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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXI. Learning to Swim

BERT’S appearance, when he made his way home with dripping clothes, and face still pale from what he had undergone, created no small consternation. His sister was particularly alarmed, and it took some time to convince her that, once having got out of the grasp of the greedy water, he was really in no more danger. Had she been permitted to have her own way, she would have bundled him off to bed forthwith, and filled up any little corners inside of him that the sea water had left unoccupied, with warm raspberry vinegar. But Bert would none of it, and Mrs. Lloyd, although a good deal startled at first, soon recovered her self-possession sufficiently to agree with him, when he insisted that all he wanted was some dry clothes and a rest.

The dry clothes were quickly furnished, and having put them on, he returned to the sitting-room to tell them all about his rescue, Frank being at hand to fill in any details that he missed in the recital. The tears stood in his mother’s eyes, as he related what he had felt and thought during those eventful moments when his life hung in the balance; tears of distress, of sympathy, of joy, and finally of gratitude, as in glowing words he described how noble John Connors had dived away down into the dark green depths to rescue him just in the nick of time.

“Oh, Bert, darling,” she exclaimed, when he had finished, folding him to her breast, “how good God was to send dear, brave Connors to your help! We cannot praise Him enough, and, dearest, don’t you think He must intend you to be something good and great for Him, when He thus spared your life? And that dear man Connors !—I feel as though I could kiss the hands that drew you from the water. Your father must go to-night, and tell him how grateful we are; and he must do more than that—-he must reward him well for running such a risk to save our boy.”

When Mr. Lloyd came home and learned what had happened, he made no pretence of concealing his emotion. The very thought of losing in that dreadful way the boy who was the joy and pride of his life filled him with horror, and no words could express his fervent gratitude to Connors, and to God, for sending so courageous a rescuer. So soon as dinner was over he set off in search of him, taking Bert with him. Connors’s home was easily found, and Connors himself sat smoking his evening pipe upon the door-step, as unconcernedly as though he had done nothing out of the way that afternoon.

The object of Mr. Lloyd’s visit was soon made known, but he found more difficulty than he expected in giving such expression as he desired to the gratitude he felt. Connors was quite willing to be thanked, and accepted Mr. Lloyd’s fervent words with a respectful acquiescence that well became him, but when Mr. Lloyd broached the subject of a more tangible reward, Connors quite as respectfully, but very firmly, refused.

“I want no reward for saving your boy, sir. It’s proud I am of pulling so fine a boy as that out of the water. I did no more than you’d do for my boy, sir, if he were in the same scrape,” said he, in reply to Mr. Lloyd’s delicately worded offer.

“That may be, Connors. I’m sure I would do as you say, but all the same I would feel much more comfortable if you would accept this purse as some expression of my gratitude,” urged Mr. Lloyd.

“And, thanking you kindly, sir, I’d feel much more comfortable if I didn’t take it,” returned Connors, in a tone there was no mistaking. So Mr. Lloyd, resolving in his mind that he would find out some other way of rewarding the worthy fellow, said no more then, and shortly after took his leave.

As Bert and his father walked home together they were still talking about the event of the afternoon.

“If you had been drowned, Bert, it would to some extent have been my fault,” said Mr. Lloyd; “for I should not have so long neglected teaching you to swim. A boy of your age ought to be well able to take care of himself in the water, and I should have seen that you were. However, now that this escape of yours has waked me up, I will attend to the matter at once. So we will begin to-morrow morning, Bert, and have a swimming lesson every day before breakfast.”

“Oh, father; I’m so glad,” exclaimed Bert, skipping about joyfully. “I want to know how to swim ever so much, and I’ll soon learn if you’ll teach me.”

“All right, my boy. You see to waking me in good time, and I’ll see that you learn to swim,” replied Mr. Lloyd, clapping Bert affectionately on the back.

The next morning at six o’clock Bert was rapping loudly on his father’s door, and calling upon him to get up, and a quarter of an hour later the pair with towels on their arms were off in the direction of a secluded, deserted wharf that would just suit their purpose.

On arriving at this place, Mr. Lloyd showed Bert how he proposed to teach him to swim, and it certainly was about as excellent a way as could well have been devised. He had brought with him two things besides the towels: a piece of rope about the thickness of a clothes line, and ten yards or more in length, and a strong linen band, two yards in length. The linen band he put round Bert’s shoulders in such a way that there was no possibility of its slipping, or interfering with the action of his arms; and then the rope was so fastened to the band that when Bert was in the water his father, standing on the wharf above him, could hold him in just the right position for swimming.

The preparations having been completed, Bert was bidden descend the steps and plunge into the water. He started off bravely enough, but when he reached the bottom step he hesitated. The water was at least ten feet in depth beneath him, and he had never been “over his head,” as they say, before, except when he came so near being drowned. Naturally, therefore, he shrank from committing himself to the deep in this fashion.

“Well, Bert, what’s the matter? Are you afraid the water is too cold?” asked his father, as he noticed his hesitation.

“No, father; not exactly,” answered Bert, feeling half ashamed of himself.

“You’re afraid it’s too deep, then?” suggested Mr. Lloyd. And Bert looked up with a smile that showed he had hit the mark.

“Never mind, my boy,” said Mr. Lloyd, cheeringly. “You’re all right. I won’t let go of you. Jump in like a man.”

Bert hung back a moment; then, shutting his mouth tightly and closing his eyes, he sprang boldly into the cool, green water. He went under a little at first, but a slight tug on the rope brought him quickly to the top, and recovering his breath and his self-possession at the same time, he struck out with his arms and kicked with his legs, according to the best of his ability. His motions were sadly unskilful, as may be easily imagined, and although they used up his strength pretty rapidly, they would not have kept his head above water for a minute; but a gentle pressure on the rope in Mr. Lloyd’s hand made that all right, and, feeling quite at his ease, Bert struggled away until he was tired out, and then his father, who had all the time been cheering and directing him, drew him back to the steps, and the lesson was over.

“You did very well, Bert; very well, indeed,” said he, in tones of warm approval, as Bert proceeded to rub off the salt water and get into his clothes again. “I don’t think it will take a great many lessons to make a swimmer of you.”

And Mr. Lloyd’s confidence was well founded ; for so earnestly did Bert give himself to the business of learning to swim that by the end of a fortnight he could go ten yards out and back without any help from the rope at all. Another fortnight and the rope was no longer needed. Mr. Lloyd now went into the water with Bert, and swimming out to the middle of the dock, would have the boy come to him, and after resting upon his broad shoulders a moment, make his way back to the steps again.

Thus, in little more than a month, Bert became quite able to take care of himself in the water under ordinary circumstances; and his father, feeling well satisfied with his proficiency, gave him liberty to go to the wharves as often as he pleased—a boon Bert highly appreciated.

A pleasure unshared by his faithful Frank was but half a pleasure to Bert. Next in importance to his being able to swim himself was Frank’s acquiring the same invaluable accomplishment. Invaluable? Yes, one might indeed rightly use a stronger term, and say indispensable; for the education of no boy is complete until he has mastered the art of swimming. And if the boys knew their own interests as thoroughly as their parents and guardians ought to know them, they would agitate all over the land for the provision of swimming baths in connection with their schools, or in some other way that would ensure them the opportunity of learning what to do with themselves in the water, as well as upon the land.

Frank could swim a stroke or two before Bert took him in hand, and consequently was soon able to dispense with the rope; but timid little Ernest Linton, who was the next pupil, took a lot of teaching, and there seemed small prospect of his conquering his timidity sufficiently to “go it alone ” before the swimming season would be over.

The fame of Bert’s swimming school spread among his playmates to an extent that threatened to be embarrassing. By the time they were half way through the midsummer holidays, a crowd of boisterous youngsters gathered every morning at the old wharf, and struggled for the use of band and rope, until at last there had to be several of these provided. Then they had fine fun. A dozen boys would be in the water at the same time—some of them expert swimmers, the others in all stages of learning—and there would be races, splashing matches, unexpected duckings, sly tricks upon the nervous learners, and all sorts of capers, such as might be expected from boys of their age and enterprise.

By way of deepening the interest in this healthful amusement, they organised a competition, the prizes being supplied by their parents, who were duly waited upon by a properly authorised committee; and one fine August afternoon, the sleepy old wharf was made to fairly tremble with excitement, as race followed race in quick succession, amid the cheering and shouting of some two-score vigorous boys. Much to his delight, Frank succeeded in carrying off the first prize. He was a persistent, painstaking fellow when his interest was thoroughly aroused, and while other chaps were skylarking about in the water, he had been practising long swims, the consequence of which was that at the competition—when, of course, the best prize was given for the longest race; the course, in this instance, being out to the head of the wharf, and back—Frank left all the other contestants behind, and came in an easy winner.

Bert was exceedingly pleased. He had not won any prizes himself, except an unimportant little second one; but Frank’s success more than consoled him, and he bore him off home with him in high glee, that the family might share in the joy of the occasion.

Nearly two years now had passed since the two friends first made one another’s acquaintance, and the course of events had fully confirmed the expectation of Bert’s parents, that he would be far more likely to influence Frank for good than Frank would be to influence him for evil. There had been unmistakable improvement in Frank, both in manners and morals. Constant association with a playmate brought up under home influences so different from his own; the wise and kindly words that Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd lost no opportunity of speaking to him; the refinement and brightness of their home; the atmosphere of sunny religion that pervaded it; and all these supplemented by an ever-interesting presentation of common-sense Christianity at the hands of Mr. Silver every Sunday afternoon, had worked deep into Frank’s strong, steadfast nature, and without being distinctly conscious of it himself, he was growing refined, pure, and religious in thought and desire, like those with whom it was the joy of his life to associate. The current of his being had been turned Godward, and in him, though he knew it not, Bert had won the first star for his crown.

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