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in velvet black cap and dainty brown, pottering about the willow near me. This was really like the beautiful river I had dreamed of. If only we could persuade ourselves to remain quiescent when we are happy! If only we would remain still in the armchair as the last curl of vapour rises from a cigar that has been enjoyed! If only we would sit still in the shadow and not go indoors to write that letter! Let happiness alone. Stir not an inch; speak not a word: happiness is a coy maiden-hold her hand and be still.
In an evil moment I spied the corner of a newspaper projecting from the pocket of my coat in the stern-sheets. Folly led me to open that newspaper, and in it I saw and read a ghastly paragraph. Two ladies and a gentleman while boating had been carried by the current against the piles of a weir. The boat upset; the ladies were rescued, but the unfortunate gentleman was borne over the fall and drowned. His body had not been recovered; men were watching the pool day and night till some chance eddy should bring it to the surface. So perished my dream, and the coy-maiden happiness left me because I could not be content to be silent and still. The accident had not happened at this weir, but it made no difference; I could see all as plainly. A white face, blurred and indistinct, seemed to rise up from beneath the rushing bubbles till, just as it was about to jump to the surface, as things do that come up, down it was drawn again by that terrible underpull which has been fatal to so many good swimmers.
Who can keep afloat with a force underneath drag
ging at the feet? Who can swim when the water-all bubbles, that is air-gives no resistance to the hands ? Hands and feet slip through the bubbles. You might as well spring from the parapet of a house and think to float by striking out as to swim in such a medium. Sinking under, a hundred tons of water drive the body to the bottom; there it rotates, it rises, it is forced down again, a hundred tons of water beat upon it; the foot, perhaps, catches among stones or woodwork, and what was once a living being is imprisoned in death. Enough of this. I unloosed the boathook, and drifted down with the stream, anxious to get away from the horrible weir.
These accidents, which are entirely preventible, happen year after year with lamentable monotony. Each weir is a little Niagara, and a boat once within its influence is certain to be driven to destruction. The current carries it against the piles, where it is either broken or upset, the natural and reasonable alarm of the occupants increasing the risk. In descending the river every boat must approach the weir, and must pass within a few yards of the dangerous current. If there is a press of boats one is often forced out of the proper course into the rapid part of the stream without any negligence on the part of those in it. There is nothing to prevent this no fence, or boom; no mark, even, between what is dangerous and what is not; no division whatever. Persons ignorant of the river may just as likely as not row right into danger. A vague caution on a notice-board may or may not be seen; in either case it gives no directions, and is certainly no protection. Let the matter be argued from whatever point of view, the fact remains that these accidents occur from the want of an efficient division between the dangerous and the safe part of the approach to a weir. A boom or some kind of fence is required, and how extraordinary it seems that nothing of the kind is done! It is not done because there is no authority, no control, no one responsible. Two or three gentlemen acquainted with aquatics could manage the river from end to end, to the safety and satisfaction of all, if they were entrusted with discretionary powers. Stiff rules and rigid control are not needed; what is wanted is a rational power freely using its discretion. I do not mean a Board with its attendant follies; I mean a small committee, unfettered, untrammelled by “legal advisers" and so forth, merely using their own good sense.
I drifted away from the weir-now grown hideous -and out of hearing of its wailing dirge for the unfortunate. I drifted past more barges coming up, and more steam-tugs; past river lawns, where gay parties were now sipping claret-cup or playing tennis. By-and-by, I began to meet pleasure-boats and to admire their manner of progress. First there came a gentleman in white flannels, walking on the towpath, with a rope round his waist, towing a boat in which two ladies were comfortably seated. while came two more gentlemen in striped flannels, one streaked with gold the other with scarlet, striding side by side and towing a boat in which sat one lady. They were very earnestly at work, pacing in step, their bodies slightly leaning forwards, and every now
and then they mopped their faces with handkerchiefs which they carried in their girdles. Something in their slightly-bowed attitude reminded me of the captives depicted on Egyptian monuments, with cords! about their necks. How curious is that instinct which makes each sex, in different ways, the willing slave of the other! These human steam-tugs paced and pulled, and drew the varnished craft swiftly against the stream, evidently determined to do a certain distance by a certain hour. As I drifted by without labour, I admired them very much. An interval, and still more gentlemen in flannel, labouring like galley, slaves at the tow-rope, hot, perspiring, and happy after their kind, and ladies under parasols, comfortably seated, cool, and happy after their kind.
Considering upon these things, I began to discern the true and only manner in which the modern Thames is to be enjoyed. Above all things—nothing heroic. Don't scull-don't row-don't haul at towropes—don't swim-don't flourish a fishing-rod. Set your mind at ease. Make friends with two or more athletes, thorough good fellows, good-natured, delighting in their thews and sinews. Explain to them that somehow, don't you see, nature did not bless you with such superabundant muscularity, although there is nothing under the sun you admire so much. Forthwith these good fellows will pet you, and your Thames fortune is made. You take your place in the stern-sheets, happily protected on either side by feminine human nature, and the parasols meeting above shield you from the sun. The tow-rope is adjusted, and the tugs start. The gliding motion
soothes the soul. Feminine boating nature has no antipathy to the cigarette. A delicious odour, soft as new-mown hay, a hint of spices and distant flowers -sunshine dried and preserved, sunshine you can handle-rises from the smouldering fibres. This is smoking summer itself. Yonder in the fore part of the craft I espy certain vessels of glass on which is the label of Epernay. And of such is peace.
Drifting ever downwards, I approached the creek where my skiff had to be left; but before I reached it a “beach-comber," with a coil of cord over his shoulder, asked me if he should tow me “up to ’Ampton.” I shook my head, whereupon he abused me in such choice terms that I listened abashed at my ignorance. It had never occurred to me that swearing could be done like that. It is true we have been swearing now, generation after generation, these eight thousand years for certain, and language expands with use. It is also true that we are all educated now. Shakespeare is credited with knowing everything, past or future, but I doubt if he knew how a Thames "beach-comber" can curse in these days.
The Thames is swearing free. You must moderate your curses on the Queen's highway; you must not be even profane in the streets, lest you be taken before the magistrates; but on the Thames you may swear as the wind blows-howsoever you list. You may begin at the mouth, off the Nore, and curse your way up to Cricklade. A hundred miles for swearing is a fine preserve. It is one of the marvels of our civilization.
Aided by scarce a touch of the sculls the stream