Diary of a Pilgrimage, by Jerome K. Jerome – Chapter 3

A weekly serialization of the book, Diary of a Pilgrimage, by Jerome K Jerome, illustrated by G G Fraser, published in 1891 in New York by Henry Holt and Company

Chapter 3 – Friday, 23rd

Early Rising.—Ballast should be Stowed Away in the Hold before Putting to Sea.—Annoying Interference of Providence in Matters that it Does Not Understand.—A Socialistic Society.—B. Misjudges Me.—An Uninteresting Anecdote.—We Lay in Ballast.—A Moderate Sailor.—A Playful Boat.

I got up very early this morning. I do not know why I got up early. We do not start till eight o’clock this evening. But I don’t regret it—the getting up early I mean. It is a change. I got everybody else up too, and we all had breakfast at seven.

I made a very good lunch. One of those seafaring men said to me once:

“Now, if ever you are going a short passage, and are at all nervous, you lay in a good load. It’s a good load in the hold what steadies the ship. It’s them half-empty cruisers as goes a-rollin’ and a-pitchin’ and a-heavin’ all over the place, with their stern up’ards half the time. You lay in ballast.”

It seemed very reasonable advice.

Aunt Emma came in the afternoon. She said she was so glad she had caught me. Something told her to change her mind and come on Friday instead of Saturday. It was Providence, she said.

I wish Providence would mind its own business, and not interfere in my affairs: it does not understand them.

She says she shall stop till I come back, as she wants to see me again before she goes. I told her I might not be back for a month. She said it didn’t matter; she had plenty of time, and would wait for me.

The family entreat me to hurry home.

I ate a very fair dinner—“laid in a good stock of ballast,” as my seafaring friend would have said; wished “Good-bye!” to everybody, and kissed Aunt Emma; promised to take care of myself—a promise which, please Heaven, I will faithfully keep, cost me what it may—hailed a cab and started.

I reached Victoria some time before B. I secured two corner seats in a smoking-carriage, and then paced up and down the platform waiting for him.

When men have nothing else to occupy their minds, they take to thinking. Having nothing better to do until B. arrived, I fell to musing.

What a wonderful piece of Socialism modern civilisation has become!—not the Socialism of the so-called Socialists—a system modelled apparently upon the methods of the convict prison—a system under which each miserable sinner is to be compelled to labour, like a beast of burden, for no personal benefit to himself, but only for the good of the community—a world where there are to be no men, but only numbers—where there is to be no ambition and no hope and no fear,—but the Socialism of free men, working side by side in the common workshop, each one for the wage to which his skill and energy entitle him; the Socialism of responsible, thinking individuals, not of State-directed automata.

Here was I, in exchange for the result of some of my labour, going to be taken by Society for a treat, to the middle of Europe and back. Railway lines had been laid over the whole 700 or 800 miles to facilitate my progress; bridges had been built, and tunnels made; an army of engineers, and guards, and signal-men, and porters, and clerks were waiting to take charge of me, and to see to my comfort and safety. All I had to do was to tell Society (here represented by a railway booking-clerk) where I wanted to go, and to step into a carriage; all the rest would be done for me. Books and papers had been written and printed; so that if I wished to beguile the journey by reading, I could do so. At various places on the route, thoughtful Society had taken care to be ready for me with all kinds of refreshment (her sandwiches might be a little fresher, but maybe she thinks new bread injurious for me). When I am tired of travelling and want to rest, I find Society waiting for me with dinner and a comfortable bed, with hot and cold water to wash in and towels to wipe upon. Wherever I go, whatever I need, Society, like the enslaved genii of some Eastern tale, is ready and anxious to help me, to serve me, to do my bidding, to give me enjoyment and pleasure. Society will take me to Ober-Ammergau, will provide for all my wants on the way, and, when I am there, will show me the Passion Play, which she has arranged and rehearsed and will play for my instruction; will bring me back any way I like to come, explaining, by means of her guide-books and histories, everything upon the way that she thinks can interest me; will, while I am absent, carry my messages to those I have left behind me in England, and will bring me theirs in return; will look after me and take care of me and protect me like a mother—as no mother ever could.

All that she asks in return is, that I shall do the work she has given me to do. As a man works, so Society deals by him.

To me Society says: “You sit at your desk and write, that is all I want you to do. You are not good for much, but you can spin out yards of what you and your friends, I suppose, call literature; and some people seem to enjoy reading it. Very well: you sit there and write this literature, or whatever it is, and keep your mind fixed on that. I will see to everything else for you. I will provide you with writing materials, and books of wit and humour, and paste and scissors, and everything else that may be necessary to you in your trade; and I will feed you and clothe you and lodge you, and I will take you about to places that you wish to go to; and I will see that you have plenty of tobacco and all other things practicable that you may desire—provided that you work well. The more work you do, and the better work you do, the better I shall look after you. You write—that is all I want you to do.”

“But,” I say to Society, “I don’t like work; I don’t want to work. Why should I be a slave and work?”

“All right,” answers Society, “don’t work. I’m not forcing you. All I say is, that if you don’t work for me, I shall not work for you. No work from you, no dinner from me—no holidays, no tobacco.”

And I decide to be a slave, and work.

Society has no notion of paying all men equally. Her great object is to encourage brain. The man who merely works by his muscles she regards as very little superior to the horse or the ox, and provides for him just a little better. But the moment he begins to use his head, and from the labourer rises to the artisan, she begins to raise his wages.

Of course hers is a very imperfect method of encouraging thought. She is of the world, and takes a worldly standard of cleverness. To the shallow, showy writer, I fear, she generally pays far more than to the deep and brilliant thinker; and clever roguery seems often more to her liking than honest worth. But her scheme is a right and sound one; her aims and intentions are clear; her methods, on the whole, work fairly well; and every year she grows in judgment.

One day she will arrive at perfect wisdom, and will pay each man according to his deserts.

But do not be alarmed. This will not happen in our time.

Turning round, while still musing about Society, I ran against B. (literally). He thought I was a clumsy ass at first, and said so; but, on recognising me, apologised for his mistake. He had been there for some time also, waiting for me. I told him that I had secured two corner seats in a smoking-carriage, and he replied that he had done so too. By a curious coincidence, we had both fixed upon the same carriage. I had taken the corner seats near the platform, and he had booked the two opposite corners. Four other passengers sat huddled up in the middle. We kept the seats near the door, and gave the other two away. One should always practise generosity.

There was a very talkative man in our carriage. I never came across a man with such a fund of utterly uninteresting anecdotes. He had a friend with him—at all events, the man was his friend when they started—and he talked to this friend incessantly, from the moment the train left Victoria until it arrived at Dover. First of all he told him a long story about a dog. There was no point in the story whatever. It was simply a bald narrative of the dog’s daily doings. The dog got up in the morning and barked at the door, and when they came down and opened the door there he was, and he stopped all day in the garden; and when his wife (not the dog’s wife, the wife of the man who was telling the story) went out in the afternoon, he was asleep on the grass, and they brought him into the house, and he played with the children, and in the evening he slept in the coal-shed, and next morning there he was again. And so on, for about forty minutes.

A very dear chum or near relative of the dog’s might doubtless have found the account enthralling; but what possible interest a stranger—a man who evidently didn’t even know the dog—could be expected to take in the report, it was difficult to conceive.

The friend at first tried to feel excited, and murmured: “Wonderful!” “Very strange, indeed!” “How curious!” and helped the tale along by such ejaculations as, “No, did he though?” “And what did you do then?” or, “Was that on the Monday or the Tuesday, then?” But as the story progressed, he appeared to take a positive dislike to the dog, and only yawned each time that it was mentioned.

Indeed, towards the end, I think, though I trust I am mistaken, I heard him mutter, “Oh, damn the dog!”

After the dog story, we thought we were going to have a little quiet. But we were mistaken; for, with the same breath with which he finished the dog rigmarole, our talkative companion added:

“But I can tell you a funnier thing than that—”

We all felt we could believe that assertion. If he had boasted that he could tell a duller, more uninteresting story, we should have doubted him; but the possibility of his being able to relate something funnier, we could readily grasp.

But it was not a bit funnier, after all. It was only longer and more involved. It was the history of a man who grew his own celery; and then, later on, it turned out that his wife was the niece, by the mother’s side, of a man who had made an ottoman out of an old packing-case.

The friend glanced round the carriage apologetically about the middle of this story, with an expression that said:

“I’m awfully sorry, gentlemen; but it really is not my fault. You see the position I’m in. Don’t blame me. Don’t make it worse for me to bear than it is.”

And we each replied with pitying, sympathetic looks that implied:

“That’s all right, my dear sir; don’t you fret about that. We see how it is. We only wish we could do something to help you.”

The poor fellow seemed happier and more resigned after that.

B. and I hurried on board at Dover, and were just in time to secure the last two berths in the boat; and we were glad that we had managed to do this because our idea was that we should, after a good supper, turn in and go comfortably to sleep.

B. said:

“What I like to do, during a sea passage, is to go to sleep, and then wake up and find that I am there.”

We made a very creditable supper. I explained to B. the ballast principle held by my seafaring friend, and he agreed with me that the idea seemed reasonable; and, as there was a fixed price for supper, and you had as much as you liked, we determined to give the plan a fair trial.

B. left me after supper somewhat abruptly, as it appeared to me, and I took a stroll on deck by myself. I did not feel very comfortable. I am what I call a moderate sailor. I do not go to excess in either direction. On ordinary occasions, I can swagger about and smoke my pipe, and lie about my Channel experiences with the best of them. But when there is what the captain calls “a bit of a sea on,” I feel sad, and try to get away from the smell of the engines and the proximity of people who smoke green cigars.

There was a man smoking a peculiarly mellow and unctuous cigar on deck when I got there. I don’t believe he smoked it because he enjoyed it. He did not look as if he enjoyed it. I believe he smoked it merely to show how well he was feeling, and to irritate people who were not feeling very well.

There is something very blatantly offensive about the man who feels well on board a boat.

I am very objectionable myself, I know, when I am feeling all right. It is not enough for me that I am not ill. I want everybody to see that I am not ill. It seems to me that I am wasting myself if I don’t let every human being in the vessel know that I am not ill. I cannot sit still and be thankful, like you’d imagine a sensible man would. I walk about the ship—smoking, of course—and look at people who are not well with mild but pitying surprise, as if I wondered what it was like and how they did it. It is very foolish of me, I know, but I cannot help it. I suppose it is the human nature that exists in even the best of us that makes us act like this.

I could not get away from this man’s cigar; or when I did, I came within range of the perfume from the engine-room, and felt I wanted to go back to the cigar. There seemed to be no neutral ground between the two.

If it had not been that I had paid for saloon, I should have gone fore. It was much fresher there, and I should have been much happier there altogether. But I was not going to pay for first-class and then ride third—that was not business. No, I would stick to the swagger part of the ship, and feel aristocratic and sick.

A mate, or a boatswain, or an admiral, or one of those sort of people—I could not be sure, in the darkness, which it was—came up to me as I was leaning with my head against the paddle-box, and asked me what I thought of the ship. He said she was a new boat, and that this was her first voyage.

I said I hoped she would get a bit steadier as she grew older.

He replied: “Yes, she is a bit skittish to-night.”

What it seemed to me was, that the ship would try to lie down and go to sleep on her right side; and then, before she had given that position a fair trial, would suddenly change her mind, and think she could do it better on her left. At the moment the man came up to me she was trying to stand on her head; and before he had finished speaking she had given up this attempt, in which, however, she had very nearly succeeded, and had, apparently, decided to now play at getting out of the water altogether.

And this is what he called being a “bit skittish!”

Seafaring people talk like this, because they are silly, and do not know any better. It is no use being angry with them.

I got a little sleep at last. Not in the bunk I had been at such pains to secure: I would not have stopped down in that stuffy saloon, if anybody had offered me a hundred pounds for doing so. Not that anybody did; nor that anybody seemed to want me there at all. I gathered this from the fact that the first thing that met my eye, after I had succeeded in clawing my way down, was a boot. The air was full of boots. There were sixty men sleeping there—or, as regards the majority, I should say trying to sleep there—some in bunks, some on tables, and some under tables. One man was asleep, and was snoring like a hippopotamus—like a hippopotamus that had caught a cold, and was hoarse; and the other fifty-nine were sitting up, throwing their boots at him. It was a snore, very difficult to locate. From which particular berth, in that dimly-lighted, evil-smelling place, it proceeded nobody was quite sure. At one moment, it appeared to come, wailing and sobbing, from the larboard, and the next instant it thundered forth, seemingly from the starboard. So every man who could reach a boot picked it up, and threw it promiscuously, silently praying to Providence, as he did so, to guide it aright and bring it safe to its desired haven.

I watched the weird scene for a minute or two, and then I hauled myself on deck again, and sat down—and went to sleep on a coil of rope; and was awakened, in the course of time, by a sailor who wanted that coil of rope to throw at the head of a man who was standing, doing no harm to anybody, on the quay at Ostend.

Chapter 4 >>

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