Rhyme and Reason: October 28, 2013

That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had bargained for.  It looked so simple in the abstract.  You took five iron arches, like gigantic croquet hoops, and fitted them up over the boat, and then stretched the canvas over them, and fastened it down: it would take quite ten minutes, we thought.

That was an under-estimate.

We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets placed for them.  You would not imagine this to be dangerous work; but, looking back now, the wonder to me is that any of us are alive to tell the tale.  They were not hoops, they were demons.  First they would not fit into their sockets at all, and we had to jump on them, and kick them, and hammer at them with the boat-hook; and, when they were in, it turned out that they were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and they had to come out again.

But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and struggled with them for five minutes, when they would jump up suddenly, and try and throw us into the water and drown us.  They had hinges in the middle, and, when we were not looking, they nipped us with these hinges in delicate parts of the body; and, while we were wrestling with one side of the hoop, and endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty, the other side would come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the head.

We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done was to arrange the covering over them.  George unrolled it, and fastened one end over the nose of the boat.  Harris stood in the middle to take it from George and roll it on to me, and I kept by the stern to receive it.  It was a long time coming down to me.  George did his part all right, but it was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.

How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself; but by some mysterious process or other he succeeded, after ten minutes of superhuman effort, in getting himself completely rolled up in it.  He was so firmly wrapped round and tucked in and folded over, that he could not get out.  He, of course, made frantic struggles for freedom—the birthright of every Englishman,—and, in doing so (I learned this afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at Harris, began to struggle too, and got himself entangled and rolled up.

I knew nothing about all this at the time.  I did not understand the business at all myself.  I had been told to stand where I was, and wait till the canvas came to me, and Montmorency and I stood there and waited, both as good as gold.  We could see the canvas being violently jerked and tossed about, pretty considerably; but we supposed this was part of the method, and did not interfere.

We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath it, and we guessed that they were finding the job rather troublesome, and concluded that we would wait until things had got a little simpler before we joined in.

We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and more involved, until, at last, George’s head came wriggling out over the side of the boat, and spoke up.

It said:

“Give us a hand here, can’t you, you cuckoo; standing there like a stuffed mummy, when you see we are both being suffocated, you dummy!”

I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and undid them; not before it was time, either, for Harris was nearly black in the face.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

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