Then we thought we were going to have supper (we had dispensed with tea, so as
to save time), but George said no; that we had better get the canvas up first, before
it got quite dark, and while we could see what we were doing. Then, he said, all
our work would be done, and we could sit down to eat with an easy mind.
That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had bargained for.
It looked so simple in the abstract. You took five iron arches, like gigantic croquet
hoops, and fitted them up over the boat, and then stretched the canvas over them,
and fastened it down: it would take quite ten minutes, we thought.
That was an under-estimate.
We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets placed for them.
You would not imagine this to be dangerous work; but, looking back now, the wonder
to me is that any of us are alive to tell the tale. They were not hoops, they were
demons. First they would not fit into their sockets at all, and we had to jump on
them, and kick them, and hammer at them with the boat-hook; and, when they were
in, it turned out that they were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and
they had to come out again.
But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and struggled with them
for five minutes, when they would jump up suddenly, and try and throw us into the
water and drown us. They had hinges in the middle, and, when we were not looking,
they nipped us with these hinges in delicate parts of the body; and, while we were
wrestling with one side of the hoop, and endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty,
the other side would come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the head.
We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done was to arrange the
covering over them. George unrolled it, and fastened one end over the nose of the
boat. Harris stood in the middle to take it from George and roll it on to me, and
I kept by the stern to receive it. It was a long time coming down to me. George
did his part all right, but it was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.
How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself; but by some mysterious
process or other he succeeded, after ten minutes of superhuman effort, in getting
himself completely rolled up in it. He was so firmly wrapped round and tucked in
and folded over, that he could not get out. He, of course, made frantic struggles
for freedom Ц the birthright of every Englishman, Ц and, in doing so (I learned
this afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at Harris, began
to struggle too, and got himself entangled and rolled up.
I knew nothing about all this at the time. I did not understand the business
at all myself. I had been told to stand where I was, and wait till the canvas came
to me, and Montmorency and I stood there and waited, both as good as gold. We could
see the canvas being violently jerked and tossed about, pretty considerably; but
we supposed this was part of the method, and did not interfere.
We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath it, and we guessed
that they were finding the job rather troublesome, and concluded that we would wait
until things had got a little simpler before we joined in.
We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and more involved, until,
at last, George's head came wriggling out over the side of the boat, and spoke up.
''Give us a hand here, can't you, you cuckoo; standing there like a stuffed mummy,
when you see we are both being suffocated, you dummy!''
I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and undid them; not before
it was time, either, for Harris was nearly black in the face.
It took us half an hour's hard labour, after that, before it was properly up,
and then we cleared the decks, and got out supper. We put the kettle on to boil,
up in the nose of the boat, and went down to the stern and pretended to take no
notice of it, but set to work to get the other things out.
That is the only way to get a kettle to boil up the river. If it sees that you
are waiting for it and are anxious, it will never even sing. You have to go away
and begin your meal, as if you were not going to have any tea at all. You must not
even look round at it. Then you will soon hear it sputtering away, mad to be made
It is a good plan, too, if you are in a great hurry, to talk very loudly to each
other about how you don't need any tea, and are not going to have any. You get near
the kettle, so that it can overhear you, and then you shout out, ''I don't want
any tea; do you, George?'' to which George shouts back, ''Oh, no, I don't like tea;
we'll have lemonade instead Ц tea's so indigestible.'' Upon which the kettle boils
over, and puts the stove out.
We adopted this harmless bit of trickery, and the result was that, by the time
everything else was ready, the tea was waiting. Then we lit the lantern, and squatted
down to supper.
We wanted that supper.
For five-and-thirty minutes not a sound was heard throughout the length and breadth
of that boat, save the clank of cutlery and crockery, and the steady grinding of
four sets of molars. At the end of five-and-thirty minutes, Harris said, ''Ah!''
and took his left leg out from under him and put his right one there instead.
Five minutes afterwards, George said, ''Ah!'' too, and threw his plate out on
the bank; and, three minutes later than that, Montmorency gave the first sign of
contentment he had exhibited since we had started, and rolled over on his side,
and spread his legs out; and then I said, ''Ah!'' and bent my head back, and bumped
it against one of the hoops, but I did not mind it. I did not even swear.
How good one feels when one is full Ц how satisfied with ourselves and with the
world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very
happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is
cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial
and well-digested meal Ц so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.
It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs.
We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us
our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it says, ''Work!'' After beefsteak
and porter, it says, ''Sleep!'' After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for each cup,
and don't let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, ''Now, rise,
and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye,
into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar,
a godЦ like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of
flaming stars to the gates of eternity!''
After hot muffins, it says, ''Be dull and soulless, like a beast of the field
Ц a brainless animal, with listless eye, unlit by any ray of fancy, or of hope,
or fear, or love, or life.'' And after brandy, taken in sufficient quantity, it
says, ''Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that your fellow-men may laugh Ц drivel
in folly, and splutter in senseless sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor
man whose wit and will are drowned, like kittens, side by side, in half an inch
We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality
and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care
and judgment. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart,
unsought by any effort of your own; and you will be a good citizen, a loving husband,
and a tender father Ц a noble, pious man.
Before our supper, Harris and George and I were quarrelsome and snappy and ill-tempered;
after our supper, we sat and beamed on one another, and we beamed upon the dog,
too. We loved each other, we loved everybody. Harris, in moving about, trod on George's
corn. Had this happened before supper, George would have expressed wishes and desires
concerning Harris's fate in this world and the next that would have made a thoughtful
As it was, he said: ''Steady, old man; `ware wheat.''
And Harris, instead of merely observing, in his most unpleasant tones, that a
fellow could hardly help treading on some bit of George's foot, if he had to move
about at all within ten yards of where George was sitting, suggesting that George
never ought to come into an ordinary sized boat with feet that length, and advising
him to hang them over the side, as he would have done before supper, now said: ''Oh,
I'm so sorry, old chap; I hope I haven't hurt you.''
And George said: ''Not at all;'' that it was his fault; and Harris said no, it
It was quite pretty to hear them.
We lit our pipes, and sat, looking out on the quiet night, and talked.
George said why could not we be always like this Ц away from the world, with
its sin and temptation, leading sober, peaceful lives, and doing good. I said it
was the sort of thing I had often longed for myself; and we discussed the possibility
of our going away, we four, to some handy, well-fitted desert island, and living
there in the woods.
Harris said that the danger about desert islands, as far as he had heard, was
that they were so damp: but George said no, not if properly drained.
And then we got on to drains, and that put George in mind of a very funny thing
that happened to his father once. He said his father was travelling with another
fellow through Wales, and, one night, they stopped at a little inn, where there
were some other fellows, and they joined the other fellows, and spent the evening
They had a very jolly evening, and sat up late, and, by the time they came to
go to bed, they (this was when George's father was a very young man) were slightly
jolly, too. They (George's father and George's father's friend) were to sleep in
the same room, but in different beds. They took the candle, and went up. The candle
lurched up against the wall when they got into the room, and went out, and they
had to undress and grope into bed in the dark. This they did; but, instead of getting
into separate beds, as they thought they were doing, they both climbed into the
same one without knowing it Ц one getting in with his head at the top, and the other
crawling in from the opposite side of the compass, and lying with his feet on the
There was silence for a moment, and then George's father said:
''What's the matter, Tom?'' replied Joe's voice from the other end of the bed.
''Why, there's a man in my bed,'' said George's father; ''here's his feet on
''Well, it's an extraordinary thing, Tom,'' answered the other; ''but I'm blest
if there isn't a man in my bed, too!''
''What are you going to do?'' asked George's father.
''Well, I'm going to chuck him out,'' replied Joe.
''So am I,'' said George's father, valiantly.
There was a brief struggle, followed by two heavy bumps on the floor, and then
a rather doleful voice said:
''I say, Tom!''
''How have you got on?''
''Well, to tell you the truth, my man's chucked me out.''
''So's mine! I say, I don't think much of this inn, do you?''
''What was the name of that inn?'' said Harris.
''The Pig and Whistle,'' said George. ''Why?''
''Ah, no, then it isn't the same,'' replied Harris.
''What do you mean?'' queried George.
''Why it's so curious,'' murmured Harris, ''but precisely that very same thing
happened to MY father once at a country inn. I've often heard him tell the tale.
I thought it might have been the same inn.''
We turned in at ten that night, and I thought I should sleep well, being tired;
but I didn't. As a rule, I undress and put my head on the pillow, and then somebody
bangs at the door, and says it is half-past eight: but, to-night, everything seemed
against me; the novelty of it all, the hardness of the boat, the cramped position
(I was lying with my feet under one seat, and my head on another), the sound of
the lapping water round the boat, and the wind among the branches, kept me restless
I did get to sleep for a few hours, and then some part of the boat which seemed
to have grown up in the night Ц for it certainly was not there when we started,
and it had disappeared by the morning Ц kept digging into my spine. I slept through
it for a while, dreaming that I had swallowed a sovereign, and that they were cutting
a hole in my back with a gimlet, so as to try and get it out. I thought it very
unkind of them, and I told them I would owe them the money, and they should have
it at the end of the month. But they would not hear of that, and said it would be
much better if they had it then, because otherwise the interest would accumulate
so. I got quite cross with them after a bit, and told them what I thought of them,
and then they gave the gimlet such an excruciating wrench that I woke up.
The boat seemed stuffy, and my head ached; so I thought I would step out into
the cool night-air. I slipped on what clothes I could find about Ц some of my own,
and some of George's and Harris's Ц and crept under the canvas on to the bank.
It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk, and left the quiet earth alone with
the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush, while we her children slept,
they were talking with her, their sister Ц conversing of mighty mysteries in voices
too vast and deep for childish human ears to catch the sound.
They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children whose
small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they have been taught
to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista
of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision