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Chapter 14

Chapter 14

THE BIRD OF PREY BROUGHT DOWN


Cold on the shore, in the raw cold of that leaden crisis in the four-
and-twenty hours when the vital force of all the noblest and
prettiest things that live is at its lowest, the three watchers looked
each at the blank faces of the other two, and all at the blank face of
Riderhood in his boat.

'Gaffer's boat, Gaffer in luck again, and yet no Gaffer!' So spake
Riderhood, staring disconsolate.

As if with one accord, they all turned their eyes towards the light
of the fire shining through the window. It was fainter and duller.
Perhaps fire, like the higher animal and vegetable life it helps to
sustain, has its greatest tendency towards death, when the night is
dying and the day is not yet born.

'If it was me that had the law of this here job in hand,' growled
Riderhood with a threatening shake of his head, 'blest if I wouldn't
lay hold of HER, at any rate!'

'Ay, but it is not you,' said Eugene. With something so suddenly
fierce in him that the informer returned submissively; 'Well, well,
well, t'other governor, I didn't say it was. A man may speak.'

'And vermin may be silent,' said Eugene. 'Hold your tongue, you
water-rat!'

Astonished by his friend's unusual heat, Lightwood stared too, and
then said: 'What can have become of this man?'

'Can't imagine. Unless he dived overboard.' The informer wiped
his brow ruefully as he said it, sitting in his boat and always
staring disconsolate.

'Did you make his boat fast?'

'She's fast enough till the tide runs back. I couldn't make her faster
than she is. Come aboard of mine, and see for your own-selves.'

There was a little backwardness in complying, for the freight
looked too much for the boat; but on Riderhood's protesting 'that he
had had half a dozen, dead and alive, in her afore now, and she
was nothing deep in the water nor down in the stern even then, to
speak of;' they carefully took their places, and trimmed the crazy
thing. While they were doing so, Riderhood still sat staring
disconsolate.

'All right. Give way!' said Lightwood.

'Give way, by George!' repeated Riderhood, before shoving off. 'If
he's gone and made off any how Lawyer Lightwood, it's enough to
make me give way in a different manner. But he always WAS a
cheat, con-found him! He always was a infernal cheat, was Gaffer.
Nothing straightfor'ard, nothing on the square. So mean, so
underhanded. Never going through with a thing, nor carrying it
out like a man!'

'Hallo! Steady!' cried Eugene (he had recovered immediately on
embarking), as they bumped heavily against a pile; and then in a
lower voice reversed his late apostrophe by remarking ('I wish the
boat of my honourable and gallant friend may be endowed with
philanthropy enough not to turn bottom-upward and extinguish
us!) Steady, steady! Sit close, Mortimer. Here's the hail again.
See how it flies, like a troop of wild cats, at Mr Riderhood's eyes!'

Indeed he had the full benefit of it, and it so mauled him, though
he bent his head low and tried to present nothing but the mangy
cap to it, that he dropped under the lee of a tier of shipping, and
they lay there until it was over. The squall had come up, like a
spiteful messenger before the morning; there followed in its wake a
ragged tear of light which ripped the dark clouds until they showed
a great grey hole of day.

They were all shivering, and everything about them seemed to be
shivering; the river itself; craft, rigging, sails, such early smoke as
there yet was on the shore. Black with wet, and altered to the eye
by white patches of hail and sleet, the huddled buildings looked
lower than usual, as if they were cowering, and had shrunk with
the cold. Very little life was to be seen on either bank, windows
and doors were shut, and the staring black and white letters upon
wharves and warehouses 'looked,' said Eugene to Mortimer, 'like
inscriptions over the graves of dead businesses.'

As they glided slowly on, keeping under the shore and sneaking in
and out among the shipping by back-alleys of water, in a pilfering
way that seemed to be their boatman's normal manner of
progression, all the objects among which they crept were so huge
in contrast with their wretched boat, as to threaten to crush it. Not
a ship's hull, with its rusty iron links of cable run out of hawse-
holes long discoloured with the iron's rusty tears, but seemed to be
there with a fell intention. Not a figure-head but had the menacing
look of bursting forward to run them down. Not a sluice gate, or a
painted scale upon a post or wall, showing the depth of water, but
seemed to hint, like the dreadfully facetious Wolf in bed in
Grandmamma's cottage, 'That's to drown YOU in, my dears!' Not
a lumbering black barge, with its cracked and blistered side
impending over them, but seemed to suck at the river with a thirst
for sucking them under. And everything so vaunted the spoiling
influences of water--discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-
combed stone, green dank deposit--that the after-consequences of
being crushed, sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to
the imagination as the main event.

Some half-hour of this work, and Riderhood unshipped his sculls,
stood holding on to a barge, and hand over hand long-wise along
the barge's side gradually worked his boat under her head into a
secret little nook of scummy water. And driven into that nook, and
wedged as he had described, was Gaffer's boat; that boat with the
stain still in it, bearing some resemblance to a muffled human
form.

'Now tell me I'm a liar!' said the honest man.

('With a morbid expectation,' murmured Eugene to Lightwood,
'that somebody is always going to tell him the truth.')

'This is Hexam's boat,' said Mr Inspector. 'I know her well.'

'Look at the broken scull. Look at the t'other scull gone. NOW tell
me I am a liar!' said the honest man.

Mr Inspector stepped into the boat. Eugene and Mortimer looked
on.

'And see now!' added Riderhood, creeping aft, and showing a
stretched rope made fast there and towing overboard. 'Didn't I tell
you he was in luck again?'

'Haul in,' said Mr Inspector.

'Easy to say haul in,' answered Riderhood. 'Not so easy done. His
luck's got fouled under the keels of the barges. I tried to haul in
last time, but I couldn't. See how taut the line is!'

'I must have it up,' said Mr Inspector. 'I am going to take this
boat ashore, and his luck along with it. Try easy now.'

He tried easy now; but the luck resisted; wouldn't come.

'I mean to have it, and the boat too,' said Mr Inspector, playing the
line.

But still the luck resisted; wouldn't come.

'Take care,' said Riderhood. 'You'll disfigure. Or pull asunder
perhaps.'

'I am not going to do either, not even to your Grandmother,' said
Mr Inspector; 'but I mean to have it. Come!' he added, at once
persuasively and with authority to the hidden object in the water,
as he played the line again; 'it's no good this sort of game, you
know. You MUST come up. I mean to have you.'

There was so much virtue in this distinctly and decidedly meaning
to have it, that it yielded a little, even while the line was played.

'I told you so,' quoth Mr Inspector, pulling off his outer coat, and
leaning well over the stern with a will. 'Come!'

It was an awful sort of fishing, but it no more disconcerted Mr
Inspector than if he had been fishing in a punt on a summer
evening by some soothing weir high up the peaceful river. After
certain minutes, and a few directions to the rest to 'ease her a little
for'ard,' and 'now ease her a trifle aft,' and the like, he said
composedly, 'All clear!' and the line and the boat came free
together.

Accepting Lightwood's proffered hand to help him up, he then put
on his coat, and said to Riderhood, 'Hand me over those spare
sculls of yours, and I'll pull this in to the nearest stairs. Go ahead
you, and keep out in pretty open water, that I mayn't get fouled
again.'

His directions were obeyed, and they pulled ashore directly; two in
one boat, two in the other.

'Now,' said Mr Inspector, again to Riderhood, when they were all
on the slushy stones; 'you have had more practice in this than I
have had, and ought to be a better workman at it. Undo the tow-
rope, and we'll help you haul in.'

Riderhood got into the boat accordingly. It appeared as if he had
scarcely had a moment's time to touch the rope or look over the
stern, when he came scrambling back, as pale as the morning, and
gasped out:

'By the Lord, he's done me!'

'What do you mean?' they all demanded.

He pointed behind him at the boat, and gasped to that degree that
he dropped upon the stones to get his breath.

'Gaffer's done me. It's Gaffer!'

They ran to the rope, leaving him gasping there. Soon, the form of
the bird of prey, dead some hours, lay stretched upon the shore,
with a new blast storming at it and clotting the wet hair with hail-
stones.

Father, was that you calling me? Father! I thought I heard you call
me twice before! Words never to be answered, those, upon the
earth-side of the grave. The wind sweeps jeeringly over Father,
whips him with the frayed ends of his dress and his jagged hair,
tries to turn him where he lies stark on his back, and force his face
towards the rising sun, that he may be shamed the more. A lull,
and the wind is secret and prying with him; lifts and lets falls a
rag; hides palpitating under another rag; runs nimbly through his
hair and beard. Then, in a rush, it cruelly taunts him. Father, was
that you calling me? Was it you, the voiceless and the dead? Was
it you, thus buffeted as you lie here in a heap? Was it you, thus
baptized unto Death, with these flying impurities now flung upon
your face? Why not speak, Father? Soaking into this filthy ground
as you lie here, is your own shape. Did you never see such a shape
soaked into your boat? Speak, Father. Speak to us, the winds, the
only listeners left you!

'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, after mature deliberation: kneeling
on one knee beside the body, when they had stood looking down
on the drowned man, as he had many a time looked down on many
another man: 'the way of it was this. Of course you gentlemen
hardly failed to observe that he was towing by the neck and arms.'

They had helped to release the rope, and of course not.

'And you will have observed before, and you will observe now, that
this knot, which was drawn chock-tight round his neck by the
strain of his own arms, is a slip-knot': holding it up for
demonstration.

Plain enough.

'Likewise you will have observed how he had run the other end of
this rope to his boat.'

It had the curves and indentations in it still, where it had been
twined and bound.

'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, 'see how it works round upon him.
It's a wild tempestuous evening when this man that was,' stooping
to wipe some hailstones out of his hair with an end of his own
drowned jacket, '--there! Now he's more like himself; though he's
badly bruised,--when this man that was, rows out upon the river on
his usual lay. He carries with him this coil of rope. He always
carries with him this coil of rope. It's as well known to me as he
was himself. Sometimes it lay in the bottom of his boat.
Sometimes he hung it loose round his neck. He was a light-dresser
was this man;--you see?' lifting the loose neckerchief over his
breast, and taking the opportunity of wiping the dead lips with it--
'and when it was wet, or freezing, or blew cold, he would hang
this coil of line round his neck. Last evening he does this. Worse
for him! He dodges about in his boat, does this man, till he gets
chilled. His hands,' taking up one of them, which dropped like a
leaden weight, 'get numbed. He sees some object that's in his way
of business, floating. He makes ready to secure that object. He
unwinds the end of his coil that he wants to take some turns on in
his boat, and he takes turns enough on it to secure that it shan't run
out. He makes it too secure, as it happens. He is a little longer
about this than usual, his hands being numbed. His object drifts
up, before he is quite ready for it. He catches at it, thinks he'll
make sure of the contents of the pockets anyhow, in case he should
be parted from it, bends right over the stern, and in one of these
heavy squalls, or in the cross-swell of two steamers, or in not being
quite prepared, or through all or most or some, gets a lurch,
overbalances and goes head-foremost overboard. Now see! He
can swim, can this man, and instantly he strikes out. But in such
striking-out he tangles his arms, pulls strong on the slip-knot, and
it runs home. The object he had expected to take in tow, floats by,
and his own boat tows him dead, to where we found him, all
entangled in his own line. You'll ask me how I make out about
the pockets? First, I'll tell you more; there was silver in 'em. How
do I make that out? Simple and satisfactory. Because he's got it
here.' The lecturer held up the tightly clenched right hand.

'What is to be done with the remains?' asked Lightwood.

'If you wouldn't object to standing by him half a minute, sir,' was
the reply, 'I'll find the nearest of our men to come and take charge
of him;--I still call it HIM, you see,' said Mr Inspector, looking
back as he went, with a philosophical smile upon the force of
habit.

'Eugene,' said Lightwood and was about to add 'we may wait at a
little distance,' when turning his head he found that no Eugene was
there.

He raised his voice and called 'Eugene! Holloa!' But no Eugene
replied.

It was broad daylight now, and he looked about. But no Eugene
was in all the view.

Mr Inspector speedily returning down the wooden stairs, with a
police constable, Lightwood asked him if he had seen his friend
leave them? Mr Inspector could not exactly say that he had seen
him go, but had noticed that he was restless.

'Singular and entertaining combination, sir, your friend.'

'I wish it had not been a part of his singular entertaining
combination to give me the slip under these dreary circumstances
at this time of the morning,' said Lightwood. 'Can we get anything
hot to drink?'

We could, and we did. In a public-house kitchen with a large fire.
We got hot brandy and water, and it revived us wonderfully. Mr
Inspector having to Mr Riderhood announced his official intention
of 'keeping his eye upon him', stood him in a corner of the
fireplace, like a wet umbrella, and took no further outward and
visible notice of that honest man, except ordering a separate service
of brandy and water for him: apparently out of the public funds.

As Mortimer Lightwood sat before the blazing fire, conscious of
drinking brandy and water then and there in his sleep, and yet at
one and the same time drinking burnt sherry at the Six Jolly
Fellowships, and lying under the boat on the river shore, and
sitting in the boat that Riderhood rowed, and listening to the
lecture recently concluded, and having to dine in the Temple with
an unknown man, who described himself as M. H. F. Eugene
Gaffer Harmon, and said he lived at Hailstorm,--as he passed
through these curious vicissitudes of fatigue and slumber, arranged
upon the scale of a dozen hours to the second, he became aware of
answering aloud a communication of pressing importance that had
never been made to him, and then turned it into a cough on
beholding Mr Inspector. For, he felt, with some natural
indignation, that that functionary might otherwise suspect him of
having closed his eyes, or wandered in his attention.

'Here just before us, you see,' said Mr Inspector.

'I see,' said Lightwood, with dignity.

'And had hot brandy and water too, you see,' said Mr Inspector,
'and then cut off at a great rate.'

'Who?' said Lightwood.

'Your friend, you know.'

'I know,' he replied, again with dignity.

After hearing, in a mist through which Mr Inspector loomed vague
and large, that the officer took upon himself to prepare the dead
man's daughter for what had befallen in the night, and generally
that he took everything upon himself, Mortimer Lightwood
stumbled in his sleep to a cab-stand, called a cab, and had entered
the army and committed a capital military offence and been tried
by court martial and found guilty and had arranged his affairs and
been marched out to be shot, before the door banged.

Hard work rowing the cab through the City to the Temple, for a
cup of from five to ten thousand pounds value, given by Mr Boffin;
and hard work holding forth at that immeasurable length to Eugene
(when he had been rescued with a rope from the running
pavement) for making off in that extraordinary manner! But he
offered such ample apologies, and was so very penitent, that when
Lightwood got out of the cab, he gave the driver a particular charge
to he careful of him. Which the driver (knowing there was no
other fare left inside) stared at prodigiously.

In short, the night's work had so exhausted and worn out this actor
in it, that he had become a mere somnambulist. He was too tired
to rest in his sleep, until he was even tired out of being too tired,
and dropped into oblivion. Late in the afternoon he awoke, and in
some anxiety sent round to Eugene's lodging hard by, to inquire if
he were up yet?

Oh yes, he was up. In fact, he had not been to bed. He had just
come home. And here he was, close following on the heels of the
message.

'Why what bloodshot, draggled, dishevelled spectacle is this!' cried
Mortimer.

'Are my feathers so very much rumpled?' said Eugene, coolly going
up to the looking-glass. They ARE rather out of sorts. But
consider. Such a night for plumage!'

'Such a night?' repeated Mortimer. 'What became of you in the
morning?'

'My dear fellow,' said Eugene, sitting on his bed, 'I felt that we had
bored one another so long, that an unbroken continuance of those
relations must inevitably terminate in our flying to opposite points
of the earth. I also felt that I had committed every crime in the
Newgate Calendar. So, for mingled considerations of friendship
and felony, I took a walk.'

Charles Dickens