THE RIVER IN ITS SUNDAY GARB. - DRESS ON THE RIVER. - A CHANCE FOR THE
MEN. - ABSENCE OF TASTE IN HARRIS. - GEORGE'S BLAZER. - A DAY WITH THE
FASHION-PLATE YOUNG LADY. - MRS. THOMAS'S TOMB. - THE MAN WHO LOVES NOT
GRAVES AND COFFINS AND SKULLS. - HARRIS MAD. - HIS VIEWS ON GEORGE AND
BANKS AND LEMONADE. - HE PERFORMS TRICKS.
IT was while passing through Moulsey Lock that Harris told me about his
maze experience. It took us some time to pass through, as we were the
only boat, and it is a big lock. I don't think I ever remember to have
seen Moulsey Lock, before, with only one boat in it. It is, I suppose,
Boulter's not even excepted, the busiest lock on the river.
I have stood and watched it, sometimes, when you could not see any water
at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers, and gay caps, and
saucy hats, and many-coloured parasols, and silken rugs, and cloaks, and
streaming ribbons, and dainty whites; when looking down into the lock
from the quay, you might fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of
every hue and shade had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a
rainbow heap, that covered every corner.
On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day long, while,
up the stream, and down the stream, lie, waiting their turn, outside the
gates, long lines of still more boats; and boats are drawing near and
passing away, so that the sunny river, from the Palace up to Hampton
Church, is dotted and decked with yellow, and blue, and orange, and
white, and red, and pink. All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey
dress themselves up in boating costume, and come and mouch round the lock
with their dogs, and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats; and,
altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men, the pretty
coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the moving boats, the
white sails, the pleasant landscape, and the sparkling water, it is one
of the gayest sights I know of near this dull old London town.
The river affords a good opportunity for dress. For once in a way, we
men are able to show our taste in colours, and I think we come out very
natty, if you ask me. I always like a little red in my things - red and
black. You know my hair is a sort of golden brown, rather a pretty shade
I've been told, and a dark red matches it beautifully; and then I always
think a light-blue necktie goes so well with it, and a pair of those
Russian-leather shoes and a red silk handkerchief round the waist - a
handkerchief looks so much better than a belt.
Harris always keeps to shades or mixtures of orange or yellow, but I
don't think he is at all wise in this. His complexion is too dark for
yellows. Yellows don't suit him: there can be no question about it. I
want him to take to blue as a background, with white or cream for relief;
but, there! the less taste a person has in dress, the more obstinate he
always seems to be. It is a great pity, because he will never be a
success as it is, while there are one or two colours in which he might
not really look so bad, with his hat on.
George has bought some new things for this trip, and I'm rather vexed
about them. The blazer is loud. I should not like George to know that I
thought so, but there really is no other word for it. He brought it home
and showed it to us on Thursday evening. We asked him what colour he
called it, and he said he didn't know. He didn't think there was a name
for the colour. The man had told him it was an Oriental design. George
put it on, and asked us what we thought of it. Harris said that, as an
object to hang over a flower-bed in early spring to frighten the birds
away, he should respect it; but that, considered as an article of dress
for any human being, except a Margate nigger, it made him ill. George
got quite huffy; but, as Harris said, if he didn't want his opinion, why
did he ask for it?
What troubles Harris and myself, with regard to it, is that we are afraid
it will attract attention to the boat.
Girls, also, don't look half bad in a boat, if prettily dressed. Nothing
is more fetching, to my thinking, than a tasteful boating costume. But a
"boating costume," it would be as well if all ladies would understand,
ought to be a costume that can be worn in a boat, and not merely under a
glass-case. It utterly spoils an excursion if you have folk in the boat
who are thinking all the time a good deal more of their dress than of the
trip. It was my misfortune once to go for a water picnic with two ladies
of this kind. We did have a lively time!
They were both beautifully got up - all lace and silky stuff, and
flowers, and ribbons, and dainty shoes, and light gloves. But they were
dressed for a photographic studio, not for a river picnic. They were the
"boating costumes" of a French fashion-plate. It was ridiculous, fooling
about in them anywhere near real earth, air, and water.
The first thing was that they thought the boat was not clean. We dusted
all the seats for them, and then assured them that it was, but they
didn't believe us. One of them rubbed the cushion with the forefinger of
her glove, and showed the result to the other, and they both sighed, and
sat down, with the air of early Christian martyrs trying to make
themselves comfortable up against the stake. You are liable to
occasionally splash a little when sculling, and it appeared that a drop
of water ruined those costumes. The mark never came out, and a stain was
left on the dress for ever.
I was stroke. I did my best. I feathered some two feet high, and I
paused at the end of each stroke to let the blades drip before returning
them, and I picked out a smooth bit of water to drop them into again each
time. (Bow said, after a while, that he did not feel himself a
sufficiently accomplished oarsman to pull with me, but that he would sit
still, if I would allow him, and study my stroke. He said it interested
him.) But, notwithstanding all this, and try as I would, I could not
help an occasional flicker of water from going over those dresses.
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
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
"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 parasols.
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 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 him!
Harris wanted to get out at Hampton Church, to go and see Mrs. Thomas's
"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
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
"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 the while:
"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
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
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
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, he said:
"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
"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.
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.