Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > My Father as I Recall Him > CHAPTER IV.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 Fondness for Athletic1 Sports.—His love of bathing.—His study of the raven2.—Calling the doctor in.—My father with our dogs.—The cats of “Gad’s Hill.”—“Bumble” and “Mrs. Bouncer.”—A strange friendship.  
As a child my father was prevented from any active participation3 in the sports and amusements of his boyish companions by his extreme delicacy4 and frequent illnesses, so that until his manhood his knowledge of games was gained merely from long hours of watching others while lying upon the grass.  With manhood, however, came the strength and activity which enabled him to take part in all kinds of outdoor exercise and sports, and it seemed that in his passionate5 enjoyment6 and participation in those later years he was recompensed for the weary childhood years of suffering and inability.  Athletic sports were a passion with him in his manhood, as I have said.  In 1839 he rented a p. 70cottage at Petersham, not far from London “where,” to quote from Mr. Forster, “the extensive garden grounds admitted of much athletic competition, in which Dickens, for the most part, held his own against even such accomplished7 athletes as Maclise and Mr. Beard.  Bar leaping, bowling8 and quoits were among the games carried on with the greatest ardor9, and in sustained energy Dickens certainly distanced every competitor.  Even the lighter10 recreations of battledore and bagatelle11 were pursued with relentless12 activity.  At such amusements as the Petersham races, in those days rather celebrated13, and which he visited daily while they lasted, he worked much harder than the running horses did.”
Riding was a favorite recreation at all times with my father, and he was constantly inviting14 one or another of his friends to bear him company on these excursions.  Always fond, in his leisure hours, of companions, he seemed to find his rides and walks quite p. 71incomplete if made alone.  He writes on one occasion: “What think you of a fifteen-mile ride out, ditto in, and a lunch on the road, with a wind-up of six o’clock dinner in Doughty15 Street?”  And again: “Not knowing whether my head was off or on, it became so addled16 with work, I have gone riding over the old road, and shall be truly delighted to meet or be overtaken by you.”  As a young man he was extremely fond of riding, but as I never remember seeing him on horseback I think he must have deprived himself of this pastime soon after his marriage.
But walking was, perhaps, his chiefest pleasure, and the country lanes and city streets alike found him a close observer of their beauties and interests.  He was a rapid walker, his usual pace being four miles an hour, and to keep step with him required energy and activity similar to his own.  In many of his letters he speaks with most evident enjoyment of this pastime.  In one p. 72he writes: “What a brilliant morning for a country walk!  I start precisely—precisely, mind—at half-past one.  Come, come, come and walk in the green lanes!”  Again: “You don’t feel disposed, do you, to muffle17 yourself up and start off with me for a good, brisk walk over Hampstead Heath?”
Outdoor games of the simpler kinds delighted him.  Battledore and shuttlecock was played constantly in the garden at Devonshire Terrace, though I do not remember my father ever playing it elsewhere.  The American game of bowls pleased him, and rounders found him more than expert.  Croquet he disliked, but cricket he enjoyed intensely as a spectator, always keeping one of the scores during the matches at “Gad’s Hill.”
He was a firm believer in the hygiene18 of bathing, and cold baths, sea baths and shower baths were among his most constant practices.  In those days scientific ablution was not very generally practised, and I am p. 73sure that in many places during his travels my father was looked upon as an amiable19 maniac20 with a penchant21 for washing.
During his first visit to America, while he was making some journey in a rather rough and uncomfortable canal boat, he wrote: “I am considered very hardy22 in the morning, for I run up barenecked and plunge23 my head into the half-frozen water by half-past five o’clock.  I am respected for my activity, inasmuch as I jump from the boat to the towing path, and walk five or six miles before breakfast, keeping up with the horses all the time.”  And from Broadstairs: “In a bay window sits, from nine o’clock to one, a gentleman with rather long hair and no neckcloth, who writes and grins as if he thought he were very funny, indeed.  At one o’clock he disappears, presently emerges from a bathing machine, and may be seen a kind of salmon-colored porpoise24, splashing about in the ocean.  After that, he may be viewed in another bay window on the ground floor, eating p. 74a good lunch; and after that, walking a dozen miles or so, or lying on his back on the sand reading.  Nobody bothers him, unless they know he is disposed to be talked to; and I am told he is very comfortable, indeed.”
During the hottest summer months of our year’s residence in Italy, we lived at a little seaport25 of the Mediterranean26 called Albaro.  The bathing here was of the most primitive27 kind, one division of the clear, dark-blue pools among the rocks being reserved for women, the other for men, and as we children were as much at home in the water as any known variety of fish, we used to look with wonder at the so-called bathing of the Italian women.  They would come in swarms28, beautifully dressed, and with most elaborately arranged heads of hair, but the slightest of wettings with them was the equivalent of a bath.  In the open bay at Albaro the current was very strong, and the bathing most dangerous to even an experienced p. 75swimmer.  I remember one morning the terrible fright we were given by an uncle of ours; he swam out into the bay, was caught by the current of an ebb29 tide and borne out of reach of our eyes.  A fishing boat picked him up still alive, though greatly exhausted30.  “It was a world of horror and anguish31 crowded into four or five minutes of dreadful agitation,” wrote my father, “and to complete the terror of it the entire family, including the children, were on the rock in full view of it all, crying like mad creatures.”
He loved animals, flowers and birds, his fondness for the latter being shown nowhere more strongly than in his devotion to his ravens32 at Devonshire Terrace.  He writes characteristically of the death of “Grip,” the first raven: “You will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the raven is no more.  He expired to-day at a few minutes after twelve o’clock, at noon.  He had been ailing33 for a few days, but we anticipated no serious result, conjecturing34 that a portion of p. 76the white paint he swallowed last summer might be lingering about his vitals.  Yesterday afternoon he was taken so much worse that I sent an express for the medical gentleman, who promptly35 attended and administered a powerful dose of castor oil.  Under the influence of this medicine he recovered so far as to be able, at eight o’clock, p.m., to bite Topping (the coachman).  His night was peaceful.  This morning, at daybreak, he appeared better, and partook plentifully36 of some warm gruel37, the flavor of which he appeared to relish38.  Toward eleven o’clock he was so much worse that it was found necessary to muffle the stable knocker.  At half-past, or thereabouts, he was heard talking to himself about the horse and Topping’s family, and to add some incoherent expressions which are supposed to have been either a foreboding of his approaching dissolution or some wishes relative to the disposal of his little property, consisting chiefly of half-pence which he had buried in p. 77different parts of the garden.  On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated39, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach house, stopped to bark, staggered, and exclaimed ‘Halloa, old girl!’ (his favorite expression) and died.  He behaved throughout with decent fortitude40, equanimity41 and self-possession.  I deeply regret that, being in ignorance of his danger, I did not attend to receive his last instructions.
“Something remarkable42 about his eyes occasioned Topping to run for the doctor at twelve.  When they returned together, our ............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved