CHURCHILL: TWO STORIES FROM HIS YOUTH


1) Young W. Churchill in Mortal danger

(W. Churchill tells the following episode of his boyhood: In the summer of 1893, my brother and I were sent for a so-called walking-tour in Switzerland, with a tutor. We travelled by train so far as the money lasted. The tutor and I climbed mountains. I longed to climb the Matterhorn, but this was held by the tutor to be too dangerous. All this prudence, however might easily have been upset by an incident which happened to me in the lake of Geneva, and I record this incident that it may be a warning to others.)

One day I went for a row with another boy a little younger than myself. When we were more than a mile from the shore, we decided to have a swim, pulled off our clothes, jumped into the water and swam about. When we had had enough, the boat was perhaps one hundred yards away. A breeze had begun to stir the waters. The boat had a small awning1) over its stern2) seats. This awning acted as a sail by catching the breeze. As we swam towards the boat, it drifted farther off. After this had happened several times we had perhaps halved the distance. But meanwhile the breeze was freshening and we both began to be tired.

Up to this point no idea of danger had crossed my mind. The sun played upon the sparkling blue waters; the wonderful panorama of mountains and valleys still smiled. But now I saw Death as near as I believe I have ever seen him. He was swimming in the water at our side. No help was near. I was not only an easy, but also a fast swimmer. I now swam for life. Twice I reached within a yard of the boat and each time a gust3) carried it just beyond my reach; but by a supreme effort I caught hold of its side in the nick4) of time before a still stronger gust bulged the red awning again. I scrambled in and rowed back for my companion.. I said nothing to the tutor about this serious experience; but I have never forgotten it.

1) awning: canvas covering (against rain or sun), e.g. over a shipís deck
2) stern: back end of a ship or boat [opposite: bow]
3) gust: sudden, violent rush of wind
4) in the nick of time: just in time a the very last moment

2) Young Churchill: The Chase

(When leafing through Churchillís autobiography I came upon the following episode.)

My aunt had lent us her rural estate for the winter. It was a small, wild place and through the middle of it there ran a deep cleft1) which was spanned by a wooden bridge with a railing of cast iron. I was just 18. My younger brother aged 12 and a cousin aged 14 suggested a chase. After I had been hunted by the two for quite some time I was out of breath and decided to cross the bridge. However, when I had got to its middle I realized that my pursuers had divided their forces: One of them stood at each end of the bridge. I was, as the expression goes, up the creek2). But then an idea struck me. The cleft was full of young fir-trees and their tops reached to the level of the bridge. I thought it might just be possible to jump to one of those fir-trees and slide down the stem with the branches cushioning3) the impact of my fall. I might get a few scratches, probably. To plunge or not to plunge that was the question. In a second I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the top of the nearest fir-tree.

The alarming message of the children: "He jumped off the bridge and now he wonít speak to us", made my mother hurry down to the scene of the accident. I had to be carried away on a stretcher and it was three days before I regained consciousness and more than three months before I could crawl out of my bed again. Ever since then I have never again felt like jumping from a bridge.

1) cleft: natural opening or crack, for example in the ground or in rock
2) to be up the creek (informal): in a difficult or bad situation
3) to cushion: to make the effect of a fall or hit less severe

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