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.
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
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 - the
birthright of every Englishman, - 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
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
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 into tea.
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 - 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 - 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 - 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 god-
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 - 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 - 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 of alcohol."
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 - 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 man shudder.
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 was his.
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 - 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 with them.
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 - 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 pillow.
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
"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 and
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 - for it certainly was not there
when we started, and it had disappeared by the morning - 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 -
some of my own, and some of George's and Harris's - 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 -
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 hovering there.
And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. In its
great presence, our small sorrows creep away, ashamed. The day has been
so full of fret and care, and our hearts have been so full of evil and of
bitter thoughts, and the world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then
Night, like some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our
fevered head, and turns our little tear-stained faces up to hers, and
smiles; and, though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and
lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone.
Sometimes, our pain is very deep and real, and we stand before her very
silent, because there is no language for our pain, only a moan. Night's
heart is full of pity for us: she cannot ease our aching; she takes our
hand in hers, and the little world grows very small and very far away
beneath us, and, borne on her dark wings, we pass for a moment into a
mightier Presence than her own, and in the wondrous light of that great
Presence, all human life lies like a book before us, and we know that
Pain and Sorrow are but the angels of God.
Only those who have worn the crown of suffering can look upon that
wondrous light; and they, when they return, may not speak of it, or tell
the mystery they know.
Once upon a time, through a strange country, there rode some goodly
knights, and their path lay by a deep wood, where tangled briars grew
very thick and strong, and tore the flesh of them that lost their way
therein. And the leaves of the trees that grew in the wood were very
dark and thick, so that no ray of light came through the branches to
lighten the gloom and sadness.
And, as they passed by that dark wood, one knight of those that rode,
missing his comrades, wandered far away, and returned to them no more;
and they, sorely grieving, rode on without him, mourning him as one dead.
Now, when they reached the fair castle towards which they had been
journeying, they stayed there many days, and made merry; and one night,
as they sat in cheerful ease around the logs that burned in the great
hall, and drank a loving measure, there came the comrade they had lost,
and greeted them. His clothes were ragged, like a beggar's, and many sad
wounds were on his sweet flesh, but upon his face there shone a great
radiance of deep joy.
And they questioned him, asking him what had befallen him: and he told
them how in the dark wood he had lost his way, and had wandered many days
and nights, till, torn and bleeding, he had lain him down to die.
Then, when he was nigh unto death, lo! through the savage gloom there
came to him a stately maiden, and took him by the hand and led him on
through devious paths, unknown to any man, until upon the darkness of the
wood there dawned a light such as the light of day was unto but as a
little lamp unto the sun; and, in that wondrous light, our way-worn
knight saw as in a dream a vision, and so glorious, so fair the vision
seemed, that of his bleeding wounds he thought no more, but stood as one
entranced, whose joy is deep as is the sea, whereof no man can tell the
And the vision faded, and the knight, kneeling upon the ground, thanked
the good saint who into that sad wood had strayed his steps, so he had
seen the vision that lay there hid.
And the name of the dark forest was Sorrow; but of the vision that the
good knight saw therein we may not speak nor tell.