Charles Dickens

We loitered down to the Temple stairs, and stood loitering there,

as if we were not quite decided to go upon the water at all. Of

course I had taken care that the boat should be ready and

everything in order. After a little show of indecision, which there

were none to see but the two or three amphibious creatures

belonging to our Temple stairs, we went on board and cast off;

Herbert in the bow, I steering. It was then about high-water -

half-past eight.

Our plan was this. The tide, beginning to run down at nine, and

being with us until three, we intended still to creep on after it

had turned, and row against it until dark. We should then be well

in those long reaches below Gravesend, between Kent and Essex,

where the river is broad and solitary, where the waterside

inhabitants are very few, and where lone public-houses are

scattered here and there, of which we could choose one for a

resting-place. There, we meant to lie by, all night. The steamer

for Hamburg, and the steamer for Rotterdam, would start from London

at about nine on Thursday morning. We should know at what time to

expect them, according to where we were, and would hail the first;

so that if by any accident we were not taken abroad, we should have

another chance. We knew the distinguishing marks of each vessel.

The relief of being at last engaged in the execution of the

purpose, was so great to me that I felt it difficult to realize the

condition in which I had been a few hours before. The crisp air,

the sunlight, the movement on the river, and the moving river

itself - the road that ran with us, seeming to sympathize with us,

animate us, and encourage us on - freshened me with new hope. I

felt mortified to be of so little use in the boat; but, there were

few better oarsmen than my two friends, and they rowed with a

steady stroke that was to last all day.

At that time, the steam-traffic on the Thames was far below its

present extent, and watermen's boats were far more numerous. Of

barges, sailing colliers, and coasting traders, there were perhaps

as many as now; but, of steam-ships, great and small, not a tithe

or a twentieth part so many. Early as it was, there were plenty of

scullers going here and there that morning, and plenty of barges

dropping down with the tide; the navigation of the river between

bridges, in an open boat, was a much easier and commoner matter in

those days than it is in these; and we went ahead among many skiffs

and wherries, briskly.

Old London Bridge was soon passed, and old Billingsgate market with

its oyster-boats and Dutchmen, and the White Tower and Traitor's

Gate, and we were in among the tiers of shipping. Here, were the

Leith, Aberdeen, and Glasgow steamers, loading and unloading goods,

and looking immensely high out of the water as we passed alongside;

here, were colliers by the score and score, with the coal-whippers

plunging off stages on deck, as counterweights to measures of coal

swinging up, which were then rattled over the side into barges;

here, at her moorings was to-morrow's steamer for Rotterdam, of

which we took good notice; and here to-morrow's for Hamburg, under

whose bowsprit we crossed. And now I, sitting in the stern, could

see with a faster beating heart, Mill Pond Bank and Mill Pond


"Is he there?" said Herbert.

"Not yet."

"Right! He was not to come down till he saw us. Can you see his


"Not well from here; but I think I see it. - Now, I see him! Pull

both. Easy, Herbert. Oars!"

We touched the stairs lightly for a single moment, and he was on

board and we were off again. He had a boat-cloak with him, and a

black canvas bag, and he looked as like a river-pilot as my heart

could have wished. "Dear boy!" he said, putting his arm on my

shoulder as he took his seat. "Faithful dear boy, well done.

Thankye, thankye!"

Again among the tiers of shipping, in and out, avoiding rusty

chain-cables frayed hempen hawsers and bobbing buoys, sinking for

the moment floating broken baskets, scattering floating chips of

wood and shaving, cleaving floating scum of coal, in and out, under

the figure-head of the John of Sunderland making a speech to the

winds (as is done by many Johns), and the Betsy of Yarmouth with a

firm formality of bosom and her nobby eyes starting two inches out

of her head, in and out, hammers going in shipbuilders'yards, saws

going at timber, clashing engines going at things unknown, pumps

going in leaky ships, capstans going, ships going out to sea, and

unintelligible sea-creatures roaring curses over the bulwarks at

respondent lightermen, in and out - out at last upon the clearer

river, where the ships' boys might take their fenders in, no longer

fishing in troubled waters with them over the side, and where the

festooned sails might fly out to the wind.