“Suppose,” said I, “that a barge should come along, and need to be drawn up this ’plane’—would the old machinery work?” and I pointed to six hundred feet of sloping grass, down which a tramway stretches and a cable runs on little wheels—technically known, it appeared, as a “plane.”
Then the honour of the ancient company for which he had once worked seemed to stir his blood, and he awakened to something like enthusiasm as he explained the antique, picturesque device by which it is still really possible for a barge to climb six hundred feet of grass and fern—drawn up in a long “cradle,” instead of being raised by locks in the customary way.
Then he took us into the old building where, in the mossed and dripping darkness, we could discern the great water-wheels that work this fascinating piece of ancient engineering; and added that there would probably be a barge coming along in three or four days, if we should happen to be in the neighbourhood. He might have added that the old canal is one of the few places where “time and tide” wait for any one and everybody—but alas! on this occasion we could not wait for them.
Our walk was nearing its end when we came upon a pathetic reminder that, though the old canal is so far from being a stormy sea, there have been wrecks even in those quiet waters. In a backwater whispered over by willows and sung over by birds, a sort of water-side graveyard, eleven old barges were ingloriously rotting, unwept and unhonoured. The hulks of old men-of-war, forgotten as they may seem, have still their annual days of bunting and the salutes of cannon; but to these old servitors of peace come no such memorial recognitions.
“Unwept and unhonoured, may be,” said I to my friend, “but they shall not go all unsung, though humble be the rhyme”; so here is the rhyme I affixed to an old nail on the mouldering side of the Janita C. Williams:
who have done your work and asked no praise,
Mouldering in these unhonoured waterways,
Carrying but simple peace and quiet fire,
Doing a small day’s work for a small hire—
You need not praise, nor guns, nor flags unfurled,
Nor all such cloudy glories of the world;
The laurel of a simple duty done
Is the best laurel underneath the sun,
Yet would two strangers passing by this spot
Whisper, “Old boat—you are not all forgot!”
A MODERN SAINT FRANCIS
We were neither of us fox-hunting ourselves, but chanced both to be out on our morning walk and to be crossing a breezy Surrey common at the same moment, when the huntsmen and huntresses of the Slumberfold Hunt were blithely congregating for a day’s run. A meet is always an attractive sight, and we had both come to a halt within a yard or two of each other, and stood watching the gallant company of fine ladies and gentlemen on their beautiful, impatient mounts, keeping up a prancing conversation, till the exciting moment should arrive when the cry would go up that the fox had been started, and the whole field would sweep away, a cataract of hounds, red-coats, riding habits, and dog-carts.