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, 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 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 him.
My state of mind regarding the pilfering from which I had been so unexpectedly exonerated, did not impel me to frank disclosure; but I hope it had some dregs of good at the bottom of it.