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Our River

By Mrs. Murray Hickson

IN these wonderful days of late September—hot as August, yet
filled with the finality and sadness of Autumn—there come
to me, beside the river, many imaginings, quaint, grotesque, and
pathetic. Here, where the sunshine falls in quivering patches
between closely-growing leaves, where the water rests, without
stir or ripple, under the shadows ; here, where the current is so
slow that my boat, tied bow and stern to hazel boughs, moves not,
neither swings one inch from her moorings—here I lie and, as
befits the height of such an Indian summer, dream the hours
away, in company with my own thoughts and the soft stir and
rustle of insect life around me. Beneath the spell of this golden
weather one learns the great lesson of tranquillity. Now, if never
before, do I realise that the best thing in life (and beyond it for
aught we know) is peace—peace profound, warm and unruffled—
peace so touched with knowledge and accustomed sadness that
sorrow has no power to disturb it—peace such as one finds any
afternoon during the last few weeks, upon the banks, or on the
bosom of this deep-set stream of ours. For nothing disturbs its
still flow ; not even the floods which, at times, sweep down its
course from the higher lands above. It swells, and rises—true.
But the current runs only more full, not less quietly ; the move-


                        170 Our River

ment towards the sea is just as smooth and imperceptible ; the
surface remains impenetrable and dark as ever.

Lately, day after day, under hot sunshine, the river has lain
placid as a lake. Slowly past my boat, leaves and twigs drift
downward with the stream ; so slowly that they seem to move of
their own accord, unpropelled by any force greater than a fragile
volition. Now and again a daddy-longlegs, caught in the
miniature débris of twigs and grasses, struggles vainly for liberty
—a discordant note in the universal acquiescence. One sees
nothing, one feels nothing, save rest ; rest absolute and uncon-
ditional ; rest accentuated by the lazy hum of gnats, undisturbed
by the occasional soft plop and gurgle of a fish as he rises to the
glassy surface. As yet the trees have hardly begun to turn, but,
here and there, a mass of yellow outlines itself against the dusky
green of deeper woods beyond. The leaves which strew the river,
a gently moving carpet, are unfaded, though now and again one
notices two or three more shrivelled than the rest—Autumn is
upon us but Summer lingers still. I wonder could any young man
or woman appreciate such a place in such weather ? Surely one
needs the experience of middle age to understand and value the
tranquillity of these loitering hours.

Up and down the banks at far distances are stationed fisher-
men, dozing through long days from early morning till the sun
sets and mists begin to gather. No one of them is near enough
to be disturbed by his neighbour ; each stands alone, isolated and
apart, content with his own company and the occasional capture
of an unwary pike or roach. The struggles and death of the
victim are blots upon Nature’s tranquillity ; yet they pass swiftly
and leave behind them a calm deepened by contrast with the
momentary turmoil. Rings in the water ; splashes ; a plunging
fish—then gasping silence, and hot sunshine on silver scales, half


                        By Mrs. Murray Hickson 171

hidden in lush-growing grass. After that, once again spells of
dreaming, and the lazy waiting for a bite, longed for, yet partly
to be deprecated. No one under these cloudless skies of Autumn
wishes to bestir himself and, for my part, fishing appears to me a
sheer barbarity, for which I am at once too indolent and too

Yet, without marring her quietude, our river also gathers in
her toll. Only last week a boat was found floating, bottom up-
wards, near the place where we are wont to bathe. The water
just there is deep ; one cannot see the bottom. Close beside the
difficult banks is standing-place indeed ; but a standing-place of
mud so soft that the straining feet are drawn into its slimy depths.
This upturned boat puzzled us, but, on such a day, danger seemed
infinitely distant, and I, for one, gave the derelict craft no second
thought until, as we sculled homewards through gathering twilight,
we came upon men dragging the quiet river for drowned bodies.
Even so the thing appeared monstrous, impossible ; and we drifted
onwards, deeming it an ugly, baseless scare.

Do you remember the lines which preface one of Rudyard
Kipling’s tales ?

        Tweed said tae Till,

        “What gaes ye rin sae still ?”

        Till said tae Tweed,

        ” Though ye rin wi’ speed,

        And I rin slaw,

        For each man ye droon,

        I droon twa.”

Well, our river is like that ; just so gentle and remorseless. They
found the poor bodies next day—quiet enough now, and still for
evermore ; unable to tell us one word of that fight for life which
had taken place under the hot, bright sunshine ; unable to say


                        172 Our River

whether—at the last—the river gave to them its own unfathomable

I have felt, since this episode, a certain awe mingled with my
love for the restful river ; that awe with which any force, at once
placid and resistless, must always inspire us. A few days ago I
saw two girls out alone, high up the stream, just where thick
woodlands slope to the water’s edge. Here, in a narrow cliff,
nestled amidst close-growing trees, the sand-martins build ; and
here long tangled trails of blackberry dangle and dip beneath the
current. Here too it is exceedingly difficult to effect a landing
and, if one be not a strong swimmer, the task is well nigh hope-

I looked at the girls, and I looked at the boat. It was the very
boat out of which those two poor lads last week had lost their lives.
The girls were laughing and light-hearted ; the busy birds flew
hither and thither : above our heads a golden sun blazed in a
sapphire sky, and sky and birds and girls were all mirrored, clear
as life, in the still waters on which we rested. At that moment
the river seemed to me like Death—resistless, cruel, inevitable,
yet with a beauty which I could neither gainsay nor comprehend.
I wonder, when we really know, whether Death too may prove a
Great Tranquillity.

MLA citation:

Hickson, Mrs. Murray [Mabel Greenhow Kitcat]. “Our River.” The Yellow Book, vol. 10, July 1896, pp. 169-172. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.