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Down with the Tide
A VERY dark night it was, and bitter cold; the east wind blowing bleak, and bringing with
it stinging particles from marsh, and moor, and fen - from the Great Desert and Old
Egypt, may be. Some of the component parts of the sharp-edged vapour that came
flying up the Thames at London might be mummy-dust, dry atoms from the Temple at
Jerusalem, camels' foot-prints, crocodiles' hatching- places, loosened grains of
expression from the visages of blunt- nosed sphynxes, waifs and strays from caravans
of turbaned merchants, vegetation from jungles, frozen snow from the Himalayas. O! It
was very, very dark upon the Thames, and it was bitter, bitter cold.
'And yet,' said the voice within the great pea-coat at my side, 'you'll have seen a good
many rivers, too, I dare say?'
'Truly,' said I, 'when I come to think of it, not a few. From the Niagara, downward to the
mountain rivers of Italy, which are like the national spirit - very tame, or chafing
suddenly and bursting bounds, only to dwindle away again. The Moselle, and the Rhine,
and the Rhone; and the Seine, and the Saone; and the St. Lawrence, Mississippi, and
Ohio; and the Tiber, the Po, and the Arno; and the - '
Peacoat coughing as if he had had enough of that, I said no more. I could have carried
the catalogue on to a teasing length, though, if I had been in the cruel mind.
'And after all,' said he, 'this looks so dismal?'
'So awful,' I returned, 'at night. The Seine at Paris is very gloomy too, at such a time,
and is probably the scene of far more crime and greater wickedness; but this river looks
so broad and vast, so murky and silent, seems such an image of death in the midst of
the great city's life, that - '
That Peacoat coughed again. He COULD NOT stand my holding forth.
We were in a four-oared Thames Police Galley, lying on our oars in the deep shadow of
Southwark Bridge - under the corner arch on the Surrey side - having come down with
the tide from Vauxhall. We were fain to hold on pretty tight, though close in shore, for
the river was swollen and the tide running down very strong. We were watching certain
water-rats of human growth, and lay in the deep shade as quiet as mice; our light
hidden and our scraps of conversation carried on in whispers. Above us, the massive
iron girders of the arch were faintly visible, and below us its ponderous shadow seemed
to sink down to the bottom of the stream.