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Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Author:Jerome K. Jerome


Three invalids.—Sufferings of George and Harris.—A victim to one hundred and seven fatal maladies.—Useful prescriptions.—Cure for liver complaint in children.—We agree that we are overworked, and need rest.—A week on the rolling deep?—George suggests the River.—Montmorency lodges an objection.—Original motion carried by majority of three to one. There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were—bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.
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  Three invalids.—Sufferings of George and Harris.—A victim to one hundredand seven fatal maladies.—Useful prescriptions.—Cure for liver complaintin children.—We agree that we are overworked, and need rest.—A week onthe rolling deep?—George suggests the River.—Montmorency lodges anobjection.—Original motion carried by majority of three to one.

  There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, andMontmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about howbad we were—bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

  We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it.Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him attimes, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that_he_ had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what _he_ was doing.With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liverthat was out of order, because I had just been reading a patentliver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by whicha man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

  It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicineadvertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I amsuffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its mostvirulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactlywith all the sensations that I have ever felt.

  I remember going to the British Museum oneday to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had atouch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all Icame to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned theleaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forgetwhich was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastatingscourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of“premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

  I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness ofdespair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever—read thesymptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for monthswithout knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’sDance—found, as I expected, that I had that too,—began to get interestedin my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so startedalphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, andthat the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’sdisease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, sofar as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, withsevere complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. Iplodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the onlymalady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

  I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort ofslight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidiousreservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed.I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, andI grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee.Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me withoutmy being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering withfrom boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concludedthere was nothing else the matter with me.

  I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from amedical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class!Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me. Iwas a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me,and, after that, take their diploma.

  Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. Ifelt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all ofa sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. Imade it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel myheart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have sincebeen induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all thetime, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I pattedmyself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and Iwent a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I couldnot feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it outas far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine itwith the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that Icould gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I hadscarlet fever.

  I had walked into that reading-room ahappy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

  I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse,and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing,when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going tohim now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me.He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of yourordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” SoI went straight up and saw him, and he said:

  “Well, what’s the matter with you?”

  I said:

  “I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is thematter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I hadfinished. But I will tell you what is _not_ the matter with me. I havenot got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannottell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else,however, I _have_ got.”

  And I told him how I came to discover it all.

  Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my wrist, andthen he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t expecting it—a cowardly thingto do, I call it—and immediately afterwards butted me with the side ofhis head. After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, andfolded it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out.

  I did not open it. I took it to the nearest chemist’s, and handed it in.The man read it, and then handed it back.

  He said he didn’t keep it.

  I said:

  “You are a chemist?”

  He said:

  “I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotelcombined, I might be able to oblige you. Being only a chemist hampersme.”

  I read the prescription. It ran:

  “1 lb. beefsteak, with1 pt. bitter beer

  every 6 hours.

  1 ten-mile walk every morning.

  1 bed at 11 sharp every night.

  And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”

  I followed the directions, with the happy result—speaking for myself—thatmy life was preserved, and is still going on.

  In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had thesymptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being “a generaldisinclination to work of any kind.”

  What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy Ihave been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me fora day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical sciencewas in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it downto laziness.

  “Why, you skulking little devil, you,” they would say, “get up and dosomething for your living, can’t you?”—not knowing, of course, that I wasill.

  And they didn’t give me pills; they gave me clumps on the side of thehead. And, strange as it may appear, those clumps on the head oftencured me—for the time being. I have known one clump on the head havemore effect upon my liver, and make me feel more anxious to go straightaway then and there, and do what was wanted to be done, without furtherloss of time, than a whole box of pills does now.

  You know, it often is so—those simple, old-fashioned remedies aresometimes more efficacious than all the dispensary stuff.

  We sat there for half-an-hour, describing to each other our maladies. Iexplained to George and William Harris how I felt when I got up in themorning, and William Harris told us how he felt when he went to bed; andGeorge stood on the hearth-rug, and gave us a clever and powerful pieceof acting, illustrative of how he felt in the night.

  George _fancies_ he is ill; but there’s never anything really the matterwith him, you know.

  At this point, Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door to know if we were readyfor supper. We smiled sadly at one another, and said we supposed we hadbetter try to swallow a bit. Harris said a little something in one’sstomach often kept the disease in check; and Mrs. Poppets brought thetray in, and we drew up to the table, and toyed with a little steak andonions, and some rhubarb tart.

  I must have been very weak at the time; because I know, after the firsthalf-hour or so, I seemed to take no interest whatever in my food—anunusual thing for me—and I didn’t want any cheese.

  This duty done, we refilled our glasses, lit our pipes, and resumed thediscussion upon our state of health. What it was that was actually thematter with us, we none of us could be sure of; but the unanimous opinionwas that it—whatever it was—had been brought on by overwork.

  “What we want is rest,” said Harris.

  “Rest and a complete change,” said George. “The overstrain upon ourbrains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Changeof scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore themental equilibrium.”

  George has a cousin, who is usually described in the charge-sheet as amedical student, so that he naturally has a somewhat family-physicianaryway of putting things.

  I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out some retiredand old-world spot, far from the madding crowd, and dream away a sunnyweek among its drowsy lanes—some half-forgotten nook, hidden away by thefairies, out of reach of the noisy world—some quaint-perched eyrie on thecliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth centurywould sound far-off and faint.

  Harris said he thought it would be humpy. He said he knew the sort ofplace I meant; where everybody went to bed at eight o’clock, and youcouldn’t get a _Referee_ for love or money, and had to walk ten miles toget your baccy.

  “No,” said Harris, “if you want rest and change, you can’t beat a seatrip.”

  I objected to the sea trip strongly. A sea trip does you good when youare going to have a couple of months of it, but, for a week, it iswicked.

  You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that you aregoing to enjoy yourself. You wave an airy adieu to the boys on shore,light your biggest pipe, and swagger about the deck as if you wereCaptain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, and Christopher Columbus all rolled intoone. On Tuesday, you wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, andFriday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to swallow alittle beef tea, and to sit up on deck, and answer with a wan, sweetsmile when kind-hearted people ask you how you feel now. On Sunday, youbegin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning,as, with your bag and umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale,waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it.

  I remember my brother-in-law going for a short sea trip once, for thebenefit of his health. He took a return berth from London to Liverpool;and when he got to Liverpool, the only thing he was anxious about was tosell that return ticket.

  It was offered round the town at a tremendous reduction, so I am told;and was eventually sold for eighteenpence to a bilious-looking youth whohad just been advised by his medical men to go to the sea-side, and takeexercise.

  “Sea-side!” said my brother-in-law, pressing the ticket affectionatelyinto his hand; “why, you’ll have enough to last you a lifetime; and asfor exercise! why, you’ll get more exercise, sitting down on that ship,than you would turning somersaults on dry land.”

  He himself—my brother-in-law—came back by train. He said theNorth-Western Railway was healthy enough for him.

  Another fellow I knew went for a week’s voyage round the coast, and,before they started, the steward came to him to ask whether he would payfor each meal as he had it, or arrange beforehand for the whole series.

  The steward recommended the latter course, as it would come so muchcheaper. He said they would do him for the whole week at two poundsfive. He said for breakfast there would be fish, followed by a grill.Lunch was at one, and consisted of four courses. Dinner at six—soup,fish, entree, joint, poultry, salad, sweets, cheese, and dessert. And alight meat supper at ten.

  My friend thought he would close on the two-pound-five job

he is ahearty eater

, and did so.

  Lunch came just as they were off Sheerness. He didn’t feel so hungry ashe thought he should, and so contented himself with a bit of boiled beef,and some strawberries and cream. He pondered a good deal during theafternoon, and at one time it seemed to him that he had been eatingnothing but boiled beef for weeks, and at other times it seemed that hemust have been living on strawberries and cream for years.

  Neither the beef nor the strawberries and cream seemed happy,either—seemed discontented like.

  At six, they came and told him dinner was ready. The announcementaroused no enthusiasm within him, but he felt that there was some of thattwo-pound-five to be worked off, and he held on to ropes and things andwent down. A pleasant odour of onions and hot ham, mingled with friedfish and greens, greeted him at the bottom of the ladder; and then thesteward came up with an oily smile, and said:

  “What can I get you, sir?”

  “Get me out of this,” was the feeble reply.

  And they ran him up quick, and propped him up, over to leeward, and lefthim.

  For the next four days he lived a simple and blameless life on thincaptain’s biscuits

I mean that the biscuits were thin, not the captain

and soda-water; but, towards Saturday, he got uppish, and went in forweak tea and dry toast, and on Monday he was gorging himself on chickenbroth. He left the ship on Tuesday, and as it steamed away from thelanding-stage he gazed after it regretfully.

  “There she goes,” he said, “there she goes, with two pounds’ worth offood on board that belongs to me, and that I haven’t had.”

  He said that if they had given him another day he thought he could haveput it straight.

  So I set my face against the sea trip. Not, as I explained, upon my ownaccount. I was never queer. But I was afraid for George. George saidhe should be all right, and would rather like it, but he would adviseHarris and me not to think of it, as he felt sure we should both be ill.Harris said that, to himself, it was always a mystery how people managedto get sick at sea—said he thought people must do it on purpose, fromaffectation—said he had often wished to be, but had never been able.

  Then he told us anecdotes of how he had gone across the Channel when itwas so rough that the passengers had to be tied into their berths, and heand the captain were the only two living souls on board who were not ill.Sometimes it was he and the second mate who were not ill; but it wasgenerally he and one other man. If not he and another man, then it washe by himself.

  It is a curious fact, but nobody ever is sea-sick—on land. At sea, youcome across plenty of people very bad indeed, whole boat-loads of them;but I never met a man yet, on land, who had ever known at all what it wasto be sea-sick. Where the thousands upon thousands of bad sailors thatswarm in every ship hide themselves when they are on land is a mystery.

  If most men were like a fellow I saw on the Yarmouth boat one day, Icould account for the seeming enigma easily enough. It was just offSouthend Pier, I recollect, and he was leaning out through one of theport-holes in a very dangerous position. I went up to him to try andsave him.

  “Hi! come further in,” I said, shaking him by the shoulder. “You’ll beoverboard.”

  “Oh my! I wish I was,” was the only answer I could get; and there I hadto leave him.

  Three weeks afterwards, I met him in the coffee-room of a Bath hotel,talking about his voyages, and explaining, with enthusiasm, how he lovedthe sea.

  “Good sailor!” he replied in answer to a mild young man’s envious query;“well, I did feel a little queer _once_, I confess. It was off CapeHorn. The vessel was wrecked the next morning.”

  I said:

  “Weren’t you a little shaky by Southend Pier one day, and wanted to bethrown overboard?”

  “Southend Pier!” he replied, with a puzzled expression.

  “Yes; going down to Yarmouth, last Friday three weeks.”

  “Oh, ah—yes,” he answered, brightening up; “I remember now. I did have aheadache that afternoon. It was the pickles, you know. They were themost disgraceful pickles I ever tasted in a respectable boat. Did _you_have any?”

  For myself, I have discovered an excellent preventive againstsea-sickness, in balancing myself. You stand in the centre of the deck,and, as the ship heaves and pitches, you move your body about, so as tokeep it always straight. When the front of the ship rises, you leanforward, till the deck almost touches your nose; and when its back endgets up, you lean backwards. This is all very well for an hour or two;but you can’t balance yourself for a week.

  George said:

  “Let’s go up the river.”

  He said we should have fresh air, exercise and quiet; the constant changeof scene would occupy our minds

including what there was of Harris’s

;and the hard work would give us a good appetite, and make us sleep well.

  Harris said he didn’t think George ought to do anything that would have atendency to make him sleepier than he always was, as it might bedangerous. He said he didn’t very well understand how George was goingto sleep any more than he did now, seeing that there were onlytwenty-four hours in each day, summer and winter alike; but thought thatif he _did_ sleep any more, he might just as well be dead, and so savehis board and lodging.

  Harris said, however, that the river would suit him to a “T.” I don’tknow what a “T” is

except a sixpenny one, which includesbread-and-butter and cake _ad lib._, and is cheap at the price, if youhaven’t had any dinner

. It seems to suit everybody, however, which isgreatly to its credit.

  It suited me to a “T” too, and Harris and I both said it was a good ideaof George’s; and we said it in a tone that seemed to somehow imply thatwe were surprised that George should have come out so sensible.

  The only one who was not struck with thesuggestion was Montmorency. He never did care for the river, didMontmorency.

  “It’s all very well for you fellows,” he says; “you like it, but _I_don’t. There’s nothing for me to do. Scenery is not in my line, and Idon’t smoke. If I see a rat, you won’t stop; and if I go to sleep, youget fooling about with the boat, and slop me overboard. If you ask me, Icall the whole thing bally foolishness.”

  We were three to one, however, and the motion was carried.