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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Three Men on the Bummel -> Chapter 2

Three Men on the Bummel - Chapter 2

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14


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

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

"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

"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

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

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

"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

"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."

"This trip," said Harris, "is going to be expensive."

"It was an idiotic suggestion," I said, "from the beginning."

"It was foolish of us to listen to him," said Harris; "he'll get us
into real trouble one of these days."

"He always was a muddler," I agreed.

"So headstrong," added Harris.

We heard his voice at that moment in the hall, asking for letters.

"Better not say anything to him," I suggested; "it's too late to go
back now."

"There would be no advantage in doing so," replied Harris. "I
should have to get that bathroom and piano in any case now."

He came in looking very cheerful.

"Well," he said, "is it all right? Have you managed it?"

There was that about his tone I did not altogether like; I noticed
Harris resented it also.

"Managed what?" I said.

"Why, to get off," said George.

I felt the time was come to explain things to George.

"In married life," I said, "the man proposes, the woman submits.
It is her duty; all religion teaches it."

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

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

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

"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,

"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

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.

"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

"The usual list, I suppose," said George, preparing to write.

That was wisdom I had taught them; I had learned it myself years
ago from my Uncle Podger.

"Always before beginning to pack," my Uncle would say, "make a

He was a methodical man.

"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.

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