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 language.
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 Harris.
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 appearance.
''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 view.
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 surprised.
''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 aground.
You jump up, and push it off, and you shout to them not to stop.
''Yes. What's the matter?'' they shout back.
''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 happened?''
'' 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 moving.''
''Oh, all right, I'll tell `em. Are we doing it all right?''
''Oh, yes, very nicely, indeed, only don't stop.''
''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 the cushion.''
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 towing it.
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 good shelter.
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 with it.
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 Cleeve.
''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 steadily away.
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
''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 the falls.
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
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
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
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 hours.
''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
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
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 NIGHT.
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.