“In doubtful matters
Courage may do much:—In desperate
The young skater duly recovered, and thenceforward Mr. Wood’s popularity in the village was established, and the following summer he started a swimming-class, to which the young men flocked with more readiness than they commonly showed for efforts made to improve them.
For my own part I had so realized, to my shame, that one may feel very adventurous and yet not know how to venture or what to venture in the time of need, that my whole heart was set upon getting the school-master to teach me to swim and to dive, with any other lessons in preparedness of body and mind which I was old enough to profit by. And if the true tales of his own experiences were more interesting than the Penny Numbers, it was better still to feel that one was qualifying in one’s own proper person for a life of adventure.
During the winter Mr. Wood built a boat, which was christened the Adela, after his wife. It was an interesting process to us all. I hung about and did my best to be helpful, and both Jem and I spoiled our everyday trousers, and rubbed the boat’s sides, the day she was painted. It was from the Adela that Jem and I had our first swimming-lessons, Mr. Wood lowering us with a rope under our arms, by which he gave us as much support as was needed, whilst he taught us how to strike out.
We had swimming-races on the canal, and having learned to swim and dive without our clothes, we learnt to do so in them, and found it much more difficult for swimming and easier for diving. It was then that the trousers we had damaged when the Adela was built came in most usefully, and saved us from having to attempt the at least equally difficult task of persuading my mother to let us spoil good ones in an amusement which had the unpardonable quality of being “very odd.”
Dear old Charlie had as much fun out of the boat as we had, though he could not learn to dive. He used to look as if every minute of a pull up the canal on a sunny evening gave him pleasure; and the brown Irish spaniel Jem gave him used to swim after the boat and look up in Charlie’s face as if it knew how he enjoyed it. And later on, Mr. Wood taught Bob Furniss to row and Charlie to steer; so that Charlie could sometimes go out and feel quite free to stop the boat when and where he liked. That was after he started so many collections of insects and water-weeds, and shells, and things you can only see under a microscope. Bob and he used to take all kinds of pots and pans and nets and dippers with them, so that Charlie could fish up what he wanted, and keep things separate. He was obliged to keep the live things he got for his fresh-water aquarium in different jam-pots, because he could never be sure which would eat up which till he knew them better, and the water-scorpions and the dragon-fly larvae ate everything. Bob Furniss did not mind pulling in among the reeds and waiting as long as you wanted. Mr. Wood sometimes wanted to get back to his work, but Bob never wanted to get back to his. And he was very good-natured about getting into the water and wading and grubbing for things; indeed, I think he got to like it.