فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Escape

It was now March. My burnt hands and arms had healed. Herbert and I decided it was time for Magwitch to leave England. I liked the old convict very much now, though I refused to accept his money. I had to help him. I had to get him to a safe place.

We found that a ship was leaving London for Hamburg in a few days’ time. The big paddle-steamer would come down the Thames at high tide. Our plan was to row down the river towards the sea. Magwitch would be dressed as a river pilot. He would carry a black bag and wear a thick cloak. The captain of the steamer needed a river pilot to guide him along the river to the sea. Magwitch and I would board the steamer and leave England forever.

The day came for us to leave. In the evening, Herbert and I left our rooms and rowed down the river to Old Mill Bank. Magwitch was waiting for us.

He got into the boat and sat down.

‘Dear boy, faithful dear boy. Thank you, thank you,’ he said quietly.

His voice was more gentle now. He was peaceful and quiet. For the first time in his life, people had cared for him and spoken to him kindly. And so he was no longer the wild and terrible man I had first met.

‘If all goes well, you will be a free man in a few hours,’ I told him.

‘Well, I hope so, dear boy. The water is moving quietly and there seems to be no danger,’ he said. ‘But we don’t know what will happen, today or in the future.’

We rowed all night. Sometimes Herbert rowed. Sometimes I rowed. We stopped from time to time, to rest and eat. We listened for the sound of another boat, but we heard nothing. No one was following us.

By the time it was light, we were a long way down the river. We moored by the bank and waited for the great paddle-steamer to pass.

When we saw the smoke of the steamer, we started rowing again. We rowed strongly towards the middle of the river.

Then, to my horror, I saw another boat moored ahead of us. When we had passed, it moved quietly out from the bank to follow us. It was a larger and faster boat than ours. Two men were rowing together.

There were four men in the boat. Three of the men were wearing uniforms. They were Customs men. The fourth man sat in the back of the boat with his face covered.

The big steamer was nearer now. The shadow of the huge ship fell upon our small rowing boat. The steamer came nearer and nearer and its great paddles turned in the water with a terrible noise.

Suddenly, the Customs boat leapt ahead of us.

‘You have a convict from Australia there!’ a man shouted. ‘His name is Abel Magwitch. I am here to arrest that man. Stop and give him to us!’

The great steamer came nearer and nearer. The people on board shouted when they saw the two boats far below.

‘Stop the paddles! Stop the paddles!’ they cried.

The two rowing boats were touching each other now. Suddenly, Magwitch leant across and pulled the cloak from the fourth man’s face. On the man’s face was a long scar.

‘Compeyson! I knew it was you!’ Magwitch cried. As he grabbed the man, there was another shout from the steamer. The boats turned round and round in the rough water. The paddles of the steamer were now above our heads.

Our boat overturned. The water roared in my ears. I was turned over and over by the crashing water from those terrible paddles.

A moment later, I was pulled roughly into the other boat. Herbert was there too. But our boat had gone. And where were Magwitch and Compeyson?

The paddle-steamer had moved on now and the Customs men were looking down into the water. Then I saw Magwitch. He was swimming, but his heavy clothes were pulling him under the water. The Customs men grabbed him and pulled him into the Customs boat. Chains were put on his wrists and ankles.

Magwitch had been badly injured by the turning paddles.

‘I think Compeyson’s gone to the bottom of the river, dear boy,’ he whispered to me. ‘I had him in my arms. Then he fought free and the paddles hit him.’

The Customs men soon stopped looking for Compeyson. As we were rowed back to London in the Customs boat, I held the old convict’s hand in mine. This rough, hard man had remembered my kindness to him long ago. He had treated me better than I had treated Joe!

‘Dear boy,’ Magwitch whispered,’ use my money when I’ve gone. One thing I ask - come to the court and see me for the last time. They will hang me now.’

‘I will stay with you until the end,’ I said. ‘I will be as faithful to you as you have been to me.’

There was no hope for a returned convict. Magwitch was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. But he was very ill. His injuries were very bad. He was taken from the court to the prison hospital. I sat with him every day.

Every day, Magwitch grew weaker. One day, when I visited him, I felt that his death was near. He was pale and very weak.

‘Dear boy, God bless you,’ he whispered, as I sat down by the bed. ‘You never left me even when there was danger. You stayed near me when the dark clouds gathered. This has been the best part left my life.’

His breathing was very bad now. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. I held his hand in mine.

‘Dear Magwitch, I have something to tell you,’ I said quietly. ‘Can you understand what I say?’

The old convict held my hand tightly.

‘You had a child once, who you loved and lost,’ I said slowly. ‘She lived and found rich friends. She is a lady now and very beautiful. And I love her.’

With the last of his strength, Abel Magwitch raised my hand to his lips. He opened his eyes and looked at me. Then he smiled and his eyes closed again - forever

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