ANY one who has ever seen a tub race - and those who have not may be assured that they have missed one of the funniest sights in the world - will remember the screams of laughter and little shrieks of momentary fear that come from the spectators when the first conspicuous tub turns wrong side up, and dumps its occupant head-first into the water. For the moment, it seems to those of the audience who are unskilled in swimming as if the overturned racer were certain to drown. But very soon his head pops up through the foam, the tub is righted, and, if the racer is skilful, the uncertain craft is manned again. By and by the spectators begin to realize, if they never have before, that there is really no danger that any one will drown, and every new mishap brings more laughter and fewer sounds of fright.
In fact, while it is easy for everybody to think of sport on the water, a comparatively small number are able to fully appreciate the idea of sport in the water. The seaside bather cannot be said to know what water sport means; for the seaside bather, in the great majority of cases, does not know how to swim. Only those who know how to swim can really know what water sport is; for only these can know what it is to be free, safe, and "at home" in the water.
Probably water sports are as old as any other kind of sports. The very fish in the depths of the lake, in the shallows of the brook, or in the clear green depths of the sea, are continually giving a hint of the gayety that is to be found in the water. Life under water has many amusements. Seals have set games that they romp in, day after day, when the weather is inviting. Naturalists tell wonderful stories of the fishes and of those animals who can get along very comfortably both in and out of the water. And does anybody suppose that the boys of antiquity did not follow the sportive example of the light-hearted frog?
Among wild people living near any sort of deep water, there have always been water games. Indian boys were experts in various contests and festivals in the water, and some of the South Sea Island boys seem to get along about as well in the water as out of it.
Winning the Tub-Race.
Tub-racing, which is a very old sport, is to be classed with sports in the water, like swimming, rather than with sports on the water, like rowing or sailing; for it is understood that the tubs turn over a good deal, and that cleverness at swimming and manoeuvring in the water will come into play. And of course tub-racing gets its main excitement and fun not so much from the mere progress of the tubs as from the continual chance of accident - that is, the comical accident of the racer's plunge into the water.
Somebody who understood how much delight was to be had from the make-believe danger of this kind of accident, as well as from other absurd intentional blunders, invented the modern water circus. For there is such a thing as a water circus, a circus with a ring - but a ring of water instead of sawdust.
Away back in the old Roman days the water circus was a wonderful affair. Arenas would be flooded, and naval battles would be fought between great galleys for the amusement of the emperor and the people. Things are not on quite so vast or serious a scale now, however; and the water circus, as it is seen in Europe to-day, is but one of the features of an ordinary circus. But, the American reader will ask, how can a water circus be part of an ordinary circus? Can they flood the ring? And even if they did, would it be deep enough for any kind of water sport? The fact is, that they do not flood an ordinary ring, which would not hold more than an ankle-deep puddle; but this is the way it is done: -
When that point in the circus programme that is set for the beginning of the water show has been successfully reached, a small army of clowns and "supers" begin dragging into the arena sections of an iron tank, which, amid much ludicrous play on the part of the clowns, is fitted together in the ring, before the eyes of the amused and expectant audience. The pieces lock tightly together, and a huge roll of rubber that is tumbled into the circle with many comical struggles and mishaps, is spread out to make the bottom of the lake thoroughly water-tight. When this has been done, a bridge, generally with a double arch and a central platform, which has been suspended overhead with the trapeze bars and other circus paraphernalia, is lowered to the little lake and duly fits into its place.
On one side of the ring - now the lake - a series of embankments rise to the musicians' gallery. At the proper moment, generally when the attention of the audience is directed to the final preparations in the circle below, there is a gush of water from under the gallery, and a fine cascade splashes its way over the embankments down to the now completed tank. Generally somebody screams at the first roar of the water; then everybody joins in shouts and stampings of applause at the sight of the waterfall, which dances and sparkles and splutters in the rays of the electric light. The cascade is, indeed, one of the great features of the show; for the electric glare changes in hue, until the bubbling torrent, from seeming like a flood of very green sea-water, turns to a crimson and then to a golden shower, and is once more foaming white again.
And then, while the water is splashing, and the people are laughing and chattering, and the band is performing with great energy, the clowns toss several screaming ducks into the lake, which is, of course, in a very turbulent state, and gives the ducks a good deal to do for a little while. Very soon, however, the ducks make themselves at home, and the Spectators take as much interest in seeing the fowl swim about as if the sight really were very novel indeed.