Three Men in a Boat Chapter 7 – Jim and Harris



Moulsey Lock – Now known as Molesey Lock


  • Molesey Lock is a lock on the River Thames in England at East Molesey, Surrey. It is located close to Hampton Court Palace in southwest London.


  • It took Jerome and Harris some time to pass through the Moulsey Lock because the lock opens when there are so many boats to cross.
  • I have stood and watched it, sometimes, when you could not see any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers, and gay caps, and saucy hats, and many-coloured parasols, and silken rugs, and cloaks, and streaming ribbons, and dainty whites; when looking down into the lock from the quay, you might fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of every hue and shade had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a rainbow heap, that covered every corner.

The crowd at Molesey

  • On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day long, while, up the stream, and down the stream, lie, waiting their turn, outside the gates, long lines of still more boats; and boats are drawing near and passing away, so that the sunny river, from the Palace up to Hampton Church, is dotted and decked with yellow, and blue, and orange, and white, and red, and pink.
  • All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey dress themselves up in boating costume, and come and walk round the lock with their dogs, and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats; and, altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men, the pretty coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the moving boats, the white sails, the pleasant landscape, and the sparkling water, it is one of the gayest sights I know of near this dull old London town.

 Dress Up

  • The river affords a good opportunity for dress. For once in a way, we men are able to show our taste in colours, and I think we come out very natty, if you ask me. I always like a little red in my things – red and black. You know my hair is a sort of golden brown, rather a pretty shade I’ve been told, and a dark red matches it beautifully; and then I always think a light-blue necktie goes so well with it, and a pair of those Russian-leather shoes and a red silk handkerchief round the waist – a handkerchief looks so much better than a belt.

The Dressing Problem

  • Harris always keeps to shades or mixtures of orange or yellow, but I don’t think he is at all wise in this. His complexion is too dark for yellows. Yellows don’t suit him: there can be no question about it. I want him to take to blue as a background, with white or cream for relief; but, there! the less taste a person has in dress, the more obstinate he always seems to be. It is a great pity, because he will never be a success as it is, while there are one or two colours in which he might not really look so bad, with his hat on.
  • George has bought some new things for this trip, and I’m rather vexed about them. The blazer is loud. I should not like George to know that I thought so, but there really is no other word for it. He brought it home and showed it to us on Thursday evening. We asked him what colour he called it, and he said he didn’t know. He didn’t think there was a name for the colour. The man had told him it was an Oriental design. George put it on, and asked us what we thought of it. Harris said that, as an object to hang over a flower-bed in early spring to frighten the birds away, he should respect it; but that, considered as an article of dress for any human being, except a Margate nigger, it made him ill. George got quite huffy; but, as Harris said, if he didn’t want his opinion, why did he ask for it?
  • What troubles Harris and myself, with regard to it, is that we are afraid it will attract attention to the boat. Girls, also, don’t look half bad in a boat, if prettily dressed. Nothing is more fetching, to my thinking, than a tasteful boating costume. But a “boating costume,” it would be as well if all ladies would understand, ought to be a costume that can be worn in a boat, and not merely under a glass-case. It utterly spoils an excursion if you have folk in the boat who are thinking all the time a good deal more of their dress than of the trip. It was my misfortune once to go for a water picnic with two ladies of this kind. We did have a lively time!

A Water Picnic with Two Ladies

  • They were both beautifully got up – all lace and silky stuff, and flowers, and ribbons, and dainty shoes, and light gloves. But they were dressed for a photographic studio, not for a river picnic. They were the “boating costumes” of a French fashion-plate. It was ridiculous, fooling about in them anywhere near real earth, air, and water.
  • The first thing was that they thought the boat was not clean. We dusted all the seats for them, and then assured them that it was, but they didn’t believe us. One of them rubbed the cushion with the forefinger of her glove, and showed the result to the other, and they both sighed, and sat down, with the air of early Christian martyrs trying to make themselves comfortable up against the stake. You are liable to occasionally splash a little when sculling, and it appeared that a drop of water ruined those costumes. The mark never came out, and a stain was left on the dress for ever.
  • I was stroke. I did my best. I feathered some two feet high, and I paused at the end of each stroke to let the blades drip before returning them, and I picked out a smooth bit of water to drop them into again each time.
  • (Bow said, after a while, that he did not feel himself a sufficiently accomplished oarsman to pull with me, but that he would sit still, if I would allow him, and study my stroke. He said it interested him.) But, notwithstanding all this, and try as I would, I could not help an occasional flicker of water from going over those dresses.
  • The girls did not complain, but they huddled up close together, and set their lips firm, and every time a drop touched them, they visibly shrank and shuddered. It was a noble sight to see them suffering thus in silence, but it unnerved me altogether. I am too sensitive. I got wild and fitful in my rowing, and splashed more and more, the harder I tried not to.
  • I gave it up at last; I said I’d row bow. Bow thought the arrangement would be better too, and we changed places. The ladies gave an involuntary sigh of relief when they saw me go, and quite brightened up for a moment. Poor girls! they had better have put up with me. The man they had got now was a jolly, light-hearted, thick-headed sort of a chap, with about as much sensitiveness in him as there might be in a Newfoundland puppy. You might look daggers at him for an hour and he would not notice it, and it would not trouble him if he did. He set a good, rollicking, dashing stroke that sent the spray playing all over the boat like a fountain, and made the whole crowd sit up straight in no time. When he spread more than pint of water over one of those dresses, he would give a pleasant little laugh, and say: “I beg your pardon, I’m sure;” and offer them his handkerchief to wipe it off with. “Oh, it’s of no consequence,” the poor girls would murmur in reply, and covertly draw rugs and coats over themselves, and try and protect themselves with their lace parasols.
  • At lunch they had a very bad time of it. People wanted them to sit on the grass, and the grass was dusty; and the tree-trunks, against which they were invited to lean, did not appear to have been brushed for weeks; so they spread their handkerchiefs on the ground and sat on those, bolt upright. Somebody, in walking about with a plate of beef-steak pie, tripped up over a root, and sent the pie flying. None of it went over them, fortunately, but the accident suggested a fresh danger to them, and agitated them; and, whenever anybody moved about, after that, with anything in his hand that could fall and make a mess, they watched that person with growing anxiety until he sat down again.
  • “Now then, you girls,” said our friend Bow to them, cheerily, after it was all over, “come along, you’ve got to wash up!” They didn’t understand him at first. When they grasped the idea, they said they feared they did not know how to wash up. “Oh, I’ll soon show you,” he cried; “it’s rare fun! You lie down on your – I mean you lean over the bank, you know, and sloush the things about in the water.”
  • The elder sister said that she was afraid that they hadn’t got on dresses suited to the work. “Oh, they’ll be all right,” said he light-heartedly; “tuck `em up.” And he made them do it, too. He told them that that sort of thing was half the fun of a picnic. They said it was very interesting.
  • Now I come to think it over, was that young man as dense-headed as we thought? or was he – no, impossible! there was such a simple, child-like expression about him!

Harris wants to Get out at Hampton Church

  • Harris wanted to get out at Hampton Church, to go and see Mrs. Thomas’s tomb.
  • “Who is Mrs. Thomas?” I asked.
  • “How should I know?” replied Harris. “She’s a lady that’s got a funny tomb, and I want to see it.”
  • I objected. I don’t know whether it is that I am built wrong, but I never did seem to hanker after tombstones myself.
  • I know that the proper thing to do, when you get to a village or town, is to rush off to the churchyard, and enjoy the graves; but it is a recreation that I always deny myself.
  • I take no interest in creeping round dim and chilly churches behind wheezy old men, and reading epitaphs.
  • Not even the sight of a bit of cracked brass let into a stone affords me what I call real happiness.
  • I shock respectable sextons by the imperturbability I am able to assume before exciting inscriptions, and by my lack of enthusiasm for the local family history, while my ill-concealed anxiety to get outside wounds their feelings.
  • One golden morning of a sunny day, I leant against the low stone wall that guarded a little village church, and I smoked, and drank in deep, calm gladness from the sweet, restful scene – the grey old church with its clustering ivy and its quaint carved wooden porch, the white lane winding down the hill between tall rows of elms, the thatched-roof cottages peeping above their trim-kept hedges, the silver river in the hollow, the wooded hills beyond!
  • It was a lovely landscape. It was idyllic, poetical, and it inspired me. I felt good and noble. I felt I didn’t want to be sinful and wicked any more. I would come and live here, and never do any more wrong, and lead a blameless, beautiful life, and have silver hair when I got old, and all that sort of thing.
  • In that moment I forgave all my friends and relations for their wickedness and cussedness, and I blessed them.
  • They did not know that I blessed them. They went their abandoned way all unconscious of what I, far away in that peaceful village, was doing for them; but I did it, and I wished that I could let them know that I had done it, because I wanted to make them happy.
  • I was going on thinking away all these grand, tender thoughts, when my reverie was broken in upon by a shrill piping voice crying out: “All right, sur, I’m a-coming, I’m a-coming. It’s all right, sur; don’t you be in a hurry.” I looked up, and saw an old bald-headed man hobbling across the churchyard towards me, carrying a huge bunch of keys in his hand that shook and jingled at every step. I motioned him away with silent dignity, but he still advanced, screeching out the while: “I’m a-coming, sur, I’m a-coming. I’m a little lame. I ain’t as spry as I used to be. This way, sur.” “Go away, you miserable old man,” I said. “I’ve come as soon as I could, sur,” he replied. “My missis never see you till just this minute. You follow me, sur.” “Go away,” I repeated; “leave me before I get over the wall, and slay you.” He seemed surprised. “Don’t you want to see the tombs?” he said. “No,” I answered, “I don’t. I want to stop here, leaning up against this gritty old wall. Go away, and don’t disturb me. I am chock full of beautiful and noble thoughts, and I want to stop like it, because it feels nice and good. Don’t you come fooling about, making me mad, chivying away all my better feelings with this silly tombstone nonsense of yours. Go away, and get somebody to bury you cheap, and I’ll pay half the expense.” He was bewildered for a moment. He rubbed his eyes, and looked hard at me. I seemed human enough on the outside: he couldn’t make it out. He said: “Yuise a stranger in these parts? You don’t live here?” “No,” I said, “I don’t. YOU wouldn’t if I did.” “Well then,” he said, “you want to see the tombs – graves – folks been buried, you know – coffins!” “You are an untruther,” I replied, getting roused; “I do not want to see tombs – not your tombs. Why should I? We have graves of our own, our family has. Why my uncle Podger has a tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery, that is the pride of all that country-side; and my grandfather’s vault at Bow is capable of accommodating eight visitors, while my great-aunt Susan has a brick grave in Finchley Churchyard, with a headstone with a coffeepot sort of thing in bas-relief upon it, and a six-inch best white stone coping all the way round, that cost pounds. When I want graves, it is to those places that I go and revel. I do not want other folk’s. When you yourself are buried, I will come and see yours. That is all I can do for you.” He burst into tears. He said that one of the tombs had a bit of stone upon the top of it that had been said by some to be probably part of the remains of the figure of a man, and that another had some words, carved upon it, that nobody had ever been able to decipher. I still remained obdurate, and, in broken-hearted tones, he said: “Well, won’t you come and see the memorial window?” I would not even see that, so he fired his last shot. He drew near, and whispered hoarsely: “I’ve got a couple of skulls down in the crypt,” he said; “come and see those. Oh, do come and see the skulls! You are a young man out for a holiday, and you want to enjoy yourself. Come and see the skulls!” Then I turned and fled, and as I sped I heard him calling to me: CHAPTER VII. 40 “Oh, come and see the skulls; come back and see the skulls!” Harris, however, revels in tombs, and graves, and epitaphs, and monumental inscriptions, and the thought of not seeing Mrs. Thomas’s grave made him crazy. He said he had looked forward to seeing Mrs. Thomas’s grave from the first moment that the trip was proposed – said he wouldn’t have joined if it hadn’t been for the idea of seeing Mrs. Thomas’s tomb. I reminded him of George, and how we had to get the boat up to Shepperton by five o’clock to meet him, and then he went for George. Why was George to fool about all day, and leave us to lug this lumbering old top-heavy barge up and down the river by ourselves to meet him? Why couldn’t George come and do some work? Why couldn’t he have got the day off, and come down with us? Bank be blowed! What good was he at the bank? “I never see him doing any work there,” continued Harris, “whenever I go in. He sits behind a bit of glass all day, trying to look as if he was doing something. What’s the good of a man behind a bit of glass? I have to work for my living. Why can’t he work. What use is he there, and what’s the good of their banks? They take your money, and then, when you draw a cheque, they send it back smeared all over with `No effects,’ `Refer to drawer.’ What’s the good of that? That’s the sort of trick they served me twice last week. I’m not going to stand it much longer. I shall withdraw my account. If he was here, we could go and see that tomb. I don’t believe he’s at the bank at all. He’s larking about somewhere, that’s what he’s doing, leaving us to do all the work. I’m going to get out, and have a drink.” I pointed out to him that we were miles away from a pub.; and then he went on about the river, and what was the good of the river, and was everyone who came on the river to die of thirst? It is always best to let Harris have his head when he gets like this. Then he pumps himself out, and is quiet afterwards. I reminded him that there was concentrated lemonade in the hamper, and a gallon-jar of water in the nose of the boat, and that the two only wanted mixing to make a cool and refreshing beverage. Then he flew off about lemonade, and “such-like Sunday-school slops,” as he termed them, ginger-beer, raspberry syrup, &c., &c. He said they all produced dyspepsia, and ruined body and soul alike, and were the cause of half the crime in England. He said he must drink something, however, and climbed upon the seat, and leant over to get the bottle. It was right at the bottom of the hamper, and seemed difficult to find, and he had to lean over further and further, and, in trying to steer at the same time, from a topsy-turvy point of view, he pulled the wrong line, and sent the boat into the bank, and the shock upset him, and he dived down right into the hamper, and stood there on his head, holding on to the sides of the boat like grim death, his legs sticking up into the air. He dared not move for fear of going over, and had to stay there till I could get hold of his legs, and haul him back, and that made him madder than ever.

Chapter 08 – Kempton Park

Chapter 09 – George Joins

  • George had been away from the boat all day, so Harris and Jim. assign him with the duty of towing the boat while they went to make tea.
  • To the reader, J. explains how easily tow-lines become tangled. On long journeys like this, it is common for travelers to take a break from rowing while someone tows the boat from shore. However, J. observes that the towers, on the shore, tend to become distracted by their conversation and stop paying attention to the boat. Whoever is left on the boat is usually uncomfortable or responsible for whatever crisis emerges, but is ignored by the towers.
  • Over tea, George tells a story about seeing a couple distracted as they towed their boat from land. Sneakily, he tied his boat to their tow-line, thus tricking the couple into dragging the wrong boat for several miles. J. recounts a similar story, about a group of men whose boat ran aground because they were distracted. However, he argues that girls are the worst towers of all because they are so flighty and distracted.
  • After tea, George tows the boat from the shore. According to Jim, the last few hours of towing are always the most difficult. He remembers going boating with a female cousin. When towing the boat at the end of the day, they got lost, only to be saved by a group of working-class locals.

Chapter 10 – The First Night

  • Although the friends intended to spend their first night on Magna Charta Island, they are too tired to travel all the way there, and decide to stop earlier.
  • Because they did not bring a tent, they have to pitch the canvas cover over the boat before they can sleep.
  • This task proves more difficult than it seems, and it takes them several attempts to successfully set it up.
  • They cook dinner, which is very satisfying because they have had such a long and exhausting day.
  • They then prepare to sleep together in the boat’s cramped quarters.
  • J. tells his friends a story about two men who accidentally shared a bed in an inn; during the night, they stumbled into the same bed, and each thought his bed had been invaded by an intruder.
  • J. sleeps badly, and has a dream that doctors are trying to cut him open after he swallowed a sovereign.
  • He begins a serious digression, discussing the beauty and melancholy of night.
  • He concludes the chapter with a story about a knight who gets lost in the woods but manages to find joy in his suffering.

Chapter 11 – Passing Magna Carta Island

  1. George and Jim wake up at six the next morning, but they are not able to sleep any more.
  2. Here George tells Jim a story about how he once forgot to wind his watch before going to bed, which left him confused when he woke at three in the morning.
  3. He only realized the mistake when he arrived at work, and aroused the suspicion of several constables as he walked around London so late at night.
  4. Jim and George finally wake Harris. They had previously agreed to go for a morning swim, but are now reluctant to jump in the cold water.
  5. Jim falls in and tries to trick his friends into joining him, but they refuse. Jim also accidentally drops a shirt into the river, which George finds hilarious until he realizes it is actually his shirt.
  6. Write a note on the scrambled egg incident.
    1. Harris proposed that they should have scrambled eggs for breakfast.
    2. He boasted of being very good at preparing scrambled eggs.
    3. He said he often did them at picnics and when out on yachts and was quite famous for them.
    4. Jim and George were thus tempted to have them and gladly handed him out the stove and the frying-pan and all the eggs that had not smashed.
    5. Of course, Harris has no idea how to make scrambled eggs, but George and Jim enjoy watching him make a fool of himself in the process.
    6. Naturally, preparation turned out to be inedible.
  7. That morning, the men arrive at Magna Charta Island, near Runnymede. As the name suggests, Magna Charta Island is where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. J. speculates at length about what it would have been like to be a peasant living in Runnymede at the time of the event.

Chapter 12 – Passing Picnic Point

  1. Next, the men pass Picnic Point, where Henry VIII is said to have courted Anne Boleyn.
  2. Jim remarks that such spots are located all over England, and the common people must have had a great deal of trouble trying to give Henry and Anne their privacy. He then digresses to discuss how awkward it is to walk in on young couples who are ‘spooning.’
  3. The boat then passes the spot where Earl Godwin choked after being accused of murdering Edward the Confessor’s brother.
  4. They row past Datchet, and reminisce about the first boat trip they took together. They had attempted to find an inn in Datchet, but all of the town’s lodging-houses were full. After asking everywhere, the men came across a young boy who offered to let them sleep at his family’s house. They did, and were grateful for the room despite the uncomfortable conditions.
  5. When lunchtime arrives, the men are very disappointed to discover that they had forgotten to pack mustard. George saves the day by revealing that he brought along pineapple, but the men have great trouble trying to open the can. After taking turns trying to break it open, they give it up.
  6. They pass quickly through Maidenhead, a tourist town “too snobby to be pleasant” (119). They spot three old men fishing, and Harris’s poor steering disturbs the water near the men, who then curse at them.
  7. That night, the friends stay at an inn in Marlow.

Chapter 13

  • The men pass by Marlow and Bisham Abbey, where many important historical figures are buried. At Medmenham, they pass an abbey that once housed a hedonistic order of monks whose motto was ‘Do as you please.’
  • The friends stop for lunch in a village, and Montmorency chases a large tom cat, only to back away when the cat calmly stares him down. The men stock up on food in Marlow, and by the time they finish shopping, several errand boys are trailing behind them carrying their purchases. J. humorously describes what the procession must look like to an outside eye. They then have trouble departing from Marlow because of the large number of steam-launches in the water, which are noisy and difficult to navigate around.
  • Near Hambledon lock, the travelers run out of drinking water. The lock-keeper advises them to drink from the river, but they are concerned about the “germs of poison” present in the Thames (130). They find some water from a nearby cottage well, but J. speculates in retrospect that this was probably river water as well. However, since they did not know it, it did not taste bad.
  • As they continue on their journey, they see a dog floating on its back down the river. When they settle down on the shore for dinner, Harris unwittingly sits at the edge of a gulch, and falls into it when he leans back. Because they do not see him fall, J. and George initially believe he is dead (and are not terribly upset about it). However, Harris then climbs from the gulch and angrily accuses them of making him sit there on purpose.

Chapter 14

  1. George, Harris, and J. pass a number of landmarks near the idyllic villages of Wargrave and Shiplake. However, the day takes a turn for the worse when they attempt to peel potatoes for supper, but over-peel the potatoes until they are no bigger than peanuts.
  2. The Irish stew incident.
    1. When they tried to prepare an iris stew Harris was assigned to peel the potatoes. But to him it was a big task.He couldn’t peel the potatoes properly.All the potatoes were getting smashed and squeezed instead of peeled.Harris got tired of this business and thought that it would be better if they put the potatoes without peeling it.Then Montmorency runs along the water and catches a water rat.He suggests Harris to pit it in the Iris stew.Harris agrees to it but the other two refused the idea of putting a water rat into an Iris stew.Then they put everything that was available into the stew and mixed it altogether. Later when they tasted it,It turned to be a good and tasty stew.
    2. They attempt to make Irish stew anyway, putting in potatoes without peeling them.
    3. Montmorency catches a water-rat and offers it to the men to add to the stew, but they decline.
    4. The stew turns out to be delicious.
    5. When the tea kettle shrieks, a frightened Montmorency attacks it.
    6. After dinner, George plays the banjo. A novice player, he is terrible at it. Montmorency howls along, and Harris and J. persuade George not to play for the remainder of the trip. J. mentions that George was later forced to sell the banjo because neither his landlady nor the passers-by outside his house can tolerate his playing.
  3. That night, George and J. head into the village of Henley for drinks; Harris stays behind on account of an upset stomach. They return to the boat fairly late, but forget which island it is docked off of. When Harris does not answer their calls and it begins to rain, George and J. start to panic. They only find the boat by following the sound of Montmorency’s barking.

Describe the swan incident.

  1. When they arrive, a terribly exhausted Harris explains that he spent hours fighting off a flock of aggressive swans, whose nest they disturbed when they moored the boat.
  2. George and Jim went for a walk while Harris was left alone in the boat.
  3. He told about his encounter with swans.
  4. A female swan attacked him.
  5. He managed to shoo her off but she came back to take revenge with her swan-husband.
  6. Harris fought bravely and defeated them.
  7. A little later, an army of swans attacked Harris and a battle was ensued for four hours.
  8. The swans tried to overpower him.
  9. Harris was feeling sleepy so he thrashed them empty handed.
  10. It is a mystery about the swans.
  11. In fact, it was a concocted story and the result of the deadly effect of drinking too much.
  12. Harris had hallucinations about battles with the swan.
  13. The next morning, Harris does not remember anything about the swan fight, and George and J. wonder if he dreamt it.

Chapter 15

  1. George, Harris, and J. argue about who will tow the boat, the most physically demanding job by far.
  2. They eventually decide to row to Reading, at which point J. will tow for a while.
  3. We learn that J. learned to row by joining a club, but that George had some trouble learning.
  4. The first time he went out, with a group of friends on a trip to Kew, the coxswain did not know how to call out directions and they had great trouble navigating.
  5. J. lists the different types of rowing, as well as the pitfalls that novices face when they attempt to row for the first time.
  6. He discusses punting, a type of rowing where the passenger stands up in the boat and propels it along using a long pole that is pushed against the riverbed.
  7. Punting is hazardous for beginners; J. describes a friend who was not paying attention and stepped off the boat, leaving himself clinging to the pole in the middle of the river as the boat drifted away.
  8. On another occasion, J. and his friends noticed an amateur punter who could not keep control of his boat. Thinking it was someone they knew, they mercilessly mocked him until realizing that the man was actually a stranger. Harris once had a similar experience, when a stranger thought he was a friend and began roughhousing with him, holding his head under water.
  9. J. concludes the chapter with a final anecdote about sailing on the river with his friend Hector. The men had trouble raising the sail, which was very tangled. They eventually ran the boat aground and decided to row back. However, they broke the oars in the process, and had to be towed.

Chapter 16

As the men approach Reading, J. describes several important historical events that happened there. Starting in the 17th century, it became a popular destination for Londoners fleeing the plague. However, it is now crowded and polluted, so the men pass through it quickly.

As they leave Reading, J. spots an acquaintance who owns a steam-launch; the steamboat tows them for several miles, giving the men a much-needed break from rowing.

As they approach Goring, they spot a dead woman floating in the water. Some other travelers take her to the coroner, but J. later learns that she killed herself after having a child out of wedlock and being abandoned by her family.

What do you think?

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