It escaped his attention, for he was glancing over the stern at something the boat had in tow.
'How can you be so thankless to your best friend, Lizzie? The very fire that warmed you when you were a babby, was picked out of the river alongside the coal barges. The very basket that you slept in, the tide washed ashore. The very rockers that I put it upon to make a cradle of it, I cut out of a piece of wood that drifted from some ship or another.'
Lizzie took her right hand from the scull it held, and touched her lips with it, and for a moment held it out lovingly towards him: then, without speaking, she resumed her rowing, as another boat of similar appearance, though in rather better trim, came out from a dark place and dropped softly alongside.
'In luck again, Gaffer?' said a man with a squinting leer, who sculled her and who was alone, 'I know'd you was in luck again, by your wake as you come down.'
'Ah!' replied the other, drily. 'So you're out, are you?'
There was now a tender yellow moonlight on the river, and the new comer, keeping half his boat's length astern of the other boat looked hard at its track.
'I says to myself,' he went on, 'directly you hove in view, yonder's Gaffer, and in luck again, by George if he ain't! Scull it is, pardner--don't fret yourself--I didn't touch him.' This was in answer to a quick impatient movement on the part of Gaffer: the speaker at the same time unshipping his scull on that side, and laying his hand on the gunwale of Gaffer's boat and holding to it.
'He's had touches enough not to want no more, as well as I make him out, Gaffer! Been a knocking about with a pretty many tides, ain't he pardner? Such is my out-of-luck ways, you see! He must have passed me when he went up last time, for I was on the lookout below bridge here. I a'most think you're like the wulturs, pardner, and scent 'em out.'
He spoke in a dropped voice, and with more than one glance at Lizzie who had pulled on her hood again. Both men then looked with a weird unholy interest in the wake of Gaffer's boat.
'Easy does it, betwixt us. Shall I take him aboard, pardner?'
'No,' said the other. In so surly a tone that the man, after a blank stare, acknowledged it with the retort:
'--Arn't been eating nothing as has disagreed with you, have you, pardner?'
'Why, yes, I have,' said Gaffer. 'I have been swallowing too much of that word, Pardner. I am no pardner of yours.'
'Since when was you no pardner of mine, Gaffer Hexam Esquire?'
'Since you was accused of robbing a man. Accused of robbing a live man!' said Gaffer, with great indignation.
'And what if I had been accused of robbing a dead man, Gaffer?'
'You COULDN'T do it.'
'Couldn't you, Gaffer?'
'No. Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? 'Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. How can money be a corpse's? Can a corpse own it, want it, spend it, claim it, miss it? Don't try to go confounding the rights and wrongs of things in that way. But it's worthy of the sneaking spirit that robs a live man.'
'I'll tell you what it is--.'
'No you won't. I'll tell you what it is. You got off with a short time of it for putting you're hand in the pocket of a sailor, a live sailor. Make the most of it and think yourself lucky, but don't think after that to come over ME with your pardners. We have worked together in time past, but we work together no more in time present nor yet future. Let go. Cast off!'
'Gaffer! If you think to get rid of me this way--.'
'If I don't get rid of you this way, I'll try another, and chop you over the fingers with the stretcher, or take a pick at your head with the boat-hook. Cast off! Pull you, Lizzie. Pull home, since you won't let your father pull.'
Lizzie shot ahead, and the other boat fell astern. Lizzie's father, composing himself into the easy attitude of one who had asserted the high moralities and taken an unassailable position, slowly lighted a pipe, and smoked, and took a survey of what he had in tow.