The officer, who seemed to know him, replied at once, “Why, Mr. Arden, we are dragging here to see if we can get hold of the boat or any of the bodies that went down last night.”
“Ay, Smith,” replied the Messenger, “what boat was that? I haven’t heard of it.”
“Why, some stupid fools,” replied the officer, “dropping down the river in a barge about half-past eight last night, tried to shoot the arch at half tide, struck the pier, got broadside on at the fall, and of course capsized and went down. If it had been a wherry, the boat would have floated, but being a covered barge, and all the windows shut, she went down in a minute, and there she sticks; but we can’t well tell where, though I saw the whole thing happen with my own eyes.”
“Did you see who was in the barge?” demanded the Messenger.
“I saw there were three men in her,” the officer replied, “but I couldn’t see their faces or the colour of their clothes, for it was very dark; and if it had not been for the two great lamps at the jeweller’s on the bridge, I should not have seen so much as I did. We are going home now, for we have not light to see; but we got up one of the bodies, drifted down nearly half a mile on the Southwark side there.”
“Was it a man or a woman?” demanded Wilton, eagerly.
“A man, sir,” replied the officer. “It turns out to be Jones, the waterman by Fulham.”
Wilton did not speak for a moment, and the Messenger was struck, and silent likewise. When they recovered a little, however, they explained to the officer briefly the object of their search upon the river, and he was easily induced to continue dragging at the spot where he thought the boat had disappeared. He was unsuccessful, however; and, after labouring for about half an hour, the total failure of light compelled them to desist without any farther discovery. Wilton then landed with the Messenger; and with his brain feeling as if on fire, and a heart wrung with grief, he rode back, as soon as horses could be procured, to carry the sad tidings which he had obtained to Laura’s father.
A spirit—though rather of a better kind than that which drags too many of our unfortunate countrymen into the abodes of wickedness and corruption, now called Gin Pal—es, so liberally provided for them in the metropolis—abodes licensed and patronised by the government for the temptation of the lower orders of the populace to commit and harden themselves in the great besetting vice of this country—a spirit, I say, of a better kind than this, drags me into a house of public entertainment, called the Nag’s Head, in St. James’s Street.
The Nag’s Head, in St. James’s Street!!!