House-boat Arcadia

Scrymgeour had a house-boat called, of course, the _Arcadia_, to

which he was so ill-advised as to invite us all at once. He was at that

time lying near Cookham, attempting to catch the advent of summer on a

canvas, and we were all, unhappily, able to accept his invitation.

Looking back to this nightmare of a holiday, I am puzzled at our not

getting on well together, for who should be happy in a house-boat if not

achelors, well known to each other, and all smokers of the same

tobacco? Marriot says now that perhaps we were happy without knowing it;

but that is nonsense. We were miserable.

I have concluded that we knew each other too well. Though accustomed to

gather together in my rooms of an evening in London, we had each his

private chambers to retire to, but in the _Arcadia_ solitude was

impossible. There was no escaping from each other.

Scrymgeour, I think, said that we were unhappy because each of us acted

as if the house-boat was his own. We retorted that the boy--by no means

a William John--was at the bottom of our troubles, and then Scrymgeour

said that he had always been against having a boy. We had been opposed

to a boy at first, too, fancying that we should enjoy doing our own

cooking. Seeing that there were so many of us, this should not have

been difficult, but the kitchen was small, and we were always striking

against each other and knocking things over. We had to break a

window-pane to let the smoke out; then Gilray, in kicking the stove

because he had burned his fingers on it, upset the thing, and, before

we had time to intervene, a leg of mutton jumped out and darted into the

coal-bunk. Jimmy foolishly placed our six tumblers on the window-sill to

dry, and a gust of wind toppled them into the river. The draughts were a

nuisance. This was owing to windows facing each other being left open,

and as a result articles of clothing disappeared so mysteriously that we

thought there must be a thief or a somnambulist on board. The third or

fourth day, however, going into the saloon unexpectedly, I caught my

straw hat disappearing on the wings of the wind. When last seen it was

on its way to Maidenhead, bowling along at the rate of several miles

an hour. So we thought it would be as well to have a boy. As far as I

remember, this was the only point unanimously agreed upon during the

whole time we were aboard. They told us at the Ferry Hotel that boys

were rather difficult to get in Cookham; but we instituted a vigorous

house-to-house search, and at last we ran a boy to earth and carried

him off.

It was most unfortunate for all concerned that the boy did not sleep

on board. There was, however, no room for him; so he came at seven in

the morning, and retired when his labors were over for the day. I say

he came; but in point of fact that was the difficulty with the boy. He

couldn't come. He came as far as he could: that is to say, he walked up

the tow-path until he was opposite the house-boat, and then he hallooed

to be taken on board, whereupon some one had to go in the dingy for him.

All the time we were in the house-boat that boy was never five minutes

late. Wet or fine, calm or rough, 7 A.M. found the boy on the tow-path

hallooing. No sooner were we asleep than the dewy morn was made hideous

by the boy. Lying in bed with the blankets over our heads to deaden his

cries, his fresh, lusty young voice pierced wood-work, blankets, sheets,

everything. Ya-ho, ahoy, ya-ho, aho, ahoy! So he kept it up. What

followed may easily be guessed. We all lay as silent as the grave, each

waiting for some one else to rise and bring the impatient lad across.

At last the stillness would be broken by some one's yelling out that he

would do for that boy. A second would mutter horribly in his sleep; a

third would make himself a favorite for the moment by shouting through

the wooden partition that it was the fifth's turn this morning. The

fifth would tell us where he would see the boy before he went across for

him. Then there would be silence again. Eventually some one would put an

ulster over his night-shirt, and sternly announce his intention of going

over and taking the boy's life. Hearing this, the others at once dropped

off to sleep. For a few days we managed to trick the boy by pulling up

our blinds and so conveying to his mind the impression that we were

getting up. Then he had not our breakfast ready when we did get up,

which naturally enraged us.

As soon as he got on board that boy made his presence felt. He was very

strong and energetic in the morning, and spent the first half-hour or so

in flinging coals at each other. This was his way of breaking them; and

he was by nature so patient and humble that he rather flattered himself

when a coal broke at the twentieth attempt. We used to dream that he was

breaking coals on our heads. Often one of us dashed into the kitchen,

threatening to drop him into the river if he did not sit quite still

on a chair for the next two hours. Under these threats he looked

sufficiently scared to satisfy anybody; but as soon as all was quiet

again he crept back to the coal-bunk and was at his old games.

It didn't matter what we did, the boy put a stop to it. We tried whist,

and in ten minutes there was a Hoy, hie, ya-ho! from the opposite

shore. It was the boy come back with the vegetables. If we were reading,

Ya-ho, hie! and some one had to cross for that boy and the water-can.

The boy was on the tow-path just when we had fallen into a snooze; he had

to be taken across for the milk immediately we had lighted our pipes. On

the whole, it is an open question whether it was not even more annoying

to take him over than to go for him. Two or three times we tried to be

sociable and went into the village together; but no sooner had we begun

to enjoy ourselves than we remembered that we must go back and let the

boy ashore. Tennyson speaks of a company making believe to be merry

while all the time the spirit of a departed one haunted them in their

play. That was exactly the effect of the boy on us.

Even without the boy I hardly think we should have been a sociable

party. The sight of so much humanity gathered in one room became a

nuisance. We resorted to all kinds of subterfuge to escape from each

other; and the one who finished breakfast first generally managed to

make off with the dingy. The others were then at liberty to view him in

the distance, in midstream, lying on his back in the bottom of the boat;

and it was almost more than we could stand. The only way to bring him

back was to bribe the boy into saying that he wanted to go across to the

village for bacon or black lead or sardines. Thus even the boy had his


Things gradually got worse and worse. I remember only one day when

as many as four of us were on speaking terms. Even this temporary

sociability was only brought about in order that we might combine and

fall upon Jimmy with the more crushing force. Jimmy had put us in an

article, representing himself as a kind of superior person who was

making a study of us. The thing was such a gross caricature, and so

dull, that it was Jimmy we were sorry for rather than ourselves. Still,

we gathered round him in a body and told him what we thought of the

matter. Affairs might have gone more smoothly after this if we four had

been able to hold together. Unfortunately, Jimmy won Marriot over, and

next day there was a row all round, which resulted in our division into

five parties.

One day Pettigrew visited us. He brought his Gladstone bag with him, but

did not stay over night. He was glad to go; for at first none of us, I

am afraid, was very civil to him, though we afterward thawed a little.

He returned to London and told every one how he found us. I admit we

were not prepared to receive company. The house-boat consisted of five

apartments--a saloon, three bedrooms, and a kitchen. When he boarded us

we were distributed as follows: I sat smoking in the saloon, Marriot sat

smoking in the first bedroom, Gilray in the second, Jimmy in the third,

and Scrymgeour in the kitchen. The boy did not keep Scrymgeour company.

He had been ordered on deck, where he sat with his legs crossed, the

picture of misery because he had no coals to break. A few days after

Pettigrew's visit we followed him to London, leaving Scrymgeour behind,

where we soon became friendly again.