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Plain Fin–Paper-Hanger
by [?]


The man was a little sawed-off, red-headed Irishman, with twinkling, gimlet eyes, two up-curved lips always in a broad smile, and a pair of thin, caliper-shaped legs.

His name was as brief as his stature.

“Fin, your honor, by the grace of God. F-i-n, Fin. There was a ‘Mac’ in front of it once, and an ‘n’ to the tail of it in the old times, so me mother says, but some of me ancisters–bad cess to ’em!–wiped ’em out. Plain Fin, if you plase, sor.”

The punt was the ordinary Thames boat: a long, narrow, flat-bottomed, shallow craft with tapering ends decked over to serve as seats, the whole propelled by a pole the size of a tight-rope dancer’s and about as difficult to handle.

Chartering the punt had been easy. All I had had to do was to stroll down the path bordering the river, run my eye over a group of boats lying side by side like a school of trout with their noses up-stream, pick out the widest, flattest, and least upsettable craft in the fleet, decorate it with a pair of Turkey-red cushions from a pile in the boathouse, and a short mattress, also Turkey-red–a good thing at luncheon-hour for a tired back is a mattress–slip the key of the padlock of the mooring-chain in my pocket and stroll back again.

The hiring of the man for days after my arrival at Sonning-on-Thames, was more difficult, well-nigh impossible, except at a price per diem which no staid old painter–they are all an impecunious lot–could afford. There were boys, of course, for the asking; sunburnt, freckle-faced, tousle-headed, barefooted little devils who, when my back was turned, would do handsprings over my cushions, landing on the mattress, or break the pole the first day out, leaving me high and dry on some island out of calling distance; but full-grown, sober-minded, steady men, who could pole all day or sit beside me patiently while I worked, hand me the right brush or tube of color, or palette, or open a bottle of soda without spilling half of it–that kind of man was scarce.

Landlord Hull, of the White Hart Inn–what an ideal Boniface is this same Hull, and what an ideal inn–promised a boatman to pole the punt and look after my traps when the Henley regatta was over; and the owner of my own craft, and of fifty other punts besides, went so far as to say that he expected a man as soon as Lord Somebody-or-Other left for the Continent, when His Lordship’s waterman would be free, adding, meaningly:

“Just at present, zur, when we do be ‘avin’ sich a mob lot from Lunnon, ‘specially at week’s-end, zur, we ain’t got men enough to do our own polin’. It’s the war, zur, as has took ’em off. Maybe for a few day, zur, ye might take a ‘and yerself if ye didn’t mind.”

I waved the hand referred to–the forefinger part of it–in a deprecating manner. I couldn’t pole the lightest and most tractable punt ten yards in a straight line to save my own or anybody else’s life. Then again, if I should impair the precision of my five fingers by any such violent exercise, my brush would wabble as nervously over my canvas as a recording needle across a steam-gauge. Poling a rudderless, keelless skiff up a crooked stream by means of a fifteen-foot balancing pole is an art only to be classed with that of rowing a gondola. Gondoliers and punters, like poets, are born, not made. My own Luigi comes of a race of gondoliers dating back two hundred years, and punters must spring from just such ancestors. No, if I had to do the poling myself, I should rather get out and walk.

Fin solved the problem–not from any special training (rowing in regattas and the like), but rather from that universal adaptability of the Irishman which fits him for filling any situation in life, from a seat on a dirt-cart to a chair in an aldermanic chamber.