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“Never-I will swear it! But I see you know where to come to, you poor dear, when they say things about you.
You know where sympathy and consolation are always waiting for you. Don't you mind them—you come to me
“Who called her a White Pestilence ?” says a hushed small voice.
“What's that?” says Miss Peggy, whose ears are sharp enough.
"Oh, yes; you must bring your banjo," one has to interpolate hastily. “Of course we can't do without ‘Kitty Wells, you know, and 'Carry me back to Tennessee'- _"
Who called her a White Pestilence ?” says the fiend again. So this matter has to be faced.
“Well, you understand, Miss Peggy, there are some people whom you have to describe by opposites—the ordinary phrases of approval are not good enough--do you see?”
Oh, yes, I see,” answered Miss Peggy; and there was very little indeed that that young woman was incapable of seeing. “I see that you have been talking about me. But I know you didn't believe half of what you said.”
“Of course not !--nor any of it.”
“Besides," she continued, "if I go with you on this boating expedition, I shall be under your eyes from morning till night, and you'll see for yourself how good I am. Perhaps you will believe then-and not listen to any stories !”
This last remark was addressed to Mrs. Threepenny-bit, who did not answer. She seemed doubtful about the young lady and her behaviour. However, we had booked Miss Rosslyn for that vagrant voyaging by canals and western rivers —that was the main point gained; and as she was pretty—that is, tolerably pretty-and as she had engaging manners, and as she was certified as possessing no character worth speaking about, all promised excellent well.
A joyous youth, who took you at first sight;
If in this nook of quiet, bells had ever been.” The first difficulty we encountered was to find a suitable name for the noble craft that was to carry us away into those sylvan solitudes. Here are some of the suggestions made to us, and the reasons why we had to decline them :
Converted Susan. This was the proposal of an ingenious young man who fancied we were going to take an ordinary canal-boat, and adapt it to our present needs; and who intimated that a name of this kind would give a pious air to the undertaking. Of course we refused to sail under false colours.
The Snail. Appropriate, perhaps; but not poetical.
Noah's Ark. Scouted unanimously; we weren't going to have any
beasts accompany us. The Rose of Kentucky. This was a pure piece of sentiment on the part of Mrs. Threepenny-bit; and therefore--and alas ! to be put aside.
The White Swan. This looked more promising ; and we even went the length of discussing the decoration of the vessel, and asking whether a little symbolism might not be admissible -say, a golden beak at the prow, or something of the kind.
“Oh! no,” says Queen Tita, “I wouldn't have any ornament at all. I would have the boat painted a plain white-a simple plain white, without any scrap of decoration.”
'Surely that would be too severe,” says the aforementioned youth. “Why, even the old bookworm who sent instructions to his binder: 'Let back and sides go bare, go bare; but you may gild the top edges if you like'-even he wasn't as strait-laced as that.” We knew there never was any such old bookworm; and we resented this flippant treatment of a serious subject.
The Water Speedwell, the Water Vole, the White Moth, the Velvet Shoe, the Phantom, the Pholas, the Vagary: all these and a hundred more were examined and rejected; and we were growing desperate, when Miss Peggy Rosslyn, happening to come in one evening, settled the matter in a moment.
“If that is all the trouble,” said she, 'why not call it the Nameless Barge'?”
The Nameless Barge was the very thing we wantedmysterious, ghost-like, and entirely in keeping with our secret and silent gliding along those solitary highways; and the Nameless Barge we forthwith declared it should be.
Now when we set about the planning and construction of the nondescript floating thing that was to be serviceable on both canals and rivers, we were greatly indebted for advice and assistance to a young friend of ours, who has already been incidentally mentioned. His name was Jack Duncombe ; he was the son of a wealthy Manchester merchant, who had sent the lad to Harrow and Cambridge; thereafter the young man came to London to study for the Bar, took rooms in the Temple, ate his dinners, and eventually got called. But it was not the law that filled this young man's head, it was the drama; and he had actually succeeded in getting one small piece produced, which was mercilessly mauled by the critics (of course, a conspiracy to crush aspiring genius). Busy as Jack Duncombe was, however, with plots and characters and epigrams, he found time for a good deal of idling; and as most of his idling was spent on the Thames, and as he was a universal favourite among riverside families during the summer months, he had acquired an intimate knowledge of all kinds of pleasureboats. Not only that, but he was an exceedingly clever and handy fellow, and of the most indefatigable good nature ; and when he heard of this project of ours, he quite naturally assumed that it was his business to procure for us the very vessel we wanted. Nothing seemed to diminish his unselfish industry and zeal ; no obstacle was allowed to stand in his way. Consultations with boat-builders; correspondence with the secretaries of canal companies ; laborious comparisons of designs ; visits to Lambeth, to Staines, to Kingston ;-nothing appeared to come amiss to him. And yet one shudders even now to think of that cold river on a January day—the copper-coloured sun behind the milky clouds—the bitter wind coming over the frozen land and blowing harshly down the stream—the shivering conversation on the icicled gangways-the inspection of this dismal house-boat and that one still dismaller. For surely there is nothing in the world more depressing than the appearance of a dismantled house-boat, shorn of its pretty summer adornments, and standing revealed in all its nakedness of damp-smelling wood, faded paint, and rusty metal-work. But our young dramatist was too much occupied to heed this melancholy contrast; he was busy with such things as the height of the cabin, the depth of keel, the quantity of ballast, the arrangement of the pantry, the construction of the berths ; and at length, when all our inquiries were over, the commission was finally given ; and it was agreed and undertaken that the Nameless Barge, painted a simple white, with no touch of colour or gilding at all, should be ready and waiting for us at Kingston-on-Thames on May 1, with such stores on board as we might choose to send down beforehand. Then says
the mistress of this household “Mr. Duncombe has been so awfully kind and obliging over this affair that we are almost bound to ask him to go with us, if he can”.
“You know the certain result. Peggy will make a hash of him within the first dozen hours."
“Oh, no, no; this time she has promised to behave; and indeed I don't think she ever means very serious mischief. Besides, if anything were to happen, where would be the harm ? That's what I thought when Peggy was with us at Venice, and Mr. Duncombe wrote saying he might perhaps come round that way. Of course, as we don't know the Rosslyns very well, it would be awkward if anything were to come about that they disapproved of while she was under our charge; and one can easily understand that people who have been very rich, and have lost nearly all their money, may be anxious that their daughter should marry well. I suppose that is natural. But, you see, we are quite safe with Mr. Duncombe, for he will have plenty; and there can be no other objection-he is clever, good-humoured, light-hearted, a favourite everywhere. I'm sure it is not to bring about a match that I suggested we should take either the one or the other; if they only knew, they would remain as they are—Peggy especially, with all the men her slaves, and people ready to pet her wherever she goes. However, as I
say, if anything were to happen, I don't see how the old people could disapprove. I suppose Mr. Duncombe will come into a large fortune.”
“You may comfort yourself in one direction. Whatever happens, they won't hold you responsible. They have lived long enough with Miss Peggy to know that she is quite capable of managing her own affairs. She has got a will of her own, has that young woman.”
"I can't understand why you always talk in that invidious way about Peggy,” she says, in rather an injured tone : "you don't act up to it when she is here."
“Madam, there are such things as the sacred rites of hospitality; and when the representative of a nation allied to us by ties of blood-allied to us by all kinds of things--comes to our shores, of course we receive her as a guest."
“That's all very well," she says. "But we meetplenty of Americans; and yet I don't find you cutting a new pair of kid gloves to pieces when they happen to scratch their finger with a needle.”
" Where is the chance ? You don't suppose that the Americans, as a nation, are continually scratching their fingers on needle points? However, there is this to be said about asking Jack Duncombe to go with us, that he is a particularly handy fellow who will make himself useful. And Miss Peggy can beam on him it she chooses, by way of reward.
Jack is used to that kind of favour, people say."