A stretch of shore had been as yet between us and the steamer's
smoke, by reason of the bend and wind of the river; but now she was
visible, coming head on. I called to Herbert and Startop to keep
before the tide, that she might see us lying by for her, and I
adjured Provis to sit quite still, wrapped in his cloak. He
answered cheerily, "Trust to me, dear boy," and sat like a statue.
Meantime the galley, which was very skilfully handled, had crossed
us, let us come up with her, and fallen alongside. Leaving just
room enough for the play of the oars, she kept alongside, drifting
when we drifted, and pulling a stroke or two when we pulled. Of the
two sitters one held the rudder lines, and looked at us attentively
- as did all the rowers; the other sitter was wrapped up, much as
Provis was, and seemed to shrink, and whisper some instruction to
the steerer as he looked at us. Not a word was spoken in either
Startop could make out, after a few minutes, which steamer was
first, and gave me the word "Hamburg," in a low voice as we sat
face to face. She was nearing us very fast, and the beating of her
peddles grew louder and louder. I felt as if her shadow were
absolutely upon us, when the galley hailed us. I answered.
"You have a returned Transport there," said the man who held the
lines. "That's the man, wrapped in the cloak. His name is Abel
Magwitch, otherwise Provis. I apprehend that man, and call upon him
to surrender, and you to assist."
At the same moment, without giving any audible direction to his
crew, he ran the galley abroad of us. They had pulled one sudden
stroke ahead, had got their oars in, had run athwart us, and were
holding on to our gunwale, before we knew what they were doing.
This caused great confusion on board the steamer, and I heard them
calling to us, and heard the order given to stop the paddles, and
heard them stop, but felt her driving down upon us irresistibly. In
the same moment, I saw the steersman of the galley lay his hand on
his prisoner's shoulder, and saw that both boats were swinging
round with the force of the tide, and saw that all hands on board
the steamer were running forward quite frantically. Still in the
same moment, I saw the prisoner start up, lean across his captor,
and pull the cloak from the neck of the shrinking sitter in the
galley. Still in the same moment, I saw that the face disclosed,
was the face of the other convict of long ago. Still in the same
moment, I saw the face tilt backward with a white terror on it that
I shall never forget, and heard a great cry on board the steamer
and a loud splash in the water, and felt the boat sink from under
It was but for an instant that I seemed to struggle with a thousand
mill-weirs and a thousand flashes of light; that instant past, I
was taken on board the galley. Herbert was there, and Startop was
there; but our boat was gone, and the two convicts were gone.
What with the cries aboard the steamer, and the furious blowing off
of her steam, and her driving on, and our driving on, I could not
at first distinguish sky from water or shore from shore; but, the
crew of the galley righted her with great speed, and, pulling
certain swift strong strokes ahead, lay upon their oars, every man
looking silently and eagerly at the water astern. Presently a dark
object was seen in it, bearing towards us on the tide. No man
spoke, but the steersman held up his hand, and all softly backed
water, and kept the boat straight and true before it. As it came
nearer, I saw it to be Magwitch, swimming, but not swimming freely.
He was taken on board, and instantly manacled at the wrists and
The galley was kept steady, and the silent eager look-out at the
water was resumed. But, the Rotterdam steamer now came up, and
apparently not understanding what had happened, came on at speed.
By the time she had been hailed and stopped, both steamers were
drifting away from us, and we were rising and falling in a troubled
wake of water.