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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Three Men in a Boat -> Chapter 3

Three Men in a Boat - Chapter 3

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Chapter 17

18. Chapter 18

19. Chapter 19



SO, on the following evening, we again assembled, to discuss and arrange
our plans. Harris said:

"Now, the first thing to settle is what to take with us. Now, you get a
bit of paper and write down, J., and you get the grocery catalogue,
George, and somebody give me a bit of pencil, and then I'll make out a

That's Harris all over - so ready to take the burden of everything
himself, and put it on the backs of other people.

He always reminds me of my poor Uncle Podger. You never saw such a
commotion up and down a house, in all your life, as when my Uncle Podger
undertook to do a job. A picture would have come home from the frame-
maker's, and be standing in the dining-room, waiting to be put up; and
Aunt Podger would ask what was to be done with it, and Uncle Podger would

"Oh, you leave that to ME. Don't you, any of you, worry yourselves about
that. I'LL do all that."

And then he would take off his coat, and begin. He would send the girl
out for sixpen'orth of nails, and then one of the boys after her to tell
her what size to get; and, from that, he would gradually work down, and
start the whole house.

"Now you go and get me my hammer, Will," he would shout; "and you bring
me the rule, Tom; and I shall want the step-ladder, and I had better have
a kitchen-chair, too; and, Jim! you run round to Mr. Goggles, and tell
him, `Pa's kind regards, and hopes his leg's better; and will he lend him
his spirit-level?' And don't you go, Maria, because I shall want
somebody to hold me the light; and when the girl comes back, she must go
out again for a bit of picture-cord; and Tom! - where's Tom? - Tom, you
come here; I shall want you to hand me up the picture."

And then he would lift up the picture, and drop it, and it would come out
of the frame, and he would try to save the glass, and cut himself; and
then he would spring round the room, looking for his handkerchief. He
could not find his handkerchief, because it was in the pocket of the coat
he had taken off, and he did not know where he had put the coat, and all
the house had to leave off looking for his tools, and start looking for
his coat; while he would dance round and hinder them.

"Doesn't anybody in the whole house know where my coat is? I never came
across such a set in all my life - upon my word I didn't. Six of you! -
and you can't find a coat that I put down not five minutes ago! Well, of
all the - "

Then he'd get up, and find that he had been sitting on it, and would call

"Oh, you can give it up! I've found it myself now. Might just as well
ask the cat to find anything as expect you people to find it."

And, when half an hour had been spent in tying up his finger, and a new
glass had been got, and the tools, and the ladder, and the chair, and the
candle had been brought, he would have another go, the whole family,
including the girl and the charwoman, standing round in a semi-circle,
ready to help. Two people would have to hold the chair, and a third
would help him up on it, and hold him there, and a fourth would hand him
a nail, and a fifth would pass him up the hammer, and he would take hold
of the nail, and drop it.

"There!" he would say, in an injured tone, "now the nail's gone."

And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for it, while he
would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to know if he was to be
kept there all the evening.

The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would have lost the

"Where's the hammer? What did I do with the hammer? Great heavens!
Seven of you, gaping round there, and you don't know what I did with the

We would find the hammer for him, and then he would have lost sight of
the mark he had made on the wall, where the nail was to go in, and each
of us had to get up on the chair, beside him, and see if we could find
it; and we would each discover it in a different place, and he would call
us all fools, one after another, and tell us to get down. And he would
take the rule, and re-measure, and find that he wanted half thirty-one
and three-eighths inches from the corner, and would try to do it in his
head, and go mad.

And we would all try to do it in our heads, and all arrive at different
results, and sneer at one another. And in the general row, the original
number would be forgotten, and Uncle Podger would have to measure it

He would use a bit of string this time, and at the critical moment, when
the old fool was leaning over the chair at an angle of forty-five, and
trying to reach a point three inches beyond what was possible for him to
reach, the string would slip, and down he would slide on to the piano, a
really fine musical effect being produced by the suddenness with which
his head and body struck all the notes at the same time.

And Aunt Maria would say that she would not allow the children to stand
round and hear such language.

At last, Uncle Podger would get the spot fixed again, and put the point
of the nail on it with his left hand, and take the hammer in his right
hand. And, with the first blow, he would smash his thumb, and drop the
hammer, with a yell, on somebody's toes.

Aunt Maria would mildly observe that, next time Uncle Podger was going to
hammer a nail into the wall, she hoped he'd let her know in time, so that
she could make arrangements to go and spend a week with her mother while
it was being done.

"Oh! you women, you make such a fuss over everything," Uncle Podger would
reply, picking himself up. "Why, I LIKE doing a little job of this

And then he would have another try, and, at the second blow, the nail
would go clean through the plaster, and half the hammer after it, and
Uncle Podger be precipitated against the wall with force nearly
sufficient to flatten his nose.

Then we had to find the rule and the string again, and a new hole was
made; and, about midnight, the picture would be up - very crooked and
insecure, the wall for yards round looking as if it had been smoothed
down with a rake, and everybody dead beat and wretched - except Uncle

"There you are," he would say, stepping heavily off the chair on to the
charwoman's corns, and surveying the mess he had made with evident pride.
"Why, some people would have had a man in to do a little thing like

Harris will be just that sort of man when he grows up, I know, and I told
him so. I said I could not permit him to take so much labour upon
himself. I said:

"No; YOU get the paper, and the pencil, and the catalogue, and George
write down, and I'll do the work."

The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the
upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat
sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable;
so we tore the list up, and looked at one another!

George said:

"You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the
things we could do with, but only of the things that we can't do

George comes out really quite sensible at times. You'd be surprised. I
call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but
with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many
people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of
swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the
pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big
houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not
care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha'pence for;
with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and
fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with - oh, heaviest, maddest
lumber of all! - the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries
that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the
criminal's iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head
that wears it!

It is lumber, man - all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat
so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so
cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment's freedom
from anxiety and care, never gain a moment's rest for dreamy laziness -
no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o'er the shallows, or
the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the
great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods
all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-
waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with
only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two
friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat,
a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little
more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable
to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain
merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to
work. Time to drink in life's sunshine - time to listen to the AEolian
music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us -
time to -

I beg your pardon, really. I quite forgot.

Well, we left the list to George, and he began it.

"We won't take a tent, suggested George; "we will have a boat with a
cover. It is ever so much simpler, and more comfortable."

It seemed a good thought, and we adopted it. I do not know whether you
have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix iron hoops up over the boat,
and stretch a huge canvas over them, and fasten it down all round, from
stem to stern, and it converts the boat into a sort of little house, and
it is beautifully cosy, though a trifle stuffy; but there, everything has
its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came
down upon him for the funeral expenses.

George said that in that case we must take a rug each, a lamp, some soap,
a brush and comb (between us), a toothbrush (each), a basin, some tooth-
powder, some shaving tackle (sounds like a French exercise, doesn't it?),
and a couple of big-towels for bathing. I notice that people always make
gigantic arrangements for bathing when they are going anywhere near the
water, but that they don't bathe much when they are there.

It is the same when you go to the sea-side. I always determine - when
thinking over the matter in London - that I'll get up early every
morning, and go and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack
up a pair of drawers and a bath towel. I always get red bathing drawers.
I rather fancy myself in red drawers. They suit my complexion so. But
when I get to the sea I don't feel somehow that I want that early morning
bathe nearly so much as I did when I was in town.

On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till the last
moment, and then come down and have my breakfast. Once or twice virtue
has triumphed, and I have got out at six and half-dressed myself, and
have taken my drawers and towel, and stumbled dismally off. But I
haven't enjoyed it. They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind,
waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they pick
out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top, and they
sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a bit of sand so that
I can't see them, and they take the sea and put it two miles out, so that
I have to huddle myself up in my arms and hop, shivering, through six
inches of water. And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite

One huge wave catches me up and chucks me in a sitting posture, as hard
as ever it can, down on to a rock which has been put there for me. And,
before I've said "Oh! Ugh!" and found out what has gone, the wave comes
back and carries me out to mid-ocean. I begin to strike out frantically
for the shore, and wonder if I shall ever see home and friends again, and
wish I'd been kinder to my little sister when a boy (when I was a boy, I
mean). Just when I have given up all hope, a wave retires and leaves me
sprawling like a star-fish on the sand, and I get up and look back and
find that I've been swimming for my life in two feet of water. I hop
back and dress, and crawl home, where I have to pretend I liked it.

In the present instance, we all talked as if we were going to have a long
swim every morning.

George said it was so pleasant to wake up in the boat in the fresh
morning, and plunge into the limpid river. Harris said there was nothing
like a swim before breakfast to give you an appetite. He said it always
gave him an appetite. George said that if it was going to make Harris
eat more than Harris ordinarily ate, then he should protest against
Harris having a bath at all.

He said there would be quite enough hard work in towing sufficient food
for Harris up against stream, as it was.

I urged upon George, however, how much pleasanter it would be to have
Harris clean and fresh about the boat, even if we did have to take a few
more hundredweight of provisions; and he got to see it in my light, and
withdrew his opposition to Harris's bath.

Agreed, finally, that we should take THREE bath towels, so as not to keep
each other waiting.

For clothes, George said two suits of flannel would be sufficient, as we
could wash them ourselves, in the river, when they got dirty. We asked
him if he had ever tried washing flannels in the river, and he replied:
"No, not exactly himself like; but he knew some fellows who had, and it
was easy enough;" and Harris and I were weak enough to fancy he knew what
he was talking about, and that three respectable young men, without
position or influence, and with no experience in washing, could really
clean their own shirts and trousers in the river Thames with a bit of

We were to learn in the days to come, when it was too late, that George
was a miserable impostor, who could evidently have known nothing whatever
about the matter. If you had seen these clothes after - but, as the
shilling shockers say, we anticipate.

George impressed upon us to take a change of under-things and plenty of
socks, in case we got upset and wanted a change; also plenty of
handkerchiefs, as they would do to wipe things, and a pair of leather
boots as well as our boating shoes, as we should want them if we got

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