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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Three Men in a Boat -> Chapter 4

Three Men in a Boat - Chapter 4

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



THEN we discussed the food question. George said:

"Begin with breakfast." (George is so practical.) "Now for breakfast we
shall want a frying-pan" - (Harris said it was indigestible; but we
merely urged him not to be an ass, and George went on) - "a tea-pot and a
kettle, and a methylated spirit stove."

"No oil," said George, with a significant look; and Harris and I agreed.

We had taken up an oil-stove once, but "never again." It had been like
living in an oil-shop that week. It oozed. I never saw such a thing as
paraffine oil is to ooze. We kept it in the nose of the boat, and, from
there, it oozed down to the rudder, impregnating the whole boat and
everything in it on its way, and it oozed over the river, and saturated
the scenery and spoilt the atmosphere. Sometimes a westerly oily wind
blew, and at other times an easterly oily wind, and sometimes it blew a
northerly oily wind, and maybe a southerly oily wind; but whether it came
from the Arctic snows, or was raised in the waste of the desert sands, it
came alike to us laden with the fragrance of paraffine oil.

And that oil oozed up and ruined the sunset; and as for the moonbeams,
they positively reeked of paraffine.

We tried to get away from it at Marlow. We left the boat by the bridge,
and took a walk through the town to escape it, but it followed us. The
whole town was full of oil. We passed through the church-yard, and it
seemed as if the people had been buried in oil. The High Street stunk of
oil; we wondered how people could live in it. And we walked miles upon
miles out Birmingham way; but it was no use, the country was steeped in

At the end of that trip we met together at midnight in a lonely field,
under a blasted oak, and took an awful oath (we had been swearing for a
whole week about the thing in an ordinary, middle-class way, but this was
a swell affair) - an awful oath never to take paraffine oil with us in a
boat again-except, of course, in case of sickness.

Therefore, in the present instance, we confined ourselves to methylated
spirit. Even that is bad enough. You get methylated pie and methylated
cake. But methylated spirit is more wholesome when taken into the system
in large quantities than paraffine oil.

For other breakfast things, George suggested eggs and bacon, which were
easy to cook, cold meat, tea, bread and butter, and jam. For lunch, he
said, we could have biscuits, cold meat, bread and butter, and jam - but
NO CHEESE. Cheese, like oil, makes too much of itself. It wants the
whole boat to itself. It goes through the hamper, and gives a cheesy
flavour to everything else there. You can't tell whether you are eating
apple-pie or German sausage, or strawberries and cream. It all seems
cheese. There is too much odour about cheese.

I remember a friend of mine, buying a couple of cheeses at Liverpool.
Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred
horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry
three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards. I was in
Liverpool at the time, and my friend said that if I didn't mind he would
get me to take them back with me to London, as he should not be coming up
for a day or two himself, and he did not think the cheeses ought to be
kept much longer.

"Oh, with pleasure, dear boy," I replied, "with pleasure."

I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab. It was a
ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded
somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during
conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the cheeses on the top, and
we started off at a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest
steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we
turned the corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses full
on to our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed
off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and
before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the
rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old
ladies simply nowhere.

It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at the station;
and I do not think they would have done it, even then, had not one of the
men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to
light a bit of brown paper.

I took my ticket, and marched proudly up the platform, with my cheeses,
the people falling back respectfully on either side. The train was
crowded, and I had to get into a carriage where there were already seven
other people. One crusty old gentleman objected, but I got in,
notwithstanding; and, putting my cheeses upon the rack, squeezed down
with a pleasant smile, and said it was a warm day.

A few moments passed, and then the old gentleman began to fidget.

"Very close in here," he said.

"Quite oppressive," said the man next him.

And then they both began sniffing, and, at the third sniff, they caught
it right on the chest, and rose up without another word and went out.
And then a stout lady got up, and said it was disgraceful that a
respectable married woman should be harried about in this way, and
gathered up a bag and eight parcels and went. The remaining four
passengers sat on for a while, until a solemn-looking man in the corner,
who, from his dress and general appearance, seemed to belong to the
undertaker class, said it put him in mind of dead baby; and the other
three passengers tried to get out of the door at the same time, and hurt

I smiled at the black gentleman, and said I thought we were going to have
the carriage to ourselves; and he laughed pleasantly, and said that some
people made such a fuss over a little thing. But even he grew strangely
depressed after we had started, and so, when we reached Crewe, I asked
him to come and have a drink. He accepted, and we forced our way into
the buffet, where we yelled, and stamped, and waved our umbrellas for a
quarter of an hour; and then a young lady came, and asked us if we wanted

"What's yours?" I said, turning to my friend.

"I'll have half-a-crown's worth of brandy, neat, if you please, miss," he

And he went off quietly after he had drunk it and got into another
carriage, which I thought mean.

From Crewe I had the compartment to myself, though the train was crowded.
As we drew up at the different stations, the people, seeing my empty
carriage, would rush for it. "Here y' are, Maria; come along, plenty of
room." "All right, Tom; we'll get in here," they would shout. And they
would run along, carrying heavy bags, and fight round the door to get in
first. And one would open the door and mount the steps, and stagger back
into the arms of the man behind him; and they would all come and have a
sniff, and then droop off and squeeze into other carriages, or pay the
difference and go first.

From Euston, I took the cheeses down to my friend's house. When his wife
came into the room she smelt round for an instant. Then she said:

"What is it? Tell me the worst."

I said:

"It's cheeses. Tom bought them in Liverpool, and asked me to bring them
up with me."

And I added that I hoped she understood that it had nothing to do with
me; and she said that she was sure of that, but that she would speak to
Tom about it when he came back.

My friend was detained in Liverpool longer than he expected; and, three
days later, as he hadn't returned home, his wife called on me. She said:

"What did Tom say about those cheeses?"

I replied that he had directed they were to be kept in a moist place, and
that nobody was to touch them.

She said:

"Nobody's likely to touch them. Had he smelt them?"

I thought he had, and added that he seemed greatly attached to them.

"You think he would be upset," she queried, "if I gave a man a sovereign
to take them away and bury them?"

I answered that I thought he would never smile again.

An idea struck her. She said:

"Do you mind keeping them for him? Let me send them round to you."

"Madam," I replied, "for myself I like the smell of cheese, and the
journey the other day with them from Liverpool I shall ever look back
upon as a happy ending to a pleasant holiday. But, in this world, we
must consider others. The lady under whose roof I have the honour of
residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan too. She
has a strong, I may say an eloquent, objection to being what she terms
`put upon.' The presence of your husband's cheeses in her house she
would, I instinctively feel, regard as a `put upon'; and it shall never
be said that I put upon the widow and the orphan."

"Very well, then," said my friend's wife, rising, "all I have to say is,
that I shall take the children and go to an hotel until those cheeses are
eaten. I decline to live any longer in the same house with them."

She kept her word, leaving the place in charge of the charwoman, who,
when asked if she could stand the smell, replied, "What smell?" and who,
when taken close to the cheeses and told to sniff hard, said she could
detect a faint odour of melons. It was argued from this that little
injury could result to the woman from the atmosphere, and she was left.

The hotel bill came to fifteen guineas; and my friend, after reckoning
everything up, found that the cheeses had cost him eight-and-sixpence a
pound. He said he dearly loved a bit of cheese, but it was beyond his
means; so he determined to get rid of them. He threw them into the
canal; but had to fish them out again, as the bargemen complained. They
said it made them feel quite faint. And, after that, he took them one
dark night and left them in the parish mortuary. But the coroner
discovered them, and made a fearful fuss.

He said it was a plot to deprive him of his living by waking up the

My friend got rid of them, at last, by taking them down to a sea-side
town, and burying them on the beach. It gained the place quite a
reputation. Visitors said they had never noticed before how strong the
air was, and weak-chested and consumptive people used to throng there for
years afterwards.

Fond as I am of cheese, therefore, I hold that George was right in
declining to take any.

"We shan't want any tea," said George (Harris's face fell at this); "but
we'll have a good round, square, slap-up meal at seven - dinner, tea, and
supper combined."

Harris grew more cheerful. George suggested meat and fruit pies, cold
meat, tomatoes, fruit, and green stuff. For drink, we took some
wonderful sticky concoction of Harris's, which you mixed with water and
called lemonade, plenty of tea, and a bottle of whisky, in case, as
George said, we got upset.

It seemed to me that George harped too much on the getting-upset idea.
It seemed to me the wrong spirit to go about the trip in.

But I'm glad we took the whisky.

We didn't take beer or wine. They are a mistake up the river. They make
you feel sleepy and heavy. A glass in the evening when you are doing a
mouch round the town and looking at the girls is all right enough; but
don't drink when the sun is blazing down on your head, and you've got
hard work to do.

We made a list of the things to be taken, and a pretty lengthy one it
was, before we parted that evening. The next day, which was Friday, we
got them all together, and met in the evening to pack. We got a big
Gladstone for the clothes, and a couple of hampers for the victuals and
the cooking utensils. We moved the table up against the window, piled
everything in a heap in the middle of the floor, and sat round and looked
at it.

I said I'd pack.

I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things
that I feel I know more about than any other person living. (It
surprises me myself, sometimes, how many of these subjects there are.) I
impressed the fact upon George and Harris, and told them that they had
better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the
suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George
put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked
his legs on the table and lit a cigar.

This was hardly what I intended. What I had meant, of course, was, that
I should boss the job, and that Harris and George should potter about
under my directions, I pushing them aside every now and then with, "Oh,
you - !" "Here, let me do it." "There you are, simple enough!" - really
teaching them, as you might say. Their taking it in the way they did
irritated me. There is nothing does irritate me more than seeing other
people sitting about doing nothing when I'm working.

I lived with a man once who used to make me mad that way. He would loll
on the sofa and watch me doing things by the hour together, following me
round the room with his eyes, wherever I went. He said it did him real
good to look on at me, messing about. He said it made him feel that life
was not an idle dream to be gaped and yawned through, but a noble task,
full of duty and stern work. He said he often wondered now how he could
have gone on before he met me, never having anybody to look at while they

Now, I'm not like that. I can't sit still and see another man slaving
and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my
hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature.
I can't help it.

However, I did not say anything, but started the packing. It seemed a
longer job than I had thought it was going to be; but I got the bag
finished at last, and I sat on it and strapped it.

"Ain't you going to put the boots in?" said Harris.

And I looked round, and found I had forgotten them. That's just like
Harris. He couldn't have said a word until I'd got the bag shut and
strapped, of course. And George laughed - one of those irritating,
senseless, chuckle-headed, crack-jawed laughs of his. They do make me so

I opened the bag and packed the boots in; and then, just as I was going
to close it, a horrible idea occurred to me. Had I packed my tooth-
brush? I don't know how it is, but I never do know whether I've packed
my tooth-brush.

My tooth-brush is a thing that haunts me when I'm travelling, and makes
my life a misery. I dream that I haven't packed it, and wake up in a
cold perspiration, and get out of bed and hunt for it. And, in the
morning, I pack it before I have used it, and have to unpack again to get
it, and it is always the last thing I turn out of the bag; and then I
repack and forget it, and have to rush upstairs for it at the last moment
and carry it to the railway station, wrapped up in my pocket-

Of course I had to turn every mortal thing out now, and, of course, I
could not find it. I rummaged the things up into much the same state
that they must have been before the world was created, and when chaos
reigned. Of course, I found George's and Harris's eighteen times over,
but I couldn't find my own. I put the things back one by one, and held
everything up and shook it. Then I found it inside a boot. I repacked
once more.

When I had finished, George asked if the soap was in. I said I didn't
care a hang whether the soap was in or whether it wasn't; and I slammed
the bag to and strapped it, and found that I had packed my tobacco-pouch
in it, and had to re-open it. It got shut up finally at 10.5 p.m., and
then there remained the hampers to do. Harris said that we should be
wanting to start in less than twelve hours' time, and thought that he and
George had better do the rest; and I agreed and sat down, and they had a

They began in a light-hearted spirit, evidently intending to show me how
to do it. I made no comment; I only waited. When George is hanged,
Harris will be the worst packer in this world; and I looked at the piles
of plates and cups, and kettles, and bottles and jars, and pies, and
stoves, and cakes, and tomatoes, &c., and felt that the thing would soon
become exciting.

It did. They started with breaking a cup. That was the first thing they
did. They did that just to show you what they COULD do, and to get you

Then Harris packed the strawberry jam on top of a tomato and squashed it,
and they had to pick out the tomato with a teaspoon.

And then it was George's turn, and he trod on the butter. I didn't say
anything, but I came over and sat on the edge of the table and watched
them. It irritated them more than anything I could have said. I felt
that. It made them nervous and excited, and they stepped on things, and
put things behind them, and then couldn't find them when they wanted
them; and they packed the pies at the bottom, and put heavy things on
top, and smashed the pies in.

They upset salt over everything, and as for the butter! I never saw two
men do more with one-and-twopence worth of butter in my whole life than
they did. After George had got it off his slipper, they tried to put it
in the kettle. It wouldn't go in, and what WAS in wouldn't come out.
They did scrape it out at last, and put it down on a chair, and Harris
sat on it, and it stuck to him, and they went looking for it all over the

"I'll take my oath I put it down on that chair," said George, staring at
the empty seat.

"I saw you do it myself, not a minute ago," said Harris.

Then they started round the room again looking for it; and then they met
again in the centre, and stared at one another.

"Most extraordinary thing I ever heard of," said George.

"So mysterious!" said Harris.

Then George got round at the back of Harris and saw it.

"Why, here it is all the time," he exclaimed, indignantly.

"Where?" cried Harris, spinning round.

"Stand still, can't you!" roared George, flying after him.

And they got it off, and packed it in the teapot.

Montmorency was in it all, of course. Montmorency's ambition in life, is
to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere where he
particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people
mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day has not
been wasted.

To get somebody to stumble over him, and curse him steadily for an hour,
is his highest aim and object; and, when he has succeeded in
accomplishing this, his conceit becomes quite unbearable.

He came and sat down on things, just when they were wanted to be packed;
and he laboured under the fixed belief that, whenever Harris or George
reached out their hand for anything, it was his cold, damp nose that they
wanted. He put his leg into the jam, and he worried the teaspoons, and
he pretended that the lemons were rats, and got into the hamper and
killed three of them before Harris could land him with the frying-pan.

Harris said I encouraged him. I didn't encourage him. A dog like that
don't want any encouragement. It's the natural, original sin that is
born in him that makes him do things like that.

The packing was done at 12.50; and Harris sat on the big hamper, and said
he hoped nothing would be found broken. George said that if anything was
broken it was broken, which reflection seemed to comfort him. He also
said he was ready for bed.

We were all ready for bed. Harris was to sleep with us that night, and
we went upstairs.

We tossed for beds, and Harris had to sleep with me. He said:

"Do you prefer the inside or the outside, J.?"

I said I generally preferred to sleep INSIDE a bed.

Harris said it was old.

George said:

"What time shall I wake you fellows?"

Harris said:


I said:

"No - six," because I wanted to write some letters.

Harris and I had a bit of a row over it, but at last split the
difference, and said half-past six.

"Wake us at 6.30, George," we said.

George made no answer, and we found, on going over, that he had been
asleep for some time; so we placed the bath where he could tumble into it
on getting out in the morning, and went to bed ourselves.

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