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Three Men on the Bummel

by Jerome K. Jerome

previous: CHAPTER X


Black Forest House: and the sociability therein - Its perfume-George positively declines to remain in bed after four o'clock in the morning - The road one cannot miss - My peculiar extra instinct-An ungrateful party - Harris as a scientist - His cheery confidence-The village: where it was, and where it ought to have been-George: his plan - We promenade a la Francais - The German coachman asleep and awake - The man who spreads the English language abroad.

There was one night when, tired out and far from town or village, we slept in a Black Forest farmhouse. The great charm about the Black Forest house is its sociability. The cows are in the next room, the horses are upstairs, the geese and ducks are in the kitchen, while the pigs, the children, and the chickens live all over the place.

You are dressing, when you hear a grunt behind you.

"Good-morning! Don't happen to have any potato peelings in here? No, I see you haven't; good-bye."

Next there is a cackle, and you see the neck of an old hen stretched round the corner.

"Fine morning, isn't it? You don't mind my bringing this worm of mine in here, do you? It is so difficult in this house to find a room where one can enjoy one's food with any quietness. From a chicken I have always been a slow eater, and when a dozen - there, I thought they wouldn't leave me alone. Now they'll all want a bit. You don't mind my getting on the bed, do you? Perhaps here they won't notice me."

While you are dressing various shock heads peer in at the door; they evidently regard the room as a temporary menagerie. You cannot tell whether the heads belong to boys or girls; you can only hope they are all male. It is of no use shutting the door, because there is nothing to fasten it by, and the moment you are gone they push it open again. You breakfast as the Prodigal Son is generally represented feeding: a pig or two drop in to keep you company; a party of elderly geese criticise you from the door; you gather from their whispers, added to their shocked expression, that they are talking scandal about you. Maybe a cow will condescend to give a glance in.

This Noah's Ark arrangement it is, I suppose, that gives to the Black Forest home its distinctive scent. It is not a scent you can liken to any one thing. It is as if you took roses and Limburger cheese and hair oil, some heather and onions, peaches and soapsuds, together with a dash of sea air and a corpse, and mixed them up together. You cannot define any particular odour, but you feel they are all there - all the odours that the world has yet discovered. People who live in these houses are fond of this mixture. They do not open the window and lose any of it; they keep it carefully bottled up. If you want any other scent, you can go outside and smell the wood violets and the pines; inside there is the house; and after a while, I am told, you get used to it, so that you miss it, and are unable to go to sleep in any other atmosphere.

We had a long walk before us the next day, and it was our desire, therefore, to get up early, even so early as six o'clock, if that could be managed without disturbing the whole household. We put it to our hostess whether she thought this could be done. She said she thought it could. She might not be about herself at that time; it was her morning for going into the town, some eight miles off, and she rarely got back much before seven; but, possibly, her husband or one of the boys would be returning home to lunch about that hour. Anyhow, somebody should be sent back to wake us and get our breakfast.

As it turned out, we did not need any waking. We got up at four, all by ourselves. We got up at four in order to get away from the noise and the din that was making our heads ache. What time the Black Forest peasant rises in the summer time I am unable to say; to us they appeared to be getting up all night. And the first thing the Black Forester does when he gets up is to put on a pair of stout boots with wooden soles, and take a constitutional round the house. Until he has been three times up and down the stairs, he does not feel he is up. Once fully awake himself, the next thing he does is to go upstairs to the stables, and wake up a horse. (The Black Forest house being built generally on the side of a steep hill, the ground floor is at the top, and the hay-loft at the bottom.) Then the horse, it would seem, must also have its constitutional round the house; and this seen to, the man goes downstairs into the kitchen and begins to chop wood, and when he has chopped sufficient wood he feels pleased with himself and begins to sing. All things considered, we came to the conclusion we could not do better than follow the excellent example set us. Even George was quite eager to get up that morning.

We had a frugal breakfast at half-past four, and started away at five. Our road lay over a mountain, and from enquiries made in the village it appeared to be one of those roads you cannot possibly miss. I suppose everybody knows this sort of road. Generally, it leads you back to where you started from; and when it doesn't, you wish it did, so that at all events you might know where you were. I foresaw evil from the very first, and before we had accomplished a couple of miles we came up with it. The road divided into three. A worm-eaten sign-post indicated that the path to the left led to a place that we had never heard of - that was on no map. Its other arm, pointing out the direction of the middle road, had disappeared. The road to the right, so we all agreed, clearly led back again to the village.

"The old man said distinctly," so Harris reminded us, "keep straight on round the hill."

"Which hill?" George asked, pertinently.

We were confronted by half a dozen, some of them big, some of them little.

"He told us," continued Harris, "that we should come to a wood."

"I see no reason to doubt him," commented George, "whichever road we take."

As a matter of fact, a dense wood covered every hill.

"And he said," murmured Harris, "that we should reach the top in about an hour and a half."

"There it is," said George, "that I begin to disbelieve him."

"Well, what shall we do?" said Harris.

Now I happen to possess the bump of locality. It is not a virtue; I make no boast of it. It is merely an animal instinct that I cannot help. That things occasionally get in my way - mountains, precipices, rivers, and such like obstructions - is no fault of mine. My instinct is correct enough; it is the earth that is wrong. I led them by the middle road. That the middle road had not character enough to continue for any quarter of a mile in the same direction; that after three miles up and down hill it ended abruptly in a wasps' nest, was not a thing that should have been laid to my door. If the middle road had gone in the direction it ought to have done, it would have taken us to where we wanted to go, of that I am convinced.

Even as it was, I would have continued to use this gift of mine to discover a fresh way had a proper spirit been displayed towards me. But I am not an angel - I admit this frankly, - and I decline to exert myself for the ungrateful and the ribald. Besides, I doubt if George and Harris would have followed me further in any event. Therefore it was that I washed my hands of the whole affair, and that Harris entered upon the vacancy.

"Well," said Harris. "I suppose you are satisfied with what you have done?"

"I am quite satisfied," I replied from the heap of stones where I was sitting. "So far, I have brought you with safety. I would continue to lead you further, but no artist can work without encouragement. You appear dissatisfied with me because you do not know where you are. For all you know, you may be just where you want to be. But I say nothing as to that; I expect no thanks. Go your own way; I have done with you both."

I spoke, perhaps, with bitterness, but I could not help it. Not a word of kindness had I had all the weary way.

"Do not misunderstand us," said Harris; "both George and myself feel that without your assistance we should never be where we now are. For that we give you every credit. But instinct is liable to error. What I propose to do is to substitute for it Science, which is exact. Now, where's the sun?"

"Don't you think," said George, "that if we made our way back to the village, and hired a boy for a mark to guide us, it would save time in the end?"

"It would be wasting hours," said Harris, with decision. "You leave this to me. I have been reading about this thing, and it has interested me." He took out his watch, and began turning himself round and round.

"It's as simple as A B C," he continued. "You point the short hand at the sun, then you bisect the segment between the short hand and the twelve, and thus you get the north."

He worried up and down for a while, then he fixed it.

"Now I've got it," he said; "that's the north, where that wasps' nest is. Now give me the map."

We handed it to him, and seating himself facing the wasps, he examined it.

"Todtmoos from here," he said, "is south by south-west."

"How do you mean, from here?" asked George.

"Why, from here, where we are," returned Harris.

"But where are we?" said George.

This worried Harris for a time, but at length he cheered up.

"It doesn't matter where we are," he said. "Wherever we are, Todtmoos is south by south-west. Come on, we are only wasting time."

"I don't quite see how you make it out," said George, as he rose and shouldered his knapsack; "but I suppose it doesn't matter. We are out for our health, and it's all pretty!"

"We shall be all right," said Harris, with cheery confidence. "We shall be in at Todtmoos before ten, don't you worry. And at Todtmoos we will have something to eat."

He said that he, himself, fancied a beefsteak, followed by an omelette. George said that, personally, he intended to keep his mind off the subject until he saw Todtmoos.

We walked for half an hour, then emerging upon an opening, we saw below us, about two miles away, the village through which we had passed that morning. It had a quaint church with an outside staircase, a somewhat unusual arrangement.

The sight of it made me sad. We had been walking hard for three hours and a half, and had accomplished, apparently, about four miles. But Harris was delighted.

"Now, at last," said Harris, "we know where we are."

"I thought you said it didn't matter," George reminded him.

"No more it does, practically," replied Harris, "but it is just as well to be certain. Now I feel more confidence in myself."

"I'm not so sure about that being an advantage," muttered George. But I do not think Harris heard him.

"We are now," continued Harris, "east of the sun, and Todtmoos is south-west of where we are. So that if - "

He broke off. "By-the-by," he said, "do you remember whether I said the bisecting line of that segment pointed to the north or to the south?"

"You said it pointed to the north," replied George.

"Are you positive?" persisted Harris.

"Positive," answered George "but don't let that influence your calculations. In all probability you were wrong."

Harris thought for a while; then his brow cleared.

"That's all right," he said; "of course, it's the north. It must be the north. How could it be the south? Now we must make for the west. Come on."

"I am quite willing to make for the west," said George; "any point of the compass is the same to me. I only wish to remark that, at the present moment, we are going dead east."

"No we are not," returned Harris; "we are going west."

"We are going east, I tell you," said George.

"I wish you wouldn't keep saying that," said Harris, "you confuse me."

"I don't mind if I do," returned George; "I would rather do that than go wrong. I tell you we are going dead east."

"What nonsense!" retorted Harris; "there's the sun."

"I can see the sun," answered George, "quite distinctly. It may be where it ought to be, according to you and Science, or it may not. All I know is, that when we were down in the village, that particular hill with that particular lump of rock upon it was due north of us. At the present moment we are facing due east."

"You are quite right," said Harris; "I forgot for the moment that we had turned round."

"I should get into the habit of making a note of it, if I were you," grumbled George; "it's a manoeuvre that will probably occur again more than once."

We faced about, and walked in the other direction. At the end of forty minutes' climbing we again emerged upon an opening, and again the village lay just under our feet. On this occasion it was south of us.

"This is very extraordinary," said Harris.

"I see nothing remarkable about it," said George. "If you walk steadily round a village it is only natural that now and then you get a glimpse of it. Myself, I am glad to see it. It proves to me that we are not utterly lost."

"It ought to be the other side of us," said Harris.

"It will be in another hour or so," said George, "if we keep on."

I said little myself; I was vexed with both of them; but I was glad to notice George evidently growing cross with Harris. It was absurd of Harris to fancy he could find the way by the sun.

"I wish I knew," said Harris, thoughtfully, "for certain whether that bisecting line points to the north or to the south."

"I should make up my mind about it," said George; "it's an important point."

"It's impossible it can be the north," said Harris, "and I'll tell you why."

"You needn't trouble," said George; "I am quite prepared to believe it isn't."

"You said just now it was," said Harris, reproachfully.

"I said nothing of the sort," retorted George. "I said you said it was - a very different thing. If you think it isn't, let's go the other way. It'll be a change, at all events."

So Harris worked things out according to the contrary calculation, and again we plunged into the wood; and again after half an hour's stiff climbing we came in view of that same village. True, we were a little higher, and this time it lay between us and the sun.

"I think," said George, as he stood looking down at it, "this is the best view we've had of it, as yet. There is only one other point from which we can see it. After that, I propose we go down into it and get some rest."

"I don't believe it's the same village," said Harris; "it can't be."

"There's no mistaking that church," said George. "But maybe it is a case on all fours with that Prague statue. Possibly, the authorities hereabout have had made some life-sized models of that village, and have stuck them about the Forest to see where the thing would look best. Anyhow, which way do we go now?"

"I don't know," said Harris, "and I don't care. I have done my best; you've done nothing but grumble, and confuse me."

"I may have been critical," admitted George "but look at the thing from my point of view. One of you says he's got an instinct, and leads me to a wasps' nest in the middle of a wood."

"I can't help wasps building in a wood," I replied.

"I don't say you can," answered George. "I am not arguing; I am merely stating incontrovertible facts. The other one, who leads me up and down hill for hours on scientific principles, doesn't know the north from the south, and is never quite sure whether he's turned round or whether he hasn't. Personally, I profess to no instincts beyond the ordinary, nor am I a scientist. But two fields off I can see a man. I am going to offer him the worth of the hay he is cutting, which I estimate at one mark fifty pfennig, to leave his work, and lead me to within sight of Todtmoos. If you two fellows like to follow, you can. If not, you can start another system and work it out by yourselves."

George's plan lacked both originality and aplomb, but at the moment it appealed to us. Fortunately, we had worked round to a very short distance away from the spot where we had originally gone wrong; with the result that, aided by the gentleman of the scythe, we recovered the road, and reached Todtmoos four hours later than we had calculated to reach it, with an appetite that took fortyfive minutes' steady work in silence to abate.

From Todtmoos we had intended to walk down to the Rhine; but having regard to our extra exertions of the morning, we decided to promenade in a carriage, as the French would say: and for this purpose hired a picturesque-looking vehicle, drawn by a horse that I should have called barrel-bodied but for contrast with his driver, in comparison with whom he was angular. In Germany every vehicle is arranged for a pair of horses, but drawn generally by one. This gives to the equipage a lop-sided appearance, according to our notions, but it is held here to indicate style. The idea to be conveyed is that you usually drive a pair of horses, but that for the moment you have mislaid the other one. The German driver is not what we should call a first-class whip. He is at his best when he is asleep. Then, at all events, he is harmless; and the horse being, generally speaking, intelligent and experienced, progress under these conditions is comparatively safe. If in Germany they could only train the horse to collect the money at the end of the journey, there would be no need for a coachman at all. This would be a distinct relief to the passenger, for when the German coachman is awake and not cracking his whip he is generally occupied in getting himself into trouble or out of it. He is better at the former. Once I recollect driving down a steep Black Forest hill with a couple of ladies. It was one of those roads winding corkscrew-wise down the slope. The hill rose at an angle of seventy-five on the off-side, and fell away at an angle of seventy-five on the near-side. We were proceeding very comfortably, the driver, we were happy to notice, with his eyes shut, when suddenly something, a bad dream or indigestion, awoke him. He seized the reins, and, by an adroit movement, pulled the near-side horse over the edge, where it clung, half supported by the traces. Our driver did not appear in the least annoyed or surprised; both horses, I also, noticed, seemed equally used to the situation. We got out, and he got down. He took from under the seat a huge clasp-knife, evidently kept there for the purpose, and deftly cut the traces. The horse, thus released, rolled over and over until he struck the road again some fifty feet below. There he regained his feet and stood waiting for us. We re-entered the carriage and descended with the single horse until we came to him. There, with the help of some bits of string, our driver harnessed him again, and we continued on our way. What impressed me was the evident accustomedness of both driver and horses to this method of working down a hill.

Evidently to them it appeared a short and convenient cut. I should not have been surprised had the man suggested our strapping ourselves in, and then rolling over and over, carriage and all, to the bottom.

Another peculiarity of the German coachman is that he never attempts to pull in or to pull up. He regulates his rate of speed, not by the pace of the horse, but by manipulation of the brake. For eight miles an hour he puts it on slightly, so that it only scrapes the wheel, producing a continuous sound as of the sharpening of a saw; for four miles an hour he screws it down harder, and you travel to an accompaniment of groans and shrieks, suggestive of a symphony of dying pigs. When he desires to come to a full stop, he puts it on to its full. If his brake be a good one, he calculates he can stop his carriage, unless the horse be an extra powerful animal, in less than twice its own length. Neither the German driver nor the German horse knows, apparently, that you can stop a carriage by any other method. The German horse continues to pull with his full strength until he finds it impossible to move the vehicle another inch; then he rests. Horses of other countries are quite willing to stop when the idea is suggested to them. I have known horses content to go even quite slowly. But your German horse, seemingly, is built for one particular speed, and is unable to depart from it. I am stating nothing but the literal, unadorned truth, when I say I have seen a German coachman, with the reins lying loose over the splash-board, working his brake with both hands, in terror lest he would not be in time to avoid a collision.

At Waldshut, one of those little sixteenth-century towns through which the Rhine flows during its earlier course, we came across that exceedingly common object of the Continent: the travelling Briton grieved and surprised at the unacquaintance of the foreigner with the subtleties of the English language. When we entered the station he was, in very fair English, though with a slight Somersetshire accent, explaining to a porter for the tenth time, as he informed us, the simple fact that though he himself had a ticket for Donaueschingen, and wanted to go to Donaueschingen, to see the source of the Danube, which is not there, though they tell you it is, he wished his bicycle to be sent on to Engen and his bag to Constance, there to await his arrival. He was hot and angry with the effort of the thing. The porter was a young man in years, but at the moment looked old and miserable. I offered my services. I wish now I had not - though not so fervently, I expect, as he, the speechless one, came subsequently to wish this. All three routes, so the porter explained to us, were complicated, necessitating changing and re-changing. There was not much time for calm elucidation, as our own train was starting in a few minutes. The man himself was voluble - always a mistake when anything entangled has to be made clear; while the porter was only too eager to get the job done with and so breathe again. It dawned upon me ten minutes later, when thinking the matter over in the train, that though I had agreed with the porter that it would be best for the bicycle to go by way of Immendingen, and had agreed to his booking it to Immendingen, I had neglected to give instructions for its departure from Immendingen. Were I of a despondent temperament I should be worrying myself at the present moment with the reflection that in all probability that bicycle is still at Immendingen to this day. But I regard it as good philosophy to endeavour always to see the brighter side of things. Possibly the porter corrected my omission on his own account, or some simple miracle may have happened to restore that bicycle to its owner some time before the end of his tour. The bag we sent to Radolfzell: but here I console myself with the recollection that it was labelled Constance; and no doubt after a while the railway authorities, finding it unclaimed at Radolfzell, forwarded it on to Constance.

But all this is apart from the moral I wished to draw from the incident. The true inwardness of the situation lay in the indignation of this Britisher at finding a German railway porter unable to comprehend English. The moment we spoke to him he expressed this indignation in no measured terms.

"Thank you very much indeed," he said; "it's simple enough. I want to go to Donaueschingen myself by train; from Donaueschingen I am going to walk to Geisengen; from Geisengen I am going to take the train to Engen, and from Engen I am going to bicycle to Constance. But I don't want to take my bag with me; I want to find it at Constance when I get there. I have been trying to explain the thing to this fool for the last ten minutes; but I can't get it into him."

"It is very disgraceful," I agreed. "Some of these German workmen know hardly any other language than their own."

"I have gone over it with him," continued the man, "on the time table, and explained it by pantomime. Even then I could not knock it into him."

"I can hardly believe you," I again remarked; "you would think the thing explained itself."

Harris was angry with the man; he wished to reprove him for his folly in journeying through the outlying portions of a foreign clime, and seeking in such to accomplish complicated railway tricks without knowing a word of the language of the country. But I checked the impulsiveness of Harris, and pointed out to him the great and good work at which the man was unconsciously assisting.

Shakespeare and Milton may have done their little best to spread acquaintance with the English tongue among the less favoured inhabitants of Europe. Newton and Darwin may have rendered their language a necessity among educated and thoughtful foreigners. Dickens and Ouida (for your folk who imagine that the literary world is bounded by the prejudices of New Grub Street, would be surprised and grieved at the position occupied abroad by this athome-sneered-at lady) may have helped still further to popularise it. But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St. Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent. One may be shocked at his ignorance, annoyed at his stupidity, angry at his presumption. But the practical fact remains; he it is that is anglicising Europe. For him the Swiss peasant tramps through the snow on winter evenings to attend the English class open in every village. For him the coachman and the guard, the chambermaid and the laundress, pore over their English grammars and colloquial phrase books. For him the foreign shopkeeper and merchant send their sons and daughters in their thousands to study in every English town. For him it is that every foreign hotel- and restaurant-keeper adds to his advertisement: "Only those with fair knowledge of English need apply."

Did the English-speaking races make it their rule to speak anything else than English, the marvellous progress of the English tongue throughout the world would stop. The English-speaking man stands amid the strangers and jingles his gold.

"Here," cries, "is payment for all such as can speak English."

He it is who is the great educator. Theoretically we may scold him; practically we should take our hats off to him. He is the missionary of the English tongue.

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