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 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.