Our Mutual Friend HTML version

1. On the Look Out
In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be
precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated
on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge
which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.
The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and
a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him to
be recognizable as his daughter. The girl rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very
easily; the man, with the rudder-lines slack in his hands, and his hands loose in
his waistband, kept an eager look out. He had no net, hook, or line, and he could
not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription,
no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a
waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and
he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked
for, but he looked for something, with a most intent and searching gaze. The tide,
which had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched every
little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight head-way against
it, or drove stern foremost before it, according as he directed his daughter by a
movement of his head. She watched his face as earnestly as he watched the
river. But, in the intensity of her look there was a touch of dread or horror.
Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime
and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two
figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking
what they often sought. Half savage as the man showed, with no covering on his
matted head, with his brown arms bare to between the elbow and the shoulder,
with the loose knot of a looser kerchief lying low on his bare breast in a
wilderness of beard and whisker, with such dress as he wore seeming to be
made out of the mud that begrimed his boat, still there was a business-like usage
in his steady gaze. So with every lithe action of the girl, with every turn of her
wrist, perhaps most of all with her look of dread or horror; they were things of
'Keep her out, Lizzie. Tide runs strong here. Keep her well afore the sweep of it.'
Trusting to the girl's skill and making no use of the rudder, he eyed the coming
tide with an absorbed attention. So the girl eyed him. But, it happened now, that