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Title: A Day's Tour - A Journey through France and Belgium by Calais, Tournay, Orchies, Douai, Arras, Béthune, Lille, Comines, Ypres, Hazebrouck, Berg
Author: Fitzgerald, Percy Hethrington, 1834-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Day's Tour - A Journey through France and Belgium by Calais, Tournay, Orchies, Douai, Arras, Béthune, Lille, Comines, Ypres, Hazebrouck, Berg" ***

(Bibliothèque nationale de France) at
http://gallica.bnf.fr., Robert Connal, Karen Dalrymple and

[Illustration: PRICE ONE SHILLING.




  A Journey through France and Belgium








This trifle is intended as an illustration of the little story in
'Evenings at Home' called 'Eyes and No Eyes,' where the prudent boy
saw so much during his walk, and his companion nothing at all.
Travelling has become so serious a business from its labours and
accompaniments, that the result often seems to fall short of what was
expected, and the means seem to overpower the end. On the other hand,
a visit to unpretending places in an unpretending way often produces
unexpected entertainment for the contemplative man. Some such
experiment was the following, where everything was a surprise because
little was expected. The epicurean tourist will be facetious on the
loss of sleep and comfort, money, etc.; but to a person in good health
and spirits these are but trifling inconveniences.

    _August, 1887_.


       I. IN TOWN

      II. DOVER


      IV. CALAIS

       V. TOURNAY

      VI. DOUAI



      IX. YPRES

       X. BERGUES

      XI. ST. OMER





It is London, of a bright sultry August day, when the flags seem
scorching to the feet, and the sun beats down fiercely. It has yet a
certain inviting attraction. There is a general air of bustle, and the
provincial, trundled along in his cab, his trunks over his head, looks
out with a certain awe and sense of delight, noting, as he skirts the
Park, the gay colours glistening among the dusty trees, the figures
flitting past, the riders, the carriages, all suggesting a foreign
capital. The great city never looks so brilliant or so stately as on
one of these 'broiling' days. One calls up with a sort of wistfulness
the great and picturesque cities abroad, with their grand streets and
palaces, ever a delightful novelty. We long to be away, to be crossing
over that night--enjoying a cool fresh passage, all troubles and
monotony left behind.

On one such day this year--a Wednesday--these mixed impressions and
longings presented themselves with unwonted force and iteration. So
wistful and sudden a craving for snapping all ties and hurrying away
was after all spasmodic, perhaps whimsical; but it was quickened by
that sultry, melting air of the parks and the tropical look of the
streets. The pavements seemed to glare fiercely like furnaces; there
was an air of languid Eastern enjoyment. The very dogs 'snoozed'
pleasantly in shady corners, and all seemed happy as if enjoying a

How delightful and enviable those families--the father, mother, and
fair daughters, now setting off gaily with their huge boxes--who
to-morrow would be beside the ever-delightful Rhine, posting on to
Cologne and Coblentz. What a welcome ring in those names! Stale,
hackneyed as it is, there comes a thrill as we get the first glimpse
of the silvery placid waters and their majestic windings. Even the
hotels, the bustle, and the people, holiday and festive, all seem
novel and gay. With some people this fairy look of things foreign
never 'stales,' even with repetition. It is as with the illusions of
the stage, which in some natures will triumph over the rudest,
coarsest shocks.

Well, that sweltering day stole by. The very cabmen on their 'stands'
nodded in blissful dreams. The motley colours in the Park--a stray
cardinal-coloured parasol or two added to the effect--glinted behind
the trees. The image of the happy tourists in the foreign streets grew
more vivid. The restlessness increased every hour, and was not to be

Living within a stone's-throw of Victoria Station, I find a strange
and ever new sensation in seeing the night express and its passengers
starting for foreign lands--some wistful and anxious, others supremely
happy. It is next in interest to the play. The carriages are marked
'CALAIS,' 'PARIS,' etc. It is even curious to think that, within three
hours or so, they will be on foreign soil, among the French spires,
sabots, blouses, gendarmes, etc. These are trivial and fanciful
notions, but help to fortify what one has of the little faiths of
life, and what one wise man, at least, has said: that it is the
smaller unpretending things of life that make up its pleasures,
particularly those that come unexpectedly, and from which we hope but

When all these thoughts were thus tumultuously busy, an odd _bizarre_
idea presented itself. By an unusual concatenation, there was before
me but a strictly-tightened space of leisure that could not be
expanded. Friday must be spent at home. This was Wednesday, already
three-quarters spent; but there was the coming night and the whole of
Thursday. But Friday morning imperatively required that the traveller
should be found back at home again. The whole span, the _irreducible
maximum_, not to be stretched by any contrivance beyond about thirty
hours. Something could be done, but not much. As I thought of the
strict and narrow limits, it seemed that these were some precious
golden hours, and never to recur again; the opportunity must be
seized, or lost for ever! As I walked the sunshiny streets, images
rose of the bright streets abroad, their quaint old towers, and
town-halls, and marketplaces, and churches, red-capped fisherwomen--all
this scenery was 'set,'--properties and decorations--and the foreign
play seemed to open before my eyes and invite me.

There is an Eastern story of a man who dipped his head into a tub of
water, and who there and then mysteriously passed through a long
series of events: was married, had children, saw them grow up, was
taken prisoner by barbarians, confined long in gaol, was finally
tried, sentenced, and led out to execution, with the scimitar about to
descend, when of a sudden--he drew his head out of the water. And lo!
all these marvels had passed in a second! What if there were to be
magically crowded into those few hours all that could possibly be
seen--sea and land, old towns in different countries, strange people,
cathedrals, town-halls, streets, etc.? It would be like some wild,
fitful dream. And on the Friday I would draw my head, as it were, out
of the tub. But it would need the nicest balancing and calculation,
not a minute to be lost, everything to be measured and jointed
together beforehand.

There was something piquant in this notion. Was not life short? and
precious hours were too often wasted carelessly and dawdled away. It
might even be worth while to see how much could be seen in these few
hours. In a few moments the resolution was taken, and I was walking
down to Victoria, and in two hours was in Snargate Street, Dover.



Dover has an old-fashioned dignity of its own; the town, harbour,
ports, and people seem, as it were, consecrated to packets. There is
an antique and reverend grayness in its old inns, old streets, old
houses, all clustered and huddled into the little sheltered
amphitheatre, as if trying to get down close by their pride, the
packets. For centuries it has been the threshold, the _hall-door_, of
England. It is the last inn, as it were, from which we depart to see
foreign lands. History, too, comes back on us: we think of 'expresses'
in fast sloops or fishing-boats; of landings at Dover, and taking post
for London in war-time; how kings have embarked, princesses
disembarked--all in that awkward, yet snug harbour. A most curious
element in this feeling is the faint French flavour reaching
across--by day the white hills yonder, by night the glimmering lights
on the opposite coast. The inns, too, have a nautical, seaport air,
running along the beach, as they should do, and some of the older ones
having a bulging stern-post look about their lower windows. Even the
frowning, fortress-like coloured pile, the Lord Warden, thrusts its
shoulders forward on the right, and advances well out into the sea, as
if to be the first to attract the arrivals. There is a quaint relish,
too, in the dingy, old-fashioned marine terrace of dirty tawny brick,
its green verandas and _jalousies_, which lend quite a tropical air.
Behind them, in shelter, are little dark squares, of a darker stone,
with glimpses of the sea and packets just at the corners. Indeed, at
every point wherever there is a slit or crevice, a mast or some
cordage is sure to show itself, reminding us how much we are of the
packet, packety. Ports of this kind, with all their people and
incidents, seem to be devised for travellers; with their flaring
lights, _up-all-night_ hotels, the railway winding through the narrow
streets, the piers, the stormy waters, the packets lying by all the
piers and filling every convenient space. The old Dover of Turner's
well-known picture, or indeed of twenty years ago, with its 'dumpy'
steamers, its little harbour, and rude appliances for travel, was a
very different Dover from what it is now. There was then no rolling
down in luxurious trains to an Admiralty Pier. The stoutest heart
might shrink, or at least feel dismally uncomfortable, as he found
himself discharged from the station near midnight of a blowy,
tempestuous night, and saw his effects shouldered by a porter, whom he
was invited to follow down to the pier, where the funnel of the
'Horsetend' or Calais boat is moaning dismally. Few lights were
twinkling in the winding old-fashioned streets; but the near vicinity
of ocean was felt uncomfortably in harsh blasts and whistling sounds.
The little old harbour, like that of some fishing-place, offered
scarcely any room. The much-buffeted steamer lay bobbing and springing
at its moorings, while a dingy oil-lamp marked the gangway. A
comforting welcome awaited us from some old salt, who uttered the
cheering announcement that it was 'agoin' to be a roughish night.'

On this night there was an entertainment announced at the 'Rooms,' and
to pass away the time I looked in. It was an elocutionist one,
entitled 'Merry-Making Moments, or, Spanker's Wallet of Varieties,'
with a portrait of Spanker on the bills opening the wallet with an
expression of delight or surprise. This was his 'Grand Competition
Night,' when a 'magnificent goblet' was competed for by all comers,
which I had already seen in a shop window, a blue ribbon reposing in
_dégagé_ fashion across it. If a tumbler of the precious metal could
be called a magnificent goblet--it was scarcely bigger--it deserved
the title. The poor operator was declaiming as I entered, in
unmistakable Scotch, the history of 'Little Breeches,' and giving it
with due pathos. I am bound to say that a sort of balcony which hung
out at the end was well filled by the unwashed takers, or at least
donees, of sixpenny tickets. There was a purpose in this, as will be
seen. After being taken through 'The Raven,' and 'The Dying Burglar,'
the competition began. This was certainly the most diverting portion
of the entertainment, from its genuineness, the eagerness of the
competitors, and their ill-disguised jealousy. There were four
candidates. A doctor-looking man with a beard, and who had the air
either of reading familiar prayers to his household with good parsonic
effect, or of having tried the stage, uttered his lines with a very
superior air, as though the thing were not in doubt. Better than he,
however, was one, probably a draper's assistant, who competed with a
wild and panting fashion, tossing his arms, now raising, now dropping
his voice, and every _h_, too. But a shabby man, who looked as if he
had once practised tailoring, next stepped on the platform, and at
once revealed himself as the local poet. Encouraged by the generous
applause, he announced that he would recite some lines 'he 'ad wrote
on the great storm which committed such 'avoc on hour pier.' There
were local descriptions, and local names, which always touched the
true chord. Notably an allusion to a virtuous magnate then, I believe,
at rest:

    'Amongst the var'ous noble works,
      It should be widely known,
    'Twas WILLIAM BROWN' _(applause)_ 'that gave _this_ town
      The Dover's Sailors' 'OME!' _(applause)_.

Need I say that when the votes came to be taken, this poet received
the cup? His joy and mantling smiles I shall not forget, though the
donor gave it to him with unconcealed disgust; it showed what
universal suffrage led to. The doctor and the other defeated
candidates, who had been asked to retire to a private room during the
process of decision, were now obliged to emerge in mortified
procession, there being no other mode of egress. The doctor's face was
a study. The second part was to follow. But it was now growing late,
and time and mail-packets wait for no man.



As I come forth from the Elocution Contest, I find that night has
closed in. Not a ripple is on the far-stretching blue waste. From the
high cliffs that overhang the town and its amphitheatre can be seen
the faintly outlined harbour, where the white-chimneyed packet snoozes
as it were, the smoke curling upwards, almost straight. The sea-air
blows fresh and welcome, though it does not beat on a 'fevered brow.'
There is a busy hum and clatter in the streets, filled with soldiers
and sailors and chattering sojourners. Now do the lamps begin to
twinkle lazily. There is hardly a breath stirring, and the great
chalk-cliffs gleam out in a ghostly fashion, like mammoth wave-crests.

As it draws on to ten o'clock, the path to the Admiralty Pier begins
to darken with flitting figures hurrying down past the fortress-like
Lord Warden, now ablaze and getting ready its hospice for the night;
the town shows itself an amphitheatre of dotted lights--while down
below white vapours issue walrus-like from the sonorous
'scrannel-pipes' of the steamer. Gradually the bustle increases, and
more shadowy figures come hurrying down, walking behind their baggage
trundled before them. Now a faint scream, from afar off inland, behind
the cliffs, gives token that the trains, which have been tearing
headlong down from town since eight o'clock, are nearing us; while the
railway-gates fast closed, and porters on the watch with green lamps,
show that the expresses are due. It is a rather impressive sight to
wait at the closed gates of the pier and watch these two outward-bound
expresses arrive. After a shriek, prolonged and sustained, the great
trains from Victoria and Ludgate, which met on the way and became one,
come thundering on, the enormous and powerful engine glaring fiercely,
flashing its lamps, and making the pier tremble. Compartment after
compartment of first-class carriages flit by, each lit up so
refulgently as to show the crowded passengers, with their rugs and
bundles dispersed about them. It is a curious change to see the
solitary pier, jutting out into the waves, all of a sudden thus
populated with grand company, flashing lights, and saloon-like
splendour--ambassadors, it may be, generals for the seat of war, great
merchants like the Rothschilds, great singers or actors, princes,
dukes, millionnaires, orators, writers, 'beauties,' brides and
bridegrooms, all ranged side by side in those cells, or _vis-à-vis_.
That face under the old-fashioned travelling-cap may be that of a
prime minister, and that other gentlemanly person a swindling
bank-director flying from justice.

During the more crowded time of the travelling season it is not
undramatic, and certainly entertaining, to stand on the deck of the
little boat, looking up at the vast pier and platform some twenty or
thirty feet above one's head, and see the flood of passengers
descending in ceaseless procession; and more wonderful still, the
baggage being hurled down the 'shoots.' On nights of pressure this may
take nearly an hour, and yet not a second appears to be lost. One
gazes in wonder at the vast brass-bound chests swooping down and
caught so deftly by the nimble mariners; the great black-domed ladies'
dress-baskets and boxes; American and French trunks, each with its
national mark on it. Every instant the pile is growing. It seems like
building a mansion with vast blocks of stone piled up on each other.
Hat-boxes and light leather cases are sent bounding down like
footballs, gradually and by slow degrees forming the mountain.

What secrets in these chests! what tales associated with them! Bridal
trousseaux, jewels, letters, relics of those loved and gone; here the
stately paraphernalia of a family assumed to be rich and prosperous,
who in truth are in flight, hurrying away with their goods. Here,
again, the newly bought 'box' of the bride, with her initials gaudily
emblazoned; and the showy, glittering chests of the Americans.

There is a physiognomy in luggage, distinct as in clothes; and a
strange variety, not uninteresting. How significant, for instance, of
the owner is the weather-beaten, battered old portmanteau of the
travelling bachelor, embrowned with age, out of shape, yet still
strong and serviceable!--a business-like receptacle, which, like him,
has travelled thousands of miles, been rudely knocked about, weighed,
carried hither and thither, encrusted with the badges of hotels as an
old vessel is with barnacles, grim and reserved like its master, and
never lost or gone astray.

Now the engines and their trains glide away home. The shadowy figures
stand round in crowds. To the reflecting mind there is something
bewildering and even mournful in the survey of this huge agglomeration
and of its owners, the muffled, shadowy figures, some three hundred in
number, grouped together, and who will be dispersed again in a few

A yacht-voyage could not be more tranquilly delightful than this
pleasant moonlight transit. We are scarcely clear of the twinkling
lights of the Dover amphitheatre, grown more and more distant, when
those of the opposite coast appear to draw near and yet nearer. Often
as one has crossed, the sense of a new and strange impression is never
wanting. The sense of calm and silence, the great waste of sea, the
monotonous 'plash' of the paddle-wheels, the sort of solitude in the
midst of such a crowd, the gradually lengthening distance behind, with
the lessening, as gradual, in front, and the always novel feeling of
approach to a new country--these elements impart a sort of dreamy,
poetical feeling to the scene. Even the calm resignation of the
wrapped-up shadows seated in a sort of retreat, and devoted to their
own thoughts or slumbers, add to this effect. With which comes the
thought of the brave little vessels, which through day and night, year
after year, dance over these uncertain waters in 'all weathers,' as it
is termed. When the night is black as Erebus, and the sea in its fury
boiling and raging over the pier, the Lord Warden with its
storm-shutters up, and timid guests removed to more sheltered
quarters, the very stones of the pier shaken from their places by the
violence of the monster outside--the little craft, wrapping its mantle
about its head, goes out fearlessly, and, emerging from the harbour to
be flung about, battered with wild fury, forces her way on through the
night, which its gallant sailors call, with truth, 'an awful one.'

While busy with these thoughts I take note of a little scene of
comedy, or perhaps of a farcical kind, which is going on near me, in
which two 'Harrys' of the purest kind were engaged, and whose oddities
lightened the tediousness of the passage. One had seen foreign parts,
and was therefore regarded with reverence by his companion.

They were promenading the deck, and the following dialogue was borne
to me in snatches:

First Harry (interrogatively, and astonished): 'Eh? no! Now, really?'

Second Harry: 'Oh, Lord bless yer, yes! It comes quite easy, you know'
(or 'yer know'). 'A little trouble at first; but, Lord bless yer'
(this benediction was imparted many times during the conversation),
'it ain't such a difficult thing at all.'

I now found they were speaking of acquiring the French language--a
matter the difficulty of which they thought had been absurdly
overrated. Then the second Harry: 'Of course it is! Suppose you're in
a Caffy, and want some wine; you just call to the waiter, and you

First Harry (who seems to think that the secret has already been
communicated): 'Dear me; yes, to be sure--to be sure! I never thought
of that. A Caffy?'

Second Harry: 'Oh, Lor' bless yer, it comes as easy as--that! Well,
you go say to the fellow--just as you would say to an English
waiter--"_Don-ny maw_"--(pause)--"_dee Vinne_."'

First Harry (amazed): 'So _that's_ the way! Dear, dear me! Vinne!'

Second Harry: 'O' course it is the way! Suppose you want yer way to
the railway, you just go ask for the "_Sheemin--dee--Fur_." _Fur_, you
know, means "rail" in French--_Sheemin_ is "the road," you know.'

Again lost in wonder at the simplicity of what is popularly supposed
to be so thorny, the other Harry could only repeat:

'So that's it! What is it, again? _Sheemin_--'

_'Sheemin dee Fur.'_

Later, in the fuss and bustle of the 'eating hall,' this 'Harry,' more
obstreperous than ever by contact with the foreigners, again attracted
my attention. Everywhere I heard his voice; he was rampant.

'When the chap laid hold of my bag, "Halloo," says I; "hands off, old
boy," says I.

"'Eel Fo!" says he.

'"Eel-pie!" says I. "Blow your _Fo_," says I, and didn't he grin like
an ape? I declare I thought I'd have split when he came again with his
"_Eel Fo_!"'

He was then in his element. Everything new to him was 'a guy,' or 'so
rum,' or 'the queerest go you ever.' One of the two declared that, 'in
all his experience and in all his life he had never heard sich a lingo
as French;' and further, that 'one of their light porters at
Bucklersbury would eat half a dozen of them Frenchmen for a bender.'

This strange, grotesque dialogue I repeat textually almost; and, it
may be conceived, it was entertaining in a high degree. _'Sheemin dee
Fur'_ was the exact phonetic pronunciation, and the whole scene
lingers pleasantly in the memory.



But it is now close on midnight, and we are drawing near land; the eye
of the French _phare_ grows fiercer and more glaring, until, close on
midnight, the traveller finds the blinding light flashed full on him,
as the vessel rushes past the wickerwork pier-head. One or two beings,
whose unhappy constitution it is to be miserable and wretched at the
very whisper of the word 'SEA,' drag themselves up from below,
rejoicing that here is CALAIS. Beyond rises the clustered town
confined within its walls. As we glide in between the friendly arms of
the openwork pier, the shadowy outlines of the low-lying town take
shape and enlarge, dotted with lamps as though pricked over with
pin-holes. The fiery clock of the station, that sits up all night from
year's end to year's end; the dark figures with tumbrils, and a stray
coach waiting; the yellow gateway and drawbridge of the fortress just
beyond, and the chiming of _carillons_ in a wheezy fashion from the
old watch-tower within, make up a picture.

[Illustration: HOGARTH'S GATE (CALAIS)]

[Illustration: HALL OF THE STAPLE, (Calais)]

Such, indeed, it used to be--not without its poetry, too; but the old
Calais days are gone. Now the travellers land far away down the pier,
at the new-fangled 'Calais Maritime,' forsooth! and do not even
approach the old town. The fishing-boats, laid up side by side along
the piers, are shadowy. It seems a scene in a play. The great sea is
behind us and all round. It is a curious feeling, thinking of the
nervous unrest of the place, that has gone on for a century, and that
will probably go on for centuries more. Certainly, to a person who has
never been abroad, this midnight scene would be a picture not without
a flavour of romance. But such glimpses of poetry are held intrusive
in these matter-of-fact days.

There is more than an hour to wait, whilst the passengers gorge in the
huge _salle_, and the baggage is got ashore. So I wander away up to
the town.

How picturesque that stroll! Not wholly levelled are the old yellow
walls; the railway-station with its one eye, and clock that never
sleeps, opens its jaws with a cheerful bright light, like an inn fire;
dark figures in cowls, soldiers, sailors, flit about; curiously-shaped
tumbrils for the baggage lie up in ordinary. Here is the old arched
gate, ditch, and drawbridge; Hogarth's old bridge and archway, where
he drew the 'Roast Beef of Old England.' Passing over the bridge into
the town unchallenged, I find a narrow street with yellow houses--the
white shutters, the porches, the first glance of which affects one so
curiously and reveals France. Here is the Place of Arms in the centre,
whence all streets radiate. What more picturesque scene!--the moon
above, the irregular houses straggling round, the quaint old
town-hall, with its elegant tower, and rather wheezy but most musical
chimes; its neighbour, the black, solemn watch-tower, rising rude and
abrupt, seven centuries old, whence there used to be strict look-out
for the English. Down one of these side streets is a tall building,
with its long rows of windows and shutters and closed door
(Quillacq's, now Dessein's), once a favourite house--the 'Silver
Lion,' mentioned in the old memoirs, visited by Hogarth, and where,
twenty years ago, there used to be a crowd of guests. Standing in the
centre, I note a stray roysterer issuing from some long-closed _café_,
hurrying home, while the _carillons_ in their airy _rococo_-looking
tower play their melodious tunes in a wheezy jangle that is
interesting and novel. This chime has a celebrity in this quarter of
France. I stayed long in the centre of that solitary _place_,
listening to that midnight music.

It is a curious, not unromantic feeling, that of wandering about a
strange town at midnight, and the effect increases as, leaving the
_place_, I turn down a little by-street--the Rue de Guise--closed at
the end by a beautiful building or fragment, unmistakably English in
character. Behind it spreads the veil of blue sky, illuminated by the
moon, with drifting white clouds passing lazily across. This is the
entrance to the Hôtel de Guise--a gate-tower and archway, pure
Tudor-English in character, and, like many an old house in the English
counties, elegant and almost piquant in its design. The arch is
flanked by slight hexagonal _tourelles_, each capped by a pinnacle
decorated with niches in front. Within is a little courtyard, and
fragments of the building running round in the same Tudor style, but
given up to squalor and decay, evidently let out to poor lodgers.
This charming fragment excites a deep melancholy, as it is a neglected
survival, and may disappear at any moment--the French having little
interest in these English monuments, indeed, being eager to efface
them when they can. It is always striking to see this on some tranquil
night, as I do now--and Calais is oftenest seen at midnight--and think
of the Earl of Warwick, the 'deputy,' and of the English wool-staple
merchants who traded here. Here lodged Henry VIII. in 1520; and twelve
years later Francis I., when on a visit to Henry, took up his abode in
this palace.

[Illustration: BELFRY, CALAIS.]

Crossing the _place_ again, I come on the grim old church, built by
the English, where were married our own King Richard II. and Isabelle
of Valois--a curious memory to recur as we listen to the 'high mass'
of a Calais Sunday. But the author of 'Modern Painters' has furnished
the old church with its best poetical interpretation. 'I cannot find
words,' he says in a noble passage,' to express the intense pleasure I
have always felt at first finding myself, after some prolonged stay in
England, at the foot of the tower of Calais Church. The large neglect,
the noble unsightliness of it, the record of its years, written so
vividly, yet without sign of weakness or decay; its stern vastness and
gloom, eaten away by the Channel winds, and overgrown with bitter
sea-grass. I cannot tell half the strange pleasures and thoughts that
come about me at the sight of the old tower.' Most interesting of all
is the grim, rusted, and gaunt watch-tower, before alluded to, which
rises out of a block of modern houses in the _place_ itself. It can be
seen afar off from the approaching vessel, and until comparatively
late times this venerable servant had done the charity of lighthouse
work for a couple of centuries at least.

But one of the pleasantest associations connected with the town was
the old Dessein's Hotel, which had somehow an inexpressibly
old-fashioned charm, for it had a grace like some disused château.
Some of the prettiest passages in Sterne's writings are associated
with this place. We see the figures of the monk, the well-known host,
the lady and the _petit-maître_: to say nothing of the old
_désobligeante_. Even of late years it was impossible to look at the
old building, which remained unchanged, without calling up the image
of Mr. Sterne, and the curious airy conversation--sprinkled with what
execrable French both in grammar and spelling!--that took place at the
gate. An air of the old times pervaded it strongly: it was like
opening an old _garde de vin_. You passed out of the _place_ and found
yourself in the Rue Royale--newly named Rue Leveux--and there,
Dessein's stood before you, with its long yellow wall, archway and
spacious courts, on each side a number of quaint gables or _mansardes_,
sharp-roofed. Over the wall was seen the foliage of tall and handsome
trees. There is a coloured print representing this entrance, with the
meeting of the 'little master' and the lady--painted by Leslie--and
which gives a good idea of the place. In the last century the courtyard
used to be filled with posting-carriages, and the well-known _remise_
lay here in a corner. Behind the house stretched large, well-stocked
gardens, with which the guests at the hotel used to be recreated;
while at the bottom of the garden, but opening into another street,
was the theatre, built by the original Dessein, belonging to the hotel,
and still used. This garden was wild and luxuriant, the birds singing,
while the courtyard was dusty and weed-grown.

This charming picture has ever been a captivating one for the
traveller. It seemed like an old country-house transferred to town.
There was something indescribable in the tranquil flavour of the
place, its yellow gamboge tint alternated with green vineries, its
spacious courtyard and handsome chambers. It was bound up with
innumerable old associations. Thackeray describes, with an almost
poetical affection and sympathy, the night he spent there. He called
up the image of Sterne in his 'black satin smalls,' and talked with
him. They used to show his room, regularly marked, as I have seen it,
'STERNES'S ROOM, NO. 31,' with its mezzotint, after Sir
Joshua, hung over the chimney-piece. But this tradition received a
shock some sixty years since. An inquisitive and sceptical traveller
fancied he saw an inscription or date lurking behind the vine-leaves
that so luxuriantly covered the old house, and sent up a man on a
ladder to clear away the foliage. This operation led to the discovery
of a tablet, dated two years too late for the authenticity of the
building in which 'Sterne's room' was. The waiter, however, in nowise
disconcerted, said the matter could be easily 'arranged' by selecting
another room in an unquestioned portion of the building! To make up,
however, there was a room labelled 'SIR WALTER SCOTT'S ROOM,' with
his portrait; and of this there could be no reasonable question.

    |  AD  |
    | 1770 |

In later years it did not flourish much, but gently decayed.
Everything seemed in a state of mild sleepy abandonment and decay till
about the year 1861, when the Desseins gave over business. The town,
much straitened for room, and cramped within its fortifications, had
long been casting hungry eyes on this spacious area. Strange to say,
even in the prosaic pages of our own 'Bradshaw,' the epitaph of 'old
Dessein's' is to be read among its advertisements:


     'HÔTEL DESSEIN.--L. Dessein, the proprietor, has the
     honour to inform his numerous patrons, and travellers in
     general, that after the 1st of January his establishment will
     be transferred to the Hôtel Quillacq, which has been entirely
     done up, and will take the name of HÔTEL DESSEIN. The
     premises of the old Hôtel Dessein having been purchased by the
     town of Calais, it ceases to be an Hôtel for Travellers.'

Still, in this new function it was 'old Dessein's,' and you were shown
'Sterne's room,' etc. I recall wandering through it of a holiday,
surveying the usual museum specimens--the old stones, invariable
spear-heads, stuffed animals; in short, the usual rather heterogeneous
collection, made up of 'voluntary contributions,' prompted half by the
vanity of the donor and half by his indifference to the objects
presented. We had not, indeed, the 'old pump' or the parish stocks, as
at Little Pedlington, but there were things as interesting. Here were
a few old pictures given by the Government, and labelled in writing;
the car of Blanchard's balloon, and a cutting from a newspaper
describing his arrival; portraits of the 'Citizen King' in his white
trousers; ditto of Napoleon III., name pasted over; the flagstone,
with an inscription, celebrating the landing of Louis XVIII., removed
from the pier--in deference to Republican sensitiveness--no doubt to
be restored again in deference to monarchical feelings; and, of
course, a number of the usual uninteresting cases containing white
cards, and much cotton, pins, and insects, stuffed birds, and
symmetrically-arranged dried specimens, the invariable Indian gourds,
and arrows, and moccasins, which 'no gentlemanly collection should be
without.' Never, during many a visit, did I omit wandering up to see
this pleasing, old, but ghostly memorial. It may be conceived what a
shock it was when, on a recent visit, I found it gone--razed--carted
away. I searched and searched--fancied I had mistaken the street; but
no! it was gone for ever. During M. Jules Ferry's last administration,
when the rage for 'Communal schools' set in, this tempting site had
been seized upon, the interesting old place levelled, and a
factory-like red-brick pile rapidly erected in its place. It was
impossible not to feel a pang at this discovery; I felt that Calais
without its Dessein's had lost its charm. Madame Dessein, a
grand-niece or nearly-related descendant of _le grand Dessein_, still
directs at Quillacq's--a pleasing old lady.

There is still a half hour before me, while the gorgers in 'Maritime
Calais' are busy feeding against time; and while I stand in the
_place_, listening to the wheezy old chimes, I recall a pleasant
excursion, and a holiday that was spent there, at the time when the
annual _fêtes_ were being celebrated. Never was there a brighter day:
all seemed to be new, and the very quintessence of what was
foreign--the gay houses of different heights and patterns were decked
with streamers, their parti-coloured blinds, devices, and balconies
running round the _place_, and furnishing gaudy detail. Here there
used to be plenty of movement, when the Lafitte diligences went
clattering by, starting for Paris, before the voracious railway
marched victoriously in and swallowed diligence, horses,
postilions--bells, boots and all! The gay crowd passing across the
_place_ was making for the huge iron-gray cathedral, quite ponderous
and fortress-like in its character. Here is the grand _messe_ going
on, the Swiss being seen afar off, standing with his halbert under the
great arch, while between, down to the door, are the crowded
congregation and the convenient chairs. Overhead the ancient organ is
pealing out with rich sound, while the sun streams in through the
dim-painted glass on the old-fashioned costumes of the fish-women,
just falling on their gold earrings _en passant_. There is a dreamy
air about this function, which associated itself, in some strange way,
with bygone days of childhood, and it is hard to think that about two
or three hours before the spectator was in all the prose of London.

For those who love novel and picturesque memories or scenes, there are
few things more effective or pleasant to think of than one of these
Sunday mornings in a strange unfamiliar French town, when every
corner, and every house and figure--welcome novelty!--are gay as the
costumes and colours in an opera. The night before it was, perhaps,
the horrors of the packet, the cribbing in the cabin, the unutterable
squalor and roughness of all things, the lowest depth of hard, ugly
prose, together with the rudest buffeting and agitation, and poignant
suffering; but, in a few hours, what a 'blessed' change! Now there is
the softness of a dream in the bright cathedral church crowded to the
door, the rites and figures seen afar off, the fuming incense, the
music, the architecture!

During these musings the fiercely glaring clock warns me that time is
running out; but a more singular monitor is the great lighthouse which
rises at the entrance of the town, and goes through its extraordinary,
almost fiendish, performance all the night long. This is truly a
phenomenon. Lighthouses are usually relegated to some pier-end, and
display their gyrations to the congenial ocean. But conceive a monster
of this sort almost _in_ the town itself, revolving ceaselessly,
flashing and flaring into every street and corner of a street, like
some Patagonian policeman with a giant 'bull's-eye.' A more singular,
unearthly effect cannot be conceived. Wherever I stand, in shadow or
out of it, this sudden flashing pursues me. It might be called the
'Demon Lighthouse.' For a moment, in picturesque gloom, watching the
shadows cast by the Hogarthian gateway, I may be thinking of our great
English painter sitting sketching the lean Frenchwomen, noting, too,
the portal where the English arms used to be, when suddenly the 'Demon
Lighthouse' directs his glare full on me, describes a sweep, is gone,
and all is dark again. It suggests the policeman going his rounds. How
the exile forced to sojourn here must detest this obtrusive beacon of
the first class! It must become maddening in time for the eyes. Even
in bed it has the effect of mild sheet-lightning. Municipality of
Calais! move it away at once to a rational spot--to the end of the
pier, where a lighthouse ought to be.



But now back to 'Maritime Calais,' down to the pier, where a strange
busy contrast awaits us. All is now bustle. In the great 'hall'
hundreds are finishing their 'gorging,' paying bills, etc., while on
the platform the last boxes and chests are being tumbled into the
waggons with the peculiar tumbling, crashing sound which is so
foreign. Guards and officials in cloaks and hoods pace up and down,
and are beginning to chant their favourite '_En voiture, messieurs_!'
Soon all are packed into their carriages, which in France always
present an old-fashioned mail-coach air with their protuberant bodies
and panels. By one o'clock the signal is given, the lights flash
slowly by, and we are rolling away, off into the black night.
'Maritime Calais' is left to well-earned repose; but for an hour or so
only, until the returning mail arrives, when it will wake up again--a
troubled and troublous nightmare sort of existence. Now for a plunge
into Cimmerian night, with that dull, sustained buzz outside, as of
some gigantic machinery whirling round, which seems a sort of
lullaby, contrived mercifully to make the traveller drowsy and enwrap
him in gentle sleep. Railway sleeping is, after all, a not
unrefreshing form of slumber. There is the grateful 'nod, nod,
nodding,' with the sudden jerk of an awakening; until the nodding
becomes more overpowering, and one settles into a deep and profound
sleep. Ugh! how chilly it gets! And the machinery--or is it the
sea?--still roaring in one's ear.

What, stopping! and by the roadside, it seems; the day breaking, the
atmosphere cold, steel-blue, and misty. Rubbing the pane, a few
surviving lights are seen twinkling--a picture surely something
Moslem. For there, separated by low-lying fields, rise clustered
Byzantine towers and belfries, with strangely-quaint German-looking
spires of the Nuremberg pattern, but all dimly outlined and mysterious
in their grayness.

There was an extraordinary and original feeling in this approach: the
old fortifications, or what remained of them, rising before me; the
gloom, the mystery, the widening streak of day, and perfect
solitariness. As I admired the shadowy belfry which rose so supreme
and asserted itself among the spires, there broke out of a sudden a
perfect _charivari_ of bells--jangling, chiming, rioting, from various
churches, while amid all was conspicuous the deep, solemn BOOM! BOOM!
like the slow baying of a hound.

It is five o'clock, but it might be the middle of the night, so dark
is it. This magic city, which seems like one of those in Albert
Dürer's cuts, rises at a distance as if within walls. I stand in the
roadside alone, deserted, the sole traveller set down. The train has
flown on into the night with a shriek. The sleepy porter wonders, and
looks at me askance.

As I take my way from the station and gradually approach the city--for
there is a broad stretch between it and the railway unfilled by
houses--I see the striking and impressive picture growing and
enlarging. The jangling and the solemn occasional boom still go on:
meant to give note that the day is opening. Nothing more awe-inspiring
or poetical can be conceived than this 'cock-crow' promenade. Here are
little portals suddenly opening on the stage, with muffled figures
darting out, and worthy Belgians tripping from their houses--betimes,
indeed--and hurrying away to mass. Thus to make the acquaintance of
that grandest and most astonishing of old cathedrals, is to do so
under the best and most suitable conditions: very different from the
guide and cicerone business, which belongs to later hours of the day.
I stand in the open _place_, under its shadow, and lift my eyes with
wonder to the amazing and crowded cluster of spires and towers: its
antique air, and even look of shattered dilapidation showing that the
restorer has not been at his work. There was no smugness or trimness,
or spick-and-spanness, but an awful and reverent austerity. And with
an antique appropriateness to its functions the Flemish women, crones
and maidens, all in their becoming cashmere hoods, and cloaks, and
neat frills, still hurry on to the old Dom. Near me rose the antique
_beffroi_, from whose jaws still kept booming the old bell, with a
fine clang, the same that had often pealed out to rouse the burghers
to discord and tumult. It pealed on, hoarse and even cracked, but
persistently melodious, disregarding the contending clamours of its
neighbours, just as some old baritone of the opera, reduced and broken
down, will exhibit his 'phrasing'--all that is left to him. Quaint old
burgher city, indeed, with the true flavour, though beshrew them for
meddling with the fortifications!

That little scene in this _place_ of Tournay is always a pleasant,
picturesque memory.

I entered with the others. Within the cathedral was the side chapel,
with its black oak screen, and a tawny-cheeked Belgian priest at the
altar beginning the mass. Scattered round and picturesquely grouped
were the crones and maidens aforesaid, on their wicker-chairs. A few
surviving lamps twinkled fitfully, and shadowy figures crossed as if
on the stage. But aloft, what an overpowering immensity, all vaulted
shadows, the huge pillars soaring upward to be lost in a Cimmerian

Around me I saw grouped picturesquely in scattered order, and kneeling
on their _prie-dieux_, the honest burghers, women and men, the former
arrayed in the comfortable and not unpicturesque black Flemish cloaks
with the silk hoods--handsome and effective garments, and almost
universal. The devotional rite of the mass, deeply impressive, was
over in twenty minutes, and all trooped away to their daily work.
There was a suggestion here, in this modest, unpretending exercise, in
contrast to the great fane itself, of the undeveloped power to expand,
as it were, on Sundays and feast-days, when the cathedral would
display all its resources, and its huge area be crowded to the doors
with worshippers, and the great rites celebrated in all their full

Behind the great altar I came upon an imposing monument, conceived
after an original and comprehensive idea. It was to the memory of _all
the bishops and canons_ of the cathedral! This wholesale idea may be
commended to our chapters at home. It might save the too monotonous
repetition of recumbent bishops, who, after being exhibited at the
Academy, finally encumber valuable space in their own cathedrals.

The suggestiveness of the great bell-tower, owing to the peculiar
emphasis and purpose given to it, is constantly felt in the old
Belgian cities. It still conveys its old antique purpose--the defence
of the burghers, a watchful sentinel who, on the alarm, clanged out
danger, the sound piercing from that eyry to the remotest lane, and
bringing the valiant citizens rushing to the great central square. It
is impossible to look up at one of these monuments, grim and solitary,
without feeling the whole spirit of the Belgian history, and calling
up Philip van Artevelde and the Ghentish troubles.

In the smaller cities the presence of this significant landmark is
almost invariable. There is ever the lone and lorn tower, belfry, or
spire painted in dark sad colours, seen from afar off, rising from the
decayed little town below; often of some antique, original shape that
pleases, and yet with a gloomy misanthropical air, as of total
abandonment. They are rusted and abrased. From their ancient jaws we
hear the husky, jangling chimes, musical and melancholy, the
disorderly rambling notes and tunes of a gigantic musical box. Towards
the close of some summer evening, as the train flies on, we see the
sun setting on the grim walls of some dead city, and on the clustered
houses. Within the walls are the formal rows of trees planted in
regimental order which fringe and shelter them; while rises the dark,
copper-coloured tower, often unfinished and ragged, but solemn and
funereal, or else capped by some quaint lantern, from whose jaws
presently issue the muffled tones of the chimes, halting and broken,
and hoarse and wheezy with centuries of work. Often we pass on;
sometimes we descend, and walk up to the little town and wander
through its deserted streets. We are struck with wonder at some vast
and noble church, cathedral-like in its proportions, and nearly always
original--such variety is there in these antique Belgian fanes--and
facing it some rustic mouldering town-hall of surprising beauty. There
are a few little shops, a few old houses, but the generality have
their doors closed. There is hardly a soul to be seen, certainly not a
cart. There are innumerable dead cities of this pattern.

Coming out, I find it broad day. A few natives with their baskets are
hurrying to the train. I note, rising above the houses, two or three
other solemn spires and grim churches, which have an inexpressibly sad
and abandoned air, from their dark grimed tones which contrast with
the bright gay hues of the modern houses that crowd upon them. There
is one grave, imposing tower, with a hood like a monk's. Then I wander
to the handsome triangle-shaped _place_, with its statue to Margaret
of Parma--erst Governor of the Netherlands, and whose memory is
regarded with affection. Here is the old belfry, which has been so
clamorous, standing apart, like those of Ghent, Dunkirk, and a few
other towns; an effective structure, though fitted by modern restorers
with an entirely new 'head'--not, however, ineffective of its kind.

The day is now fairly opened. There is a goodly muster of
market-women and labourers at the handsome station, which, like every
station of the first rank in Belgium, bears its name 'writ large.' It
is just striking five as we hurry away, and in some half an hour we
arrive at ORCHIES--one of those new spick-and-span little towns,
useful after their kind, but disagreeable to the æsthetic eye.
Everything here is of that meanest kind of brick, 'pointed,' as it is
called, with staring white, such as it is seen in the smaller Belgian
stations. Feeling somewhat degraded by this contact, I was glad to be
hurried away, and within an hour find we are approaching one of the
greater French cities.



Now begin to flit past us signs unmistakable of an approaching
fortified town. Here are significant green banks and mounds cut to
angles and geometrical patterns, soft and enticing, enriched with
luxuriant trees, but treacherous--smiling on the confiding houses and
gardens which one day may be levelled at a few hours' notice. Next
come compact masses of Vauban brick, ripe and ruddy, of beautiful,
smooth workmanship; stately military gateways and drawbridges, with a
patch of red trousering--a soldier on his fat Normandy 'punch' ambling
lazily over; and the peaceful cart with its Flemish horses. The
brick-work is sliced through, as with a cheese-knife, to admit the
railway, giving a complete section of the work. We are, in short, at
one of the great _places fortes_ of France, Douai, where the curious
traveller had best avoid sketching, or taking notes--a serious
offence. Here I lingered pleasantly for nearly three hours, and,
having duly breakfasted, noted its air of snug comfort and
prosperity. There is here a famous arsenal--ever busy--one of the
most important in France, and it has besides some welcome bits of
artistic architecture.

It was when wandering down a darkish street, that I came on a most
original building, the old _Mairie_, enriched with a belfry of
delightfully graceful pattern. It might be a problem how to combine a
bell-tower with offices for municipal work, and we know in our land
how such a 'job' would be carried out by 'the architect to the Board.'
But all over Flemish France and Belgium proper we find an
inexhaustible fancy and fertility in such designs. It is always
difficult to describe architectural beauties. This had its tower in
the centre, flanked by two short wings. Everything was original--the
disposition of the windows, the air of space and largeness. Yet the
whole was small, I note that in all these Flemish bell-towers, the
topmost portion invariably develops into something charmingly
fantastic, into cupolas and short, little galleries and lanterns
superimposed, the mixture of solidity and airiness being astonishing.
It is appropriate and fitting that this grace should attend on what
are the sweetest musical instruments conceivable. Mr. Haweis, who is
the poet of Flemish bells, has let us into the secret. 'The fragment
of aërial music,' he tells us, 'which floats like a heavenly sigh over
the Belgian city and dies away every few minutes, seems to set all
life and time to celestial music. It is full of sweet harmonies, and
can be played in pianoforte score, treble and bass. After a week in a
Belgian town, time seems dull without the music in the air that
mingled so sweetly with all waking moods without disturbing them, and
stole into our dreams without troubling our sleep. I do not say that
such carillons would be a success in London. In Belgium the towers are
high above the towns--Antwerp, Mechlin, Bruges--and partially
isolated. The sound falls softly, and the population is not so dense
as in London. Their habit and taste have accustomed the citizens to
accept this music for ever floating in the upper air as part of the
city's life--the most spiritual, poetical, and recreative part of it.
Nothing of the kind has ever been tried in London. The crashing peals
of a dozen large bells banged violently with clapper instead of softly
struck with hammer, the exasperating dong, or ding, dong, of the
Ritualist temple over the way, or the hoarse, gong-like roar of Big
Ben--that is all we know about bells in London, and no form of church
discipline could be more ferocious. Bell noise and bell music are two
different things.' This fanciful tower had its four corner towerlets,
suggesting the old burly Scotch pattern, which indeed came from
France; while the vane on the top still characteristically flourishes
the national Flemish lion.

Most bizarre, not to say extravagant, was the great cathedral, which
was laid out on strange 'lines,' having a huge circular chapel or
pavilion of immense height in front, whose round roof was capped by a
vast bulbous spire, in shape something after the pattern of a gigantic
mangel-wurzel! This astonishing decoration had a quaint and
extraordinary effect, seen, as it was, from any part of the city. Next
came the nave, whilst the transepts straggled about wildly, and a
gigantic fortress-like tower reared itself from the middle. Correct
judges will tell us that all this is debased work, and 'corrupt
style;' but, nevertheless, I confess to being both astonished and

This was the great festival of the _Corpus Domini_, and, indeed,
already all available bells in the place had been jangling noisily. It
was now barely seven o'clock, yet on entering the vast nave I found
that the 'Grand Mass' had begun, and the whole was full to the door,
while in the great choir were ranged about a hundred young girls
waiting to make their first Communion. A vast number of gala carriages
were waiting at the doors to take the candidates home, and for the
rest of the day they would promenade the city in their veils and
flowers, receiving congratulations. There was a pleasant provincial
simplicity in all this and in all that followed, which brought back
certain old Sundays of a childhood spent on a hill overlooking Havre.
I liked to see the stout red-cheeked choristers perspiring with their
work, and singing with a rough stentoriousness, just as I had seen
them in the village church of Sanvic. And there was the organist
playing away at his raised seat in the body of the church, as if in a
pew, visible to the naked eye of all; while two cantors in copes
clapped pieces of wood together as a signal for the congregation to
kneel or rise. Most quaint of all were the surpliced instrumentalists
with their braying bassoon and ophicleide: not to forget the
double-bass player who 'sawed' away for the bare life of him. The ever
visible organist voluntarized ravishingly and in really fine style. I
should like to have heard him at his own proper instrument, aloft, in
the gallery yonder, quite an enormous structure of florid pipes in
stories and groups, with angels blowing trumpets and flying saints.
It seemed like the stern of one of the Armada vessels. How he would
have made the pillars quiver! how the ripe old notes would have
_twanged_ and brayed into the darkest recesses!

The Mass being over, the Swiss, a tall, fierce fellow, arrayed in a
feathered cocked-hat, rich _scarlet_ regimentals and boots, now showed
an extra restlessness. The Bishop of Douai, a smooth, polished
prelate, began his sermon, which he delivered from a chair, in clear
tones and good elocution. When the ceremonies were over, the whole
congregation gathered at the door to see the young ladies taken away
by their friends. Then I resumed my exploring.

On a cheerful-looking _place_, which, with its trees and kiosque,
recalled the _Place Verte_ at Antwerp, I noticed a large building of
the pattern so common in France for colleges and convents--a vast
expanse of whiteness or blankness, and a yet vaster array of long
windows. It appeared to be a cavalry barrack for soldiers. The bugles
sounded through the archway, and orderlies were riding in and out.
This monotonous building, I found, had once been the English college
for priests, where the celebrated Douai or Douay Bible had been
translated. This rare book--a joy for the bibliophile--was published
about 1608, and, as is well known, was the first Catholic version in
English of the Scriptures. Here, then, was the cradle of millions of
copies distributed over the face of the earth. It was a curious
sensation to pass by this homely-looking edifice, with the adjoining
chapel, as it appeared to be--now apparently a riding-school. I also
came upon many a fine old Spanish house, and toiled down in the sun
to the Rue des Foulons, where there were some elaborate specimens.

Short as had been my term of residence, I somehow seemed to know Douai
very well. I had gathered what is called 'an idea of the place.' Its
ways, manners, and customs seemed familiar to me. So I took my way
from the old town with a sort of regret, having seen a great deal.



It is just eleven o'clock, and here we are coming to a charming town,
which few travellers have probably visited, and of which that genial
and experienced traveller, Charles Dickens, wrote in astonished
delight, and where in 1862 he spent his birthday. 'Here I find,' he
says, 'a grand _place_, so very remarkable and picturesque, that it is
astonishing how people miss it.' This is old Arras; and I confess it
alone seems worth a long day's, not to say night's, journey, to see.
It is fortified, and, as in such towns, we have to make our way to it
from the station by an umbrageous country road; for it is fenced, as a
gentleman's country seat might be, and strictly enclosed by the usual
mounds, ditches, and walls, but all so picturesquely disguised in rich
greenery as to be positively inviting. Even low down in the deep
ditches grew symmetrical avenues of straight trees, abundant in their
leaves and branches, which filled them quite up. The gates seem
monumental works of art, and picturesque to a degree; while over the
walls--and what noble specimens of brickwork, or tiling rather, are
these old Vauban walls!--peep with curious mystery the upper stories
and roofs of houses with an air of smiling security. I catch a glimpse
of the elegant belfry, the embroidered spires, and mosque-like
cupolas, all a little rusted, yet cheerful-looking. Dickens's _place_,
or two _places_ rather--for there is the greater and the less--display
to us a really lovely town-hall in the centre, the roof dotted over
with rows of windows, while an airy lace-work spire, with a ducal
crown as the finish, rises lightly. On to its sides are encrusted
other buildings of Renaissance order, while behind is a mansion still
more astonishingly embroidered in sculptured stone, with a colonnade
of vast extent. Around the _place_ itself stretches a vast number of
Spanish mansions, with the usual charmingly 'escalloped' roof, all
resting on a prolonged colonnade or piazza, strange, old-fashioned,
and original, running round to a vast extent, which the sensible town
has decreed is never to be interfered with. A more pleasing,
refreshing, and novel collection of objects for the ordinary traveller
of artistic taste to see without trouble or expense, it would be
impossible to conceive. Yet everyone hurries by to see the somewhat
stale glories of Ghent and Brussels.

[Illustration: ARRAS.]

There was a general fat contented air of _bourgeois_ comfort about the
sleepy old-fashioned, handsome Prefecture--in short, a capital
background for the old provincial life as described by Balzac. But the
_place_, with its inimitable Spanish houses and colonnades--under
which you can shop--and that most elegant of spires, sister to that of
Antwerp, which it recalls, will never pass from the memory. A
beautiful object of this kind, thus seen, is surely a present, and a
valuable one too.

A spire is often the expression of the whole town. How much is
suggested by the well-known, familiar cathedral spire at Antwerp, as,
of some fresh morning, we come winding up the tortuous Scheldt, the
sad, low-lying plains and boulders lying on either hand, monotonous
and dispiriting, yet novel in their way; the cream-coloured,
lace-worked spire rising ever before us in all its elegant grace,
pointing the way, growing by degrees, never for an instant out of
sight. It seems a fitting introduction to the noble, historical, and
poetical city to which it belongs. It _is_ surely ANTWERP! We
see Charles V., and Philip, and the exciting troubles of the Gueux,
the Dutch, the Flemings, the argosies from all countries in the great
days of its trade. Such is the mysterious power of association, which
it ever exerts on the 'reminiscent.' How different, and how much more
profitable, too, is this mode of approaching the place, than the other
more vulgar one of the railway terminus, with the cabs and omnibuses
waiting, and the convenient journey to the hotel.

These old cities--Lille, Douai, and Valenciennes--all boast their
gateways, usually named after the city to which the road leads. Thus
we have 'Porte de Paris,' 'Porte de Lille,' etc. I confess to a deep
interest in all gateways of this kind; they have a sort of poetry or
romance associated with them; they are grim, yet hospitable, at times
and seasons having a mysterious suggestion. There are towns where the
traveller finds the gate obdurately closed between ten o'clock at
night and six in the morning. These old gates have a state and
flamboyant majesty about them, as, in Lille, the Porte de Paris is
associated with the glories of Louis XIV.; while in Douai there is
one of an old pattern--it is said of the thirteenth century--with
curious towers and spires. Even at Calais there is a fine and majestic
structure, 'Porte de Richelieu,' on the town side, through which every
market cart and carriage used to trundle. There are florid devices
inscribed on it; but now that the walls on each side are levelled,
this patriarchal monument has but a ludicrous effect, for it is left
standing alone, unsupported and purposeless. The carts and tramcars
find their way round by new and more convenient roads made on each

How pleasant is that careless wandering up through some strange and
unfamiliar place, led by a sort of instinct which habit soon
furnishes! In some of the French 'Guides,' minute directions are given
for the explorer, who is bidden to take the street to right or to
left, after leaving the station, etc. But there is a piquancy in this
uncertainty as compared with the odious guidance of the _laquais de
place_. I loathe the tribe. Here was to be clearly noted the languid,
lazy French town where nothing seemed to be doing, but everyone
appeared to be comfortable--'the fat, contented, stubble
goose'--another type of town altogether from your thriving Lilles and

The pleasure in surveying this extraordinary combination of beautiful
objects, the richness and variety of the work, the long lines broken
by the charming and, as they are called, 'escalloped' gables, the
Spanish balconies, the pillars, light and shade, and shops, made it
almost incredible that such a thing was to be found in a poor obscure
French town, visited by but few travellers. On market-day, when the
whole is filled up with country folks, their wares and their stalls
sheltered from the sun by gaily-tinted awnings, the bustle and
glinting colours, and general _va et vient_, impart a fitting dramatic
air. Then are the old Spanish houses set off becomingly.

This old town has other curious things to exhibit, such as the
enormous old Abbey of St. Vaast--with its huge expansive roof, which
somehow seems to dominate the place, and thrusts forward some fragment
or other--where a regiment might lodge. Its spacious gardens are
converted to secular uses. Then I find myself at the old-new
cathedral, begun about a century ago, and finished about fifty years
since--a 'poorish' heartless edifice in the bald Italian manner, and
quite unsuited to these old Flemish cities. I come out on a terrace
with a huge flight of steps which leads to a lower portion of the
city. This, indeed, leads down from the _haute_ to the _basse ville_;
and it is stated that a great portion of this upper town is supported
upon catacombs or caves from which the white stone of the belfry and
town-hall was quarried. It is a curious feeling to be shown the house
in which Robespierre was born, which, for the benefit of the curious
it may be stated, is to be found in the Rue des Rapporteurs, close to
the theatre. Arras was a famous Jacobin centre, and from the balcony
of this theatre, Lebon, one of the Jacobins, directed the executions,
which took place abundantly on the pretty _place_.

[Illustration: BETHUNE.]

Thus much, then, for Arras, where one would have liked to linger, nay,
to stay a week or a few days. But this wishing to stay a week at a
picturesque place is often a dangerous pitfall, as the amiable
Charles Collins has shown in his own quaint style. Has anyone, he
asks, ever, 'on arriving at some place he has never visited before,
taken a sudden fancy to it, committed himself to apartments for a
month certain, gone on praising the locality and all that belongs to
it, ferreting out concealed attractions, attaching undue importance to
them, undervaluing obvious defects: has he gone on in this way for
three weeks,' or rather three days, 'out of his month, then suddenly
broken down, found out his mistake, and pined in secret for
deliverance?' So it would be, as I conceive, at Bruges, or perhaps at
St. Omer. There you indeed appreciate the dead-alive city 'in all its
quiddity.' But a few days in a 'dead-alive' city, were it the most
picturesque in the world, would be intolerable.

By noon, when the sun has grown oppressively hot, I find myself set
down at a sort of rural town, once flourishing, and of some
importance--Bethune. A mile's walk on a parched road led up the hill
to this languishing, decayed little place. It had its forlorn omnibus,
and altogether suggested the general desolation of, say, Peterborough.
Had it remained in Flemish hands, it would now have been flourishing.
I doubt if any English visitor ever troubles its stagnant repose. Yet
it boasts its 'grand' _place_, imposing enough as a memorial of
departed greatness, and, as usual, a Flemish relic, in the shape of a
charming belfry and town-hall combined. It was really truly
'fantastical' from the airiness of its little cupolas and galleries,
and was in tolerable order. Like the old Calais watch-tower, it was
caked round by, and embedded in, old houses, and had its four curious
gargoyles still doing work.

On this 'grand' _place_ I noticed an old house bearing date '1625,'
and some wonderful feats in the way of red-tiled roofing, of which
there were enormous stretches, all narrow, sinuous, and suggesting
Nuremberg. I confess to having spent a rather weary hour here, and
sped away by the next train.



Two o'clock. We are on the road again; the sun is shining, and we are
speeding on rapidly--changing from Flanders to France--which is but an
hour or so away. Here the bright day is well forward. Now the welcome
fat Flemish country takes military shape, for here comes the scarp,
the angled ditch, the endless brick walling and embankment--a genuine
fortified town of the first class--LILLE. Here, too, many travellers
give but a glance from the window and hurry on. Yet an interesting
place in its way. Its bright main streets seem as gay and glittering
as those of Paris, with the additional air of snug provincial comfort.
To one accustomed for months to the solemn sobriety of our English
capital, with its work-a-day, not to say dingy look, nothing is more
exhilarating or gay than one of these first-class French provincial
towns, such as Marseilles, Bordeaux, or this Lille. There is a
glittering air of substantial opulence, with an attempt--and a
successful one--at fine boulevards and fine trees.

The approach to Lille recalled the protracted approach to some great
English manufacturing town, the tall chimneys flying by the
carriage-windows a good quarter of an hour before the town was
reached. A handsome, rich, and imposing city, though content to accept
a cast-off station from Paris, as a poor relative would accept a
cast-off suit of clothes. The fine façade was actually transported
here stone by stone, and a much more imposing one erected in its

The prevailing one-horse tram-cars seem to suit the Flemish
associations. The Belgians have taken kindly and universally to them,
and find them to be 'exactly in their way.' The fat Flemish horse
ambles along lazily, his bells jingling. No matter how narrow or
winding the street, the car threads its way. The old burgher of the
Middle Ages might have relished it. The old disused town-hall is
quaint enough with its elaborately-carved _façade_, with a high double
roof and dormers, and a lantern surmounting all. A bit of true
'Low-Countries' work; but one often forgets that we are in French
Flanders. Entertaining hours could be spent here with profit, simply
in wandering from spot to spot, eschewing the 'town valet' and
professional picture guide. It is an extraordinary craze, by the way,
that our countrymen will want always 'to see the pictures,' as though
that were the object of travelling.

[Illustration: BOURSE. LILLE.]

One gazes with pleasure and some surprise at its handsome streets,
where everyone seems to live and thrive. There is a general air of
opulence. The new streets, built under the last empire on the Paris
model, offer the same rich and effective detail of gilded inscriptions
running across the houses, balconies and flowers, with the luxurious
_cafés_ below, and languid _flaneurs_ sitting down to their
_absinthe_ or coffee among the orange-trees. These imposing mansions,
built with judicious loans--the 'OBLIGATIONS OF THE CITY OF
LILLE' are quoted on the Exchanges--are already dark and rusted,
and harmonize with the older portions. At every turn there is a
suggestion of Brussels, and nowhere so much as on the fine _place_,
where the embroidered old Spanish houses aforesaid are abundant.

The old cathedral, imposing with its clustered apses and great length
and loftiness, and restored façade, would be the show of any English
town. The Lillois scarcely appreciate it, as a few years ago they
ordered a brand-new one from 'Messrs. Clutton and Burgess, of London,'
not yet complete, and not very striking in its modern effects and
decorations. These vast old churches of the fourth or fifth class are
always imposing from their size and pretensions and elaborateness of
work, and are found in France and Belgium almost by the hundred. And
so I wander on through the showy streets, thinking what stirring
scenes this complacent old city has witnessed, what tale of siege and
battle--Spaniard, Frenchman, and Fleming, Louis the Great, the refuge
of Louis XVIII. after his flight. All the time there is the pleasant
musical jangle going on of tramcars below and bell-chimes aloft. But
of all things in Lille, or indeed elsewhere, there is nothing more
striking than the old Bourse--the great square venerable block,
blackened all over with age, its innumerable windows, high roof, and
cornices, all elaborately and floridly wrought in decayed carvings.
With this dark and venerable mass is piquantly contrasted the garish
row of glittering shops filled with gaudy wares which forms the
lowest story. Within is the noble court with a colonnade of pillars
and arches in the florid Spanish style; in the centre a splendid
bronze statue of the First Napoleon in his robes, which is so wrought
as to harmonize admirably with the rest. In the same congenial
spirit--a note of Belgian art which is quite unfamiliar to us--the
walls of the colonnade are decorated with memorials of famous 'Stock
Exchange' worthies and merchants, and nothing could be more skilful
than the enrichment of these conventional records, which are made to
harmonize by florid rococo decorations with the Spanish _genre_ and
encrusted with bronzes and marbles. This admirable and original
monument is in itself worth a journey to see.

Who has been at Commines? though we are all familiar enough with the
name of Philip of 'that ilk.' I saw how patriarchal life must be at
Commines from a family repairing thither, who filled the whole
compartment. This was a lady arrayed in as much jet-work as she could
well carry, and who must have been an admirable _femme de ménage_, for
she brought with her three little girls, and two obstreperous boys who
kept saying every minute 'maman!' in a sort of whine or expostulation,
and two _aides-de-camp_ maids in spotless fly-away caps. With these
assistants she was on perfect terms, and the maids conversed with her
and dissented from her opinions on the happiest terms of equality.
When taking my ticket I was asked to say would I go to Commines in
France or to Commines in Belgium, for it seems that, by an odd
arrangement, half the town is in one country and half in the other!
Each has a station of its own. This curious partition I did not quite
comprehend at first, and I shall not forget the indignant style in
which, on my asking 'was this the French Commines,' I was answered
that '_of course_ it was Commines in Belgium.' Here was yet another
piquant bell-tower seen rising above trees and houses, long before we
even came near to it. I was pursued by these pretty monuments, and I
could hear this one jangling away musically yet wheezily.

It is past noon now as we hurry by unfamiliar stations, where the
invariable _abbé_ waits with his bundle or breviary in hand, or
peasant women with baskets stand waiting for other trains. There is a
sense of melancholy in noting these strange faces and figures--whom
you thus pass by, to whom you are unknown, whom you will never see
again, and who care not if you were dead and buried. (And why should
they?) Then we hurry away northwards.



As the fierce heat of the sun began to relax and the evening drew
on--it was close on half-past six o'clock--we found ourselves in
Belgium once more. Suddenly, on the right, I noted, with some trees
interposed, a sort of clustered town with whitened buildings, which
suggested forcibly the view of an English cathedral town seen from the
railway. The most important of the group was a great tower with its
four spires. I knew instinctively that this was the famous old
town-hall, the most astonishing and overpowering of all Belgian

Here we halted half an hour. The sun was going down; the air was cool;
and there was that strange tinge of sadness abroad, with which the air
seems to be charged towards eventide, as we, strangers and pilgrims in
a foreign country, look from afar off at some such unfamiliar objects.
There were a number of Flemings here returning from some meeting where
they had been contending at their national game--shooting at the
popinjay. Near to every small town and village I passed, I had noted
an enormously tall white post with iron rods projecting at the top.
This was the target, and it was highly amusing and characteristic to
watch these burghers gathered round and firing at the bird or some
other object on the top. Now they were all returning carrying their
bows, and in high good-humour. A young and rubicund priest was of the
party, regarded evidently with affection and pride by his companions;
for all that he seemed to say and do was applauded, and greeted with
obstreperous Flemish laughter. When an old woman came to offer cakes
from her basket for sale, he convulsed his friends by facetious
remarks as he made his selection from the basket, depreciating or
criticizing their quality with sham disgust, delighting none so much
as the venerable vendor herself. Every one wore a curious black silk
cap, as a gala headpiece.

When they had gone their way, I set off on mine up to the old town.
The approach was encouraging. A grand sweep faced me of old walls,
rusted, but stout and vigorous, with corner towers rising out of a moat;
then came a spacious bridge leading into a wide, encouraging-looking
street of sound handsome houses. But, strange! not a single cab,
restaurant, or hotel--nay, hardly a soul to be seen, save a few
rustics in their blouses! It was all dead! I walked on, and at an
abrupt turn emerged on the huge expanse of the _place_, and was
literally dumbfoundered.

Now, of all the sights that I have ever seen, it must be confessed
that this offered the greatest surprise and astonishment. It was
bewildering. On the left spread away, almost a city itself, the vast,
enormous town-hall--a vista of countless arches and windows, its roof
dotted with windows, and so deep, expansive, and capacious that it
alone seemed as though it might have lodged an army. In the centre
rose the enormous square tower--massive--rock-like--launching itself
aloft into Gothic spires and towers. All along the sides ran a
perspective of statues and carvings. This astonishing work would take
some minutes of brisk motion to walk down from end to end. It is
really a wonder of the world, and, in the phrase applied to more
ordinary things, 'seemed to take your breath away.' It is the largest,
longest, most massive, solid, and enduring thing that can be

It has been restored with wonderful care and delicacy. By one of the
bizarre arrangements--not uncommon in Flanders--a building of another
kind, half Italian, with a round arched arcade, has been added on at
the corner, and the effect is odd and yet pleasing. Behind rises a
grim crag of a cathedral--solemn and mysterious--adding to the effect
of this imposing combination, a sort of gloomy shadow overhanging all.
The church, on entering, is found overpowering and original of its
kind, with its vast arches and massive roof of groined stone. Truly an
astonishing monument! The worst of such visits is that only a faint
impression is left: and to gather the full import of such a monument
one should stay for a few days at least, and grow familiar with it. At
first all is strange. Every portion claims attention at once; but
after a few visits the grim old monument seems to relax and become
accessible; he lets you see his good points and treasures by degrees.
But who could live in a Dead City, even for a day? Having seen these
two wonders, I tried to explore the place, which took some walking,
but nothing else was to be found. Its streets were wide, the houses
handsome--a few necessary shops; but no cabs--no tramway--no carts
even, and hardly any people. It was dead--all dead from end to end.
The strangest sign of mortality, however, was that not a single
restaurant or house of refection was to be found, not even on the
spacious and justly called _Grande Place_! One might have starved or
famished without relief. Nay, there was hardly a public-house or

[Illustration: YPRES]

However, the great monument itself more than supplied this absence of
vitality. One could never be weary of surveying its overpowering
proportions, its nobility, its unshaken strength, its vast length, and
flourishing air. Yet how curious to think that it was now quite
purposeless, had no meaning or use! Over four hundred feet long, it
was once the seat of bustle and thriving business, for which the
building itself was not too large. The hall on the ground seems to
stretch from end to end. Here was the great mart for linens--the
_toiles flamandes_--once celebrated over Europe. Now, desolate is the
dwelling of Morna! A few little local offices transact the stunted
shrunken local business of the place; the post, the municipal offices,
each filling up two or three of the arches, in ludicrous contrast to
the unemployed vastness of the rest. It has been fancifully supposed
that the name Diaper, as applied to linens, was supplied by this town,
which was the seat of the trade, and _Toile d'Ypres_ might be
supposed, speciously enough, to have some connection with the place.



But _en route_ again, for the sands are fast running out. Old
fortified towns, particularly such as have been protected by 'the
great Vauban,' are found to be a serious nuisance to the inhabitants,
however picturesque they may seem to the tourist; for the place,
constricted and wrapped in bandages, as it were, cannot expand its
lungs. Many of the old fortressed towns, such as Ostend, Courtrai,
Calais, have recently demolished their fortifications at great cost
and with much benefit to themselves. There is something picturesque
and original in the first sight of a place like Arras, or St. Omer,
with the rich and lavish greenery, luxuriant trees, banks of grass by
which the 'fosse' and grim walls are masked. Others are of a grim and
hostile character, and show their teeth, as it were.

Dunkirk, a fortress of the 'first class,' fortified on the modern
system, and therefore to the careless spectator scarcely appearing to
be fortified at all--is a place of such extreme platitude, that the
belated wayfarer longs to escape almost as soon as he arrives. There
is literally nothing to be seen. But a few miles away, there is to be
found a place which will indemnify the disgusted traveller, viz.,
BERGUES. As the train slackens speed I begin to take note of rich
green banks with abundant trees planted in files, such as Uncle Toby
would have relished in his garden. There is the sound as of passing
over a military bridge, with other tokens of the fortified town. There
it lies--close to the station, while the invariable belfry and heavy
church rise from the centre, in friendly companionship. I have noted
the air of sadness in these lone, lorn monuments, which perhaps arises
from the sense of their vast age and all they have looked down upon.
Men and women, and houses, dynasties and invaders, and burgomasters,
have all passed away in endless succession; but _they_ remain, and
have borne the buffetings of storms and gales and wars and tumults. As
we turn out of the station, a small avenue lined with trees leads
straight to the entrance. The bright snowy-looking _place_ basks in
the setting sun, while the tops of the red-tiled roofs seem to peep at
us over the walls. At the end of the avenue the sturdy gateway greets
us cheerfully, labelled 'Porte de Biene,' flanked by two short and
burly towers that rise out of the water; while right and left, the old
brick walls, red and rusted, stretch away, flanked by corner towers.
The moat runs round the whole, filled with the usual stagnant water. I
enter, and then see what a tiny compact little place it is--a perfect
miniature town with many streets, one running round the walls; all the
houses sound and compact and no higher than two stories, so as to keep
snug and sheltered under the walls, and not draw the enemy's fire. The
whole seems to be about the size of the Green Park at home, and you
can walk right across, from gate to gate, in about three minutes. It
is bright, and clean 'as a new pin,' and there are red-legged soldiers
drumming and otherwise employed.

Almost at once we come on the _place_, and here we are rewarded with
something that is worth travelling even from Dover to see. There
stands the old church, grim, rusted, and weather-beaten, rising in
gloomy pride, huge enough to serve a great town; while facing it is
the belfry before alluded to, one of the most elegant, coquettish, and
original of these always interesting structures. The amateur of
Flemish architecture is ever prepared for something pleasing in this
direction, for the variety of the belfries is infinite; but this
specimen fills one with special delight. It rises to a great height in
the usual square tower-shape, but at each corner is flanked by a
quaint, old-fashioned _tourelle_ or towerlet, while in the centre is
an airy elegant lantern of wood, where a musical peal of bells, hung
in rows, chimes all day long in a most melodious way. Each of these
towerlets is capped by a long, graceful peak or minaret. This elegant
structure has always been justly admired by the architect, and in the
wonderful folio of etchings by Coney, done more than fifty years ago,
will be found a picturesque and accurate sketch.

[Illustration: BERGUES.]

It seemed a city of the dead. Now rang out the husky tinkling of the
chimes which never flag, as in all Flemish cities, day or night. It
supplies the lack of company, and has a comforting effect for the
solitary man. From afar off comes occasionally the sound of the drum
or the bugle, fit accompaniment for such surroundings. At the foot of
the belfry was an antique building in another style, with a small
open colonnade, which, though out of harmony, was still not
inappropriate. The only thing jarring was a pretentious modern
town-hall, in the style of one of our own vestry buildings, 'erected
out of the rates,' and which must have cost a huge sum. It was of a
genteel Italian aspect, so it is plain that French local
administrators are, in matters of taste, pretty much as such folk are
with us. One could have lingered long here, looking at this charming
and graceful work, which its surroundings became quite as much as it
did its surroundings.

While thus engaged it was curious to find that not a soul crossed the
_place_. Indeed, during my whole sojourn in the town, a period of
about half an hour, I did not see above a dozen people. There were but
few shops; yet all was bright, sound, in good condition. There was no
sign of decay or decaying; but all seemed to sleep. It was a French
'dead city.' But it surely lives and will live, by its remarkable bell
tower, which at this moment is chiming away, with a melodious
huskiness, its gay tunes, repeated every quarter of an hour, while as
the hour comes round there breaks out a general and clamorous



After leaving this wonderful place, I was now speeding on once more
back into France. In all these shifts and changes the _douanier_ farce
was carefully gone through. I was regularly invited to descend, even
though baggageless, and to pass through the searching-room, making
heroic protest as I did so that '_I had nothing to declare_.' It was
easy to distinguish the two nations in their fashion of performing
this function, the French taking it _au sérieux_, and going through it
histrionically, as it were; the Belgian being more careless and
good-natured. There lingers still the habit of 'leading' or
_plombé_-ing a clumsy, troublesome relic of old times. Such small
articles as hat-cases, hand-bags, etc., are subjected to it; an
officer devoted to the duty comes with a huge pair of 'pincers' with
some neat little leaden discs, which he squeezes on the strings which
have tied up the article.

Now we fly past the flourishing Poperinghe--a bustling, thriving
place, out of which lift themselves with sad solemnity a few tall
iron-gray churches, and another--yet one more--elegant belfry. There
seems something quaint in the name of Poperinghe, though it is hardly
so grotesque as that of another town I passed by, 'Bully Greny.'

As this long day was at last closing in, I noticed from the window a
bright-looking town nestling, as it were, in rich green velvet and
dark plantation, with a bright, snug-looking gate, drawbridge, etc.
One of these gates was piquant enough, having a sort of pavilion
perched on the top. Here there was a quaint sort of 'surprise' in a
clock, the hours of which are struck by a mechanical figure known to
the town as 'Mathurin.' There was something very tempting in the look
of the place, betokening plenty of flowers and shaded walks and
umbrageous groves. Most conspicuous, however, was the magnificent
abbey ruin, suggesting Fountains Abbey, with its tall, striking, and
wholly perfect tower. This is the Abbey of St. Bertin, one of the most
striking and almost bewildering monuments that could be conceived. I
look up at the superb tower, sharp in its details, and wonder at its
fine proportions; then turn to the ruined aisles, and with a sort of
grief recall that this, one of the wonders of France, had been in
perfect condition not a hundred years ago, and at the time of the
Revolution had been stripped, unroofed, and purposely reduced to its
present condition! This disgrace reflects upon the Jacobins--Goths and
Vandals indeed.

The streets of this old town, as it is remarked by one of the Guide
Books, 'want animation'--an amiable circumlocution. Nothing so
deserted or lonely can be conceived, and the phenomenon of 'grass
literally growing in the streets' is here to be seen in perfection.
There appeared to be no vehicles, and the few shops carry on but a
mild business. A few English families are said to repair hither for
economy. I recognise a peculiar shabby shooting-coat which betokens
the exile, accounted for by the pathetic fact that he clings to his
superannuated garment, long after it is worn out, for the reason that
it 'was made in London.' There is a rich and beautiful church
here--Notre Dame--with a deeply embayed porch full of lavish detail.
Here, too, rises the image of John Kemble, who actually studied for
the priesthood at the English College.

By this time the day has gone, and darkness has set in. It is time to
think of journeying home. Yet on the way to Calais there are still
some objects to be seen _en passant_. Most travellers are familiar
with Hazebrouck, the place of 'bifurcation,' a frontier between France
and Belgium. Yet this is known for a church with a most elegant spire
rising from a tower, but of this we can only have a glimpse. And, on
the road to Bergues, I had noted that strange, German-named little
town--Cassel--perched on an umbrageous hill, which has its quaint
mediæval town-hall. But I may not pause to study it. The hours are
shrinking; but little margin is left. By midnight I am back in Calais
once more, listening to its old wheezy chimes. It seems like an old
friend, to which I have returned after a long, long absence, so many
events have been crowded into the day. It still wants some interval to
the hour past midnight, when the packet sails.



As I wandered down to the end of the long pier, which stretched out
its long arm, bent like an elbow, looking, like all French piers, as
if made of frail wickerwork, I thought of a day, some years ago, when
that eminent inventor, Bessemer, conceived the captivating idea of
constructing a steamboat that should abolish sea-sickness for ever!
The principle was that of a huge swinging saloon, moved by hydraulic
power, while a man directed the movement by a sort of spirit-level.
Previously the inventor had set up a model in his garden, where a
number of scientists saw the section of a ship rocking violently by
steam. I recall that pleasant day down at Denmark Hill, with all the
engineers assembled, who were thus going to sea in a garden. A small
steam-engine worked the apparatus--a kind of a section of a
boat--which was tossed up and down violently; while in the centre was
balanced a small platform, on which we experimenters stood. On large
tables were laid out the working plans of the grand Bessemer
steamship, to be brought out presently by a company.

A year and more passed away, the new vessel was completed, and nearly
the same party again invited to see the result, and make trial of it.
I repaired with the rest. Nothing more generous or hospitable could be
conceived. There was to be a banquet at Calais, with a free ticket on
to Paris. It was a gloomy iron-gray morning. The strange outlandish
vessel, which had an engine at each end, was crowded with
_connoisseurs_. But I was struck with the figure of the amiable and
brilliant inventor, who was depressed, and received the premature
congratulations of his friends somewhat ruefully. We could see the
curious 'swinging saloon' fitted into the vessel, with the ingenious
hydraulic leverage by which it could be kept nicely balanced. But it
was to be noted that the saloon was braced firmly to the sides of its
containing vessel; in fact, it was given out that, owing to some
defect in its mechanism, the thing could not be worked that day.
Nothing could be handsomer than this saloon, with its fittings and
decorations. But, strange to say, it was at once seen that the
principle was faulty, and the whole impracticable. It was obvious that
the centre of gravity of so enormous a weight being brought to the
side would imperil the stability of the vessel. The bulk to be moved
was so vast, that it was likely to get out of control, and scarcely
likely to obey the slight lever which worked it. There were many
shakings of the engineering heads, and some smiles, with many an '_I
told you so_.' Even to the outsiders it seemed Utopian.

However, the gloomy voyage was duly made. One of the most experienced
captains known on the route, Captain Pittock, had been chosen to pilot
the venture. He had plainly a distrust of his charge and the
new-fangled notion. Soon we were nearing Calais. Here was the
lighthouse, and here the two embracing arms of the wickerwork pier. I
was standing at the bows, and could see the crowds on the shore
waiting. Suddenly, as the word was given to starboard or 'port,' the
malignant thing, instead of obeying, took the reverse direction, and
bore straight _into_ the pier on the left! Down crashed the huge
flag-staff of our vessel in fragments, falling among us--and there
were some narrow escapes. She calmly forced her way down the pier for
nearly a hundred yards, literally crunching and smashing it up into
fragments, and sweeping the whole away. I looked back on the
disastrous course, and saw the whole clear behind us! As we gazed on
this sudden wreck, I am ashamed to say there was a roar of laughter,
for never was a _surprise_ of so bewildering a character sprung upon
human nature. The faces of the poor captain and his sailors, who could
scarcely restrain their maledictions on the ill-conditioned 'brute,'
betrayed mortification and vexation in the most poignant fashion. The
confusion was extraordinary. She was now with difficulty brought over
to the other pier. This, though done ever so gently, brought fresh
damage, as the mere contact crunched and dislocated most of the
timbers. The ill-assured party defiled ashore, and we made for the
banqueting-room between rows of half-jeering, half-sympathizing
spectators. The speakers at the symposium required all their tact to
deal with the disheartening subject. The only thing to be done was to
'have confidence' in the invention--much as a Gladstonian in
difficulty invites the world to 'leave all to the skill of our great
chief.' But, alas! this would not do just now. The vessel was, in
fact, unsteerable; the enormous weight of the engines at the bows
prevented her obeying the helm. The party set off to Paris--such as
were in spirits to do so--and the shareholders in the company must
have had aching hearts enough.

Some years later, walking by the Thames bank, not far from Woolwich, I
came upon some masses of rusted metal, long lying there. There were
the huge cranks of paddle-wheels, a cylinder, and some boiler metal.
These, I was informed, were the fragments of the unlucky steamship
that was to abolish sea-sickness! As I now walked to the end of the
solitary pier--the very one I had seen swept away so unceremoniously--the
recollection of this day came back to me. There was an element of grim
comedy in the transaction when I recalled that the Calais harbour
officials sent in--and reasonably--a huge claim for the mischief done
to the pier; but the company soon satisfied _that_ by speedily
going 'into liquidation.' There was no resource, so the Frenchmen
had to rebuild their pier at their own cost.

Close to Calais is a notable place enough, flourishing, too, founded
after the great war by one Webster, an English laceman. It has grown
up, with broad stately streets, in which, it is said, some four or
five thousand Britons live and thrive. As you walk along you see the
familiar names, 'Smith and Co.,' 'Brown and Co.,' etc., displayed on
huge brass plates at the doors in true native style. Indeed, the whole
air of the place offers a suggestion of Belfast, these downright
colonists having stamped their ways and manners in solid style on the
place. Poor old original Calais had long made protest against the
constriction she was suffering; the wall and ditch, and the single
gate of issue towards the country, named after Richelieu, seeming to
check all hope of improvement. Reasons of state were urged. But a few
years ago Government gave way, the walls towards the country-side were
thrown down, the ditch filled up, and some tremendous 'navigator' work
was carried out. The place can now draw its breath.

On my last visit I had attended the theatre, a music-hall adaptable to
plays, concerts, or to 'les meetings.' It was a new, raw place, very
different from the little old theatre in the garden of Dessein's,
where the famous Duchess of Kingston attended a performance over a
hundred and twenty years ago. This place bore the dignified title of
the 'Hippodrome Theatre,' and a grand 'national' drama was going on,


Here we had the grand tale of French heroism and real victory, which
an ungenerous foe persisted in calling defeat. A gallant Frenchman,
who played the hero, had nearly run his daring course, having done
prodigies of valour on that fateful and fatal day. The crisis of the
drama was reached almost as I entered, the cuirassier coming in with
his head bound up in a bloody towel! After relating the horrors of
that awful charge in an impassioned strain, he wound up by declaring
that _'He and Death'_ were the only two left upon the field! It need
not be said there were abundant groans for the Germans and cheers for
the glorious Frenchmen.

Now at last down to the vessel, as the wheezy chimes give out that it
is close on two o'clock a.m. All seems dozing at 'Maritime Calais.'
The fishing-boats lie close together, interlaced in black network,
snoozing, as it were, after their labours. Afar off the little town
still maintains its fortress-like air and its picturesque aspect, the
dark central spires rising like shadows, the few lights twinkling. The
whole scene is deliciously tranquil. The plashing of the water seems
to invite slumber, or at least a temporary doze, to which the
traveller, after his long day and night, is justly entitled. How
strange those old days, when the exiles for debt abounded here! They
were in multitudes then, and had a sort of society among themselves in
this Alsatia. That gentleman in a high stock and a short-waisted
coat--the late Mr. Brummell surely, walking in this direction? Is he
pursued by this agitated crowd, hurrying after him with a low roaring,
like the sound of the waves?...

       *       *       *       *       *

I am roused up with a start. What a change! The whole is alive and
bustling, black shadowy figures are hurrying by. The white-funnelled
steamer has come up, and is moaning dismally, eager to get away.
Behind is the long international train of illuminated chambers, fresh
from Paris and just come in, pouring out its men and women, who have
arrived from all quarters of the world. They stream on board in a
shadowy procession, laden with their bundles. Lower down, I hear the
_crashing_ of trunks discharged upon the earth! I go on board with
the rest, sit down in a corner, and recall nothing till I find myself
on the chill platform of Victoria Station--time, six o'clock a.m.

It was surely a dream, or like a dream!--a dream a little over thirty
hours long. And what strange objects, all blended and confused
together!--towers, towns, gateways, drawbridges, religious rites and
processions, pealing organs and jangling chimes, long dusty roads
lined with regimental trees, blouses, fishwomen's caps, _sabots_,
savoury and unsavoury smells, France dissolving into Belgium, Belgium
into France, France into Belgium again; in short, one bewildering
kaleidoscope! A day and two nights had gone, during all which time I
had been on my legs, and had travelled nigh six hundred miles! Dream
or no dream, it had been a very welcome show or panorama, new ideas
and sights appearing at every turn.

And here is my little _'orario'_:


    1. Victoria, depart           5.0
    2. Dover, arrive              7.0
         "    depart             10.0
    3. Calais, arrive            12.44
          "    depart             1.0
    4. Tournay, arrive            4.13
          "     depart            5.1
    5. Orchies, arrive            6.8
          "     depart            6.29
    6. Douai, arrive              7.6
         "    depart             10.8
    7. Arras, arrive             10.52
         "    depart             11.17
    8. Bethune, arrive           12.6
          "     depart            1.1
    9. Lille, arrive              2.44
         "    depart              4.40
    10. Comines, arrive           5.19
           "     depart           5.57
    11. Ypres                     6.42
    12. Hazebrouck                7.50
    13. Cassel                    8.18
    14. Bergues, arrive           9.6
           "     depart          10.4
    15. St. Omer                 11.37
    16. Calais                   12.14
    17. Dover                     4.0
    18. Victoria                  6.0

    Time on journey  37 hours

This, of course, is more than a day, but it will be seen that eight
hours were spent on English soil, and certainly nearly twelve in



[Illustration: PEARS' SOAP

A Specialty for Children]

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Day's Tour - A Journey through France and Belgium by Calais, Tournay, Orchies, Douai, Arras, Béthune, Lille, Comines, Ypres, Hazebrouck, Berg" ***

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