Three Men in a Boat
- Pages: 16
- Word count: 3949
- Category: Boat
A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteedOrder Now
I never saw a man’s face change from lively to severe so suddenly in all my life before….. I was very cold when I got back into the boat, and, in my hurry to get my shirt on, I accidentally jerked it into the water. It made me awfully wild, especially as George burst out laughing. I could not see anything to laugh at, and I told George so, and he only laughed the more. I never saw a man laugh so much. I quite lost my temper with him at last, and I pointed out to him what a drivelling maniac of an imbecile idiot he was; but he only roared the louder. And then, just as I was landing the shirt, I noticed that it was not my shirt at all, but George’s, which I had mistaken for mine; whereupon the humour of the thing struck me for the first time, and I began to laugh.
And the more I looked from George’s wet shirt to George, roaring with laughter, the more I was amused, and I laughed so much that I had to let the shirt fall back into the water again. ‘Aren’t you – you – going to get it out?’ said George between his shrieks. I could not answer him for a while, I was laughing so, but at last, between my peals I managed to jerk out: ‘It isn’t my shirt – it’s your!’ I never saw a man’s face change from lively to severe so suddenly in all my life before. I tried to make him see the fun of the thing, but he could not. George is very dense at seeing a joke sometimes. He laughs best who laughs last
“Speak”, he cried, ‘and tell us whether you are alive or dead….and where is the rest of you?”
Half-way up the backwater, we got out and lunched; and it was during this lunch that George and I received rather a trying shock. Harris received a shock, too; but I do not think Harris’s shock could have been anything like so bad as the shock that George and I had over the business. You see, it was in this way: we were sitting in a meadow, about ten yards from the water’s edge, and we had just settled down comfortably to feed. Harris had the beefsteak pie between his knees, and was carving it, and George and I were waiting with our plates ready. “Have you got a spoon there?” says Harris; “I want a spoon to help the gravy with.” The hamper was close behind us, and George and I both turned round to reach one out. We were not five seconds getting it. When we looked round again, Harris and the pie were gone! It was a wide, open field. There was not a tree or a bit of hedge for hundreds of yards. He could not have tumbled into the river, because we were on the water side of him, and he would have had to climb over us to do it. George and I gazed all about. Then we gazed at each other.
“Has he been snatched up to heaven?” I queried.
“They’d hardly have taken the pie too,” said George.
There seemed weight in this objection, and we discarded the heavenly theory. “I suppose the truth of the matter is,” suggested George, descending to the commonplace and practicable, “that there has been an earthquake.” And then he added, with a touch of sadness in his voice: “I wish he hadn’t been carving that pie.” With a sigh, we turned our eyes once more towards the spot where Harris and the pie had last been seen on earth; and there, as our blood froze in our veins and our hair stood up on end, we saw Harris’s head – and nothing but his head – sticking bolt upright among the tall grass, the face very red, and bearing upon it an expression of great indignation! George was the first to recover.
“Speak!” he cried, “and tell us whether you are alive or dead – and where is the rest of you?” “Oh, don’t be a stupid ass!” said Harris’s head. “I believe you did it on purpose.” “Did what?” exclaimed George and I.
” Why, put me to sit here – darn silly trick! Here, catch hold of the pie.” And out of the middle of the earth, as it seemed to us, rose the pie – very much mixed up and damaged; and, after it, scrambled Harris – tumbled, grubby, and wet. He had been sitting, without knowing it, on the very verge of a small gully, the long grass hiding it from view; and in leaning a little back he had shot over, pie and all. He said he had never felt so surprised in all his life, as when he first felt himself going, without being able to conjecture in the slightest what had happened. He thought at first that the end of the world had come. Harris believes to this day that George and I planned it all beforehand. Thus does unjust suspicion follow even the most blameless for, as the poet says, “Who shall escape calumny?” Who, indeed!
“If you never try a new thing, how can you tell what it’s like? It’s men such as you that hamper the world’s progress. Think of the man who first tried German sausage!”
It seemed a fascinating idea. George gathered wood and made a fire, and Harris and I started to peel the potatoes. I should never have thought that peeling potatoes was such an undertaking. The job turned out to be the biggest thing of its kind that I had ever been in. We began cheerfully, one might almost say skittishly, but our light-heartedness was gone by the time the first potato was finished. The more we peeled, the more peel there seemed to be left on; by the time we had got all the peel off and all the eyes out, there was no potato left – at least none worth speaking of. George came and had a look at it – it was about the size of a pea-nut. He said: “Oh, that won’t do! You’re wasting them. You must scrape them.” So we scraped them, and that was harder work than peeling. They are such an extraordinary shape, potatoes – all bumps and warts and hollows. We worked steadily for five-and-twenty minutes, and did four potatoes. Then we struck. We said we should require the rest of the evening for scraping ourselves. I never saw such a thing as potato-scraping for making a fellow in a mess. It seemed difficult to believe that the potato-scrapings in which Harris and I stood, half smothered, could have come off four potatoes.
It shows you what can be done with economy and care. George said it was absurd to have only four potatoes in an Irish stew, so we washed half-a-dozen or so more, and put them in without peeling. We also put in a cabbage and about half a peck of peas. George stirred it all up, and then he said that there seemed to be a lot of room to spare, so we overhauled both the hampers, and picked out all the odds and ends and the remnants, and added them to the stew. There were half a pork pie and a bit of cold boiled bacon left, and we put them in. Then George found half a tin of potted salmon, and he emptied that into the pot. He said that was the advantage of Irish stew: you got rid of such a lot of things. I fished out a couple of eggs that had got cracked, and put those in.
George said they would thicken the gravy. I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water- rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a genuine desire to assist, I cannot say. We had a discussion as to whether the rat should go in or not. Harris said that he thought it would be all right, mixed up with the other things, and that every little helped; but George stood up for precedent. He said he had never heard of water-rats in Irish stew, and he would rather be on the safe side, and not try experiments. Harris said:
“If you never try a new thing, how can you tell what it’s like? It’s men such as you that hamper the world’s progress. Think of the man who first tried German sausage!” It was a great success, that Irish stew. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a meal more. There was something so fresh and piquant about it. One’s palate gets so tired of the old hackneyed things: here was a dish with a new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth. And it was nourishing, too. As George said, there was good stuff in it. The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good teeth, so that did not matter much: and as for the gravy, it was a poem – a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious. Q. Describe montmorencys encounter with the kettle and its results?
Throughout the trip, he had manifested great curiosity concerning the kettle. He would sit and watch it, as it boiled, with a puzzled expression, and would try and rouse it every now and then by growling at it. When it began to splutter and steam, he regarded it as a challenge, and would want to fight it, only, at that precise moment, some one would always dash up and bear off his prey before he could get at it. To-day he determined he would be beforehand. At the first sound the kettle made, he rose, growling, and advanced towards it in a threatening attitude. It was only a little kettle, but it was full of pluck, and it up and spit at him. “Ah! would ye!” growled Montmorency, showing his teeth; “I’ll teach ye to cheek a hard-working, respectable dog; ye miserable, long-nosed, dirty- looking scoundrel, ye. Come on!” And he rushed at that poor little kettle, and seized it by the spout. Then, across the evening stillness, broke a blood-curdling yelp, and Montmorency left the boat, and did a constitutional three times round the island at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour, stopping every now and then to bury his nose in a bit of cool mud. From that day Montmorency regarded the kettle with a mixture of awe, suspicion, and hate. Whenever he saw it he would growl and back at a rapid rate, with his tail shut down, and the moment it was put upon the stove he would promptly climb out of the boat, and sit on the bank, till the whole tea business was over.
Q. George and his failure to play the banjo reminded the writer of another young fellow who was trying to play the bag pipe. What happend to the young man and his attempt? Did he succeed in the end or fail?
George got out his banjo after supper, and wanted to play it, but Harris objected: he said he had got a headache, and did not feel strong enough to stand it. George thought the music might do him good—said music often soothed the nerves and took away a headache; and he twanged two or three notes, just to show Harris what it was like. Harris said he would rather have the headache.
George has never learned to play the banjo to this day. He has had too much all-round discouragement to meet. He tried on two or three evenings, while we were up the river, to get a little practice, but it was never a success. Harris’s language used to be enough to unnerve any man; added to which, Montmorency would sit and howl steadily, right through the performance. It was not giving the man a fair chance. “What’s he want to howl like that for when I’m playing?” George would exclaim indignantly, while taking aim at him with a boot. “What do you want to play like that for when he is howling?” Harris would retort, catching the boot. “You let him alone. He can’t help howling. He’s got a musical ear, and your playing makes him howl.” So George determined to postpone study of the banjo until he reached home. But he did not get much opportunity even there. Mrs. P. used to come up and say she was very sorry—for herself, she liked to hear him—but the lady upstairs was in a very delicate state, and the doctor was afraid it might injure the child.
Then George tried taking it out with him late at night, and practising round the square. But the inhabitants complained to the police about it, and a watch was set for him one night, and he was captured. The evidence against him was very clear, and he was bound over to keep the peace for six months. He seemed to lose heart in the business after that. He did make one or two feeble efforts to take up the work again when the six months had elapsed, but there was always the same coldness—the same want of sympathy on the part of the world to fight against; and, after awhile, he despaired altogether, and advertised the instrument for sale at a great sacrifice—“owner having no further use for same”—and took to learning card tricks instead. It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t! I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with.
Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject. My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that. So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse. So they let him practise in the day-time, in the back-kitchen with all the doors shut; but his more successful passages could generally be heard in the sitting-room, in spite of these precautions, and would affect his mother almost to tears.
She said it put her in mind of her poor father (he had been swallowed by a shark, poor man, while bathing off the coast of New Guinea—where the connection came in, she could not explain). Then they knocked up a little place for him at the bottom of the garden, about quarter of a mile from the house, and made him take the machine down there when he wanted to work it; and sometimes a visitor would come to the house who knew nothing of the matter, and they would forget to tell him all about it, and caution him, and he would go out for a stroll round the garden and suddenly get within earshot of those bagpipes, without being prepared for it, or knowing what it was. If he were a man of strong mind, it only gave him fits; but a person of mere average intellect it usually sent mad.
There is, it must be confessed, something very sad about the early efforts of an amateur in bagpipes. I have felt that myself when listening to my young friend. They appear to be a trying instrument to perform upon. You have to get enough breath for the whole tune before you start—at least, so I gathered from watching Jefferson. He would begin magnificently with a wild, full, come-to-the-battle sort of a note, that quite roused you. But he would get more and more piano as he went on, and the last verse generally collapsed in the middle with a splutter and a hiss. You want to be in good health to play the bagpipes.
Young Jefferson only learnt to play one tune on those bagpipes; but I never heard any complaints about the insufficiency of his repertoire—none whatever. This tune was “The Campbells are Coming, Hooray—Hooray!” so he said, though his father always held that it was “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” Nobody seemed quite sure what it was exactly, but they all agreed that it sounded Scotch. Strangers were allowed three guesses, and most of them guessed a different tune each time. 6. The attitude and behaviour of the friends was different when they were in a steam launch. They talked about rowing bots…..
When we got down to the landing-stage, the boatman said:
“Let me see, sir; was yours a steam-launch or a house-boat?” On our informing him it was a double-sculling skiff, he seemed surprised. We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers; some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it. There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack of rousing every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows. The expression on the face of the man who, with his hands in his pockets, stands by the stern, smoking a cigar, is sufficient to excuse a breach of the peace by itself; and the lordly whistle for you to get out of the way would, I am confident, ensure a verdict of “justifiable homicide” from any jury of river men. They used to have to whistle for us to get out of their way.
If I may do so, without appearing boastful, I think I can honestly say that our one small boat, during that week, caused more annoyance and delay and aggravation to the steam launches that we came across than all the other craft on the river put together. “Steam launch, coming!” one of us would cry out, on sighting the enemy in the distance; and, in an instant, everything was got ready to receive her. I would take the lines, and Harris and George would sit down beside me, all of us with our backs to the launch, and the boat would drift out quietly into mid-stream. On would come the launch, whistling, and on we would go, drifting.
At about a hundred yards off, she would start whistling like mad, and the people would come and lean over the side, and roar at us; but we never heard them! Harris would be telling us an anecdote about his mother, and George and I would not have missed a word of it for worlds. Then that launch would give one final shriek of a whistle that would nearly burst the boiler, and she would reverse her engines, and blow off steam, and swing round and get aground; everyone on board of it would rush to the bow and yell at us, and the people on the bank would stand and shout to us, and all the other passing boats would stop and join in, till the whole river for miles up and down was in a state of frantic commotion. And then Harris would break off in the most interesting part of his narrative, and look up with mild surprise, and say to George: “Why, George, bless me, if here isn’t a steam launch!” And George would answer:
“Well, do you know, I thought I heard something!”
Upon which we would get nervous and confused, and not know how to get the boat out of the way, and the people in the launch would crowd round and instruct us: “Pull your right — you, you idiot! back with your left. No, not you — the other one — leave the lines alone, can’t you — now, both together. not that way. Oh, you —!” Then they would lower a boat and come to our assistance; and, after quarter of an hour’s effort, would get us clean out of their way, so that they could go on; and we would thank them so much, and ask them to give us a tow. But they never would. Another good way we discovered of irritating the aristocratic type of steam launch, was to mistake them for a beanfeast, and ask them if they were Messrs. Cubit’s lot or the Bermondsey Good Templars, and could they lend us a saucepan. Old ladies, not accustomed to the river, are always intensely nervous of steam launches. I remember going up once from Staines to Windsor — a stretch of water peculiarly rich in these mechanical monstrosities — with a party containing three ladies of this description.
It was very exciting. At the first glimpse of every steam launch that came in view, they insisted on landing and sitting down on the bank until it was out of sight again. They said they were very sorry, but that they owed it to their families not to be fool-hardy. Describe the writer’s experience when he tried to learn rafting and sailing. I devoted some three months to rafting, and, being then as proficient as there was any need to be at that branch of the art, I determined to go in for rowing proper, and joined one of the Lea boating clubs. Being out in a boat on the river Lea, especially on Saturday afternoons, soon makes you smart at handling a craft, and spry at escaping being run down by roughs or swamped by barges; and it also affords plenty of opportunity for acquiring the most prompt and graceful method of lying down flat at the bottom of the boat so as to avoid being chucked out into the river by passing tow-lines. But it does not give you style. It was not till I came to the Thames that I got style. My style of rowing is very much admired now.