J. heaps praise on the town of Marlow, not because it is especially picturesque, but because of its “standing arches in the shattered bridge of Time, over which our fancy travels back.” He also likes the nearby woods, because he can imagine the ghosts of all the people who have ever been there.
J. likes Marlow because it hasn’t been too industrialized and thus still resembles how it would have looked two or three centuries back. The woods, too, are relatively untouched and facilitate his mental time travel.
They go by Bisham Abbey, which the ghost of Lady Hoby is said to haunt. According to the story, she beat her little son to death and now walks the Abbey at night, trying to wash her hands clean in the basins. Bisham, J. tells the reader, is where the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley composed The Revolt of Islam. The men visit Shelley’s house in Marlow.
J. is indebted to the Romantic poets, as shown by his frequent (and long) poetic descriptions of nature. However, unlike J., the Romantic poets incorporated the awesomeness—in the original sense of the being awed—of nature as much as they did its more rejuvenating aspects.
The three men float past Medmenham Abbey, notorious for once being the base of an orgiastic sect of hedonists called the Hellfire Club. Their motto was “do as you please.”
The Hellfire club is an early model of leisure but doesn’t seem to interest J. too much—perhaps because it reminds him a little too much of him and his friends.
Back at Marlow, Montmorency the dog has a stand-off with a cat. The three men decide to stock up on provisions for the rest of the trip. They, buy vast amounts of groceries including pies, tarts, cheese, and sweets. The shops send their boys to help the men take their stuff back to the boat, forming a long convoy on their way.
The boatman at the landing stage, upon seeing all the helpers and the shopping, assumes the men use a steam-launch rather than their little row boat. J. explains to reader that he hates steam-launches, seeing them as a sign of upper class “bumptiousness.” The three men, according to J., take great pleasure in blocking the path of steam-launches with their humble little boat.
The boatmen can’t believe that three men in such a little boat would need to be carrying so much with them. The three men like to block the steam-launches because, as discussed earlier, they resent them for being too modern.
Reaching Hambledon lock, the three men realize they are short on drinking water. George asks the lock-keeper if he can spare any. The lock-keeper replies that they take as much as they want. George is confused, because the man doesn’t move to fetch any water. It turns out that the lock-keeper is suggesting they drink directly from the river.
The lock-keeper believes that the river water is drinkable—that is, he trusts nature more. George is more accustomed to the water in the city, so doesn’t understand the lock-keeper’s point of view.
Instead, the three men get water from a little cottage further up the river. They reflect that they did once drink the Thames water, though. On that occasion, they boiled a kettle and made tea with water from the river. Just as they were drinking their tea, something floated by—a dead dog.
Nature is full of surprises, and the flow of the water brings the men the macabre image of a dead dog. Of course, that this happens when they are drinking tea with river water is highly ironic—drinking tea is a symbol of refinement, but nature gets in the way.
The men stop for lunch, and Harris proceeds to carve up the beefsteak pie that they are looking forward to eating. Suddenly J. and George are confused—Harris and the pie have disappeared. He’s fallen, pie in hand, into the long swamp grass behind the boat. He blames J. and George for pushing him, but they profess their innocence.
Beneath the politeness, Harris suspects J. and George of conspiring against him. Certainly, J. hasn’t portrayed Harris too kindly, so it’s not beyond him.