Part 3 out of 4
that stupendous page of history, the meaning whereof was to be translated
to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by one Oliver
Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.
It is a fine summer morning - sunny, soft, and still. But through the
air there runs a thrill of coming stir. King John has slept at Duncroft
Hall, and all the day before the little town of Staines has echoed to the
clang of armed men, and the clatter of great horses over its rough
stones, and the shouts of captains, and the grim oaths and surly jests of
bearded bowmen, billmen, pikemen, and strange-speaking foreign spearmen.
Gay-cloaked companies of knights and squires have ridden in, all travel-
stained and dusty. And all the evening long the timid townsmen's doors
have had to be quick opened to let in rough groups of soldiers, for whom
there must be found both board and lodging, and the best of both, or woe
betide the house and all within; for the sword is judge and jury,
plaintiff and executioner, in these tempestuous times, and pays for what
it takes by sparing those from whom it takes it, if it pleases it to do
Round the camp-fire in the market-place gather still more of the Barons'
troops, and eat and drink deep, and bellow forth roystering drinking
songs, and gamble and quarrel as the evening grows and deepens into
night. The firelight sheds quaint shadows on their piled-up arms and on
their uncouth forms. The children of the town steal round to watch them,
wondering; and brawny country wenches, laughing, draw near to bandy ale-
house jest and jibe with the swaggering troopers, so unlike the village
swains, who, now despised, stand apart behind, with vacant grins upon
their broad, peering faces. And out from the fields around, glitter the
faint lights of more distant camps, as here some great lord's followers
lie mustered, and there false John's French mercenaries hover like
crouching wolves without the town.
And so, with sentinel in each dark street, and twinkling watch-fires on
each height around, the night has worn away, and over this fair valley of
old Thame has broken the morning of the great day that is to close so big
with the fate of ages yet unborn.
Ever since grey dawn, in the lower of the two islands, just above where
we are standing, there has been great clamour, and the sound of many
workmen. The great pavilion brought there yester eve is being raised,
and carpenters are busy nailing tiers of seats, while `prentices from
London town are there with many-coloured stuffs and silks and cloth of
gold and silver.
And now, lo! down upon the road that winds along the river's bank from
Staines there come towards us, laughing and talking together in deep
guttural bass, a half-a-score of stalwart halbert-men - Barons' men,
these - and halt at a hundred yards or so above us, on the other bank,
and lean upon their arms, and wait.
And so, from hour to hour, march up along the road ever fresh groups and
bands of armed men, their casques and breastplates flashing back the long
low lines of morning sunlight, until, as far as eye can reach, the way
seems thick with glittering steel and prancing steeds. And shouting
horsemen are galloping from group to group, and little banners are
fluttering lazily in the warm breeze, and every now and then there is a
deeper stir as the ranks make way on either side, and some great Baron on
his war-horse, with his guard of squires around him, passes along to take
his station at the head of his serfs and vassals.
And up the slope of Cooper's Hill, just opposite, are gathered the
wondering rustics and curious townsfolk, who have run from Staines, and
none are quite sure what the bustle is about, but each one has a
different version of the great event that they have come to see; and some
say that much good to all the people will come from this day's work; but
the old men shake their heads, for they have heard such tales before.
And all the river down to Staines is dotted with small craft and boats
and tiny coracles - which last are growing out of favour now, and are
used only by the poorer folk. Over the rapids, where in after years trim
Bell Weir lock will stand, they have been forced or dragged by their
sturdy rowers, and now are crowding up as near as they dare come to the
great covered barges, which lie in readiness to bear King John to where
the fateful Charter waits his signing.
It is noon, and we and all the people have been waiting patient for many
an hour, and the rumour has run round that slippery John has again
escaped from the Barons' grasp, and has stolen away from Duncroft Hall
with his mercenaries at his heels, and will soon be doing other work than
signing charters for his people's liberty.
Not so! This time the grip upon him has been one of iron, and he has
slid and wriggled in vain. Far down the road a little cloud of dust has
risen, and draws nearer and grows larger, and the pattering of many hoofs
grows louder, and in and out between the scattered groups of drawn-up
men, there pushes on its way a brilliant cavalcade of gay-dressed lords
and knights. And front and rear, and either flank, there ride the yeomen
of the Barons, and in the midst King John.
He rides to where the barges lie in readiness, and the great Barons step
forth from their ranks to meet him. He greets them with a smile and
laugh, and pleasant honeyed words, as though it were some feast in his
honour to which he had been invited. But as he rises to dismount, he
casts one hurried glance from his own French mercenaries drawn up in the
rear to the grim ranks of the Barons' men that hem him in.
Is it too late? One fierce blow at the unsuspecting horseman at his
side, one cry to his French troops, one desperate charge upon the unready
lines before him, and these rebellious Barons might rue the day they
dared to thwart his plans! A bolder hand might have turned the game even
at that point. Had it been a Richard there! the cup of liberty might
have been dashed from England's lips, and the taste of freedom held back
for a hundred years.
But the heart of King John sinks before the stern faces of the English
fighting men, and the arm of King John drops back on to his rein, and he
dismounts and takes his seat in the foremost barge. And the Barons
follow in, with each mailed hand upon the sword-hilt, and the word is
given to let go.
Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runningmede.
Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till,
with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that
from this day will bear the name of Magna Charta Island. And King John
has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a
great shout cleaves the air, and the great cornerstone in England's
temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.
HENRY VIII. AND ANNE BOLEYN. - DISADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN SAME HOUSE WITH
PAIR OF LOVERS. - A TRYING TIME FOR THE ENGLISH NATION. - A NIGHT SEARCH
FOR THE PICTURESQUE. - HOMELESS AND HOUSELESS. - HARRIS PREPARES TO DIE.
- AN ANGEL COMES ALONG. - EFFECT OF SUDDEN JOY ON HARRIS. - A LITTLE
SUPPER. - LUNCH. - HIGH PRICE FOR MUSTARD. - A FEARFUL BATTLE. -
MAIDENHEAD. - SAILING. - THREE FISHERS. - WE ARE CURSED.
I WAS sitting on the bank, conjuring up this scene to myself, when George
remarked that when I was quite rested, perhaps I would not mind helping
to wash up; and, thus recalled from the days of the glorious past to the
prosaic present, with all its misery and sin, I slid down into the boat
and cleaned out the frying-pan with a stick of wood and a tuft of grass,
polishing it up finally with George's wet shirt.
We went over to Magna Charta Island, and had a look at the stone which
stands in the cottage there and on which the great Charter is said to
have been signed; though, as to whether it really was signed there, or,
as some say, on the other bank at "Runningmede," I decline to commit
myself. As far as my own personal opinion goes, however, I am inclined
to give weight to the popular island theory. Certainly, had I been one
of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades
the advisability of our getting such a slippery customer as King John on
to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks.
There are the ruins of an old priory in the grounds of Ankerwyke House,
which is close to Picnic Point, and it was round about the grounds of
this old priory that Henry VIII. is said to have waited for and met Anne
Boleyn. He also used to meet her at Hever Castle in Kent, and also
somewhere near St. Albans. It must have been difficult for the people of
England in those days to have found a spot where these thoughtless young
folk were NOT spooning.
Have you ever been in a house where there are a couple courting? It is
most trying. You think you will go and sit in the drawing-room, and you
march off there. As you open the door, you hear a noise as if somebody
had suddenly recollected something, and, when you get in, Emily is over
by the window, full of interest in the opposite side of the road, and
your friend, John Edward, is at the other end of the room with his whole
soul held in thrall by photographs of other people's relatives.
"Oh!" you say, pausing at the door, "I didn't know anybody was here."
"Oh! didn't you?" says Emily, coldly, in a tone which implies that she
does not believe you.
You hang about for a bit, then you say:
"It's very dark. Why don't you light the gas?"
John Edward says, "Oh!" he hadn't noticed it; and Emily says that papa
does not like the gas lit in the afternoon.
You tell them one or two items of news, and give them your views and
opinions on the Irish question; but this does not appear to interest
them. All they remark on any subject is, "Oh!" "Is it?" "Did he?"
"Yes," and "You don't say so!" And, after ten minutes of such style of
conversation, you edge up to the door, and slip out, and are surprised to
find that the door immediately closes behind you, and shuts itself,
without your having touched it.
Half an hour later, you think you will try a pipe in the conservatory.
The only chair in the place is occupied by Emily; and John Edward, if the
language of clothes can be relied upon, has evidently been sitting on the
floor. They do not speak, but they give you a look that says all that
can be said in a civilised community; and you back out promptly and shut
the door behind you.
You are afraid to poke your nose into any room in the house now; so,
after walking up and down the stairs for a while, you go and sit in your
own bedroom. This becomes uninteresting, however, after a time, and so
you put on your hat and stroll out into the garden. You walk down the
path, and as you pass the summer-house you glance in, and there are those
two young idiots, huddled up into one corner of it; and they see you, and
are evidently under the idea that, for some wicked purpose of your own,
you are following them about.
"Why don't they have a special room for this sort of thing, and make
people keep to it?" you mutter; and you rush back to the hall and get
your umbrella and go out.
It must have been much like this when that foolish boy Henry VIII. was
courting his little Anne. People in Buckinghamshire would have come upon
them unexpectedly when they were mooning round Windsor and Wraysbury, and
have exclaimed, "Oh! you here!" and Henry would have blushed and said,
"Yes; he'd just come over to see a man;" and Anne would have said, "Oh,
I'm so glad to see you! Isn't it funny? I've just met Mr. Henry VIII.
in the lane, and he's going the same way I am."
Then those people would have gone away and said to themselves: "Oh! we'd
better get out of here while this billing and cooing is on. We'll go
down to Kent."
And they would go to Kent, and the first thing they would see in Kent,
when they got there, would be Henry and Anne fooling round Hever Castle.
"Oh, drat this!" they would have said. "Here, let's go away. I can't
stand any more of it. Let's go to St. Albans - nice quiet place, St.
And when they reached St. Albans, there would be that wretched couple,
kissing under the Abbey walls. Then these folks would go and be pirates
until the marriage was over.
From Picnic Point to Old Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river.
A shady road, dotted here and there with dainty little cottages, runs by
the bank up to the "Bells of Ouseley," a picturesque inn, as most up-
river inns are, and a place where a very good glass of ale may be drunk -
so Harris says; and on a matter of this kind you can take Harris's word.
Old Windsor is a famous spot in its way. Edward the Confessor had a
palace here, and here the great Earl Godwin was proved guilty by the
justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King's
brother. Earl Godwin broke a piece of bread and held it in his hand.
"If I am guilty," said the Earl, "may this bread choke me when I eat it!"
Then he put the bread into his mouth and swallowed it, and it choked him,
and he died.
After you pass Old Windsor, the river is somewhat uninteresting, and does
not become itself again until you are nearing Boveney. George and I
towed up past the Home Park, which stretches along the right bank from
Albert to Victoria Bridge; and as we were passing Datchet, George asked
me if I remembered our first trip up the river, and when we landed at
Datchet at ten o'clock at night, and wanted to go to bed.
I answered that I did remember it. It will be some time before I forget
It was the Saturday before the August Bank Holiday. We were tired and
hungry, we same three, and when we got to Datchet we took out the hamper,
the two bags, and the rugs and coats, and such like things, and started
off to look for diggings. We passed a very pretty little hotel, with
clematis and creeper over the porch; but there was no honeysuckle about
it, and, for some reason or other, I had got my mind fixed on
honeysuckle, and I said:
"Oh, don't let's go in there! Let's go on a bit further, and see if
there isn't one with honeysuckle over it."
So we went on till we came to another hotel. That was a very nice hotel,
too, and it had honey-suckle on it, round at the side; but Harris did not
like the look of a man who was leaning against the front door. He said
he didn't look a nice man at all, and he wore ugly boots: so we went on
further. We went a goodish way without coming across any more hotels,
and then we met a man, and asked him to direct us to a few.
"Why, you are coming away from them. You must turn right round and go
back, and then you will come to the Stag."
"Oh, we had been there, and didn't like it - no honeysuckle over it."
"Well, then," he said, "there's the Manor House, just opposite. Have you
Harris replied that we did not want to go there - didn't like the looks
of a man who was stopping there - Harris did not like the colour of his
hair, didn't like his boots, either.
"Well, I don't know what you'll do, I'm sure," said our informant;
"because they are the only two inns in the place."
"No other inns!" exclaimed Harris.
"None," replied the man.
"What on earth are we to do?" cried Harris.
Then George spoke up. He said Harris and I could get an hotel built for
us, if we liked, and have some people made to put in. For his part, he
was going back to the Stag.
The greatest minds never realise their ideals in any matter; and Harris
and I sighed over the hollowness of all earthly desires, and followed
We took our traps into the Stag, and laid them down in the hall.
The landlord came up and said:
"Good evening, gentlemen."
"Oh, good evening," said George; "we want three beds, please."
"Very sorry, sir," said the landlord; "but I'm afraid we can't manage
"Oh, well, never mind," said George, "two will do. Two of us can sleep
in one bed, can't we?" he continued, turning to Harris and me.
Harris said, "Oh, yes;" he thought George and I could sleep in one bed
"Very sorry, sir," again repeated the landlord: "but we really haven't
got a bed vacant in the whole house. In fact, we are putting two, and
even three gentlemen in one bed, as it is."
This staggered us for a bit.
But Harris, who is an old traveller, rose to the occasion, and, laughing
"Oh, well, we can't help it. We must rough it. You must give us a
shake-down in the billiard-room."
"Very sorry, sir. Three gentlemen sleeping on the billiard-table
already, and two in the coffee-room. Can't possibly take you in to-
We picked up our things, and went over to the Manor House. It was a
pretty little place. I said I thought I should like it better than the
other house; and Harris said, "Oh, yes," it would be all right, and we
needn't look at the man with the red hair; besides, the poor fellow
couldn't help having red hair.
Harris spoke quite kindly and sensibly about it.
The people at the Manor House did not wait to hear us talk. The landlady
met us on the doorstep with the greeting that we were the fourteenth
party she had turned away within the last hour and a half. As for our
meek suggestions of stables, billiard-room, or coal-cellars, she laughed
them all to scorn: all these nooks had been snatched up long ago.
Did she know of any place in the whole village where we could get shelter
for the night?
"Well, if we didn't mind roughing it - she did not recommend it, mind -
but there was a little beershop half a mile down the Eton road - "
We waited to hear no more; we caught up the hamper and the bags, and the
coats and rugs, and parcels, and ran. The distance seemed more like a
mile than half a mile, but we reached the place at last, and rushed,
panting, into the bar.
The people at the beershop were rude. They merely laughed at us. There
were only three beds in the whole house, and they had seven single
gentlemen and two married couples sleeping there already. A kind-hearted
bargeman, however, who happened to be in the tap-room, thought we might
try the grocer's, next door to the Stag, and we went back.
The grocer's was full. An old woman we met in the shop then kindly took
us along with her for a quarter of a mile, to a lady friend of hers, who
occasionally let rooms to gentlemen.
This old woman walked very slowly, and we were twenty minutes getting to
her lady friend's. She enlivened the journey by describing to us, as we
trailed along, the various pains she had in her back.
Her lady friend's rooms were let. From there we were recommended to No.
27. No. 27 was full, and sent us to No. 32, and 32 was full.
Then we went back into the high road, and Harris sat down on the hamper
and said he would go no further. He said it seemed a quiet spot, and he
would like to die there. He requested George and me to kiss his mother
for him, and to tell all his relations that he forgave them and died
At that moment an angel came by in the disguise of a small boy (and I
cannot think of any more effective disguise an angel could have assumed),
with a can of beer in one hand, and in the other something at the end of
a string, which he let down on to every flat stone he came across, and
then pulled up again, this producing a peculiarly unattractive sound,
suggestive of suffering.
We asked this heavenly messenger (as we discovered him afterwards to be)
if he knew of any lonely house, whose occupants were few and feeble (old
ladies or paralysed gentlemen preferred), who could be easily frightened
into giving up their beds for the night to three desperate men; or, if
not this, could he recommend us to an empty pigstye, or a disused
limekiln, or anything of that sort. He did not know of any such place -
at least, not one handy; but he said that, if we liked to come with him,
his mother had a room to spare, and could put us up for the night.
We fell upon his neck there in the moonlight and blessed him, and it
would have made a very beautiful picture if the boy himself had not been
so over-powered by our emotion as to be unable to sustain himself under
it, and sunk to the ground, letting us all down on top of him. Harris
was so overcome with joy that he fainted, and had to seize the boy's
beer-can and half empty it before he could recover consciousness, and
then he started off at a run, and left George and me to bring on the
It was a little four-roomed cottage where the boy lived, and his mother -
good soul! - gave us hot bacon for supper, and we ate it all - five
pounds - and a jam tart afterwards, and two pots of tea, and then we went
to bed. There were two beds in the room; one was a 2ft. 6in. truckle
bed, and George and I slept in that, and kept in by tying ourselves
together with a sheet; and the other was the little boy's bed, and Harris
had that all to himself, and we found him, in the morning, with two feet
of bare leg sticking out at the bottom, and George and I used it to hang
the towels on while we bathed.
We were not so uppish about what sort of hotel we would have, next time
we went to Datchet.
To return to our present trip: nothing exciting happened, and we tugged
steadily on to a little below Monkey Island, where we drew up and
lunched. We tackled the cold beef for lunch, and then we found that we
had forgotten to bring any mustard. I don't think I ever in my life,
before or since, felt I wanted mustard as badly as I felt I wanted it
then. I don't care for mustard as a rule, and it is very seldom that I
take it at all, but I would have given worlds for it then.
I don't know how many worlds there may be in the universe, but anyone who
had brought me a spoonful of mustard at that precise moment could have
had them all. I grow reckless like that when I want a thing and can't
Harris said he would have given worlds for mustard too. It would have
been a good thing for anybody who had come up to that spot with a can of
mustard, then: he would have been set up in worlds for the rest of his
But there! I daresay both Harris and I would have tried to back out of
the bargain after we had got the mustard. One makes these extravagant
offers in moments of excitement, but, of course, when one comes to think
of it, one sees how absurdly out of proportion they are with the value of
the required article. I heard a man, going up a mountain in Switzerland,
once say he would give worlds for a glass of beer, and, when he came to a
little shanty where they kept it, he kicked up a most fearful row because
they charged him five francs for a bottle of Bass. He said it was a
scandalous imposition, and he wrote to the TIMES about it.
It cast a gloom over the boat, there being no mustard. We ate our beef
in silence. Existence seemed hollow and uninteresting. We thought of
the happy days of childhood, and sighed. We brightened up a bit,
however, over the apple-tart, and, when George drew out a tin of pine-
apple from the bottom of the hamper, and rolled it into the middle of the
boat, we felt that life was worth living after all.
We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us. We looked at the
picture on the tin; we thought of the juice. We smiled at one another,
and Harris got a spoon ready.
Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with. We turned out
everything in the hamper. We turned out the bags. We pulled up the
boards at the bottom of the boat. We took everything out on to the bank
and shook it. There was no tin-opener to be found.
Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the
knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the
scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing
their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of
the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat
and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over,
uninjured, and broke a teacup.
Then we all got mad. We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went
up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat
and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the
sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and
poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought
It was George's straw hat that saved his life that day. He keeps that
hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter's evening, when the pipes
are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have
passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the
stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.
Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.
After that, I took the tin off myself, and hammered at it with the mast
till I was worn out and sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand.
We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every
form known to geometry - but we could not make a hole in it. Then George
went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so
unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away
the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it.
There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a
mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the
thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river,
and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and
rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead.
Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant. It is the haunt of the
river swell and his overdressed female companion. It is the town of
showy hotels, patronised chiefly by dudes and ballet girls. It is the
witch's kitchen from which go forth those demons of the river - steam-
launches. The LONDON JOURNAL duke always has his "little place" at
Maidenhead; and the heroine of the three-volume novel always dines there
when she goes out on the spree with somebody else's husband.
We went through Maidenhead quickly, and then eased up, and took leisurely
that grand reach beyond Boulter's and Cookham locks. Clieveden Woods
still wore their dainty dress of spring, and rose up, from the water's
edge, in one long harmony of blended shades of fairy green. In its
unbroken loveliness this is, perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the
river, and lingeringly we slowly drew our little boat away from its deep
We pulled up in the backwater, just below Cookham, and had tea; and, when
we were through the lock, it was evening. A stiffish breeze had sprung
up - in our favour, for a wonder; for, as a rule on the river, the wind
is always dead against you whatever way you go. It is against you in the
morning, when you start for a day's trip, and you pull a long distance,
thinking how easy it will be to come back with the sail. Then, after
tea, the wind veers round, and you have to pull hard in its teeth all the
When you forget to take the sail at all, then the wind is consistently in
your favour both ways. But there! this world is only a probation, and
man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.
This evening, however, they had evidently made a mistake, and had put the
wind round at our back instead of in our face. We kept very quiet about
it, and got the sail up quickly before they found it out, and then we
spread ourselves about the boat in thoughtful attitudes, and the sail
bellied out, and strained, and grumbled at the mast, and the boat flew.
There is no more thrilling sensation I know of than sailing. It comes as
near to flying as man has got to yet - except in dreams. The wings of
the rushing wind seem to be bearing you onward, you know not where. You
are no longer the slow, plodding, puny thing of clay, creeping tortuously
upon the ground; you are a part of Nature! Your heart is throbbing
against hers! Her glorious arms are round you, raising you up against
her heart! Your spirit is at one with hers; your limbs grow light! The
voices of the air are singing to you. The earth seems far away and
little; and the clouds, so close above your head, are brothers, and you
stretch your arms to them.
We had the river to ourselves, except that, far in the distance, we could
see a fishing-punt, moored in mid-stream, on which three fishermen sat;
and we skimmed over the water, and passed the wooded banks, and no one
I was steering.
As we drew nearer, we could see that the three men fishing seemed old and
solemn-looking men. They sat on three chairs in the punt, and watched
intently their lines. And the red sunset threw a mystic light upon the
waters, and tinged with fire the towering woods, and made a golden glory
of the piled-up clouds. It was an hour of deep enchantment, of ecstatic
hope and longing. The little sail stood out against the purple sky, the
gloaming lay around us, wrapping the world in rainbow shadows; and,
behind us, crept the night.
We seemed like knights of some old legend, sailing across some mystic
lake into the unknown realm of twilight, unto the great land of the
We did not go into the realm of twilight; we went slap into that punt,
where those three old men were fishing. We did not know what had
happened at first, because the sail shut out the view, but from the
nature of the language that rose up upon the evening air, we gathered
that we had come into the neighbourhood of human beings, and that they
were vexed and discontented.
Harris let the sail down, and then we saw what had happened. We had
knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs into a general heap at
the bottom of the boat, and they were now slowly and painfully sorting
themselves out from each other, and picking fish off themselves; and as
they worked, they cursed us - not with a common cursory curse, but with
long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the
whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included
all our relations, and covered everything connected with us - good,
Harris told them they ought to be grateful for a little excitement,
sitting there fishing all day, and he also said that he was shocked and
grieved to hear men their age give way to temper so.
But it did not do any good.
George said he would steer, after that. He said a mind like mine ought
not to be expected to give itself away in steering boats - better let a
mere commonplace human being see after that boat, before we jolly well
all got drowned; and he took the lines, and brought us up to Marlow.
And at Marlow we left the boat by the bridge, and went and put up for the
night at the "Crown."
MARLOW. - BISHAM ABBEY. - THE MEDMENHAM MONKS. - MONTMORENCY THINKS HE
WILL MURDER AN OLD TOM CAT. - BUT EVENTUALLY DECIDES THAT HE WILL LET IT
LIVE. - SHAMEFUL CONDUCT OF A FOX TERRIER AT THE CIVIL SERVICE STORES. -
OUR DEPARTURE FROM MARLOW. - AN IMPOSING PROCESSION. - THE STEAM LAUNCH,
USEFUL RECEIPTS FOR ANNOYING AND HINDERING IT. - WE DECLINE TO DRINK THE
RIVER. - A PEACEFUL DOG. - STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARRIS AND A PIE.
MARLOW is one of the pleasantest river centres I know of. It is a
bustling, lively little town; not very picturesque on the whole, it is
true, but there are many quaint nooks and corners to be found in it,
nevertheless - standing arches in the shattered bridge of Time, over
which our fancy travels back to the days when Marlow Manor owned Saxon
Algar for its lord, ere conquering William seized it to give to Queen
Matilda, ere it passed to the Earls of Warwick or to worldly-wise Lord
Paget, the councillor of four successive sovereigns.
There is lovely country round about it, too, if, after boating, you are
fond of a walk, while the river itself is at its best here. Down to
Cookham, past the Quarry Woods and the meadows, is a lovely reach. Dear
old Quarry Woods! with your narrow, climbing paths, and little winding
glades, how scented to this hour you seem with memories of sunny summer
days! How haunted are your shadowy vistas with the ghosts of laughing
faces! how from your whispering leaves there softly fall the voices of
From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet. Grand old Bisham Abbey,
whose stone walls have rung to the shouts of the Knights Templars, and
which, at one time, was the home of Anne of Cleves and at another of
Queen Elizabeth, is passed on the right bank just half a mile above
Marlow Bridge. Bisham Abbey is rich in melodramatic properties. It
contains a tapestry bed-chamber, and a secret room hid high up in the
thick walls. The ghost of the Lady Holy, who beat her little boy to
death, still walks there at night, trying to wash its ghostly hands clean
in a ghostly basin.
Warwick, the king-maker, rests there, careless now about such trivial
things as earthly kings and earthly kingdoms; and Salisbury, who did good
service at Poitiers. Just before you come to the abbey, and right on the
river's bank, is Bisham Church, and, perhaps, if any tombs are worth
inspecting, they are the tombs and monuments in Bisham Church. It was
while floating in his boat under the Bisham beeches that Shelley, who was
then living at Marlow (you can see his house now, in West street),
composed THE REVOLT OF ISLAM.
By Hurley Weir, a little higher up, I have often thought that I could
stay a month without having sufficient time to drink in all the beauty of
the scene. The village of Hurley, five minutes' walk from the lock, is
as old a little spot as there is on the river, dating, as it does, to
quote the quaint phraseology of those dim days, "from the times of King
Sebert and King Offa." Just past the weir (going up) is Danes' Field,
where the invading Danes once encamped, during their march to
Gloucestershire; and a little further still, nestling by a sweet corner
of the stream, is what is left of Medmenham Abbey.
The famous Medmenham monks, or "Hell Fire Club," as they were commonly
called, and of whom the notorious Wilkes was a member, were a fraternity
whose motto was "Do as you please," and that invitation still stands over
the ruined doorway of the abbey. Many years before this bogus abbey,
with its congregation of irreverent jesters, was founded, there stood
upon this same spot a monastery of a sterner kind, whose monks were of a
somewhat different type to the revellers that were to follow them, five
hundred years afterwards.
The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century,
wore no clothes but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish,
nor eggs. They lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass. They
spent the day in labour, reading, and prayer; and over all their lives
there fell a silence as of death, for no one spoke.
A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had
made so bright! Strange that Nature's voices all around them - the soft
singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass, the music of
the rushing wind - should not have taught them a truer meaning of life
than this. They listened there, through the long days, in silence,
waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through the solemn
night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.
From Medmenham to sweet Hambledon Lock the river is full of peaceful
beauty, but, after it passes Greenlands, the rather uninteresting looking
river residence of my newsagent - a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who
may often be met with about these regions, during the summer months,
sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to
some old lock-keeper, as he passes through - until well the other side of
Henley, it is somewhat bare and dull.
We got up tolerably early on the Monday morning at Marlow, and went for a
bathe before breakfast; and, coming back, Montmorency made an awful ass
of himself. The only subject on which Montmorency and I have any serious
difference of opinion is cats. I like cats; Montmorency does not.
When I meet a cat, I say, "Poor Pussy!" and stop down and tickle the side
of its head; and the cat sticks up its tail in a rigid, cast-iron manner,
arches its back, and wipes its nose up against my trousers; and all is
gentleness and peace. When Montmorency meets a cat, the whole street
knows about it; and there is enough bad language wasted in ten seconds to
last an ordinarily respectable man all his life, with care.
I do not blame the dog (contenting myself, as a rule, with merely
clouting his head or throwing stones at him), because I take it that it
is his nature. Fox-terriers are born with about four times as much
original sin in them as other dogs are, and it will take years and years
of patient effort on the part of us Christians to bring about any
appreciable reformation in the rowdiness of the fox-terrier nature.
I remember being in the lobby of the Haymarket Stores one day, and all
round about me were dogs, waiting for the return of their owners, who
were shopping inside. There were a mastiff, and one or two collies, and
a St. Bernard, a few retrievers and Newfoundlands, a boar-hound, a French
poodle, with plenty of hair round its head, but mangy about the middle; a
bull-dog, a few Lowther Arcade sort of animals, about the size of rats,
and a couple of Yorkshire tykes.
There they sat, patient, good, and thoughtful. A solemn peacefulness
seemed to reign in that lobby. An air of calmness and resignation - of
gentle sadness pervaded the room.
Then a sweet young lady entered, leading a meek-looking little fox-
terrier, and left him, chained up there, between the bull-dog and the
poodle. He sat and looked about him for a minute. Then he cast up his
eyes to the ceiling, and seemed, judging from his expression, to be
thinking of his mother. Then he yawned. Then he looked round at the
other dogs, all silent, grave, and dignified.
He looked at the bull-dog, sleeping dreamlessly on his right. He looked
at the poodle, erect and haughty, on his left. Then, without a word of
warning, without the shadow of a provocation, he bit that poodle's near
fore-leg, and a yelp of agony rang through the quiet shades of that
The result of his first experiment seemed highly satisfactory to him, and
he determined to go on and make things lively all round. He sprang over
the poodle and vigorously attacked a collie, and the collie woke up, and
immediately commenced a fierce and noisy contest with the poodle. Then
Foxey came back to his own place, and caught the bull-dog by the ear, and
tried to throw him away; and the bull-dog, a curiously impartial animal,
went for everything he could reach, including the hall-porter, which gave
that dear little terrier the opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted fight
of his own with an equally willing Yorkshire tyke.
Anyone who knows canine nature need hardly, be told that, by this time,
all the other dogs in the place were fighting as if their hearths and
homes depended on the fray. The big dogs fought each other
indiscriminately; and the little dogs fought among themselves, and filled
up their spare time by biting the legs of the big dogs.
The whole lobby was a perfect pandemonium, and the din was terrific. A
crowd assembled outside in the Haymarket, and asked if it was a vestry
meeting; or, if not, who was being murdered, and why? Men came with
poles and ropes, and tried to separate the dogs, and the police were sent
And in the midst of the riot that sweet young lady returned, and snatched
up that sweet little dog of hers (he had laid the tyke up for a month,
and had on the expression, now, of a new-born lamb) into her arms, and
kissed him, and asked him if he was killed, and what those great nasty
brutes of dogs had been doing to him; and he nestled up against her, and
gazed up into her face with a look that seemed to say: "Oh, I'm so glad
you've come to take me away from this disgraceful scene!"
She said that the people at the Stores had no right to allow great savage
things like those other dogs to be put with respectable people's dogs,
and that she had a great mind to summon somebody.
Such is the nature of fox-terriers; and, therefore, I do not blame
Montmorency for his tendency to row with cats; but he wished he had not
given way to it that morning.
We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High
Street a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began
to trot across the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy - the cry of a
stern warrior who sees his enemy given over to his hands - the sort of
cry Cromwell might have uttered when the Scots came down the hill - and
flew after his prey.
His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more
disreputable-looking cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears,
and a fairly appreciable proportion of its nose. It was a long, sinewy-
looking animal. It had a calm, contented air about it.
Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour;
but the cat did not hurry up - did not seem to have grasped the idea that
its life was in danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be
assassin was within a yard of it, and then it turned round and sat down
in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency with a gentle,
inquiring expression, that said:
"Yes! You want me?"
Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look
of that cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He
stopped abruptly, and looked back at Tom.
Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as
THE CAT: "Can I do anything for you?"
MONTMORENCY: "No - no, thanks."
THE CAT: "Don't you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you
MONTMORENCY (BACKING DOWN THE HIGH STREET): "Oh, no - not at all -
certainly - don't you trouble. I - I am afraid I've made a mistake. I
thought I knew you. Sorry I disturbed you."
THE CAT: "Not at all - quite a pleasure. Sure you don't want anything,
MONTMORENCY (STILL BACKING): "Not at all, thanks - not at all - very kind
of you. Good morning."
THE CAT: "Good-morning."
Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what
he calls his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up
an unimportant position in the rear.
To this day, if you say the word "Cats!" to Montmorency, he will visibly
shrink and look up piteously at you, as if to say:
We did our marketing after breakfast, and revictualled the boat for three
days. George said we ought to take vegetables - that it was unhealthy
not to eat vegetables. He said they were easy enough to cook, and that
he would see to that; so we got ten pounds of potatoes, a bushel of peas,
and a few cabbages. We got a beefsteak pie, a couple of gooseberry
tarts, and a leg of mutton from the hotel; and fruit, and cakes, and
bread and butter, and jam, and bacon and eggs, and other things we
foraged round about the town for.
Our departure from Marlow I regard as one of our greatest successes. It
was dignified and impressive, without being ostentatious. We had
insisted at all the shops we had been to that the things should be sent
with us then and there. None of your "Yes, sir, I will send them off at
once: the boy will be down there before you are, sir!" and then fooling
about on the landing-stage, and going back to the shop twice to have a
row about them, for us. We waited while the basket was packed, and took
the boy with us.
We went to a good many shops, adopting this principle at each one; and
the consequence was that, by the time we had finished, we had as fine a
collection of boys with baskets following us around as heart could
desire; and our final march down the middle of the High Street, to the
river, must have been as imposing a spectacle as Marlow had seen for many
a long day.
The order of the procession was as follows:-
Montmorency, carrying a stick.
Two disreputable-looking curs, friends of Montmorency's.
George, carrying coats and rugs, and smoking a short pipe.
Harris, trying to walk with easy grace,
while carrying a bulged-out Gladstone bag in one hand
and a bottle of lime-juice in the other.
Greengrocer's boy and baker's boy,
Boots from the hotel, carrying hamper.
Confectioner's boy, with basket.
Grocer's boy, with basket.
Cheesemonger's boy, with basket.
Odd man carrying a bag.
Bosom companion of odd man, with his hands in his pockets,
smoking a short clay.
Fruiterer's boy, with basket.
Myself, carrying three hats and a pair of boots,
and trying to look as if I didn't know it.
Six small boys, and four stray dogs.
When we got down to the landing-stage, the boatman said:
"Let me see, sir; was yours a steam-launch or a house-boat?"
On our informing him it was a double-sculling skiff, he seemed surprised.
We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was
just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers;
some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I
suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I
should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the
silence and the solitude, strangle it.
There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack
of rousing every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old
days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them
with a hatchet and a bow and arrows. The expression on the face of the
man who, with his hands in his pockets, stands by the stern, smoking a
cigar, is sufficient to excuse a breach of the peace by itself; and the
lordly whistle for you to get out of the way would, I am confident,
ensure a verdict of "justifiable homicide" from any jury of river men.
They used to HAVE to whistle for us to get out of their way. If I may do
so, without appearing boastful, I think I can honestly say that our one
small boat, during that week, caused more annoyance and delay and
aggravation to the steam launches that we came across than all the other
craft on the river put together.
"Steam launch, coming!" one of us would cry out, on sighting the enemy in
the distance; and, in an instant, everything was got ready to receive
her. I would take the lines, and Harris and George would sit down beside
me, all of us with our backs to the launch, and the boat would drift out
quietly into mid-stream.
On would come the launch, whistling, and on we would go, drifting. At
about a hundred yards off, she would start whistling like mad, and the
people would come and lean over the side, and roar at us; but we never
heard them! Harris would be telling us an anecdote about his mother, and
George and I would not have missed a word of it for worlds.
Then that launch would give one final shriek of a whistle that would
nearly burst the boiler, and she would reverse her engines, and blow off
steam, and swing round and get aground; everyone on board of it would
rush to the bow and yell at us, and the people on the bank would stand
and shout to us, and all the other passing boats would stop and join in,
till the whole river for miles up and down was in a state of frantic
commotion. And then Harris would break off in the most interesting part
of his narrative, and look up with mild surprise, and say to George:
"Why, George, bless me, if here isn't a steam launch!"
And George would answer:
"Well, do you know, I THOUGHT I heard something!"
Upon which we would get nervous and confused, and not know how to get the
boat out of the way, and the people in the launch would crowd round and
"Pull your right - you, you idiot! back with your left. No, not YOU -
the other one - leave the lines alone, can't you - now, both together.
NOT THAT way. Oh, you - !"
Then they would lower a boat and come to our assistance; and, after
quarter of an hour's effort, would get us clean out of their way, so that
they could go on; and we would thank them so much, and ask them to give
us a tow. But they never would.
Another good way we discovered of irritating the aristocratic type of
steam launch, was to mistake them for a beanfeast, and ask them if they
were Messrs. Cubit's lot or the Bermondsey Good Templars, and could they
lend us a saucepan.
Old ladies, not accustomed to the river, are always intensely nervous of
steam launches. I remember going up once from Staines to Windsor - a
stretch of water peculiarly rich in these mechanical monstrosities - with
a party containing three ladies of this description. It was very
exciting. At the first glimpse of every steam launch that came in view,
they insisted on landing and sitting down on the bank until it was out of
sight again. They said they were very sorry, but that they owed it to
their families not to be fool-hardy.
We found ourselves short of water at Hambledon Lock; so we took our jar
and went up to the lock-keeper's house to beg for some.
George was our spokesman. He put on a winning smile, and said:
"Oh, please could you spare us a little water?"
"Certainly," replied the old gentleman; "take as much as you want, and
leave the rest."
"Thank you so much," murmured George, looking about him. "Where - where
do you keep it?"
"It's always in the same place my boy," was the stolid reply: "just
"I don't see it," said George, turning round.
"Why, bless us, where's your eyes?" was the man's comment, as he twisted
George round and pointed up and down the stream. "There's enough of it
to see, ain't there?"
"Oh!" exclaimed George, grasping the idea; "but we can't drink the river,
"No; but you can drink SOME of it," replied the old fellow. "It's what
I've drunk for the last fifteen years."
George told him that his appearance, after the course, did not seem a
sufficiently good advertisement for the brand; and that he would prefer
it out of a pump.
We got some from a cottage a little higher up. I daresay THAT was only
river water, if we had known. But we did not know, so it was all right.
What the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over.
We tried river water once, later on in the season, but it was not a
success. We were coming down stream, and had pulled up to have tea in a
backwater near Windsor. Our jar was empty, and it was a case of going
without our tea or taking water from the river. Harris was for chancing
it. He said it must be all right if we boiled the water. He said that
the various germs of poison present in the water would be killed by the
boiling. So we filled our kettle with Thames backwater, and boiled it;
and very careful we were to see that it did boil.
We had made the tea, and were just settling down comfortably to drink it,
when George, with his cup half-way to his lips, paused and exclaimed:
"What's what?" asked Harris and I.
"Why that!" said George, looking westward.
Harris and I followed his gaze, and saw, coming down towards us on the
sluggish current, a dog. It was one of the quietest and peacefullest
dogs I have ever seen. I never met a dog who seemed more contented -
more easy in its mind. It was floating dreamily on its back, with its
four legs stuck up straight into the air. It was what I should call a
full-bodied dog, with a well-developed chest. On he came, serene,
dignified, and calm, until he was abreast of our boat, and there, among
the rushes, he eased up, and settled down cosily for the evening.
George said he didn't want any tea, and emptied his cup into the water.
Harris did not feel thirsty, either, and followed suit. I had drunk half
mine, but I wished I had not.
I asked George if he thought I was likely to have typhoid.
He said: "Oh, no;" he thought I had a very good chance indeed of escaping
it. Anyhow, I should know in about a fortnight, whether I had or had
We went up the backwater to Wargrave. It is a short cut, leading out of
the right-hand bank about half a mile above Marsh Lock, and is well worth
taking, being a pretty, shady little piece of stream, besides saving
nearly half a mile of distance.
Of course, its entrance is studded with posts and chains, and surrounded
with notice boards, menacing all kinds of torture, imprisonment, and
death to everyone who dares set scull upon its waters - I wonder some of
these riparian boors don't claim the air of the river and threaten
everyone with forty shillings fine who breathes it - but the posts and
chains a little skill will easily avoid; and as for the boards, you
might, if you have five minutes to spare, and there is nobody about, take
one or two of them down and throw them into the river.
Half-way up the backwater, we got out and lunched; and it was during this
lunch that George and I received rather a trying shock.
Harris received a shock, too; but I do not think Harris's shock could
have been anything like so bad as the shock that George and I had over
You see, it was in this way: we were sitting in a meadow, about ten yards
from the water's edge, and we had just settled down comfortably to feed.
Harris had the beefsteak pie between his knees, and was carving it, and
George and I were waiting with our plates ready.
"Have you got a spoon there?" says Harris; "I want a spoon to help the
The hamper was close behind us, and George and I both turned round to
reach one out. We were not five seconds getting it. When we looked
round again, Harris and the pie were gone!
It was a wide, open field. There was not a tree or a bit of hedge for
hundreds of yards. He could not have tumbled into the river, because we
were on the water side of him, and he would have had to climb over us to
George and I gazed all about. Then we gazed at each other.
"Has he been snatched up to heaven?" I queried.
"They'd hardly have taken the pie too," said George.
There seemed weight in this objection, and we discarded the heavenly
"I suppose the truth of the matter is," suggested George, descending to
the commonplace and practicable, "that there has been an earthquake."
And then he added, with a touch of sadness in his voice: "I wish he
hadn't been carving that pie."
With a sigh, we turned our eyes once more towards the spot where Harris
and the pie had last been seen on earth; and there, as our blood froze in
our veins and our hair stood up on end, we saw Harris's head - and
nothing but his head - sticking bolt upright among the tall grass, the
face very red, and bearing upon it an expression of great indignation!
George was the first to recover.
"Speak!" he cried, "and tell us whether you are alive or dead - and where
is the rest of you?"
"Oh, don't be a stupid ass!" said Harris's head. "I believe you did it
"Did what?" exclaimed George and I.
" Why, put me to sit here - darn silly trick! Here, catch hold of the
And out of the middle of the earth, as it seemed to us, rose the pie -
very much mixed up and damaged; and, after it, scrambled Harris -
tumbled, grubby, and wet.
He had been sitting, without knowing it, on the very verge of a small
gully, the long grass hiding it from view; and in leaning a little back
he had shot over, pie and all.
He said he had never felt so surprised in all his life, as when he first
felt himself going, without being able to conjecture in the slightest
what had happened. He thought at first that the end of the world had
Harris believes to this day that George and I planned it all beforehand.
Thus does unjust suspicion follow even the most blameless for, as the
poet says, "Who shall escape calumny?"
WARGRAVE. - WAXWORKS. - SONNING. - OUR STEW. - MONTMORENCY IS SARCASTIC.
- FIGHT BETWEEN MONTMORENCY AND THE TEA-KETTLE. - GEORGE'S BANJO STUDIES.
- MEET WITH DISCOURAGEMENT. - DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF THE MUSICAL
AMATEUR. - LEARNING TO PLAY THE BAGPIPES. - HARRIS FEELS SAD AFTER
SUPPER. - GEORGE AND I GO FOR A WALK. - RETURN HUNGRY AND WET. - THERE IS
A STRANGENESS ABOUT HARRIS. - HARRIS AND THE SWANS, A REMARKABLE STORY. -
HARRIS HAS A TROUBLED NIGHT.
WE caught a breeze, after lunch, which took us gently up past Wargrave
and Shiplake. Mellowed in the drowsy sunlight of a summer's afternoon,
Wargrave, nestling where the river bends, makes a sweet old picture as
you pass it, and one that lingers long upon the retina of memory.
The "George and Dragon" at Wargrave boasts a sign, painted on the one
side by Leslie, R.A., and on the other by Hodgson of that ilk. Leslie
has depicted the fight; Hodgson has imagined the scene, "After the Fight"
- George, the work done, enjoying his pint of beer.
Day, the author of SANDFORD AND MERTON, lived and - more credit to the
place still - was killed at Wargrave. In the church is a memorial to
Mrs. Sarah Hill, who bequeathed 1 pound annually, to be divided at
Easter, between two boys and two girls who "have never been undutiful to
their parents; who have never been known to swear or to tell untruths, to
steal, or to break windows." Fancy giving up all that for five shillings
a year! It is not worth it.
It is rumoured in the town that once, many years ago, a boy appeared who
really never had done these things - or at all events, which was all that
was required or could be expected, had never been known to do them - and
thus won the crown of glory. He was exhibited for three weeks afterwards
in the Town Hall, under a glass case.
What has become of the money since no one knows. They say it is always
handed over to the nearest wax-works show.
Shiplake is a pretty village, but it cannot be seen from the river, being
upon the hill. Tennyson was married in Shiplake Church.
The river up to Sonning winds in and out through many islands, and is
very placid, hushed, and lonely. Few folk, except at twilight, a pair or
two of rustic lovers, walk along its banks. `Arry and Lord Fitznoodle
have been left behind at Henley, and dismal, dirty Reading is not yet
reached. It is a part of the river in which to dream of bygone days, and
vanished forms and faces, and things that might have been, but are not,
We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk round the village. It is the
most fairy-like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage
village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in
roses, and now, in early June, they were bursting forth in clouds of
dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the "Bull," behind
the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green,
square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men
group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics;
with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and
We roamed about sweet Sonning for an hour or so, and then, it being too
late to push on past Reading, we decided to go back to one of the
Shiplake islands, and put up there for the night. It was still early
when we got settled, and George said that, as we had plenty of time, it
would be a splendid opportunity to try a good, slap-up supper. He said
he would show us what could be done up the river in the way of cooking,
and suggested that, with the vegetables and the remains of the cold beef
and general odds and ends, we should make an Irish stew.
It seemed a fascinating idea. George gathered wood and made a fire, and
Harris and I started to peel the potatoes. I should never have thought
that peeling potatoes was such an undertaking. The job turned out to be
the biggest thing of its kind that I had ever been in. We began
cheerfully, one might almost say skittishly, but our light-heartedness
was gone by the time the first potato was finished. The more we peeled,
the more peel there seemed to be left on; by the time we had got all the
peel off and all the eyes out, there was no potato left - at least none
worth speaking of. George came and had a look at it - it was about the
size of a pea-nut. He said:
"Oh, that won't do! You're wasting them. You must scrape them."
So we scraped them, and that was harder work than peeling. They are such
an extraordinary shape, potatoes - all bumps and warts and hollows. We
worked steadily for five-and-twenty minutes, and did four potatoes. Then
we struck. We said we should require the rest of the evening for
I never saw such a thing as potato-scraping for making a fellow in a
mess. It seemed difficult to believe that the potato-scrapings in which
Harris and I stood, half smothered, could have come off four potatoes.
It shows you what can be done with economy and care.
George said it was absurd to have only four potatoes in an Irish stew, so
we washed half-a-dozen or so more, and put them in without peeling. We
also put in a cabbage and about half a peck of peas. George stirred it
all up, and then he said that there seemed to be a lot of room to spare,
so we overhauled both the hampers, and picked out all the odds and ends
and the remnants, and added them to the stew. There were half a pork pie
and a bit of cold boiled bacon left, and we put them in. Then George
found half a tin of potted salmon, and he emptied that into the pot.
He said that was the advantage of Irish stew: you got rid of such a lot
of things. I fished out a couple of eggs that had got cracked, and put
those in. George said they would thicken the gravy.
I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I
remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great
interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and
thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-
rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his
contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a
genuine desire to assist, I cannot say.
We had a discussion as to whether the rat should go in or not. Harris
said that he thought it would be all right, mixed up with the other
things, and that every little helped; but George stood up for precedent.
He said he had never heard of water-rats in Irish stew, and he would
rather be on the safe side, and not try experiments.
"If you never try a new thing, how can you tell what it's like? It's men
such as you that hamper the world's progress. Think of the man who first
tried German sausage!"
It was a great success, that Irish stew. I don't think I ever enjoyed a
meal more. There was something so fresh and piquant about it. One's
palate gets so tired of the old hackneyed things: here was a dish with a
new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.
And it was nourishing, too. As George said, there was good stuff in it.
The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good
teeth, so that did not matter much: and as for the gravy, it was a poem -
a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious.
We finished up with tea and cherry tart. Montmorency had a fight with
the kettle during tea-time, and came off a poor second.
Throughout the trip, he had manifested great curiosity concerning the
kettle. He would sit and watch it, as it boiled, with a puzzled
expression, and would try and rouse it every now and then by growling at
it. When it began to splutter and steam, he regarded it as a challenge,
and would want to fight it, only, at that precise moment, some one would
always dash up and bear off his prey before he could get at it.
To-day he determined he would be beforehand. At the first sound the
kettle made, he rose, growling, and advanced towards it in a threatening
attitude. It was only a little kettle, but it was full of pluck, and it
up and spit at him.
"Ah! would ye!" growled Montmorency, showing his teeth; "I'll teach ye to
cheek a hard-working, respectable dog; ye miserable, long-nosed, dirty-
looking scoundrel, ye. Come on!"
And he rushed at that poor little kettle, and seized it by the spout.
Then, across the evening stillness, broke a blood-curdling yelp, and
Montmorency left the boat, and did a constitutional three times round the
island at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour, stopping every now and
then to bury his nose in a bit of cool mud.
From that day Montmorency regarded the kettle with a mixture of awe,
suspicion, and hate. Whenever he saw it he would growl and back at a
rapid rate, with his tail shut down, and the moment it was put upon the
stove he would promptly climb out of the boat, and sit on the bank, till
the whole tea business was over.
George got out his banjo after supper, and wanted to play it, but Harris
objected: he said he had got a headache, and did not feel strong enough
to stand it. George thought the music might do him good - said music
often soothed the nerves and took away a headache; and he twanged two or
three notes, just to show Harris what it was like.
Harris said he would rather have the headache.
George has never learned to play the banjo to this day. He has had too
much all-round discouragement to meet. He tried on two or three
evenings, while we were up the river, to get a little practice, but it
was never a success. Harris's language used to be enough to unnerve any
man; added to which, Montmorency would sit and howl steadily, right
through the performance. It was not giving the man a fair chance.
"What's he want to howl like that for when I'm playing?" George would
exclaim indignantly, while taking aim at him with a boot.
"What do you want to play like that for when he is howling?" Harris would
retort, catching the boot. "You let him alone. He can't help howling.
He's got a musical ear, and your playing MAKES him howl."
So George determined to postpone study of the banjo until he reached
home. But he did not get much opportunity even there. Mrs. P. used to
come up and say she was very sorry - for herself, she liked to hear him -
but the lady upstairs was in a very delicate state, and the doctor was
afraid it might injure the child.
Then George tried taking it out with him late at night, and practising
round the square. But the inhabitants complained to the police about it,
and a watch was set for him one night, and he was captured. The evidence
against him was very clear, and he was bound over to keep the peace for
He seemed to lose heart in the business after that. He did make one or
two feeble efforts to take up the work again when the six months had
elapsed, but there was always the same coldness - the same want of
sympathy on the part of the world to fight against; and, after awhile, he
despaired altogether, and advertised the instrument for sale at a great
sacrifice - "owner having no further use for same" - and took to learning
card tricks instead.
It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would
think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a
man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn't!
I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and
you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend
with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive
what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against
the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the
My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to
give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously
inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day
So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to
bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People,
going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all
over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed
at Mr. Jefferson's the night before; and would describe how they had
heard the victim's shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the
murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of
So they let him practise in the day-time, in the back-kitchen with all
the doors shut; but his more successful passages could generally be heard
in the sitting-room, in spite of these precautions, and would affect his
mother almost to tears.
She said it put her in mind of her poor father (he had been swallowed by
a shark, poor man, while bathing off the coast of New Guinea - where the
connection came in, she could not explain).
Then they knocked up a little place for him at the bottom of the garden,
about quarter of a mile from the house, and made him take the machine
down there when he wanted to work it; and sometimes a visitor would come
to the house who knew nothing of the matter, and they would forget to
tell him all about it, and caution him, and he would go out for a stroll
round the garden and suddenly get within earshot of those bagpipes,
without being prepared for it, or knowing what it was. If he were a man
of strong mind, it only gave him fits; but a person of mere average
intellect it usually sent mad.
There is, it must be confessed, something very sad about the early
efforts of an amateur in bagpipes. I have felt that myself when
listening to my young friend. They appear to be a trying instrument to
perform upon. You have to get enough breath for the whole tune before
you start - at least, so I gathered from watching Jefferson.
He would begin magnificently with a wild, full, come-to-the-battle sort
of a note, that quite roused you. But he would get more and more piano
as he went on, and the last verse generally collapsed in the middle with
a splutter and a hiss.
You want to be in good health to play the bagpipes.
Young Jefferson only learnt to play one tune on those bagpipes; but I
never heard any complaints about the insufficiency of his repertoire -
none whatever. This tune was "The Campbells are Coming, Hooray -
Hooray!" so he said, though his father always held that it was "The Blue
Bells of Scotland." Nobody seemed quite sure what it was exactly, but
they all agreed that it sounded Scotch.
Strangers were allowed three guesses, and most of them guessed a
different tune each time.
Harris was disagreeable after supper, - I think it must have been the
stew that had upset him: he is not used to high living, - so George and I
left him in the boat, and settled to go for a mouch round Henley. He
said he should have a glass of whisky and a pipe, and fix things up for
the night. We were to shout when we returned, and he would row over from
the island and fetch us.
"Don't go to sleep, old man," we said as we started.
"Not much fear of that while this stew's on," he grunted, as he pulled
back to the island.
Henley was getting ready for the regatta, and was full of bustle. We met
a goodish number of men we knew about the town, and in their pleasant
company the time slipped by somewhat quickly; so that it was nearly
eleven o'clock before we set off on our four-mile walk home - as we had
learned to call our little craft by this time.
It was a dismal night, coldish, with a thin rain falling; and as we
trudged through the dark, silent fields, talking low to each other, and
wondering if we were going right or not, we thought of the cosy boat,
with the bright light streaming through the tight-drawn canvas; of Harris
and Montmorency, and the whisky, and wished that we were there.
We conjured up the picture of ourselves inside, tired and a little
hungry; of the gloomy river and the shapeless trees; and, like a giant
glow-worm underneath them, our dear old boat, so snug and warm and
cheerful. We could see ourselves at supper there, pecking away at cold
meat, and passing each other chunks of bread; we could hear the cheery
clatter of our knives, the laughing voices, filling all the space, and
overflowing through the opening out into the night. And we hurried on to
realise the vision.
We struck the tow-path at length, and that made us happy; because prior
to this we had not been sure whether we were walking towards the river or
away from it, and when you are tired and want to go to bed uncertainties
like that worry you. We passed Skiplake as the clock was striking the
quarter to twelve; and then George said, thoughtfully:
"You don't happen to remember which of the islands it was, do you?"
"No," I replied, beginning to grow thoughtful too, "I don't. How many
"Only four," answered George. "It will be all right, if he's awake."
"And if not?" I queried; but we dismissed that train of thought.
We shouted when we came opposite the first island, but there was no
response; so we went to the second, and tried there, and obtained the
"Oh! I remember now," said George; "it was the third one."
And we ran on hopefully to the third one, and hallooed.
The case was becoming serious. it was now past midnight. The hotels at
Skiplake and Henley would be crammed; and we could not go round, knocking
up cottagers and householders in the middle of the night, to know if they
let apartments! George suggested walking back to Henley and assaulting a
policeman, and so getting a night's lodging in the station-house. But
then there was the thought, "Suppose he only hits us back and refuses to
lock us up!"
We could not pass the whole night fighting policemen. Besides, we did
not want to overdo the thing and get six months.
We despairingly tried what seemed in the darkness to be the fourth
island, but met with no better success. The rain was coming down fast
now, and evidently meant to last. We were wet to the skin, and cold and
miserable. We began to wonder whether there were only four islands or
more, or whether we were near the islands at all, or whether we were
anywhere within a mile of where we ought to be, or in the wrong part of
the river altogether; everything looked so strange and different in the
darkness. We began to understand the sufferings of the Babes in the
Just when we had given up all hope - yes, I know that is always the time
that things do happen in novels and tales; but I can't help it. I
resolved, when I began to write this book, that I would be strictly
truthful in all things; and so I will be, even if I have to employ
hackneyed phrases for the purpose.
It WAS just when we had given up all hope, and I must therefore say so.
Just when we had given up all hope, then, I suddenly caught sight, a
little way below us, of a strange, weird sort of glimmer flickering among
the trees on the opposite bank. For an instant I thought of ghosts: it
was such a shadowy, mysterious light. The next moment it flashed across
me that it was our boat, and I sent up such a yell across the water that
made the night seem to shake in its bed.
We waited breathless for a minute, and then - oh! divinest music of the
darkness! - we heard the answering bark of Montmorency. We shouted back
loud enough to wake the Seven Sleepers - I never could understand myself
why it should take more noise to wake seven sleepers than one - and,
after what seemed an hour, but what was really, I suppose, about five
minutes, we saw the lighted boat creeping slowly over the blackness, and
heard Harris's sleepy voice asking where we were.
There was an unaccountable strangeness about Harris. It was something
more than mere ordinary tiredness. He pulled the boat against a part of
the bank from which it was quite impossible for us to get into it, and
immediately went to sleep. It took us an immense amount of screaming and
roaring to wake him up again and put some sense into him; but we
succeeded at last, and got safely on board.
Harris had a sad expression on him, so we noticed, when we got into the
boat. He gave you the idea of a man who had been through trouble. We
asked him if anything had happened, and he said-
It seemed we had moored close to a swan's nest, and, soon after George
and I had gone, the female swan came back, and kicked up a row about it.
Harris had chivied her off, and she had gone away, and fetched up her old
man. Harris said he had had quite a fight with these two swans; but
courage and skill had prevailed in the end, and he had defeated them.
Half-an-hour afterwards they returned with eighteen other swans! It must
have been a fearful battle, so far as we could understand Harris's
account of it. The swans had tried to drag him and Montmorency out of
the boat and drown them; and he had defended himself like a hero for four
hours, and had killed the lot, and they had all paddled away to die.
"How many swans did you say there were?" asked George.
"Thirty-two," replied Harris, sleepily.
"You said eighteen just now," said George.
"No, I didn't," grunted Harris; "I said twelve. Think I can't count?"
What were the real facts about these swans we never found out. We
questioned Harris on the subject in the morning, and he said, "What
swans?" and seemed to think that George and I had been dreaming.
Oh, how delightful it was to be safe in the boat, after our trials and
fears! We ate a hearty supper, George and I, and we should have had some
toddy after it, if we could have found the whisky, but we could not. We
examined Harris as to what he had done with it; but he did not seem to
know what we meant by "whisky," or what we were talking about at all.
Montmorency looked as if he knew something, but said nothing.
I slept well that night, and should have slept better if it had not been
for Harris. I have a vague recollection of having been woke up at least
a dozen times during the night by Harris wandering about the boat with
the lantern, looking for his clothes. He seemed to be worrying about his
clothes all night.
Twice he routed up George and myself to see if we were lying on his
trousers. George got quite wild the second time.
"What the thunder do you want your trousers for, in the middle of the
night?" he asked indignantly. "Why don't you lie down, and go to sleep?"
I found him in trouble, the next time I awoke, because he could not find
his socks; and my last hazy remembrance is of being rolled over on my
side, and of hearing Harris muttering something about its being an
extraordinary thing where his umbrella could have got to.
HOUSEHOLD DUTIES. - LOVE OF WORK. - THE OLD RIVER HAND, WHAT HE DOES AND
WHAT HE TELLS YOU HE HAS DONE. - SCEPTICISM OF THE NEW GENERATION. -
EARLY BOATING RECOLLECTIONS. - RAFTING. - GEORGE DOES THE THING IN STYLE.
- THE OLD BOATMAN, HIS METHOD. - SO CALM, SO FULL OF PEACE. - THE
BEGINNER. - PUNTING. - A SAD ACCIDENT. - PLEASURES OF FRIENDSHIP. -
SAILING, MY FIRST EXPERIENCE. - POSSIBLE REASON WHY WE WERE NOT DROWNED.
WE woke late the next morning, and, at Harris's earnest desire, partook
of a plain breakfast, with "non dainties." Then we cleaned up, and put
everything straight (a continual labour, which was beginning to afford me
a pretty clear insight into a question that had often posed me - namely,
how a woman with the work of only one house on her hands manages to pass
away her time), and, at about ten, set out on what we had determined
should be a good day's journey.
We agreed that we would pull this morning, as a change from towing; and
Harris thought the best arrangement would be that George and I should
scull, and he steer. I did not chime in with this idea at all; I said I
thought Harris would have been showing a more proper spirit if he had
suggested that he and George should work, and let me rest a bit. It
seemed to me that I was doing more than my fair share of the work on this
trip, and I was beginning to feel strongly on the subject.
It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It
is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates
me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the
idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a
passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an
inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.
And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by
me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn't a
finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now
and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of
preservation than I do.
But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for
more than my proper share.
But I get it without asking for it - at least, so it appears to me - and
this worries me.
George says he does not think I need trouble myself on the subject. He
thinks it is only my over-scrupulous nature that makes me fear I am
having more than my due; and that, as a matter of fact, I don't have half
as much as I ought. But I expect he only says this to comfort me.
In a boat, I have always noticed that it is the fixed idea of each member
of the crew that he is doing everything. Harris's notion was, that it
was he alone who had been working, and that both George and I had been
imposing upon him. George, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea of
Harris's having done anything more than eat and sleep, and had a cast-
iron opinion that it was he - George himself - who had done all the
labour worth speaking of.
He said he had never been out with such a couple of lazily skulks as
Harris and I.
That amused Harris.
"Fancy old George talking about work!" he laughed; "why, about half-an-
hour of it would kill him. Have you ever seen George work?" he added,
turning to me.
I agreed with Harris that I never had - most certainly not since we had
started on this trip.
"Well, I don't see how YOU can know much about it, one way or the other,"
George retorted on Harris; "for I'm blest if you haven't been asleep half
the time. Have you ever seen Harris fully awake, except at meal-time?"
asked George, addressing me.
Truth compelled me to support George. Harris had been very little good
in the boat, so far as helping was concerned, from the beginning.
"Well, hang it all, I've done more than old J., anyhow," rejoined Harris.
"Well, you couldn't very well have done less," added George.
"I suppose J. thinks he is the passenger," continued Harris.
And that was their gratitude to me for having brought them and their
wretched old boat all the way up from Kingston, and for having
superintended and managed everything for them, and taken care of them,
and slaved for them. It is the way of the world.
We settled the present difficulty by arranging that Harris and George
should scull up past Reading, and that I should tow the boat on from
there. Pulling a heavy boat against a strong stream has few attractions
for me now. There was a time, long ago, when I used to clamour for the
hard work: now I like to give the youngsters a chance.
I notice that most of the old river hands are similarly retiring,
whenever there is any stiff pulling to be done. You can always tell the
old river hand by the way in which he stretches himself out upon the
cushions at the bottom of the boat, and encourages the rowers by telling
them anecdotes about the marvellous feats he performed last season.
"Call what you're doing hard work!" he drawls, between his contented
whiffs, addressing the two perspiring novices, who have been grinding
away steadily up stream for the last hour and a half; "why, Jim Biffles
and Jack and I, last season, pulled up from Marlow to Goring in one
afternoon - never stopped once. Do you remember that, Jack?"
Jack, who has made himself a bed up in the prow of all the rugs and coats
he can collect, and who has been lying there asleep for the last two
hours, partially wakes up on being thus appealed to, and recollects all
about the matter, and also remembers that there was an unusually strong
stream against them all the way - likewise a stiff wind.
"About thirty-four miles, I suppose, it must have been," adds the first
speaker, reaching down another cushion to put under his head.
" No - no; don't exaggerate, Tom," murmurs Jack, reprovingly; "thirty-
three at the outside."
And Jack and Tom, quite exhausted by this conversational effort, drop off
to sleep once more. And the two simple-minded youngsters at the sculls
feel quite proud of being allowed to row such wonderful oarsmen as Jack
and Tom, and strain away harder than ever.
When I was a young man, I used to listen to these tales from my elders,
and take them in, and swallow them, and digest every word of them, and
then come up for more; but the new generation do not seem to have the
simple faith of the old times. We - George, Harris, and myself - took a
"raw'un" up with us once last season, and we plied him with the customary
stretchers about the wonderful things we had done all the way up.
We gave him all the regular ones - the time-honoured lies that have done
duty up the river with every boating-man for years past - and added seven
entirely original ones that we had invented for ourselves, including a
really quite likely story, founded, to a certain extent, on an all but
true episode, which had actually happened in a modified degree some years
ago to friends of ours - a story that a mere child could have believed
without injuring itself, much.
And that young man mocked at them all, and wanted us to repeat the feats
then and there, and to bet us ten to one that we didn't.
We got to chatting about our rowing experiences this morning, and to
recounting stories of our first efforts in the art of oarsmanship. My
own earliest boating recollection is of five of us contributing
threepence each and taking out a curiously constructed craft on the
Regent's Park lake, drying ourselves subsequently, in the park-keeper's
After that, having acquired a taste for the water, I did a good deal of
rafting in various suburban brickfields - an exercise providing more
interest and excitement than might be imagined, especially when you are
in the middle of the pond and the proprietor of the materials of which
the raft is constructed suddenly appears on the bank, with a big stick in
Your first sensation on seeing this gentleman is that, somehow or other,
you don't feel equal to company and conversation, and that, if you could
do so without appearing rude, you would rather avoid meeting him; and
your object is, therefore, to get off on the opposite side of the pond to
which he is, and to go home quietly and quickly, pretending not to see
him. He, on the contrary is yearning to take you by the hand, and talk
It appears that he knows your father, and is intimately acquainted with
yourself, but this does not draw you towards him. He says he'll teach
you to take his boards and make a raft of them; but, seeing that you know
how to do this pretty well already, the offer, though doubtless kindly
meant, seems a superfluous one on his part, and you are reluctant to put
him to any trouble by accepting it.
His anxiety to meet you, however, is proof against all your coolness, and
the energetic manner in which he dodges up and down the pond so as to be
on the spot to greet you when you land is really quite flattering.
If he be of a stout and short-winded build, you can easily avoid his
advances; but, when he is of the youthful and long-legged type, a meeting
is inevitable. The interview is, however, extremely brief, most of the
conversation being on his part, your remarks being mostly of an
exclamatory and mono-syllabic order, and as soon as you can tear yourself
away you do so.
I devoted some three months to rafting, and, being then as proficient as
there was any need to be at that branch of the art, I determined to go in
for rowing proper, and joined one of the Lea boating clubs.
Being out in a boat on the river Lea, especially on Saturday afternoons,
soon makes you smart at handling a craft, and spry at escaping being run
down by roughs or swamped by barges; and it also affords plenty of
opportunity for acquiring the most prompt and graceful method of lying
down flat at the bottom of the boat so as to avoid being chucked out into
the river by passing tow-lines.
But it does not give you style. It was not till I came to the Thames
that I got style. My style of rowing is very much admired now. People
say it is so quaint.
George never went near the water until he was sixteen. Then he and eight
other gentlemen of about the same age went down in a body to Kew one
Saturday, with the idea of hiring a boat there, and pulling to Richmond
and back; one of their number, a shock-headed youth, named Joskins, who
had once or twice taken out a boat on the Serpentine, told them it was
jolly fun, boating!
The tide was running out pretty rapidly when they reached the landing-
stage, and there was a stiff breeze blowing across the river, but this
did not trouble them at all, and they proceeded to select their boat.
There was an eight-oared racing outrigger drawn up on the stage; that was
the one that took their fancy. They said they'd have that one, please.
The boatman was away, and only his boy was in charge. The boy tried to
damp their ardour for the outrigger, and showed them two or three very
comfortable-looking boats of the family-party build, but those would not
do at all; the outrigger was the boat they thought they would look best
So the boy launched it, and they took off their coats and prepared to
take their seats. The boy suggested that George, who, even in those
days, was always the heavy man of any party, should be number four.
George said he should be happy to be number four, and promptly stepped
into bow's place, and sat down with his back to the stern. They got him
into his proper position at last, and then the others followed.
A particularly nervous boy was appointed cox, and the steering principle
explained to him by Joskins. Joskins himself took stroke. He told the
others that it was simple enough; all they had to do was to follow him.
They said they were ready, and the boy on the landing stage took a boat-
hook and shoved him off.
What then followed George is unable to describe in detail. He has a
confused recollection of having, immediately on starting, received a
violent blow in the small of the back from the butt-end of number five's
scull, at the same time that his own seat seemed to disappear from under
him by magic, and leave him sitting on the boards. He also noticed, as a
curious circumstance, that number two was at the same instant lying on
his back at the bottom of the boat, with his legs in the air, apparently
in a fit.
They passed under Kew Bridge, broadside, at the rate of eight miles an
hour. Joskins being the only one who was rowing. George, on recovering
his seat, tried to help him, but, on dipping his oar into the water, it
immediately, to his intense surprise, disappeared under the boat, and
nearly took him with it.
And then "cox" threw both rudder lines over-board, and burst into tears.
How they got back George never knew, but it took them just forty minutes.
A dense crowd watched the entertainment from Kew Bridge with much
interest, and everybody shouted out to them different directions. Three
times they managed to get the boat back through the arch, and three times
they were carried under it again, and every time "cox" looked up and saw
the bridge above him he broke out into renewed sobs.
George said he little thought that afternoon that he should ever come to
really like boating.
Harris is more accustomed to sea rowing than to river work, and says
that, as an exercise, he prefers it. I don't. I remember taking a small
boat out at Eastbourne last summer: I used to do a good deal of sea
rowing years ago, and I thought I should be all right; but I found I had
forgotten the art entirely. When one scull was deep down underneath the
water, the other would be flourishing wildly about in the air. To get a
grip of the water with both at the same time I had to stand up. The
parade was crowded with nobility and gentry, and I had to pull past them
in this ridiculous fashion. I landed half-way down the beach, and
secured the services of an old boatman to take me back.
I like to watch an old boatman rowing, especially one who has been hired
by the hour. There is something so beautifully calm and restful about
his method. It is so free from that fretful haste, that vehement
striving, that is every day becoming more and more the bane of
nineteenth-century life. He is not for ever straining himself to pass
all the other boats. If another boat overtakes him and passes him it
does not annoy him; as a matter of fact, they all do overtake him and
pass him - all those that are going his way. This would trouble and
irritate some people; the sublime equanimity of the hired boatman under
the ordeal affords us a beautiful lesson against ambition and uppishness.
Plain practical rowing of the get-the-boat-along order is not a very
difficult art to acquire, but it takes a good deal of practice before a
man feels comfortable, when rowing past girls. It is the "time" that
worries a youngster. "It's jolly funny," he says, as for the twentieth
time within five minutes he disentangles his sculls from yours; "I can
get on all right when I'm by myself!"
To see two novices try to keep time with one another is very amusing.
Bow finds it impossible to keep pace with stroke, because stroke rows in
such an extraordinary fashion. Stroke is intensely indignant at this,
and explains that what he has been endeavouring to do for the last ten
minutes is to adapt his method to bow's limited capacity. Bow, in turn,
then becomes insulted, and requests stroke not to trouble his head about
him (bow), but to devote his mind to setting a sensible stroke.
"Or, shall I take stroke?" he adds, with the evident idea that that would
at once put the whole matter right.
They splash along for another hundred yards with still moderate success,
and then the whole secret of their trouble bursts upon stroke like a
flash of inspiration.
"I tell you what it is: you've got my sculls," he cries, turning to bow;
"pass yours over."
"Well, do you know, I've been wondering how it was I couldn't get on with
these," answers bow, quite brightening up, and most willingly assisting
in the exchange. "NOW we shall be all right."
But they are not - not even then. Stroke has to stretch his arms nearly
out of their sockets to reach his sculls now; while bow's pair, at each
recovery, hit him a violent blow in the chest. So they change back
again, and come to the conclusion that the man has given them the wrong
set altogether; and over their mutual abuse of this man they become quite
friendly and sympathetic.
George said he had often longed to take to punting for a change. Punting
is not as easy as it looks. As in rowing, you soon learn how to get
along and handle the craft, but it takes long practice before you can do
this with dignity and without getting the water all up your sleeve.
One young man I knew had a very sad accident happen to him the first time
he went punting. He had been getting on so well that he had grown quite
cheeky over the business, and was walking up and down the punt, working
his pole with a careless grace that was quite fascinating to watch. Up
he would march to the head of the punt, plant his pole, and then run
along right to the other end, just like an old punter. Oh! it was grand.
And it would all have gone on being grand if he had not unfortunately,
while looking round to enjoy the scenery, taken just one step more than
there was any necessity for, and walked off the punt altogether. The
pole was firmly fixed in the mud, and he was left clinging to it while
the punt drifted away. It was an undignified position for him. A rude
boy on the bank immediately yelled out to a lagging chum to "hurry up and
see real monkey on a stick."
I could not go to his assistance, because, as ill-luck would have it, we
had not taken the proper precaution to bring out a spare pole with us. I
could only sit and look at him. His expression as the pole slowly sank
with him I shall never forget; there was so much thought in it.
I watched him gently let down into the water, and saw him scramble out,
sad and wet. I could not help laughing, he looked such a ridiculous
figure. I continued to chuckle to myself about it for some time, and
then it was suddenly forced in upon me that really I had got very little
to laugh at when I came to think of it. Here was I, alone in a punt,
without a pole, drifting helplessly down mid-stream - possibly towards a
I began to feel very indignant with my friend for having stepped
overboard and gone off in that way. He might, at all events, have left
me the pole.
I drifted on for about a quarter of a mile, and then I came in sight of a
fishing-punt moored in mid-stream, in which sat two old fishermen. They
saw me bearing down upon them, and they called out to me to keep out of
"I can't," I shouted back.
"But you don't try," they answered.
I explained the matter to them when I got nearer, and they caught me and
lent me a pole. The weir was just fifty yards below. I am glad they
happened to be there.
The first time I went punting was in company with three other fellows;
they were going to show me how to do it. We could not all start
together, so I said I would go down first and get out the punt, and then
I could potter about and practice a bit until they came.
I could not get a punt out that afternoon, they were all engaged; so I
had nothing else to do but to sit down on the bank, watching the river,
and waiting for my friends.
I had not been sitting there long before my attention became attracted to
a man in a punt who, I noticed with some surprise, wore a jacket and cap
exactly like mine. He was evidently a novice at punting, and his
performance was most interesting. You never knew what was going to
happen when he put the pole in; he evidently did not know himself.
Sometimes he shot up stream and sometimes he shot down stream, and at
other times he simply spun round and came up the other side of the pole.
And with every result he seemed equally surprised and annoyed.
The people about the river began to get quite absorbed in him after a
while, and to make bets with one another as to what would be the outcome
of his next push.
In the course of time my friends arrived on the opposite bank, and they
stopped and watched him too. His back was towards them, and they only
saw his jacket and cap. From this they immediately jumped to the
conclusion that it was I, their beloved companion, who was making an
exhibition of himself, and their delight knew no bounds. They commenced
to chaff him unmercifully.
I did not grasp their mistake at first, and I thought, "How rude of them
to go on like that, with a perfect stranger, too!" But before I could
call out and reprove them, the explanation of the matter occurred to me,
and I withdrew behind a tree.
Oh, how they enjoyed themselves, ridiculing that young man! For five
good minutes they stood there, shouting ribaldry at him, deriding him,
mocking him, jeering at him. They peppered him with stale jokes, they
even made a few new ones and threw at him. They hurled at him all the
private family jokes belonging to our set, and which must have been
perfectly unintelligible to him. And then, unable to stand their brutal
jibes any longer, he turned round on them, and they saw his face!
I was glad to notice that they had sufficient decency left in them to
look very foolish. They explained to him that they had thought he was
some one they knew. They said they hoped he would not deem them capable
of so insulting any one except a personal friend of their own.
Of course their having mistaken him for a friend excused it. I remember
Harris telling me once of a bathing experience he had at Boulogne. He
was swimming about there near the beach, when he felt himself suddenly
seized by the neck from behind, and forcibly plunged under water. He
struggled violently, but whoever had got hold of him seemed to be a
perfect Hercules in strength, and all his efforts to escape were
unavailing. He had given up kicking, and was trying to turn his thoughts
upon solemn things, when his captor released him.
He regained his feet, and looked round for his would-be murderer. The
assassin was standing close by him, laughing heartily, but the moment he
caught sight of Harris's face, as it emerged from the water, he started