Charles Dickens

But when, in the clearer light of next

morning, I began to reconsider the matter and to hear it discussed

around me on all sides, I took another view of the case, which was

more reasonable.

Joe had been at the Three Jolly Bargemen, smoking his pipe, from a

quarter after eight o'clock to a quarter before ten. While he was

there, my sister had been seen standing at the kitchen door, and

had exchanged Good Night with a farm-labourer going home. The man

could not be more particular as to the time at which he saw her (he

got into dense confusion when he tried to be), than that it must

have been before nine. When Joe went home at five minutes before

ten, he found her struck down on the floor, and promptly called in

assistance. The fire had not then burnt unusually low, nor was the

snuff of the candle very long; the candle, however, had been blown


Nothing had been taken away from any part of the house. Neither,

beyond the blowing out of the candle - which stood on a table

between the door and my sister, and was behind her when she stood

facing the fire and was struck - was there any disarrangement of

the kitchen, excepting such as she herself had made, in falling and

bleeding. But, there was one remarkable piece of evidence on the

spot. She had been struck with something blunt and heavy, on the

head and spine; after the blows were dealt, something heavy had

been thrown down at her with considerable violence, as she lay on

her face. And on the ground beside her, when Joe picked her up, was

a convict's leg-iron which had been filed asunder.

Now, Joe, examining this iron with a smith's eye, declared it to

have been filed asunder some time ago. The hue and cry going off to

the Hulks, and people coming thence to examine the iron, Joe's

opinion was corroborated. They did not undertake to say when it had

left the prison-ships to which it undoubtedly had once belonged;

but they claimed to know for certain that that particular manacle

had not been worn by either of the two convicts who had escaped last

night. Further, one of those two was already re-taken, and had not

freed himself of his iron.

Knowing what I knew, I set up an inference of my own here. I

believed the iron to be my convict's iron - the iron I had seen and

heard him filing at, on the marshes - but my mind did not accuse

him of having put it to its latest use. For, I believed one of two

other persons to have become possessed of it, and to have turned it

to this cruel account. Either Orlick, or the strange man who had

shown me the file.

Now, as to Orlick; he had gone to town exactly as he told us when

we picked him up at the turnpike, he had been seen about town all

the evening, he had been in divers companies in several

public-houses, and he had come back with myself and Mr. Wopsle.

There was nothing against him, save the quarrel; and my sister had

quarrelled with him, and with everybody else about her, ten

thousand times. As to the strange man; if he had come back for his

two bank-notes there could have been no dispute about them, because

my sister was fully prepared to restore them. Besides, there had

been no altercation; the assailant had come in so silently and

suddenly, that she had been felled before she could look round.

It was horrible to think that I had provided the weapon, however

undesignedly, but I could hardly think otherwise. I suffered

unspeakable trouble while I considered and reconsidered whether I

should at last dissolve that spell of my childhood, and tell Joe

all the story. For months afterwards, I every day settled the

question finally in the negative, and reopened and reargued it next

morning. The contention came, after all, to this; - the secret was

such an old one now, had so grown into me and become a part of

myself, that I could not tear it away. In addition to the dread

that, having led up to so much mischief, it would be now more

likely than ever to alienate Joe from me if he believed it, I had a

further restraining dread that he would not believe it, but would

assort it with the fabulous dogs and veal-cutlets as a monstrous