Our Mutual Friend
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,
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.