gentle and unintrusive in gliding effortless beneath overhanging branches and along the trailing edges of clematis thickets; —what a privilege of fairy-land is this noiseless prow, looking in and out of one flowery cove after another, scarcely stirring the turtle from his log, and leaving no wake behind!
It seemed as if all the process of rowing had too much noise and bluster, and as if the sharp, slender wherry, in particular, were rather too pert and dapper to win the confidence of the woods and waters.
Time has dispelled the fear.
As I rest poised upon the oars above some submerged shadow, diamonded with ripple-broken sunbeams, the fantastic Notonecta
or water-boatman rests upon his oars below, and I see that his proportions anticipated the wherry, as honeycombs antedated the problem of the hexagonal cell.
While one of us rests, so does the other; and when one shoots away rapidly above the water, the other does the same beneath.
For the time, as our motions seem the same, so with our motives,—my enjoyment certainly not less, with the conveniences of humanity thrown in.
But the sun is declining low. The club-boats are out, and from island to island in the distance these shafts of youthful life shoot swiftly across.
There races some swift Atalanta, with no apple to fall in her path, but some soft and spotted oak-apple from an overhanging tree; there the Phantom
, with a crew white and ghost-like in the distance, glimmers in and out behind the headlands, while yonder wherry glides lonely across the smooth expanse.
The voices of all these oarsmen are dim and almost inaudible, being so far away; but one would scarcely wish that distance should annihilate the ringing laughter of these joyous girls, who come gliding, in a safe and heavy boat, they and some blue dragon-flies together, around yonder wooded point.
Many a summer afternoon have I rowed joyously with these same maidens beneath these steep and garlanded shores; many a time have they pulled the heavy four-oar, with me as coxswain at the helm,—the said patient steersman being ofttimes insulted by classical allusions from rival boats, satirically comparing him to an indolent Venus
drawn by doves, while the oarswomen, in turn, were likened to Minerva
with her feet upon a tortoise.
Many were the disasters in the earlier days of feminine training:—first of toilet,—straw hats blowing away, hair coming down, hair-pins strewing the floor of the boat, gloves commonly happening to be off at the precise moment of starting, and trials of speed impaired by somebody's oar catching in somebody's pocket.
Then the actual difficulties of handling the long and heavy oars,— the first essays at feathering, with a complicated splash of air and water, as when a wild-duck, in rising, swims and flies together and uses neither element handsomely,—the occasional pulling of a particularly vigorous stroke through the atmosphere alone, and at other times the compensating disappearance of nearly the whole oar beneath the liquid surface,