Page:My Life and Loves.djvu/35

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11
CHILDHOOD DAYS.

masters were kind to me. The great Mall or park-like place in the centre of the town delighted me; I had soon climbed nearly every tree in it, tree-climbing and reciting being the two sports in which I excelled.

When we were at Carrickfergus, my father had had me on board his vessel and had matched me at climbing the rigging against a cabin-boy and though the sailor was first at the cross-trees, I caught him on the descent by jumping at a rope and letting it slide through my hands, almost at falling speed to the deck. I heard my father tell this afterwards with pleasure to Vernon, which pleased my vanity inordinately and increased, if that were possible, my delight in showing off.

For another reason my vanity had grown beyond measure. At Carrickfergus I had got hold of a book on athletics belonging to Vernon and had there learned that if you went into the water up to your neck and threw yourself boldly forward and tried to swim, you would swim; for the body is lighter than the water and floats.

The next time I went down to bathe with Vernon, instead of going on the beach in the shallow water and wading out, I went with him to the end of the pier and when he dived in, I went down the steps and as soon as he came up to the surface I cried, "Look! I can swim too", and I boldly threw myself forward and, after a moment's dreadful sinking and spluttering, did in fact swim. When I wanted to get back I had a moment of appalling fear: "Could I turn round?" The next moment I found it quite easy to turn and I was soon safely back on the steps again.

"When did you learn to swim?", asked Vernon coming out beside me. "This minute", I replied and as he was surprised, I told him I had read it all in