CHAPTER VIII

Blackmailing. - The proper course to pursue. - Selfish boorishness of river-side landowner. - "Notice" boards. - Unchristianlike feelings of Harris. - How Harris sings a comic song. - A high-class party. - Shameful conduct of two abandoned young men. - Some useless information. - George buys a banjo.


We stopped under the willows by Kempton Park, and lunched. It is a pretty little spot there: a pleasant grass plateau, running along by the water\'s edge, and overhung by willows. We had just commenced the third course - the bread and jam - when a gentleman in shirt-sleeves and a short pipe came along, and wanted to know if we knew that we were trespassing. We said we hadn\'t given the matter sufficient consideration as yet to enable us to arrive at a definite conclusion on that point, but that, if he assured us on his word as a gentleman that we were trespassing, we would, without further hesitation, believe it.

He gave us the required assurance, and we thanked him, but he still hung about, and seemed to be dissatisfied, so we asked him if there was anything further that we could do for him; and Harris, who is of a chummy disposition, offered him a bit of bread and jam.

I fancy he must have belonged to some society sworn to abstain from bread and jam; for he declined it quite gruffly, as if he were vexed at being tempted with it, and he added that it was his duty to turn us off.

Harris said that if it was a duty it ought to be done, and asked the man what was his idea with regard to the best means for accomplishing it. Harris is what you would call a well-made man of about number one size, and looks hard and bony, and the man measured him up and down, and said he would go and consult his master, and then come back and chuck us both into the river.

Of course, we never saw him any more, and, of course, all he really wanted was a shilling. There are a certain number of riverside roughs who make quite an income, during the summer, by slouching about the banks and blackmailing weak-minded noodles in this way. They represent themselves as sent by the proprietor. The proper course to pursue is to offer your name and address, and leave the owner, if he really has anything to do with the matter, to summon you, and prove what damage you have done to his land by sitting down on a bit of it. But the majority of people are so intensely lazy and timid, that they prefer to encourage the imposition by giving in to it rather than put an end to it by the exertion of a little firmness.

Where it is really the owners that are to blame, they ought to be shown up. The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do this along the minor tributary streams and in the backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream, and draw chains across from bank to bank, and nail huge notice-boards on every tree. The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he had them worse than that. He said he not only felt he wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris; but he answered: "Not a bit of it. Serve `em all jolly well right, and I\'d go and sing comic songs on the ruins."

I was vexed to hear Harris go on in this blood-thirsty strain. We never ought to allow our instincts of justice to degenerate into mere vindictiveness. It was a long while before I could get Harris to take a more Christian view of the subject, but I succeeded at last, and he promised me that he would spare the friends and relations at all events, and would not sing comic songs on the ruins.

You have never heard Harris sing a comic song, or you would understand the service I had rendered to mankind. It is one of Harris\'s fixed ideas that he can sing a comic song; the fixed idea, on the contrary, among those of Harris’s friends who have heard him try, is that he can\'t and never will be able to, and that he ought not to be allowed to try.

When Harris is at a party, and is asked to sing, he replies: "Well, I can only sing a comic song, you know;" and he says it in a tone that implies that his singing of that, however, is a thing that you ought to hear once, and then die.

\"Oh, that is nice," says the hostess. "Do sing one, Mr. Harris;" and Harris gets up, and makes for the piano, with the beaming cheeriness of a generous-minded man who is just about to give somebody something.

\"Now, silence, please, everybody" says the hostess, turning round; "Mr. Harris is going to sing a comic song!"

\"Oh, how jolly!" they murmur; and they hurry in from the conservatory, and come up from the stairs, and go and fetch each other from all over the house, and crowd into the drawing-room, and sit round, all smirking in anticipation.

Then Harris begins.

Well, you don\'t look for much of a voice in a comic song. You don\'t expect correct phrasing or vocalization. You don\'t mind if a man does find out, when in the middle of a note, that he is too high, and comes down with a jerk. You don\'t bother about time. You don\'t mind a man being two bars in front of the accompaniment, and easing up in the middle of a line to argue it out with the pianist, and then starting the verse afresh. But you do expect the words.

You don\'t expect a man to never remember more than the first three lines of the first verse, and to keep on repeating these until it is time to begin the chorus. You don\'t expect a man to break off in the middle of a line, and snigger, and say, it\'s very funny, but he\'s blest if he can think of the rest of it, and then try and make it up for himself, and, afterwards, suddenly recollect it, when he has got to an entirely different part of the song, and break off, without a word of warning, to go back and let you have it then and there. You don\'t - well, I will just give you an idea of Harris\'s comic singing, and then you can judge of it for yourself.



HARRIS (standing up in front of piano and addressing the expectant mob): "I\'m afraid it\'s a very old thing, you know. I expect you all know it, you know. But it\'s the only thing I know. It’s the judge\'s song out of Pinafore - no, I don\'t mean Pinafore - I mean - you know what I mean - the other thing, you know. You must all join in the chorus, you know."

[Murmurs of delight and anxiety to join in the chorus. Brilliant performance of prelude to the Judge\'s song in "Trial by Jury" by nervous Pianist. Moment arrives for Harris to join in. Harris takes no notice of it. Nervous pianist commences prelude over again, and Harris, commencing singing at the same time, dashes off the first two lines of the First Lord\'s song out of "Pinafore." Nervous pianist tries to push on with prelude, gives it up, and tries to follow Harris with accompaniment to Judge\'s song out "Trial by Jury," finds that doesn\'t answer, and tries to recollect what he is doing, and where he is, feels his mind giving way, and stops short.]

HARRIS (with kindly encouragement): "It\'s all right. You\'re doing it very well, indeed - go on."

NERVOUS PIANIST: "I\'m afraid there\'s a mistake somewhere. What are you singing?"

HARRIS (promptly): "Why the Judge\'s song out of Trial by Jury. Don\'t you know it?"

SOME FRIEND OF HARRIS\'S (from the back of the room): "No, you\'re not, you chuckle-head, you\'re singing the Admiral\'s song from Pinafore."

[Long argument between Harris and Harris\'s friend as to what Harris is really singing. Friend finally suggests that it doesn\'t matter what Harris is singing so long as Harris gets on and sings it, and Harris, with an evident sense of injustice rankling inside him, requests pianist to begin again. Pianist, thereupon, starts prelude to the Admiral\'s song, and Harris, seizing what he considers to be a favourable opening in the music, begins.]

HARRIS:

\"`When I was young and called to the Bar.' "

[General roar of laughter, taken by Harris as a compliment. Pianist, thinking of his wife and family, gives up the unequal contest and retires; his place being taken by a stronger-nerved man.

THE NEW PIANIST (Cheerily): "Now then, old man, you start off, and I\'ll follow. We won\'t bother about any prelude."

HARRIS (Upon whom the explanation of matters has slowly dawned - laughing): "By Jove! I beg your pardon. Of course - I\'ve been mixing up the two songs. It was Jenkins confused me, you know. Now then.

[Singing; his voice appearing to come from the cellar, and suggesting the first low warnings of an approaching earthquake.



\"`When I was young I served a term
As office-boy to an attorney\'s firm.\'



(Aside to pianist): "It is too low, old man; we\'ll have that over again, if you don\'t mind."

[Sings first two lines over again, in a high falsetto this time. Great surprise on the part of the audience. Nervous old lady near the fire begins to cry, and has to be led out.]

HARRIS (continuing):



\"I swept the windows and I swept the door,
And I - `



No - no, I cleaned the windows of the big front door. And I polished up the floor - no, dash it - I beg your pardon - funny thing, I can\'t think of that line. And I - and I - Oh, well, we\'ll get on to the chorus, and chance it (sings):



`And I diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-de,
Till now I am the ruler of the Queen\'s navee.\'

Now then, chorus - it is the last two lines repeated, you know.



GENERAL CHORUS:

`And he diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-diddle-dee\'d,
Till now he is the ruler of the Queen\'s navee.\'



And Harris never sees what an ass he is making of himself, and how he is annoying a lot of people who never did him any harm. He honestly imagines that he has given them a treat, and says he will sing another comic song after supper.





VOCABULARY:



anticipation: expectation

beam: (beaming, beamed) radiate

chuckle-head: sb who giggles a lot to himself or herself

chummy: friendly

conservatory: glasshouse

Dash it!: (spoken) said when you are annoyed or angry

disposition: character

exertion: effort

give in: capitulate

gruffly: bad-temperedly

hang about: to do sth slowly and without any purpose

imposition: nuisance

make for sth: to move towards sth

noodle: (old-fashioned) silly person

promptly: quickly

rankle: (rankling, rankled) irritate

render: (rendering, rendered) provide

rough: (rare use) ill behaved person

slouch: (slouching, slouched) a way of walking with your shoulders bent forward

smirk: (smirking, smirked) grin, smile

snigger: (sniggering, sniggered) giggle, laugh

strain: nervous tension

summon: (summoning, summoned) send for

trespass: (trespassing, trespassed) to stay on someone’s land without permission

turn sb off: to do sth that makes sb decide that they do not like sth

vindictiveness: spite, cruelty

willow: wierzba



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