Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

"Accordingly we asked the budding dramatist to accompany us; and nothing loth was he; for he had always plenty of time on his hands, and ideas in his head, that wanted an abundance of leisure for the proper working of them out. And he would not hear of there being any difficulty about getting a factotum for our house-boat, a jack-of-all-trades, able to cook, and look after the cabins, and take a hand at the tiller when needed.

Why,” says Queen Tita, “ where are you going to get the Admirable Crichton who can steer a boat, and boil potatoes, and black boots, and also wait at table ?"

“Oh, that's all right,” the young man said, gaily. “We'll advertise for somebody who has taken Mr. Longfellow's advice, and learned to labour and to wait.”

She did not approve of this levity. She said: “I think you'd better write to Mr. Gilbert for the address of the sole survivor of the Nancy Bellthe man who was

66. The cook and the captain bold,

And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And the bos'un tight, and the midshipmite,

And the crew of the captain's gig'—
for short of that I don't see how we are to get along”.

“I will undertake,” says this confident youth, to get 'not one, but all mankind's epitome'-a person able to sew on buttons, cook the dinner, and drive the horse when the man falls drunk, as he is sure to do. Leave that to me."

And then we told him about Peggy Rosslyn going with us.

“ I've heard a great deal about that young lady,” said he. “ It's odd I've never met her at your house."

“She spent all last winter in Paris," Mrs. Threepenny-bit explains. “And since she has come to England, she has been mostly at Bournemouth, where she has some friends."

“ And is she really the adorable angel you all make her out ?” he asks, with a certain air of indifference, not to say of incredulity.

“She is a very good girl, and a very nice girl," says Queen Tita, quietly, for she does not like any of her young lady friends to be spoken of in a free-and-easy fashion, especially by young men

Indeed, the next time Jack Duncombe called to see us, she took occasion to drop a little hint on this subject-in the gentlest possible way, of course. He came in radiant. He had been down to Kingston. The Nameless Barge was nearing completion. He was himself astonished at the amount of accommodation on board, seeing that she had to be constructed so as to enter canal locks and pass under bridges : nay, he was confident of her sea-going qualities, too, when we should have to face the wide waters of the Severn channel. According to him, the project no longer looked merely hopeful : its success was assured. He had discovered how to avoid Birmingham and all similar grimy districts. Our wanderings were to be purely pastoral and peaceful: the Thames, the Severn, the Kennet, the Avon, were to reveal to us their most secret haunts. He promised us that on some still evening-some warm and golden evening—perhaps dying slowly into dusk, and then re-awakening into the splendour and magic of a moonlight night, we should find ourselves moored by a meadow-side, in the dim solitudes of the Forest of Arden.

“Yes,” said he," all you want now is a motto for the great scheme; and I've got that for you too. A motto !—why, it's a prophecy! Would you believe that Virgil clearly foresaw what you were going to do? Oh, yes, he did—he described it in a single phrase—in the Georgics."

“ And what is it ? ” Queen Tita asks.

Mellaque arundineis inferre canalibus,'he answers, apparently rather proud of his ingenuity.

“ And the translation ? ” she asks again

“ The translation ? Oh, that is clear enough. It means : "To carry Peggy Rosslyn along the reedy canals,'” he answers, as bold as brass.

“Really, now, what a dear, clever old man to have foreseen so much !” she says, drily. And then she adds: “I suppose, now, it was the age of the poet that allowed him to speak in that familiar way.

I am afraid that with our younger poetsthe poets of our own generation-Peggy will have to be known as Miss Rosslyn."

"Oh, I will treat her respectfully enough, if you mean that," he says, with promptitude.

And yet even in giving this assurance he had somehow the manner of one conversant with the ways of young women, and accustomed to humour them, and manage them, and patronise them. And, no doubt, looking forward to the long excursion before him, and to the companionship of the young American lady of whom he had heard so much, he considered that it would be his duty to pay her some ordinary civility, and generally to look after her, and befriend her, if only as a little bit of amusement. Poor wretch--poor wretch !

CHAPTER III.

“ By the rushy fringed bank
Where grow the willow and the osier dank,

My sliding chariot stays." “THERE's my dear! There's my pretty one!” cries Queen Titania, as we drive up to Waterloo Station ; forthwith one catches sight of a tall young lady, bright-eyed and smiling, coming quickly towards the cab; the next instant the two friends are together on the platform, kissing each other in the wasteful and foolish fashion peculiar to women. To the humble bystander it is left to regard Miss Peggy's costume, which is quite admirable in its neatness and apparent inexpensiveness ; of navy blue serge it is, with the jacket open in front and showing a vest of soft white merino with silver buttons. At present she wears a bonnet and gloves; but we know that she has with her a sailor's hat of cream-white straw; and we hope in due time, on board ship, to teach her the usefulness of bare hands.

The luggage having been looked after, the three of us get into a carriage.

“No, Peggy,” says Queen Tita, gravely; "you needn't look round. He isn't here."

"Oh,” says Peggy, with reproachful eyes," as if I wanted anybody but you."

Therewith she takes her friend's hand in both of hers and presses it most affectionately; and then, sidling close to her on the seat, she interlinks their arms, and hugs her tightly, just as if these two were determined to go through the world together, unheeding all the rest of mankind. And as for the third person in this railway-carriage? Oh, his share in the whole performance is to pay. He may have laboured days and nights to get everything in readiness; he may have worn his eyes out in the perusal of Ordnance Survey maps; he may have spent untold gold on tinned meats and biscuits; and now he is of no

[ocr errors]

more account; he may, if he pleases, buy a penny newspaper, rėtire into a corner of the carriage, and read the Parliamentary reports. But there is one reflection that cannot escape him: which is, that endearments between women are the foolishest things on the face of this earth. They impose on no one. They afford no possible kind of satisfaction to the recipient of them; and there is not a man alive who does not see that they are a mere hollow pretence.

To return to business : our start, after all, was rather a haphazard affair, because some of our arrangements had broken down at the last moment. For one thing, the factotum of a steward provided by Jack Duncombe proved to be much too astute a person for simple folk like us. Doubtless he knew a great deal more about the Thames and about house-boats than we did; and we were willing, in a measure, to be instructed ; but when it came to innumerable conditions and half-hinted stipulations, we had to point out to him, gently but firmly, that we did not at all look upon his going with us in the light of an obligation. Finally, we had politely to request him to betake himself to the outermost edge of Limbo, himself and all his idiotic requirements; and then says Mrs. Threepenny-bit

“Why, you know who are the only obliging race of people we have ever met ! Where do we ever get courtesy and kindness and good-will except in the West Highlands? If I were you I would send right away for Murdoch.”

“A Highland steward on the Thames ! ”

“At all events he will be good-natured, and obliging, and pleasant-mannered. I'd rather have him on board than any of the confectioner-creatures you see at Henley Regatta. And so would you, Peggy, I know; for he is very good-looking, and you

could fall back on him if there was no one else.

“Why do you say such things of me?" says our poor injured Peggy

However, it was there and then resolved to send for Murdoch Maclean of Tobermory, in the island of Mull; who came -sadly bewildered by the size and roar of London--and was at once sent on to Kingston. Thither also Jack Duncombe had

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »