CHAPTER XIV (Continuation)


It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn\'t!
I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject.
My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that.
So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson\'s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim\'s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse.
So they let him practise in the day-time, in the back-kitchen with all the doors shut; but his more successful passages could generally be heard in the sitting-room, in spite of these precautions, and would affect his mother almost to tears.
She said it put her in mind of her poor father (he had been swallowed by a shark, poor man, while bathing off the coast of New Guinea - where the connection came in, she could not explain).
Then they knocked up a little place for him at the bottom of the garden, about quarter of a mile from the house, and made him take the machine down there when he wanted to work it; and sometimes a visitor would come to the house who knew nothing of the matter, and they would forget to tell him all about it, and caution him, and he would go out for a stroll round the garden and suddenly get within earshot of those bagpipes, without being prepared for it, or knowing what it was. If he were a man of strong mind, it only gave him fits; but a person of mere average intellect it usually sent mad.
There is, it must be confessed, something very sad about the early efforts of an amateur in bagpipes. I have felt that myself when listening to my young friend. They appear to be a trying instrument to perform upon. You have to get enough breath for the whole tune before you start - at least, so I gathered from watching Jefferson.
He would begin magnificently with a wild, full, come-to-the-battle sort of a note, that quite roused you. But he would get more and more piano as he went on, and the last verse generally collapsed in the middle with a splutter and a hiss.
You want to be in good health to play the bagpipes.
Young Jefferson only learnt to play one tune on those bagpipes; but I never heard any complaints about the insufficiency of his repertoire - none whatever. This tune was "The Campbells are Coming, Hooray - Hooray!" so he said, though his father always held that it was "The Blue Bells of Scotland." Nobody seemed quite sure what it was exactly, but they all agreed that it sounded Scotch.
Strangers were allowed three guesses, and most of them guessed a different tune each time.
Harris was disagreeable after supper, - I think it must have been the stew that had upset him: he is not used to high living, - so George and I left him in the boat, and settled to go for a mooch round Henley. He said he should have a glass of whisky and a pipe, and fix things up for the night. We were to shout when we returned, and he would row over from the island and fetch us.
\"Don\'t go to sleep, old man," we said as we started.
\"Not much fear of that while this stew\'s on," he grunted, as he pulled back to the island.
Henley was getting ready for the regatta, and was full of bustle. We met a goodish number of men we knew about the town, and in their pleasant company the time slipped by somewhat quickly; so that it was nearly eleven o\'clock before we set off on our four-mile walk home - as we had learned to call our little craft by this time.
It was a dismal night, coldish, with a thin rain falling; and as we trudged through the dark, silent fields, talking low to each other, and wondering if we were going right or not, we thought of the cosy boat, with the bright light streaming through the tight-drawn canvas; of Harris and Montmorency, and the whisky, and wished that we were there.
We conjured up the picture of ourselves inside, tired and a little hungry; of the gloomy river and the shapeless trees; and, like a giant glow-worm underneath them, our dear old boat, so snug and warm and cheerful. We could see ourselves at supper there, pecking away at cold meat, and passing each other chunks of bread; we could hear the cheery clatter of our knives, the laughing voices, filling all the space, and overflowing through the opening out into the night. And we hurried on to realise the vision.
We struck the tow-path at length, and that made us happy; because prior to this we had not been sure whether we were walking towards the river or away from it, and when you are tired and want to go to bed uncertainties like that worry you. We passed Shiplake as the clock was striking the quarter to twelve; and then George said, thoughtfully:
\"You don\'t happen to remember which of the islands it was, do you?"
\"No," I replied, beginning to grow thoughtful too, "I don\'t. How many are there?"
\"Only four," answered George. "It will be all right, if he\'s awake."
\"And if not?" I queried; but we dismissed that train of thought.
We shouted when we came opposite the first island, but there was no response; so we went to the second, and tried there, and obtained the same result.
\"Oh! I remember now," said George; "it was the third one."
And we ran on hopefully to the third one, and hallooed.
No answer!
The case was becoming serious. It was now past midnight. The hotels at Shiplake and Henley would be crammed; and we could not go round, knocking up cottagers and householders in the middle of the night, to know if they let apartments! George suggested walking back to Henley and assaulting a policeman, and so getting a night\'s lodging in the station-house. But then there was the thought, "Suppose he only hits us back and refuses to lock us up!"
We could not pass the whole night fighting policemen. Besides, we did not want to overdo the thing and get six months.
We despairingly tried what seemed in the darkness to be the fourth island, but met with no better success. The rain was coming down fast now, and evidently meant to last. We were wet to the skin, and cold and miserable. We began to wonder whether there were only four islands or more, or whether we were near the islands at all, or whether we were anywhere within a mile of where we ought to be, or in the wrong part of the river altogether; everything looked so strange and different in the darkness. We began to understand the sufferings of the Babes in the Wood.
Just when we had given up all hope - yes, I know that is always the time that things do happen in novels and tales; but I can\'t help it. I resolved, when I began to write this book, that I would be strictly truthful in all things; and so I will be, even if I have to employ hackneyed phrases for the purpose.
It was just when we had given up all hope, and I must therefore say so. Just when we had given up all hope, then, I suddenly caught sight, a little way below us, of a strange, weird sort of glimmer flickering among the trees on the opposite bank. For an instant I thought of ghosts: it was such a shadowy, mysterious light. The next moment it flashed across me that it was our boat, and I sent up such a yell across the water that made the night seem to shake in its bed.
We waited breathless for a minute, and then - oh! divinest music of the darkness! - we heard the answering bark of Montmorency. We shouted back loud enough to wake the Seven Sleepers - I never could understand myself why it should take more noise to wake seven sleepers than one - and, after what seemed an hour, but what was really, I suppose, about five minutes, we saw the lighted boat creeping slowly over the blackness, and heard Harris\'s sleepy voice asking where we were.
There was an unaccountable strangeness about Harris. It was something more than mere ordinary tiredness. He pulled the boat against a part of the bank from which it was quite impossible for us to get into it, and immediately went to sleep. It took us an immense amount of screaming and roaring to wake him up again and put some sense into him; but we succeeded at last, and got safely on board.
Harris had a sad expression on him, so we noticed, when we got into the boat. He gave you the idea of a man who had been through trouble. We asked him if anything had happened, and he said-
\"Swans!"
It seemed we had moored close to a swan\'s nest, and, soon after George and I had gone, the female swan came back, and kicked up a row about it. Harris had chivvied her off, and she had gone away, and fetched up her old man. Harris said he had had quite a fight with these two swans; but courage and skill had prevailed in the end, and he had defeated them.
Half-an-hour afterwards they returned with eighteen other swans! It must have been a fearful battle, so far as we could understand Harris\'s account of it. The swans had tried to drag him and Montmorency out of the boat and drown them; and he had defended himself like a hero for four hours, and had killed the lot, and they had all paddled away to die.
\"How many swans did you say there were?" asked George.
\"Thirty-two," replied Harris, sleepily.
\"You said eighteen just now," said George.
\"No, I didn\'t," grunted Harris; "I said twelve. Think I can\'t count?"
What were the real facts about these swans we never found out. We questioned Harris on the subject in the morning, and he said, "What swans?" and seemed to think that George and I had been dreaming.
Oh, how delightful it was to be safe in the boat, after our trials and fears! We ate a hearty supper, George and I, and we should have had some toddy after it, if we could have found the whisky, but we could not. We examined Harris as to what he had done with it; but he did not seem to know what we meant by "whisky," or what we were talking about at all. Montmorency looked as if he knew something, but said nothing.
I slept well that night, and should have slept better if it had not been for Harris. I have a vague recollection of having been woken up at least a dozen times during the night by Harris wandering about the boat with the lantern, looking for his clothes. He seemed to be worrying about his clothes all night.
Twice he routed up George and myself to see if we were lying on his trousers. George got quite wild the second time.
\"What the thunder do you want your trousers for, in the middle of the night?" he asked indignantly. "Why don\'t you lie down, and go to sleep?"
I found him in trouble, the next time I awoke, because he could not find his socks; and my last hazy remembrance is of being rolled over on my side, and of hearing Harris muttering something about its being an extraordinary thing where his umbrella could have got to.


VOCABULARY:
acquire: (acquiring, acquired) zdobyć
assault: (assaulting, assaulted) attack
bagpipes: dudy, kobza
bark: szczek
cheery: happy
clatter: brzęk
confess: (confessing, confessed) wyznać
conjure up: (conjuring, conjured) wyczarować
contend: (contending, contended) compete, argue
crammed: packed
dead against: completely against
defeat: (defeating, defeated) pokonać
disheartening: depressing
fetch: (fetching, fetched) go and get
flicker: (flickering, flickered) shine unsteadily
glimmer: migotanie
gurgle: paplanina
hackneyed: wyświechtany
hazy: misty, unclear
hearty: nourishing
hiss: syk
hold: (holding, held) sustain, utrzymywać
insufficiency: deficiency, shortage
knock up: (knocking, knocked) to make sth quickly and without effort
lantern: latarnia
mercy: litość
mooch: a walk without any purpose
moor: (mooring, moored) cumować
oath: przysięga
overdo: (overdoing, overdid) exaggerate
paddle: (paddling, paddled) brodzić
peck: (pecking, pecked) dziobać, skubać
piano: played quietly
precaution: środek ostrożności
prevail: (prevailing, prevailed) triumph, win
recollection: memory
resolve: (resolving, resolved) make your mind up
route up: (routing, routed) dig up
splutter: prychnięcie
swan: łabędź
toddy: grog
trudge: (trudging, trudged) march
unaccountable: inexplicable, strange
vague: unclear
wet to the skin: przemokły
within earshot: w zasięgu słuchu


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Główna Czytelnia Literatura Powieść w odcinkach CHAPTER XIV (Continuation)
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