There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were—bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.
In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being ‘a general disinclination to work of any kind.’
What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day.
The unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it was— had been brought on by overwork.
‘What we want is rest,’ said Harris.
‘Rest and a complete change,’ said George. ‘The overstrain on our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.’
I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out some retired and old-world spot … some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint.
The river, playing around the boat, prattles old tales and secrets, sings low the child’s song that it has sung for so many years … and we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream the world is young again … sweet as she was in bygone days, ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands of years ago.
You know we are on the wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things we could without.
I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think are essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber … expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will m neighbor think … It is lumber man – all lumber! Throw it overboard.
I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things that I feel I know more about than any other person living … I impressed the fact upon George and Harris and told them that they had better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked his legs on the table and lit a cigar. This was hardly what I intended.
I don’t know why it should be, I am sure, but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up maddens me. It seems to me so shocking to see the precious hours of a man’s life—the priceless moments that will never come back to him again – being wasted in mere brutish sleep.
There was George, throwing away in hideous sloth the inestimable gift of time; his valuable life, every second of which he would have to account for hereafter, passing away from him, unused.
The quaint back-streets of Kingston, where they came down to the water’s edge, looked quite picturesque in the flashing sunlight, the glinting river with its drifting barges, the wooded towpath … the distant glimpses of the grey old palace of the Tudors, all made a sunny picture, so bright but calm, so full of life, and yet so peaceful, that, early in the day though it was, I felt myself being dreamily lulled off into a musing fit.
I mused on Kingston, or ‘Kyningestun’, as it was once called in the days when Saxon ‘kinges’ were crowned there.
Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three of four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age flowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes … Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before?
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.
The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the River Thames altogether … The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.
I noticed, as the song progressed, that a good many other people seemed to have their eye fixed on the two young men, as well as myself. These other people also tittered when the young me tittered, and roared when the young men roared; and, as the two young men tittered and roared and exploded with laughter pretty continuously throughout the song, it went exceedingly well. And yet that German professor did not seem happy.
George said why could not we be always like this—away from the world, with its sins and temptation, leading sober, peaceful lives, and doing good … 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.
Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runnymede. Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till, with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that from this day will bear the name of Magna Carta Island. And King John has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a great shout cleaves the air and the great cornerstone in England’s temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.
We beat it out flat; we beat it out square; we battered it into every form known to geometry—but we could not make a hole in it … There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it.
We went to a good many shops … by the time we had finished, we had as fine a collection of boys with baskets following us around as heart could desire; and our final march down the middle of the High Street, to the river, must have been as imposing a spectacle as Marlow had seen for a day.
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me; my study is so full of it now that there is hardly an inch of room any more … Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it.
It was the dead body of a woman. It lay very lightly on the water, and the face was sweet and calm. It was not a beautiful face; it was too prematurely aged-looking, too thin and drawn, to be that; but it was a gentle, lovable face, in spite of its stamp of pinch and poverty, and upon it was that look of restful peace that comes to the faces of the sick sometimes when at last the pain has left him.
Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was then called Caer Doren, ‘the city on the water’. In more recent times the Romans formed a great camp here … It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.
‘Well,’ said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, ‘we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames—but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out of a boat!’ And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.