George and J. wake up at 6:00 a.m., unusually early for them. George tells a story about a time he accidentally woke up well before he had intended. In the story, George’s watch is broken, stuck on 8:15 a.m. Waking in the middle of the night and thinking he is late for work, he hurriedly dresses and heads into the city. He is regarded with suspicion by a policeman, who informs him it is in fact 3:00 a.m. George returns home, scared to make a noise in case the landlady thinks he is intruder.
Work grew increasingly structured in the Victorian era, with people’s hours being more clearly divided between leisure time and work time. George is more likely to trust his watch than his own instinct by looking outside, and accordingly this shows how urbanized he is.
George and J. wake up Harris. The men had previously agreed to jump in the river for an early morning swim. George and Harris quickly make their excuses. J. doesn’t want to swim either, planning just to wet himself with some river water (so the others think he’s been swimming). He balances on a branch above the water, but it snaps and sends him into the river.
Swimming would be “wild and free”—but, unfortunately, also very cold. The men aren’t committed enough to nature to actually go for a swim, even though they earlier vowed to go in the river every day. Again, this shows that they are preoccupied with being comfortable.
Harris suggests he makes the group some scrambled eggs, for which he claims to be famous. However, things don’t go to plan, and the other two find it very amusing as Harris burns himself and curses at the pan. The end result is burnt and unappetizing.
Scrambled eggs are not the most suitable breakfast for boating on the river, and Harris isn’t the best chef to make them well. The modern world, even on the river, gets the better of him.
The three men are at the location where, in June 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta, a document important for present day ideas about and standards of human rights. J. pictures this day at length, ending the chapter by imagining that “King John has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in the breathless silence till a great shout cleaves the air and the great cornerstone in England’s temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.”
J. romanticizes this passage of English history but fails to render it in anything like its actual complexity. King John isn’t necessarily a heroic figure—like life itself, his story is more complicated than the way J. presents it. He romanticizes the notion of England’s liberty when, to a great degree, it was the product of accidents that did not stem solely from this particular moment.