Silence fell over the table.

“I haven’t either,” Thorn said.

“You?” Dusso looked astounded.

Thorn shrugged. “I didn’t plan on ever going back in either.”

“You’re a swell, ain’t that right,” Geordie said. “No need to swim.”

Now there was a reason to swim. An hour later they were down by the water, all but Geordie stripped to their smalls.

Thorn had avoided the river for years, and the smell—the fishy, murky odor of his childhood—came back like a blow.

He’d forgotten the endless detritus of the river: branches, old clothes, dead rats, wine bottles . . . everything in London seemed to float down its largest tributary, swirling through eddies, scraping by rocks, floating alongside boats, dead goats, and mudlarks.

They clustered on the bank hard by the bridge, as close as possible to where the marquess’s curricle had gone into the water. Thorn cast a critical eye at his gang. He’d give his right arm to have Will with them; it was as if there was a silent patch of air that should hold Rose’s father. Will would have made sure the marquess’s jewels came up from the depths. “You sure you want to go in, Bink?”

Bink was thin but sinewy. He set his jaw. “I ain’t looking forward to it, but I’ve got two daughters. I need that money.”

“You all remember how the current fetches up against the bank and smashes into a rock,” Thorn said, pointing at the curve. “For God’s sake, don’t put your foot down in the mud, and watch your hands. Keep your gloves on. It’ll make it harder to swim, but I want no sliced fingers.”

“Got me a nice teacup there once,” shouted the irrepressible Dusso.

The sun was shining, but the Thames didn’t reflect the sky’s blue; it was liquid gray, the color of silt and debris.

“Exactly where’d the currickle go in?” Bink asked.

“See that newer length of brass there?” Thorn said, pointing to a spot along the bridge’s parapet.

“If it went in there,” Bink said, his eyes darting from bridge to water, “she would have swung about this way, my guess.”

“Driver was thrown out when it hit the water,” Dusso said. They were all focused now. They were, after all, the survivors of Grindel’s cruel games. He used to throw a shoe in and make them learn the currents by fetching it—or there’d be no dinner.

They used to dive precisely into the spot where housemaids dumped the chamber pots and the kitchen staff dumped the scraps: you never knew when a silver spoon would end up in the mix.

“I think the carriage landed here,” Thorn said, pointing.

“Wife and he were caught in the current, along with the joowels. If he lost the bag around there, it would have fetched up on the curve,” Dusso concluded.

“Into the shit,” Thorn began, but they all interrupted and shouted it together. “Into the shit and bring out the bloody pig!” It was Grindel’s old call.

“Here’s hoping that hairy-arsed prigger is in a hot place,” Bink said, crossing himself.

“He was an arse,” Dusso shouted, jumping off the bank, white belly flashing in the sun.

A moment later they were all bobbing at the edge. Thorn knew the river, at least this part of it, like the back of his hand. The pouch’s weight would have sunk it in the silt, but not too deep, since the current was strong enough to keep the muck fairly shallow.

“It’s too dangerous at the bend,” he told his men. “I don’t want anyone diving where the current cuts around that rock.” The water took on a low whistle as it swept around the curve.

“There might be a pileup there,” Bink objected. “Will would have been down there first.”

That was true: Rose’s father had been a daredevil who always wanted to win more than he’d cared to live. “It’s not worth your life,” Thorn said. “Your daughters need you. Respect the river, Bink.”

They’d learned that lesson the hard way. Their master, Grindel, had been evil; the river itself wasn’t evil, but it was temperamental. One day it was tranquil and the next it was a demon dragging a man down to the bottom.

Bink grunted.

“Geordie, keep an eye out,” Thorn shouted, and Geordie nodded. “I’ll go down with Dusso; Bink, you stay above this time around.”

Thorn took a deep breath, reckoned the exact spot on the bank he wanted to explore, and dove deep. The water roared past his ears, and the only reason he sensed the approaching bank was that a deeper dark loomed before him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Bink’s legs waving above like pale fish.

He felt along the muddy bank until he felt his lungs bursting, then kicked up and broke the surface. He got his bearings and realized that he hadn’t searched the exact area he wanted.

Dusso surfaced just beside him. “I’ll be damned if I know where to go,” he said, gasping. “I’ve put it all out of my mind and I can’t seem to get too deep. My belly’s in the way.”

“Look there,” Thorn said, pointing to the spot he’d picked out. “I’m going to swim over there. If you look up, you’ll see my legs.”

“I’ll go down this time,” Bink shouted.

Thorn fought his way through the current and caught the overhanging branch of an alder. “Below me,” he shouted.

The two men disappeared, and for a moment the sun glinted on the surface of the water as if it were clean and serene.

Bink came back up, shook his head, took a gulp of air, and kicked his way back down again.

The afternoon passed like that. By the time they gave up, they reeked of the Thames, an noisome blend of fish, potatoes, coal smoke, and rain. It clung to their skin and soaked through their clothes and into the seats of Thorn’s carriage.

At home, they bathed and dressed, and he introduced the lads to Rose. That evening, and the next, and the next after that passed as they spun tales of Will’s bravery.

By the fourth day, they were all tired. They’d gone down scores of times, but the pouch still eluded them. Only inherent stubbornness kept Thorn in the water. Bink and Dusso were diving, Geordie was on the bank, and Thorn was on the surface.

Thorn hung on to the alder branch, watching the water where the men disappeared. Damn it, he was wasting their time and his own. The bag was either at the curve, where it was worth a man’s life to fish it out, or it had washed down the river and fetched up at one of a hundred different spots.

He was a fool. Eleven years is an eternity in the life of a river.

He missed India in a piercing way that shook him to the core. When he’d offered her that diamond ring, he had been consumed with desire: he wanted her back. In his bed, in his arms.

But now he felt as if her absence had ripped him open and stabbed him in the heart. He didn’t just love her the way a silly poet loved a maiden. He felt a primal, clawing need every time he thought of her.

It was mad. Or he was mad.

Abruptly he realized that Bink hadn’t come back up. Dusso was bobbing near the bank. Damn it, his attention had wavered.

He was about to dive when Bink’s head broke the water. The man seemed to have lost a stone in the last four days; his cheekbones jutted from his face. He splashed over to the alder and hung on to it, gasping harshly. Copyright 2016 - 2024