The girls did not complain, but they huddled up close together, and set their
lips firm, and every time a drop touched them, they visibly shrank and shuddered.
It was a noble sight to see them suffering thus in silence, but it unnerved me altogether.
I am too sensitive. I got wild and fitful in my rowing, and splashed more and more,
the harder I tried not to.
I gave it up at last; I said I'd row bow. Bow thought the arrangement would be
better too, and we changed places. The ladies gave an involuntary sigh of relief
when they saw me go, and quite brightened up for a moment. Poor girls! they had
better have put up with me. The man they had got now was a jolly, light-hearted,
thick-headed sort of a chap, with about as much sensitiveness in him as there might
be in a Newfoundland puppy. You might look daggers at him for an hour and he would
not notice it, and it would not trouble him if he did. He set a good, rollicking,
dashing stroke that sent the spray playing all over the boat like a fountain, and
made the whole crowd sit up straight in no time. When he spread more than pint of
water over one of those dresses, he would give a pleasant little laugh, and say:
''I beg your pardon, I'm sure;'' and offer them his handkerchief to wipe it off
''Oh, it's of no consequence,'' the poor girls would murmur in reply, and covertly
draw rugs and coats over themselves, and try and protect themselves with their lace
At lunch they had a very bad time of it. People wanted them to sit on the grass,
and the grass was dusty; and the tree-trunks, against which they were invited to
lean, did not appear to have been brushed for weeks; so they spread their handkerchiefs
on the ground and sat on those, bolt upright. Somebody, in walking about with a
plate of beef-steak pie, tripped up over a root, and sent the pie flying. None of
it went over them, fortunately, but the accident suggested a fresh danger to them,
and agitated them; and, whenever anybody moved about, after that, with anything
in his hand that could fall and make a mess, they watched that person with growing
anxiety until he sat down again.
''Now then, you girls,'' said our friend Bow to them, cheerily, after it was
all over, ''come along, you've got to wash up!''
They didn't understand him at first. When they grasped the idea, they said they
feared they did not know how to wash up.
''Oh, I'll soon show you,'' he cried; ''it's rare fun! You lie down on your –
I mean you lean over the bank, you know, and sloush the things about in the water.''
The elder sister said that she was afraid that they hadn't got on dresses suited
to the work.
''Oh, they'll be all right,'' said he light-heartedly; ''tuck `em up.''
And he made them do it, too. He told them that that sort of thing was half the
fun of a picnic. They said it was very interesting.
Now I come to think it over, was that young man as dense-headed as we thought?
or was he – no, impossible! there was such a simple, child-like expression about
Harris wanted to get out at Hampton Church, to go and see Mrs. Thomas's tomb.
''Who is Mrs. Thomas?'' I asked.
''How should I know?'' replied Harris. ''She's a lady that's got a funny tomb,
and I want to see it.''
I objected. I don't know whether it is that I am built wrong, but I never did
seem to hanker after tombstones myself. I know that the proper thing to do, when
you get to a village or town, is to rush off to the churchyard, and enjoy the graves;
but it is a recreation that I always deny myself. I take no interest in creeping
round dim and chilly churches behind wheezy old men, and reading epitaphs. Not even
the sight of a bit of cracked brass let into a stone affords me what I call real
I shock respectable sextons by the imperturbability I am able to assume before
exciting inscriptions, and by my lack of enthusiasm for the local family history,
while my ill-concealed anxiety to get outside wounds their feelings.
One golden morning of a sunny day, I leant against the low stone wall that guarded
a little village church, and I smoked, and drank in deep, calm gladness from the
sweet, restful scene – the grey old church with its clustering ivy and its quaint
carved wooden porch, the white lane winding down the hill between tall rows of elms,
the thatched-roof cottages peeping above their trim-kept hedges, the silver river
in the hollow, the wooded hills beyond!
It was a lovely landscape. It was idyllic, poetical, and it inspired me. I felt
good and noble. I felt I didn't want to be sinful and wicked any more. I would come
and live here, and never do any more wrong, and lead a blameless, beautiful life,
and have silver hair when I got old, and all that sort of thing.
In that moment I forgave all my friends and relations for their wickedness and
cussedness, and I blessed them. They did not know that I blessed them. They went
their abandoned way all unconscious of what I, far away in that peaceful village,
was doing for them; but I did it, and I wished that I could let them know that I
had done it, because I wanted to make them happy. I was going on thinking away all
these grand, tender thoughts, when my reverie was broken in upon by a shrill piping
voice crying out:
''All right, sur, I'm a-coming, I'm a-coming. It's all right, sur; don't you
be in a hurry.''
I looked up, and saw an old bald-headed man hobbling across the churchyard towards
me, carrying a huge bunch of keys in his hand that shook and jingled at every step.
I motioned him away with silent dignity, but he still advanced, screeching out
''I'm a-coming, sur, I'm a-coming. I'm a little lame. I ain't as spry as I used
to be. This way, sur.''
''Go away, you miserable old man,'' I said.
''I've come as soon as I could, sur,'' he replied. ''My missis never see you
till just this minute. You follow me, sur.''
''Go away,'' I repeated; ''leave me before I get over the wall, and slay you.''
He seemed surprised.
''Don't you want to see the tombs?'' he said.
''No,'' I answered, ''I don't. I want to stop here, leaning up against this gritty
old wall. Go away, and don't disturb me. I am chock full of beautiful and noble
thoughts, and I want to stop like it, because it feels nice and good. Don't you
come fooling about, making me mad, chivying away all my better feelings with this
silly tombstone nonsense of yours. Go away, and get somebody to bury you cheap,
and I'll pay half the expense.''
He was bewildered for a moment. He rubbed his eyes, and looked hard at me. I
seemed human enough on the outside: he couldn't make it out.
''Yuise a stranger in these parts? You don't live here?''
''No,'' I said, ''I don't. YOU wouldn't if I did.''
''Well then,'' he said, ''you want to see the tombs – graves – folks been buried,
you know – coffins!''
''You are an untruther,'' I replied, getting roused; ''I do not want to see tombs
– not your tombs. Why should I? We have graves of our own, our family has. Why my
uncle Podger has a tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery, that is the pride of all that
country-side; and my grandfather's vault at Bow is capable of accommodating eight
visitors, while my great-aunt Susan has a brick grave in Finchley Churchyard, with
a headstone with a coffee– pot sort of thing in bas-relief upon it, and a six-inch
best white stone coping all the way round, that cost pounds. When I want graves,
it is to those places that I go and revel. I do not want other folk's. When you
yourself are buried, I will come and see yours. That is all I can do for you.''
He burst into tears. He said that one of the tombs had a bit of stone upon the
top of it that had been said by some to be probably part of the remains of the figure
of a man, and that another had some words, carved upon it, that nobody had ever
been able to decipher.
I still remained obdurate, and, in broken-hearted tones,
''Well, won't you come and see the memorial window?''
I would not even see that, so he fired his last shot. He drew near, and whispered
''I've got a couple of skulls down in the crypt,'' he said; ''come and see those.
Oh, do come and see the skulls! You are a young man out for a holiday, and you want
to enjoy yourself. Come and see the skulls!''
Then I turned and fled, and as I sped I heard him calling to me:
''Oh, come and see the skulls; come back and see the skulls!''
Harris, however, revels in tombs, and graves, and epitaphs, and monumental inscriptions,
and the thought of not seeing Mrs. Thomas's grave made him crazy. He said he had
looked forward to seeing Mrs. Thomas's grave from the first moment that the trip
was proposed – said he wouldn't have joined if it hadn't been for the idea of seeing
Mrs. Thomas's tomb.
I reminded him of George, and how we had to get the boat up to Shepperton by
five o'clock to meet him, and then he went for George. Why was George to fool about
all day, and leave us to lug this lumbering old top-heavy barge up and down the
river by ourselves to meet him? Why couldn't George come and do some work? Why couldn't
he have got the day off, and come down with us? Bank be blowed! What good was he
at the bank?
''I never see him doing any work there,'' continued Harris, ''whenever I go in.
He sits behind a bit of glass all day, trying to look as if he was doing something.
What's the good of a man behind a bit of glass? I have to work for my living. Why
can't he work. What use is he there, and what's the good of their banks? They take
your money, and then, when you draw a cheque, they send it back smeared all over
with `No effects,' `Refer to drawer.' What's the good of that? That's the sort of
trick they served me twice last week. I'm not going to stand it much longer. I shall
withdraw my account. If he was here, we could go and see that tomb. I don't believe
he's at the bank at all. He's larking about somewhere, that's what he's doing, leaving
us to do all the work. I'm going to get out, and have a drink.''
I pointed out to him that we were miles away from a pub.; and then he went on
about the river, and what was the good of the river, and was everyone who came on
the river to die of thirst?
It is always best to let Harris have his head when he gets like this. Then he
pumps himself out, and is quiet afterwards.
I reminded him that there was concentrated lemonade in the hamper, and a gallon-jar
of water in the nose of the boat, and that the two only wanted mixing to make a
cool and refreshing beverage.
Then he flew off about lemonade, and ''such-like Sunday-school slops,'' as he
termed them, ginger-beer, raspberry syrup, &c., &c. He said they all produced dyspepsia,
and ruined body and soul alike, and were the cause of half the crime in England.
He said he must drink something, however, and climbed upon the seat, and leant
over to get the bottle. It was right at the bottom of the hamper, and seemed difficult
to find, and he had to lean over further and further, and, in trying to steer at
the same time, from a topsy-turvy point of view, he pulled the wrong line, and sent
the boat into the bank, and the shock upset him, and he dived down right into the
hamper, and stood there on his head, holding on to the sides of the boat like grim
death, his legs sticking up into the air. He dared not move for fear of going over,
and had to stay there till I could get hold of his legs, and haul him back, and
that made him madder than ever.
BLACKMAILING. – THE PROPER COURSE TO PURSUE. – SELFISH BOORISHNESS OF RIVER-SIDE
LANDOWNER. – ''NOTICE'' BOARDS. – UNCHRISTIANLIKE FEELINGS OF HARRIS. – HOW HARRIS
SINGS A COMIC SONG. – A HIGH-CLASS PARTY. – SHAMEFUL CONDUCT OF TWO ABANDONED YOUNG
MEN. – SOME USELESS INFORMATION. – GEORGE BUYS A BANJO.
WE stopped under the willows by Kempton Park, and lunched. It is a pretty little
spot there: a pleasant grass plateau, running along by the water's edge, and overhung
by willows. We had just commenced the third course – the bread and jam – when a
gentleman in shirt-sleeves and a short pipe came along, and wanted to know if we
knew that we were trespassing. We said we hadn't given the matter sufficient consideration
as yet to enable us to arrive at a definite conclusion on that point, but that,
if he assured us on his word as a gentleman that we WERE trespassing, we would,
without further hesitation, believe it.
He gave us the required assurance, and we thanked him, but he still hung about,
and seemed to be dissatisfied, so we asked him if there was anything further that
we could do for him; and Harris, who is of a chummy disposition, offered him a bit
of bread and jam.
I fancy he must have belonged to some society sworn to abstain from bread and
jam; for he declined it quite gruffly, as if he were vexed at being tempted with
it, and he added that it was his duty to turn us off.
Harris said that if it was a duty it ought to be done, and asked the man what
was his idea with regard to the best means for accomplishing it. Harris is what
you would call a well-made man of about number one size, and looks hard and bony,
and the man measured him up and down, and said he would go and consult his master,
and then come back and chuck us both into the river.
Of course, we never saw him any more, and, of course, all he really wanted was
a shilling. There are a certain number of riverside roughs who make quite an income,
during the summer, by slouching about the banks and blackmailing weak-minded noodles
in this way. They represent themselves as sent by the proprietor. The proper course
to pursue is to offer your name and address, and leave the owner, if he really has
anything to do with the matter, to summon you, and prove what damage you have done
to his land by sitting down on a bit of it. But the majority of people are so intensely
lazy and timid, that they prefer to encourage the imposition by giving in to it
rather than put an end to it by the exertion of a little firmness.