Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome - HTML preview
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CHAPTER I Three men need change--Anecdote showing evil result of deception-- Moral cowardice of George--Harris has ideas--Yarn of the Ancient Mariner and the Inexperienced Yachtsman--A hearty crew--Danger of sailing when the wind is off the land--Impossibility of sailing when the wind is off the sea--The argumentativeness of Ethelbertha-
-The dampness of the river--Harris suggests a bicycle tour--George thinks of the wind--Harris suggests the Black Forest--George thinks of the hills--Plan adopted by Harris for ascent of hills--
Interruption by Mrs. Harris.
At this moment the door opened, and Mrs. Harris put her head in to say that Ethelbertha had sent her to remind me that we must not be late getting home because of Clarence. Ethelbertha, I am inclined to think, is unnecessarily nervous about the children. As a matter of fact, there was nothing wrong with the child whatever. He had been out with his aunt that morning; and if he looks wistfully at a pastrycook's window she takes him inside and buys him cream buns and "maids-of-honour" until he insists that he has had enough, and politely, but firmly, refuses to eat another anything. Then, of course, he wants only one helping of pudding at lunch, and Ethelbertha thinks he is sickening for something. Mrs. Harris added that it would be as well for us to come upstairs soon, on our own account also, as otherwise we should miss Muriel's rendering of "The Mad Hatter's Tea Party," out of Alice in Wonderland. Muriel is Harris's second, age eight: she is a bright, intelligent child; but I prefer her myself in serious pieces. We said we would finish our cigarettes and follow almost immediately; we also begged her not to let Muriel begin until we arrived. She promised to hold the child back as long as possible, and went. Harris, as soon as the door was closed, resumed his interrupted sentence."You know what I mean," he said, "a complete change." The question was how to get it.
George suggested "business." It was the sort of suggestion George would make. A bachelor thinks a married woman doesn't know enough to get out of the way of a steam-roller. I knew a young fellow once, an engineer, who thought he would go to Vienna "on business." His wife wanted to know "what business?" He told her it would be his duty to visit the mines in the neighbourhood of the Austrian capital, and to make reports. She said she would go with him; she was that sort of woman. He tried to dissuade her: he told her that a mine was no place for a beautiful woman. She said she felt that herself, and that therefore she did not intend to accompany him down the shafts; she would see him off in the morning, and then amuse herself until his return, looking round the Vienna shops, and buying a few things she might want. Having started the idea, he did not see very well how to get out of it; and for ten long summer days he did visit the mines in the neighbourhood of Vienna, and in the evening wrote reports about them, which she posted for him to his firm, who didn't want them.
I should be grieved to think that either Ethelbertha or Mrs. Harris belonged to that class of wife, but it is as well not to overdo "business"--it should be kept for cases of real emergency.
"No," I said, "the thing is to be frank and manly. I shall tell Ethelbertha that I have come to the conclusion a man never values happiness that is always with him. I shall tell her that, for the sake of learning to appreciate my own advantages as I know they should be appreciated, I intend to tear myself away from her and the children for at least three weeks. I shall tell her," I
continued, turning to Harris, "that it is you who have shown me my duty in this respect; that it is to you we shall owe--"
"If you don't mind, old man," he interrupted, "I'd really rather you didn't. She'll talk it over with my wife, and--well, I should not be happy, taking credit that I do not deserve.""But you do deserve it," I insisted; "it was your suggestion."
"It was you gave me the idea," interrupted Harris again. "You know you said it was a mistake for a man to get into a groove, and that unbroken domesticity cloyed the brain.""I was speaking generally," I explained.
"It struck me as very apt," said Harris. "I thought of repeating it to Clara; she has a great opinion of your sense, I know. I am sure that if--"
"We won't risk it," I interrupted, in my turn; "it is a delicate matter, and I see a way out of it. We will say George suggested the idea."
There is a lack of genial helpfulness about George that it
sometimes vexes me to notice. You would have thought he would have welcomed the chance of assisting two old friends out of a dilemma; instead, he became disagreeable.
"You do," said George, "and I shall tell them both that my original plan was that we should make a party--children and all; that I should bring my aunt, and that we should hire a charming old chateau I know of in Normandy, on the coast, where the climate is peculiarly adapted to delicate children, and the milk such as you do not get in England. I shall add that you over-rode that suggestion, arguing we should be happier by ourselves."With a man like George kindness is of no use; you have to be firm.
"You do," said Harris, "and I, for one, will close with the offer. We will just take that chateau. You will bring your aunt--I will see to that,--and we will have a month of it. The children are all fond of you; J. and I will be nowhere. You've promised to teach Edgar fishing; and it is you who will have to play wild beasts. Since last Sunday Dick and Muriel have talked of nothing else but your hippopotamus. We will picnic in the woods--there will only be eleven of us,--and in the evenings we will have music and recitations. Muriel is master of six pieces already, as perhaps you know; and all the other children are quick studies."
George climbed down--he has no real courage--but he did not do it gracefully. He said that if we were mean and cowardly and false- hearted enough to stoop to such a shabby trick, he supposed he couldn't help it; and that if I didn't intend to finish the whole bottle of claret myself, he would trouble me to spare him a glass. He also added, somewhat illogically, that it really did not matter, seeing both Ethelbertha and Mrs. Harris were women of sense who would judge him better than to believe for a moment that the suggestion emanated from him.This little point settled, the question was: What sort of a change?
Harris, as usual, was for the sea. He said he knew a yacht, just the very thing--one that we could manage by ourselves; no skulking lot of lubbers loafing about, adding to the expense and taking away from the romance. Give him a handy boy, he would sail it himself. We knew that yacht, and we told him so; we had been on it with Harris before. It smells of bilge-water and greens to the exclusion of all other scents; no ordinary sea air can hope to head against it. So far as sense of smell is concerned, one might be spending a week in Limehouse Hole. There is no place to get out of the rain; the saloon is ten feet by four, and half of that is taken up by a stove, which falls to pieces when you go to light it. You have to take your bath on deck, and the towel blows overboard just as you step out of the tub. Harris and the boy do all the interesting work--the lugging and the reefing, the letting her go and the heeling her over, and all that sort of thing,--leaving George and myself to do the peeling of the potatoes and the washing up.
"Very well, then," said Harris, "let's take a proper yacht, with a skipper, and do the thing in style."
That also I objected to. I know that skipper; his notion of yachting is to lie in what he calls the "offing," where he can be well in touch with his wife and family, to say nothing of his favourite public-house.
Years ago, when I was young and inexperienced, I hired a yacht myself. Three things had combined to lead me into this foolishness: I had had a stroke of unexpected luck; Ethelbertha had expressed a yearning for sea air; and the very next morning, in taking up casually at the club a copy of the Sportsman, I had come across the following advertisement:-
TO YACHTSMEN.--Unique Opportunity.--"Rogue," 28-ton Yawl.--Owner, called away suddenly on business, is willing to let this superbly- fitted "greyhound of the sea" for any period short or long. Two cabins and saloon; pianette, by Woffenkoff; new copper. Terms, 10 guineas a week.--Apply Pertwee and Co., 3A Bucklersbury.
It had seemed to me like the answer to a prayer. "The new copper" did not interest me; what little washing we might want could wait, I thought. But the "pianette by Woffenkoff" sounded alluring. I pictured Ethelbertha playing in the evening--something with a chorus, in which, perhaps, the crew, with a little training, might join--while our moving home bounded, "greyhound-like," over the silvery billows.
I took a cab and drove direct to 3A Bucklersbury. Mr. Pertwee was an unpretentious-looking gentleman, who had an unostentatious office on the third floor. He showed me a picture in water-colours of the Rogue flying before the wind. The deck was at an angle of 95 to the ocean. In the picture no human beings were represented on the deck; I suppose they had slipped off. Indeed, I do not see how anyone could have kept on, unless nailed. I pointed out this disadvantage to the agent, who, however, explained to me that the picture represented the Rogue doubling something or other on the well-known occasion of her winning the Medway Challenge Shield. Mr. Pertwee assumed that I knew all about the event, so that I did not like to ask any questions. Two specks near the frame of the picture, which at first I had taken for moths, represented, it appeared, the second and third winners in this celebrated race. A photograph of the yacht at anchor off Gravesend was less impressive, but suggested more stability. All answers to my inquiries being satisfactory, I took the thing for a fortnight. Mr. Pertwee said it was fortunate I wanted it only for a fortnight-
-later on I came to agree with him,--the time fitting in exactly with another hiring. Had I required it for three weeks he would have been compelled to refuse me.
The letting being thus arranged, Mr. Pertwee asked me if I had a skipper in my eye. That I had not was also fortunate--things seemed to be turning out luckily for me all round,--because Mr. Pertwee felt sure I could not do better than keep on Mr. Goyles, at present in charge--an excellent skipper, so Mr. Pertwee assured me, a man who knew the sea as a man knows his own wife, and who had never lost a life.
It was still early in the day, and the yacht was lying off Harwich. I caught the ten forty-five from Liverpool Street, and by one o'clock was talking to Mr. Goyles on deck. He was a stout man, and had a fatherly way with him. I told him my idea, which was to take the outlying Dutch islands and then creep up to Norway. He said, "Aye, aye, sir," and appeared quite enthusiastic about the trip; said he should enjoy it himself. We came to the question of victualling, and he grew more enthusiastic. The amount of food suggested by Mr. Goyles, I confess, surprised me. Had we been living in the days of Drake and the Spanish Main, I should have feared he was arranging for something illegal. However, he laughed in his fatherly way, and assured me we were not overdoing it. Anything left the crew would divide and take home with them--it seemed this was the custom. It appeared to me that I was providing for this crew for the winter, but I did not like to appear stingy, and said no more. The amount of drink required also surprised me. I arranged for what I thought we should need for ourselves, and then Mr. Goyles spoke up for the crew. I must say that for him, he did think of his men."We don't want anything in the nature of an orgie, Mr. Goyles," I suggested. "Orgie!" replied Mr. Goyles; "why they'll take that little drop in their tea." He explained to me that his motto was, Get good men and treat them well. "They work better for you," said Mr. Goyles; "and they come again."
Personally, I didn't feel I wanted them to come again. I was beginning to take a dislike to them before I had seen them; I regarded them as a greedy and guzzling crew. But Mr. Goyles was so cheerfully emphatic, and I was so inexperienced, that again I let him have his way. He also promised that even in this department he would see to it personally that nothing was wasted.
I also left him to engage the crew. He said he could do the thing, and would, for me, with the help two men and a boy. If he was alluding to the clearing up of the victuals and drink, I think he was making an under-estimate; but possibly he may have been speaking of the sailing of the yacht.
I called at my tailors on the way home and ordered a yachting suit, with a white hat, which they promised to bustle up and have ready in time; and then I went home and told Ethelbertha all I had done. Her delight was clouded by only one reflection--would the dressmaker be able to finish a yachting costume for her in time? That is so like a woman.
Our honeymoon, which had taken place not very long before, had been somewhat curtailed, so we decided we would invite nobody, but have the yacht to ourselves. And thankful I am to Heaven that we did so decide. On Monday we put on all our clothes and started. I forget what Ethelbertha wore, but, whatever it may have been, it looked very fetching. My own costume was a dark blue trimmed with a narrow white braid, which, I think, was rather effective.
Mr. Goyles met us on deck, and told us that lunch was ready. I must admit Goyles had secured the services of a very fair cook. The capabilities of the other members of the crew I had no opportunity of judging. Speaking of them in a state of rest, however, I can say of them they appeared to be a cheerful crew.
My idea had been that so soon as the men had finished their dinner we would weigh anchor, while I, smoking a cigar, with Ethelbertha by my side, would lean over the gunwale and watch the white cliffs of the Fatherland sink imperceptibly into the horizon. Ethelbertha and I carried out our part of the programme, and waited, with the deck to ourselves."They seem to be taking their time," said Ethelbertha.
"If, in the course of fourteen days," I said, "they eat half of what is on this yacht, they will want a fairly long time for every meal. We had better not hurry them, or they won't get through a quarter of it.""They must have gone to sleep," said Ethelbertha, later on. "It will be tea-time soon."
They were certainly very quiet. I went for'ard, and hailed Captain Goyles down the ladder. I hailed him three times; then he came up slowly. He appeared to be a heavier and older man than when I had seen him last. He had a cold cigar in his mouth."When you are ready, Captain Goyles," I said, "we'll start." Captain Goyles removed the cigar from his mouth. "Not to-day we won't, sir," he replied, "WITH your permission."
"Why, what's the matter with to-day?" I said. I know sailors are a superstitious folk; I thought maybe a Monday might be considered unlucky."The day's all right," answered Captain Goyles, "it's the wind I'm a-thinking of. It don't look much like changing." "But do we want it to change?" I asked. "It seems to me to be just where it should be, dead behind us."
"Aye, aye," said Captain Goyles, "dead's the right word to use, for dead we'd all be, bar Providence, if we was to put out in this. You see, sir," he explained, in answer to my look of surprise, "this is what we call a 'land wind,' that is, it's a-blowing, as one might say, direct off the land."When I came to think of it the man was right; the wind was blowing off the land. "It may change in the night," said Captain Goyles, more hopefully "anyhow, it's not violent, and she rides well."
Captain Goyles resumed his cigar, and I returned aft, and explained to Ethelbertha the reason for the delay. Ethelbertha, who appeared to be less high spirited than when we first boarded, wanted to know WHY we couldn't sail when the wind was off the land.
"If it was not blowing off the land," said Ethelbertha, "it would be blowing off the sea, and that would send us back into the shore again. It seems to me this is just the very wind we want."
I said: "That is your inexperience, love; it SEEMS to be the very wind we want, but it is not. It's what we call a land wind, and a land wind is always very dangerous."Ethelbertha wanted to know WHY a land wind was very dangerous.
Her argumentativeness annoyed me somewhat; maybe I was feeling a bit cross; the monotonous rolling heave of a small yacht at anchor depresses an ardent spirit.
"I can't explain it to you," I replied, which was true, "but to set sail in this wind would be the height of foolhardiness, and I care for you too much, dear, to expose you to unnecessary risks."
I thought this rather a neat conclusion, but Ethelbertha merely replied that she wished, under the circumstances, we hadn't come on board till Tuesday, and went below.
In the morning the wind veered round to the north; I was up early, and observed this to Captain Goyles.
"Well, sir," said he, "if you was a-wanting to go to Ipswich, I should say as it couldn't be better for us, but our destination being, as you see, the Dutch coast--why there you are!"
I broke the news to Ethelbertha, and we agreed to spend the day on shore. Harwich is not a merry town, towards evening you might call it dull. We had some tea and watercress at Dovercourt, and then returned to the quay to look for Captain Goyles and the boat. We waited an hour for him. When he came he was more cheerful than we were; if he had not told me himself that he never drank anything but one glass of hot grog before turning in for the night, I should have said he was drunk.
The next morning the wind was in the south, which made Captain Goyles rather anxious, it appearing that it was equally unsafe to move or to stop where we were; our only hope was it would change before anything happened. By this time, Ethelbertha had taken a dislike to the yacht; she said that, personally, she would rather be spending a week in a bathing machine, seeing that a bathing machine was at least steady.
We passed another day in Harwich, and that night and the next, the wind still continuing in the south, we slept at the "King's Head." On Friday the wind was blowing direct from the east. I met Captain Goyles on the quay, and suggested that, under these circumstances, we might start. He appeared irritated at my persistence."If you knew a bit more, sir," he said, "you'd see for yourself that it's impossible. The wind's a-blowing direct off the sea." I said: "Captain Goyles, tell me what is this thing I have hired? Is it a yacht or a house-boat?" He seemed surprised at my question. He said: "It's a yawl."
"What I mean is," I said, "can it be moved at all, or is it a fixture here? If it is a fixture," I continued, "tell me so frankly, then we will get some ivy in boxes and train over the port-holes, stick some flowers and an awning on deck, and make the thing look pretty. If, on the other hand, it can be moved--""Moved!" interrupted Captain Goyles. "You get the right wind behind the Rogue--" I said: "What is the right wind?" Captain Goyles looked puzzled.
"In the course of this week," I went on, "we have had wind from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west--with variations. If you can think of any other point of the compass from which it can blow, tell me, and I will wait for it. If not, and if that anchor has not grown into the bottom of the ocean, we will have it up to-day and see what happens."He grasped the fact that I was determined.
"Very well, sir," he said, "you're master and I'm man. I've only got one child as is still dependent on me, thank God, and no doubt your executors will feel it their duty to do the right thing by the old woman."His solemnity impressed me. "Mr. Goyles," I said, "be honest with me. Is there any hope, in any weather, of getting away from this damned hole?" Captain Goyles's kindly geniality returned to him.
"You see, sir," he said, "this is a very peculiar coast. We'd be all right if we were once out, but getting away from it in a cockle-shell like that--well, to be frank, sir, it wants doing."
I left Captain Goyles with the assurance that he would watch the weather as a mother would her sleeping babe; it was his own simile, and it struck me as rather touching. I saw him again at twelve o'clock; he was watching it from the window of the "Chain and Anchor."
At five o'clock that evening a stroke of luck occurred; in the middle of the High Street I met a couple of yachting friends, who had had to put in by reason of a strained rudder. I told them my story, and they appeared less surprised than amused. Captain Goyles and the two men were still watching the weather. I ran into the "King's Head," and prepared Ethelbertha. The four of us crept quietly down to the quay, where we found our boat. Only the boy was on board; my two friends took charge of the yacht, and by six o'clock we were scudding merrily up the coast.
We put in that night at Aldborough, and the next day worked up to Yarmouth, where, as my friends had to leave, I decided to abandon the yacht. We sold the stores by auction on Yarmouth sands early in the morning. I made a loss, but had the satisfaction of "doing" Captain Goyles. I left the Rogue in charge of a local mariner, who, for a couple of sovereigns, undertook to see to its return to Harwich; and we came back to London by train. There may be yachts other than the Rogue, and skippers other than Mr. Goyles, but that experience has prejudiced me against both.George also thought a yacht would be a good deal of responsibility, so we dismissed the idea. "What about the river?" suggested Harris. "We have had some pleasant times on that." George pulled in silence at his cigar, and I cracked another nut.
"The river is not what it used to be," said I; "I don't know what, but there's a something--a dampness--about the river air that always starts my lumbago."
"It's the same with me," said George. "I don't know how it is, but I never can sleep now in the neighbourhood of the river. I spent a week at Joe's place in the spring, and every night I woke up at seven o'clock and never got a wink afterwards.""I merely suggested it," observed Harris. "Personally, I don't think it good for me, either; it touches my gout." "What suits me best," I said, "is mountain air. What say you to a walking tour in Scotland?"
"It's always wet in Scotland," said George. "I was three weeks in Scotland the year before last, and was never dry once all the time-
-not in that sense."
"They would never stand our going to Switzerland by ourselves," I objected. "You know what happened last time. It must be some place where no delicately nurtured woman or child could possibly live; a country of bad hotels and comfortless travelling; where we shall have to rough it, to work hard, to starve perhaps--""Easy!" interrupted George, "easy, there! Don't forget I'm coming with you." "I have it!" exclaimed Harris; "a bicycle tour!" George looked doubtful. "There's a lot of uphill about a bicycle tour," said he, "and the wind is against you." "So there is downhill, and the wind behind you," said Harris. "I've never noticed it," said George. "You won't think of anything better than a bicycle tour," persisted Harris. I was inclined to agree with him. "And I'll tell you where," continued he; "through the Black Forest." "Why, that's ALL uphill," said George. "Not all," retorted Harris; "say two-thirds. And there's one thing you've forgotten." He looked round cautiously, and sunk his voice to a whisper. "There are little railways going up those hills, little cogwheel things that--"
The door opened, and Mrs. Harris appeared. She said that Ethelbertha was putting on her bonnet, and that Muriel, after waiting, had given "The Mad Hatter's Tea Party" without us."Club, to-morrow, at four," whispered Harris to me, as he rose, and I passed it on to George as we went upstairs CHAPTER II
A delicate business--What Ethelbertha might have said--What she did say--What Mrs. Harris said--What we told George--We will start on Wednesday--George suggests the possibility of improving our minds-- Harris and I are doubtful--Which man on a tandem does the most work?--The opinion of the man in front--Views of the man behind-- How Harris lost his wife--The luggage question--The wisdom of my late Uncle Podger--Beginning of story about a man who had a bag. I opened the ball with Ethelbertha that same evening. I commenced by being purposely a little irritable. My idea was that
Ethelbertha would remark upon this. I should admit it, and account for it by over brain pressure. This would naturally lead to talk about my health in general, and the evident necessity there was for my taking prompt and vigorous measures. I thought that with a little tact I might even manage so that the suggestion should come from Ethelbertha herself. I imagined her saying: "No, dear, it is change you want; complete change. Now be persuaded by me, and go away for a month. No, do not ask me to come with you. I know you would rather that I did, but I will not. It is the society of other men you need. Try and persuade George and Harris to go with you. Believe me, a highly strung brain such as yours demands occasional relaxation from the strain of domestic surroundings. Forget for a little while that children want music lessons, and boots, and bicycles, with tincture of rhubarb three times a day; forget there are such things in life as cooks, and house
decorators, and next-door dogs, and butchers' bills. Go away to some green corner of the earth, where all is new and strange to you, where your over-wrought mind will gather peace and fresh ideas. Go away for a space and give me time to miss you, and to reflect upon your goodness and virtue, which, continually present with me, I may, human-like, be apt to forget, as one, through use, grows indifferent to the blessing of the sun and the beauty of the moon. Go away, and come back refreshed in mind and body, a brighter, better man--if that be possible--than when you went away."
But even when we obtain our desires they never come to us garbed as we would wish. To begin with, Ethelbertha did not seem to remark that I was irritable; I had to draw her attention to it. I said:"You must forgive me, I'm not feeling quite myself to-night." She said: "Oh! I have not noticed anything different; what's the matter with you?" "I can't tell you what it is," I said; "I've felt it coming on for weeks."
"It's that whisky," said Ethelbertha. "You never touch it except when we go to the Harris's. You know you can't stand it; you have not a strong head.""It isn't the whisky," I replied; "it's deeper than that. I fancy it's more mental than bodily." "You've been reading those criticisms again," said Ethelbertha, more sympathetically; "why don't you take my advice and put them on the fire?" "And it isn't the criticisms," I answered; "they've been quite flattering of late--one or two of them." "Well, what is it?" said Ethelbertha; "there must be something to account for it."
"No, there isn't," I replied; "that's the remarkable thing about it; I can only describe it as a strange feeling of unrest that seems to have taken possession of me."
Ethelbertha glanced across at me with a somewhat curious expression, I thought; but as she said nothing, I continued the argument myself."This aching monotony of life, these days of peaceful, uneventful felicity, they appal one." "I should not grumble at them," said Ethelbertha; "we might get some of the other sort, and like them still less."
"I'm not so sure of that," I replied. "In a life of continuous joy, I can imagine even pain coming as a welcome variation. I wonder sometimes whether the saints in heaven do not occasionally feel the continual serenity a burden. To myself a life of endless bliss, uninterrupted by a single contrasting note, would, I feel, grow maddening. I suppose," I continued, "I am a strange sort of man; I can hardly understand myself at times. There are moments," I added, "when I hate myself."
Often a little speech like this, hinting at hidden depths of indescribable emotion has touched Ethelbertha, but to-night she appeared strangely unsympathetic. With regard to heaven and its possible effect upon me, she suggested my not worrying myself about that, remarking it was always foolish to go half-way to meet trouble that might never come; while as to my being a strange sort of fellow, that, she supposed, I could not help, and if other people were willing to put up with me, there was an end of the matter. The monotony of life, she added, was a common experience; there she could sympathise with me.
"You don't know I long," said Ethelbertha, "to get away occasionally, even from you; but I know it can never be, so I do not brood upon it."I had never heard Ethelbertha speak like this before; it astonished and grieved me beyond measure. "That's not a very kind remark to make," I said, "not a wifely remark."
"I know it isn't," she replied; "that is why I have never said it before. You men never can understand," continued Ethelbertha, "that, however fond a woman may be of a man, there are times when he palls upon her. You don't know how I long to be able sometimes to put on my bonnet and go out, with nobody to ask me where I am going, why I am going, how long I am going to be, and when I shall be back. You don't know how I sometimes long to order a dinner that I should like and that the children would like, but at the sight of which you would put on your hat and be off to the Club. You don't know how much I feel inclined sometimes to invite some woman here that I like, and that I know you don't; to go and see the people that I want to see, to go to bed when _I_ am tired, and to get up when _I_ feel I want to get up. Two people living together are bound both to be continually sacrificing their own desires to the other one. It is sometimes a good thing to slacken the strain a bit."On thinking over Ethelbertha's words afterwards, have come to see their wisdom; but at the time I admit I was hurt and indignant. "If your desire," I said, "is to get rid of me--"
"Now, don't be an old goose," said Ethelbertha; "I only want to get rid of you for a little while, just long enough to forget there are one or two corners about you that are not perfect, just long enough to let me remember what a dear fellow you are in other respects, and to look forward to your return, as I used to look forward to your coming in the old days when I did not see you so often as to become, perhaps, a little indifferent to you, as one grows indifferent to the glory of the sun, just because he is there every day."
I did not like the tone that Ethelbertha took. There seemed to be a frivolity about her, unsuited to the theme into which we had drifted. That a woman should contemplate cheerfully an absence of three or four weeks from her husband appeared to me to be not altogether nice, not what I call womanly; it was not like Ethelbertha at all. I was worried, I felt I didn't want to go this trip at all. If it had not been for George and Harris, I would have abandoned it. As it was, I could not see how to change my mind with dignity.
"Very well, Ethelbertha," I replied, "it shall be as you wish. If you desire a holiday from my presence, you shall enjoy it; but if it be not impertinent curiosity on the part of a husband, I should like to know what you propose doing in my absence?"
"We will take that house at Folkestone," answered Ethelbertha, "and I'll go down there with Kate. And if you want to do Clara Harris a good turn," added Ethelbertha, "you'll persuade Harris to go with you, and then Clara can join us. We three used to have some very jolly times together before you men ever came along, and it would be just delightful to renew them. Do you think," continued Ethelbertha, "that you could persuade Mr. Harris to go with you?"I said I would try. "There's a dear boy," said Ethelbertha; "try hard. You might get George to join you."
I replied there was not much advantage in George's coming, seeing he was a bachelor, and that therefore nobody would be much benefited by his absence. But a woman never understands satire. Ethelbertha merely remarked it would look unkind leaving him behind. I promised to put it to him.I met Harris at the Club in the afternoon, and asked him how he had got on. He said, "Oh, that's all right; there's no difficulty about getting away." But there was that about his tone that suggested incomplete satisfaction, so I pressed him for further details.
"She was as sweet as milk about it," he continued; "said it was an excellent idea of George's, and that she thought it would do me good.""That seems all right," I said; "what's wrong about that?" "There's nothing wrong about that," he answered, "but that wasn't all. She went on to talk of other things." "I understand," I said. "There's that bathroom fad of hers," he continued. "I've heard of it," I said; "she has started Ethelbertha on the same idea."
"Well, I've had to agree to that being put in hand at once; I couldn't argue any more when she was so nice about the other thing. That will cost me a hundred pounds, at the very least.""As much as that?" I asked. "Every penny of it," said Harris; "the estimate alone is sixty." I was sorry to hear him say this.
"Then there's the kitchen stove," continued Harris; "everything that has gone wrong in the house for the last two years has been the fault of that kitchen stove."
"I know," I said. "We have been in seven houses since we were married, and every kitchen stove has been worse than the last. Our present one is not only incompetent; it is spiteful. It knows when we are giving a party, and goes out of its way to do its worst."
"WE are going to have a new one," said Harris, but he did not say it proudly. "Clara thought it would be such a saving of expense, having the two things done at the same time. I believe," said Harris, "if a woman wanted a diamond tiara, she would explain that it was to save the expense of a bonnet.""How much do you reckon the stove is going to cost you?" I asked. I felt interested in the subject.
"I don't know," answered Harris; "another twenty, I suppose. Then we talked about the piano. Could you ever notice," said Harris, "any difference between one piano and another?""Some of them seem to be a bit louder than others," I answered; "but one gets used to that." "Ours is all wrong about the treble," said Harris. "By the way, what IS the treble?"
"It's the shrill end of the thing," I explained; "the part that sounds as if you'd trod on its tail. The brilliant selections always end up with a flourish on it."
"They want more of it," said Harris; "our old one hasn't got enough of it. I'll have to put it in the nursery, and get a new one for the drawing-room.""Anything else?" I asked. "No," said Harris; "she didn't seem able to think of anything else." "You'll find when you get home," I said, "she has thought of one other thing." "What's that?" said Harris. "A house at Folkestone for the season." "What should she want a house at Folkestone for?" said Harris. "To live in," I suggested, "during the summer months." "She's going to her people in Wales," said Harris, "for the holidays, with the children; we've had an invitation."
"Possibly," I said, "she'll go to Wales before she goes to
Folkestone, or maybe she'll take Wales on her way home; but she'll want a house at Folkestone for the season, notwithstanding. I may be mistaken--I hope for your sake that I am--but I feel a presentiment that I'm not."
George folded his hands and fixed his eyes on the ceiling. "We may chaff and joke a little about these things," I continued; "but when it comes to practice, that is what always happens. We have mentioned to our wives that we are going. Naturally, they are grieved; they would prefer to come with us; failing that, they would have us remain with them. But we have explained to them our wishes on the subject, and--there's an end of the matter."George said, "Forgive me; I did not understand. I am only a bachelor. People tell me this, that, and the other, and I listen."
I said, "That is where you do wrong. When you want information come to Harris or myself; we will tell you the truth about these questions."George thanked us, and we proceeded with the business in hand. "When shall we start?" said George. "So far as I am concerned," replied Harris, "the sooner the better." His idea, I fancy, was to get away before Mrs. H. thought of other things. We fixed the following Wednesday. "What about route?" said Harris. "I have an idea," said George. "I take it you fellows are naturally anxious to improve your minds?"
I said, "We don't want to become monstrosities. To a reasonable degree, yes, if it can be done without much expense and with little personal trouble."
"It can," said George. "We know Holland and the Rhine. Very well, my suggestion is that we take the boat to Hamburg, see Berlin and Dresden, and work our way to the Schwarzwald, through Nuremberg and Stuttgart.""There are some pretty bits in Mesopotamia, so I've been told," murmured Harris.
George said Mesopotamia was too much out of our way, but that the Berlin-Dresden route was quite practicable. For good or evil, he persuaded us into it."The machines, I suppose," said George, "as before. Harris and I on the tandem, J.--" "I think not," interrupted Harris, firmly. "You and J. on the tandem, I on the single." "All the same to me," agreed George. "J. and I on the tandem, Harris--" "I do not mind taking my turn," I interrupted, "but I am not going to carry George ALL the way; the burden should be divided." "Very well," agreed Harris, "we'll divide it. But it must be on the distinct understanding that he works." "That he what?" said George. "That he works," repeated Harris, firmly; "at all events, uphill." "Great Scott!" said George; "don't you want ANY exercise?"
There is always unpleasantness about this tandem. It is the theory of the man in front that the man behind does nothing; it is equally the theory of the man behind that he alone is the motive power, the man in front merely doing the puffing. The mystery will never be solved. It is annoying when Prudence is whispering to you on the one side not to overdo your strength and bring on heart disease; while Justice into the other ear is remarking, "Why should you do it all? This isn't a cab. He's not your passenger:" to hear him grunt out:"What's the matter--lost your pedals?"
Harris, in his early married days, made much trouble for himself on one occasion, owing to this impossibility of knowing what the person behind is doing. He was riding with his wife through Holland. The roads were stony, and the machine jumped a good deal."Sit tight," said Harris, without turning his head.
What Mrs. Harris thought he said was, "Jump off." Why she should have thought he said "Jump off," when he said "Sit tight," neither of them can explain.Mrs. Harris puts it in this way, "If you had said, 'Sit tight,' why should I have jumped off?" Harris puts it, "If I had wanted you to jump off, why should I have said 'Sit tight!'?" The bitterness is past, but they argue about the matter to this day.
Be the explanation what it may, however, nothing alters the fact that Mrs. Harris did jump off, while Harris pedalled away hard, under the impression she was still behind him. It appears that at first she thought he was riding up the hill merely to show off. They were both young in those days, and he used to do that sort of thing. She expected him to spring to earth on reaching the summit, and lean in a careless and graceful attitude against the machine, waiting for her. When, on the contrary, she saw him pass the summit and proceed rapidly down a long and steep incline, she was seized, first with surprise, secondly with indignation, and lastly with alarm. She ran to the top of the hill and shouted, but he never turned his head. She watched him disappear into a wood a mile and a half distant, and then sat down and cried. They had had a slight difference that morning, and she wondered if he had taken it seriously and intended desertion. She had no money; she knew no Dutch. People passed, and seemed sorry for her; she tried to make them understand what had happened. They gathered that she had lost something, but could not grasp what. They took her to the nearest village, and found a policeman for her. He concluded from her pantomime that some man had stolen her bicycle. They put the telegraph into operation, and discovered in a village four miles off an unfortunate boy riding a lady's machine of an obsolete pattern. They brought him to her in a cart, but as she did not appear to want either him or his bicycle they let him go again, and resigned themselves to bewilderment.
Meanwhile, Harris continued his ride with much enjoyment. It seemed to him that he had suddenly become a stronger, and in every way a more capable cyclist. Said he to what he thought was Mrs. Harris:"I haven't felt this machine so light for months. It's this air, I think; it's doing me good."
Then he told her not to be afraid, and he would show her how fast he COULD go. He bent down over the handles, and put his heart into his work. The bicycle bounded over the road like a thing of life; farmhouses and churches, dogs and chickens came to him and passed. Old folks stood and gazed at him, the children cheered him.
In this way he sped merrily onward for about five miles. Then, as he explains it, the feeling began to grow upon him that something was wrong. He was not surprised at the silence; the wind was blowing strongly, and the machine was rattling a good deal. It was a sense of void that came upon him. He stretched out his hand behind him, and felt; there was nothing there but space. He jumped, or rather fell off, and looked back up the road; it stretched white and straight through the dark wood, and not a living soul could be seen upon it. He remounted, and rode back up the hill. In ten minutes he came to where the road broke into four; there he dismounted and tried to remember which fork he had come down.
While he was deliberating a man passed, sitting sideways on a horse. Harris stopped him, and explained to him that he had lost his wife. The man appeared to be neither surprised nor sorry for him. While they were talking another farmer came along, to whom the first man explained the matter, not as an accident, but as a good story. What appeared to surprise the second man most was that Harris should be making a fuss about the thing. He could get no sense out of either of them, and cursing them he mounted his machine again, and took the middle road on chance. Half-way up, he came upon a party of two young women with one young man between them. They appeared to be making the most of him. He asked them if they had seen his wife. They asked him what she was like. He did not know enough Dutch to describe her properly; all he could tell them was she was a very beautiful woman, of medium size. Evidently this did not satisfy them, the description was too general; any man could say that, and by this means perhaps get possession of a wife that did not belong to him. They asked him how she was dressed; for the life of him he could not recollect.
I doubt if any man could tell how any woman was dressed ten minutes after he had left her. He recollected a blue skirt, and then there was something that carried the dress on, as it were, up to the neck. Possibly, this may have been a blouse; he retained a dim vision of a belt; but what sort of a blouse? Was it green, or yellow, or blue? Had it a collar, or was it fastened with a bow? Were there feathers in her hat, or flowers? Or was it a hat at all? He dared not say, for fear of making a mistake and being sent miles after the wrong party. The two young women giggled, which in his then state of mind irritated Harris. The young man, who appeared anxious to get rid of him, suggested the police station at the next town. Harris made his way there. The police gave him a piece of paper, and told him to write down a full description of his wife, together with details of when and where he had lost her. He did not know where he had lost her; all he could tell them was the name of the village where he had lunched. He knew he had her with him then, and that they had started from there together.
The police looked suspicious; they were doubtful about three matters: Firstly, was she really his wife? Secondly, had he really lost her? Thirdly, why had he lost her? With the aid of a hotel-keeper, however, who spoke a little English, he overcame their scruples. They promised to act, and in the evening they brought her to him in a covered wagon, together with a bill for expenses. The meeting was not a tender one. Mrs. Harris is not a good actress, and always has great difficulty in disguising her feelings. On this occasion, she frankly admits, she made no attempt to disguise them.
The wheel business settled, there arose the ever-lasting luggage question.
"Take a piece of paper"--he always began at the beginning--"put down on it everything you can possibly require, then go over it and see that it contains nothing you can possibly do without. Imagine yourself in bed; what have you got on? Very well, put it down-- together with a change. You get up; what do you do? Wash yourself. What do you wash yourself with? Soap; put down soap. Go on till you have finished. Then take your clothes. Begin at your feet; what do you wear on your feet? Boots, shoes, socks; put them down. Work up till you get to your head. What else do you want besides clothes? A little brandy; put it down. A corkscrew, put it down. Put down everything, then you don't forget anything."
That is the plan he always pursued himself. The list made, he would go over it carefully, as he always advised, to see that he had forgotten nothing. Then he would go over it again, and strike out everything it was possible to dispense with.Then he would lose the list.
Said George: "Just sufficient for a day or two we will take with us on our bikes. The bulk of our luggage we must send on from town to town.""We must be careful," I said; "I knew a man once--" Harris looked at his watch. "We'll hear about him on the boat," said Harris; "I have got to meet Clara at Waterloo Station in half an hour." "It won't take half an hour," I said; "it's a true story, and--"
"Don't waste it," said George: "I am told there are rainy evenings in the Black Forest; we may he glad of it. What we have to do now is to finish this list."Now I come to think of it, I never did get off that story; something always interrupted it. And it really was true. CHAPTER III
Harris's one fault--Harris and the Angel--A patent bicycle lamp-- The ideal saddle--The "Overhauler"--His eagle eye--His method--His cheery confidence--His simple and inexpensive tastes--His appearance--How to get rid of him--George as prophet--The gentle art of making oneself disagreeable in a foreign tongue--George as a student of human nature--He proposes an experiment--His Prudence-- Harris's support secured, upon conditions.On Monday afternoon Harris came round; he had a cycling paper in his hand. I said: "If you take my advice, you will leave it alone." Harris said: "Leave what alone?"
I said: "That brand-new, patent, revolution in cycling, record- breaking, Tomfoolishness, whatever it may be, the advertisement of which you have there in your hand."He said: "Well, I don't know; there will be some steep hills for us to negotiate; I guess we shall want a good brake."
I said: "We shall want a brake, I agree; what we shall not want is a mechanical surprise that we don't understand, and that never acts when it is wanted.""This thing," he said, "acts automatically."
"You needn't tell me," I said. "I know exactly what it will do, by instinct. Going uphill it will jamb the wheel so effectively that we shall have to carry the machine bodily. The air at the top of the hill will do it good, and it will suddenly come right again. Going downhill it will start reflecting what a nuisance it has been. This will lead to remorse, and finally to despair. It will say to itself: 'I'm not fit to be a brake. I don't help these fellows; I only hinder them. I'm a curse, that's what I am;' and, without a word of warning, it will 'chuck' the whole business. That is what that brake will do. Leave it alone. You are a good fellow," I continued, "but you have one fault."
"What?" he asked, indignantly. "You have too much faith," I answered. "If you read an advertisement, you go away and believe it. Every experiment that every fool has thought of in connection with cycling you have tried. Your guardian angel appears to be a capable and conscientious spirit, and hitherto she has seen you through; take my advice and don't try her too far. She must have had a busy time since you started cycling. Don't go on till you make her mad."
He said: "If every man talked like that there would be no advancement made in any department of life. If nobody ever tried a new thing the world would come to a standstill. It is by--"
"I know all that can be said on that side of the argument," I interrupted. "I agree in trying new experiments up to thirty-five; AFTER thirty-five I consider a man is entitled to think of himself. You and I have done our duty in this direction, you especially. You have been blown up by a patent gas lamp--"He said: "I really think, you know, that was my fault; I think I must have screwed it up too tight."
I said: "I am quite willing to believe that if there was a wrong way of handling the thing that is the way you handle it. You should take that tendency of yours into consideration; it bears upon the argument. Myself, I did not notice what you did; I only know we were riding peacefully and pleasantly along the Whitby Road, discussing the Thirty Years' War, when your lamp went off like a pistol-shot. The start sent me into the ditch; and your wife's face, when I told her there was nothing the matter and that she was not to worry, because the two men would carry you upstairs, and the doctor would be round in a minute bringing the nurse with him, still lingers in my memory."
He said: "I wish you had thought to pick up the lamp. I should like to have found out what was the cause of its going off like that."
I said: "There was not time to pick up the lamp. I calculate it would have taken two hours to have collected it. As to its 'going off,' the mere fact of its being advertised as the safest lamp ever invented would of itself, to anyone but you, have suggested accident. Then there was that electric lamp," I continued."Well, that really did give a fine light," he replied; "you said so yourself."
I said: "It gave a brilliant light in the King's Road, Brighton, and frightened a horse. The moment we got into the dark beyond Kemp Town it went out, and you were summoned for riding without a light. You may remember that on sunny afternoons you used to ride about with that lamp shining for all it was worth. When lighting- up time came it was naturally tired, and wanted a rest.""It was a bit irritating, that lamp," he murmured; "I remember it."
I said: "It irritated me; it must have been worse for you. Then there are saddles," I went on--I wished to get this lesson home to him. "Can you think of any saddle ever advertised that you have NOT tried?"He said: "It has been an idea of mine that the right saddle is to be found."
I said: "You give up that idea; this is an imperfect world of joy and sorrow mingled. There may be a better land where bicycle saddles are made out of rainbow, stuffed with cloud; in this world the simplest thing is to get used to something hard. There was that saddle you bought in Birmingham; it was divided in the middle, and looked like a pair of kidneys."He said: "You mean that one constructed on anatomical principles."
"Very likely," I replied. "The box you bought it in had a picture on the cover, representing a sitting skeleton--or rather that part of a skeleton which does sit."He said: "It was quite correct; it showed you the true position of the--" I said: "We will not go into details; the picture always seemed to me indelicate." He said: "Medically speaking, it was right."
"Possibly," I said, "for a man who rode in nothing but his bones. I only know that I tried it myself, and that to a man who wore flesh it was agony. Every time you went over a stone or a rut it nipped you; it was like riding on an irritable lobster. You rode that for a month.""I thought it only right to give it a fair trial," he answered.
I said: "You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang. Your wife told me that never in the whole course of your married life had she known you so bad tempered, so un-Christian like, as you were that month. Then you remember that other saddle, the one with the spring under it."
He said: "You mean 'the Spiral.'" I said: "I mean the one that jerked you up and down like a Jack- in-the-box; sometimes you came down again in the right place, and sometimes you didn't. I am not referring to these matters merely to recall painful memories, but I want to impress you with the folly of trying experiments at your time of life."He said. "I wish you wouldn't harp so much on my age. A man at thirty-four--" "A man at what?"
He said: "If you don't want the thing, don't have it. If your machine runs away with you down a mountain, and you and George get flung through a church roof, don't blame me."
"I cannot promise for George," I said; "a little thing will sometimes irritate him, as you know. If such an accident as you suggest happen, he may be cross, but I will undertake to explain to him that it was not your fault.""Is the thing all right?" he asked. "The tandem," I replied, "is well." He said: "Have you overhauled it?"
I said: "I have not, nor is anyone else going to overhaul it. The thing is now in working order, and it is going to remain in working order till we start."
I have had experience of this "overhauling." There was a man at Folkestone; I used to meet him on the Lees. He proposed one evening we should go for a long bicycle ride together on the following day, and I agreed. I got up early, for me; I made an effort, and was pleased with myself. He came half an hour late: I was waiting for him in the garden. It was a lovely day. He said:-"That's a good-looking machine of yours. How does it run?" "Oh, like most of them!" I answered; "easily enough in the morning; goes a little stiffly after lunch." He caught hold of it by the front wheel and the fork and shook it violently. I said: "Don't do that; you'll hurt it."
I did not see why he should shake it; it had not done anything to him. Besides, if it wanted shaking, I was the proper person to shake it. I felt much as I should had he started whacking my dog. He said: "This front wheel wobbles."I said: "It doesn't if you don't wobble it." It didn't wobble, as a matter of fact--nothing worth calling a wobble. He said: "This is dangerous; have you got a screw-hammer?"
I ought to have been firm, but I thought that perhaps he really did know something about the business. I went to the tool shed to see what I could find. When I came back he was sitting on the ground with the front wheel between his legs. He was playing with it, twiddling it round between his fingers; the remnant of the machine was lying on the gravel path beside him.He said: "Something has happened to this front wheel of yours." "It looks like it, doesn't it?" I answered. But he was the sort of man that never understands satire. He said: "It looks to me as if the bearings were all wrong." I said: "Don't you trouble about it any more; you will make yourself tired. Let us put it back and get off." He said: "We may as well see what is the matter with it, now it is out." He talked as though it had dropped out by accident. Before I could stop him he had unscrewed something somewhere, and out rolled all over the path some dozen or so little balls. "Catch 'em!" he shouted; "catch 'em! We mustn't lose any of them." He was quite excited about them.
We grovelled round for half an hour, and found sixteen. He said he hoped we had got them all, because, if not, it would make a serious difference to the machine. He said there was nothing you should be more careful about in taking a bicycle to pieces than seeing you did not lose any of the balls. He explained that you ought to count them as you took them out, and see that exactly the same number went back in each place. I promised, if ever I took a bicycle to pieces I would remember his advice.
I put the balls for safety in my hat, and I put my hat upon the doorstep. It was not a sensible thing to do, I admit. As a matter of fact, it was a silly thing to do. I am not as a rule addle- headed; his influence must have affected me.
He then said that while he was about it he would see to the chain for me, and at once began taking off the gear-case. I did try to persuade him from that. I told him what an experienced friend of mine once said to me solemnly:-"If anything goes wrong with your gear-case, sell the machine and buy a new one; it comes cheaper." He said: "People talk like that who understand nothing about machines. Nothing is easier than taking off a gear-case."
I had to confess he was right. In less than five minutes he had the gear-case in two pieces, lying on the path, and was grovelling for screws. He said it was always a mystery to him the way screws disappeared.
We were still looking for the screws when Ethelbertha came out. She seemed surprised to find us there; she said she thought we had started hours ago.
He said: "We shan't be long now. I'm just helping your husband to overhaul this machine of his. It's a good machine; but they all want going over occasionally."
Ethelbertha said: "If you want to wash yourselves when you have done you might go into the back kitchen, if you don't mind; the girls have just finished the bedrooms."
She told me that if she met Kate they would probably go for a sail; but that in any case she would be back to lunch. I would have given a sovereign to be going with her. I was getting heartily sick of standing about watching this fool breaking up my bicycle.
Common sense continued to whisper to me: "Stop him, before he does any more mischief. You have a right to protect your own property from the ravages of a lunatic. Take him by the scruff of the neck, and kick him out of the gate!"But I am weak when it comes to hurting other people's feelings, and I let him muddle on.
He gave up looking for the rest of the screws. He said screws had a knack of turning up when you least expected them; and that now he would see to the chain. He tightened it till it would not move; next he loosened it until it was twice as loose as it was before. Then he said we had better think about getting the front wheel back into its place again.
I held the fork open, and he worried with the wheel. At the end of ten minutes I suggested he should hold the forks, and that I should handle the wheel; and we changed places. At the end of his first minute he dropped the machine, and took a short walk round the croquet lawn, with his hands pressed together between his thighs. He explained as he walked that the thing to be careful about was to avoid getting your fingers pinched between the forks and the spokes of the wheel. I replied I was convinced, from my own experience, that there was much truth in what he said. He wrapped himself up in a couple of dusters, and we commenced again. At length we did get the thing into position; and the moment it was in position he burst out laughing.I said: "What's the joke?" He said: "Well, I am an ass!" It was the first thing he had said that made me respect him. I asked him what had led him to the discovery. He said: "We've forgotten the balls!"
I looked for my hat; it was lying topsy-turvy in the middle of the path, and Ethelbertha's favourite hound was swallowing the balls as fast as he could pick them up.
"He will kill himself," said Ebbson--I have never met him since that day, thank the Lord; but I think his name was Ebbson--"they are solid steel."
I said: "I am not troubling about the dog. He has had a bootlace and a packet of needles already this week. Nature's the best guide; puppies seem to require this kind of stimulant. What I am thinking about is my bicycle."He was of a cheerful disposition. He said: "Well, we must put back all we can find, and trust to Providence."
We found eleven. We fixed six on one side and five on the other, and half an hour later the wheel was in its place again. It need hardly be added that it really did wobble now; a child might have noticed it. Ebbson said it would do for the present. He appeared to be getting a bit tired himself. If I had let him, he would, I believe, at this point have gone home. I was determined now, however, that he should stop and finish; I had abandoned all thoughts of a ride. My pride in the machine he had killed. My only interest lay now in seeing him scratch and bump and pinch himself. I revived his drooping spirits with a glass of beer and some judicious praise. I said:
"Watching you do this is of real use to me. It is not only your skill and dexterity that fascinates me, it is your cheery confidence in yourself, your inexplicable hopefulness, that does me good."
Thus encouraged, he set to work to refix the gear-case. He stood the bicycle against the house, and worked from the off side. Then he stood it against a tree, and worked from the near side. Then I held it for him, while he lay on the ground with his head between the wheels, and worked at it from below, and dropped oil upon himself. Then he took it away from me, and doubled himself across it like a pack-saddle, till he lost his balance and slid over on to his head. Three times he said:
Then he lost his temper and tried bullying the thing. The bicycle, I was glad to see, showed spirit; and the subsequent proceedings degenerated into little else than a rough-and-tumble fight between him and the machine. One moment the bicycle would be on the gravel path, and he on top of it; the next, the position would be
reversed--he on the gravel path, the bicycle on him. Now he would be standing flushed with victory, the bicycle firmly fixed between his legs. But his triumph would be short-lived. By a sudden, quick movement it would free itself, and, turning upon him, hit him sharply over the head with one of its handles.
The bicycle looked as if it also had had enough of it. Which had received most punishment it would have been difficult to say. I took him into the back kitchen, where, so far as was possible without soda and proper tools, he cleaned himself, and sent him home.The bicycle I put into a cab and took round to the nearest repairing shop. The foreman of the works came up and looked at it. "What do you want me to do with that?" said he. "I want you," I said, "so far as is possible, to restore it." "It's a bit far gone," said he; "but I'll do my best."
He did his best, which came to two pounds ten. But it was never the same machine again; and at the end of the season I left it in an agent's hands to sell. I wished to deceive nobody; I instructed the man to advertise it as a last year's machine. The agent advised me not to mention any date. He said:
"In this business it isn't a question of what is true and what isn't; it's a question of what you can get people to believe. Now, between you and me, it don't look like a last year's machine; so far as looks are concerned, it might be a ten-year old. We'll say nothing about date; we'll just get what we can."I left the matter to him, and he got me five pounds, which he said was more than he had expected.
There are two ways you can get exercise out of a bicycle: you can "overhaul" it, or you can ride it. On the whole, I am not sure that a man who takes his pleasure overhauling does not have the best of the bargain. He is independent of the weather and the wind; the state of the roads troubles him not. Give him a screw- hammer, a bundle of rags, an oil-can, and something to sit down upon, and he is happy for the day. He has to put up with certain disadvantages, of course; there is no joy without alloy. He himself always looks like a tinker, and his machine always suggests the idea that, having stolen it, he has tried to disguise it; but as he rarely gets beyond the first milestone with it, this,
perhaps, does not much matter. The mistake some people make is in thinking they can get both forms of sport out of the same machine. This is impossible; no machine will stand the double strain. You must make up your mind whether you are going to be an "overhauler" or a rider. Personally, I prefer to ride, therefore I take care to have near me nothing that can tempt me to overhaul. When anything happens to my machine I wheel it to the nearest repairing shop. If I am too far from the town or village to walk, I sit by the roadside and wait till a cart comes along. My chief danger, I always find, is from the wandering overhauler. The sight of a broken-down machine is to the overhauler as a wayside corpse to a crow; he swoops down upon it with a friendly yell of triumph. At first I used to try politeness. I would say:
I replied: "Age and experience have taught me that there are few matters concerning which a man does well to be positive. Consequently, there remain to me now but a limited number of questions upon which I feel any degree of certainty. Among such still-unshaken beliefs, however, is the conviction that that tandem does not want overhauling. I also feel a presentiment that, provided my life is spared, no human being between now and Wednesday morning is going to overhaul it."
George said: "I should not show temper over the matter, if I were you. There will come a day, perhaps not far distant, when that bicycle, with a couple of mountains between it and the nearest repairing shop, will, in spite of your chronic desire for rest, HAVE to be overhauled. Then you will clamour for people to tell you where you put the oil-can, and what you have done with the screw-hammer. Then, while you exert yourself holding the thing steady against a tree, you will suggest that somebody else should clean the chain and pump the back wheel."I felt there was justice in George's rebuke--also a certain amount of prophetic wisdom. I said: "Forgive me if I seemed unresponsive. The truth is, Harris was round here this morning--" George said: "Say no more; I understand. Besides, what I came to talk to you about was another matter. Look at that."
He handed me a small book bound in red cloth. It was a guide to English conversation for the use of German travellers. It commenced "On a Steam-boat," and terminated "At the Doctor's"; its longest chapter being devoted to conversation in a railway carriage, among, apparently, a compartment load of quarrelsome and ill-mannered lunatics: "Can you not get further away from me, sir?"--"It is impossible, madam; my neighbour, here, is very stout"--"Shall we not endeavour to arrange our legs?"--"Please have the goodness to keep your elbows down"--"Pray do not inconvenience yourself, madam, if my shoulder is of any accommodation to you," whether intended to be said sarcastically or not, there was nothing to indicate--"I really must request you to move a little, madam, I can hardly breathe," the author's idea being, presumably, that by this time the whole party was mixed up together on the floor. The chapter concluded with the phrase, "Here we are at our destination, God be thanked! (Gott sei dank!)" a pious exclamation, which under the circumstances must have taken the form of a chorus.
At the end of the book was an appendix, giving the German traveller hints concerning the preservation of his health and comfort during his sojourn in English towns, chief among such hints being advice to him to always travel with a supply of disinfectant powder, to always lock his bedroom door at night, and to always carefully count his small change.
"It is not a brilliant publication," I remarked, handing the book back to George; "it is not a book that personally I would recommend to any German about to visit England; I think it would get him disliked. But I have read books published in London for the use of English travellers abroad every whit as foolish. Some educated idiot, misunderstanding seven languages, would appear to go about writing these books for the misinformation and false guidance of modern Europe."
"You cannot deny," said George, "that these books are in large request. They are bought by the thousand, I know. In every town in Europe there must be people going about talking this sort of thing."
"Maybe," I replied; "but fortunately nobody understands them. I have noticed, myself, men standing on railway platforms and at street corners reading aloud from such books. Nobody knows what language they are speaking; nobody has the slightest knowledge of what they are saying. This is, perhaps, as well; were they understood they would probably be assaulted."
George said: "Maybe you are right; my idea is to see what would happen if they were understood. My proposal is to get to London early on Wednesday morning, and spend an hour or two going about and shopping with the aid of this book. There are one or two little things I want--a hat and a pair of bedroom slippers, among other articles. Our boat does not leave Tilbury till twelve, and that just gives us time. I want to try this sort of talk where I can properly judge of its effect. I want to see how the foreigner feels when he is talked to in this way."
It struck me as a sporting idea. In my enthusiasm I offered to accompany him, and wait outside the shop. I said I thought that Harris would like to be in it, too--or rather outside.
George said that was not quite his scheme. His proposal was that Harris and I should accompany him into the shop. With Harris, who looks formidable, to support him, and myself at the door to call the police if necessary, he said he was willing to adventure the thing.
We walked round to Harris's, and put the proposal before him. He examined the book, especially the chapters dealing with the purchase of shoes and hats. He said:
"If George talks to any bootmaker or any hatter the things that are put down here, it is not support he will want; it is carrying to the hospital that he will need."That made George angry.
"You talk," said George, "as though I were a foolhardy boy without any sense. I shall select from the more polite and less irritating speeches; the grosser insults I shall avoid."This being clearly understood, Harris gave in his adhesion; and our start was fixed for early Wednesday morning. CHAPTER IV
Why Harris considers alarm clocks unnecessary in a family--Social instinct of the young--A child's thoughts about the morning--The sleepless watchman--The mystery of him--His over anxiety--Night thoughts--The sort of work one does before breakfast--The good sheep and the bad--Disadvantages of being virtuous--Harris's new stove begins badly--The daily out-going of my Uncle Podger--The elderly city man considered as a racer--We arrive in London--We talk the language of the traveller.
George came down on Tuesday evening, and slept at Harris's place. We thought this a better arrangement than his own suggestion, which was that we should call for him on our way and "pick him up." Picking George up in the morning means picking him out of bed to begin with, and shaking him awake--in itself an exhausting effort with which to commence the day; helping him find his things and finish his packing; and then waiting for him while he eats his breakfast, a tedious entertainment from the spectator's point of view, full of wearisome repetition.
I knew that if he slept at "Beggarbush" he would be up in time; I have slept there myself, and I know what happens. About the middle of the night, as you judge, though in reality it may be somewhat later, you are startled out of your first sleep by what sounds like a rush of cavalry along the passage, just outside your door. Your half-awakened intelligence fluctuates between burglars, the Day of Judgment, and a gas explosion. You sit up in bed and listen intently. You are not kept waiting long; the next moment a door is violently slammed, and somebody, or something, is evidently coming downstairs on a tea-tray.
"I told you so," says a voice outside, and immediately some hard substance, a head one would say from the ring of it, rebounds against the panel of your door.
By this time you are charging madly round the room for your clothes. Nothing is where you put it overnight, the articles most essential have disappeared entirely; and meanwhile the murder, or revolution, or whatever it is, continues unchecked. You pause for a moment, with your head under the wardrobe, where you think you can see your slippers, to listen to a steady, monotonous thumping upon a distant door. The victim, you presume, has taken refuge there; they mean to have him out and finish him. Will you be in time? The knocking ceases, and a voice, sweetly reassuring in its gentle plaintiveness, asks meekly:"Pa, may I get up?" You do not hear the other voice, but the responses are:
"No, it was only the bath--no, she ain't really hurt,--only wet, you know. Yes, ma, I'll tell 'em what you say. No, it was a pure accident. Yes; good-night, papa."Then the same voice, exerting itself so as to be heard in a distant part of the house, remarks: "You've got to come upstairs again. Pa says it isn't time yet to get up."
You return to bed, and lie listening to somebody being dragged upstairs, evidently against their will. By a thoughtful
arrangement the spare rooms at "Beggarbush" are exactly underneath the nurseries. The same somebody, you conclude, still offering the most creditable opposition, is being put back into bed. You can follow the contest with much exactitude, because every time the body is flung down upon the spring mattress, the bedstead, just above your head, makes a sort of jump; while every time the body succeeds in struggling out again, you are aware by the thud upon the floor. After a time the struggle wanes, or maybe the bed collapses; and you drift back into sleep. But the next moment, or what seems to be the next moment, you again open your eyes under the consciousness of a presence. The door is being held ajar, and four solemn faces, piled one on top of the other, are peering at you, as though you were some natural curiosity kept in this particular room. Seeing you awake, the top face, walking calmly over the other three, comes in and sits on the bed in a friendly attitude.
"Pa doesn't like us to get up too early," it continues. "He says everybody else in the house is liable to be disturbed if we get up. So, of course, we mustn't."
The tone is that of gentle resignation. It is instinct with the spirit of virtuous pride, arising from the consciousness of self- sacrifice."Don't you call this being up?" you suggest.
"Oh, no; we're not really up, you know, because we're not properly dressed." The fact is self-evident. "Pa's always very tired in the morning," the voice continues; "of course, that's because he works hard all day. Are you ever tired in the morning?"
At this point he turns and notices, for the first time, that the three other children have also entered, and are sitting in a semi- circle on the floor. From their attitude it is clear they have mistaken the whole thing for one of the slower forms of
entertainment, some comic lecture or conjuring exhibition, and are waiting patiently for you to get out of bed and do something. It shocks him, the idea of their being in the guest's bedchamber. He peremptorily orders them out. They do not answer him, they do not argue; in dead silence, and with one accord they fall upon him. All you can see from the bed is a confused tangle of waving arms and legs, suggestive of an intoxicated octopus trying to find bottom. Not a word is spoken; that seems to be the etiquette of the thing. If you are sleeping in your pyjamas, you spring from the bed, and only add to the confusion; if you are wearing a less showy garment, you stop where you are and shout commands, which are utterly unheeded. The simplest plan is to leave it to the eldest boy. He does get them out after a while, and closes the door upon them. It re-opens immediately, and one, generally Muriel, is shot back into the room. She enters as from a catapult. She is handicapped by having long hair, which can be used as a convenient handle. Evidently aware of this natural disadvantage, she clutches it herself tightly in one hand, and punches with the other. He opens the door again, and cleverly uses her as a battering-ram against the wall of those without. You can hear the dull crash as her head enters among them, and scatters them. When the victory is complete, he comes back and resumes his seat on the bed. There is no bitterness about him; he has forgotten the whole incident.
"Well," you answer, "perhaps you will, if your father ever invites an irritable man to come and sleep here, and doesn't warn him beforehand."He descends from his contemplative mood, and becomes himself again. "It's jolly in the garden," he suggests; "you wouldn't like to get up and have a game of cricket, would you?"
It was not the idea with which you went to bed, but now, as things have turned out, it seems as good a plan as lying there hopelessly awake; and you agree.
You learn, later in the day, that the explanation of the proceeding is that you, unable to sleep, woke up early in the morning, and thought you would like a game of cricket. The children, taught to be ever courteous to guests, felt it their duty to humour you. Mrs. Harris remarks at breakfast that at least you might have seen to it that the children were properly dressed before you took them out; while Harris points out to you, pathetically, how, by your one morning's example and encouragement, you have undone his labour of months.
On this Wednesday morning, George, it seems, clamoured to get up at a quarter-past five, and persuaded them to let him teach them cycling tricks round the cucumber frames on Harris's new wheel. Even Mrs. Harris, however, did not blame George on this occasion; she felt intuitively the idea could not have been entirely his.
It is not that the Harris children have the faintest notion of avoiding blame at the expense of a friend and comrade. One and all they are honesty itself in accepting responsibility for their own misdeeds. It simply is, that is how the thing presents itself to their understanding. When you explain to them that you had no original intention of getting up at five o'clock in the morning to play cricket on the croquet lawn, or to mimic the history of the early Church by shooting with a cross-bow at dolls tied to a tree; that as a matter of fact, left to your own initiative, you would have slept peacefully till roused in Christian fashion with a cup of tea at eight, they are firstly astonished, secondly apologetic, and thirdly sincerely contrite. In the present instance, waiving the purely academic question whether the awakening of George at a little before five was due to natural instinct on his part, or to the accidental passing of a home-made boomerang through his bedroom window, the dear children frankly admitted that the blame for his uprising was their own. As the eldest boy said:
"We ought to have remembered that Uncle George had a long day, before him, and we ought to have dissuaded him from getting up. I blame myself entirely."
But an occasional change of habit does nobody any harm; and besides, as Harris and I agreed, it was good training for George. In the Black Forest we should be up at five every morning; that we had determined on. Indeed, George himself had suggested half-past four, but Harris and I had argued that five would be early enough as an average; that would enable us to be on our machines by six, and to break the back of our journey before the heat of the day set in. Occasionally we might start a little earlier, but not as a habit.
I myself was up that morning at five. This was earlier than I had intended. I had said to myself on going to sleep, "Six o'clock, sharp!"
There are men I know who can wake themselves at any time to the minute. They say to themselves literally, as they lay their heads upon the pillow, "Four-thirty," "Four-forty-five," or "Five- fifteen," as the case may be; and as the clock strikes they open their eyes. It is very wonderful this; the more one dwells upon it, the greater the mystery grows. Some Ego within us, acting quite independently of our conscious self, must be capable of counting the hours while we sleep. Unaided by clock or sun, or any other medium known to our five senses, it keeps watch through the darkness. At the exact moment it whispers "Time!" and we awake. The work of an old riverside fellow I once talked with called him to be out of bed each morning half an hour before high tide. He told me that never once had he overslept himself by a minute. Latterly, he never even troubled to work out the tide for himself. He would lie down tired, and sleep a dreamless sleep, and each morning at a different hour this ghostly watchman, true as the tide itself, would silently call him. Did the man's spirit haunt through the darkness the muddy river stairs; or had it knowledge of the ways of Nature? Whatever the process, the man himself was unconscious of it.
In my own case my inward watchman is, perhaps, somewhat out of practice. He does his best; but he is over-anxious; he worries himself, and loses count. I say to him, maybe, "Five-thirty, please;" and he wakes me with a start at half-past two. I look at my watch. He suggests that, perhaps, I forgot to wind it up. I put it to my ear; it is still going. He thinks, maybe, something has happened to it; he is confident himself it is half-past five, if not a little later. To satisfy him, I put on a pair of slippers and go downstairs to inspect the dining-room clock. What happens to a man when he wanders about the house in the middle of the night, clad in a dressing-gown and a pair of slippers, there is no need to recount; most men know by experience. Everything-- especially everything with a sharp corner--takes a cowardly delight in hitting him. When you are wearing a pair of stout boots, things get out of your way; when you venture among furniture in woolwork slippers and no socks, it comes at you and kicks you. I return to bed bad tempered, and refusing to listen to his further absurd suggestion that all the clocks in the house have entered into a conspiracy against me, take half an hour to get to sleep again. From four to five he wakes me every ten minutes. I wish I had never said a word to him about the thing. At five o'clock he goes to sleep himself, worn out, and leaves it to the girl, who does it half an hour later than usual.
On this particular Wednesday he worried me to such an extent, that I got up at five simply to be rid of him. I did not know what to do with myself. Our train did not leave till eight; all our luggage had been packed and sent on the night before, together with the bicycles, to Fenchurch Street Station. I went into my study; I thought I would put in an hour's writing. The early morning, before one has breakfasted, is not, I take it, a good season for literary effort. I wrote three paragraphs of a story, and then read them over to myself. Some unkind things have been said about my work; but nothing has yet been written which would have done justice to those three paragraphs. I threw them into the waste- paper basket, and sat trying to remember what, if any, charitable institutions provided pensions for decayed authors.
To escape from this train of reflection, I put a golf-ball in my pocket, and selecting a driver, strolled out into the paddock. A couple of sheep were browsing there, and they followed and took a keen interest in my practice. The one was a kindly, sympathetic old party. I do not think she understood the game; I think it was my doing this innocent thing so early in the morning that appealed to her. At every stroke I made she bleated:"Go-o-o-d, go-o-o-d ind-e-e-d!" She seemed as pleased as if she had done it herself. As for the other one, she was a cantankerous, disagreeable old thing, as discouraging to me as her friend was helpful.
"Ba-a-ad, da-a-a-m ba-a-a-d!" was her comment on almost every stroke. As a matter of fact, some were really excellent strokes; but she did it just to be contradictory, and for the sake of irritating. I could see that.
By a most regrettable accident, one of my swiftest balls struck the good sheep on the nose. And at that the bad sheep laughed--laughed distinctly and undoubtedly, a husky, vulgar laugh; and, while her friend stood glued to the ground, too astonished to move, she changed her note for the first time and bleated:"Go-o-o-d, ve-e-ry go-o-o-d! Be-e-e-est sho-o-o-ot he-e-e's ma-a- a-de!"
I would have given half-a-crown if it had been she I had hit instead of the other one. It is ever the good and amiable who suffer in this world.
I had wasted more time than I had intended in the paddock, and when Ethelbertha came to tell me it was half-past seven, and the breakfast was on the table, I remembered that I had not shaved. It vexes Ethelbertha my shaving quickly. She fears that to outsiders it may suggest a poor-spirited attempt at suicide, and that in consequence it may get about the neighbourhood that we are not happy together. As a further argument, she has also hinted that my appearance is not of the kind that can be trifled with.
On the whole, I was just as glad not to be able to take a long farewell of Ethelbertha; I did not want to risk her breaking down. But I should have liked more opportunity to say a few farewell words of advice to the children, especially as regards my fishing rod, which they will persist in using for cricket stumps; and I hate having to run for a train. Quarter of a mile from the station I overtook George and Harris; they were also running. In their case--so Harris informed me, jerkily, while we trotted side by side--it was the new kitchen stove that was to blame. This was the first morning they had tried it, and from some cause or other it had blown up the kidneys and scalded the cook. He said he hoped that by the time we returned they would have got more used to it.
We caught the train by the skin of our teeth, as the saying is, and reflecting upon the events of the morning, as we sat gasping in the carriage, there passed vividly before my mind the panorama of my Uncle Podger, as on two hundred and fifty days in the year he would start from Ealing Common by the nine-thirteen train to Moorgate Street.From my Uncle Podger's house to the railway station was eight minutes' walk. What my uncle always said was: "Allow yourself a quarter of an hour, and take it easily."
What he always did was to start five minutes before the time and run. I do not know why, but this was the custom of the suburb. Many stout City gentlemen lived at Ealing in those days--I believe some live there still--and caught early trains to Town. They all started late; they all carried a black bag and a newspaper in one hand, and an umbrella in the other; and for the last quarter of a mile to the station, wet or fine, they all ran.
Folks with nothing else to do, nursemaids chiefly and errand boys, with now and then a perambulating costermonger added, would gather on the common of a fine morning to watch them pass, and cheer the most deserving. It was not a showy spectacle. They did not run well, they did not even run fast; but they were earnest, and they did their best. The exhibition appealed less to one's sense of art than to one's natural admiration for conscientious effort.Occasionally a little harmless betting would take place among the crowd. "Two to one agin the old gent in the white weskit!" "Ten to one on old Blowpipes, bar he don't roll over hisself 'fore 'e gets there!"
"Heven money on the Purple Hemperor!"--a nickname bestowed by a youth of entomological tastes upon a certain retired military neighbour of my uncle's,--a gentleman of imposing appearance when stationary, but apt to colour highly under exercise.
My uncle and the others would write to the Ealing Press complaining bitterly concerning the supineness of the local police; and the editor would add spirited leaders upon the Decay of Courtesy among the Lower Orders, especially throughout the Western Suburbs. But no good ever resulted.
It was not that my uncle did not rise early enough; it was that troubles came to him at the last moment. The first thing he would do after breakfast would be to lose his newspaper. We always knew when Uncle Podger had lost anything, by the expression of astonished indignation with which, on such occasions, he would regard the world in general. It never occurred to my Uncle Podger to say to himself:
"I am a careless old man. I lose everything: I never know where I have put anything. I am quite incapable of finding it again for myself. In this respect I must be a perfect nuisance to everybody about me. I must set to work and reform myself."
On the contrary, by some peculiar course of reasoning, he had convinced himself that whenever he lost a thing it was everybody else's fault in the house but his own."I had it in my hand here not a minute ago!" he would exclaim.
From his tone you would have thought he was living surrounded by conjurers, who spirited away things from him merely to irritate him."Could you have left it in the garden?" my aunt would suggest. "What should I want to leave it in the garden for? I don't want a paper in the garden; I want the paper in the train with me." "You haven't put it in your pocket?"
"God bless the woman! Do you think I should be standing here at five minutes to nine looking for it if I had it in my pocket all the while? Do you think I'm a fool?"Here somebody would explain, "What's this?" and hand him from somewhere a paper neatly folded. "I do wish people would leave my things alone," he would growl, snatching at it savagely. He would open his bag to put it in, and then glancing at it, he would pause, speechless with sense of injury. "What's the matter?" aunt would ask. "The day before yesterday's!" he would answer, too hurt even to shout, throwing the paper down upon the table.
If only sometimes it had been yesterday's it would have been a change. But it was always the day before yesterday's; except on Tuesday; then it would be Saturday's.
We would find it for him eventually; as often as not he was sitting on it. And then he would smile, not genially, but with the weariness that comes to a man who feels that fate has cast his lot among a band of hopeless idiots."All the time, right in front of your noses--!" He would not finish the sentence; he prided himself on his self-control.
This settled, he would start for the hall, where it was the custom of my Aunt Maria to have the children gathered, ready to say good- bye to him.
My aunt never left the house herself, if only to make a call next door, without taking a tender farewell of every inmate. One never knew, she would say, what might happen.
One of them, of course, was sure to be missing, and the moment this was noticed all the other six, without an instant's hesitation, would scatter with a whoop to find it. Immediately they were gone it would turn up by itself from somewhere quite near, always with the most reasonable explanation for its absence; and would at once start off after the others to explain to them that it was found. In this way, five minutes at least would be taken up in everybody's looking for everybody else, which was just sufficient time to allow my uncle to find his umbrella and lose his hat. Then, at last, the group reassembled in the hall, the drawing-room clock would commence to strike nine. It possessed a cold, penetrating chime that always had the effect of confusing my uncle. In his excitement he would kiss some of the children twice over, pass by others, forget whom he had kissed and whom he hadn't, and have to begin all over again. He used to say he believed they mixed themselves up on purpose, and I am not prepared to maintain that the charge was altogether false. To add to his troubles, one child always had a sticky face; and that child would always be the most affectionate.
If things were going too smoothly, the eldest boy would come out with some tale about all the clocks in the house being five minutes slow, and of his having been late for school the previous day in consequence. This would send my uncle rushing impetuously down to the gate, where he would recollect that he had with him neither his bag nor his umbrella. All the children that my aunt could not stop would charge after him, two of them struggling for the umbrella, the others surging round the bag. And when they returned we would discover on the hall table the most important thing of all that he had forgotten, and wondered what he would say about it when he came home.
We arrived at Waterloo a little after nine, and at once proceeded to put George's experiment into operation. Opening the book at the chapter entitled "At the Cab Rank," we walked up to a hansom, raised our hats, and wished the driver "Good-morning."
This man was not to be outdone in politeness by any foreigner, real or imitation. Calling to a friend named "Charles" to "hold the steed," he sprang from his box, and returned to us a bow, that would have done credit to Mr. Turveydrop himself. Speaking apparently in the name of the nation, he welcomed us to England, adding a regret that Her Majesty was not at the moment in London.
We could not reply to him in kind. Nothing of this sort had been anticipated by the book. We called him "coachman," at which he again bowed to the pavement, and asked him if he would have the goodness to drive us to the Westminster Bridge road.He laid his hand upon his heart, and said the pleasure would be his. Taking the third sentence in the chapter, George asked him what his fare would be.
The question, as introducing a sordid element into the conversation, seemed to hurt his feelings. He said he never took money from distinguished strangers; he suggested a souvenir--a diamond scarf pin, a gold snuffbox, some little trifle of that sort by which he could remember us.
As a small crowd had collected, and as the joke was drifting rather too far in the cabman's direction, we climbed in without further parley, and were driven away amid cheers. We stopped the cab at a boot shop a little past Astley's Theatre that looked the sort of place we wanted. It was one of those overfed shops that the moment their shutters are taken down in the morning disgorge their goods all round them. Boxes of boots stood piled on the pavement or in the gutter opposite. Boots hung in festoons about its doors and windows. Its sun-blind was as some grimy vine, bearing bunches of black and brown boots. Inside, the shop was a bower of boots. The man, when we entered, was busy with a chisel and hammer opening a new crate full of boots.George raised his hat, and said "Good-morning."
The man did not even turn round. He struck me from the first as a disagreeable man. He grunted something which might have been "Good-morning," or might not, and went on with his work.George said: "I have been recommended to your shop by my friend, Mr. X."
In response, the man should have said: "Mr. X. is a most worthy gentleman; it will give me the greatest pleasure to serve any friend of his."What he did say was: "Don't know him; never heard of him."
This was disconcerting. The book gave three or four methods of buying boots; George had carefully selected the one centred round "Mr. X," as being of all the most courtly. You talked a good deal with the shopkeeper about this "Mr. X," and then, when by this means friendship and understanding had been established, you slid naturally and gracefully into the immediate object of your coming, namely, your desire for boots, "cheap and good." This gross, material man cared, apparently, nothing for the niceties of retail dealing. It was necessary with such an one to come to business with brutal directness. George abandoned "Mr. X," and turning back to a previous page, took a sentence at random. It was not a happy selection; it was a speech that would have been superfluous made to any bootmaker. Under the present circumstances, threatened and stifled as we were on every side by boots, it possessed the dignity of positive imbecilitiy. It ran:- "One has told me that you have here boots for sale."
For the first time the man put down his hammer and chisel, and looked at us. He spoke slowly, in a thick and husky voice. He said:"What d'ye think I keep boots for--to smell 'em?"
He was one of those men that begin quietly and grow more angry as they proceed, their wrongs apparently working within them like yeast.
"What d'ye think I am," he continued, "a boot collector? What d'ye think I'm running this shop for--my health? D'ye think I love the boots, and can't bear to part with a pair? D'ye think I hang 'em about here to look at 'em? Ain't there enough of 'em? Where d'ye think you are--in an international exhibition of boots? What d'ye think these boots are--a historical collection? Did you ever hear of a man keeping a boot shop and not selling boots? D'ye think I decorate the shop with 'em to make it look pretty? What d'ye take me for--a prize idiot?"
I have always maintained that these conversation books are never of any real use. What we wanted was some English equivalent for the well-known German idiom: "Behalten Sie Ihr Haar auf."
Nothing of the sort was to be found in the book from beginning to end. However, I will do George the credit to admit he chose the very best sentence that was to be found therein and applied it. He said:."I will come again, when, perhaps, you will have some more boots to show me. Till then, adieu!"
With that we returned to our cab and drove away, leaving the man standing in the centre of his boot-bedecked doorway addressing remarks to us. What he said, I did not hear, but the passers-by appeared to find it interesting.
George was for stopping at another boot shop and trying the experiment afresh; he said he really did want a pair of bedroom slippers. But we persuaded him to postpone their purchase until our arrival in some foreign city, where the tradespeople are no doubt more inured to this sort of talk, or else more naturally amiable. On the subject of the hat, however, he was adamant. He maintained that without that he could not travel, and, accordingly, we pulled up at a small shop in the Blackfriars Road.The proprietor of this shop was a cheery, bright-eyed little man, and he helped us rather than hindered us.
When George asked him in the words of the book, "Have you any hats?" he did not get angry; he just stopped and thoughtfully scratched his chin.
"Hats," said he. "Let me think. Yes"--here a smile of positive pleasure broke over his genial countenance--"yes, now I come to think of it, I believe I have a hat. But, tell me, why do you ask me?"
George explained to him that he wished to purchase a cap, a travelling cap, but the essence of the transaction was that it was to be a "good cap."The man's face fell.
"Ah," he remarked, "there, I am afraid, you have me. Now, if you had wanted a bad cap, not worth the price asked for it; a cap good for nothing but to clean windows with, I could have found you the very thing. But a good cap--no; we don't keep them. But wait a minute," he continued,--on seeing the disappointment that spread over George's expressive countenance, "don't be in a hurry. I have a cap here"--he went to a drawer and opened it--"it is not a good cap, but it is not so bad as most of the caps I sell."He brought it forward, extended on his palm. "What do you think of that?" he asked. "Could you put up with that?" George fitted it on before the glass, and, choosing another remark from the book, said: "This hat fits me sufficiently well, but, tell me, do you consider that it becomes me?" The man stepped back and took a bird's-eye view. "Candidly," he replied, "I can't say that it does." He turned from George, and addressed himself to Harris and myself.
"Your friend's beauty," said he, "I should describe as elusive. It is there, but you can easily miss it. Now, in that cap, to my mind, you do miss it."At that point it occurred to George that he had had sufficient fun with this particular man. He said: "That is all right. We don't want to lose the train. How much?"
Answered the man: "The price of that cap, sir, which, in my opinion, is twice as much as it is worth, is four-and-six. Would you like it wrapped up in brown paper, sir, or in white?"George said he would take it as it was, paid the man four-and-six in-silver, and went out. Harris and I followed.
At Fenchurch Street we compromised with our cabman for five shillings. He made us another courtly bow, and begged us to remember him to the Emperor of Austria.
Comparing views in the train, we agreed that we had lost the game by two points to one; and George, who was evidently disappointed, threw the book out of window.We found our luggage and the bicycles safe on the boat, and with the tide at twelve dropped down the river. CHAPTER V
A necessary digression--Introduced by story containing moral--One of the charms of this book--The Journal that did not command success--Its boast: "Instruction combined with Amusement"-- Problem: say what should be considered instructive and what amusing--A popular game--Expert opinion on English law--Another of the charms of this book--A hackneyed tune--Yet a third charm of this book--The sort of wood it was where the maiden lived-- Description of the Black Forest.
A story is told of a Scotchman who, loving a lassie, desired her for his wife. But he possessed the prudence of his race. He had noticed in his circle many an otherwise promising union result in disappointment and dismay, purely in consequence of the false estimate formed by bride or bridegroom concerning the imagined perfectability of the other. He determined that in his own case no collapsed ideal should be possible. Therefore, it was that his proposal took the following form:"I'm but a puir lad, Jennie; I hae nae siller to offer ye, and nae land." "Ah, but ye hae yoursel', Davie!" "An' I'm wishfu' it wa' onything else, lassie. I'm nae but a puir ill-seasoned loon, Jennie." "Na, na; there's mony a lad mair ill-looking than yoursel', Davie." "I hae na seen him, lass, and I'm just a-thinkin' I shouldna' care to."
"Better a plain man, Davie, that ye can depend a' than ane that would be a speirin' at the lassies, a-bringin' trouble into the hame wi' his flouting ways."
"Dinna ye reckon on that, Jennie; it's nae the bonniest Bubbly Jock that mak's the most feathers to fly in the kailyard. I was ever a lad to run after the petticoats, as is weel kent; an' it's a weary handfu' I'll be to ye, I'm thinkin'.""Ah, but ye hae a kind heart, Davie! an' ye love me weel. I'm sure on't."
"I like ye weel enoo', Jennie, though I canna say how long the feeling may bide wi' me; an' I'm kind enoo' when I hae my ain way, an' naethin' happens to put me oot. But I hae the deevil's ain temper, as my mither call tell ye, an' like my puir fayther, I'm a- thinkin', I'll grow nae better as I grow mair auld."
"Ay, but ye're sair hard upon yersel', Davie. Ye're an honest lad. I ken ye better than ye ken yersel', an' ye'll mak a guid hame for me."
"Maybe, Jennie! But I hae my doots. It's a sair thing for wife an' bairns when the guid man canna keep awa' frae the glass; an' when the scent of the whusky comes to me it's just as though I hae'd the throat o' a Loch Tay salmon; it just gaes doon an' doon, an' there's nae filling o' me.""Ay, but ye're a guid man when ye're sober, Davie." "Maybe I'll be that, Jennie, if I'm nae disturbed." "An' ye'll bide wi' me, Davie, an' work for me?" "I see nae reason why I shouldna bide wi' yet Jennie; but dinna ye clack aboot work to me, for I just canna bear the thoct o't." "Anyhow, ye'll do your best, Davie? As the minister says, nae man can do mair than that."
"An' it's a puir best that mine'll be, Jennie, and I'm nae sae sure ye'll hae ower muckle even o' that. We're a' weak, sinfu' creatures, Jennie, an' ye'd hae some deefficulty to find a man weaker or mair sinfu' than mysel'."
"Weel, weel, ye hae a truthfu' tongue, Davie. Mony a lad will mak fine promises to a puir lassie, only to break 'em an' her heart wi' 'em. Ye speak me fair, Davie, and I'm thinkin' I'll just tak ye, an' see what comes o't."
Concerning what did come of it, the story is silent, but one feels that under no circumstances had the lady any right to complain of her bargain. Whether she ever did or did not--for women do not invariably order their tongues according to logic, nor men either for the matter of that--Davie, himself, must have had the satisfaction of reflecting that all reproaches were undeserved.
I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.There will be no useful information in this book.
Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.
I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.
In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry--long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.
We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.
We told them how to cure fits in cats. Personally I do not believe, and I did not believe then, that you can cure fits in cats. If I had a cat subject to fits I should advertise it for sale, or even give it away. But our duty was to supply information when asked for. Some fool wrote, clamouring to know; and I spent the best part of a morning seeking knowledge on the subject. I found what I wanted at length at the end of an old cookery book. What it was doing there I have never been able to understand. It had nothing to do with the proper subject of the book whatever; there was no suggestion that you could make anything savoury out of a cat, even when you had cured it of its fits. The authoress had just thrown in this paragraph out of pure generosity. I can only say that I wish she had left it out; it was the cause of a deal of angry correspondence and of the loss of four subscribers to the paper, if not more. The man said the result of following our advice had been two pounds worth of damage to his kitchen crockery, to say nothing of a broken window and probable blood poisoning to himself; added to which the cat's fits were worse than before. And yet it was a simple enough recipe. You held the cat between your legs, gently, so as not to hurt it, and with a pair of scissors made a sharp, clean cut in its tail. You did not cut off any part of the tail; you were to be careful not to do that; you only made an incision.
As we explained to the man, the garden or the coal cellar would have been the proper place for the operation; no one but an idiot would have attempted to perform it in a kitchen, and without help.
We gave them hints on etiquette. We told them how to address peers and bishops; also how to eat soup. We instructed shy young men how to acquire easy grace in drawing-rooms. We taught dancing to both sexes by the aid of diagrams. We solved their religious doubts for them, and supplied them with a code of morals that would have done credit to a stained-glass window.
The paper was not a financial success, it was some years before its time, and the consequence was that our staff was limited. My own apartment, I remember, included "Advice to Mothers"--I wrote that with the assistance of my landlady, who, having divorced one husband and buried four children, was, I considered, a reliable authority on all domestic matters; "Hints on Furnishing and Household Decorations--with Designs" a column of "Literary Counsel to Beginners"--I sincerely hope my guidance was of better service to them than it has ever proved to myself; and our weekly article, "Straight Talks to Young Men," signed "Uncle Henry." A kindly, genial old fellow was "Uncle Henry," with wide and varied experience, and a sympathetic attitude towards the rising generation. He had been through trouble himself in his far back youth, and knew most things. Even to this day I read of "Uncle Henry's" advice, and, though I say it who should not, it still seems to me good, sound advice. I often think that had I followed "Uncle Henry's" counsel closer I would have been wiser, made fewer mistakes, felt better satisfied with myself than is now the case.
A quiet, weary little woman, who lived in a bed-sitting room off the Tottenham Court Road, and who had a husband in a lunatic asylum, did our "Cooking Column," "Hints on Education"--we were full of hints,--and a page and a half of "Fashionable
Intelligence," written in the pertly personal style which even yet has not altogether disappeared, so I am informed, from modern journalism: "I must tell you about the DIVINE frock I wore at 'Glorious Goodwood' last week. Prince C.--but there, I really must not repeat all the things the silly fellow says; he is TOO foolish-
-and the DEAR Countess, I fancy, was just the WEEISH bit jealous"-- and so on.
Poor little woman! I see her now in the shabby grey alpaca, with the inkstains on it. Perhaps a day at "Glorious Goodwood," or anywhere else in the fresh air, might have put some colour into her cheeks.
Our proprietor--one of the most unashamedly ignorant men I ever met--I remember his gravely informing a correspondent once that Ben Jonson had written Rabelais to pay for his mother's funeral, and only laughing good-naturedly when his mistakes were pointed out to him--wrote with the aid of a cheap encyclopedia the pages devoted to "General Information," and did them on the whole remarkably well; while our office boy, with an excellent pair of scissors for his assistant, was responsible for our supply of "Wit and Humour."
It was hard work, and the pay was poor, what sustained us was the consciousness that we were instructing and improving our fellow men and women. Of all games in the world, the one most universally and eternally popular is the game of school. You collect six children, and put them on a doorstep, while you walk up and down with the book and cane. We play it when babies, we play it when boys and girls, we play it when men and women, we play it as, lean and slippered, we totter towards the grave. It never palls upon, it never wearies us. Only one thing mars it: the tendency of one and all of the other six children to clamour for their turn with the book and the cane. The reason, I am sure, that journalism is so popular a calling, in spite of its many drawbacks, is this: each journalist feels he is the boy walking up and down with the cane. The Government, the Classes, and the Masses, Society, Art, and Literature, are the other children sitting on the doorstep. He instructs and improves them.
But I digress. It was to excuse my present permanent disinclination to be the vehicle of useful information that I recalled these matters. Let us now return.
Somebody, signing himself "Balloonist," had written to ask concerning the manufacture of hydrogen gas. It is an easy thing to manufacture--at least, so I gathered after reading up the subject at the British Museum; yet I did warn "Balloonist," whoever he might be, to take all necessary precaution against accident. What more could I have done? Ten days afterwards a florid-faced lady called at the office, leading by the hand what, she explained, was her son, aged twelve. The boy's face was unimpressive to a degree positively remarkable. His mother pushed him forward and took off his hat, and then I perceived the reason for this. He had no eyebrows whatever, and of his hair nothing remained but a scrubby dust, giving to his head the appearance of a hard-boiled egg, skinned and sprinkled with black pepper.
"That was a handsome lad this time last week, with naturally curly hair," remarked the lady. She spoke with a rising inflection, suggestive of the beginning of things."What has happened to him?" asked our chief.
"This is what's happened to him," retorted the lady. She drew from her muff a copy of our last week's issue, with my article on hydrogen gas scored in pencil, and flung it before his eyes. Our chief took it and read it through."He was 'Balloonist'?" queried the chief. "He was 'Balloonist,'" admitted the lady, "the poor innocent child, and now look at him!" "Maybe it'll grow again," suggested our chief.
"Maybe it will," retorted the lady, her key continuing to rise, "and maybe it won't. What I want to know is what you are going to do for him."
Our chief suggested a hair wash. I thought at first she was going to fly at him; but for the moment she confined herself to words. It appears she was not thinking of a hair wash, but of
compensation. She also made observations on the general character of our paper, its utility, its claim to public support, the sense and wisdom of its contributors.
"Don't you try to be funny about it," said the lady (he had not meant to be funny, I am sure; levity was not his failing) "or you'll get something that YOU haven't asked for. Why, for two pins," said the lady, with a suddenness that sent us both flying like scuttled chickens behind our respective chairs, "I'd come round and make your head like it!" I take it, she meant like the boy's. She also added observations upon our chief's personal appearance, that were distinctly in bad taste. She was not a nice woman by any means.
Myself, I am of opinion that had she brought the action she threatened, she would have had no case; but our chief was a man who had had experience of the law, and his principle was always to avoid it. I have heard him say:
"If a man stopped me in the street and demanded of me my watch, I should refuse to give it to him. If he threatened to take it by force, I feel I should, though not a fighting man, do my best to protect it. If, on the other hand, he should assert his intention of trying to obtain it by means of an action in any court of law, I should take it out of my pocket and hand it to him, and think I had got off cheaply."
He squared the matter with the florid-faced lady for a five-pound note, which must have represented a month's profits on the paper; and she departed, taking her damaged offspring with her. After she was gone, our chief spoke kindly to me. He said:
"Don't think I am blaming you in the least; it is not your fault, it is Fate. Keep to moral advice and criticism--there you are distinctly good; but don't try your hand any more on 'Useful Information.' As I have said, it is not your fault. Your information is correct enough--there is nothing to be said against that; it simply is that you are not lucky with it."
I would that I had followed his advice always; I would have saved myself and other people much disaster. I see no reason why it should be, but so it is. If I instruct a man as to the best route between London and Rome, he loses his luggage in Switzerland, or is nearly shipwrecked off Dover. If I counsel him in the purchase of a camera, he gets run in by the German police for photographing fortresses. I once took a deal of trouble to explain to a man how to marry his deceased wife's sister at Stockholm. I found out for him the time the boat left Hull and the best hotels to stop at. There was not a single mistake from beginning to end in the information with which I supplied him; no hitch occurred anywhere; yet now he never speaks to me.
Therefore it is that I have come to restrain my passion for the giving of information; therefore it is that nothing in the nature of practical instruction will be found, if I can help it, within these pages.There will be no description of towns, no historical reminiscences, no architecture, no morals. I once asked an intelligent foreigner what he thought of London. He said: "It is a very big town." I said: "What struck you most about it?" He replied: "The people." I said: "Compared with other towns--Paris, Rome, Berlin,--what did you think of it?" He shrugged his shoulders. "It is bigger," he said; "what more can one say?"
One anthill is very much like another. So many avenues, wide or narrow, where the little creatures swarm in strange confusion; these bustling by, important; these halting to pow-wow with one another. These struggling with big burdens; those but basking in the sun. So many granaries stored with food; so many cells where the little things sleep, and eat, and love; the corner where lie their little white bones. This hive is larger, the next smaller. This nest lies on the sand, and another under the stones. This was built but yesterday, while that was fashioned ages ago, some say even before the swallows came; who knows?Nor will there be found herein folk-lore or story.
Every valley where lie homesteads has its song. I will tell you the plot; you can turn it into verse and set it to music of your own.There lived a lass, and there came a lad, who loved and rode away.
It is a monotonous song, written in many languages; for the young man seems to have been a mighty traveller. Here in sentimental Germany they remember him well. So also the dwellers of the Blue Alsatian Mountains remember his coming among them; while, if my memory serves me truly, he likewise visited the Banks of Allan Water. A veritable Wandering Jew is he; for still the foolish girls listen, so they say, to the dying away of his hoof-beats.
In this land of many ruins, that long while ago were voice-filled homes, linger many legends; and here again, giving you the essentials, I leave you to cook the dish for yourself. Take a human heart or two, assorted; a bundle of human passions--there are not many of them, half a dozen at the most; season with a mixture of good and evil; flavour the whole with the sauce of death, and serve up where and when you will. "The Saint's Cell," "The Haunted Keep," "The Dungeon Grave," "The Lover's Leap"--call it what you will, the stew's the same.
Lastly, in this book there will be no scenery. This is not
laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read. When Gibbon had to trust to travellers' tales for a description of the Hellespont, and the Rhine was chiefly familiar to English students through the medium of Caesar's Commentaries, it behoved every globe-trotter, for whatever distance, to describe to the best of his ability the things that he had seen. Dr. Johnson, familiar with little else than the view down Fleet Street, could read the description of a Yorkshire moor with pleasure and with profit. To a cockney who had never seen higher ground than the Hog's Back in Surrey, an account of Snowdon must have appeared exciting. But we, or rather the steam-engine and the camera for us, have changed all that. The man who plays tennis every year at the foot of the Matterhorn, and billiards on the summit of the Rigi, does not thank you for an elaborate and painstaking description of the Grampian Hills. To the average man, who has seen a dozen oil paintings, a hundred photographs, a thousand pictures in the illustrated journals, and a couple of panoramas of Niagara, the word-painting of a waterfall is tedious.
An American friend of mine, a cultured gentleman, who loved poetry well enough for its own sake, told me that he had obtained a more correct and more satisfying idea of the Lake district from an eighteenpenny book of photographic views than from all the works of Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth put together. I also remember his saying concerning this subject of scenery in literature, that he would thank an author as much for writing an eloquent description of what he had just had for dinner. But this was in reference to another argument; namely, the proper province of each art. My friend maintained that just as canvas and colour were the wrong mediums for story telling, so word-painting was, at its best, but a clumsy method of conveying impressions that could much better be received through the eye.
As regards the question, there also lingers in my memory very distinctly a hot school afternoon. The class was for English literature, and the proceedings commenced with the reading of a certain lengthy, but otherwise unobjectionable, poem. The author's name, I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten, together with the title of the poem. The reading finished, we closed our books, and the Professor, a kindly, white-haired old gentleman, suggested our giving in our own words an account of what we had just read."Tell me," said the Professor, encouragingly, "what it is all about."
"Please, sir," said the first boy--he spoke with bowed head and evident reluctance, as though the subject were one which, left to himself, he would never have mentioned,--"it is about a maiden."
"Yes," agreed the Professor; "but I want you to tell me in your own words. We do not speak of a maiden, you know; we say a girl. Yes, it is about a girl. Go on.""A girl," repeated the top boy, the substitution apparently increasing his embarrassment, "who lived in a wood." "What sort of a wood?" asked the Professor. The first boy examined his inkpot carefully, and then looked at the ceiling.
"Come," urged the Professor, growing impatient, "you have been reading about this wood for the last ten minutes. Surely you can tell me something concerning it."
"The gnarly trees, their twisted branches"--recommenced the top boy.
"No, no," interrupted the Professor; "I do not want you to repeat the poem. I want you to tell me in your own words what sort of a wood it was where the girl lived."
The second boy said it was a "green wood." This annoyed the Professor still more; he called the second boy a blockhead, though really I cannot see why, and passed on to the third, who, for the last minute, had been sitting apparently on hot plates, with his right arm waving up and down like a distracted semaphore signal. He would have had to say it the next second, whether the Professor had asked him or not; he was red in the face, holding his knowledge in."A dark and gloomy wood," shouted the third boy, with much relief to his feelings. "A dark and gloomy wood," repeated the Professor, with evident approval. "And why was it dark and gloomy?" The third boy was still equal to the occasion. "Because the sun could not get inside it." The Professor felt he had discovered the poet of the class.
"Because the sun could not get into it, or, better, because the sunbeams could not penetrate. And why could not the sunbeams penetrate there?""Please, sir, because the leaves were too thick."
"Very well," said the Professor. "The girl lived in a dark and gloomy wood, through the leafy canopy of which the sunbeams were unable to pierce. Now, what grew in this wood?" He pointed to the fourth boy."Please, sir, trees, sir." "And what else?"
"Toadstools, sir." This after a pause. The Professor was not quite sure about the toadstools, but on referring to the text he found that the boy was right; toadstools had been mentioned."Quite right," admitted the Professor, "toadstools grew there. And what else? What do you find underneath trees in a wood?" "Please, sir, earth, sir." "No; no; what grows in a wood besides trees?" "Oh, please, sir, bushes, sir." "Bushes; very good. Now we are getting on. In this wood there were trees and bushes. And what else?"
He pointed to a small boy near the bottom, who having decided that the wood was too far off to be of any annoyance to him, individually, was occupying his leisure playing noughts and crosses against himself. Vexed and bewildered, but feeling it necessary to add something to the inventory, he hazarded blackberries. This was a mistake; the poet had not mentioned blackberries.
"Of course, Klobstock would think of something to eat," commented the Professor, who prided himself on his ready wit. This raised a laugh against Klobstock, and pleased the Professor."You," continued he, pointing to a boy in the middle; "what else was there in this wood besides trees and bushes?" "Please, sir, there was a torrent there." "Quite right; and what did the torrent do?" "Please, sir, it gurgled." "No; no. Streams gurgle, torrents--?" "Roar, sir." "It roared. And what made it roar?"
This was a poser. One boy--he was not our prize intellect, I admit--suggested the girl. To help us the Professor put his question in another form:"When did it roar?"
Our third boy, again coming to the rescue, explained that it roared when it fell down among the rocks. I think some of us had a vague idea that it must have been a cowardly torrent to make such a noise about a little thing like this; a pluckier torrent, we felt, would have got up and gone on, saying nothing about it. A torrent that roared every time it fell upon a rock we deemed a poor spirited torrent; but the Professor seemed quite content with it."And what lived in this wood beside the girl?" was the next question. "Please, sir, birds, sir." "Yes, birds lived in this wood. What else?" Birds seemed to have exhausted our ideas. "Come," said the Professor, "what are those animals with tails, that run up trees?" We thought for a while, then one of us suggested cats. This was an error; the poet had said nothing about cats; squirrels was what the Professor was trying to get.
I do not recall much more about this wood in detail. I only recollect that the sky was introduced into it. In places where there occurred an opening among the trees you could by looking up see the sky above you; very often there were clouds in this sky, and occasionally, if I remember rightly, the girl got wet.
I have dwelt upon this incident, because it seems to me suggestive of the whole question of scenery in literature. I could not at the time, I cannot now, understand why the top boy's summary was not sufficient. With all due deference to the poet, whoever he may have been, one cannot but acknowledge that his wood was, and could not be otherwise than, "the usual sort of a wood."
I could describe the Black Forest to you at great length. I could translate to you Hebel, the poet of the Black Forest. I could write pages concerning its rocky gorges and its smiling valleys, its pine-clad slopes, its rock-crowned summits, its foaming rivulets (where the tidy German has not condemned them to flow respectably through wooden troughs or drainpipes), its white villages, its lonely farmsteads.
But I am haunted by the suspicion you might skip all this. Were you sufficiently conscientious--or weak-minded enough--not to do so, I should, all said and done, succeed in conveying to you only an impression much better summed up in the simple words of the unpretentious guide book:
"A picturesque, mountainous district, bounded on the south and the west by the plain of the Rhine, towards which its spurs descend precipitately. Its geological formation consists chiefly of variegated sandstone and granite; its lower heights being covered with extensive pine forests. It is well watered with numerous streams, while its populous valleys are fertile and well
cultivated. The inns are good; but the local wines should be partaken of by the stranger with discretion."
Why we went to Hanover--Something they do better abroad--The art of polite foreign conversation, as taught in English schools--A true history, now told for the first time--The French joke, as provided for the amusement of British youth--Fatherly instincts of Harris-- The road-waterer, considered as an artist--Patriotism of George-- What Harris ought to have done--What he did--We save Harris's life-
-A sleepless city--The cab-horse as a critic.
We arrived in Hamburg on Friday after a smooth and uneventful voyage; and from Hamburg we travelled to Berlin by way of Hanover. It is not the most direct route. I can only account for our visit to Hanover as the nigger accounted to the magistrate for his appearance in the Deacon's poultry-yard."Well?" "Yes, sar, what the constable sez is quite true, sar; I was dar, sar." "Oh, so you admit it? And what were you doing with a sack, pray, in Deacon Abraham's poultry-yard at twelve o'clock at night?"
"I'se gwine ter tell yer, sar; yes, sar. I'd been to Massa Jordan's wid a sack of melons. Yes, sar; an' Massa Jordan he wuz very 'greeable, an' axed me for ter come in.""Yes, sar, very 'greeable man is Massa Jordan. An' dar we sat a talking an' a talking--" "Very likely. What we want to know is what you were doing in the Deacon's poultry-yard?"
"Yes, sar, dat's what I'se cumming to. It wuz ver' late 'fore I left Massa Jordan's, an' den I sez ter mysel', sez I, now yer jest step out with yer best leg foremost, Ulysses, case yer gets into trouble wid de ole woman. Ver' talkative woman she is, sar, very-- "
"Yes, never mind her; there are other people very talkative in this town besides your wife. Deacon Abraham's house is half a mile out of your way home from Mr. Jordan's. How did you get there?""Dat's what I'm a-gwine ter explain, sar." "I am glad of that. And how do you propose to do it?" "Well, I'se thinkin', sar, I must ha' digressed." I take it we digressed a little.
At first, from some reason or other, Hanover strikes you as an uninteresting town, but it grows upon you. It is in reality two towns; a place of broad, modern, handsome streets and tasteful gardens; side by side with a sixteenth-century town, where old timbered houses overhang the narrow lanes; where through low archways one catches glimpses of galleried courtyards, once often thronged, no doubt, with troops of horse, or blocked with lumbering coach and six, waiting its rich merchant owner, and his fat placid Frau, but where now children and chickens scuttle at their will; while over the carved balconies hang dingy clothes a-drying.
A singularly English atmosphere hovers over Hanover, especially on Sundays, when its shuttered shops and clanging bells give to it the suggestion of a sunnier London. Nor was this British Sunday atmosphere apparent only to myself, else I might have attributed it to imagination; even George felt it. Harris and I, returning from a short stroll with our cigars after lunch on the Sunday afternoon, found him peacefully slumbering in the smoke-room's easiest chair.
"After all," said Harris, "there is something about the British Sunday that appeals to the man with English blood in his veins. I should be sorry to see it altogether done away with, let the new generation say what it will."And taking one each end of the ample settee, we kept George company.
To Hanover one should go, they say, to learn the best German. The disadvantage is that outside Hanover, which is only a small province, nobody understands this best German. Thus you have to decide whether to speak good German and remain in Hanover, or bad German and travel about. Germany being separated so many centuries into a dozen principalities, is unfortunate in possessing a variety of dialects. Germans from Posen wishful to converse with men of Wurtemburg, have to talk as often as not in French or English; and young ladies who have received an expensive education in Westphalia surprise and disappoint their parents by being unable to understand a word said to them in Mechlenberg. An English-speaking foreigner, it is true, would find himself equally nonplussed among the Yorkshire wolds, or in the purlieus of Whitechapel; but the cases are not on all fours. Throughout Germany it is not only in the country districts and among the uneducated that dialects are maintained. Every province has practically its own language, of which it is proud and retentive. An educated Bavarian will admit to you that, academically speaking, the North German is more correct; but he will continue to speak South German and to teach it to his children.
In the course of the century, I am inclined to think that Germany will solve her difficulty in this respect by speaking English. Every boy and girl in Germany, above the peasant class, speaks English. Were English pronunciation less arbitrary, there is not the slightest doubt but that in the course of a very few years, comparatively speaking, it would become the language of the world. All foreigners agree that, grammatically, it is the easiest
language of any to learn. A German, comparing it with his own language, where every word in every sentence is governed by at least four distinct and separate rules, tells you that English has no grammar. A good many English people would seem to have come to the same conclusion; but they are wrong. As a matter of fact, there is an English grammar, and one of these days our schools will recognise the fact, and it will be taught to our children,
penetrating maybe even into literary and journalistic circles. But at present we appear to agree with the foreigner that it is a quantity neglectable. English pronunciation is the stumbling-block to our progress. English spelling would seem to have been designed chiefly as a disguise to pronunciation. It is a clever idea, calculated to check presumption on the part of the foreigner; but for that he would learn it in a year.
For they have a way of teaching languages in Germany that is not our way, and the consequence is that when the German youth or maiden leaves the gymnasium or high school at fifteen, "it" (as in Germany one conveniently may say) can understand and speak the tongue it has been learning. In England we have a method that for obtaining the least possible result at the greatest possible expenditure of time and money is perhaps unequalled. An English boy who has been through a good middle-class school in England can talk to a Frenchman, slowly and with difficulty, about female gardeners and aunts; conversation which, to a man possessed perhaps of neither, is liable to pall. Possibly, if he be a bright
exception, he may be able to tell the time, or make a few guarded observations concerning the weather. No doubt he could repeat a goodly number of irregular verbs by heart; only, as a matter of fact, few foreigners care to listen to their own irregular verbs, recited by young Englishmen. Likewise he might be able to remember a choice selection of grotesquely involved French idioms, such as no modern Frenchman has ever heard or understands when he does hear.
The explanation is that, in nine cases out of ten, he has learnt French from an "Ahn's First-Course." The history of this famous work is remarkable and instructive. The book was originally written for a joke, by a witty Frenchman who had resided for some years in England. He intended it as a satire upon the conversational powers of British society. From this point of view it was distinctly good. He submitted it to a London publishing firm. The manager was a shrewd man. He read the book through. Then he sent for the author."This book of yours," said he to the author, "is very clever. I have laughed over it myself till the tears came." "I am delighted to hear you say so," replied the pleased Frenchman. "I tried to be truthful without being unnecessarily offensive." "It is most amusing," concurred the manager; "and yet published as a harmless joke, I feel it would fail." The author's face fell.
"Its humour," proceeded the manager, "would be denounced as forced and extravagant. It would amuse the thoughtful and intelligent, but from a business point of view that portion of the public are never worth considering. But I have an idea," continued the manager. He glanced round the room to be sure they were alone, and leaning forward sunk his voice to a whisper. "My notion is to publish it as a serious work for the use of schools!"The author stared, speechless.
"I know the English schoolman," said the manager; "this book will appeal to him. It will exactly fit in with his method. Nothing sillier, nothing more useless for the purpose will he ever discover. He will smack his lips over the book, as a puppy licks up blacking."
The author, sacrificing art to greed, consented. They altered the title and added a vocabulary, but left the book otherwise as it was.
The result is known to every schoolboy. "Ahn" became the palladium of English philological education. If it no longer retains its ubiquity, it is because something even less adaptable to the object in view has been since invented.
Lest, in spite of all, the British schoolboy should obtain, even from the like of "Ahn," some glimmering of French, the British educational method further handicaps him by bestowing upon him the assistance of, what is termed in the prospectus, "A native gentleman." This native French gentleman, who, by-the-by, is generally a Belgian, is no doubt a most worthy person, and can, it is true, understand and speak his own language with tolerable fluency. There his qualifications cease. Invariably he is a man with a quite remarkable inability to teach anybody anything. Indeed, he would seem to be chosen not so much as an instructor as an amuser of youth. He is always a comic figure. No Frenchman of a dignified appearance would be engaged for any English school. If he possess by nature a few harmless peculiarities, calculated to cause merriment, so much the more is he esteemed by his employers. The class naturally regards him as an animated joke. The two to four hours a week that are deliberately wasted on this ancient farce, are looked forward to by the boys as a merry interlude in an otherwise monotonous existence. And then, when the proud parent takes his son and heir to Dieppe merely to discover that the lad does not know enough to call a cab, he abuses not the system, but its innocent victim.
I confine my remarks to French, because that is the only language we attempt to teach our youth. An English boy who could speak German would be looked down upon as unpatriotic. Why we waste time in teaching even French according to this method I have never been able to understand. A perfect unacquaintance with a language is respectable. But putting aside comic journalists and lady
novelists, for whom it is a business necessity, this smattering of French which we are so proud to possess only serves to render us ridiculous.
In the German school the method is somewhat different. One hour every day is devoted to the same language. The idea is not to give the lad time between each lesson to forget what he learned at the last; the idea is for him to get on. There is no comic foreigner provided for his amusement. The desired language is taught by a German school-master who knows it inside and out as thoroughly as he knows his own. Maybe this system does not provide the German youth with that perfection of foreign accent for which the British tourist is in every land remarkable, but it has other advantages. The boy does not call his master "froggy," or "sausage," nor prepare for the French or English hour any exhibition of homely wit whatever. He just sits there, and for his own sake tries to learn that foreign tongue with as little trouble to everybody concerned as possible. When he has left school he can talk, not about penknives and gardeners and aunts merely, but about European politics, history, Shakespeare, or the musical glasses, according to the turn the conversation may take.
Viewing the German people from an Anglo-Saxon standpoint, it may be that in this book I shall find occasion to criticise them: but on the other hand there is much that we might learn from them; and in the matter of common sense, as applied to education, they can give us ninety-nine in a hundred and beat us with one hand.
The beautiful wood of the Eilenriede bounds Hanover on the south and west, and here occurred a sad drama in which Harris took a prominent part.
We were riding our machines through this wood on the Monday afternoon in the company of many other cyclists, for it is a favourite resort with the Hanoverians on a sunny afternoon, and its shady pathways are then filled with happy, thoughtless folk. Among them rode a young and beautiful girl on a machine that was new. She was evidently a novice on the bicycle. One felt instinctively that there would come a moment when she would require help, and Harris, with his accustomed chivalry, suggested we should keep near her. Harris, as he occasionally explains to George and to myself, has daughters of his own, or, to speak more correctly, a daughter, who as the years progress will no doubt cease practising catherine wheels in the front garden, and will grow up into a beautiful and respectable young lady. This naturally gives Harris an interest in all beautiful girls up to the age of thirty-five or thereabouts; they remind him, so he says, of home.
We had ridden for about two miles, when we noticed, a little ahead of us in a space where five ways met, a man with a hose, watering the roads. The pipe, supported at each joint by a pair of tiny wheels, writhed after him as he moved, suggesting a gigantic-worm, from whose open neck, as the man, gripping it firmly in both hands, pointing it now this way, and now that, now elevating it, now depressing it, poured a strong stream of water at the rate of about a gallon a second.
"What a much better method than ours," observed Harris, enthusiastically. Harris is inclined to be chronically severe on all British institutions. "How much simpler, quicker, and more economical! You see, one man by this method can in five minutes water a stretch of road that would take us with our clumsy lumbering cart half an hour to cover."
George, who was riding behind me on the tandem, said, "Yes, and it is also a method by which with a little carelessness a man could cover a good many people in a good deal less time than they could get out of the way."George, the opposite to Harris, is British to the core. I remember George quite patriotically indignant with Harris once for suggesting the introduction of the guillotine into England. "It is so much neater," said Harris. "I don't care if it is," said George; "I'm an Englishman; hanging is good enough for me."
"Our water-cart may have its disadvantages," continued George, "but it can only make you uncomfortable about the legs, and you can avoid it. This is the sort of machine with which a man can follow you round the corner and upstairs."
"It fascinates me to watch them," said Harris. "They are so skilful. I have seen a man from the corner of a crowded square in Strassburg cover every inch of ground, and not so much as wet an apron string. It is marvellous how they judge their distance. They will send the water up to your toes, and then bring it over your head so that it falls around your heels. They can--""Ease up a minute," said George. I said: "Why?"
He said: "I am going to get off and watch the rest of this show from behind a tree. There may be great performers in this line, as Harris says; this particular artist appears to me to lack
something. He has just soused a dog, and now he's busy watering a sign-post. I am going to wait till he has finished."
"That is precisely what I am going to make sure of," answered George, saying which he jumped off, and, taking up a position behind a remarkably fine elm, pulled out and commenced filling his pipe.
I did not care to take the tandem on by myself, so I stepped off and joined him, leaving the machine against a tree. Harris shouted something or other about our being a disgrace to the land that gave us birth, and rode on.
The next moment I heard a woman's cry of distress. Glancing round the stem of the tree, I perceived that it proceeded from the young and elegant lady before mentioned, whom, in our interest concerning the road-waterer, we had forgotten. She was riding her machine steadily and straightly through a drenching shower of water from the hose. She appeared to be too paralysed either to get off or turn her wheel aside. Every instant she was becoming wetter, while the man with the hose, who was either drunk or blind, continued to pour water upon her with utter indifference. A dozen voices yelled imprecations upon him, but he took no heed whatever.
Harris, his fatherly nature stirred to its depths, did at this point what, under the circumstances, was quite the right and proper thing to do. Had he acted throughout with the same coolness and judgment he then displayed, he would have emerged from that incident the hero of the hour, instead of, as happened, riding away followed by insult and threat. Without a moment's hesitation he spurted at the man, sprang to the ground, and, seizing the hose by the nozzle, attempted to wrest it away.
What he ought to have done, what any man retaining his common sense would have done the moment he got his hands upon the thing, was to turn off the tap. Then he might have played foot-ball with the man, or battledore and shuttlecock as he pleased; and the twenty or thirty people who had rushed forward to assist would have only applauded. His idea, however, as he explained to us afterwards, was to take away the hose from the man, and, for punishment, turn it upon the fool himself. The waterman's idea appeared to be the same, namely, to retain the hose as a weapon with which to soak Harris. Of course, the result was that, between them, they soused every dead and living thing within fifty yards, except themselves. One furious man, too drenched to care what more happened to him, leapt into the arena and also took a hand. The three among them proceeded to sweep the compass with that hose. They pointed it to heaven, and the water descended upon the people in the form of an equinoctial storm. They pointed it downwards, and sent the water in rushing streams that took people off their feet, or caught them about the waist line, and doubled them up.
Not one of them would loosen his grip upon the hose, not one of them thought to turn the water off. You might have concluded they were struggling with some primeval force of nature. In forty-five seconds, so George said, who was timing it, they had swept that circus bare of every living thing except one dog, who, dripping like a water nymph, rolled over by the force of water, now on this side, now on that, still gallantly staggered again and again to its feet to bark defiance at what it evidently regarded as the powers of hell let loose.
Men and women left their machines upon the ground, and flew into the woods. From behind every tree of importance peeped out wet, angry heads.
At last, there arrived upon the scene one man of sense. Braving all things, he crept to the hydrant, where still stood the iron key, and screwed it down. And then from forty trees began to creep more or less soaked human beings, each one with something to say.
At first I fell to wondering whether a stretcher or a clothes basket would be the more useful for the conveyance of Harris's remains back to the hotel. I consider that George's promptness on that occasion saved Harris's life. Being dry, and therefore able to run quicker, he was there before the crowd. Harris was for explaining things, but George cut him short.
"You get on that," said George, handing him his bicycle, "and go. They don't know we belong to you, and you may trust us implicitly not to reveal the secret. We'll hang about behind, and get in their way. Ride zig-zag in case they shoot."
I wish this book to be a strict record of fact, unmarred by exaggeration, and therefore I have shown my description of this incident to Harris, lest anything beyond bald narrative may have crept into it. Harris maintains it is exaggerated, but admits that one or two people may have been "sprinkled." I have offered to turn a street hose on him at a distance of five-and-twenty yards, and take his opinion afterwards, as to whether "sprinkled" is the adequate term, but he has declined the test. Again, he insists there could not have been more than half a dozen people, at the outside, involved in the catastrophe, that forty is a ridiculous misstatement. I have offered to return with him to Hanover and make strict inquiry into the matter, and this offer he has likewise declined. Under these circumstances, I maintain that mine is a true and restrained narrative of an event that is, by a certain number of Hanoverians, remembered with bitterness unto this very day.
We left Hanover that same evening, and arrived at Berlin in time for supper and an evening stroll. Berlin is a disappointing town; its centre over-crowded, its outlying parts lifeless; its one famous street, Unter den Linden, an attempt to combine Oxford Street with the Champs Elysee, singularly unimposing, being much too wide for its size; its theatres dainty and charming, where acting is considered of more importance than scenery or dress, where long runs are unknown, successful pieces being played again and again, but never consecutively, so that for a week running you may go to the same Berlin theatre, and see a fresh play every night; its opera house unworthy of it; its two music halls, with an unnecessary suggestion of vulgarity and commonness about them, ill- arranged and much too large for comfort. In the Berlin cafes and restaurants, the busy time is from midnight on till three. Yet most of the people who frequent them are up again at seven. Either the Berliner has solved the great problem of modern life, how to do without sleep, or, with Carlyle, he must be looking forward to eternity.
Personally, I know of no other town where such late hours are the vogue, except St. Petersburg. But your St. Petersburger does not get up early in the morning. At St. Petersburg, the music halls, which it is the fashionable thing to attend AFTER the theatre--a drive to them taking half an hour in a swift sleigh--do not practically begin till twelve. Through the Neva at four o'clock in the morning you have to literally push your way; and the favourite trains for travellers are those starting about five o'clock in the morning. These trains save the Russian the trouble of getting up early. He wishes his friends "Good-night," and drives down to the station comfortably after supper, without putting the house to any inconvenience.
Potsdam, the Versailles to Berlin, is a beautiful little town, situate among lakes and woods. Here in the shady ways of its quiet, far-stretching park of Sans Souci, it is easy to imagine lean, snuffy Frederick "bummeling" with shrill Voltaire.
Acting on my advice, George and Harris consented not to stay long in Berlin; but to push on to Dresden. Most that Berlin has to show can be seen better elsewhere, and we decided to be content with a drive through the town. The hotel porter introduced us to a droschke driver, under whose guidance, so he assured us, we should see everything worth seeing in the shortest possible time. The man himself, who called for us at nine o'clock in the morning, was all that could be desired. He was bright, intelligent, and well- informed; his German was easy to understand, and he knew a little English with which to eke it out on occasion. With the man himself there was no fault to be found, but his horse was the most unsympathetic brute I have ever sat behind.
He took a dislike to us the moment he saw us. I was the first to come out of the hotel. He turned his head, and looked me up and down with a cold, glassy eye; and then he looked across at another horse, a friend of his that was standing facing him. I knew what he said. He had an expressive head, and he made no attempt to disguise his thought.He said: "Funny things one does come across in the summer time, don't one?"
George followed me out the next moment, and stood behind me. The horse again turned his head and looked. I have never known a horse that could twist himself as this horse did. I have seen a
camelopard do trick's with his neck that compelled one's attention, but this animal was more like the thing one dreams of after a dusty days at Ascot, followed by a dinner with six old chums. If I had seen his eyes looking at me from between his own hind legs, I doubt if I should have been surprised. He seemed more amused with George if anything, than with myself. He turned to his friend again.
"Extraordinary, isn't it?" he remarked; "I suppose there must be some place where they grow them"; and then he commenced licking flies off his own left shoulder. I began to wonder whether he had lost his mother when young, and had been brought up by a cat.
George and I climbed in, and sat waiting for Harris. He came a moment later. Myself, I thought he looked rather neat. He wore a white flannel knickerbocker suit, which he had had made specially for bicycling in hot weather; his hat may have been a trifle out of the common, but it did keep the sun off.
The horse gave one look at him, said "Gott in Himmel!" as plainly as ever horse spoke, and started off down Friedrich Strasse at a brisk walk, leaving Harris and the driver standing on the pavement. His owner called to him to stop, but he took no notice. They ran after us, and overtook us at the corner of the Dorotheen Strasse. I could not catch what the man said to the horse, he spoke quickly and excitedly; but I gathered a few phrases, such as:"Got to earn my living somehow, haven't I? Who asked for your opinion? Aye, little you care so long as you can guzzle." The horse cut the conversation short by turning up the Dorotheen Strasse on his own account. I think what he said was: "Come on then; don't talk so much. Let's get the job over, and, where possible, let's keep to the back streets."
Opposite the Brandenburger Thor our driver hitched the reins to the whip, climbed down, and came round to explain things to us. He pointed out the Thiergarten, and then descanted to us of the Reichstag House. He informed us of its exact height, length, and breadth, after the manner of guides. Then he turned his attention to the Gate. He said it was constructed of sandstone, in imitation of the "Properleer" in Athens.
At this point the horse, which had been occupying its leisure licking its own legs, turned round its head. It did not say anything, it just looked.The man began again nervously. This time he said it was an imitation of the "Propeyedliar."
Here the horse proceeded up the Linden, and nothing would persuade him not to proceed up the Linden. His owner expostulated with him, but he continued to trot on. From the way he hitched his shoulders as he moved, I somehow felt he was saying:
"They've seen the Gate, haven' t they? Very well, that's enough. As for the rest, you don't know what you are talking about, and they wouldn't understand you if you did. You talk German."
It was the same throughout the length of the Linden. The horse consented to stand still sufficiently long to enable us to have a good look at each sight, and to hear the name of it. All explanation and description he cut short by the simple process of moving on.
"What these fellows want," he seemed to say to himself, "is to go home and tell people they have seen these things. If I am doing them an injustice, if they are more intelligent than they look, they can get better information than this old fool of mine is giving them from the guide book. Who wants to know how high a steeple is? You don't remember it the next five minutes when you are told, and if you do it is because you have got nothing else in your head. He just tires me with his talk. Why doesn't he hurry up, and let us all get home to lunch?"
Upon reflection, I am not sure that wall-eyed old brute had not sense on its side. Anyhow, I know there have been occasions, with a guide, when I would have been glad of its interference.But one is apt to "sin one's mercies," as the Scotch say, and at the time we cursed that horse instead of blessing it. CHAPTER VII
George wonders--German love of order--"The Band of the Schwarzwald Blackbirds will perform at seven"--The china dog--Its superiority over all other dogs--The German and the solar system--A tidy country--The mountain valley as it ought to be, according to the German idea--How the waters come down in Germany--The scandal of Dresden--Harris gives an entertainment--It is unappreciated--George and the aunt of him--George, a cushion, and three damsels.
At a point between Berlin and Dresden, George, who had, for the last quarter of an hour or so, been looking very attentively out of the window, said:
"Why, in Germany, is it the custom to put the letter-box up a tree? Why do they not fix it to the front door as we do? I should hate having to climb up a tree to get my letters. Besides, it is not fair to the postman. In addition to being most exhausting, the delivery of letters must to a heavy man, on windy nights, be positively dangerous work. If they will fix it to a tree, why not fix it lower down, why always among the topmost branches? But, maybe, I am misjudging the country," he continued, a new idea occurring to him. "Possibly the Germans, who are in many matters ahead of us, have perfected a pigeon post. Even so, I cannot help thinking they would have been wiser to train the birds, while they were about it, to deliver the letters nearer the ground. Getting your letters out of those boxes must be tricky work even to the average middle-aged German."I followed his gaze out of window. I said:
"Those are not letter-boxes, they are birds' nests. You must understand this nation. The German loves birds, but he likes tidy birds. A bird left to himself builds his nest just anywhere. It is not a pretty object, according to the German notion of prettiness. There is not a bit of paint on it anywhere, not a plaster image all round, not even a flag. The nest finished, the bird proceeds to live outside it. He drops things on the grass; twigs, ends of worms, all sorts of things. He is indelicate. He makes love, quarrels with his wife, and feeds the children quite in public. The German householder is shocked. He says to the bird:
"'For many things I like you. I like to look at you. I like to hear you sing. But I don't like your ways. Take this little box, and put your rubbish inside where I can't see it. Come out when you want to sing; but let your domestic arrangements be confined to the interior. Keep to the box, and don't make the garden untidy.'"