Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Part 4 out of 4
back and seemed quite concerned.
"I really beg your pardon," he stammered confusedly, "but I took you for
a friend of mine!"
Harris thought it was lucky for him the man had not mistaken him for a
relation, or he would probably have been drowned outright.
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 commence operations.
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 it wet."
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 phenomenon.
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 the wind.
As my advice was by far the easiest to follow, we ended by adopting it,
and contrived to embrace the gunwale and give her her head.
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
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 us helpless.
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 boat-yard.
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 AND
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 Blanche.
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 stop it.
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 inhabitants.
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
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 Goring.
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
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
Thus had she sinned in all things - sinned in living and in dying. God
help her! and all other sinners, if any more there be.
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 Montmorency's
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 FISHY STORY.
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 statement.
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 sufficient
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 possess.
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 bars:
"Well, I had a haul on Tuesday evening that it's not much good my telling
"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
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
"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
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 fish.
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 quantity.
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 dozen.
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
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 chatting.
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 next morning.
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 he?"
"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
"No," we told him. We were strangers in the neighbourhood.
"Ah!" said the carrier, "then, of course, how should you? It was nearly
five years ago that I caught that trout."
"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, good-
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
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 surprised query.
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-
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 very heartily.
"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 looking about.
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
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 PHOTOGRAPHED. - WALLINGFORD. - DORCHESTER. -
ABINGDON. - A 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
But however satisfactory this absence of locks may be to rowing-men, it
is to be regretted by the mere pleasure-seeker.
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.
* 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 post.
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 noble.
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 thought.
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
"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
"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 out!
But now the whole lock started yelling, and a stentorian voice from the
"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
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 foot.
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 way up.
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 build.
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 razed.
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 and dreams.
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
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 landscape improves.
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 nineteenth century.
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 beautiful.
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
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 occurred.
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 amiable
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 regret.
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 recommendation.
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 process.
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
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 coffin?
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
"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
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 coast.
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 fairy stream.
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 vain
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
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
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 like it.
George took the fun more soberly, and stuck to the umbrella.
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 Day's Lock.
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 himself.
George requested that we would not talk about these things, at all events
until he had finished his cold boiled beef without mustard.
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
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
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:
"Two lovely black eyes;
Oh! what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
Two - "
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!"
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
"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 unconsciously.
* 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
"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 costume:
Black leather shoes, dirty; suit of boating flannels, very dirty; brown
felt hat, much battered; mackintosh, very wet; umbrella.
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 to him.
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 Leicester Square.
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 pass.
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 eye.
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,
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
"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 a Boat!"
And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering
out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the
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