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
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 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 Eyes.''
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
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
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
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 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 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 advertise.
''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
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
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 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 toast.