To settle the dispute, we appealed to the boy. We told him not to be afraid, but to speak the plain truth: Was it the fossil of a pre-Adamite whale, or was it an early Roman coffin?
The boy said it was The Pride of the Thames.
We thought this a very humorous answer on the part of the boy at first, and somebody gave him twopence as a reward for his ready wit; but when he persisted in keeping up the joke, as we thought, too long, we got vexed with him.
Come, come, my lad! said our captain sharply, dont let us have any nonsense. You take your mothers washing-tub home again, and bring us a boat.
The boat-builder himself came up then, and assured us, on his word as a practical man, that the thing really was a boatwas, in fact, the boat, the double sculling skiff selected to take us on our trip down the river.
We grumbled a good deal. We thought he might, at least, have had it whitewashed or tarredhad something done to it to distinguish it from a bit of a wreck; but he could not see any fault in it.
He even seemed offended at our remarks. He said he had picked us out the best boat in all his stock, and he thought we might have been more grateful.
He said it, The Pride of the Thames, had been in use, just as it now stood (or rather as it now hung together), for the last forty years to his knowledge, and nobody had complained of it before, and he did not see why we should be the first to begin.
We argued no more.
We fastened the so-called boat together with some pieces of string, got a bit of wall-paper and pasted over the shabbier places, said our prayers, and stepped on board.
They charged us thirty-five shillings for the loan of the remnant for six days; and we could have bought the thing out-and-out for four-and-sixpence at any sale of drift-wood round the coast.
The weather changed on the third dayOh! I am talking about our present trip nowand we started from Oxford upon our homeward journey in the midst of a steady drizzle.
The riverwith the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows oer the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with gloryis a golden fairy stream.
But the riverchill and weary, with the ceaseless raindrops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, with the sound as of a woman, weeping low in some dark chamber; while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand like ghosts upon the margin; silent ghosts with eyes reproachful, like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglectedis a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets.
Sunlight is the life-blood of Nature. Mother Earth looks at us with such dull, soulless eyes, when the sunlight has died away from out of her. It makes us sad to be with her then; she does not seem to know us or to care for us. She is as a widow who has lost the husband she loved, and her children touch her hand, and look up into her eyes, but gain no smile from her.
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