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JEROME K. JEROME
“idle thoughts of an idle
“stage land,” etc.
Illustrations by A. Frederics.
J. W. Arrowsmith, 11 Quay Street
Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co.
All rights reserved
The chief beauty of this book lies not so much in its
literary style, or in the extent and usefulness of the
information it conveys, as in its simple
truthfulness. Its pages form the record of events
that really happened. All that has been done is to
colour them; and, for this, no extra charge
has been made. George and Harris and Montmorency are
not poetic ideals, but things of flesh and
blood—especially George, who weighs about twelve
stone. Other works may excel this in dept of thought
and knowledge of human nature: other books may rival it in
originality and size; but, for hopeless and
incurable veracity, nothing yet discovered can surpass
it. This, more than all its other charms,
will, it is felt, make the volume precious in
the eye of the earnest reader; and will lend additional
weight to the lesson that the story teaches.
London, August, 1889.
Three invalids.—Sufferings of George and
Harris.—A victim to one hundred and seven fatal
maladies.—Useful prescriptions.—Cure for liver
complaint in children.—We agree that we are overworked, and
need rest.—A week on the rolling deep?—George
suggests the River.—Montmorency lodges an
objection.—Original motion carried by majority of three to
There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris,
and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room,
smoking, and talking about how bad we were—bad from a
medical point of view I mean, of course.
We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous
about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of
giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was
doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness
too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it
was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver
that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent
liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms
by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order.
I had them all.
It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent
medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion
that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt
with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in
every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I
have ever felt.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the
treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a
touch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book,
and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I
idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases,
generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged
into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and,
before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory
symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the
listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I
came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered
that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without
knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St.
Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that
too,—began to get interested in my case, and determined to
sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read
up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the
acute stage would commence in about another fortnight.
Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a
modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live
for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and
diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded
conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only
malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to
be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got
housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious
reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings
prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady
in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to
do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most
malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being
aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from
boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I
concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I
must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I
should be to a class! Students would have no need to
“walk the hospitals,” if they had me. I was a
hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round
me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to
examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first
feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to
start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made
it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel
my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped
beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion
that it must have been there all the time, and must have been
beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all
over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I
went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back.
But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at
my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I
shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I
could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from
that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet
I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy
man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.
I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and
feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the
weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I
thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now.
“What a doctor wants,” I said, “is
practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice
out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary,
commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases
each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he
“Well, what’s the matter with you?”
“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling
you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you
might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you
what is not the matter with me. I have not got
housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got
housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains
that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I
And I told him how I came to discover it all.
Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my
wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t
expecting it—a cowardly thing to do, I call it—and
immediately afterwards butted me with the side of his head.
After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded
it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out.
I did not open it. I took it to the nearest
chemist’s, and handed it in. The man read it, and
then handed it back.
He said he didn’t keep it.
“You are a chemist?”
“I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores
and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you.
Being only a chemist hampers me.”
I read the prescription. It ran:
“1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t
“1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t
I followed the directions, with the happy
result—speaking for myself—that my life was
preserved, and is still going on.
In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill
circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among
them being “a general disinclination to work of any
What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my
earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the
disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know,
then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far
less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to
“Why, you skulking little devil, you,” they would
say, “get up and do something for your living, can’t
you?”—not knowing, of course, that I was ill.
And they didn’t give me pills; they gave me clumps on
the side of the head. And, strange as it may appear, those
clumps on the head often cured me—for the time being.
I have known one clump on the head have more effect upon my
liver, and make me feel more anxious to go straight away then and
there, and do what was wanted to be done, without further loss of
time, than a whole box of pills does now.
You know, it often is so—those simple, old-fashioned
remedies are sometimes more efficacious than all the dispensary
We sat there for half-an-hour, describing to each other our
maladies. I explained to George and William Harris how I
felt when I got up in the morning, and William Harris told us how
he felt when he went to bed; and George stood on the hearth-rug,
and gave us a clever and powerful piece of acting, illustrative
of how he felt in the night.
George fancies he is ill; but there’s never
anything really the matter with him, you know.
At this point, Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door to know if we
were ready for supper. We smiled sadly at one another, and
said we supposed we had better try to swallow a bit. Harris
said a little something in one’s stomach often kept the
disease in check; and Mrs. Poppets brought the tray in, and we
drew up to the table, and toyed with a little steak and onions,
and some rhubarb tart.
I must have been very weak at the time; because I know, after
the first half-hour or so, I seemed to take no interest whatever
in my food—an unusual thing for me—and I didn’t
want any cheese.
This duty done, we refilled our glasses, lit our pipes, and
resumed the discussion upon our state of health. What it
was that was actually the matter with us, we none of us could be
sure of; but the unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it
was—had been brought on by overwork.
“What we want is rest,” said Harris.
“Rest and a complete change,” said George.
“The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general
depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and
absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental
George has a cousin, who is usually described in the
charge-sheet as a medical student, so that he naturally has a
somewhat family-physicianary way of putting things.
I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out
some retired and old-world spot, far from the madding crowd, and
dream away a sunny week among its drowsy lanes—some
half-forgotten nook, hidden away by the fairies, out of reach of
the noisy world—some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of
Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century
would sound far-off and faint.
Harris said he thought it would be humpy. He said he
knew the sort of place I meant; where everybody went to bed at
eight o’clock, and you couldn’t get a Referee
for love or money, and had to walk ten miles to get your
“No,” said Harris, “if you want rest and
change, you can’t beat a sea trip.”
I objected to the sea trip strongly. A sea trip does you
good when you are going to have a couple of months of it, but,
for a week, it is wicked.
You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that
you are going to enjoy yourself. You wave an airy adieu to
the boys on shore, light your biggest pipe, and swagger about the
deck as if you were Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, and
Christopher Columbus all rolled into one. On Tuesday, you
wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able
to swallow a little beef tea, and to sit up on deck, and answer
with a wan, sweet smile when kind-hearted people ask you how you
feel now. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and
take solid food. And on Monday morning, as, with your bag
and umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale, waiting to
step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it.
I remember my brother-in-law going for a short sea trip once,
for the benefit of his health. He took a return berth from
London to Liverpool; and when he got to Liverpool, the only thing
he was anxious about was to sell that return ticket.
It was offered round the town at a tremendous reduction, so I
am told; and was eventually sold for eighteenpence to a
bilious-looking youth who had just been advised by his medical
men to go to the sea-side, and take exercise.
“Sea-side!” said my brother-in-law, pressing the
ticket affectionately into his hand; “why, you’ll
have enough to last you a lifetime; and as for exercise! why,
you’ll get more exercise, sitting down on that ship, than
you would turning somersaults on dry land.”
He himself—my brother-in-law—came back by
train. He said the North-Western Railway was healthy enough
Another fellow I knew went for a week’s voyage round the
coast, and, before they started, the steward came to him to ask
whether he would pay for each meal as he had it, or arrange
beforehand for the whole series.
The steward recommended the latter course, as it would come so
much cheaper. He said they would do him for the whole week
at two pounds five. He said for breakfast there would be
fish, followed by a grill. Lunch was at one, and consisted
of four courses. Dinner at six—soup, fish, entree,
joint, poultry, salad, sweets, cheese, and dessert. And a
light meat supper at ten.
My friend thought he would close on the two-pound-five job (he
is a hearty eater), and did so.
Lunch came just as they were off Sheerness. He
didn’t feel so hungry as he thought he should, and so
contented himself with a bit of boiled beef, and some
strawberries and cream. He pondered a good deal during the
afternoon, and at one time it seemed to him that he had been
eating nothing but boiled beef for weeks, and at other times it
seemed that he must have been living on strawberries and cream
Neither the beef nor the strawberries and cream seemed happy,
either—seemed discontented like.
At six, they came and told him dinner was ready. The
announcement aroused no enthusiasm within him, but he felt that
there was some of that two-pound-five to be worked off, and he
held on to ropes and things and went down. A pleasant odour
of onions and hot ham, mingled with fried fish and greens,
greeted him at the bottom of the ladder; and then the steward
came up with an oily smile, and said:
“What can I get you, sir?”
“Get me out of this,” was the feeble reply.
And they ran him up quick, and propped him up, over to
leeward, and left him.
For the next four days he lived a simple and blameless life on
thin captain’s biscuits (I mean that the biscuits were
thin, not the captain) and soda-water; but, towards Saturday, he
got uppish, and went in for weak tea and dry toast, and on Monday
he was gorging himself on chicken broth. He left the ship
on Tuesday, and as it steamed away from the landing-stage he
gazed after it regretfully.
“There she goes,” he said, “there she goes,
with two pounds’ worth of food on board that belongs to me,
and that I haven’t had.”
He said that if they had given him another day he thought he
could have put it straight.
So I set my face against the sea trip. Not, as I
explained, upon my own account. I was never queer.
But I was afraid for George. George said he should be all
right, and would rather like it, but he would advise Harris and
me not to think of it, as he felt sure we should both be
ill. Harris said that, to himself, it was always a mystery
how people managed to get sick at sea—said he thought
people must do it on purpose, from affectation—said he had
often wished to be, but had never been able.
Then he told us anecdotes of how he had gone across the
Channel when it was so rough that the passengers had to be tied
into their berths, and he and the captain were the only two
living souls on board who were not ill. Sometimes it was he
and the second mate who were not ill; but it was generally he and
one other man. If not he and another man, then it was he by
It is a curious fact, but nobody ever is sea-sick—on
land. At sea, you come across plenty of people very bad
indeed, whole boat-loads of them; but I never met a man yet, on
land, who had ever known at all what it was to be sea-sick.
Where the thousands upon thousands of bad sailors that swarm in
every ship hide themselves when they are on land is a
If most men were like a fellow I saw on the Yarmouth boat one
day, I could account for the seeming enigma easily enough.
It was just off Southend Pier, I recollect, and he was leaning
out through one of the port-holes in a very dangerous
position. I went up to him to try and save him.
“Hi! come further in,” I said, shaking him by the
shoulder. “You’ll be overboard.”
“Oh my! I wish I was,” was the only answer I could
get; and there I had to leave him.
Three weeks afterwards, I met him in the coffee-room of a Bath
hotel, talking about his voyages, and explaining, with
enthusiasm, how he loved the sea.
“Good sailor!” he replied in answer to a mild
young man’s envious query; “well, I did feel a little
queer once, I confess. It was off Cape Horn.
The vessel was wrecked the next morning.”
“Weren’t you a little shaky by Southend Pier one
day, and wanted to be thrown overboard?”
“Southend Pier!” he replied, with a puzzled
“Yes; going down to Yarmouth, last Friday three
“Oh, ah—yes,” he answered, brightening up;
“I remember now. I did have a headache that
afternoon. It was the pickles, you know. They were
the most disgraceful pickles I ever tasted in a respectable
boat. Did you have any?”
For myself, I have discovered an excellent preventive against
sea-sickness, in balancing myself. You stand in the centre
of the deck, and, as the ship heaves and pitches, you move your
body about, so as to keep it always straight. When the
front of the ship rises, you lean forward, till the deck almost
touches your nose; and when its back end gets up, you lean
backwards. This is all very well for an hour or two; but
you can’t balance yourself for a week.
“Let’s go up the river.”
He said we should have fresh air, exercise and quiet; the
constant change of scene would occupy our minds (including what
there was of Harris’s); and the hard work would give us a
good appetite, and make us sleep well.
Harris said he didn’t think George ought to do anything
that would have a tendency to make him sleepier than he always
was, as it might be dangerous. He said he didn’t very
well understand how George was going to sleep any more than he
did now, seeing that there were only twenty-four hours in each
day, summer and winter alike; but thought that if he did
sleep any more, he might just as well be dead, and so save his
board and lodging.
Harris said, however, that the river would suit him to a
“T.” I don’t know what a “T”
is (except a sixpenny one, which includes bread-and-butter and
cake ad lib., and is cheap at the price, if you
haven’t had any dinner). It seems to suit everybody,
however, which is greatly to its credit.
It suited me to a “T” too, and Harris and I both
said it was a good idea of George’s; and we said it in a
tone that seemed to somehow imply that we were surprised that
George should have come out so sensible.
The only one who was not struck with the suggestion was
Montmorency. He never did care for the river, did
“It’s all very well for you fellows,” he
says; “you like it, but I don’t.
There’s nothing for me to do. Scenery is not in my
line, and I don’t smoke. If I see a rat, you
won’t stop; and if I go to sleep, you get fooling about
with the boat, and slop me overboard. If you ask me, I call
the whole thing bally foolishness.”
We were three to one, however, and the motion was carried.
Plans discussed.—Pleasures of
“camping-out,” on fine nights.—Ditto, wet
nights.—Compromise decided on.—Montmorency, first
impressions of.—Fears lest he is too good for this world,
fears subsequently dismissed as groundless.—Meeting
We pulled out the maps, and discussed plans.
We arranged to start on the following Saturday from
Kingston. Harris and I would go down in the morning, and
take the boat up to Chertsey, and George, who would not be able
to get away from the City till the afternoon (George goes to
sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when
they wake him up and put him outside at two), would meet us
Should we “camp out” or sleep at inns?
George and I were for camping out. We said it would be
so wild and free, so patriarchal like.
Slowly the golden memory of the dead sun fades from the hearts
of the cold, sad clouds. Silent, like sorrowing children,
the birds have ceased their song, and only the moorhen’s
plaintive cry and the harsh croak of the corncrake stirs the awed
hush around the couch of waters, where the dying day breathes out
From the dim woods on either bank, Night’s ghostly army,
the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away
the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless,
unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the
sighing rushes; and Night, upon her sombre throne, folds her
black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom
palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.
Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent
is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten. Then
the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes
round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the
river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and
secrets, sings low the old child’s song that it has sung so
many thousand years—will sing so many thousand years to
come, before its voice grows harsh and old—a song that we,
who have learnt to love its changing face, who have so often
nestled on its yielding bosom, think, somehow, we understand,
though we could not tell you in mere words the story that we
And we sit there, by its margin, while the moon, who loves it
too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister’s kiss, and
throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as
it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king,
the sea—till our voices die away in silence, and the pipes
go out—till we, common-place, everyday young men enough,
feel strangely full of thoughts, half sad, half sweet, and do not
care or want to speak—till we laugh, and, rising, knock the
ashes from our burnt-out pipes, and say “Good-night,”
and, lulled by the lapping water and the rustling trees, we fall
asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream that the world
is young again—young and sweet as she used to be ere the
centuries of fret and care had furrowed her fair face, ere her
children’s sins and follies had made old her loving
heart—sweet as she was in those bygone days when, a
new-made mother, she nursed us, her children, upon her own deep
breast—ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us
away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality
had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the
simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands
“How about when it rained?”
You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about
Harris—no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris
never “weeps, he knows not why.” If
Harris’s eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because
Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester
over his chop.
If you were to stand at night by the sea-shore with Harris,
“Hark! do you not hear? Is it but the mermaids
singing deep below the waving waters; or sad spirits, chanting
dirges for white corpses, held by seaweed?” Harris
would take you by the arm, and say:
“I know what it is, old man; you’ve got a
chill. Now, you come along with me. I know a place
round the corner here, where you can get a drop of the finest
Scotch whisky you ever tasted—put you right in less than no
Harris always does know a place round the corner where you can
get something brilliant in the drinking line. I believe
that if you met Harris up in Paradise (supposing such a thing
likely), he would immediately greet you with:
“So glad you’ve come, old fellow; I’ve found
a nice place round the corner here, where you can get some really
In the present instance, however, as regarded the camping out,
his practical view of the matter came as a very timely
hint. Camping out in rainy weather is not pleasant.
It is evening. You are wet through, and there is a good
two inches of water in the boat, and all the things are
damp. You find a place on the banks that is not quite so
puddly as other places you have seen, and you land and lug out
the tent, and two of you proceed to fix it.
It is soaked and heavy, and it flops about, and tumbles down
on you, and clings round your head and makes you mad. The
rain is pouring steadily down all the time. It is difficult
enough to fix a tent in dry weather: in wet, the task becomes
herculean. Instead of helping you, it seems to you that the
other man is simply playing the fool. Just as you get your
side beautifully fixed, he gives it a hoist from his end, and
spoils it all.
“Here! what are you up to?” you call out.
“What are you up to?” he retorts;
“leggo, can’t you?”
“Don’t pull it; you’ve got it all wrong, you
stupid ass!” you shout.
“No, I haven’t,” he yells back; “let
go your side!”
“I tell you you’ve got it all wrong!” you
roar, wishing that you could get at him; and you give your ropes
a lug that pulls all his pegs out.
“Ah, the bally idiot!” you hear him mutter to
himself; and then comes a savage haul, and away goes your
side. You lay down the mallet and start to go round and
tell him what you think about the whole business, and, at the
same time, he starts round in the same direction to come and
explain his views to you. And you follow each other round
and round, swearing at one another, until the tent tumbles down
in a heap, and leaves you looking at each other across its ruins,
when you both indignantly exclaim, in the same breath:
“There you are! what did I tell you?”
Meanwhile the third man, who has been baling out the boat, and
who has spilled the water down his sleeve, and has been cursing
away to himself steadily for the last ten minutes, wants to know
what the thundering blazes you’re playing at, and why the
blarmed tent isn’t up yet.
At last, somehow or other, it does get up, and you land the
things. It is hopeless attempting to make a wood fire, so
you light the methylated spirit stove, and crowd round that.
Rainwater is the chief article of diet at supper. The
bread is two-thirds rainwater, the beefsteak-pie is exceedingly
rich in it, and the jam, and the butter, and the salt, and the
coffee have all combined with it to make soup.
After supper, you find your tobacco is damp, and you cannot
smoke. Luckily you have a bottle of the stuff that cheers
and inebriates, if taken in proper quantity, and this restores to
you sufficient interest in life to induce you to go to bed.
There you dream that an elephant has suddenly sat down on your
chest, and that the volcano has exploded and thrown you down to
the bottom of the sea—the elephant still sleeping
peacefully on your bosom. You wake up and grasp the idea
that something terrible really has happened. Your first
impression is that the end of the world has come; and then you
think that this cannot be, and that it is thieves and murderers,
or else fire, and this opinion you express in the usual
method. No help comes, however, and all you know is that
thousands of people are kicking you, and you are being
Somebody else seems in trouble, too. You can hear his
faint cries coming from underneath your bed. Determining,
at all events, to sell your life dearly, you struggle
frantically, hitting out right and left with arms and legs, and
yelling lustily the while, and at last something gives way, and
you find your head in the fresh air. Two feet off, you
dimly observe a half-dressed ruffian, waiting to kill you, and
you are preparing for a life-and-death struggle with him, when it
begins to dawn upon you that it’s Jim.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he says, recognising
you at the same moment.
“Yes,” you answer, rubbing your eyes;
“Bally tent’s blown down, I think,” he
says. “Where’s Bill?”
Then you both raise up your voices and shout for
“Bill!” and the ground beneath you heaves and rocks,
and the muffled voice that you heard before replies from out the
“Get off my head, can’t you?”
And Bill struggles out, a muddy, trampled wreck, and in an
unnecessarily aggressive mood—he being under the evident
belief that the whole thing has been done on purpose.
In the morning you are all three speechless, owing to having
caught severe colds in the night; you also feel very quarrelsome,
and you swear at each other in hoarse whispers during the whole
of breakfast time.
We therefore decided that we would sleep out on fine nights;
and hotel it, and inn it, and pub. it, like respectable folks,
when it was wet, or when we felt inclined for a change.
Montmorency hailed this compromise with much approval.
He does not revel in romantic solitude. Give him something
noisy; and if a trifle low, so much the jollier. To look at
Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the
earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a
small fox-terrier. There is a sort of
expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the
tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
When first he came to live at my expense, I never thought I
should be able to get him to stop long. I used to sit down
and look at him, as he sat on the rug and looked up at me, and
think: “Oh, that dog will never live. He will be
snatched up to the bright skies in a chariot, that is what will
happen to him.”
But, when I had paid for about a dozen chickens that he had
killed; and had dragged him, growling and kicking, by the scruff
of his neck, out of a hundred and fourteen street fights; and had
had a dead cat brought round for my inspection by an irate
female, who called me a murderer; and had been summoned by the
man next door but one for having a ferocious dog at large, that
had kept him pinned up in his own tool-shed, afraid to venture
his nose outside the door for over two hours on a cold night; and
had learned that the gardener, unknown to myself, had won thirty
shillings by backing him to kill rats against time, then I began
to think that maybe they’d let him remain on earth for a
bit longer, after all.
To hang about a stable, and collect a gang of the most
disreputable dogs to be found in the town, and lead them out to
march round the slums to fight other disreputable dogs, is
Montmorency’s idea of “life;” and so, as I
before observed, he gave to the suggestion of inns, and pubs.,
and hotels his most emphatic approbation.
Having thus settled the sleeping arrangements to the
satisfaction of all four of us, the only thing left to discuss
was what we should take with us; and this we had begun to argue,
when Harris said he’d had enough oratory for one night, and
proposed that we should go out and have a smile, saying that he
had found a place, round by the square, where you could really
get a drop of Irish worth drinking.
George said he felt thirsty (I never knew George when he
didn’t); and, as I had a presentiment that a little whisky,
warm, with a slice of lemon, would do my complaint good, the
debate was, by common assent, adjourned to the following night;
and the assembly put on its hats and went out.
method of doing work.—How the elderly, family-man puts up a
picture.—George makes a sensible, remark.—Delights of
early morning bathing.—Provisions for getting upset.
So, on the following evening, we again assembled, to discuss
and arrange our plans. Harris said:
“Now, the first thing to settle is what to take with
us. Now, you get a bit of paper and write down, J., and you
get the grocery catalogue, George, and somebody give me a bit of
pencil, and then I’ll make out a list.”
That’s Harris all over—so ready to take the burden
of everything himself, and put it on the backs of other
He always reminds me of my poor Uncle Podger. You never
saw such a commotion up and down a house, in all your life, as
when my Uncle Podger undertook to do a job. A picture would
have come home from the frame-maker’s, and be standing in
the dining-room, waiting to be put up; and Aunt Podger would ask
what was to be done with it, and Uncle Podger would say:
“Oh, you leave that to me. Don’t you,
any of you, worry yourselves about that. I’ll
do all that.”
And then he would take off his coat, and begin. He would
send the girl out for sixpen’orth of nails, and then one of
the boys after her to tell her what size to get; and, from that,
he would gradually work down, and start the whole house.
“Now you go and get me my hammer, Will,” he would
shout; “and you bring me the rule, Tom; and I shall want
the step-ladder, and I had better have a kitchen-chair, too; and,
Jim! you run round to Mr. Goggles, and tell him,
‘Pa’s kind regards, and hopes his leg’s better;
and will he lend him his spirit-level?’ And
don’t you go, Maria, because I shall want somebody to hold
me the light; and when the girl comes back, she must go out again
for a bit of picture-cord; and Tom!—where’s
Tom?—Tom, you come here; I shall want you to hand me up the
And then he would lift up the picture, and drop it, and it
would come out of the frame, and he would try to save the glass,
and cut himself; and then he would spring round the room, looking
for his handkerchief. He could not find his handkerchief,
because it was in the pocket of the coat he had taken off, and he
did not know where he had put the coat, and all the house had to
leave off looking for his tools, and start looking for his coat;
while he would dance round and hinder them.
“Doesn’t anybody in the whole house know where my
coat is? I never came across such a set in all my
life—upon my word I didn’t. Six of
you!—and you can’t find a coat that I put down not
five minutes ago! Well, of all the—”
Then he’d get up, and find that he had been sitting on
it, and would call out:
“Oh, you can give it up! I’ve found it
myself now. Might just as well ask the cat to find anything
as expect you people to find it.”
And, when half an hour had been spent in tying up his finger,
and a new glass had been got, and the tools, and the ladder, and
the chair, and the candle had been brought, he would have another
go, the whole family, including the girl and the charwoman,
standing round in a semi-circle, ready to help. Two people
would have to hold the chair, and a third would help him up on
it, and hold him there, and a fourth would hand him a nail, and a
fifth would pass him up the hammer, and he would take hold of the
nail, and drop it.
“There!” he would say, in an injured tone,
“now the nail’s gone.”
And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for
it, while he would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to
know if he was to be kept there all the evening.
The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would
have lost the hammer.
“Where’s the hammer? What did I do with the
hammer? Great heavens! Seven of you, gaping round
there, and you don’t know what I did with the
We would find the hammer for him, and then he would have lost
sight of the mark he had made on the wall, where the nail was to
go in, and each of us had to get up on the chair, beside him, and
see if we could find it; and we would each discover it in a
different place, and he would call us all fools, one after
another, and tell us to get down. And he would take the
rule, and re-measure, and find that he wanted half thirty-one and
three-eighths inches from the corner, and would try to do it in
his head, and go mad.
And we would all try to do it in our heads, and all arrive at
different results, and sneer at one another. And in the
general row, the original number would be forgotten, and Uncle
Podger would have to measure it again.
He would use a bit of string this time, and at the critical
moment, when the old fool was leaning over the chair at an angle
of forty-five, and trying to reach a point three inches beyond
what was possible for him to reach, the string would slip, and
down he would slide on to the piano, a really fine musical effect
being produced by the suddenness with which his head and body
struck all the notes at the same time.
And Aunt Maria would say that she would not allow the children
to stand round and hear such language.
At last, Uncle Podger would get the spot fixed again, and put
the point of the nail on it with his left hand, and take the
hammer in his right hand. And, with the first blow, he
would smash his thumb, and drop the hammer, with a yell, on
Aunt Maria would mildly observe that, next time Uncle Podger
was going to hammer a nail into the wall, she hoped he’d
let her know in time, so that she could make arrangements to go
and spend a week with her mother while it was being done.
“Oh! you women, you make such a fuss over
everything,” Uncle Podger would reply, picking himself
up. “Why, I like doing a little job of this
And then he would have another try, and, at the second blow,
the nail would go clean through the plaster, and half the hammer
after it, and Uncle Podger be precipitated against the wall with
force nearly sufficient to flatten his nose.
Then we had to find the rule and the string again, and a new
hole was made; and, about midnight, the picture would be
up—very crooked and insecure, the wall for yards round
looking as if it had been smoothed down with a rake, and
everybody dead beat and wretched—except Uncle Podger.
“There you are,” he would say, stepping heavily
off the chair on to the charwoman’s corns, and surveying
the mess he had made with evident pride. “Why, some
people would have had a man in to do a little thing like
Harris will be just that sort of man when he grows up, I know,
and I told him so. I said I could not permit him to take so
much labour upon himself. I said:
“No; you get the paper, and the pencil, and the
catalogue, and George write down, and I’ll do the
The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was
clear that the upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the
navigation of a boat sufficiently large to take the things we had
set down as indispensable; so we tore the list up, and looked at
“You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We
must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the
things that we can’t do without.”
George comes out really quite sensible at times.
You’d be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not
merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our
trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on
that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of
swamping with a store of foolish things which they think
essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are
really only useless lumber.
How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine
clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of
swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they
do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive
entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions,
with pretence and ostentation, and with—oh, heaviest,
maddest lumber of all!—the dread of what will my neighbour
think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore,
with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of
yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!
It is lumber, man—all lumber! Throw it
overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly
faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous
to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety
and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy
laziness—no time to watch the windy shadows skimming
lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams
flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the
margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green
and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving
rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue
Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be
light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and
simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to
love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two,
enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough
to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be
so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does
upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will
have time to think as well as to work. Time to drink in
life’s sunshine—time to listen to the Æolian
music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings
around us—time to—
I beg your pardon, really. I quite forgot.
Well, we left the list to George, and he began it.
“We won’t take a tent,” suggested George;
“we will have a boat with a cover. It is ever so much
simpler, and more comfortable.”
It seemed a good thought, and we adopted it. I do not
know whether you have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix
iron hoops up over the boat, and stretch a huge canvas over them,
and fasten it down all round, from stem to stern, and it converts
the boat into a sort of little house, and it is beautifully cosy,
though a trifle stuffy; but there, everything has its drawbacks,
as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down
upon him for the funeral expenses.
George said that in that case we must take a rug each, a lamp,
some soap, a brush and comb (between us), a toothbrush (each), a
basin, some tooth-powder, some shaving tackle (sounds like a
French exercise, doesn’t it?), and a couple of big-towels
for bathing. I notice that people always make gigantic
arrangements for bathing when they are going anywhere near the
water, but that they don’t bathe much when they are
It is the same when you go to the sea-side. I always
determine—when thinking over the matter in
London—that I’ll get up early every morning, and go
and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack up a pair
of drawers and a bath towel. I always get red bathing
drawers. I rather fancy myself in red drawers. They
suit my complexion so. But when I get to the sea I
don’t feel somehow that I want that early morning bathe
nearly so much as I did when I was in town.
On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till
the last moment, and then come down and have my breakfast.
Once or twice virtue has triumphed, and I have got out at six and
half-dressed myself, and have taken my drawers and towel, and
stumbled dismally off. But I haven’t enjoyed
it. They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind,
waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they
pick out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top,
and they sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a
bit of sand so that I can’t see them, and they take the sea
and put it two miles out, so that I have to huddle myself up in
my arms and hop, shivering, through six inches of water.
And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite
One huge wave catches me up and chucks me in a sitting
posture, as hard as ever it can, down on to a rock which has been
put there for me. And, before I’ve said “Oh!
Ugh!” and found out what has gone, the wave comes back and
carries me out to mid-ocean. I begin to strike out
frantically for the shore, and wonder if I shall ever see home
and friends again, and wish I’d been kinder to my little
sister when a boy (when I was a boy, I mean). Just when I
have given up all hope, a wave retires and leaves me sprawling
like a star-fish on the sand, and I get up and look back and find
that I’ve been swimming for my life in two feet of
water. I hop back and dress, and crawl home, where I have
to pretend I liked it.
In the present instance, we all talked as if we were going to
have a long swim every morning.
George said it was so pleasant to wake up in the boat in the
fresh morning, and plunge into the limpid river. Harris
said there was nothing like a swim before breakfast to give you
an appetite. He said it always gave him an appetite.
George said that if it was going to make Harris eat more than
Harris ordinarily ate, then he should protest against Harris
having a bath at all.
He said there would be quite enough hard work in towing
sufficient food for Harris up against stream, as it was.
I urged upon George, however, how much pleasanter it would be
to have Harris clean and fresh about the boat, even if we did
have to take a few more hundredweight of provisions; and he got
to see it in my light, and withdrew his opposition to
Agreed, finally, that we should take three bath towels,
so as not to keep each other waiting.
For clothes, George said two suits of flannel would be
sufficient, as we could wash them ourselves, in the river, when
they got dirty. We asked him if he had ever tried washing
flannels in the river, and he replied: “No, not exactly
himself like; but he knew some fellows who had, and it was easy
enough;” and Harris and I were weak enough to fancy he knew
what he was talking about, and that three respectable young men,
without position or influence, and with no experience in washing,
could really clean their own shirts and trousers in the river
Thames with a bit of soap.
We were to learn in the days to come, when it was too late,
that George was a miserable impostor, who could evidently have
known nothing whatever about the matter. If you had seen
these clothes after—but, as the shilling shockers say, we
George impressed upon us to take a change of under-things and
plenty of socks, in case we got upset and wanted a change; also
plenty of handkerchiefs, as they would do to wipe things, and a
pair of leather boots as well as our boating shoes, as we should
want them if we got upset.
The food question.—Objections to
paraffine oil as an atmosphere.—Advantages of cheese as a
travelling companion.—A married woman deserts her
home.—Further provision for getting upset.—I
pack.—Cussedness of tooth-brushes.—George and Harris
pack.—Awful behaviour of Montmorency.—We retire to
Then we discussed the food question. George said:
“Begin with breakfast.” (George is so
practical.) “Now for breakfast we shall want a
frying-pan”—(Harris said it was indigestible; but we
merely urged him not to be an ass, and George went
on)—“a tea-pot and a kettle, and a methylated spirit
“No oil,” said George, with a significant look;
and Harris and I agreed.
We had taken up an oil-stove once, but “never
again.” It had been like living in an oil-shop that
week. It oozed. I never saw such a thing as paraffine
oil is to ooze. We kept it in the nose of the boat, and,
from there, it oozed down to the rudder, impregnating the whole
boat and everything in it on its way, and it oozed over the
river, and saturated the scenery and spoilt the atmosphere.
Sometimes a westerly oily wind blew, and at other times an
easterly oily wind, and sometimes it blew a northerly oily wind,
and maybe a southerly oily wind; but whether it came from the
Arctic snows, or was raised in the waste of the desert sands, it
came alike to us laden with the fragrance of paraffine oil.
And that oil oozed up and ruined the sunset; and as for the
moonbeams, they positively reeked of paraffine.
We tried to get away from it at Marlow. We left the boat
by the bridge, and took a walk through the town to escape it, but
it followed us. The whole town was full of oil. We
passed through the church-yard, and it seemed as if the people
had been buried in oil. The High Street stunk of oil; we
wondered how people could live in it. And we walked miles
upon miles out Birmingham way; but it was no use, the country was
steeped in oil.
At the end of that trip we met together at midnight in a
lonely field, under a blasted oak, and took an awful oath (we had
been swearing for a whole week about the thing in an ordinary,
middle-class way, but this was a swell affair)—an awful
oath never to take paraffine oil with us in a boat again-except,
of course, in case of sickness.
Therefore, in the present instance, we confined ourselves to
methylated spirit. Even that is bad enough. You get
methylated pie and methylated cake. But methylated spirit
is more wholesome when taken into the system in large quantities
than paraffine oil.
For other breakfast things, George suggested eggs and bacon,
which were easy to cook, cold meat, tea, bread and butter, and
jam. For lunch, he said, we could have biscuits, cold meat,
bread and butter, and jam—but no cheese.
Cheese, like oil, makes too much of itself. It wants the
whole boat to itself. It goes through the hamper, and gives
a cheesy flavour to everything else there. You can’t
tell whether you are eating apple-pie or German sausage, or
strawberries and cream. It all seems cheese. There is
too much odour about cheese.
I remember a friend of mine, buying a couple of cheeses at
Liverpool. Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and
with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have
been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two
hundred yards. I was in Liverpool at the time, and my
friend said that if I didn’t mind he would get me to take
them back with me to London, as he should not be coming up for a
day or two himself, and he did not think the cheeses ought to be
kept much longer.
“Oh, with pleasure, dear boy,” I replied,
I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab.
It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed,
broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of
enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I
put the cheeses on the top, and we started off at a shamble that
would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built,
and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned the
corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses
full on to our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of
terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind
still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the
street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles
an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply
It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at
the station; and I do not think they would have done it, even
then, had not one of the men had the presence of mind to put a
handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown
I took my ticket, and marched proudly up the platform, with my
cheeses, the people falling back respectfully on either
side. The train was crowded, and I had to get into a
carriage where there were already seven other people. One
crusty old gentleman objected, but I got in, notwithstanding;
and, putting my cheeses upon the rack, squeezed down with a
pleasant smile, and said it was a warm day.
A few moments passed, and then the old gentleman began to
“Very close in here,” he said.
“Quite oppressive,” said the man next him.
And then they both began sniffing, and, at the third sniff,
they caught it right on the chest, and rose up without another
word and went out. And then a stout lady got up, and said
it was disgraceful that a respectable married woman should be
harried about in this way, and gathered up a bag and eight
parcels and went. The remaining four passengers sat on for
a while, until a solemn-looking man in the corner, who, from his
dress and general appearance, seemed to belong to the undertaker
class, said it put him in mind of dead baby; and the other three
passengers tried to get out of the door at the same time, and
I smiled at the black gentleman, and said I thought we were
going to have the carriage to ourselves; and he laughed
pleasantly, and said that some people made such a fuss over a
little thing. But even he grew strangely depressed after we
had started, and so, when we reached Crewe, I asked him to come
and have a drink. He accepted, and we forced our way into
the buffet, where we yelled, and stamped, and waved our umbrellas
for a quarter of an hour; and then a young lady came, and asked
us if we wanted anything.
“What’s yours?” I said, turning to my
“I’ll have half-a-crown’s worth of brandy,
neat, if you please, miss,” he responded.
And he went off quietly after he had drunk it and got into
another carriage, which I thought mean.
From Crewe I had the compartment to myself, though the train
was crowded. As we drew up at the different stations, the
people, seeing my empty carriage, would rush for it.
“Here y’ are, Maria; come along, plenty of
room.” “All right, Tom; we’ll get in
here,” they would shout. And they would run along,
carrying heavy bags, and fight round the door to get in
first. And one would open the door and mount the steps, and
stagger back into the arms of the man behind him; and they would
all come and have a sniff, and then droop off and squeeze into
other carriages, or pay the difference and go first.
From Euston, I took the cheeses down to my friend’s
house. When his wife came into the room she smelt round for
an instant. Then she said:
“What is it? Tell me the worst.”
“It’s cheeses. Tom bought them in Liverpool,
and asked me to bring them up with me.”
And I added that I hoped she understood that it had nothing to
do with me; and she said that she was sure of that, but that she
would speak to Tom about it when he came back.
My friend was detained in Liverpool longer than he expected;
and, three days later, as he hadn’t returned home, his wife
called on me. She said:
“What did Tom say about those cheeses?”
I replied that he had directed they were to be kept in a moist
place, and that nobody was to touch them.
“Nobody’s likely to touch them. Had he smelt
I thought he had, and added that he seemed greatly attached to
“You think he would be upset,” she queried,
“if I gave a man a sovereign to take them away and bury
I answered that I thought he would never smile again.
An idea struck her. She said:
“Do you mind keeping them for him? Let me send
them round to you.”
“Madam,” I replied, “for myself I like the
smell of cheese, and the journey the other day with them from
Liverpool I shall ever look back upon as a happy ending to a
pleasant holiday. But, in this world, we must consider
others. The lady under whose roof I have the honour of
residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan
too. She has a strong, I may say an eloquent, objection to
being what she terms ‘put upon.’ The presence
of your husband’s cheeses in her house she would, I
instinctively feel, regard as a ‘put upon’; and it
shall never be said that I put upon the widow and the
“Very well, then,” said my friend’s wife,
rising, “all I have to say is, that I shall take the
children and go to an hotel until those cheeses are eaten.
I decline to live any longer in the same house with
She kept her word, leaving the place in charge of the
charwoman, who, when asked if she could stand the smell, replied,
“What smell?” and who, when taken close to the
cheeses and told to sniff hard, said she could detect a faint
odour of melons. It was argued from this that little injury
could result to the woman from the atmosphere, and she was
The hotel bill came to fifteen guineas; and my friend, after
reckoning everything up, found that the cheeses had cost him
eight-and-sixpence a pound. He said he dearly loved a bit
of cheese, but it was beyond his means; so he determined to get
rid of them. He threw them into the canal; but had to fish
them out again, as the bargemen complained. They said it
made them feel quite faint. And, after that, he took them
one dark night and left them in the parish mortuary. But
the coroner discovered them, and made a fearful fuss.
He said it was a plot to deprive him of his living by waking
up the corpses.
My friend got rid of them, at last, by taking them down to a
sea-side town, and burying them on the beach. It gained the
place quite a reputation. Visitors said they had never
noticed before how strong the air was, and weak-chested and
consumptive people used to throng there for years afterwards.
Fond as I am of cheese, therefore, I hold that George was
right in declining to take any.
“We shan’t want any tea,” said George
(Harris’s face fell at this); “but we’ll have a
good round, square, slap-up meal at seven—dinner, tea, and
Harris grew more cheerful. George suggested meat and
fruit pies, cold meat, tomatoes, fruit, and green stuff.
For drink, we took some wonderful sticky concoction of
Harris’s, which you mixed with water and called lemonade,
plenty of tea, and a bottle of whisky, in case, as George said,
we got upset.
It seemed to me that George harped too much on the
getting-upset idea. It seemed to me the wrong spirit to go
about the trip in.
But I’m glad we took the whisky.
We didn’t take beer or wine. They are a mistake up
the river. They make you feel sleepy and heavy. A
glass in the evening when you are doing a mouch round the town
and looking at the girls is all right enough; but don’t
drink when the sun is blazing down on your head, and you’ve
got hard work to do.
We made a list of the things to be taken, and a pretty lengthy
one it was, before we parted that evening. The next day,
which was Friday, we got them all together, and met in the
evening to pack. We got a big Gladstone for the clothes,
and a couple of hampers for the victuals and the cooking
utensils. We moved the table up against the window, piled
everything in a heap in the middle of the floor, and sat round
and looked at it.
I said I’d pack.
I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of
those many things that I feel I know more about than any other
person living. (It surprises me myself, sometimes, how many
of these subjects there are.) I impressed the fact upon
George and Harris, and told them that they had better leave the
whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion
with a readiness that had something uncanny about it.
George put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and
Harris cocked his legs on the table and lit a cigar.
This was hardly what I intended. What I had meant, of
course, was, that I should boss the job, and that Harris and
George should potter about under my directions, I pushing them
aside every now and then with, “Oh,
you—!” “Here, let me do it.”
“There you are, simple enough!”—really teaching
them, as you might say. Their taking it in the way they did
irritated me. There is nothing does irritate me more than
seeing other people sitting about doing nothing when I’m
I lived with a man once who used to make me mad that
way. He would loll on the sofa and watch me doing things by
the hour together, following me round the room with his eyes,
wherever I went. He said it did him real good to look on at
me, messing about. He said it made him feel that life was
not an idle dream to be gaped and yawned through, but a noble
task, full of duty and stern work. He said he often
wondered now how he could have gone on before he met me, never
having anybody to look at while they worked.
Now, I’m not like that. I can’t sit still
and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up
and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and
tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I
can’t help it.
However, I did not say anything, but started the
packing. It seemed a longer job than I had thought it was
going to be; but I got the bag finished at last, and I sat on it
and strapped it.
“Ain’t you going to put the boots in?” said
And I looked round, and found I had forgotten them.
That’s just like Harris. He couldn’t have said
a word until I’d got the bag shut and strapped, of
course. And George laughed—one of those irritating,
senseless, chuckle-headed, crack-jawed laughs of his. They
do make me so wild.
I opened the bag and packed the boots in; and then, just as I
was going to close it, a horrible idea occurred to me. Had
I packed my tooth-brush? I don’t know how it is, but
I never do know whether I’ve packed my tooth-brush.
My tooth-brush is a thing that haunts me when I’m
travelling, and makes my life a misery. I dream that I
haven’t packed it, and wake up in a cold perspiration, and
get out of bed and hunt for it. And, in the morning, I pack
it before I have used it, and have to unpack again to get it, and
it is always the last thing I turn out of the bag; and then I
repack and forget it, and have to rush upstairs for it at the
last moment and carry it to the railway station, wrapped up in my
Of course I had to turn every mortal thing out now, and, of
course, I could not find it. I rummaged the things up into
much the same state that they must have been before the world was
created, and when chaos reigned. Of course, I found
George’s and Harris’s eighteen times over, but I
couldn’t find my own. I put the things back one by
one, and held everything up and shook it. Then I found it
inside a boot. I repacked once more.
When I had finished, George asked if the soap was in. I
said I didn’t care a hang whether the soap was in or
whether it wasn’t; and I slammed the bag to and strapped
it, and found that I had packed my tobacco-pouch in it, and had
to re-open it. It got shut up finally at 10.5 p.m., and
then there remained the hampers to do. Harris said that we
should be wanting to start in less than twelve hours’ time,
and thought that he and George had better do the rest; and I
agreed and sat down, and they had a go.
They began in a light-hearted spirit, evidently intending to
show me how to do it. I made no comment; I only
waited. When George is hanged, Harris will be the worst
packer in this world; and I looked at the piles of plates and
cups, and kettles, and bottles and jars, and pies, and stoves,
and cakes, and tomatoes, &c., and felt that the thing would
soon become exciting.
It did. They started with breaking a cup. That was
the first thing they did. They did that just to show you
what they could do, and to get you interested.
Then Harris packed the strawberry jam on top of a tomato and
squashed it, and they had to pick out the tomato with a
And then it was George’s turn, and he trod on the
butter. I didn’t say anything, but I came over and
sat on the edge of the table and watched them. It irritated
them more than anything I could have said. I felt
that. It made them nervous and excited, and they stepped on
things, and put things behind them, and then couldn’t find
them when they wanted them; and they packed the pies at the
bottom, and put heavy things on top, and smashed the pies in.
They upset salt over everything, and as for the butter!
I never saw two men do more with one-and-twopence worth of butter
in my whole life than they did. After George had got it off
his slipper, they tried to put it in the kettle. It
wouldn’t go in, and what was in wouldn’t come
out. They did scrape it out at last, and put it down on a
chair, and Harris sat on it, and it stuck to him, and they went
looking for it all over the room.
“I’ll take my oath I put it down on that
chair,” said George, staring at the empty seat.
“I saw you do it myself, not a minute ago,” said
Then they started round the room again looking for it; and
then they met again in the centre, and stared at one another.
“Most extraordinary thing I ever heard of,” said
“So mysterious!” said Harris.
Then George got round at the back of Harris and saw it.
“Why, here it is all the time,” he exclaimed,
“Where?” cried Harris, spinning round.
“Stand still, can’t you!” roared George,
flying after him.
And they got it off, and packed it in the teapot.
Montmorency was in it all, of course.
Montmorency’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be
sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere where he
particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make
people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his
day has not been wasted.
To get somebody to stumble over him, and curse him steadily
for an hour, is his highest aim and object; and, when he has
succeeded in accomplishing this, his conceit becomes quite
He came and sat down on things, just when they were wanted to
be packed; and he laboured under the fixed belief that, whenever
Harris or George reached out their hand for anything, it was his
cold, damp nose that they wanted. He put his leg into the
jam, and he worried the teaspoons, and he pretended that the
lemons were rats, and got into the hamper and killed three of
them before Harris could land him with the frying-pan.
Harris said I encouraged him. I didn’t encourage
him. A dog like that don’t want any
encouragement. It’s the natural, original sin that is
born in him that makes him do things like that.
The packing was done at 12.50; and Harris sat on the big
hamper, and said he hoped nothing would be found broken.
George said that if anything was broken it was broken, which
reflection seemed to comfort him. He also said he was ready
for bed. We were all ready for bed. Harris was to
sleep with us that night, and we went upstairs.
We tossed for beds, and Harris had to sleep with me. He
“Do you prefer the inside or the outside, J.?”
I said I generally preferred to sleep inside a bed.
Harris said it was old.
“What time shall I wake you fellows?”
“No—six,” because I wanted to write some
Harris and I had a bit of a row over it, but at last split the
difference, and said half-past six.
“Wake us at 6.30, George,” we said.
George made no answer, and we found, on going over, that he
had been asleep for some time; so we placed the bath where he
could tumble into it on getting out in the morning, and went to
Mrs. P. arouses us.—George, the
sluggard.—The “weather forecast”
swindle.—Our luggage.—Depravity of the small
boy.—The people gather round us.—We drive off in
great style, and arrive at Waterloo.—Innocence of South
Western Officials concerning such worldly things as
trains.—We are afloat, afloat in an open boat.
It was Mrs. Poppets that woke me up next morning.
“Do you know that it’s nearly nine o’clock,
“Nine o’ what?” I cried, starting up.
“Nine o’clock,” she replied, through the
keyhole. “I thought you was a-oversleeping
I woke Harris, and told him. He said:
“I thought you wanted to get up at six?”
“So I did,” I answered; “why didn’t
you wake me?”
“How could I wake you, when you didn’t wake
me?” he retorted. “Now we shan’t get on
the water till after twelve. I wonder you take the trouble
to get up at all.”
“Um,” I replied, “lucky for you that I
do. If I hadn’t woke you, you’d have lain there
for the whole fortnight.”
We snarled at one another in this strain for the next few
minutes, when we were interrupted by a defiant snore from
George. It reminded us, for the first time since our being
called, of his existence. There he lay—the man who
had wanted to know what time he should wake us—on his back,
with his mouth wide open, and his knees stuck up.
I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight
of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me. It
seems to me so shocking to see the precious hours of a
man’s life—the priceless moments that will never come
back to him again—being wasted in mere brutish sleep.
There was George, throwing away in hideous sloth the
inestimable gift of time; his valuable life, every second of
which he would have to account for hereafter, passing away from
him, unused. He might have been up stuffing himself with
eggs and bacon, irritating the dog, or flirting with the slavey,
instead of sprawling there, sunk in soul-clogging oblivion.
It was a terrible thought. Harris and I appeared to be
struck by it at the same instant. We determined to save
him, and, in this noble resolve, our own dispute was
forgotten. We flew across and slung the clothes off him,
and Harris landed him one with a slipper, and I shouted in his
ear, and he awoke.
“Wasermarrer?” he observed, sitting up.
“Get up, you fat-headed chunk!” roared
Harris. “It’s quarter to ten.”
“What!” he shrieked, jumping out of bed into the
bath; “Who the thunder put this thing here?”
We told him he must have been a fool not to see the bath.
We finished dressing, and, when it came to the extras, we
remembered that we had packed the tooth-brushes and the brush and
comb (that tooth-brush of mine will be the death of me, I know),
and we had to go downstairs, and fish them out of the bag.
And when we had done that George wanted the shaving tackle.
We told him that he would have to go without shaving that
morning, as we weren’t going to unpack that bag again for
him, nor for anyone like him.
“Don’t be absurd. How can I go into the City
It was certainly rather rough on the City, but what cared we
for human suffering? As Harris said, in his common, vulgar
way, the City would have to lump it.
We went downstairs to breakfast. Montmorency had
invited two other dogs to come and see him off, and they were
whiling away the time by fighting on the doorstep. We
calmed them with an umbrella, and sat down to chops and cold
“The great thing is to make a good breakfast,” and
he started with a couple of chops, saying that he would take
these while they were hot, as the beef could wait.
George got hold of the paper, and read us out the boating
fatalities, and the weather forecast, which latter prophesied
“rain, cold, wet to fine” (whatever more than usually
ghastly thing in weather that may be), “occasional local
thunder-storms, east wind, with general depression over the
Midland Counties (London and Channel). Bar.
I do think that, of all the silly, irritating tomfoolishness
by which we are plagued, this “weather-forecast”
fraud is about the most aggravating. It
“forecasts” precisely what happened yesterday or a
the day before, and precisely the opposite of what is going to
I remember a holiday of mine being completely ruined one late
autumn by our paying attention to the weather report of the local
newspaper. “Heavy showers, with thunderstorms, may be
expected to-day,” it would say on Monday, and so we would
give up our picnic, and stop indoors all day, waiting for the
rain.—And people would pass the house, going off in
wagonettes and coaches as jolly and merry as could be, the sun
shining out, and not a cloud to be seen.
“Ah!” we said, as we stood looking out at them
through the window, “won’t they come home
And we chuckled to think how wet they were going to get, and
came back and stirred the fire, and got our books, and arranged
our specimens of seaweed and cockle shells. By twelve
o’clock, with the sun pouring into the room, the heat
became quite oppressive, and we wondered when those heavy showers
and occasional thunderstorms were going to begin.
“Ah! they’ll come in the afternoon, you’ll
find,” we said to each other. “Oh,
won’t those people get wet. What a
At one o’clock, the landlady would come in to ask if we
weren’t going out, as it seemed such a lovely day.
“No, no,” we replied, with a knowing chuckle,
“not we. We don’t mean to get
And when the afternoon was nearly gone, and still there was no
sign of rain, we tried to cheer ourselves up with the idea that
it would come down all at once, just as the people had started
for home, and were out of the reach of any shelter, and that they
would thus get more drenched than ever. But not a drop ever
fell, and it finished a grand day, and a lovely night after
The next morning we would read that it was going to be a
“warm, fine to set-fair day; much heat;” and we would
dress ourselves in flimsy things, and go out, and, half-an-hour
after we had started, it would commence to rain hard, and a
bitterly cold wind would spring up, and both would keep on
steadily for the whole day, and we would come home with colds and
rheumatism all over us, and go to bed.
The weather is a thing that is beyond me altogether. I
never can understand it. The barometer is useless: it is as
misleading as the newspaper forecast.
There was one hanging up in a hotel at Oxford at which I was
staying last spring, and, when I got there, it was pointing to
“set fair.” It was simply pouring with rain
outside, and had been all day; and I couldn’t quite make
matters out. I tapped the barometer, and it jumped up and
pointed to “very dry.” The Boots stopped as he
was passing, and said he expected it meant to-morrow. I
fancied that maybe it was thinking of the week before last, but
Boots said, No, he thought not.
I tapped it again the next morning, and it went up still
higher, and the rain came down faster than ever. On
Wednesday I went and hit it again, and the pointer went round
towards “set fair,” “very dry,” and
“much heat,” until it was stopped by the peg, and
couldn’t go any further. It tried its best, but the
instrument was built so that it couldn’t prophesy fine
weather any harder than it did without breaking itself. It
evidently wanted to go on, and prognosticate drought, and water
famine, and sunstroke, and simooms, and such things, but the peg
prevented it, and it had to be content with pointing to the mere
commonplace “very dry.”
Meanwhile, the rain came down in a steady torrent, and the
lower part of the town was under water, owing to the river having
Boots said it was evident that we were going to have a
prolonged spell of grand weather some time, and read out a
poem which was printed over the top of the oracle, about
“Long foretold, long last;
Short notice, soon past.”
“Long foretold, long last;
Short notice, soon past.”
The fine weather never came that summer. I expect that
machine must have been referring to the following spring.
Then there are those new style of barometers, the long
straight ones. I never can make head or tail of
those. There is one side for 10 a.m. yesterday, and one
side for 10 a.m. to-day; but you can’t always get there as
early as ten, you know. It rises or falls for rain and
fine, with much or less wind, and one end is “Nly”
and the other “Ely” (what’s Ely got to do with
it?), and if you tap it, it doesn’t tell you
anything. And you’ve got to correct it to sea-level,
and reduce it to Fahrenheit, and even then I don’t know the
But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad
enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing
about it beforehand. The prophet we like is the old man
who, on the particularly gloomy-looking morning of some day when
we particularly want it to be fine, looks round the horizon with
a particularly knowing eye, and says:
“Oh no, sir, I think it will clear up all right.
It will break all right enough, sir.”
“Ah, he knows”, we say, as we wish him
good-morning, and start off; “wonderful how these old
fellows can tell!”
And we feel an affection for that man which is not at all
lessened by the circumstances of its not clearing up, but
continuing to rain steadily all day.
“Ah, well,” we feel, “he did his
For the man that prophesies us bad weather, on the contrary,
we entertain only bitter and revengeful thoughts.
“Going to clear up, d’ye think?” we shout,
cheerily, as we pass.
“Well, no, sir; I’m afraid it’s settled down
for the day,” he replies, shaking his head.
“Stupid old fool!” we mutter, “what’s
he know about it?” And, if his portent proves
correct, we come back feeling still more angry against him, and
with a vague notion that, somehow or other, he has had something
to do with it.
It was too bright and sunny on this especial morning for
George’s blood-curdling readings about “Bar.
falling,” “atmospheric disturbance, passing in an
oblique line over Southern Europe,” and “pressure
increasing,” to very much upset us: and so, finding that he
could not make us wretched, and was only wasting his time, he
sneaked the cigarette that I had carefully rolled up for myself,
Then Harris and I, having finished up the few things left on
the table, carted out our luggage on to the doorstep, and waited
for a cab.
There seemed a good deal of luggage, when we put it all
together. There was the Gladstone and the small hand-bag,
and the two hampers, and a large roll of rugs, and some four or
five overcoats and macintoshes, and a few umbrellas, and then
there was a melon by itself in a bag, because it was too bulky to
go in anywhere, and a couple of pounds of grapes in another bag,
and a Japanese paper umbrella, and a frying pan, which, being too
long to pack, we had wrapped round with brown paper.
It did look a lot, and Harris and I began to feel rather
ashamed of it, though why we should be, I can’t see.
No cab came by, but the street boys did, and got interested in
the show, apparently, and stopped.
Biggs’s boy was the first to come round. Biggs is
our greengrocer, and his chief talent lies in securing the
services of the most abandoned and unprincipled errand-boys that
civilisation has as yet produced. If anything more than
usually villainous in the boy-line crops up in our neighbourhood,
we know that it is Biggs’s latest. I was told that,
at the time of the Great Coram Street murder, it was promptly
concluded by our street that Biggs’s boy (for that period)
was at the bottom of it, and had he not been able, in reply to
the severe cross-examination to which he was subjected by No. 19,
when he called there for orders the morning after the crime
(assisted by No. 21, who happened to be on the step at the time),
to prove a complete alibi, it would have gone hard with
him. I didn’t know Biggs’s boy at that time,
but, from what I have seen of them since, I should not have
attached much importance to that alibi myself.
Biggs’s boy, as I have said, came round the
corner. He was evidently in a great hurry when he first
dawned upon the vision, but, on catching sight of Harris and me,
and Montmorency, and the things, he eased up and stared.
Harris and I frowned at him. This might have wounded a more
sensitive nature, but Biggs’s boys are not, as a rule,
touchy. He came to a dead stop, a yard from our step, and,
leaning up against the railings, and selecting a straw to chew,
fixed us with his eye. He evidently meant to see this thing
In another moment, the grocer’s boy passed on the
opposite side of the street. Biggs’s boy hailed
“Hi! ground floor o’ 42’s
The grocer’s boy came across, and took up a position on
the other side of the step. Then the young gentleman from
the boot-shop stopped, and joined Biggs’s boy; while the
empty-can superintendent from “The Blue Posts” took
up an independent position on the curb.
“They ain’t a-going to starve, are they?”
said the gentleman from the boot-shop.
“Ah! you’d want to take a thing or two with
you,” retorted “The Blue Posts,”
“if you was a-going to cross the Atlantic in a small
“They ain’t a-going to cross the Atlantic,”
struck in Biggs’s boy; “they’re a-going to find
By this time, quite a small crowd had collected, and people
were asking each other what was the matter. One party (the
young and giddy portion of the crowd) held that it was a wedding,
and pointed out Harris as the bridegroom; while the elder and
more thoughtful among the populace inclined to the idea that it
was a funeral, and that I was probably the corpse’s
At last, an empty cab turned up (it is a street where, as a
rule, and when they are not wanted, empty cabs pass at the rate
of three a minute, and hang about, and get in your way), and
packing ourselves and our belongings into it, and shooting out a
couple of Montmorency’s friends, who had evidently sworn
never to forsake him, we drove away amidst the cheers of the
crowd, Biggs’s boy shying a carrot after us for luck.
We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five
started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo
ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a
train when it does start is going to, or anything about it.
The porter who took our things thought it would go from number
two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the
question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number
one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced
it would start from the local.
To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the
traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a
man, who said he had seen it at number three platform. We
went to number three platform, but the authorities there said
that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express,
or else the Windsor loop. But they were sure it
wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it
wasn’t they couldn’t say.
Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the
high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train. So
we went to the high-level platform, and saw the engine-driver,
and asked him if he was going to Kingston. He said he
couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather
thought he was. Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for
Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for
Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or
somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got
there. We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged
him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.
“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said,
“what you are, or where you’re going. You know
the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”
“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the
noble fellow, “but I suppose some train’s got
to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it. Gimme the
Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western
We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was
really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at
Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of
Our boat was waiting for us at Kingston just below bridge, and
to it we wended our way, and round it we stored our luggage, and
into it we stepped.
“Are you all right, sir?” said the man.
“Right it is,” we answered; and with Harris at the
sculls and I at the tiller-lines, and Montmorency, unhappy and
deeply suspicious, in the prow, out we shot on to the waters
which, for a fortnight, were to be our home.
Kingston.—Instructive remarks on early
English history.—Instructive observations on carved oak and
life in general.—Sad case of Stivvings,
junior.—Musings on antiquity.—I forget that I am
steering.—Interesting result.—Hampton Court
Maze.—Harris as a guide.
It was a glorious morning, late spring or early summer, as you
care to take it, when the dainty sheen of grass and leaf is
blushing to a deeper green; and the year seems like a fair young
maid, trembling with strange, wakening pulses on the brink of
The quaint back streets of Kingston, where they came down to
the water’s edge, looked quite picturesque in the flashing
sunlight, the glinting river with its drifting barges, the wooded
towpath, the trim-kept villas on the other side, Harris, in a red
and orange blazer, grunting away at the sculls, the distant
glimpses of the grey old palace of the Tudors, all made a sunny
picture, so bright but calm, so full of life, and yet so
peaceful, that, early in the day though it was, I felt myself
being dreamily lulled off into a musing fit.
I mused on Kingston, or “Kyningestun,” as it was
once called in the days when Saxon “kinges” were
crowned there. Great Cæsar crossed the river there,
and the Roman legions camped upon its sloping uplands.
Cæsar, like, in later years, Elizabeth, seems to have
stopped everywhere: only he was more respectable than good Queen
Bess; he didn’t put up at the public-houses.
She was nuts on public-houses, was England’s Virgin
Queen. There’s scarcely a pub. of any attractions
within ten miles of London that she does not seem to have looked
in at, or stopped at, or slept at, some time or other. I
wonder now, supposing Harris, say, turned over a new leaf, and
became a great and good man, and got to be Prime Minister, and
died, if they would put up signs over the public-houses that he
had patronised: “Harris had a glass of bitter in this
house;” “Harris had two of Scotch cold here in the
summer of ’88;” “Harris was chucked from here
in December, 1886.”
No, there would be too many of them! It would be the
houses that he had never entered that would become famous.
“Only house in South London that Harris never had a drink
in!” The people would flock to it to see what could
have been the matter with it.
How poor weak-minded King Edwy must have hated
Kyningestun! The coronation feast had been too much for
him. Maybe boar’s head stuffed with sugar-plums did
not agree with him (it wouldn’t with me, I know), and he
had had enough of sack and mead; so he slipped from the noisy
revel to steal a quiet moonlight hour with his beloved
Perhaps, from the casement, standing hand-in-hand, they were
watching the calm moonlight on the river, while from the distant
halls the boisterous revelry floated in broken bursts of
faint-heard din and tumult.
Then brutal Odo and St. Dunstan force their rude way into the
quiet room, and hurl coarse insults at the sweet-faced Queen, and
drag poor Edwy back to the loud clamour of the drunken brawl.
Years later, to the crash of battle-music, Saxon kings and
Saxon revelry were buried side by side, and Kingston’s
greatness passed away for a time, to rise once more when Hampton
Court became the palace of the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the
royal barges strained at their moorings on the river’s
bank, and bright-cloaked gallants swaggered down the water-steps
to cry: “What Ferry, ho! Gadzooks,
Many of the old houses, round about, speak very plainly of
those days when Kingston was a royal borough, and nobles and
courtiers lived there, near their King, and the long road to the
palace gates was gay all day with clanking steel and prancing
palfreys, and rustling silks and velvets, and fair faces.
The large and spacious houses, with their oriel, latticed
windows, their huge fireplaces, and their gabled roofs, breathe
of the days of hose and doublet, of pearl-embroidered stomachers,
and complicated oaths. They were upraised in the days
“when men knew how to build.” The hard red
bricks have only grown more firmly set with time, and their oak
stairs do not creak and grunt when you try to go down them
Speaking of oak staircases reminds me that there is a
magnificent carved oak staircase in one of the houses in
Kingston. It is a shop now, in the market-place, but it was
evidently once the mansion of some great personage. A
friend of mine, who lives at Kingston, went in there to buy a hat
one day, and, in a thoughtless moment, put his hand in his pocket
and paid for it then and there.
The shopman (he knows my friend) was naturally a little
staggered at first; but, quickly recovering himself, and feeling
that something ought to be done to encourage this sort of thing,
asked our hero if he would like to see some fine old carved
oak. My friend said he would, and the shopman, thereupon,
took him through the shop, and up the staircase of the
house. The balusters were a superb piece of workmanship,
and the wall all the way up was oak-panelled, with carving that
would have done credit to a palace.
From the stairs, they went into the drawing-room, which was a
large, bright room, decorated with a somewhat startling though
cheerful paper of a blue ground. There was nothing,
however, remarkable about the apartment, and my friend wondered
why he had been brought there. The proprietor went up to
the paper, and tapped it. It gave forth a wooden sound.
“Oak,” he explained. “All carved oak,
right up to the ceiling, just the same as you saw on the
“But, great Cæsar! man,” expostulated my
friend; “you don’t mean to say you have covered over
carved oak with blue wall-paper?”
“Yes,” was the reply: “it was expensive
work. Had to match-board it all over first, of
course. But the room looks cheerful now. It was awful
I can’t say I altogether blame the man (which is
doubtless a great relief to his mind). From his point of
view, which would be that of the average householder, desiring to
take life as lightly as possible, and not that of the
old-curiosity-shop maniac, there is reason on his side.
Carved oak is very pleasant to look at, and to have a little of,
but it is no doubt somewhat depressing to live in, for those
whose fancy does not lie that way. It would be like living
in a church.
No, what was sad in his case was that he, who didn’t
care for carved oak, should have his drawing-room panelled with
it, while people who do care for it have to pay enormous prices
to get it. It seems to be the rule of this world.
Each person has what he doesn’t want, and other people have
what he does want.
Married men have wives, and don’t seem to want them; and
young single fellows cry out that they can’t get
them. Poor people who can hardly keep themselves have eight
hearty children. Rich old couples, with no one to leave
their money to, die childless.
Then there are girls with lovers. The girls that have
lovers never want them. They say they would rather be
without them, that they bother them, and why don’t they go
and make love to Miss Smith and Miss Brown, who are plain and
elderly, and haven’t got any lovers? They themselves
don’t want lovers. They never mean to marry.
It does not do to dwell on these things; it makes one so
There was a boy at our school, we used to call him Sandford
and Merton. His real name was Stivvings. He was the
most extraordinary lad I ever came across. I believe he
really liked study. He used to get into awful rows for
sitting up in bed and reading Greek; and as for French irregular
verbs there was simply no keeping him away from them. He
was full of weird and unnatural notions about being a credit to
his parents and an honour to the school; and he yearned to win
prizes, and grow up and be a clever man, and had all those sorts
of weak-minded ideas. I never knew such a strange creature,
yet harmless, mind you, as the babe unborn.
Well, that boy used to get ill about twice a week, so that he
couldn’t go to school. There never was such a boy to
get ill as that Sandford and Merton. If there was any known
disease going within ten miles of him, he had it, and had it
badly. He would take bronchitis in the dog-days, and have
hay-fever at Christmas. After a six weeks’ period of
drought, he would be stricken down with rheumatic fever; and he
would go out in a November fog and come home with a
They put him under laughing-gas one year, poor lad, and drew
all his teeth, and gave him a false set, because he suffered so
terribly with toothache; and then it turned to neuralgia and
ear-ache. He was never without a cold, except once for nine
weeks while he had scarlet fever; and he always had
chilblains. During the great cholera scare of 1871, our
neighbourhood was singularly free from it. There was only
one reputed case in the whole parish: that case was young
He had to stop in bed when he was ill, and eat chicken and
custards and hot-house grapes; and he would lie there and sob,
because they wouldn’t let him do Latin exercises, and took
his German grammar away from him.
And we other boys, who would have sacrificed ten terms of our
school-life for the sake of being ill for a day, and had no
desire whatever to give our parents any excuse for being stuck-up
about us, couldn’t catch so much as a stiff neck. We
fooled about in draughts, and it did us good, and freshened us
up; and we took things to make us sick, and they made us fat, and
gave us an appetite. Nothing we could think of seemed to
make us ill until the holidays began. Then, on the
breaking-up day, we caught colds, and whooping cough, and all
kinds of disorders, which lasted till the term recommenced; when,
in spite of everything we could manœuvre to the contrary,
we would get suddenly well again, and be better than ever.
Such is life; and we are but as grass that is cut down, and
put into the oven and baked.
To go back to the carved-oak question, they must have had very
fair notions of the artistic and the beautiful, our
great-great-grandfathers. Why, all our art treasures of
to-day are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred
years ago. I wonder if there is real intrinsic beauty in
the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize
so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that
gives them their charms in our eyes. The “old
blue” that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the
common every-day household utensils of a few centuries ago; and
the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand
round now for all our friends to gush over, and pretend they
understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of
the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he
Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized
treasures of to-day always be the cheap trifles of the day
before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner-plates be
ranged above the chimneypieces of the great in the years 2000 and
odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the
beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah
Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be
carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by
the lady of the house?
That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished
lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes blue. Its
nose is a delicate red, with spots. Its head is painfully
erect, its expression is amiability carried to verge of
imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as
a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless
friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no
admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance
that her aunt gave it to her.
But in 200 years’ time it is more than probable that
that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs,
and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put
in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round, and
admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of
the colour on the nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit
of the tail that is lost no doubt was.
We, in this age, do not see the beauty of that dog. We
are too familiar with it. It is like the sunset and the
stars: we are not awed by their loveliness because they are
common to our eyes. So it is with that china dog. In
2288 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will
have become a lost art. Our descendants will wonder how we
did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to
lovingly as “those grand old artists that flourished in the
nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs.”
The “sampler” that the eldest daughter did at
school will be spoken of as “tapestry of the Victorian
era,” and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white
mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all
cracked and chipped, and sold for their weight in gold, and rich
people will use them for claret cups; and travellers from Japan
will buy up all the “Presents from Ramsgate,” and
“Souvenirs of Margate,” that may have escaped
destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English
At this point Harris threw away the sculls, got up and left
his seat, and sat on his back, and stuck his legs in the
air. Montmorency howled, and turned a somersault, and the
top hamper jumped up, and all the things came out.
I was somewhat surprised, but I did not lose my temper.
I said, pleasantly enough:
“Hulloa! what’s that for?”
“What’s that for? Why—”
No, on second thoughts, I will not repeat what Harris
said. I may have been to blame, I admit it; but nothing
excuses violence of language and coarseness of expression,
especially in a man who has been carefully brought up, as I know
Harris has been. I was thinking of other things, and
forgot, as any one might easily understand, that I was steering,
and the consequence was that we had got mixed up a good deal with
the tow-path. It was difficult to say, for the moment,
which was us and which was the Middlesex bank of the river; but
we found out after a while, and separated ourselves.
Harris, however, said he had done enough for a bit, and
proposed that I should take a turn; so, as we were in, I got out
and took the tow-line, and ran the boat on past Hampton
Court. What a dear old wall that is that runs along by the
river there! I never pass it without feeling better for the
sight of it. Such a mellow, bright, sweet old wall; what a
charming picture it would make, with the lichen creeping here,
and the moss growing there, a shy young vine peeping over the top
at this spot, to see what is going on upon the busy river, and
the sober old ivy clustering a little farther down! There
are fifty shades and tints and hues in every ten yards of that
old wall. If I could only draw, and knew how to paint, I
could make a lovely sketch of that old wall, I’m
sure. I’ve often thought I should like to live at
Hampton Court. It looks so peaceful and so quiet, and it is
such a dear old place to ramble round in the early morning before
many people are about.
But, there, I don’t suppose I should really care for it
when it came to actual practice. It would be so ghastly
dull and depressing in the evening, when your lamp cast uncanny
shadows on the panelled walls, and the echo of distant feet rang
through the cold stone corridors, and now drew nearer, and now
died away, and all was death-like silence, save the beating of
one’s own heart.
We are creatures of the sun, we men and women. We love
light and life. That is why we crowd into the towns and
cities, and the country grows more and more deserted every
year. In the sunlight—in the daytime, when Nature is
alive and busy all around us, we like the open hill-sides and the
deep woods well enough: but in the night, when our Mother Earth
has gone to sleep, and left us waking, oh! the world seems so
lonesome, and we get frightened, like children in a silent
house. Then we sit and sob, and long for the gas-lit
streets, and the sound of human voices, and the answering throb
of human life. We feel so helpless and so little in the
great stillness, when the dark trees rustle in the
night-wind. There are so many ghosts about, and their
silent sighs make us feel so sad. Let us gather together in
the great cities, and light huge bonfires of a million gas-jets,
and shout and sing together, and feel brave.
Harris asked me if I’d ever been in the maze at Hampton
Court. He said he went in once to show somebody else the
way. He had studied it up in a map, and it was so simple
that it seemed foolish—hardly worth the twopence charged
for admission. Harris said he thought that map must have
been got up as a practical joke, because it wasn’t a bit
like the real thing, and only misleading. It was a country
cousin that Harris took in. He said:
“We’ll just go in here, so that you can say
you’ve been, but it’s very simple. It’s
absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first
turning to the right. We’ll just walk round for ten
minutes, and then go and get some lunch.”
They met some people soon after they had got inside, who said
they had been there for three-quarters of an hour, and had had
about enough of it. Harris told them they could follow him,
if they liked; he was just going in, and then should turn round
and come out again. They said it was very kind of him, and
fell behind, and followed.
They picked up various other people who wanted to get it over,
as they went along, until they had absorbed all the persons in
the maze. People who had given up all hopes of ever getting
either in or out, or of ever seeing their home and friends again,
plucked up courage at the sight of Harris and his party, and
joined the procession, blessing him. Harris said he should
judge there must have been twenty people, following him, in all;
and one woman with a baby, who had been there all the morning,
insisted on taking his arm, for fear of losing him.
Harris kept on turning to the right, but it seemed a long way,
and his cousin said he supposed it was a very big maze.
“Oh, one of the largest in Europe,” said
“Yes, it must be,” replied the cousin,
“because we’ve walked a good two miles
Harris began to think it rather strange himself, but he held
on until, at last, they passed the half of a penny bun on the
ground that Harris’s cousin swore he had noticed there
seven minutes ago. Harris said: “Oh,
impossible!” but the woman with the baby said, “Not
at all,” as she herself had taken it from the child, and
thrown it down there, just before she met Harris. She also
added that she wished she never had met Harris, and expressed an
opinion that he was an impostor. That made Harris mad, and
he produced his map, and explained his theory.
“The map may be all right enough,” said one of the
party, “if you know whereabouts in it we are
Harris didn’t know, and suggested that the best thing to
do would be to go back to the entrance, and begin again.
For the beginning again part of it there was not much enthusiasm;
but with regard to the advisability of going back to the entrance
there was complete unanimity, and so they turned, and trailed
after Harris again, in the opposite direction. About ten
minutes more passed, and then they found themselves in the
Harris thought at first of pretending that that was what he
had been aiming at; but the crowd looked dangerous, and he
decided to treat it as an accident.
Anyhow, they had got something to start from then. They
did know where they were, and the map was once more consulted,
and the thing seemed simpler than ever, and off they started for
the third time.
And three minutes later they were back in the centre
After that, they simply couldn’t get anywhere
else. Whatever way they turned brought them back to the
middle. It became so regular at length, that some of the
people stopped there, and waited for the others to take a walk
round, and come back to them. Harris drew out his map
again, after a while, but the sight of it only infuriated the
mob, and they told him to go and curl his hair with it.
Harris said that he couldn’t help feeling that, to a
certain extent, he had become unpopular.
They all got crazy at last, and sang out for the keeper, and
the man came and climbed up the ladder outside, and shouted out
directions to them. But all their heads were, by this time,
in such a confused whirl that they were incapable of grasping
anything, and so the man told them to stop where they were, and
he would come to them. They huddled together, and waited;
and he climbed down, and came in.
He was a young keeper, as luck would have it, and new to the
business; and when he got in, he couldn’t find them, and he
wandered about, trying to get to them, and then he got
lost. They caught sight of him, every now and then, rushing
about the other side of the hedge, and he would see them, and
rush to get to them, and they would wait there for about five
minutes, and then he would reappear again in exactly the same
spot, and ask them where they had been.
They had to wait till one of the old keepers came back from
his dinner before they got out.
Harris said he thought it was a very fine maze, so far as he
was a judge; and we agreed that we would try to get George to go
into it, on our way back.
The river in its Sunday garb.—Dress on
the river.—A chance for the men.—Absence of taste in
Harris.—George’s blazer.—A day with the
fashion-plate young lady.—Mrs. Thomas’s
tomb.—The man who loves not graves and coffins and
skulls.—Harris mad.—His views on George and Banks and
lemonade.—He performs tricks.
It was while passing through Moulsey Lock that Harris told me
about his maze experience. It took us some time to pass
through, as we were the only boat, and it is a big lock. I
don’t think I ever remember to have seen Moulsey Lock,
before, with only one boat in it. It is, I suppose,
Boulter’s not even excepted, the busiest lock on the
I have stood and watched it, sometimes, when you could not see
any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers,
and gay caps, and saucy hats, and many-coloured parasols, and
silken rugs, and cloaks, and streaming ribbons, and dainty
whites; when looking down into the lock from the quay, you might
fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of every hue and shade
had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a rainbow heap,
that covered every corner.
On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day
long, while, up the stream, and down the stream, lie, waiting
their turn, outside the gates, long lines of still more boats;
and boats are drawing near and passing away, so that the sunny
river, from the Palace up to Hampton Church, is dotted and decked
with yellow, and blue, and orange, and white, and red, and
pink. All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey dress
themselves up in boating costume, and come and mouch round the
lock with their dogs, and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats;
and, altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men, the
pretty coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the
moving boats, the white sails, the pleasant landscape, and the
sparkling water, it is one of the gayest sights I know of near
this dull old London town.
The river affords a good opportunity for dress. For once
in a way, we men are able to show our taste in colours,
and I think we come out very natty, if you ask me. I always
like a little red in my things—red and black. You
know my hair is a sort of golden brown, rather a pretty shade
I’ve been told, and a dark red matches it beautifully; and
then I always think a light-blue necktie goes so well with it,
and a pair of those Russian-leather shoes and a red silk
handkerchief round the waist—a handkerchief looks so much
better than a belt.
Harris always keeps to shades or mixtures of orange or yellow,
but I don’t think he is at all wise in this. His
complexion is too dark for yellows. Yellows don’t
suit him: there can be no question about it. I want him to
take to blue as a background, with white or cream for relief;
but, there! the less taste a person has in dress, the more
obstinate he always seems to be. It is a great pity,
because he will never be a success as it is, while there are one
or two colours in which he might not really look so bad, with his
George has bought some new things for this trip, and I’m
rather vexed about them. The blazer is loud. I should
not like George to know that I thought so, but there really is no
other word for it. He brought it home and showed it to us
on Thursday evening. We asked him what colour he called it,
and he said he didn’t know. He didn’t think
there was a name for the colour. The man had told him it
was an Oriental design. George put it on, and asked us what
we thought of it. Harris said that, as an object to hang
over a flower-bed in early spring to frighten the birds away, he
should respect it; but that, considered as an article of dress
for any human being, except a Margate nigger, it made him
ill. George got quite huffy; but, as Harris said, if he
didn’t want his opinion, why did he ask for it?
What troubles Harris and myself, with regard to it, is that we
are afraid it will attract attention to the boat.
Girls, also, don’t look half bad in a boat, if prettily
dressed. Nothing is more fetching, to my thinking, than a
tasteful boating costume. But a “boating
costume,” it would be as well if all ladies would
understand, ought to be a costume that can be worn in a boat, and
not merely under a glass-case. It utterly spoils an
excursion if you have folk in the boat who are thinking all the
time a good deal more of their dress than of the trip. It
was my misfortune once to go for a water picnic with two ladies
of this kind. We did have a lively time!
They were both beautifully got up—all lace and silky
stuff, and flowers, and ribbons, and dainty shoes, and light
gloves. But they were dressed for a photographic studio,
not for a river picnic. They were the “boating
costumes” of a French fashion-plate. It was
ridiculous, fooling about in them anywhere near real earth, air,
The first thing was that they thought the boat was not
clean. We dusted all the seats for them, and then assured
them that it was, but they didn’t believe us. One of
them rubbed the cushion with the forefinger of her glove, and
showed the result to the other, and they both sighed, and sat
down, with the air of early Christian martyrs trying to make
themselves comfortable up against the stake. You are liable
to occasionally splash a little when sculling, and it appeared
that a drop of water ruined those costumes. The mark never
came out, and a stain was left on the dress for ever.
I was stroke. I did my best. I feathered some two
feet high, and I paused at the end of each stroke to let the
blades drip before returning them, and I picked out a smooth bit
of water to drop them into again each time. (Bow said,
after a while, that he did not feel himself a sufficiently
accomplished oarsman to pull with me, but that he would sit
still, if I would allow him, and study my stroke. He said
it interested him.) But, notwithstanding all this, and try
as I would, I could not help an occasional flicker of water from
going over those dresses.
The girls did not complain, but they huddled up close
together, and set their lips firm, and every time a drop touched
them, they visibly shrank and shuddered. It was a noble
sight to see them suffering thus in silence, but it unnerved me
altogether. I am too sensitive. I got wild and fitful
in my rowing, and splashed more and more, the harder I tried not
I gave it up at last; I said I’d row bow. Bow
thought the arrangement would be better too, and we changed
places. The ladies gave an involuntary sigh of relief when
they saw me go, and quite brightened up for a moment. Poor
girls! they had better have put up with me. The man they
had got now was a jolly, light-hearted, thick-headed sort of a
chap, with about as much sensitiveness in him as there might be
in a Newfoundland puppy. You might look daggers at him for
an hour and he would not notice it, and it would not trouble him
if he did. He set a good, rollicking, dashing stroke that
sent the spray playing all over the boat like a fountain, and
made the whole crowd sit up straight in no time. When he
spread more than pint of water over one of those dresses, he
would give a pleasant little laugh, and say:
“I beg your pardon, I’m sure;” and offer
them his handkerchief to wipe it off with.
“Oh, it’s of no consequence,” the poor girls
would murmur in reply, and covertly draw rugs and coats over
themselves, and try and protect themselves with their lace
At lunch they had a very bad time of it. People wanted
them to sit on the grass, and the grass was dusty; and the
tree-trunks, against which they were invited to lean, did not
appear to have been brushed for weeks; so they spread their
handkerchiefs on the ground and sat on those, bolt upright.
Somebody, in walking about with a plate of beef-steak pie,
tripped up over a root, and sent the pie flying. None of it
went over them, fortunately, but the accident suggested a fresh
danger to them, and agitated them; and, whenever anybody moved
about, after that, with anything in his hand that could fall and
make a mess, they watched that person with growing anxiety until
he sat down again.
“Now then, you girls,” said our friend Bow to
them, cheerily, after it was all over, “come along,
you’ve got to wash up!”
They didn’t understand him at first. When they
grasped the idea, they said they feared they did not know how to
“Oh, I’ll soon show you,” he cried;
“it’s rare fun! You lie down on your—I
mean you lean over the bank, you know, and sloush the things
about in the water.”
The elder sister said that she was afraid that they
hadn’t got on dresses suited to the work.
“Oh, they’ll be all right,” said he
light-heartedly; “tuck ’em up.”
And he made them do it, too. He told them that that sort
of thing was half the fun of a picnic. They said it was
Now I come to think it over, was that young man as
dense-headed as we thought? or was he—no, impossible! there
was such a simple, child-like expression about him!
Harris wanted to get out at Hampton Church, to go and see Mrs.
“Who is Mrs. Thomas?” I asked.
“How should I know?” replied Harris.
“She’s a lady that’s got a funny tomb, and I
want to see it.”
I objected. I don’t know whether it is that I am
built wrong, but I never did seem to hanker after tombstones
myself. I know that the proper thing to do, when you get to
a village or town, is to rush off to the churchyard, and enjoy
the graves; but it is a recreation that I always deny
myself. I take no interest in creeping round dim and chilly
churches behind wheezy old men, and reading epitaphs. Not
even the sight of a bit of cracked brass let into a stone affords
me what I call real happiness.
I shock respectable sextons by the imperturbability I am able
to assume before exciting inscriptions, and by my lack of
enthusiasm for the local family history, while my ill-concealed
anxiety to get outside wounds their feelings.
One golden morning of a sunny day, I leant against the low
stone wall that guarded a little village church, and I smoked,
and drank in deep, calm gladness from the sweet, restful
scene—the grey old church with its clustering ivy and its
quaint carved wooden porch, the white lane winding down the hill
between tall rows of elms, the thatched-roof cottages peeping
above their trim-kept hedges, the silver river in the hollow, the
wooded hills beyond!
It was a lovely landscape. It was idyllic, poetical, and
it inspired me. I felt good and noble. I felt I
didn’t want to be sinful and wicked any more. I would
come and live here, and never do any more wrong, and lead a
blameless, beautiful life, and have silver hair when I got old,
and all that sort of thing.
In that moment I forgave all my friends and relations for
their wickedness and cussedness, and I blessed them. They
did not know that I blessed them. They went their abandoned
way all unconscious of what I, far away in that peaceful village,
was doing for them; but I did it, and I wished that I could let
them know that I had done it, because I wanted to make them
happy. I was going on thinking away all these grand, tender
thoughts, when my reverie was broken in upon by a shrill piping
voice crying out:
“All right, sur, I’m a-coming, I’m
a-coming. It’s all right, sur; don’t you be in
I looked up, and saw an old bald-headed man hobbling across
the churchyard towards me, carrying a huge bunch of keys in his
hand that shook and jingled at every step.
I motioned him away with silent dignity, but he still
advanced, screeching out the while:
“I’m a-coming, sur, I’m a-coming.
I’m a little lame. I ain’t as spry as I used to
be. This way, sur.”
“Go away, you miserable old man,” I said.
“I’ve come as soon as I could, sur,” he
replied. “My missis never see you till just this
minute. You follow me, sur.”
“Go away,” I repeated; “leave me before I
get over the wall, and slay you.”
He seemed surprised.
“Don’t you want to see the tombs?” he
“No,” I answered, “I don’t. I
want to stop here, leaning up against this gritty old wall.
Go away, and don’t disturb me. I am chock full of
beautiful and noble thoughts, and I want to stop like it, because
it feels nice and good. Don’t you come fooling about,
making me mad, chivying away all my better feelings with this
silly tombstone nonsense of yours. Go away, and get
somebody to bury you cheap, and I’ll pay half the
He was bewildered for a moment. He rubbed his eyes, and
looked hard at me. I seemed human enough on the outside: he
couldn’t make it out.
“Yuise a stranger in these parts? You don’t
“No,” I said, “I don’t.
You wouldn’t if I did.”
“Well then,” he said, “you want to see the
tombs—graves—folks been buried, you
“You are an untruther,” I replied, getting roused;
“I do not want to see tombs—not your tombs. Why
should I? We have graves of our own, our family has.
Why my uncle Podger has a tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery, that is
the pride of all that country-side; and my grandfather’s
vault at Bow is capable of accommodating eight visitors, while my
great-aunt Susan has a brick grave in Finchley Churchyard, with a
headstone with a coffee-pot sort of thing in bas-relief upon it,
and a six-inch best white stone coping all the way round, that
cost pounds. When I want graves, it is to those places that
I go and revel. I do not want other folk’s.
When you yourself are buried, I will come and see yours.
That is all I can do for you.”
He burst into tears. He said that one of the tombs had a
bit of stone upon the top of it that had been said by some to be
probably part of the remains of the figure of a man, and that
another had some words, carved upon it, that nobody had ever been
able to decipher.
I still remained obdurate, and, in broken-hearted tones, he
“Well, won’t you come and see the memorial
I would not even see that, so he fired his last shot. He
drew near, and whispered hoarsely:
“I’ve got a couple of skulls down in the
crypt,” he said; “come and see those. Oh, do
come and see the skulls! You are a young man out for a
holiday, and you want to enjoy yourself. Come and see the
Then I turned and fled, and as I sped I heard him calling to
“Oh, come and see the skulls; come back and see the
Harris, however, revels in tombs, and graves, and epitaphs,
and monumental inscriptions, and the thought of not seeing Mrs.
Thomas’s grave made him crazy. He said he had looked
forward to seeing Mrs. Thomas’s grave from the first moment
that the trip was proposed—said he wouldn’t have
joined if it hadn’t been for the idea of seeing Mrs.
I reminded him of George, and how we had to get the boat up to
Shepperton by five o’clock to meet him, and then he went
for George. Why was George to fool about all day, and leave
us to lug this lumbering old top-heavy barge up and down the
river by ourselves to meet him? Why couldn’t George
come and do some work? Why couldn’t he have got the
day off, and come down with us? Bank be blowed! What
good was he at the bank?
“I never see him doing any work there,” continued
Harris, “whenever I go in. He sits behind a bit of
glass all day, trying to look as if he was doing something.
What’s the good of a man behind a bit of glass? I
have to work for my living. Why can’t he work.
What use is he there, and what’s the good of their
banks? They take your money, and then, when you draw a
cheque, they send it back smeared all over with ‘No
effects,’ ‘Refer to drawer.’ What’s
the good of that? That’s the sort of trick they
served me twice last week. I’m not going to stand it
much longer. I shall withdraw my account. If he was
here, we could go and see that tomb. I don’t believe
he’s at the bank at all. He’s larking about
somewhere, that’s what he’s doing, leaving us to do
all the work. I’m going to get out, and have a
I pointed out to him that we were miles away from a pub.; and
then he went on about the river, and what was the good of the
river, and was everyone who came on the river to die of
It is always best to let Harris have his head when he gets
like this. Then he pumps himself out, and is quiet
I reminded him that there was concentrated lemonade in the
hamper, and a gallon-jar of water in the nose of the boat, and
that the two only wanted mixing to make a cool and refreshing
Then he flew off about lemonade, and “such-like
Sunday-school slops,” as he termed them, ginger-beer,
raspberry syrup, &c., &c. He said they all produced
dyspepsia, and ruined body and soul alike, and were the cause of
half the crime in England.
He said he must drink something, however, and climbed upon the
seat, and leant over to get the bottle. It was right at the
bottom of the hamper, and seemed difficult to find, and he had to
lean over further and further, and, in trying to steer at the
same time, from a topsy-turvy point of view, he pulled the wrong
line, and sent the boat into the bank, and the shock upset him,
and he dived down right into the hamper, and stood there on his
head, holding on to the sides of the boat like grim death, his
legs sticking up into the air. He dared not move for fear
of going over, and had to stay there till I could get hold of his
legs, and haul him back, and that made him madder than ever.
Blackmailing.—The proper course to
pursue.—Selfish boorishness of river-side
boards.—Unchristianlike feelings of Harris.—How
Harris sings a comic song.—A high-class
party.—Shameful conduct of two abandoned young
men.—Some useless information.—George buys a
We stopped under the willows by Kempton Park, and
lunched. It is a pretty little spot there: a pleasant grass
plateau, running along by the water’s edge, and overhung by
willows. We had just commenced the third course—the
bread and jam—when a gentleman in shirt-sleeves and a short
pipe came along, and wanted to know if we knew that we were
trespassing. We said we hadn’t given the matter
sufficient consideration as yet to enable us to arrive at a
definite conclusion on that point, but that, if he assured us on
his word as a gentleman that we were trespassing, we
would, without further hesitation, believe it.
He gave us the required assurance, and we thanked him, but he
still hung about, and seemed to be dissatisfied, so we asked him
if there was anything further that we could do for him; and
Harris, who is of a chummy disposition, offered him a bit of
bread and jam.
I fancy he must have belonged to some society sworn to abstain
from bread and jam; for he declined it quite gruffly, as if he
were vexed at being tempted with it, and he added that it was his
duty to turn us off.
Harris said that if it was a duty it ought to be done, and
asked the man what was his idea with regard to the best means for
accomplishing it. Harris is what you would call a well-made
man of about number one size, and looks hard and bony, and the
man measured him up and down, and said he would go and consult
his master, and then come back and chuck us both into the
Of course, we never saw him any more, and, of course, all he
really wanted was a shilling. There are a certain number of
riverside roughs who make quite an income, during the summer, by
slouching about the banks and blackmailing weak-minded noodles in
this way. They represent themselves as sent by the
proprietor. The proper course to pursue is to offer your
name and address, and leave the owner, if he really has anything
to do with the matter, to summon you, and prove what damage you
have done to his land by sitting down on a bit of it. But
the majority of people are so intensely lazy and timid, that they
prefer to encourage the imposition by giving in to it rather than
put an end to it by the exertion of a little firmness.
Where it is really the owners that are to blame, they ought to
be shown up. The selfishness of the riparian proprietor
grows with every year. If these men had their way they
would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do
this along the minor tributary streams and in the
backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream,
and draw chains across from bank to bank, and nail huge
notice-boards on every tree. The sight of those
notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I
feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of
the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would
bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.
I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he
had them worse than that. He said he not only felt he
wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but
that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all
his friends and relations, and then burn down his house.
This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris;
but he answered:
“Not a bit of it. Serve ’em all jolly well
right, and I’d go and sing comic songs on the
I was vexed to hear Harris go on in this blood-thirsty
strain. We never ought to allow our instincts of justice to
degenerate into mere vindictiveness. It was a long while
before I could get Harris to take a more Christian view of the
subject, but I succeeded at last, and he promised me that he
would spare the friends and relations at all events, and would
not sing comic songs on the ruins.
You have never heard Harris sing a comic song, or you would
understand the service I had rendered to mankind. It is one
of Harris’s fixed ideas that he can sing a comic
song; the fixed idea, on the contrary, among those of
Harris’s friends who have heard him try, is that he
can’t and never will be able to, and that he ought
not to be allowed to try.
When Harris is at a party, and is asked to sing, he replies:
“Well, I can only sing a comic song, you
know;” and he says it in a tone that implies that his
singing of that, however, is a thing that you ought to
hear once, and then die.
“Oh, that is nice,” says the hostess.
“Do sing one, Mr. Harris;” and Harris gets up, and
makes for the piano, with the beaming cheeriness of a
generous-minded man who is just about to give somebody
“Now, silence, please, everybody” says the
hostess, turning round; “Mr. Harris is going to sing a
“Oh, how jolly!” they murmur; and they hurry in
from the conservatory, and come up from the stairs, and go and
fetch each other from all over the house, and crowd into the
drawing-room, and sit round, all smirking in anticipation.
Then Harris begins.
Well, you don’t look for much of a voice in a comic
song. You don’t expect correct phrasing or
vocalization. You don’t mind if a man does find out,
when in the middle of a note, that he is too high, and comes down
with a jerk. You don’t bother about time. You
don’t mind a man being two bars in front of the
accompaniment, and easing up in the middle of a line to argue it
out with the pianist, and then starting the verse afresh.
But you do expect the words.
You don’t expect a man to never remember more than the
first three lines of the first verse, and to keep on repeating
these until it is time to begin the chorus. You don’t
expect a man to break off in the middle of a line, and snigger,
and say, it’s very funny, but he’s blest if he can
think of the rest of it, and then try and make it up for himself,
and, afterwards, suddenly recollect it, when he has got to an
entirely different part of the song, and break off, without a
word of warning, to go back and let you have it then and
there. You don’t—well, I will just give you an
idea of Harris’s comic singing, and then you can judge of
it for yourself.
Harris (standing up in front of
piano and addressing the expectant mob): “I’m
afraid it’s a very old thing, you know. I expect you
all know it, you know. But it’s the only thing I
know. It’s the Judge’s song out of
Pinafore—no, I don’t mean
Pinafore—I mean—you know what I mean—the
other thing, you know. You must all join in the chorus, you
[Murmurs of delight and anxiety to join in the
chorus. Brilliant performance of prelude to the
Judge’s song in “Trial by Jury”
by nervous Pianist. Moment arrives for Harris to
join in. Harris takes no notice of it.
Nervous pianist commences prelude over again, and Harris,
commencing singing at the same time, dashes off the
first two lines of the First Lord’s song out of
“Pinafore.” Nervous pianist tries to
push on with prelude, gives it up, and tries to
follow Harris with accompaniment to Judge’s song out
“Trial by Jury,” finds that doesn’t
answer, and tries to recollect what he is doing,
and where he is, feels his mind giving way, and
Harris (with kindly
encouragement): “It’s all right.
You’re doing it very well, indeed—go on.”
Nervous Pianist: “I’m
afraid there’s a mistake somewhere. What are you
“Why the Judge’s song out of Trial by Jury.
Don’t you know it?”
Some Friend of Harris’s
(from the back of the room): “No, you’re not,
you chuckle-head, you’re singing the Admiral’s song
[Long argument between Harris and Harris’s friend as
to what Harris is really singing. Friend finally
suggests that it doesn’t matter what Harris is singing so
long as Harris gets on and sings it, and Harris,
with an evident sense of injustice rankling inside him,
requests pianist to begin again. Pianist,
thereupon, starts prelude to the Admiral’s
song, and Harris, seizing what he considers to be a
favourable opening in the music, begins.]
“‘When I was young and called to the
“‘When I was young and called to the
[General roar of laughter, taken by Harris as a
compliment. Pianist, thinking of his wife and
family, gives up the unequal contest and retires;
his place being taken by a stronger-nerved man.
The New Pianist (cheerily):
“Now then, old man, you start off, and I’ll
follow. We won’t bother about any prelude.”
Harris (upon whom the
explanation of matters has slowly dawned—laughing):
“By Jove! I beg your pardon. Of
course—I’ve been mixing up the two songs. It
was Jenkins confused me, you know. Now then.
[Singing; his voice appearing to come from the
cellar, and suggesting the first low warnings of an
“‘When I was young I served a term
As office-boy to an attorney’s firm.’
“‘When I was young I served a term
As office-boy to an attorney’s firm.’
(Aside to pianist): “It is too low, old man;
we’ll have that over again, if you don’t
[Sings first two lines over again, in a high
falsetto this time. Great surprise on the part of
the audience. Nervous old lady near the fire begins
to cry, and has to be led out.]
“‘I swept the windows and I swept the
“‘I swept the windows and I swept the
No—no, I cleaned the windows of the big front
door. And I polished up the floor—no, dash it—I
beg your pardon—funny thing, I can’t think of that
line. And I—and I—Oh, well, we’ll get on
to the chorus, and chance it (sings):
Till now I am the ruler of the Queen’s navee.’
Till now I am the ruler of the Queen’s navee.’
Now then, chorus—it is the last two lines repeated, you
Till now he is the ruler of the Queen’s navee.”
Till now he is the ruler of the Queen’s navee.”
And Harris never sees what an ass he is making of himself, and
how he is annoying a lot of people who never did him any
harm. He honestly imagines that he has given them a treat,
and says he will sing another comic song after supper.
Speaking of comic songs and parties, reminds me of a rather
curious incident at which I once assisted; which, as it throws
much light upon the inner mental working of human nature in
general, ought, I think, to be recorded in these pages.
We were a fashionable and highly cultured party. We had
on our best clothes, and we talked pretty, and were very
happy—all except two young fellows, students, just returned
from Germany, commonplace young men, who seemed restless and
uncomfortable, as if they found the proceedings slow. The
truth was, we were too clever for them. Our brilliant but
polished conversation, and our high-class tastes, were beyond
them. They were out of place, among us. They never
ought to have been there at all. Everybody agreed upon
that, later on.
We played morceaux from the old German masters.
We discussed philosophy and ethics. We flirted with
graceful dignity. We were even humorous—in a
Somebody recited a French poem after supper, and we said it
was beautiful; and then a lady sang a sentimental ballad in
Spanish, and it made one or two of us weep—it was so
And then those two young men got up, and asked us if we had
ever heard Herr Slossenn Boschen (who had just arrived, and was
then down in the supper-room) sing his great German comic
None of us had heard it, that we could remember.
The young men said it was the funniest song that had ever been
written, and that, if we liked, they would get Herr Slossenn
Boschen, whom they knew very well, to sing it. They said it
was so funny that, when Herr Slossenn Boschen had sung it once
before the German Emperor, he (the German Emperor) had had to be
carried off to bed.
They said nobody could sing it like Herr Slossenn Boschen; he
was so intensely serious all through it that you might fancy he
was reciting a tragedy, and that, of course, made it all the
funnier. They said he never once suggested by his tone or
manner that he was singing anything funny—that would spoil
it. It was his air of seriousness, almost of pathos, that
made it so irresistibly amusing.
We said we yearned to hear it, that we wanted a good laugh;
and they went downstairs, and fetched Herr Slossenn Boschen.
He appeared to be quite pleased to sing it, for he came up at
once, and sat down to the piano without another word.
“Oh, it will amuse you. You will laugh,”
whispered the two young men, as they passed through the room, and
took up an unobtrusive position behind the Professor’s
Herr Slossenn Boschen accompanied himself. The prelude
did not suggest a comic song exactly. It was a weird,
soulful air. It quite made one’s flesh creep; but we
murmured to one another that it was the German method, and
prepared to enjoy it.
I don’t understand German myself. I learned it at
school, but forgot every word of it two years after I had left,
and have felt much better ever since. Still, I did not want
the people there to guess my ignorance; so I hit upon what I
thought to be rather a good idea. I kept my eye on the two
young students, and followed them. When they tittered, I
tittered; when they roared, I roared; and I also threw in a
little snigger all by myself now and then, as if I had seen a bit
of humour that had escaped the others. I considered this
particularly artful on my part.
I noticed, as the song progressed, that a good many other
people seemed to have their eye fixed on the two young men, as
well as myself. These other people also tittered when the
young men tittered, and roared when the young men roared; and, as
the two young men tittered and roared and exploded with laughter
pretty continuously all through the song, it went exceedingly
And yet that German Professor did not seem happy. At
first, when we began to laugh, the expression of his face was one
of intense surprise, as if laughter were the very last thing he
had expected to be greeted with. We thought this very
funny: we said his earnest manner was half the humour. The
slightest hint on his part that he knew how funny he was would
have completely ruined it all. As we continued to laugh,
his surprise gave way to an air of annoyance and indignation, and
he scowled fiercely round upon us all (except upon the two young
men who, being behind him, he could not see). That sent us
into convulsions. We told each other that it would be the
death of us, this thing. The words alone, we said, were
enough to send us into fits, but added to his mock
seriousness—oh, it was too much!
In the last verse, he surpassed himself. He glowered
round upon us with a look of such concentrated ferocity that, but
for our being forewarned as to the German method of comic
singing, we should have been nervous; and he threw such a wailing
note of agony into the weird music that, if we had not known it
was a funny song, we might have wept.
He finished amid a perfect shriek of laughter. We said
it was the funniest thing we had ever heard in all our
lives. We said how strange it was that, in the face of
things like these, there should be a popular notion that the
Germans hadn’t any sense of humour. And we asked the
Professor why he didn’t translate the song into English, so
that the common people could understand it, and hear what a real
comic song was like.
Then Herr Slossenn Boschen got up, and went on awful. He
swore at us in German (which I should judge to be a singularly
effective language for that purpose), and he danced, and shook
his fists, and called us all the English he knew. He said
he had never been so insulted in all his life.
It appeared that the song was not a comic song at all.
It was about a young girl who lived in the Hartz Mountains, and
who had given up her life to save her lover’s soul; and he
died, and met her spirit in the air; and then, in the last verse,
he jilted her spirit, and went on with another
spirit—I’m not quite sure of the details, but it was
something very sad, I know. Herr Boschen said he had sung
it once before the German Emperor, and he (the German Emperor)
had sobbed like a little child. He (Herr Boschen) said it
was generally acknowledged to be one of the most tragic and
pathetic songs in the German language.
It was a trying situation for us—very trying.
There seemed to be no answer. We looked around for the two
young men who had done this thing, but they had left the house in
an unostentatious manner immediately after the end of the
That was the end of that party. I never saw a party
break up so quietly, and with so little fuss. We never said
good-night even to one another. We came downstairs one at a
time, walking softly, and keeping the shady side. We asked
the servant for our hats and coats in whispers, and opened the
door for ourselves, and slipped out, and got round the corner
quickly, avoiding each other as much as possible.
I have never taken much interest in German songs since
We reached Sunbury Lock at half-past three. The river is
sweetly pretty just there before you come to the gates, and the
backwater is charming; but don’t attempt to row up it.
I tried to do so once. I was sculling, and asked the
fellows who were steering if they thought it could be done, and
they said, oh, yes, they thought so, if I pulled hard. We
were just under the little foot-bridge that crosses it between
the two weirs, when they said this, and I bent down over the
sculls, and set myself up, and pulled.
I pulled splendidly. I got well into a steady rhythmical
swing. I put my arms, and my legs, and my back into
it. I set myself a good, quick, dashing stroke, and worked
in really grand style. My two friends said it was a
pleasure to watch me. At the end of five minutes, I thought
we ought to be pretty near the weir, and I looked up. We
were under the bridge, in exactly the same spot that we were when
I began, and there were those two idiots, injuring themselves by
violent laughing. I had been grinding away like mad to keep
that boat stuck still under that bridge. I let other people
pull up backwaters against strong streams now.
We sculled up to Walton, a rather large place for a riverside
town. As with all riverside places, only the tiniest corner
of it comes down to the water, so that from the boat you might
fancy it was a village of some half-dozen houses, all told.
Windsor and Abingdon are the only towns between London and Oxford
that you can really see anything of from the stream. All
the others hide round corners, and merely peep at the river down
one street: my thanks to them for being so considerate, and
leaving the river-banks to woods and fields and water-works.
Even Reading, though it does its best to spoil and sully and
make hideous as much of the river as it can reach, is
good-natured enough to keep its ugly face a good deal out of
Cæsar, of course, had a little place at Walton—a
camp, or an entrenchment, or something of that sort.
Cæsar was a regular up-river man. Also Queen
Elizabeth, she was there, too. You can never get away from
that woman, go where you will. Cromwell and Bradshaw (not
the guide man, but the King Charles’s head man) likewise
sojourned here. They must have been quite a pleasant little
There is an iron “scold’s bridle” in Walton
Church. They used these things in ancient days for curbing
women’s tongues. They have given up the attempt
now. I suppose iron was getting scarce, and nothing else
would be strong enough.
There are also tombs of note in the church, and I was afraid I
should never get Harris past them; but he didn’t seem to
think of them, and we went on. Above the bridge the river
winds tremendously. This makes it look picturesque; but it
irritates you from a towing or sculling point of view, and causes
argument between the man who is pulling and the man who is
You pass Oatlands Park on the right bank here. It is a
famous old place. Henry VIII. stole it from some one or the
other, I forget whom now, and lived in it. There is a
grotto in the park which you can see for a fee, and which is
supposed to be very wonderful; but I cannot see much in it
myself. The late Duchess of York, who lived at Oatlands,
was very fond of dogs, and kept an immense number. She had
a special graveyard made, in which to bury them when they died,
and there they lie, about fifty of them, with a tombstone over
each, and an epitaph inscribed thereon.
Well, I dare say they deserve it quite as much as the average
At “Corway Stakes”—the first bend above
Walton Bridge—was fought a battle between Cæsar and
Cassivelaunus. Cassivelaunus had prepared the river for
Cæsar, by planting it full of stakes (and had, no doubt,
put up a notice-board). But Cæsar crossed in spite of
this. You couldn’t choke Cæsar off that
river. He is the sort of man we want round the backwaters
Halliford and Shepperton are both pretty little spots where
they touch the river; but there is nothing remarkable about
either of them. There is a tomb in Shepperton churchyard,
however, with a poem on it, and I was nervous lest Harris should
want to get out and fool round it. I saw him fix a longing
eye on the landing-stage as we drew near it, so I managed, by an
adroit movement, to jerk his cap into the water, and in the
excitement of recovering that, and his indignation at my
clumsiness, he forgot all about his beloved graves.
At Weybridge, the Wey (a pretty little stream, navigable for
small boats up to Guildford, and one which I have always been
making up my mind to explore, and never have), the Bourne, and
the Basingstoke Canal all enter the Thames together. The
lock is just opposite the town, and the first thing that we saw,
when we came in view of it, was George’s blazer on one of
the lock gates, closer inspection showing that George was inside
Montmorency set up a furious barking, I shrieked, Harris
roared; George waved his hat, and yelled back. The
lock-keeper rushed out with a drag, under the impression that
somebody had fallen into the lock, and appeared annoyed at
finding that no one had.
George had rather a curious oilskin-covered parcel in his
hand. It was round and flat at one end, with a long
straight handle sticking out of it.
“What’s that?” said Harris—“a
“No,” said George, with a strange, wild look
glittering in his eyes; “they are all the rage this season;
everybody has got them up the river. It’s a
“I never knew you played the banjo!” cried Harris
and I, in one breath.
“Not exactly,” replied George: “but
it’s very easy, they tell me; and I’ve got the
George is introduced to work.—Heathenish
instincts of tow-lines.—Ungrateful conduct of a
double-sculling skiff.—Towers and towed.—A use
discovered for lovers.—Strange disappearance of an elderly
lady.—Much haste, less speed.—Being towed by girls:
exciting sensation.—The missing lock or the haunted
We made George work, now we had got him. He did not want
to work, of course; that goes without saying. He had had a
hard time in the City, so he explained. Harris, who is
callous in his nature, and not prone to pity, said:
“Ah! and now you are going to have a hard time on the
river for a change; change is good for everyone. Out you
He could not in conscience—not even George’s
conscience—object, though he did suggest that, perhaps, it
would be better for him to stop in the boat, and get tea ready,
while Harris and I towed, because getting tea was such a worrying
work, and Harris and I looked tired. The only reply we made
to this, however, was to pass him over the tow-line, and he took
it, and stepped out.
There is something very strange and unaccountable about a
tow-line. You roll it up with as much patience and care as
you would take to fold up a new pair of trousers, and five
minutes afterwards, when you pick it up, it is one ghastly,
I do not wish to be insulting, but I firmly believe that if
you took an average tow-line, and stretched it out straight
across the middle of a field, and then turned your back on it for
thirty seconds, that, when you looked round again, you would find
that it had got itself altogether in a heap in the middle of the
field, and had twisted itself up, and tied itself into knots, and
lost its two ends, and become all loops; and it would take you a
good half-hour, sitting down there on the grass and swearing all
the while, to disentangle it again.
That is my opinion of tow-lines in general. Of course,
there may be honourable exceptions; I do not say that there are
not. There may be tow-lines that are a credit to their
tow-lines—tow-lines that do not imagine they are
crochet-work, and try to knit themselves up into antimacassars
the instant they are left to themselves. I say there
may be such tow-lines; I sincerely hope there are.
But I have not met with them.
This tow-line I had taken in myself just before we had got to
the lock. I would not let Harris touch it, because he is
careless. I had looped it round slowly and cautiously, and
tied it up in the middle, and folded it in two, and laid it down
gently at the bottom of the boat. Harris had lifted it up
scientifically, and had put it into George’s hand.
George had taken it firmly, and held it away from him, and had
begun to unravel it as if he were taking the swaddling clothes
off a new-born infant; and, before he had unwound a dozen yards,
the thing was more like a badly-made door-mat than anything
It is always the same, and the same sort of thing always goes
on in connection with it. The man on the bank, who is
trying to disentangle it, thinks all the fault lies with the man
who rolled it up; and when a man up the river thinks a thing, he
“What have you been trying to do with it, make a
fishing-net of it? You’ve made a nice mess you have;
why couldn’t you wind it up properly, you silly
dummy?” he grunts from time to time as he struggles wildly
with it, and lays it out flat on the tow-path, and runs round and
round it, trying to find the end.
On the other hand, the man who wound it up thinks the whole
cause of the muddle rests with the man who is trying to unwind
“It was all right when you took it!” he exclaims
indignantly. “Why don’t you think what you are
doing? You go about things in such a slap-dash style.
You’d get a scaffolding pole entangled you
And they feel so angry with one another that they would like
to hang each other with the thing. Ten minutes go by, and
the first man gives a yell and goes mad, and dances on the rope,
and tries to pull it straight by seizing hold of the first piece
that comes to his hand and hauling at it. Of course, this
only gets it into a tighter tangle than ever. Then the
second man climbs out of the boat and comes to help him, and they
get in each other’s way, and hinder one another. They
both get hold of the same bit of line, and pull at it in opposite
directions, and wonder where it is caught. In the end, they
do get it clear, and then turn round and find that the boat has
drifted off, and is making straight for the weir.
This really happened once to my own knowledge. It was up
by Boveney, one rather windy morning. We were pulling down
stream, and, as we came round the bend, we noticed a couple of
men on the bank. They were looking at each other with as
bewildered and helplessly miserable expression as I have ever
witnessed on any human countenance before or since, and they held
a long tow-line between them. It was clear that something
had happened, so we eased up and asked them what was the
“Why, our boat’s gone off!” they replied in
an indignant tone. “We just got out to disentangle
the tow-line, and when we looked round, it was gone!”
And they seemed hurt at what they evidently regarded as a mean
and ungrateful act on the part of the boat.
We found the truant for them half a mile further down, held by
some rushes, and we brought it back to them. I bet they did
not give that boat another chance for a week.
I shall never forget the picture of those two men walking up
and down the bank with a tow-line, looking for their boat.
One sees a good many funny incidents up the river in
connection with towing. One of the most common is the sight
of a couple of towers, walking briskly along, deep in an animated
discussion, while the man in the boat, a hundred yards behind
them, is vainly shrieking to them to stop, and making frantic
signs of distress with a scull. Something has gone wrong;
the rudder has come off, or the boat-hook has slipped overboard,
or his hat has dropped into the water and is floating rapidly
He calls to them to stop, quite gently and politely at
“Hi! stop a minute, will you?” he shouts
cheerily. “I’ve dropped my hat
Then: “Hi! Tom—Dick! can’t you
hear?” not quite so affably this time.
Then: “Hi! Confound you, you dunder-headed
idiots! Hi! stop! Oh you—!”
After that he springs up, and dances about, and roars himself
red in the face, and curses everything he knows. And the
small boys on the bank stop and jeer at him, and pitch stones at
him as he is pulled along past them, at the rate of four miles an
hour, and can’t get out.
Much of this sort of trouble would be saved if those who are
towing would keep remembering that they are towing, and give a
pretty frequent look round to see how their man is getting
on. It is best to let one person tow. When two are
doing it, they get chattering, and forget, and the boat itself,
offering, as it does, but little resistance, is of no real
service in reminding them of the fact.
As an example of how utterly oblivious a pair of towers can be
to their work, George told us, later on in the evening, when we
were discussing the subject after supper, of a very curious
He and three other men, so he said, were sculling a very
heavily laden boat up from Maidenhead one evening, and a little
above Cookham lock they noticed a fellow and a girl, walking
along the towpath, both deep in an apparently interesting and
absorbing conversation. They were carrying a boat-hook
between them, and, attached to the boat-hook was a tow-line,
which trailed behind them, its end in the water. No boat
was near, no boat was in sight. There must have been a boat
attached to that tow-line at some time or other, that was
certain; but what had become of it, what ghastly fate had
overtaken it, and those who had been left in it, was buried in
mystery. Whatever the accident may have been, however, it
had in no way disturbed the young lady and gentleman, who were
towing. They had the boat-hook and they had the line, and
that seemed to be all that they thought necessary to their
George was about to call out and wake them up, but, at that
moment, a bright idea flashed across him, and he
didn’t. He got the hitcher instead, and reached over,
and drew in the end of the tow-line; and they made a loop in it,
and put it over their mast, and then they tidied up the sculls,
and went and sat down in the stern, and lit their pipes.
And that young man and young woman towed those four hulking
chaps and a heavy boat up to Marlow.
George said he never saw so much thoughtful sadness
concentrated into one glance before, as when, at the lock, that
young couple grasped the idea that, for the last two miles, they
had been towing the wrong boat. George fancied that, if it
had not been for the restraining influence of the sweet woman at
his side, the young man might have given way to violent
The maiden was the first to recover from her surprise, and,
when she did, she clasped her hands, and said, wildly:
“Oh, Henry, then where is auntie?”
“Did they ever recover the old lady?” asked
George replied he did not know.
Another example of the dangerous want of sympathy between
tower and towed was witnessed by George and myself once up near
Walton. It was where the tow-path shelves gently down into
the water, and we were camping on the opposite bank, noticing
things in general. By-and-by a small boat came in sight,
towed through the water at a tremendous pace by a powerful barge
horse, on which sat a very small boy. Scattered about the
boat, in dreamy and reposeful attitudes, lay five fellows, the
man who was steering having a particularly restful
“I should like to see him pull the wrong line,”
murmured George, as they passed. And at that precise moment
the man did it, and the boat rushed up the bank with a noise like
the ripping up of forty thousand linen sheets. Two men, a
hamper, and three oars immediately left the boat on the larboard
side, and reclined on the bank, and one and a half moments
afterwards, two other men disembarked from the starboard, and sat
down among boat-hooks and sails and carpet-bags and
bottles. The last man went on twenty yards further, and
then got out on his head.
This seemed to sort of lighten the boat, and it went on much
easier, the small boy shouting at the top of his voice, and
urging his steed into a gallop. The fellows sat up and
stared at one another. It was some seconds before they
realised what had happened to them, but, when they did, they
began to shout lustily for the boy to stop. He, however,
was too much occupied with the horse to hear them, and we watched
them, flying after him, until the distance hid them from
I cannot say I was sorry at their mishap. Indeed, I only
wish that all the young fools who have their boats towed in this
fashion—and plenty do—could meet with similar
misfortunes. Besides the risk they run themselves, they
become a danger and an annoyance to every other boat they
pass. Going at the pace they do, it is impossible for them
to get out of anybody else’s way, or for anybody else to
get out of theirs. Their line gets hitched across your
mast, and overturns you, or it catches somebody in the boat, and
either throws them into the water, or cuts their face open.
The best plan is to stand your ground, and be prepared to keep
them off with the butt-end of a mast.
Of all experiences in connection with towing, the most
exciting is being towed by girls. It is a sensation that
nobody ought to miss. It takes three girls to tow always;
two hold the rope, and the other one runs round and round, and
giggles. They generally begin by getting themselves tied
up. They get the line round their legs, and have to sit
down on the path and undo each other, and then they twist it
round their necks, and are nearly strangled. They fix it
straight, however, at last, and start off at a run, pulling the
boat along at quite a dangerous pace. At the end of a
hundred yards they are naturally breathless, and suddenly stop,
and all sit down on the grass and laugh, and your boat drifts out
to mid-stream and turns round, before you know what has happened,
or can get hold of a scull. Then they stand up, and are
“Oh, look!” they say; “he’s gone right
out into the middle.”
They pull on pretty steadily for a bit, after this, and then
it all at once occurs to one of them that she will pin up her
frock, and they ease up for the purpose, and the boat runs
You jump up, and push it off, and you shout to them not to
“Yes. What’s the matter?” they shout
“Don’t stop,” you roar.
“Don’t stop—go on—go on!”
“Go back, Emily, and see what it is they want,”
says one; and Emily comes back, and asks what it is.
“What do you want?” she says; “anything
“No,” you reply, “it’s all right; only
go on, you know—don’t stop.”
“Why, we can’t steer, if you keep stopping.
You must keep some way on the boat.”
“Keep some what?”
“Some way—you must keep the boat
“Oh, all right, I’ll tell ’em. Are we
doing it all right?”
“Oh, yes, very nicely, indeed, only don’t
“It doesn’t seem difficult at all. I thought
it was so hard.”
“Oh, no, it’s simple enough. You want to
keep on steady at it, that’s all.”
“I see. Give me out my red shawl, it’s under
You find the shawl, and hand it out, and by this time another
one has come back and thinks she will have hers too, and they
take Mary’s on chance, and Mary does not want it, so they
bring it back and have a pocket-comb instead. It is about
twenty minutes before they get off again, and, at the next
corner, they see a cow, and you have to leave the boat to chivy
the cow out of their way.
There is never a dull moment in the boat while girls are
George got the line right after a while, and towed us steadily
on to Penton Hook. There we discussed the important
question of camping. We had decided to sleep on board that
night, and we had either to lay up just about there, or go on
past Staines. It seemed early to think about shutting up
then, however, with the sun still in the heavens, and we settled
to push straight on for Runnymead, three and a half miles
further, a quiet wooded part of the river, and where there is
We all wished, however, afterward that we had stopped at
Penton Hook. Three or four miles up stream is a trifle,
early in the morning, but it is a weary pull at the end of a long
day. You take no interest in the scenery during these last
few miles. You do not chat and laugh. Every half-mile
you cover seems like two. You can hardly believe you are
only where you are, and you are convinced that the map must be
wrong; and, when you have trudged along for what seems to you at
least ten miles, and still the lock is not in sight, you begin to
seriously fear that somebody must have sneaked it, and run off
I remember being terribly upset once up the river (in a
figurative sense, I mean). I was out with a young
lady—cousin on my mother’s side—and we were
pulling down to Goring. It was rather late, and we were
anxious to get in—at least she was anxious to get
in. It was half-past six when we reached Benson’s
lock, and dusk was drawing on, and she began to get excited
then. She said she must be in to supper. I said it
was a thing I felt I wanted to be in at, too; and I drew out a
map I had with me to see exactly how far it was. I saw it
was just a mile and a half to the next
lock—Wallingford—and five on from there to
“Oh, it’s all right!” I said.
“We’ll be through the next lock before seven, and
then there is only one more;” and I settled down and pulled
We passed the bridge, and soon after that I asked if she saw
the lock. She said no, she did not see any lock; and I
said, “Oh!” and pulled on. Another five minutes
went by, and then I asked her to look again.
“No,” she said; “I can’t see any signs
of a lock.”
“You—you are sure you know a lock, when you do see
one?” I asked hesitatingly, not wishing to offend her.
The question did offend her, however, and she suggested that I
had better look for myself; so I laid down the sculls, and took a
view. The river stretched out straight before us in the
twilight for about a mile; not a ghost of a lock was to be
“You don’t think we have lost our way, do
you?” asked my companion.
I did not see how that was possible; though, as I suggested,
we might have somehow got into the weir stream, and be making for
This idea did not comfort her in the least, and she began to
cry. She said we should both be drowned, and that it was a
judgment on her for coming out with me.
It seemed an excessive punishment, I thought; but my cousin
thought not, and hoped it would all soon be over.
I tried to reassure her, and to make light of the whole
affair. I said that the fact evidently was that I was not
rowing as fast as I fancied I was, but that we should soon reach
the lock now; and I pulled on for another mile.
Then I began to get nervous myself. I looked again at
the map. There was Wallingford lock, clearly marked, a mile
and a half below Benson’s. It was a good, reliable
map; and, besides, I recollected the lock myself. I had
been through it twice. Where were we? What had
happened to us? I began to think it must be all a dream,
and that I was really asleep in bed, and should wake up in a
minute, and be told it was past ten.
I asked my cousin if she thought it could be a dream, and she
replied that she was just about to ask me the same question; and
then we both wondered if we were both asleep, and if so, who was
the real one that was dreaming, and who was the one that was only
a dream; it got quite interesting.
I still went on pulling, however, and still no lock came in
sight, and the river grew more and more gloomy and mysterious
under the gathering shadows of night, and things seemed to be
getting weird and uncanny. I thought of hobgoblins and
banshees, and will-o’-the-wisps, and those wicked girls who
sit up all night on rocks, and lure people into whirl-pools and
things; and I wished I had been a better man, and knew more
hymns; and in the middle of these reflections I heard the blessed
strains of “He’s got ’em on,” played,
badly, on a concertina, and knew that we were saved.
I do not admire the tones of a concertina, as a rule; but, oh!
how beautiful the music seemed to us both then—far, far
more beautiful than the voice of Orpheus or the lute of Apollo,
or anything of that sort could have sounded. Heavenly
melody, in our then state of mind, would only have still further
harrowed us. A soul-moving harmony, correctly performed, we
should have taken as a spirit-warning, and have given up all
hope. But about the strains of “He’s got
’em on,” jerked spasmodically, and with involuntary
variations, out of a wheezy accordion, there was something
singularly human and reassuring.
The sweet sounds drew nearer, and soon the boat from which
they were worked lay alongside us.
It contained a party of provincial ’Arrys and
’Arriets, out for a moonlight sail. (There was not
any moon, but that was not their fault.) I never saw more
attractive, lovable people in all my life. I hailed them,
and asked if they could tell me the way to Wallingford lock; and
I explained that I had been looking for it for the last two
“Wallingford lock!” they answered.
“Lor’ love you, sir, that’s been done away with
for over a year. There ain’t no Wallingford lock now,
sir. You’re close to Cleeve now. Blow me tight
if ’ere ain’t a gentleman been looking for
Wallingford lock, Bill!”
I had never thought of that. I wanted to fall upon all
their necks and bless them; but the stream was running too strong
just there to allow of this, so I had to content myself with mere
cold-sounding words of gratitude.
We thanked them over and over again, and we said it was a
lovely night, and we wished them a pleasant trip, and, I think, I
invited them all to come and spend a week with me, and my cousin
said her mother would be so pleased to see them. And we
sang the soldiers’ chorus out of Faust, and got home
in time for supper, after all.
Our first night.—Under canvas.—An
appeal for help.—Contrariness of tea-kettles, how to
overcome.—Supper.—How to feel virtuous.—Wanted!
a comfortably-appointed, well-drained desert island,
neighbourhood of South Pacific Ocean preferred.—Funny thing
that happened to George’s father.—a restless
Harris and I began to think that Bell Weir lock must have been
done away with after the same manner. George had towed us
up to Staines, and we had taken the boat from there, and it
seemed that we were dragging fifty tons after us, and were
walking forty miles. It was half-past seven when we were
through, and we all got in, and sculled up close to the left
bank, looking out for a spot to haul up in.
We had originally intended to go on to Magna Charta Island, a
sweetly pretty part of the river, where it winds through a soft,
green valley, and to camp in one of the many picturesque inlets
to be found round that tiny shore. But, somehow, we did not
feel that we yearned for the picturesque nearly so much now as we
had earlier in the day. A bit of water between a coal-barge
and a gas-works would have quite satisfied us for that
night. We did not want scenery. We wanted to have our
supper and go to bed. However, we did pull up to the
point—“Picnic Point,” it is called—and
dropped into a very pleasant nook under a great elm-tree, to the
spreading roots of which we fastened the boat.
Then we thought we were going to have supper (we had dispensed
with tea, so as to save time), but George said no; that we had
better get the canvas up first, before it got quite dark, and
while we could see what we were doing. Then, he said, all
our work would be done, and we could sit down to eat with an easy
That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had
bargained for. It looked so simple in the abstract.
You took five iron arches, like gigantic croquet hoops, and
fitted them up over the boat, and then stretched the canvas over
them, and fastened it down: it would take quite ten minutes, we
That was an under-estimate.
We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets
placed for them. You would not imagine this to be dangerous
work; but, looking back now, the wonder to me is that any of us
are alive to tell the tale. They were not hoops, they were
demons. First they would not fit into their sockets at all,
and we had to jump on them, and kick them, and hammer at them
with the boat-hook; and, when they were in, it turned out that
they were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and they
had to come out again.
But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and
struggled with them for five minutes, when they would jump up
suddenly, and try and throw us into the water and drown us.
They had hinges in the middle, and, when we were not looking,
they nipped us with these hinges in delicate parts of the body;
and, while we were wrestling with one side of the hoop, and
endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty, the other side would
come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the
We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done
was to arrange the covering over them. George unrolled it,
and fastened one end over the nose of the boat. Harris
stood in the middle to take it from George and roll it on to me,
and I kept by the stern to receive it. It was a long time
coming down to me. George did his part all right, but it
was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.
How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself;
but by some mysterious process or other he succeeded, after ten
minutes of superhuman effort, in getting himself completely
rolled up in it. He was so firmly wrapped round and tucked
in and folded over, that he could not get out. He, of
course, made frantic struggles for freedom—the birthright
of every Englishman,—and, in doing so (I learned this
afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at
Harris, began to struggle too, and got himself entangled
and rolled up.
I knew nothing about all this at the time. I did not
understand the business at all myself. I had been told to
stand where I was, and wait till the canvas came to me, and
Montmorency and I stood there and waited, both as good as
gold. We could see the canvas being violently jerked and
tossed about, pretty considerably; but we supposed this was part
of the method, and did not interfere.
We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath
it, and we guessed that they were finding the job rather
troublesome, and concluded that we would wait until things had
got a little simpler before we joined in.
We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and
more involved, until, at last, George’s head came wriggling
out over the side of the boat, and spoke up.
“Give us a hand here, can’t you, you cuckoo;
standing there like a stuffed mummy, when you see we are both
being suffocated, you dummy!”
I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and
undid them; not before it was time, either, for Harris was nearly
black in the face.
It took us half an hour’s hard labour, after that,
before it was properly up, and then we cleared the decks, and got
out supper. We put the kettle on to boil, up in the nose of
the boat, and went down to the stern and pretended to take no
notice of it, but set to work to get the other things out.
That is the only way to get a kettle to boil up the
river. If it sees that you are waiting for it and are
anxious, it will never even sing. You have to go away and
begin your meal, as if you were not going to have any tea at
all. You must not even look round at it. Then you
will soon hear it sputtering away, mad to be made into tea.
It is a good plan, too, if you are in a great hurry, to talk
very loudly to each other about how you don’t need any tea,
and are not going to have any. You get near the kettle, so
that it can overhear you, and then you shout out, “I
don’t want any tea; do you, George?” to which George
shouts back, “Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll
have lemonade instead—tea’s so
indigestible.” Upon which the kettle boils over, and
puts the stove out.
We adopted this harmless bit of trickery, and the result was
that, by the time everything else was ready, the tea was
waiting. Then we lit the lantern, and squatted down to
We wanted that supper.
For five-and-thirty minutes not a sound was heard throughout
the length and breadth of that boat, save the clank of cutlery
and crockery, and the steady grinding of four sets of
molars. At the end of five-and-thirty minutes, Harris said,
“Ah!” and took his left leg out from under him and
put his right one there instead.
Five minutes afterwards, George said, “Ah!” too,
and threw his plate out on the bank; and, three minutes later
than that, Montmorency gave the first sign of contentment he had
exhibited since we had started, and rolled over on his side, and
spread his legs out; and then I said, “Ah!” and bent
my head back, and bumped it against one of the hoops, but I did
not mind it. I did not even swear.
How good one feels when one is full—how satisfied with
ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it,
tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and
contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well,
and is cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so
forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested
meal—so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.
It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our
digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless
our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our
passions. After eggs and bacon, it says,
“Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says,
“Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for
each cup, and don’t let it stand more than three minutes),
it says to the brain, “Now, rise, and show your
strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a
clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of
quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling
world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the
gates of eternity!”
After hot muffins, it says, “Be dull and soulless, like
a beast of the field—a brainless animal, with listless eye,
unlit by any ray of fancy, or of hope, or fear, or love, or
life.” And after brandy, taken in sufficient
quantity, it says, “Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that
your fellow-men may laugh—drivel in folly, and splutter in
senseless sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor man
whose wit and will are drowned, like kittens, side by side, in
half an inch of alcohol.”
We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach.
Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch
vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and
judgment. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign
within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own; and you
will be a good citizen, a loving husband, and a tender
father—a noble, pious man.
Before our supper, Harris and George and I were quarrelsome
and snappy and ill-tempered; after our supper, we sat and beamed
on one another, and we beamed upon the dog, too. We loved
each other, we loved everybody. Harris, in moving about,
trod on George’s corn. Had this happened before
supper, George would have expressed wishes and desires concerning
Harris’s fate in this world and the next that would have
made a thoughtful man shudder.
As it was, he said: “Steady, old man; ’ware
And Harris, instead of merely observing, in his most
unpleasant tones, that a fellow could hardly help treading on
some bit of George’s foot, if he had to move about at all
within ten yards of where George was sitting, suggesting that
George never ought to come into an ordinary sized boat with feet
that length, and advising him to hang them over the side, as he
would have done before supper, now said: “Oh, I’m so
sorry, old chap; I hope I haven’t hurt you.”
And George said: “Not at all;” that it was his
fault; and Harris said no, it was his.
It was quite pretty to hear them.
We lit our pipes, and sat, looking out on the quiet night, and
George said why could not we be always like this—away
from the world, with its sin and temptation, leading sober,
peaceful lives, and doing good. I said it was the sort of
thing I had often longed for myself; and we discussed the
possibility of our going away, we four, to some handy,
well-fitted desert island, and living there in the woods.
Harris said that the danger about desert islands, as far as he
had heard, was that they were so damp: but George said no, not if
And then we got on to drains, and that put George in mind of a
very funny thing that happened to his father once. He said
his father was travelling with another fellow through Wales, and,
one night, they stopped at a little inn, where there were some
other fellows, and they joined the other fellows, and spent the
evening with them.
They had a very jolly evening, and sat up late, and, by the
time they came to go to bed, they (this was when George’s
father was a very young man) were slightly jolly, too. They
(George’s father and George’s father’s friend)
were to sleep in the same room, but in different beds. They
took the candle, and went up. The candle lurched up against
the wall when they got into the room, and went out, and they had
to undress and grope into bed in the dark. This they did;
but, instead of getting into separate beds, as they thought they
were doing, they both climbed into the same one without knowing
it—one getting in with his head at the top, and the other
crawling in from the opposite side of the compass, and lying with
his feet on the pillow.
There was silence for a moment, and then George’s father
“What’s the matter, Tom?” replied
Joe’s voice from the other end of the bed.
“Why, there’s a man in my bed,” said
George’s father; “here’s his feet on my
“Well, it’s an extraordinary thing, Tom,”
answered the other; “but I’m blest if there
isn’t a man in my bed, too!”
“What are you going to do?” asked George’s
“Well, I’m going to chuck him out,” replied
“So am I,” said George’s father,
There was a brief struggle, followed by two heavy bumps on the
floor, and then a rather doleful voice said:
“I say, Tom!”
“How have you got on?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, my man’s chucked
“So’s mine! I say, I don’t think much
of this inn, do you?”
“What was the name of that inn?” said Harris.
“The Pig and Whistle,” said George.
“Ah, no, then it isn’t the same,” replied
“What do you mean?” queried George.
“Why it’s so curious,” murmured Harris,
“but precisely that very same thing happened to my
father once at a country inn. I’ve often heard him
tell the tale. I thought it might have been the same
We turned in at ten that night, and I thought I should sleep
well, being tired; but I didn’t. As a rule, I undress
and put my head on the pillow, and then somebody bangs at the
door, and says it is half-past eight: but, to-night, everything
seemed against me; the novelty of it all, the hardness of the
boat, the cramped position (I was lying with my feet under one
seat, and my head on another), the sound of the lapping water
round the boat, and the wind among the branches, kept me restless
I did get to sleep for a few hours, and then some part of the
boat which seemed to have grown up in the night—for it
certainly was not there when we started, and it had disappeared
by the morning—kept digging into my spine. I slept
through it for a while, dreaming that I had swallowed a
sovereign, and that they were cutting a hole in my back with a
gimlet, so as to try and get it out. I thought it very
unkind of them, and I told them I would owe them the money, and
they should have it at the end of the month. But they would
not hear of that, and said it would be much better if they had it
then, because otherwise the interest would accumulate so. I
got quite cross with them after a bit, and told them what I
thought of them, and then they gave the gimlet such an
excruciating wrench that I woke up.
The boat seemed stuffy, and my head ached; so I thought I
would step out into the cool night-air. I slipped on what
clothes I could find about—some of my own, and some of
George’s and Harris’s—and crept under the
canvas on to the bank.
It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk, and left the
quiet earth alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the
silence and the hush, while we her children slept, they were
talking with her, their sister—conversing of mighty
mysteries in voices too vast and deep for childish human ears to
catch the sound.
They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We
are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit
temple of the god they have been taught to worship but know not;
and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista of the
shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some
awful vision hovering there.
And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the
night. In its great presence, our small sorrows creep away,
ashamed. The day has been so full of fret and care, and our
hearts have been so full of evil and of bitter thoughts, and the
world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then Night, like
some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our fevered
head, and turns our little tear-stained faces up to hers, and
smiles; and, though she does not speak, we know what she would
say, and lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the
pain is gone.
Sometimes, our pain is very deep and real, and we stand before
her very silent, because there is no language for our pain, only
a moan. Night’s heart is full of pity for us: she
cannot ease our aching; she takes our hand in hers, and the
little world grows very small and very far away beneath us, and,
borne on her dark wings, we pass for a moment into a mightier
Presence than her own, and in the wondrous light of that great
Presence, all human life lies like a book before us, and we know
that Pain and Sorrow are but the angels of God.
Only those who have worn the crown of suffering can look upon
that wondrous light; and they, when they return, may not speak of
it, or tell the mystery they know.
Once upon a time, through a strange country, there rode some
goodly knights, and their path lay by a deep wood, where tangled
briars grew very thick and strong, and tore the flesh of them
that lost their way therein. And the leaves of the trees
that grew in the wood were very dark and thick, so that no ray of
light came through the branches to lighten the gloom and
And, as they passed by that dark wood, one knight of those
that rode, missing his comrades, wandered far away, and returned
to them no more; and they, sorely grieving, rode on without him,
mourning him as one dead.
Now, when they reached the fair castle towards which they had
been journeying, they stayed there many days, and made merry; and
one night, as they sat in cheerful ease around the logs that
burned in the great hall, and drank a loving measure, there came
the comrade they had lost, and greeted them. His clothes
were ragged, like a beggar’s, and many sad wounds were on
his sweet flesh, but upon his face there shone a great radiance
of deep joy.
And they questioned him, asking him what had befallen him: and
he told them how in the dark wood he had lost his way, and had
wandered many days and nights, till, torn and bleeding, he had
lain him down to die.
Then, when he was nigh unto death, lo! through the savage
gloom there came to him a stately maiden, and took him by the
hand and led him on through devious paths, unknown to any man,
until upon the darkness of the wood there dawned a light such as
the light of day was unto but as a little lamp unto the sun; and,
in that wondrous light, our way-worn knight saw as in a dream a
vision, and so glorious, so fair the vision seemed, that of his
bleeding wounds he thought no more, but stood as one entranced,
whose joy is deep as is the sea, whereof no man can tell the
And the vision faded, and the knight, kneeling upon the
ground, thanked the good saint who into that sad wood had strayed
his steps, so he had seen the vision that lay there hid.
And the name of the dark forest was Sorrow; but of the vision
that the good knight saw therein we may not speak nor tell.
How George, once upon a time, got up early in
the morning.—George, Harris, and Montmorency do not like
the look of the cold water.—Heroism and determination on
the part of J.—George and his shirt: story with a
moral.—Harris as cook.—Historical retrospect,
specially inserted for the use of schools.
I woke at six the next morning; and found George awake
too. We both turned round, and tried to go to sleep again,
but we could not. Had there been any particular reason why
we should not have gone to sleep again, but have got up and
dressed then and there, we should have dropped off while we were
looking at our watches, and have slept till ten. As there
was no earthly necessity for our getting up under another two
hours at the very least, and our getting up at that time was an
utter absurdity, it was only in keeping with the natural
cussedness of things in general that we should both feel that
lying down for five minutes more would be death to us.
George said that the same kind of thing, only worse, had
happened to him some eighteen months ago, when he was lodging by
himself in the house of a certain Mrs. Gippings. He said
his watch went wrong one evening, and stopped at a quarter-past
eight. He did not know this at the time because, for some
reason or other, he forgot to wind it up when he went to bed (an
unusual occurrence with him), and hung it up over his pillow
without ever looking at the thing.
It was in the winter when this happened, very near the
shortest day, and a week of fog into the bargain, so the fact
that it was still very dark when George woke in the morning was
no guide to him as to the time. He reached up, and hauled
down his watch. It was a quarter-past eight.
“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!”
exclaimed George; “and here have I got to be in the City by
nine. Why didn’t somebody call me? Oh, this is
a shame!” And he flung the watch down, and sprang out
of bed, and had a cold bath, and washed himself, and dressed
himself, and shaved himself in cold water because there was not
time to wait for the hot, and then rushed and had another look at
Whether the shaking it had received in being thrown down on
the bed had started it, or how it was, George could not say, but
certain it was that from a quarter-past eight it had begun to go,
and now pointed to twenty minutes to nine.
George snatched it up, and rushed downstairs. In the
sitting-room, all was dark and silent: there was no fire, no
breakfast. George said it was a wicked shame of Mrs. G.,
and he made up his mind to tell her what he thought of her when
he came home in the evening. Then he dashed on his
great-coat and hat, and, seizing his umbrella, made for the front
door. The door was not even unbolted. George
anathematized Mrs. G. for a lazy old woman, and thought it was
very strange that people could not get up at a decent,
respectable time, unlocked and unbolted the door, and ran
He ran hard for a quarter of a mile, and at the end of that
distance it began to be borne in upon him as a strange and
curious thing that there were so few people about, and that there
were no shops open. It was certainly a very dark and foggy
morning, but still it seemed an unusual course to stop all
business on that account. He had to go to business:
why should other people stop in bed merely because it was dark
At length he reached Holborn. Not a shutter was down!
not a bus was about! There were three men in sight, one of
whom was a policeman; a market-cart full of cabbages, and a
dilapidated looking cab. George pulled out his watch and
looked at it: it was five minutes to nine! He stood still
and counted his pulse. He stooped down and felt his
legs. Then, with his watch still in his hand, he went up to
the policeman, and asked him if he knew what the time was.
“What’s the time?” said the man, eyeing
George up and down with evident suspicion; “why, if you
listen you will hear it strike.”
George listened, and a neighbouring clock immediately
“But it’s only gone three!” said George in
an injured tone, when it had finished.
“Well, and how many did you want it to go?”
replied the constable.
“Why, nine,” said George, showing his watch.
“Do you know where you live?” said the guardian of
public order, severely.
George thought, and gave the address.
“Oh! that’s where it is, is it?” replied the
man; “well, you take my advice and go there quietly, and
take that watch of yours with you; and don’t let’s
have any more of it.”
And George went home again, musing as he walked along, and let
At first, when he got in, he determined to undress and go to
bed again; but when he thought of the redressing and re-washing,
and the having of another bath, he determined he would not, but
would sit up and go to sleep in the easy-chair.
But he could not get to sleep: he never felt more wakeful in
his life; so he lit the lamp and got out the chess-board, and
played himself a game of chess. But even that did not
enliven him: it seemed slow somehow; so he gave chess up and
tried to read. He did not seem able to take any sort of
interest in reading either, so he put on his coat again and went
out for a walk.
It was horribly lonesome and dismal, and all the policemen he
met regarded him with undisguised suspicion, and turned their
lanterns on him and followed him about, and this had such an
effect upon him at last that he began to feel as if he really had
done something, and he got to slinking down the by-streets and
hiding in dark doorways when he heard the regulation flip-flop
Of course, this conduct made the force only more distrustful
of him than ever, and they would come and rout him out and ask
him what he was doing there; and when he answered,
“Nothing,” he had merely come out for a stroll (it
was then four o’clock in the morning), they looked as
though they did not believe him, and two plain-clothes constables
came home with him to see if he really did live where he had said
he did. They saw him go in with his key, and then they took
up a position opposite and watched the house.
He thought he would light the fire when he got inside, and
make himself some breakfast, just to pass away the time; but he
did not seem able to handle anything from a scuttleful of coals
to a teaspoon without dropping it or falling over it, and making
such a noise that he was in mortal fear that it would wake Mrs.
G. up, and that she would think it was burglars and open the
window and call “Police!” and then these two
detectives would rush in and handcuff him, and march him off to
He was in a morbidly nervous state by this time, and he
pictured the trial, and his trying to explain the circumstances
to the jury, and nobody believing him, and his being sentenced to
twenty years’ penal servitude, and his mother dying of a
broken heart. So he gave up trying to get breakfast, and
wrapped himself up in his overcoat and sat in the easy-chair till
Mrs. G came down at half-past seven.
He said he had never got up too early since that morning: it
had been such a warning to him.
We had been sitting huddled up in our rugs while George had
been telling me this true story, and on his finishing it I set to
work to wake up Harris with a scull. The third prod did it:
and he turned over on the other side, and said he would be down
in a minute, and that he would have his lace-up boots. We
soon let him know where he was, however, by the aid of the
hitcher, and he sat up suddenly, sending Montmorency, who had
been sleeping the sleep of the just right on the middle of his
chest, sprawling across the boat.
Then we pulled up the canvas, and all four of us poked our
heads out over the off-side, and looked down at the water and
shivered. The idea, overnight, had been that we should get
up early in the morning, fling off our rugs and shawls, and,
throwing back the canvas, spring into the river with a joyous
shout, and revel in a long delicious swim. Somehow, now the
morning had come, the notion seemed less tempting. The
water looked damp and chilly: the wind felt cold.
“Well, who’s going to be first in?” said
Harris at last.
There was no rush for precedence. George settled the
matter so far as he was concerned by retiring into the boat and
pulling on his socks. Montmorency gave vent to an
involuntary howl, as if merely thinking of the thing had given
him the horrors; and Harris said it would be so difficult to get
into the boat again, and went back and sorted out his
I did not altogether like to give in, though I did not relish
the plunge. There might be snags about, or weeds, I
thought. I meant to compromise matters by going down to the
edge and just throwing the water over myself; so I took a towel
and crept out on the bank and wormed my way along on to the
branch of a tree that dipped down into the water.
It was bitterly cold. The wind cut like a knife.
I thought I would not throw the water over myself after
all. I would go back into the boat and dress; and I turned
to do so; and, as I turned, the silly branch gave way, and I and
the towel went in together with a tremendous splash, and I was
out mid-stream with a gallon of Thames water inside me before I
knew what had happened.
“By Jove! old J.’s gone in,” I heard Harris
say, as I came blowing to the surface. “I
didn’t think he’d have the pluck to do it. Did
“Is it all right?” sung out George.
“Lovely,” I spluttered back. “You are
duffers not to come in. I wouldn’t have missed this
for worlds. Why won’t you try it? It only wants
a little determination.”
But I could not persuade them.
Rather an amusing thing happened while dressing that
morning. I was very cold when I got back into the boat,
and, in my hurry to get my shirt on, I accidentally jerked it
into the water. It made me awfully wild, especially as
George burst out laughing. I could not see anything to
laugh at, and I told George so, and he only laughed the
more. I never saw a man laugh so much. I quite lost
my temper with him at last, and I pointed out to him what a
drivelling maniac of an imbecile idiot he was; but he only roared
the louder. And then, just as I was landing the shirt, I
noticed that it was not my shirt at all, but George’s,
which I had mistaken for mine; whereupon the humour of the thing
struck me for the first time, and I began to laugh. And the
more I looked from George’s wet shirt to George, roaring
with laughter, the more I was amused, and I laughed so much that
I had to let the shirt fall back into the water again.
“Ar’n’t you—you—going to get it
out?” said George, between his shrieks.
I could not answer him at all for a while, I was laughing so,
but, at last, between my peals I managed to jerk out:
“It isn’t my shirt—it’s
I never saw a man’s face change from lively to severe so
suddenly in all my life before.
“What!” he yelled, springing up. “You
silly cuckoo! Why can’t you be more careful what
you’re doing? Why the deuce don’t you go and
dress on the bank? You’re not fit to be in a boat,
you’re not. Gimme the hitcher.”
I tried to make him see the fun of the thing, but he could
not. George is very dense at seeing a joke sometimes.
Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for
breakfast. He said he would cook them. It seemed,
from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled
eggs. He often did them at picnics and when out on
yachts. He was quite famous for them. People who had
once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his
conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but
pined away and died when they could not get them.
It made our mouths water to hear him talk about the things,
and we handed him out the stove and the frying-pan and all the
eggs that had not smashed and gone over everything in the hamper,
and begged him to begin.
He had some trouble in breaking the eggs—or rather not
so much trouble in breaking them exactly as in getting them into
the frying-pan when broken, and keeping them off his trousers,
and preventing them from running up his sleeve; but he fixed some
half-a-dozen into the pan at last, and then squatted down by the
side of the stove and chivied them about with a fork.
It seemed harassing work, so far as George and I could
judge. Whenever he went near the pan he burned himself, and
then he would drop everything and dance round the stove, flicking
his fingers about and cursing the things. Indeed, every
time George and I looked round at him he was sure to be
performing this feat. We thought at first that it was a
necessary part of the culinary arrangements.
We did not know what scrambled eggs were, and we fancied that
it must be some Red Indian or Sandwich Islands sort of dish that
required dances and incantations for its proper cooking.
Montmorency went and put his nose over it once, and the fat
spluttered up and scalded him, and then he began dancing
and cursing. Altogether it was one of the most interesting
and exciting operations I have ever witnessed. George and I
were both quite sorry when it was over.
The result was not altogether the success that Harris had
anticipated. There seemed so little to show for the
business. Six eggs had gone into the frying-pan, and all
that came out was a teaspoonful of burnt and unappetizing looking
Harris said it was the fault of the frying-pan, and thought it
would have gone better if we had had a fish-kettle and a
gas-stove; and we decided not to attempt the dish again until we
had those aids to housekeeping by us.
The sun had got more powerful by the time we had finished
breakfast, and the wind had dropped, and it was as lovely a
morning as one could desire. Little was in sight to remind
us of the nineteenth century; and, as we looked out upon the
river in the morning sunlight, we could almost fancy that the
centuries between us and that ever-to-be-famous June morning of
1215 had been drawn aside, and that we, English yeomen’s
sons in homespun cloth, with dirk at belt, were waiting there to
witness the writing of 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
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
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
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
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
“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
John Edward says, “Oh!” he hadn’t noticed
it; and Emily says that papa does not like the gas lit in the
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
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. Albans.”
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
I answered that I did remember it. It will be some time
before I forget it.
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
“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
“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 tried that?”
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 George.
We took our traps into the Stag, and laid them down in the
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 it.”
“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 easily.
“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 cheerily, said:
“Oh, well, we can’t help it. We must rough
it. You must give us a shake-down in the
“Very sorry, sir. Three gentlemen sleeping on the
billiard-table already, and two in the coffee-room.
Can’t possibly take you in to-night.”
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
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 happy.
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
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 luggage.
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
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 get
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 life.
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 down.
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 peace.
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 way home.
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 spoke.
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 sunset.
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
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, substantial curses.
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
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.”
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 long ago!
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
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
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 lobby.
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 for.
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
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
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 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,
“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
Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was
clearly as follows:—
The Cat: “Can I do anything
The Cat: “Don’t you
mind speaking, if you really want anything, you know.”
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
Montmorency (still backing):
“Not at all, thanks—not at all—very kind of
you. 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
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
On our informing him it was a double-sculling skiff, he
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
And George would answer:
“Well, do you know, I thought I heard
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 instruct us:
“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
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
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
George was our spokesman. He put on a winning smile, and
“Oh, please could you spare us a little
“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’s always in the same place my boy,” was
the stolid reply: “just behind you.”
“I don’t see it,” said George, turning
“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, you know!”
“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
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
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 not.
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
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
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 the business.
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 gravy with.”
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
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 do it.
George and I gazed all about. Then we gazed at each
“Has he been snatched up to heaven?” I
“They’d hardly have taken the pie too,” said
There seemed weight in this objection, and we discarded the
“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
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 on
“Did what?” exclaimed George and I.
“Why, put me to sit here—darn silly trick!
Here, catch hold of the pie.”
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 come.
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
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.
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
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
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
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, confound them.
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
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 scraping ourselves.
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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 six
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 like that.
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 the corpse.
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
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
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
“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 are there?”
“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 same result.
“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
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 Wood.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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,”
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
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, 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
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
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 his hand.
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 to
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
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,
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 in.
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
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
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
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
“Or, shall I take stroke?” he adds, with
the evident idea that that would at once put the whole matter
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
“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
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
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 their way.
“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
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
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
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 back and seemed quite
“I really beg your pardon,” he stammered
confusedly, “but I took you for a friend of
Harris thought it was lucky for him the man had not mistaken
him for a relation, or he would probably have been drowned
Sailing is a thing that wants knowledge and practice
too—though, as a boy, I did not think so. I had an
idea it came natural to a body, like rounders and touch. I
knew another boy who held this view likewise, and so, one windy
day, we thought we would try the sport. We were stopping
down at Yarmouth, and we decided we would go for a trip up the
Yare. We hired a sailing boat at the yard by the bridge,
and started off.
“It’s rather a rough day,” said the man to
us, as we put off: “better take in a reef and luff sharp
when you get round the bend.”
We said we would make a point of it, and left him with a
cheery “Good-morning,” wondering to ourselves how you
“luffed,” and where we were to get a
“reef” from, and what we were to do with it when we
had got it.
We rowed until we were out of sight of the town, and then,
with a wide stretch of water in front of us, and the wind blowing
a perfect hurricane across it, we felt that the time had come to
Hector—I think that was his name—went on pulling
while I unrolled the sail. It seemed a complicated job, but
I accomplished it at length, and then came the question, which
was the top end?
By a sort of natural instinct, we, of course, eventually
decided that the bottom was the top, and set to work to fix it
upside-down. But it was a long time before we could get it
up, either that way or any other way. The impression on the
mind of the sail seemed to be that we were playing at funerals,
and that I was the corpse and itself was the winding-sheet.
When it found that this was not the idea, it hit me over the
head with the boom, and refused to do anything.
“Wet it,” said Hector; “drop it over and get
He said people in ships always wetted the sails before they
put them up. So I wetted it; but that only made matters
worse than they were before. A dry sail clinging to your
legs and wrapping itself round your head is not pleasant, but,
when the sail is sopping wet, it becomes quite vexing.
We did get the thing up at last, the two of us together.
We fixed it, not exactly upside down—more sideways
like—and we tied it up to the mast with the painter, which
we cut off for the purpose.
That the boat did not upset I simply state as a fact.
Why it did not upset I am unable to offer any reason. I
have often thought about the matter since, but I have never
succeeded in arriving at any satisfactory explanation of the
Possibly the result may have been brought about by the natural
obstinacy of all things in this world. The boat may
possibly have come to the conclusion, judging from a cursory view
of our behaviour, that we had come out for a morning’s
suicide, and had thereupon determined to disappoint us.
That is the only suggestion I can offer.
By clinging like grim death to the gunwale, we just managed to
keep inside the boat, but it was exhausting work. Hector
said that pirates and other seafaring people generally lashed the
rudder to something or other, and hauled in the main top-jib,
during severe squalls, and thought we ought to try to do
something of the kind; but I was for letting her have her head to
As my advice was by far the easiest to follow, we ended by
adopting it, and contrived to embrace the gunwale and give her
The boat travelled up stream for about a mile at a pace I have
never sailed at since, and don’t want to again. Then,
at a bend, she heeled over till half her sail was under
water. Then she righted herself by a miracle and flew for a
long low bank of soft mud.
That mud-bank saved us. The boat ploughed its way into
the middle of it and then stuck. Finding that we were once
more able to move according to our ideas, instead of being
pitched and thrown about like peas in a bladder, we crept
forward, and cut down the sail.
We had had enough sailing. We did not want to overdo the
thing and get a surfeit of it. We had had a sail—a
good all-round exciting, interesting sail—and now we
thought we would have a row, just for a change like.
We took the sculls and tried to push the boat off the mud,
and, in doing so, we broke one of the sculls. After that we
proceeded with great caution, but they were a wretched old pair,
and the second one cracked almost easier than the first, and left
The mud stretched out for about a hundred yards in front of
us, and behind us was the water. The only thing to be done
was to sit and wait until someone came by.
It was not the sort of day to attract people out on the river,
and it was three hours before a soul came in sight. It was
an old fisherman who, with immense difficulty, at last rescued
us, and we were towed back in an ignominious fashion to the
What between tipping the man who had brought us home, and
paying for the broken sculls, and for having been out four hours
and a half, it cost us a pretty considerable number of
weeks’ pocket-money, that sail. But we learned
experience, and they say that is always cheap at any price.
Reading.—We are towed by steam
launch.—Irritating behaviour of small boats.—How they
get in the way of steam launches.—George and Harris again
shirk their work.—Rather a hackneyed story.—Streatley
We came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is
dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the
neighbourhood of Reading. The town itself is a famous old
place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred, when the Danes
anchored their warships in the Kennet, and started from Reading
to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his
brother Alfred fought and defeated them, Ethelred doing the
praying and Alfred the fighting.
In later years, Reading seems to have been regarded as a handy
place to run down to, when matters were becoming unpleasant in
London. Parliament generally rushed off to Reading whenever
there was a plague on at Westminster; and, in 1625, the Law
followed suit, and all the courts were held at Reading. It
must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and
then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the
During the Parliamentary struggle, Reading was besieged by the
Earl of Essex, and, a quarter of a century later, the Prince of
Orange routed King James’s troops there.
Henry I. lies buried at Reading, in the Benedictine abbey
founded by him there, the ruins of which may still be seen; and,
in this same abbey, great John of Gaunt was married to the Lady
At Reading lock we came up with a steam launch, belonging to
some friends of mine, and they towed us up to within about a mile
of Streatley. It is very delightful being towed up by a
launch. I prefer it myself to rowing. The run would
have been more delightful still, if it had not been for a lot of
wretched small boats that were continually getting in the way of
our launch, and, to avoid running down which, we had to be
continually easing and stopping. It is really most
annoying, the manner in which these rowing boats get in the way
of one’s launch up the river; something ought to done to
And they are so confoundedly impertinent, too, over it.
You can whistle till you nearly burst your boiler before they
will trouble themselves to hurry. I would have one or two
of them run down now and then, if I had my way, just to teach
them all a lesson.
The river becomes very lovely from a little above
Reading. The railway rather spoils it near Tilehurst, but
from Mapledurham up to Streatley it is glorious. A little
above Mapledurham lock you pass Hardwick House, where Charles I.
played bowls. The neighbourhood of Pangbourne, where the
quaint little Swan Inn stands, must be as familiar to the
habitues of the Art Exhibitions as it is to its own
My friends’ launch cast us loose just below the grotto,
and then Harris wanted to make out that it was my turn to
pull. This seemed to me most unreasonable. It had
been arranged in the morning that I should bring the boat up to
three miles above Reading. Well, here we were, ten miles
above Reading! Surely it was now their turn again.
I could not get either George or Harris to see the matter in
its proper light, however; so, to save argument, I took the
sculls. I had not been pulling for more than a minute or
so, when George noticed something black floating on the water,
and we drew up to it. George leant over, as we neared it,
and laid hold of it. And then he drew back with a cry, and
a blanched face.
It was the dead body of a woman. It lay very lightly on
the water, and the face was sweet and calm. It was not a
beautiful face; it was too prematurely aged-looking, too thin and
drawn, to be that; but it was a gentle, lovable face, in spite of
its stamp of pinch and poverty, and upon it was that look of
restful peace that comes to the faces of the sick sometimes when
at last the pain has left them.
Fortunately for us—we having no desire to be kept
hanging about coroners’ courts—some men on the bank
had seen the body too, and now took charge of it from us.
We found out the woman’s story afterwards. Of
course it was the old, old vulgar tragedy. She had loved
and been deceived—or had deceived herself. Anyhow,
she had sinned—some of us do now and then—and her
family and friends, naturally shocked and indignant, had closed
their doors against her.
Left to fight the world alone, with the millstone of her shame
around her neck, she had sunk ever lower and lower. For a
while she had kept both herself and the child on the twelve
shillings a week that twelve hours’ drudgery a day procured
her, paying six shillings out of it for the child, and keeping
her own body and soul together on the remainder.
Six shillings a week does not keep body and soul together very
unitedly. They want to get away from each other when there
is only such a very slight bond as that between them; and one
day, I suppose, the pain and the dull monotony of it all had
stood before her eyes plainer than usual, and the mocking spectre
had frightened her. She had made one last appeal to
friends, but, against the chill wall of their respectability, the
voice of the erring outcast fell unheeded; and then she had gone
to see her child—had held it in her arms and kissed it, in
a weary, dull sort of way, and without betraying any particular
emotion of any kind, and had left it, after putting into its hand
a penny box of chocolate she had bought it, and afterwards, with
her last few shillings, had taken a ticket and come down to
It seemed that the bitterest thoughts of her life must have
centred about the wooded reaches and the bright green meadows
around Goring; but women strangely hug the knife that stabs them,
and, perhaps, amidst the gall, there may have mingled also sunny
memories of sweetest hours, spent upon those shadowed deeps over
which the great trees bend their branches down so low.
She had wandered about the woods by the river’s brink
all day, and then, when evening fell and the grey twilight spread
its dusky robe upon the waters, she stretched her arms out to the
silent river that had known her sorrow and her joy. And the
old river had taken her into its gentle arms, and had laid her
weary head upon its bosom, and had hushed away the pain.
Thus had she sinned in all things—sinned in living and
in dying. God help her! and all other sinners, if any more
Goring on the left bank and Streatley on the right are both or
either charming places to stay at for a few days. The
reaches down to Pangbourne woo one for a sunny sail or for a
moonlight row, and the country round about is full of
beauty. We had intended to push on to Wallingford that day,
but the sweet smiling face of the river here lured us to linger
for a while; and so we left our boat at the bridge, and went up
into Streatley, and lunched at the “Bull,” much to
They say that the hills on each ride of the stream here once
joined and formed a barrier across what is now the Thames, and
that then the river ended there above Goring in one vast
lake. I am not in a position either to contradict or affirm
this statement. I simply offer it.
It is an ancient place, Streatley, dating back, like most
river-side towns and villages, to British and Saxon times.
Goring is not nearly so pretty a little spot to stop at as
Streatley, if you have your choice; but it is passing fair enough
in its way, and is nearer the railway in case you want to slip
off without paying your hotel bill.
Washing day.—Fish and fishers.—On
the art of angling.—A conscientious fly-fisher.—A
We stayed two days at Streatley, and got our clothes
washed. We had tried washing them ourselves, in the river,
under George’s superintendence, and it had been a
failure. Indeed, it had been more than a failure, because
we were worse off after we had washed our clothes than we were
before. Before we had washed them, they had been very, very
dirty, it is true; but they were just wearable.
After we had washed them—well, the river between
Reading and Henley was much cleaner, after we had washed our
clothes in it, than it was before. All the dirt contained
in the river between Reading and Henley, we collected, during
that wash, and worked it into our clothes.
The washerwoman at Streatley said she felt she owed it to
herself to charge us just three times the usual prices for that
wash. She said it had not been like washing, it had been
more in the nature of excavating.
We paid the bill without a murmur.
The neighbourhood of Streatley and Goring is a great fishing
centre. There is some excellent fishing to be had
here. The river abounds in pike, roach, dace, gudgeon, and
eels, just here; and you can sit and fish for them all day.
Some people do. They never catch them. I never
knew anybody catch anything, up the Thames, except minnows and
dead cats, but that has nothing to do, of course, with
fishing! The local fisherman’s guide doesn’t
say a word about catching anything. All it says is the
place is “a good station for fishing;” and, from what
I have seen of the district, I am quite prepared to bear out this
There is no spot in the world where you can get more fishing,
or where you can fish for a longer period. Some fishermen
come here and fish for a day, and others stop and fish for a
month. You can hang on and fish for a year, if you want to:
it will be all the same.
The Angler’s Guide to the Thames says that
“jack and perch are also to be had about here,” but
there the Angler’s Guide is wrong. Jack and
perch may be about there. Indeed, I know for a fact
that they are. You can see them there in shoals,
when you are out for a walk along the banks: they come and stand
half out of the water with their mouths open for biscuits.
And, if you go for a bathe, they crowd round, and get in your
way, and irritate you. But they are not to be
“had” by a bit of worm on the end of a hook, nor
anything like it—not they!
I am not a good fisherman myself. I devoted a
considerable amount of attention to the subject at one time, and
was getting on, as I thought, fairly well; but the old hands told
me that I should never be any real good at it, and advised me to
give it up. They said that I was an extremely neat thrower,
and that I seemed to have plenty of gumption for the thing, and
quite enough constitutional laziness. But they were sure I
should never make anything of a fisherman. I had not got
They said that as a poet, or a shilling shocker, or a
reporter, or anything of that kind, I might be satisfactory, but
that, to gain any position as a Thames angler, would require more
play of fancy, more power of invention than I appeared to
Some people are under the impression that all that is required
to make a good fisherman is the ability to tell lies easily and
without blushing; but this is a mistake. Mere bald
fabrication is useless; the veriest tyro can manage that.
It is in the circumstantial detail, the embellishing touches of
probability, the general air of scrupulous—almost of
pedantic—veracity, that the experienced angler is seen.
Anybody can come in and say, “Oh, I caught fifteen dozen
perch yesterday evening;” or “Last Monday I landed a
gudgeon, weighing eighteen pounds, and measuring three feet from
the tip to the tail.”
There is no art, no skill, required for that sort of
thing. It shows pluck, but that is all.
No; your accomplished angler would scorn to tell a lie, that
way. His method is a study in itself.
He comes in quietly with his hat on, appropriates the most
comfortable chair, lights his pipe, and commences to puff in
silence. He lets the youngsters brag away for a while, and
then, during a momentary lull, he removes the pipe from his
mouth, and remarks, as he knocks the ashes out against the
“Well, I had a haul on Tuesday evening that it’s
not much good my telling anybody about.”
“Oh! why’s that?” they ask.
“Because I don’t expect anybody would believe me
if I did,” replies the old fellow calmly, and without even
a tinge of bitterness in his tone, as he refills his pipe, and
requests the landlord to bring him three of Scotch, cold.
There is a pause after this, nobody feeling sufficiently sure
of himself to contradict the old gentleman. So he has to go
on by himself without any encouragement.
“No,” he continues thoughtfully; “I
shouldn’t believe it myself if anybody told it to me, but
it’s a fact, for all that. I had been sitting there
all the afternoon and had caught literally nothing—except a
few dozen dace and a score of jack; and I was just about giving
it up as a bad job when I suddenly felt a rather smart pull at
the line. I thought it was another little one, and I went
to jerk it up. Hang me, if I could move the rod! It
took me half-an-hour—half-an-hour, sir!—to land that
fish; and every moment I thought the line was going to
snap! I reached him at last, and what do you think it
was? A sturgeon! a forty pound sturgeon! taken on a line,
sir! Yes, you may well look surprised—I’ll have
another three of Scotch, landlord, please.”
And then he goes on to tell of the astonishment of everybody
who saw it; and what his wife said, when he got home, and of what
Joe Buggles thought about it.
I asked the landlord of an inn up the river once, if it did
not injure him, sometimes, listening to the tales that the
fishermen about there told him; and he said:
“Oh, no; not now, sir. It did used to knock me
over a bit at first, but, lor love you! me and the missus we
listens to ’em all day now. It’s what
you’re used to, you know. It’s what
you’re used to.”
I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow,
and, when he took to fly-fishing, he determined never to
exaggerate his hauls by more than twenty-five per cent.
“When I have caught forty fish,” said he,
“then I will tell people that I have caught fifty, and so
on. But I will not lie any more than that, because it is
sinful to lie.”
But the twenty-five per cent. plan did not work well at
all. He never was able to use it. The greatest number
of fish he ever caught in one day was three, and you can’t
add twenty-five per cent. to three—at least, not in
So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third;
but that, again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two;
so, to simplify matters, he made up his mind to just double the
He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then
he grew dissatisfied with it. Nobody believed him when he
told them that he only doubled, and he, therefore, gained no
credit that way whatever, while his moderation put him at a
disadvantage among the other anglers. When he had really
caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used to
make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had
only caught one, going about telling people he had landed two
So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself,
which he has religiously held to ever since, and that was to
count each fish that he caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin
with. For example, if he did not catch any fish at all,
then he said he had caught ten fish—you could never catch
less than ten fish by his system; that was the foundation of
it. Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish, he
called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty,
and so on.
It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some
talk lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in
general. Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Angler’s
Association did recommend its adoption about two years ago, but
some of the older members opposed it. They said they would
consider the idea if the number were doubled, and each fish
counted as twenty.
If ever you have an evening to spare, up the river, I should
advise you to drop into one of the little village inns, and take
a seat in the tap-room. You will be nearly sure to meet one
or two old rod-men, sipping their toddy there, and they will tell
you enough fishy stories, in half an hour, to give you
indigestion for a month.
George and I—I don’t know what had become of
Harris; he had gone out and had a shave, early in the afternoon,
and had then come back and spent full forty minutes in
pipeclaying his shoes, we had not seen him since—George and
I, therefore, and the dog, left to ourselves, went for a walk to
Wallingford on the second evening, and, coming home, we called in
at a little river-side inn, for a rest, and other things.
We went into the parlour and sat down. There was an old
fellow there, smoking a long clay pipe, and we naturally began
He told us that it had been a fine day to-day, and we told him
that it had been a fine day yesterday, and then we all told each
other that we thought it would be a fine day to-morrow; and
George said the crops seemed to be coming up nicely.
After that it came out, somehow or other, that we were
strangers in the neighbourhood, and that we were going away the
Then a pause ensued in the conversation, during which our
eyes wandered round the room. They finally rested upon a
dusty old glass-case, fixed very high up above the chimney-piece,
and containing a trout. It rather fascinated me, that
trout; it was such a monstrous fish. In fact, at first
glance, I thought it was a cod.
“Ah!” said the old gentleman, following the
direction of my gaze, “fine fellow that, ain’t
“Quite uncommon,” I murmured; and George asked the
old man how much he thought it weighed.
“Eighteen pounds six ounces,” said our friend,
rising and taking down his coat. “Yes,” he
continued, “it wur sixteen year ago, come the third
o’ next month, that I landed him. I caught him just
below the bridge with a minnow. They told me he wur in the
river, and I said I’d have him, and so I did. You
don’t see many fish that size about here now, I’m
thinking. Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.”
And out he went, and left us alone.
We could not take our eyes off the fish after that. It
really was a remarkably fine fish. We were still looking at
it, when the local carrier, who had just stopped at the inn, came
to the door of the room with a pot of beer in his hand, and he
also looked at the fish.
“Good-sized trout, that,” said George, turning
round to him.
“Ah! you may well say that, sir,” replied the man;
and then, after a pull at his beer, he added, “Maybe you
wasn’t here, sir, when that fish was caught?”
“No,” we told him. We were strangers in the
“Ah!” said the carrier, “then, of course,
how should you? It was nearly five years ago that I caught
“Oh! was it you who caught it, then?” said I.
“Yes, sir,” replied the genial old fellow.
“I caught him just below the lock—leastways, what was
the lock then—one Friday afternoon; and the remarkable
thing about it is that I caught him with a fly. I’d
gone out pike fishing, bless you, never thinking of a trout, and
when I saw that whopper on the end of my line, blest if it
didn’t quite take me aback. Well, you see, he weighed
twenty-six pound. Good-night, gentlemen,
Five minutes afterwards, a third man came in, and described
how he had caught it early one morning, with bleak; and
then he left, and a stolid, solemn-looking, middle-aged
individual came in, and sat down over by the window.
None of us spoke for a while; but, at length, George turned to
the new comer, and said:
“I beg your pardon, I hope you will forgive the liberty
that we—perfect strangers in the neighbourhood—are
taking, but my friend here and myself would be so much obliged if
you would tell us how you caught that trout up there.”
“Why, who told you I caught that trout!” was the
We said that nobody had told us so, but somehow or other we
felt instinctively that it was he who had done it.
“Well, it’s a most remarkable thing—most
remarkable,” answered the stolid stranger, laughing;
“because, as a matter of fact, you are quite right. I
did catch it. But fancy your guessing it like that.
Dear me, it’s really a most remarkable thing.”
And then he went on, and told us how it had taken him half an
hour to land it, and how it had broken his rod. He said he
had weighed it carefully when he reached home, and it had turned
the scale at thirty-four pounds.
He went in his turn, and when he was gone, the landlord came
in to us. We told him the various histories we had heard
about his trout, and he was immensely amused, and we all laughed
“Fancy Jim Bates and Joe Muggles and Mr. Jones and old
Billy Maunders all telling you that they had caught it. Ha!
ha! ha! Well, that is good,” said the honest old
fellow, laughing heartily. “Yes, they are the sort to
give it me, to put up in my parlour, if they
had caught it, they are! Ha! ha! ha!”
And then he told us the real history of the fish. It
seemed that he had caught it himself, years ago, when he was
quite a lad; not by any art or skill, but by that unaccountable
luck that appears to always wait upon a boy when he plays the wag
from school, and goes out fishing on a sunny afternoon, with a
bit of string tied on to the end of a tree.
He said that bringing home that trout had saved him from a
whacking, and that even his school-master had said it was worth
the rule-of-three and practice put together.
He was called out of the room at this point, and George and I
again turned our gaze upon the fish.
It really was a most astonishing trout. The more we
looked at it, the more we marvelled at it.
It excited George so much that he climbed up on the back of a
chair to get a better view of it.
And then the chair slipped, and George clutched wildly at the
trout-case to save himself, and down it came with a crash, George
and the chair on top of it.
“You haven’t injured the fish, have you?” I
cried in alarm, rushing up.
“I hope not,” said George, rising cautiously and
But he had. That trout lay shattered into a thousand
fragments—I say a thousand, but they may have only been
nine hundred. I did not count them.
We thought it strange and unaccountable that a stuffed trout
should break up into little pieces like that.
And so it would have been strange and unaccountable, if it had
been a stuffed trout, but it was not.
That trout was plaster-of-Paris.
Locks.—George and I are
family man.—A good spot for drowning.—A difficult bit
of water.—Demoralizing effect of river air.
We left Streatley early the next morning, and pulled up to
Culham, and slept under the canvas, in the backwater there.
The river is not extraordinarily interesting between Streatley
and Wallingford. From Cleve you get a stretch of six and a
half miles without a lock. I believe this is the longest
uninterrupted stretch anywhere above Teddington, and the Oxford
Club make use of it for their trial eights.
But however satisfactory this absence of locks may be to
rowing-men, it is to be regretted by the mere
For myself, I am fond of locks. They pleasantly break
the monotony of the pull. I like sitting in the boat and
slowly rising out of the cool depths up into new reaches and
fresh views; or sinking down, as it were, out of the world, and
then waiting, while the gloomy gates creak, and the narrow strip
of day-light between them widens till the fair smiling river lies
full before you, and you push your little boat out from its brief
prison on to the welcoming waters once again.
They are picturesque little spots, these locks. The
stout old lock-keeper, or his cheerful-looking wife, or
bright-eyed daughter, are pleasant folk to have a passing chat
with.  You meet other boats there, and
river gossip is exchanged. The Thames would not be the
fairyland it is without its flower-decked locks.
Talking of locks reminds me of an accident George and I very
nearly had one summer’s morning at Hampton Court.
It was a glorious day, and the lock was crowded; and, as is a
common practice up the river, a speculative photographer was
taking a picture of us all as we lay upon the rising waters.
I did not catch what was going on at first, and was,
therefore, extremely surprised at noticing George hurriedly
smooth out his trousers, ruffle up his hair, and stick his cap on
in a rakish manner at the back of his head, and then, assuming an
expression of mingled affability and sadness, sit down in a
graceful attitude, and try to hide his feet.
My first idea was that he had suddenly caught sight of some
girl he knew, and I looked about to see who it was.
Everybody in the lock seemed to have been suddenly struck
wooden. They were all standing or sitting about in the most
quaint and curious attitudes I have ever seen off a Japanese
fan. All the girls were smiling. Oh, they did look so
sweet! And all the fellows were frowning, and looking stern
And then, at last, the truth flashed across me, and I wondered
if I should be in time. Ours was the first boat, and it
would be unkind of me to spoil the man’s picture, I
So I faced round quickly, and took up a position in the prow,
where I leant with careless grace upon the hitcher, in an
attitude suggestive of agility and strength. I arranged my
hair with a curl over the forehead, and threw an air of tender
wistfulness into my expression, mingled with a touch of cynicism,
which I am told suits me.
As we stood, waiting for the eventful moment, I heard someone
behind call out:
“Hi! look at your nose.”
I could not turn round to see what was the matter, and whose
nose it was that was to be looked at. I stole a side-glance
at George’s nose! It was all right—at all
events, there was nothing wrong with it that could be
altered. I squinted down at my own, and that seemed all
that could be expected also.
“Look at your nose, you stupid ass!” came the same
voice again, louder.
And then another voice cried:
“Push your nose out, can’t you, you—you two
with the dog!”
Neither George nor I dared to turn round. The
man’s hand was on the cap, and the picture might be taken
any moment. Was it us they were calling to? What was
the matter with our noses? Why were they to be pushed
But now the whole lock started yelling, and a stentorian voice
from the back shouted:
“Look at your boat, sir; you in the red and black
caps. It’s your two corpses that will get taken in
that photo, if you ain’t quick.”
We looked then, and saw that the nose of our boat had got
fixed under the woodwork of the lock, while the in-coming water
was rising all around it, and tilting it up. In another
moment we should be over. Quick as thought, we each seized
an oar, and a vigorous blow against the side of the lock with the
butt-ends released the boat, and sent us sprawling on our
We did not come out well in that photograph, George and
I. Of course, as was to be expected, our luck ordained it,
that the man should set his wretched machine in motion at the
precise moment that we were both lying on our backs with a wild
expression of “Where am I? and what is it?” on our
faces, and our four feet waving madly in the air.
Our feet were undoubtedly the leading article in that
photograph. Indeed, very little else was to be seen.
They filled up the foreground entirely. Behind them, you
caught glimpses of the other boats, and bits of the surrounding
scenery; but everything and everybody else in the lock looked so
utterly insignificant and paltry compared with our feet, that all
the other people felt quite ashamed of themselves, and refused to
subscribe to the picture.
The owner of one steam launch, who had bespoke six copies,
rescinded the order on seeing the negative. He said he
would take them if anybody could show him his launch, but nobody
could. It was somewhere behind George’s right
There was a good deal of unpleasantness over the
business. The photographer thought we ought to take a dozen
copies each, seeing that the photo was about nine-tenths us, but
we declined. We said we had no objection to being
photo’d full-length, but we preferred being taken the right
Wallingford, six miles above Streatley, is a very ancient
town, and has been an active centre for the making of English
history. It was a rude, mud-built town in the time of the
Britons, who squatted there, until the Roman legions evicted
them; and replaced their clay-baked walls by mighty
fortifications, the trace of which Time has not yet succeeded in
sweeping away, so well those old-world masons knew how to
But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled
Romans to dust; and on the ground, in later years, fought savage
Saxons and huge Danes, until the Normans came.
It was a walled and fortified town up to the time of the
Parliamentary War, when it suffered a long and bitter siege from
Fairfax. It fell at last, and then the walls were
From Wallingford up to Dorchester the neighbourhood of the
river grows more hilly, varied, and picturesque. Dorchester
stands half a mile from the river. It can be reached by
paddling up the Thame, if you have a small boat; but the best way
is to leave the river at Day’s Lock, and take a walk across
the fields. Dorchester is a delightfully peaceful old
place, nestling in stillness and silence and drowsiness.
Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British
times; it was then called Caer Doren, “the city on the
water.” In more recent times the Romans formed a
great camp here, the fortifications surrounding which now seem
like low, even hills. In Saxon days it was the capital of
Wessex. It is very old, and it was very strong and great
once. Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods
Round Clifton Hampden, itself a wonderfully pretty village,
old-fashioned, peaceful, and dainty with flowers, the river
scenery is rich and beautiful. If you stay the night on
land at Clifton, you cannot do better than put up at the
“Barley Mow.” It is, without exception, I
should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river.
It stands on the right of the bridge, quite away from the
village. Its low-pitched gables and thatched roof and
latticed windows give it quite a story-book appearance, while
inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied.
It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel
to stay at. The heroine of a modern novel is always
“divinely tall,” and she is ever “drawing
herself up to her full height.” At the “Barley
Mow” she would bump her head against the ceiling each time
she did this.
It would also be a bad house for a drunken man to put up
at. There are too many surprises in the way of unexpected
steps down into this room and up into that; and as for getting
upstairs to his bedroom, or ever finding his bed when he got up,
either operation would be an utter impossibility to him.
We were up early the next morning, as we wanted to be in
Oxford by the afternoon. It is surprising how early one
can get up, when camping out. One does not yearn for
“just another five minutes” nearly so much, lying
wrapped up in a rug on the boards of a boat, with a Gladstone bag
for a pillow, as one does in a featherbed. We had finished
breakfast, and were through Clifton Lock by half-past eight.
From Clifton to Culham the river banks are flat, monotonous,
and uninteresting, but, after you get through Culhalm
Lock—the coldest and deepest lock on the river—the
At Abingdon, the river passes by the streets. Abingdon
is a typical country town of the smaller order—quiet,
eminently respectable, clean, and desperately dull. It
prides itself on being old, but whether it can compare in this
respect with Wallingford and Dorchester seems doubtful. A
famous abbey stood here once, and within what is left of its
sanctified walls they brew bitter ale nowadays.
In St. Nicholas Church, at Abingdon, there is a monument to
John Blackwall and his wife Jane, who both, after leading a happy
married life, died on the very same day, August 21, 1625; and in
St. Helen’s Church, it is recorded that W. Lee, who died in
1637, “had in his lifetime issue from his loins two hundred
lacking but three.” If you work this out you will
find that Mr. W. Lee’s family numbered one hundred and
ninety-seven. Mr. W. Lee—five times Mayor of
Abingdon—was, no doubt, a benefactor to his generation, but
I hope there are not many of his kind about in this overcrowded
From Abingdon to Nuneham Courteney is a lovely stretch.
Nuneham Park is well worth a visit. It can be viewed on
Tuesdays and Thursdays. The house contains a fine
collection of pictures and curiosities, and the grounds are very
The pool under Sandford lasher, just behind the lock, is a
very good place to drown yourself in. The undercurrent is
terribly strong, and if you once get down into it you are all
right. An obelisk marks the spot where two men have already
been drowned, while bathing there; and the steps of the obelisk
are generally used as a diving-board by young men now who wish to
see if the place really is dangerous.
Iffley Lock and Mill, a mile before you reach Oxford, is a
favourite subject with the river-loving brethren of the
brush. The real article, however, is rather disappointing,
after the pictures. Few things, I have noticed, come quite
up to the pictures of them, in this world.
We passed through Iffley Lock at about half-past twelve, and
then, having tidied up the boat and made all ready for landing,
we set to work on our last mile.
Between Iffley and Oxford is the most difficult bit of the
river I know. You want to be born on that bit of water, to
understand it. I have been over it a fairish number of
times, but I have never been able to get the hang of it.
The man who could row a straight course from Oxford to Iffley
ought to be able to live comfortably, under one roof, with his
wife, his mother-in-law, his elder sister, and the old servant
who was in the family when he was a baby.
First the current drives you on to the right bank, and then on
to the left, then it takes you out into the middle, turns you
round three times, and carries you up stream again, and always
ends by trying to smash you up against a college barge.
Of course, as a consequence of this, we got in the way of a
good many other boats, during the mile, and they in ours, and, of
course, as a consequence of that, a good deal of bad language
I don’t know why it should be, but everybody is always
so exceptionally irritable on the river. Little mishaps,
that you would hardly notice on dry land, drive you nearly
frantic with rage, when they occur on the water. When
Harris or George makes an ass of himself on dry land, I smile
indulgently; when they behave in a chuckle-head way on the river,
I use the most blood-curdling language to them. When
another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and
kill all the people in it.
The mildest tempered people, when on land, become violent and
blood-thirsty when in a boat. I did a little boating once
with a young lady. She was naturally of the sweetest and
gentlest disposition imaginable, but on the river it was quite
awful to hear her.
“Oh, drat the man!” she would exclaim, when some
unfortunate sculler would get in her way; “why don’t
he look where he’s going?”
And, “Oh, bother the silly old thing!” she would
say indignantly, when the sail would not go up properly.
And she would catch hold of it, and shake it quite brutally.
Yet, as I have said, when on shore she was kind-hearted and
The air of the river has a demoralising effect upon
one’s temper, and this it is, I suppose, which causes even
barge men to be sometimes rude to one another, and to use
language which, no doubt, in their calmer moments they
Oxford.—Montmorency’s idea of
Heaven.—The hired up-river boat, its beauties and
advantages.—The “Pride of the
Thames.”—The weather changes.—The river under
different aspects.—Not a cheerful evening.—Yearnings
for the unattainable.—The cheery chat goes
round.—George performs upon the banjo.—A mournful
melody.—Another wet day.—Flight.—A little
supper and a toast.
We spent two very pleasant days at Oxford. There are
plenty of dogs in the town of Oxford. Montmorency had
eleven fights on the first day, and fourteen on the second, and
evidently thought he had got to heaven.
Among folk too constitutionally weak, or too constitutionally
lazy, whichever it may be, to relish up-stream work, it is a
common practice to get a boat at Oxford, and row down. For
the energetic, however, the up-stream journey is certainly to be
preferred. It does not seem good to be always going with
the current. There is more satisfaction in squaring
one’s back, and fighting against it, and winning
one’s way forward in spite of it—at least, so I feel,
when Harris and George are sculling and I am steering.
To those who do contemplate making Oxford their
starting-place, I would say, take your own boat—unless, of
course, you can take someone else’s without any possible
danger of being found out. The boats that, as a rule, are
let for hire on the Thames above Marlow, are very good
boats. They are fairly water-tight; and so long as they are
handled with care, they rarely come to pieces, or sink.
There are places in them to sit down on, and they are complete
with all the necessary arrangements—or nearly all—to
enable you to row them and steer them.
But they are not ornamental. The boat you hire up the
river above Marlow is not the sort of boat in which you can flash
about and give yourself airs. The hired up-river boat very
soon puts a stop to any nonsense of that sort on the part of its
occupants. That is its chief—one may say, its only
The man in the hired up-river boat is modest and
retiring. He likes to keep on the shady side, underneath
the trees, and to do most of his travelling early in the morning
or late at night, when there are not many people about on the
river to look at him.
When the man in the hired up-river boat sees anyone he knows,
he gets out on to the bank, and hides behind a tree.
I was one of a party who hired an up-river boat one summer,
for a few days’ trip. We had none of us ever seen the
hired up-river boat before; and we did not know what it was when
we did see it.
We had written for a boat—a double sculling skiff; and
when we went down with our bags to the yard, and gave our names,
the man said:
“Oh, yes; you’re the party that wrote for a
double sculling skiff. It’s all right. Jim,
fetch round The Pride of the Thames.”
The boy went, and re-appeared five minutes afterwards,
struggling with an antediluvian chunk of wood, that looked as
though it had been recently dug out of somewhere, and dug out
carelessly, so as to have been unnecessarily damaged in the
My own idea, on first catching sight of the object, was that
it was a Roman relic of some sort,—relic of what I
do not know, possibly of a coffin.
The neighbourhood of the upper Thames is rich in Roman relics,
and my surmise seemed to me a very probable one; but our serious
young man, who is a bit of a geologist, pooh-poohed my Roman
relic theory, and said it was clear to the meanest intellect (in
which category he seemed to be grieved that he could not
conscientiously include mine) that the thing the boy had found
was the fossil of a whale; and he pointed out to us various
evidences proving that it must have belonged to the preglacial
To settle the dispute, we appealed to the boy. We told
him not to be afraid, but to speak the plain truth: Was it the
fossil of a pre-Adamite whale, or was it an early Roman
The boy said it was The Pride of the Thames.
We thought this a very humorous answer on the part of the boy
at first, and somebody gave him twopence as a reward for his
ready wit; but when he persisted in keeping up the joke, as we
thought, too long, we got vexed with him.
“Come, come, my lad!” said our captain sharply,
“don’t let us have any nonsense. You take your
mother’s washing-tub home again, and bring us a
The boat-builder himself came up then, and assured us, on his
word, as a practical man, that the thing really was a
boat—was, in fact, the boat, the “double
sculling skiff” selected to take us on our trip down the
We grumbled a good deal. We thought he might, at least,
have had it whitewashed or tarred—had something done
to it to distinguish it from a bit of a wreck; but he could not
see any fault in it.
He even seemed offended at our remarks. He said he had
picked us out the best boat in all his stock, and he thought we
might have been more grateful.
He said it, The Pride of the Thames, had been in use,
just as it now stood (or rather as it now hung together), for the
last forty years, to his knowledge, and nobody had
complained of it before, and he did not see why we should be the
first to begin.
We argued no more.
We fastened the so-called boat together with some pieces of
string, got a bit of wall-paper and pasted over the shabbier
places, said our prayers, and stepped on board.
They charged us thirty-five shillings for the loan of the
remnant for six days; and we could have bought the thing
out-and-out for four-and-sixpence at any sale of drift-wood round
The weather changed on the third day,—Oh! I am talking
about our present trip now,—and we started from Oxford upon
our homeward journey in the midst of a steady drizzle.
The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing
wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting
through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the
shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses
to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs’ white waters,
silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny
townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the
rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many
a far sail, making soft the air with glory—is a golden
But the river—chill and weary, with the ceaseless
rain-drops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, with a sound
as of a woman, weeping low in some dark chamber; while the woods,
all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand
like ghosts upon the margin; silent ghosts with eyes reproachful,
like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends
neglected—is a spirit-haunted water through the land of
Sunlight is the life-blood of Nature. Mother Earth looks
at us with such dull, soulless eyes, when the sunlight has died
away from out of her. It makes us sad to be with her then;
she does not seem to know us or to care for us. She is as a
widow who has lost the husband she loved, and her children touch
her hand, and look up into her eyes, but gain no smile from
We rowed on all that day through the rain, and very melancholy
work it was. We pretended, at first, that we enjoyed
it. We said it was a change, and that we liked to see the
river under all its different aspects. We said we could not
expect to have it all sunshine, nor should we wish it. We
told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her tears.
Indeed, Harris and I were quite enthusiastic about the
business, for the first few hours. And we sang a song about
a gipsy’s life, and how delightful a gipsy’s
existence was!—free to storm and sunshine, and to every
wind that blew!—and how he enjoyed the rain, and what a lot
of good it did him; and how he laughed at people who didn’t
George took the fun more soberly, and stuck to the
We hoisted the cover before we had lunch, and kept it up all
the afternoon, just leaving a little space in the bow, from which
one of us could paddle and keep a look-out. In this way we
made nine miles, and pulled up for the night a little below
I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The
rain poured down with quiet persistency. Everything in the
boat was damp and clammy. Supper was not a success.
Cold veal pie, when you don’t feel hungry, is apt to
cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris
babbled of soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his
pie to Montmorency, who declined it, and, apparently insulted by
the offer, went and sat over at the other end of the boat by
George requested that we would not talk about these things, at
all events until he had finished his cold boiled beef without
We played penny nap after supper. We played for about an
hour and a half, by the end of which time George had won
fourpence—George always is lucky at cards—and Harris
and I had lost exactly twopence each.
We thought we would give up gambling then. As Harris
said, it breeds an unhealthy excitement when carried too
far. George offered to go on and give us our revenge; but
Harris and I decided not to battle any further against Fate.
After that, we mixed ourselves some toddy, and sat round and
talked. George told us about a man he had known, who had
come up the river two years ago and who had slept out in a damp
boat on just such another night as that was, and it had given him
rheumatic fever, and nothing was able to save him, and he had
died in great agony ten days afterwards. George said he was
quite a young man, and was engaged to be married. He said
it was one of the saddest things he had ever known.
And that put Harris in mind of a friend of his, who had been
in the Volunteers, and who had slept out under canvas one wet
night down at Aldershot, “on just such another night as
this,” said Harris; and he had woke up in the morning a
cripple for life. Harris said he would introduce us both to
the man when we got back to town; it would make our hearts bleed
to see him.
This naturally led to some pleasant chat about sciatica,
fevers, chills, lung diseases, and bronchitis; and Harris said
how very awkward it would be if one of us were taken seriously
ill in the night, seeing how far away we were from a doctor.
There seemed to be a desire for something frolicksome to
follow upon this conversation, and in a weak moment I suggested
that George should get out his banjo, and see if he could not
give us a comic song.
I will say for George that he did not want any pressing.
There was no nonsense about having left his music at home, or
anything of that sort. He at once fished out his
instrument, and commenced to play “Two Lovely Black
I had always regarded “Two Lovely Black Eyes” as
rather a commonplace tune until that evening. The rich vein
of sadness that George extracted from it quite surprised me.
The desire that grew upon Harris and myself, as the mournful
strains progressed, was to fall upon each other’s necks and
weep; but by great effort we kept back the rising tears, and
listened to the wild yearnful melody in silence.
When the chorus came we even made a desperate effort to be
merry. We re-filled our glasses and joined in; Harris, in a
voice trembling with emotion, leading, and George and I following
a few words behind:
lovely black eyes;
Oh! what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
lovely black eyes;
Oh! what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
There we broke down. The unutterable pathos of
George’s accompaniment to that “two” we were,
in our then state of depression, unable to bear. Harris
sobbed like a little child, and the dog howled till I thought his
heart or his jaw must surely break.
George wanted to go on with another verse. He thought
that when he had got a little more into the tune, and could throw
more “abandon,” as it were, into the rendering, it
might not seem so sad. The feeling of the majority,
however, was opposed to the experiment.
There being nothing else to do, we went to bed—that is,
we undressed ourselves, and tossed about at the bottom of the
boat for some three or four hours. After which, we managed
to get some fitful slumber until five a.m., when we all got up
and had breakfast.
The second day was exactly like the first. The rain
continued to pour down, and we sat, wrapped up in our
mackintoshes, underneath the canvas, and drifted slowly down.
One of us—I forget which one now, but I rather think it
was myself—made a few feeble attempts during the course of
the morning to work up the old gipsy foolishness about being
children of Nature and enjoying the wet; but it did not go down
well at all. That—
“I care not for the rain, not I!”
“I care not for the rain, not I!”
was so painfully evident, as expressing the sentiments of each
of us, that to sing it seemed unnecessary.
On one point we were all agreed, and that was that, come what
might, we would go through with this job to the bitter end.
We had come out for a fortnight’s enjoyment on the river,
and a fortnight’s enjoyment on the river we meant to
have. If it killed us! well, that would be a sad thing for
our friends and relations, but it could not be helped. We
felt that to give in to the weather in a climate such as ours
would be a most disastrous precedent.
“It’s only two days more,” said Harris,
“and we are young and strong. We may get over it all
right, after all.”
At about four o’clock we began to discuss our
arrangements for the evening. We were a little past Goring
then, and we decided to paddle on to Pangbourne, and put up there
for the night.
“Another jolly evening!” murmured George.
We sat and mused on the prospect. We should be in at
Pangbourne by five. We should finish dinner at, say,
half-past six. After that we could walk about the village
in the pouring rain until bed-time; or we could sit in a
dimly-lit bar-parlour and read the almanac.
“Why, the Alhambra would be almost more lively,”
said Harris, venturing his head outside the cover for a moment
and taking a survey of the sky.
“With a little supper at the ---  to follow,” I added, half
“Yes it’s almost a pity we’ve made up our
minds to stick to this boat,” answered Harris; and then
there was silence for a while.
“If we hadn’t made up our minds to contract
our certain deaths in this bally old coffin,” observed
George, casting a glance of intense malevolence over the boat,
“it might be worth while to mention that there’s a
train leaves Pangbourne, I know, soon after five, which would
just land us in town in comfortable time to get a chop, and then
go on to the place you mentioned afterwards.”
Nobody spoke. We looked at one another, and each one
seemed to see his own mean and guilty thoughts reflected in the
faces of the others. In silence, we dragged out and
overhauled the Gladstone. We looked up the river and down
the river; not a soul was in sight!
Twenty minutes later, three figures, followed by a
shamed-looking dog, might have been seen creeping stealthily from
the boat-house at the “Swan” towards the railway
station, dressed in the following neither neat nor gaudy
Black leather shoes, dirty; suit of boating flannels, very
dirty; brown felt hat, much battered; mackintosh, very wet;
We had deceived the boatman at Pangbourne. We had not
had the face to tell him that we were running away from the
rain. We had left the boat, and all it contained, in his
charge, with instructions that it was to be ready for us at nine
the next morning. If, we said—if anything
unforeseen should happen, preventing our return, we would write
We reached Paddington at seven, and drove direct to the
restaurant I have before described, where we partook of a light
meal, left Montmorency, together with suggestions for a supper to
be ready at half-past ten, and then continued our way to
We attracted a good deal of attention at the Alhambra.
On our presenting ourselves at the paybox we were gruffly
directed to go round to Castle Street, and were informed that we
were half-an-hour behind our time.
We convinced the man, with some difficulty, that we were
not “the world-renowned contortionists from the
Himalaya Mountains,” and he took our money and let us
Inside we were a still greater success. Our fine bronzed
countenances and picturesque clothes were followed round the
place with admiring gaze. We were the cynosure of every
It was a proud moment for us all.
We adjourned soon after the first ballet, and wended our way
back to the restaurant, where supper was already awaiting us.
I must confess to enjoying that supper. For about ten
days we seemed to have been living, more or less, on nothing but
cold meat, cake, and bread and jam. It had been a simple, a
nutritious diet; but there had been nothing exciting about it,
and the odour of Burgundy, and the smell of French sauces, and
the sight of clean napkins and long loaves, knocked as a very
welcome visitor at the door of our inner man.
We pegged and quaffed away in silence for a while, until the
time came when, instead of sitting bolt upright, and grasping the
knife and fork firmly, we leant back in our chairs and worked
slowly and carelessly—when we stretched out our legs
beneath the table, let our napkins fall, unheeded, to the floor,
and found time to more critically examine the smoky ceiling than
we had hitherto been able to do—when we rested our glasses
at arm’s-length upon the table, and felt good, and
thoughtful, and forgiving.
Then Harris, who was sitting next the window, drew aside the
curtain and looked out upon the street.
It glistened darkly in the wet, the dim lamps flickered with
each gust, the rain splashed steadily into the puddles and
trickled down the water-spouts into the running gutters. A
few soaked wayfarers hurried past, crouching beneath their
dripping umbrellas, the women holding up their skirts.
“Well,” said Harris, reaching his hand out for his
glass, “we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks
for it to old Father Thames—but I think we did well to
chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out of
And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window,
peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided
concurrence with the toast.
 Or rather were. The
Conservancy of late seems to have constituted itself into a
society for the employment of idiots. A good many of the
new lock-keepers, especially in the more crowded portions of the
river, are excitable, nervous old men, quite unfitted for their
 A capital little out-of-the-way
restaurant, in the neighbourhood of ---, where you can get one of
the best-cooked and cheapest little French dinners or suppers
that I know of, with an excellent bottle of Beaune, for
three-and-six; and which I am not going to be idiot enough to