[ 1 ] There were four of us – George, William Samuel Harris, myself and Montmorency. We were sitting in my
room and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of
view I mean, of course.
[ 2 ] We were all feeling terrible, and we
were getting quite nervous about it. Harris and George said they hardly
knew what they were doing at times. With me, it was my liver that was out
of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had
just been reading an article which described the various symptoms by which
a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.
[ 3 ] It is an extraordinary thing, but
I never read a medicine article without coming to the conclusion that
I have the particular disease written about in the article.
[ 4 ] I remember going to the British Museum
one day to read about some illness which I had. I got down the book and
read all I could. Then I kept reading about other diseases. I forget
which was the first disease I read about, but before I had read halfway
down the list of symptoms, I was positive that I had got it.
[ 5 ] Every disease I came to, I found that
I had in some form or another. I read through the whole book, and the
only illness I found that I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
[ 6 ] I had walked into that reading-room
a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a horrible wreck.
[ 7 ] I went straight to my doctor and saw
him, and he said: “Well, what’s the matter with you?”
[ 8 ] I said: “I will not take up your
time telling you what is the matter with me. Life is short, and you
might pass away before I have finished. But I will tell you what is
NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have
not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you. Everything else, however,
I HAVE got.”
[ 9 ] And I told him how I came to discover
[ 10 ] Then he examined me and held my wrist,
and then he hit me on the chest when I wasn’t expecting it –
a cowardly thing to do, I call it. After that, he sat down, wrote out
a prescription, folded it up and gave it to me. I put it in my pocket
and went out.
[ 11 ] I took it to the nearest chemist’s
and handed it in. The man read it and then handed it back.
[ 12 ] He said: “I am a chemist. If I was
a store and family hotel combined, I might be able to help you. But
I’m only a chemist.”
[ 13 ] I read the prescription. It said:
[ 14 ] “1 pound beefsteak, with
1 pint bitter beer every 6 hours.
[ 15 ] 1 ten-mile walk every morning.
[ 16 ] 1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
[ 17 ] And don’t fill your head with things
you don’t understand.”
[ 18 ] Going back to my liver, I had the
symptoms, beyond all mistake, the main one being “a general disinterest
in work of any kind”.
[ 19 ] As a boy, the disease hardly ever left
me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. They used
to just call it laziness.
[ 20 ] “Why, you little devil, you,” they
would say, “get up and do something for your living, can’t you?”
– not knowing, of course, that I was ill.
[ 21 ] And they didn’t give me pills; they
just hit me on the side of the head. And, strange as it seems, those
hits on the head often cured me – for a short while, anyway.
[ 22 ] We sat there for half-an-hour, describing
to each other our illnesses, when Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door to
find out if we were ready for supper. We smiled sadly at one another,
and said we supposed we had better try to eat a bit.
[ 23 ] “What we want is rest,” said Harris
[ 24 ] “Rest and a complete change,” said
George, “this will make us feel better.”
[ 25 ] I agreed with George and suggested
that we should look for some quiet spot, far from the crowds.
[ 26 ] Harris said he thought it would be
boring and suggested a sea trip instead.
[ 27 ] I objected to the sea trip
strongly. A sea trip does you good when you are going to have a couple
of months of it, but, for a week, it is horrible. You start on Monday
with the idea that you are going to enjoy yourself. On Tuesday, you
wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish
you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to drink a little tea and
to sit up on deck. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again and eat
solid food. And on Monday morning, as you are waiting to step ashore,
you begin to thoroughly like it.
[ 28 ] George said: “Let’s go up the
[ 29 ] He said we should have fresh air,
exercise and quiet. The constant change of 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.
[ 30 ] Harris said he didn’t think George
ought to do anything that would make him sleepier than he always was,
as it might be dangerous. He added that if he DID sleep any more, he
might just as well be dead.
[ 31 ] Harris said, however, that the river
would suit him to a “T”. I don’t know what a “T” is, but
it seems to suit everybody.
[ 32 ] The only one who was not happy with
the suggestion was Montmorency. He never did care for the river.
[ 33 ] “It’s all very well for you
fellows,” he says. “You like it, but I don’t. There’s nothing
for me to do. If I see a rat, you won’t stop, and if I go to sleep,
you’ll go fooling about with the boat and throw me overboard. If you
ask me, I call the whole thing foolish.”
[ 34 ] We were three to one, however, and the
motion was carried.
[ 35 ] We arranged to start on the following
Saturday from Kingston. Harris and I would go down in the morning and
take the boat up to Chertsey, and George, who would not be able to get
away from work till the afternoon (George goes to sleep at a bank from
ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and make
him leave at two), would meet us there.
[ 36 ] Should we “camp out” or sleep at
[ 37 ] George and I were for camping out. We
said it would be so wild and free – the golden sun fading as it sets;
the pale stars shining at night; and the moon throwing her silver arms
around the river as we fall asleep to the sound of the water.
[ 38 ] Harris said: “How about if it
[ 39 ] There is no poetry about Harris. Harris
never “weeps, he knows not why”. If Harris’s eyes fill with tears,
you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions.
[ 40 ] If you were to stand at night by the
sea-shore with Harris, and say: “Hark! do you not hear? Is it but the
mermaids singing deep below the waving waters?” Harris would take you
by the arm, and say: “I know what it is; you’ve got a chill. Now,
you come along with me. I know a place round the corner here, where
you can get a drop of the finest Scotch whisky you ever tasted – put
you right in no time.”
[ 41 ] Harris always knows a place round the
corner where you can get something to drink.
[ 42 ] As for to camping out, his practical
view of the matter was a good point. Camping out in rainy weather is
[ 43 ] It is evening. You are completely wet,
and there is a good two inches of water in the boat. You find a place
on the banks that is not quite so wet as other places you have seen, and
you land and pull out the tent, and two of you begin to put it up.
[ 44 ] It is completely wet, and it flops
about and falls down on you and makes you mad. At last, somehow or other,
it does get up, and you get the things out of the boat.
[ 45 ] Rainwater is the main part of supper. The
bread is two thirds rainwater, the beefsteak-pie is full of it, and the
jam, butter, salt and coffee have all become soup.
[ 46 ] After supper, you find your tobacco
is wet, and you cannot smoke. Luckily you have a bottle of the stuff
that cheers you up, if taken in proper quantity, and this helps you to
go to bed.
[ 47 ] We therefore decided that we would sleep
out on fine nights and sleep in hotels, inns or pubs when it was wet,
or when we wanted a change.
[ 48 ] Montmorency approved. He does not
like the quiet. Give him something noisy, and he is happy. To look at
Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent to earth in the
shape of a small fox-terrier.
[ 49 ] When first he came to live with
me, I used to look at him and think: “Oh, that dog will never
[ 50 ] But, when I had paid for about a dozen
chickens that he had killed, and had pulled him, growling and kicking, out
of a hundred and fourteen street fights, and had had a dead cat brought
round for my inspection by an angry female, who called me a murderer,
then I began to think that maybe he’d live a bit longer.
[ 51 ] The following evening, we again got
together to discuss and arrange our plans. Harris said:
[ 52 ] „The first thing to settle is what
to take with us. Now, you get a bit of paper and write down, J., and
you get the grocery catalogue, George, and somebody give me a bit of
pencil, and then I’ll make out a list.”
[ 53 ] That’s Harris – so ready to take
the responsibility of everything himself, and put it on the backs of
[ 54 ] He always reminds me of my poor Uncle
Podger. You never saw such a commotion in all your life as when my Uncle
Podger did a job round the house. A picture would need to be put up,
and Uncle Podger would say:
„Oh, you leave that to ME. Don’t
you worry about that. I’LL do all that.”
[ 55 ] And then he would take off his coat and
begin. After an hour or more of cutting himself, breaking the glass in
the frame, dropping the hammer and nails, smashing his thumb, and shouting
at everyone around him, the picture would finally be put up.
[ 56 ] Harris will be just that sort of man
when he grows up.
[ 57 ] The first list we made out had to be
thrown away. It was clear that the Thames wasn’t large enough for
a boat as big as we would need.
[ 58 ] George said: “We must not think of
the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do
[ 59 ] George comes out really quite sensible
at times. You’d be surprised.
[ 60 ] “We won’t take a tent,” suggested
George. “We will have a boat with a cover. It is ever so much simpler
and more comfortable.”
[ 61 ] It seemed a good thought. I do not
know whether you have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix iron hoops
up over the boat, and throw a huge canvas over them, and tie it down
all round, and it converts the boat into a sort of little house.
[ 62 ] George said that we must take a rug
each, a lamp, some soap, a brush and comb (between us), a toothbrush
(each), a basin, some toothpaste, some shaving tackle (sounds like
a French exercise, doesn’t it?), and a couple of big-towels for
bathing. I notice that people always make gigantic arrangements for
bathing when they are going anywhere near the water, but that they
don’t bathe much when they are there.
[ 63 ] Harris said there was nothing like
a swim before breakfast to give you an appetite. He said it always gave
him an appetite. George said that if it was going to make Harris eat
more than Harris ordinarily ate, then Harris shouldn’t have a bath
[ 64 ] He said there would be quite enough
hard work in towing enough food for Harris up stream as it was.
[ 65 ] I told George, however, how much better
it would be to have Harris clean and fresh about the boat, even if we
did have to take a few more hundredweight of food.