The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century, wore
no clothes but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish, nor eggs. They
lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass. They spent the day in labour,
reading, and prayer; and over all their lives there fell a silence as of death,
for no one spoke.
A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had made so
bright! Strange that Nature's voices all around them – the soft singing of the waters,
the whisperings of the river grass, the music of the rushing wind – should not have
taught them a truer meaning of life than this. They listened there, through the
long days, in silence, waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through
the solemn night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.
From Medmenham to sweet Hambledon Lock the river is full of peaceful beauty,
but, after it passes Greenlands, the rather uninteresting looking river residence
of my newsagent – a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who may often be met with about
these regions, during the summer months, sculling himself along in easy vigorous
style, or chatting genially to some old lock-keeper, as he passes through – until
well the other side of Henley, it is somewhat bare and dull.
We got up tolerably early on the Monday morning at Marlow, and went for a bathe
before breakfast; and, coming back, Montmorency made an awful ass of himself. The
only subject on which Montmorency and I have any serious difference of opinion is
cats. I like cats; Montmorency does not.
When I meet a cat, I say, ''Poor Pussy!'' and stop down and tickle the side of
its head; and the cat sticks up its tail in a rigid, cast-iron manner, arches its
back, and wipes its nose up against my trousers; and all is gentleness and peace.
When Montmorency meets a cat, the whole street knows about it; and there is enough
bad language wasted in ten seconds to last an ordinarily respectable man all his
life, with care.
I do not blame the dog (contenting myself, as a rule, with merely clouting his
head or throwing stones at him), because I take it that it is his nature. Fox-terriers
are born with about four times as much original sin in them as other dogs are, and
it will take years and years of patient effort on the part of us Christians to bring
about any appreciable reformation in the rowdiness of the fox-terrier nature.
I remember being in the lobby of the Haymarket Stores one day, and all round
about me were dogs, waiting for the return of their owners, who were shopping inside.
There were a mastiff, and one or two collies, and a St. Bernard, a few retrievers
and Newfoundlands, a boar-hound, a French poodle, with plenty of hair round its
head, but mangy about the middle; a bull-dog, a few Lowther Arcade sort of animals,
about the size of rats, and a couple of Yorkshire tykes.
There they sat, patient, good, and thoughtful. A solemn peacefulness seemed to
reign in that lobby. An air of calmness and resignation – of gentle sadness pervaded
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 scene!''
She said that the people at the Stores had no right to allow great savage things
like those other dogs to be put with respectable people's dogs, and that she had
a great mind to summon somebody.
Such is the nature of fox-terriers; and, therefore, I do not blame Montmorency
for his tendency to row with cats; but he wished he had not given way to it that
We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High Street
a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began to trot across
the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy – the cry of a stern warrior who sees his
enemy given over to his hands – the sort of cry Cromwell might have uttered when
the Scots came down the hill – and flew after his prey.
His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more disreputable-looking
cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears, and a fairly appreciable proportion
of its nose. It was a long, sinewy– looking animal. It had a calm, contented air
Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour; but the
cat did not hurry up – did not seem to have grasped the idea that its life was in
danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be assassin was within a yard of it,
and then it turned round and sat down in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency
with a gentle, inquiring expression, that said:
''Yes! You want me?''
Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look of that
cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He stopped abruptly, and
looked back at Tom.
Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as follows:-
THE CAT: ''Can I do anything for you?''
MONTMORENCY: ''No – no, thanks.''
THE CAT: ''Don't you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you 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 anything, now?''
MONTMORENCY (STILL BACKING): ''Not at all, thanks – not at all – very kind of
you. Good morning.''
THE CAT: ''Good-morning.''
Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what he calls
his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up an unimportant
position in the rear.
To this day, if you say the word ''Cats!'' to Montmorency, he will visibly shrink
and look up piteously at you, as if to say:
We did our marketing after breakfast, and revictualled the boat for three days.
George said we ought to take vegetables – that it was unhealthy not to eat vegetables.
He said they were easy enough to cook, and that he would see to that; so we got
ten pounds of potatoes, a bushel of peas, and a few cabbages. We got a beefsteak
pie, a couple of gooseberry tarts, and a leg of mutton from the hotel; and fruit,
and cakes, and bread and butter, and jam, and bacon and eggs, and other things we
foraged round about the town for.
Our departure from Marlow I regard as one of our greatest successes. It was dignified
and impressive, without being ostentatious. We had insisted at all the shops we
had been to that the things should be sent with us then and there. None of your
''Yes, sir, I will send them off at once: the boy will be down there before you
are, sir!'' and then fooling about on the landing-stage, and going back to the shop
twice to have a row about them, for us. We waited while the basket was packed, and
took the boy with us.
We went to a good many shops, adopting this principle at each one; and the consequence
was that, by the time we had finished, we had as fine a collection of boys with
baskets following us around as heart could desire; and our final march down the
middle of the High Street, to the river, must have been as imposing a spectacle
as Marlow had seen for many a long day.
The order of the procession was as follows:-
Montmorency, carrying a stick. Two disreputable-looking curs, friends of Montmorency's.
George, carrying coats and rugs, and smoking a short pipe. Harris, trying to walk
with easy grace, while carrying a bulged-out Gladstone bag in one hand and a bottle
of lime-juice in the other. Greengrocer's boy and baker's boy, with baskets. Boots
from the hotel, carrying hamper. Confectioner's boy, with basket. Grocer's boy,
with basket. Long-haired dog. Cheesemonger's boy, with basket. Odd man carrying
a bag. Bosom companion of odd man, with his hands in his pockets, smoking a short
clay. Fruiterer's boy, with basket. Myself, carrying three hats and a pair of boots,
and trying to look as if I didn't know it. Six small boys, and four stray dogs.
When we got down to the landing-stage, the boatman said:
''Let me see, sir; was yours a steam-launch or a house-boat?''
On our informing him it was a double-sculling skiff, he seemed surprised.
We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was just before
the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers; some by themselves, some
towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I suppose every rowing man does. I
never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of
the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it.
There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack of rousing
every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old days, when you could
go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows.
The expression on the face of the man who, with his hands in his pockets, stands
by the stern, smoking a cigar, is sufficient to excuse a breach of the peace by
itself; and the lordly whistle for you to get out of the way would, I am confident,
ensure a verdict of ''justifiable homicide'' from any jury of river men.
They used to HAVE to whistle for us to get out of their way. If I may do so,
without appearing boastful, I think I can honestly say that our one small boat,
during that week, caused more annoyance and delay and aggravation to the steam launches
that we came across than all the other craft on the river put together.
''Steam launch, coming!'' one of us would cry out, on sighting the enemy in the
distance; and, in an instant, everything was got ready to receive her. I would take
the lines, and Harris and George would sit down beside me, all of us with our backs
to the launch, and the boat would drift out quietly into mid-stream.
On would come the launch, whistling, and on we would go, drifting. At about a
hundred yards off, she would start whistling like mad, and the people would come
and lean over the side, and roar at us; but we never heard them! Harris would be
telling us an anecdote about his mother, and George and I would not have missed
a word of it for worlds.
Then that launch would give one final shriek of a whistle that would nearly burst
the boiler, and she would reverse her engines, and blow off steam, and swing round
and get aground; everyone on board of it would rush to the bow and yell at us, and
the people on the bank would stand and shout to us, and all the other passing boats
would stop and join in, till the whole river for miles up and down was in a state
of frantic commotion. And then Harris would break off in the most interesting part
of his narrative, and look up with mild surprise, and say to George:
''Why, George, bless me, if here isn't a steam launch!''
And George would answer:
''Well, do you know, I THOUGHT I heard something!''
Upon which we would get nervous and confused, and not know how to get the boat
out of the way, and the people in the launch would crowd round and 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 would.
Another good way we discovered of irritating the aristocratic type of steam launch,
was to mistake them for a beanfeast, and ask them if they were Messrs. Cubit's lot
or the Bermondsey Good Templars, and could they lend us a saucepan.