,当然这需要乔夫人的赞成。我敢保证,当时要不是我姐姐出自好奇,想知道一切详细的经过和最后的结果,她一定不会让我们去的。就是这样,她还提出了条件,“如果你把这孩子带回来时,他的脑袋被滑膛枪子弹打开了花,别指望我会把它再补好。”

巡官倒是很有礼貌地辞别了女士们,也像一个情投意合的同志一样和彭波契克先生道了别。我真怀疑,要是这位巡官大人在这里干巴巴的,滴酒不沾,他是否还会如此讨好地说彭波契克先生的好话。士兵们重新拿起了枪,列好了队。沃甫赛先生,乔,还有我,都按照巡官的严格命令,跟在队伍的后头,而且到达沼泽地后绝对不能说话。我们走了出去,在严冬的寒气当中,坚定地向目的地前进。这时,我心中又冒出一个坏念头,低低地对乔说:“乔,我真希望找不到这些逃犯才好呢。”乔也低低地对我说:“他们要是都逃走了,皮普,我愿意拿出一个先令来。”

村子里没有人跑出来加入我们的行列,因为天气十分寒冷而且阴沉可怕,一路上显得很凄凉,脚下的路又不好走,黑幕也即将降临,家家户户都在屋内生着火炉,正享受着节日的温暖。有几张面孔匆匆忙忙地贴在相当明亮的窗子上跟着我们望,但一个也没有走出来。我们经过了指路的牌子,便一直向乡村的教堂墓地走去。在那里,巡官对我们做了一个手势,命令我们停几分钟。他派出两三个士兵分头到坟墓间去搜寻,也顺带查看一下教堂的门廊。他们什么也没有发现,就回来了。然后,我们从教堂墓地边上的门出去,向一片广阔的沼泽地进军。一阵严寒刺骨的雨夹雪沙沙地借着东风之便向我们迎面打来,乔把我背在了身上。

现在,我们已来到阴郁凄凉的荒野之地。他们绝不会想到,仅仅在八九个小时之前我就来过这里,而且亲眼看到过两个隐藏在这里的人。这时,我才第一次惊慌地考虑到,如果我们遇见这两个人,那个和我打过交道的逃犯会不会以为是我把士兵带来的?他早就问过我是不是一个骗人上当的小魔鬼,他还说过,要是我参加那些人来搜捕他,我就是一头凶狠的小猎犬。他真的会认为我既是一个小魔鬼又是一个小猎犬,真心诚意地做着伤天害理的事,把他给出卖了吗?

现在我提出这些问题来又有何用?反正,我现在在乔的背上,乔正背着我,像一匹真正的猎犬,飞越过道道沟渠,不时地还有意刺激着沃甫赛先生,叫他不要把罗马人的鹰钩鼻跌坏,要紧紧地跟上我们,不能掉队。士兵们走在我们前面,相互拉开了距离,排成一条宽宽的一字阵形。我们现在所选的路线正是我早晨走过的,不过那时的大雾把我领向了岔路。现在一片晴朗,要么是雾还没有出来,要么是风把雾吹散了,在夕阳低低的残照之下,那灯塔、绞刑架、古炮台的土丘,还有河岸的对面都清晰可见,抹着一层淡淡的铅灰色。

我伏在乔宽大的肩头上,胸中的心在怦怦地跳着,真像铁匠打铁时的铁锤声。我向四周张望,想发现一丝逃犯的痕迹,然而,我什么迹象也没有看到,什么动静也没有听到。沃甫赛先生的喘气声和粗重的呼吸声惊动了我好几次;后来我知道是他的声音,便分辨出这和所追捕的逃犯声音不同。突然,我又感到一阵可怕的惊慌,仿佛听到了用锉子锉镣铐的声音,再稍加注意才发现是绵羊身上的铃声。正在吃草的绵羊停下来胆怯地望着我们;牛群转过头避开了迎面的寒风和雨雪,冲我们瞪着愤怒的眼睛,仿佛寒风和雨雪都是我们带来的。除掉上述的这些声音外,就只有夕阳残照下每一根小草的战栗声,打破这一片沼泽的荒凉寂静了。

士兵们向着古炮台的方向走去,而我们跟在他们的后面,隔了一点儿距离。突然,我们都停了下来。风雨之中,一声呼喊传到我们耳中。喊声拖得很长,而且一声接一声。声音是从东边很远的某个地方传来的,但它既长又响。只要人们仔细地辨别出这喊声中的杂乱,就不难发现它是由两三个人的声音组成的。

乔和我赶上队伍的时候,巡官正在和几名最近的士兵低声讨论。再静听了一会儿之后,很有判断能力的乔赞成这一说法,连缺乏判断能力的沃甫赛先生也赞成这一说法。这巡官是一个有决断能力的人,立刻命令大家都不要对呼叫答腔,而且必须改变路线,他手下的人都要加倍快捷地向发出喊声的地方靠拢。我们向右侧跑去,也就是东边。乔飞跑而下,我不得不抓紧他的肩头,以免从他背上摔下来。

这次才算是货真价实的跑,乔一路上念叨着两个字来形容这次奔跑,“逃命”。我们跑上堤岸,又跑下堤岸,越过闸门,哗啦哗啦地涉水通过沟渠,在带毛的灯芯草丛中飞奔着。大家只顾向前跑,没人在意脚下的路。我们越来越靠近发出喊声的地方,也越来越清楚地辨别出确实不是一个人的声音,而是几个嗓子合在一起。有时喊声好像停了下来,于是士兵们的脚步也随着停了下来,一会儿喊声又响起来,于是士兵们便加快脚步搜寻下去。我们也紧跟不舍。又跑了一会儿,我们已到达喊声附近,连喊声的意思都听清了。我们听见一个声音喊道:“杀人啦!”紧接着另一个声音喊道:“罪犯在这里!有逃犯!来这里抓逃犯!”然而他们似乎扭打了起来,叫声便消失了,一会儿之后就又响了起来。士兵们既然来到了这里,再不能等待,于是像鹿一样飞奔而去。乔也跟随而去。

巡官跑在第一个,带头奔下水沟,两个士兵紧随着他,到达了喊声响起的地方。等我们也跑到那里时,他们已经举着枪,扣着扳机,瞄准了罪犯。

“两个都在这里!”巡官气喘喘地说道,在沟底尽力地迈着步。“你们两个家伙快投降吧!你们两个狂乱的野兽,还不快松开手!”

只见那儿水花四溅,污泥飞扬,恶斗者乱骂一通,拳来脚往战在一处。又有几个士兵跳进水沟帮助巡官抓人。他们终于把两个逃犯分别扭了出来,其中一个就是和我打过交道的。两个逃犯身上都流着血,喘着气,怒骂着,扭打着。自然,我立刻便认出了他们。

“向您报告!”我认识的那个犯人说着,用他那破烂的袖子擦着脸上的鲜血,又从手指上抖掉扯下的头发。“是我抓住了他!我把他交给您!请注意这一事实。”

“用不着多说,”巡官说道,“这对你不会有什么好处,我的囚犯,你和他一样都犯了罪。铐上手铐!”

“我并不想因此得到好处,也不指望现在的境况会得到什么改善。”我认识的犯人大笑着说,“是我抓住了他,他该知道这一点。仅此一点我已心满意足了。”

另一个犯人看上去面如土色,除掉左边面孔上有一块旧伤疤外,整个面孔都已经布满新伤,被抓得血肉模糊。他气喘得一句话也说不出,一直等到给他们两个分别戴上手铐,他还倚在一个士兵的身上以支撑自己不致跌倒。

他的第一句话是:“向您报告,卫兵,他企图谋杀我。”

“我企图谋杀他?”我认识的犯人蔑视地说道,“我既有企图,又为什么不杀他?我抓住了他,现在交给您;我所干的就是这件事。我不仅没让他从沼泽地逃走,而且把他拖到这里来,拖了长长一段路才拖到这里。像这样一个混蛋还装什么正人君子?现在监狱船又经过我的手把这个正人君子请回了。我会谋杀他吗?我把他揪回来,不是比谋杀他更有价值嘛!”

另一个犯人还是不断地喘着气,“他企——企图——谋杀我。你们可——可以作证。”

“听我说!”我认识的那个犯人对巡官说着,“我只身一人干净利落地逃出监狱船,而且一举成功。要是没有发现他在这里,我说不定已经逃出这块冻得人要死的鬼沼泽地——不妨看看我的腿,脚镣不是没有了吗?难道我会让他逃跑?难道我会让他用我想出的方法达到他的目的?难道我会让他把我当作工具,一次一次地利用我?不,绝不。即使我死在这水沟下面,”他举起戴手铐的双手用力地对着这沟渠猛然一甩,说道,“我也要紧紧不放地抓住他,让你们平平安安地把他从我的掌握中逮走。”

另一个逃犯显然对他的同伴害怕至极,只能反复地说以下的话:“他企图谋杀我。要是你们不及时赶到,我早就成为死人了。”

“他在撒谎!”我认识的那个犯人用凶狠的语调说道,“他是个天生的撒谎精,死也不会改变他撒谎的本性。看他的脸,一切的谎言都刻在上面。叫他用眼睛望着我,你看他敢不敢。”

另一个犯人费尽了气力想做出轻视的微笑,然而,他的嘴虽然神经质地动了几下,最终还是没有表现出微笑的表情。他望了一下土兵,又望了一下沼泽地和天空,就是不敢正视一下对方。

“你们看到他了吗?”我认识的那个犯人寸步不让地说道,“你们看到这个恶棍没有?你们看到他那摇尾乞怜、飘忽不定的眼光了吗?我们过去一起受审时他就是这副样子。他从来不敢对我正眼看一下。”

另一个罪犯总是微动着两片干燥的嘴唇,内心不安地把眼睛一会儿膘向远方,一会儿转向近处,最后才看了对方一眼,说道:“你有什么值得我看的?”又用半带嘲笑的目光看了一眼对方被戴上手铐的双手。听到这话,我认识的那个犯人疯狂地咒骂起来。本来他想向另一个犯人扑过去,但被士兵们拦住了。另一个犯人说道: “我不是早就告诉过你们,只要一遇上机会,他一定会谋杀我的。”无论谁这时都能看出他讲话时全身怕得直发抖,嘴唇溅上了白色的唾沫,真有点儿像小雪花。

“够了够了,用不着再争执了,”巡官说道,“把火把点起来。”

有一个士兵身上没有扛枪,却带了一个篮子。他蹲下来,掀开篮子盖。我认识的罪犯这才第一次向四周打量了一下,并立刻看到了我。我们一来到这里,我就从乔的背上下来,站在沟边上,一直没有移动过。当他看我时,我也热切地望着他,而且轻轻地向他挥挥手,又摇摇头。我一直盼望着他看我,那样我就可以设法向他保证这事和我无关。但他根本就没有对我表示他是否理解了我的意思。他投向我的一眼是我无法理解的,而且一闪而过。即使他曾看过我一小时,看过我一整天,也不会给我留下比这难以捉摸、专心会神的一瞥更深刻的印象。

提篮子的士兵很快便打着了火,点亮了三四支火炬,自己拿一支,其余的分给别的士兵举着。天早就黑了下来,而现在更加黑了,很快便完全黑了。四个士兵站成一个圆圈,向空中放了两枪。我们正准备离开沼泽地,这时在我们后面不远处也有几个火把亮了起来,在河对岸的沼泽地上又亮了几个火把。巡官这才发出命令:“一切结束,向前开步走!”

我们没有走多远,前面就响起三声炮,轰隆巨声几乎把我耳膜震穿。巡官对我认识的那个犯人说:“现在正等着你上船呢,他们都知道你回来了。不要再想挣扎,我的犯人,跟上。”

这两个罪犯被隔了开来,每人都由一队卫兵围着前进。我抓着乔的一只手,他的另一只手拿着一个火把。沃甫赛先生早就想回家了,而乔却非要看到结局不可,所以我们随着队伍走着。现在路很好走,我们大都沿着河前进,但是如果遇到有小型风车的堤坝或污泥满布的闸门,我们只有绕道而行。我四周张望了一下,看到背后也有火把跟着来了。我们手中的火把在路上落下一大摊一大摊的余烬。我还能看到它们在那里冒着烟,闪着火星。除此以外便是一片黑暗,什么也看不见。我们松脂火把的火光使四周的空气温暖起来。两个囚犯似乎也很喜欢暖和一下,一拐一拐地在滑膛枪的包围中走着。我们不可能走快,因为他们两个人步履蹒跚,而且十分疲乏。路上我们不得不停了两三次,好让他们休息。

这次我们走了一个多小时,才来到一个简陋的小木棚子跟前。这里是一个摆渡口。木棚中驻扎的一个卫队向我们盘问口令,巡官进行了答复。接着,我们走进了木棚,扑面而来一股浓烈的烟味和石灰水味。棚内生着明亮的炉火,还有一盏灯、一个放滑膛枪的架子。一面鼓,一张低低的木板通铺,活像一台没有机器零件的轧布机,并排可以睡十来个士兵。有三四个士兵正睡在床上,衣服也没有脱。他们对我们并不感兴趣,只是抬起头用惺忪的睡眼瞅了一下,便又自顾倒头睡去。巡官做了汇报,又在本子上做了些记录,然后便让卫兵押着我不认识的那一个犯人先上监狱船去。

我认识的那个囚犯除了那次看过我一眼外,再没有看过我。我们站在棚子中时,他在火炉前若有所思地看着火,有时又轮流地把脚搁在火炉旁的铁架子上,看着它们出神,仿佛对它们寄予了深深的同情,因为它们最近作了冒险的奔波。突然,他转身对巡官说道:

“我希望说明一下和这次逃跑有关的事,免得有人因我而受到连累和怀疑。”

“你要说什么你就说,”巡官答道,交叉着双臂站在那里,冷冷地望着他,“不过并没人要你在这里说。你要知道,在案件结清之前你有充分的机会说,也有充分的机会听别人说。”

“我当然知道,不过这是一件另外的事,和案件毫无关系。人是不能挨饿的,至少我是不能挨饿的。我拿了一些吃的东西,是从那边的村子里拿的,就是沼泽地过去,有一个教堂的村子。”

“你是说你偷了什么人家的东西吃。”巡官说道。

“我还要告诉你是从哪一家偷的,是从一个铁匠家中偷来的。”

“啊!”巡官惊了一下,对乔瞪着眼。

“啊,皮普!”乔也惊了一下,对我瞪着眼。

“我拿的都是一些剩下来的东西,残剩食物,另外拿了一些酒,还有一块馅饼。”

“铁匠师傅,你家有没有不见过一些东西,像馅饼一类的?”巡官对乔说道,语音表现出友好亲密的态度。

“就在你们来我家的时候,我老婆的确发现少了一块猪肉馅饼。皮普,你知道这事吗?”

“那么,”我认识的那个犯人说道,把带点忧郁的眼光转向乔,一眼也没有对我望,“那么您就是铁匠师傅了?偷吃了您的猪肉馅饼,我感到十分抱歉。”

“上天作证,你可以随意吃——只要是我的,不必客气。”乔回答说,及时地想到了他的夫人,“我们不知道你干了什么,但是我们不能看着你饿死,你这可怜不幸的同胞。皮普,是不是这样?”

我早就发现在这个人的喉管里好像有什么东西,咯嗒咯嗒地发响,现在又响了一声,他便转过身去了。一艘小渡船去而复返,卫队已经准备就绪。我们一直跟着他上了用大石头和粗木桩建造的渡口,目送他上了渡船,由几个和他一样的犯人划着而去。他们看到他上船没有表示出一丝惊讶,没有人对他感兴趣地瞥一眼,没有人感到高兴,没有人感到抱歉,也没有人开口,只听到一句怒吼从船上发出,仿佛是在对狗吆喝:“你们快划!”这是一声开桨启程的信号。在火把的光照下,我们看到漆黑一团的监狱船正停在离满布泥泞的岸边不远之处,好像是一艘邪恶的挪亚方舟。这艘监狱船被粗大生锈的铁链锁着。拦着,停泊在那里。在我幼小的心灵中,这船就好像是戴着镣铐的犯人。我们看到渡船向监狱船靠拢,看到他被押上大船,然后便消失了。接着,那些烧剩下的火把头儿全部被投进水里,发出咝咝的声响,熄灭了,仿佛一切都随他而去了。



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