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Title: An Inland Voyage
Author: Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from 1904 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org  Second proof by Margaret Price

          [Picture: Picture of Pan by a river, by Walter Crane]



                             AN INLAND VOYAGE


                                    BY

                          ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                              A NEW EDITION

                   WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY WALTER CRANE

                                * * * * *

                                  LONDON
                             CHATTO & WINDUS
                                   1904

                                * * * * *

    ‘Thus sang they in the English boat.’

                                                                  MARVELL.



PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION


TO equip so small a book with a preface is, I am half afraid, to sin
against proportion.  But a preface is more than an author can resist, for
it is the reward of his labours.  When the foundation stone is laid, the
architect appears with his plans, and struts for an hour before the
public eye.  So with the writer in his preface: he may have never a word
to say, but he must show himself for a moment in the portico, hat in
hand, and with an urbane demeanour.

It is best, in such circumstances, to represent a delicate shade of
manner between humility and superiority: as if the book had been written
by some one else, and you had merely run over it and inserted what was
good.  But for my part I have not yet learned the trick to that
perfection; I am not yet able to dissemble the warmth of my sentiments
towards a reader; and if I meet him on the threshold, it is to invite him
in with country cordiality.

To say truth, I had no sooner finished reading this little book in proof,
than I was seized upon by a distressing apprehension.  It occurred to me
that I might not only be the first to read these pages, but the last as
well; that I might have pioneered this very smiling tract of country all
in vain, and find not a soul to follow in my steps.  The more I thought,
the more I disliked the notion; until the distaste grew into a sort of
panic terror, and I rushed into this Preface, which is no more than an
advertisement for readers.

What am I to say for my book?  Caleb and Joshua brought back from
Palestine a formidable bunch of grapes; alas! my book produces naught so
nourishing; and for the matter of that, we live in an age when people
prefer a definition to any quantity of fruit.

I wonder, would a negative be found enticing? for, from the negative
point of view, I flatter myself this volume has a certain stamp.
Although it runs to considerably upwards of two hundred pages, it
contains not a single reference to the imbecility of God’s universe, nor
so much as a single hint that I could have made a better one myself.—I
really do not know where my head can have been.  I seem to have forgotten
all that makes it glorious to be man.—’Tis an omission that renders the
book philosophically unimportant; but I am in hopes the eccentricity may
please in frivolous circles.

To the friend who accompanied me I owe many thanks already, indeed I wish
I owed him nothing else; but at this moment I feel towards him an almost
exaggerated tenderness.  He, at least, will become my reader:—if it were
only to follow his own travels alongside of mine.

                                                                    R.L.S.



CONTENTS

                                                  PAGE
ANTWERP TO BOOM                                      1
ON THE WILLEBROEK CANAL                              8
THE ROYAL SPORT NAUTIQUE                            16
AT MAUBEUGE                                         25
ON THE SAMBRE CANALISED: TO QUARTES                 33
PONT-SUR-SAMBRE:
   WE ARE PEDLARS                                   42
   THE TRAVELLING MERCHANT                          51
ON THE SAMBRE CANALISED: TO LANDRECIES              59
AT LANDRECIES                                       67
SAMBRE AND OISE CANAL: CANAL BOATS                  75
THE OISE IN FLOOD                                   83
ORIGNY SAINTE-BENOÎTE
   A BY-DAY                                         95
   THE COMPANY AT TABLE                            105
DOWN THE OISE: TO MOY                              116
LA FÈRE OF CURSED MEMORY                           124
DOWN THE OISE: THROUGH THE GOLDEN VALLEY           133
NOYON CATHEDRAL                                    137
DOWN THE OISE: TO COMPIÈGNE                        145
CHANGED TIMES                                      157
DOWN THE OISE: CHURCH INTERIORS                    167
PRÉCY AND THE MARIONNETTES                         177
BACK TO THE WORLD                                  194

_TO_
_SIR WALTER GRINDLAY SIMPSON_, _BART._


_My dear Cigarette_,

_It was enough that you should have shared so liberally in the rains and
portages of our voyage_; _that you should have had so hard a paddle to
recover the derelict_ ‘_Arethusa_’ _on the flooded Oise_; _and that you
should thenceforth have piloted a mere wreck of mankind to Origny
Sainte-Benoîte and a supper so eagerly desired_.  _It was perhaps more
than enough_, _as you once somewhat piteously complained_, _that I should
have set down all the strong language to you_, _and kept the appropriate
reflexions for myself_.  _I could not in decency expose you to share the
disgrace of another and more public shipwreck_.  _But now that this
voyage of ours is going into a cheap edition_, _that peril_, _we shall
hope_, _is at an end_, _and I may put your name on the burgee_.

_But I cannot pause till I have lamented the fate of our two ships_.
_That_, _sir_, _was not a fortunate day when we projected the possession
of a canal barge_; _it was not a fortunate day when we shared our
day-dream with the most hopeful of day-dreamers_.  _For a while_,
_indeed_, _the world looked smilingly_.  _The barge was procured and
christened_, _and as the_ ‘_Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne_,’ _lay
for some months_, _the admired of all admirers_, _in a pleasant river and
under the walls of an ancient town_.  _M. Mattras_, _the accomplished
carpenter of Moret_, _had made her a centre of emulous labour_; _and you
will not have forgotten the amount of sweet champagne consumed in the inn
at the bridge end_, _to give zeal to the workmen and speed to the work_.
_On the financial aspect_, _I would not willingly dwell_.  _The_ ‘_Eleven
Thousand Virgins of Cologne_’ _rotted in the stream where she was
beautified_.  _She felt not the impulse of the breeze_; _she was never
harnessed to the patient track-horse_.  _And when at length she was
sold_, _by the indignant carpenter of Moret_, _there were sold along with
her the_ ‘_Arethusa_’ _and the_ ‘_Cigarette_,’ _she of cedar_, _she_, _as
we knew so keenly on a portage_, _of solid-hearted English oak_.  _Now
these historic vessels fly the tricolor and are known by new and alien
names_.

                                                                _R. L. S._



ANTWERP TO BOOM


WE made a great stir in Antwerp Docks.  A stevedore and a lot of dock
porters took up the two canoes, and ran with them for the slip.  A crowd
of children followed cheering.  The _Cigarette_ went off in a splash and
a bubble of small breaking water.  Next moment the _Arethusa_ was after
her.  A steamer was coming down, men on the paddle-box shouted hoarse
warnings, the stevedore and his porters were bawling from the quay.  But
in a stroke or two the canoes were away out in the middle of the Scheldt,
and all steamers, and stevedores, and other ‘long-shore vanities were
left behind.

The sun shone brightly; the tide was making—four jolly miles an hour; the
wind blew steadily, with occasional squalls.  For my part, I had never
been in a canoe under sail in my life; and my first experiment out in the
middle of this big river was not made without some trepidation.  What
would happen when the wind first caught my little canvas?  I suppose it
was almost as trying a venture into the regions of the unknown as to
publish a first book, or to marry.  But my doubts were not of long
duration; and in five minutes you will not be surprised to learn that I
had tied my sheet.

I own I was a little struck by this circumstance myself; of course, in
company with the rest of my fellow-men, I had always tied the sheet in a
sailing-boat; but in so little and crank a concern as a canoe, and with
these charging squalls, I was not prepared to find myself follow the same
principle; and it inspired me with some contemptuous views of our regard
for life.  It is certainly easier to smoke with the sheet fastened; but I
had never before weighed a comfortable pipe of tobacco against an obvious
risk, and gravely elected for the comfortable pipe.  It is a commonplace,
that we cannot answer for ourselves before we have been tried.  But it is
not so common a reflection, and surely more consoling, that we usually
find ourselves a great deal braver and better than we thought.  I believe
this is every one’s experience: but an apprehension that they may belie
themselves in the future prevents mankind from trumpeting this cheerful
sentiment abroad.  I wish sincerely, for it would have saved me much
trouble, there had been some one to put me in a good heart about life
when I was younger; to tell me how dangers are most portentous on a
distant sight; and how the good in a man’s spirit will not suffer itself
to be overlaid, and rarely or never deserts him in the hour of need.  But
we are all for tootling on the sentimental flute in literature; and not a
man among us will go to the head of the march to sound the heady drums.

It was agreeable upon the river.  A barge or two went past laden with
hay.  Reeds and willows bordered the stream; and cattle and grey
venerable horses came and hung their mild heads over the embankment.
Here and there was a pleasant village among trees, with a noisy
shipping-yard; here and there a villa in a lawn.  The wind served us well
up the Scheldt and thereafter up the Rupel; and we were running pretty
free when we began to sight the brickyards of Boom, lying for a long way
on the right bank of the river.  The left bank was still green and
pastoral, with alleys of trees along the embankment, and here and there a
flight of steps to serve a ferry, where perhaps there sat a woman with
her elbows on her knees, or an old gentleman with a staff and silver
spectacles.  But Boom and its brickyards grew smokier and shabbier with
every minute; until a great church with a clock, and a wooden bridge over
the river, indicated the central quarters of the town.

Boom is not a nice place, and is only remarkable for one thing: that the
majority of the inhabitants have a private opinion that they can speak
English, which is not justified by fact.  This gave a kind of haziness to
our intercourse.  As for the Hôtel de la Navigation, I think it is the
worst feature of the place.  It boasts of a sanded parlour, with a bar at
one end, looking on the street; and another sanded parlour, darker and
colder, with an empty bird-cage and a tricolour subscription box by way
of sole adornment, where we made shift to dine in the company of three
uncommunicative engineer apprentices and a silent bagman.  The food, as
usual in Belgium, was of a nondescript occasional character; indeed I
have never been able to detect anything in the nature of a meal among
this pleasing people; they seem to peck and trifle with viands all day
long in an amateur spirit: tentatively French, truly German, and somehow
falling between the two.

The empty bird-cage, swept and garnished, and with no trace of the old
piping favourite, save where two wires had been pushed apart to hold its
lump of sugar, carried with it a sort of graveyard cheer.  The engineer
apprentices would have nothing to say to us, nor indeed to the bagman;
but talked low and sparingly to one another, or raked us in the gaslight
with a gleam of spectacles.  For though handsome lads, they were all (in
the Scots phrase) barnacled.

There was an English maid in the hotel, who had been long enough out of
England to pick up all sorts of funny foreign idioms, and all sorts of
curious foreign ways, which need not here be specified.  She spoke to us
very fluently in her jargon, asked us information as to the manners of
the present day in England, and obligingly corrected us when we attempted
to answer.  But as we were dealing with a woman, perhaps our information
was not so much thrown away as it appeared.  The sex likes to pick up
knowledge and yet preserve its superiority.  It is good policy, and
almost necessary in the circumstances.  If a man finds a woman admire
him, were it only for his acquaintance with geography, he will begin at
once to build upon the admiration.  It is only by unintermittent snubbing
that the pretty ones can keep us in our place.  Men, as Miss Howe or Miss
Harlowe would have said, ‘are such _encroachers_.’  For my part, I am
body and soul with the women; and after a well-married couple, there is
nothing so beautiful in the world as the myth of the divine huntress.  It
is no use for a man to take to the woods; we know him; St. Anthony tried
the same thing long ago, and had a pitiful time of it by all accounts.
But there is this about some women, which overtops the best gymnosophist
among men, that they suffice to themselves, and can walk in a high and
cold zone without the countenance of any trousered being.  I declare,
although the reverse of a professed ascetic, I am more obliged to women
for this ideal than I should be to the majority of them, or indeed to any
but one, for a spontaneous kiss.  There is nothing so encouraging as the
spectacle of self-sufficiency.  And when I think of the slim and lovely
maidens, running the woods all night to the note of Diana’s horn; moving
among the old oaks, as fancy-free as they; things of the forest and the
starlight, not touched by the commotion of man’s hot and turbid
life—although there are plenty other ideals that I should prefer—I find
my heart beat at the thought of this one.  ’Tis to fail in life, but to
fail with what a grace!  That is not lost which is not regretted.  And
where—here slips out the male—where would be much of the glory of
inspiring love, if there were no contempt to overcome?



ON THE WILLEBROEK CANAL


NEXT morning, when we set forth on the Willebroek Canal, the rain began
heavy and chill.  The water of the canal stood at about the drinking
temperature of tea; and under this cold aspersion, the surface was
covered with steam.  The exhilaration of departure, and the easy motion
of the boats under each stroke of the paddles, supported us through this
misfortune while it lasted; and when the cloud passed and the sun came
out again, our spirits went up above the range of stay-at-home humours.
A good breeze rustled and shivered in the rows of trees that bordered the
canal.  The leaves flickered in and out of the light in tumultuous
masses.  It seemed sailing weather to eye and ear; but down between the
banks, the wind reached us only in faint and desultory puffs.  There was
hardly enough to steer by.  Progress was intermittent and unsatisfactory.
A jocular person, of marine antecedents, hailed us from the tow-path with
a ‘_C’est vite_, _mais c’est long_.’

The canal was busy enough.  Every now and then we met or overtook a long
string of boats, with great green tillers; high sterns with a window on
either side of the rudder, and perhaps a jug or a flower-pot in one of
the windows; a dinghy following behind; a woman busied about the day’s
dinner, and a handful of children.  These barges were all tied one behind
the other with tow ropes, to the number of twenty-five or thirty; and the
line was headed and kept in motion by a steamer of strange construction.
It had neither paddle-wheel nor screw; but by some gear not rightly
comprehensible to the unmechanical mind, it fetched up over its bow a
small bright chain which lay along the bottom of the canal, and paying it
out again over the stern, dragged itself forward, link by link, with its
whole retinue of loaded skows.  Until one had found out the key to the
enigma, there was something solemn and uncomfortable in the progress of
one of these trains, as it moved gently along the water with nothing to
mark its advance but an eddy alongside dying away into the wake.

Of all the creatures of commercial enterprise, a canal barge is by far
the most delightful to consider.  It may spread its sails, and then you
see it sailing high above the tree-tops and the windmill, sailing on the
aqueduct, sailing through the green corn-lands: the most picturesque of
things amphibious.  Or the horse plods along at a foot-pace as if there
were no such thing as business in the world; and the man dreaming at the
tiller sees the same spire on the horizon all day long.  It is a mystery
how things ever get to their destination at this rate; and to see the
barges waiting their turn at a lock, affords a fine lesson of how easily
the world may be taken.  There should be many contented spirits on board,
for such a life is both to travel and to stay at home.

The chimney smokes for dinner as you go along; the banks of the canal
slowly unroll their scenery to contemplative eyes; the barge floats by
great forests and through great cities with their public buildings and
their lamps at night; and for the bargee, in his floating home,
‘travelling abed,’ it is merely as if he were listening to another man’s
story or turning the leaves of a picture-book in which he had no concern.
He may take his afternoon walk in some foreign country on the banks of
the canal, and then come home to dinner at his own fireside.

There is not enough exercise in such a life for any high measure of
health; but a high measure of health is only necessary for unhealthy
people.  The slug of a fellow, who is never ill nor well, has a quiet
time of it in life, and dies all the easier.

I am sure I would rather be a bargee than occupy any position under
heaven that required attendance at an office.  There are few callings, I
should say, where a man gives up less of his liberty in return for
regular meals.  The bargee is on shipboard—he is master in his own
ship—he can land whenever he will—he can never be kept beating off a
lee-shore a whole frosty night when the sheets are as hard as iron; and
so far as I can make out, time stands as nearly still with him as is
compatible with the return of bed-time or the dinner-hour.  It is not
easy to see why a bargee should ever die.

Half-way between Willebroek and Villevorde, in a beautiful reach of canal
like a squire’s avenue, we went ashore to lunch.  There were two eggs, a
junk of bread, and a bottle of wine on board the _Arethusa_; and two eggs
and an Etna cooking apparatus on board the _Cigarette_.  The master of
the latter boat smashed one of the eggs in the course of disembarkation;
but observing pleasantly that it might still be cooked _à la papier_, he
dropped it into the Etna, in its covering of Flemish newspaper.  We
landed in a blink of fine weather; but we had not been two minutes ashore
before the wind freshened into half a gale, and the rain began to patter
on our shoulders.  We sat as close about the Etna as we could.  The
spirits burned with great ostentation; the grass caught flame every
minute or two, and had to be trodden out; and before long, there were
several burnt fingers of the party.  But the solid quantity of cookery
accomplished was out of proportion with so much display; and when we
desisted, after two applications of the fire, the sound egg was little
more than loo-warm; and as for _à la papier_, it was a cold and sordid
_fricassée_ of printer’s ink and broken egg-shell.  We made shift to
roast the other two, by putting them close to the burning spirits; and
that with better success.  And then we uncorked the bottle of wine, and
sat down in a ditch with our canoe aprons over our knees.  It rained
smartly.  Discomfort, when it is honestly uncomfortable and makes no
nauseous pretensions to the contrary, is a vastly humorous business; and
people well steeped and stupefied in the open air are in a good vein for
laughter.  From this point of view, even egg _à la papier_ offered by way
of food may pass muster as a sort of accessory to the fun.  But this
manner of jest, although it may be taken in good part, does not invite
repetition; and from that time forward, the Etna voyaged like a gentleman
in the locker of the _Cigarette_.

It is almost unnecessary to mention that when lunch was over and we got
aboard again and made sail, the wind promptly died away.  The rest of the
journey to Villevorde, we still spread our canvas to the unfavouring air;
and with now and then a puff, and now and then a spell of paddling,
drifted along from lock to lock, between the orderly trees.

It was a fine, green, fat landscape; or rather a mere green water-lane,
going on from village to village.  Things had a settled look, as in
places long lived in.  Crop-headed children spat upon us from the bridges
as we went below, with a true conservative feeling.  But even more
conservative were the fishermen, intent upon their floats, who let us go
by without one glance.  They perched upon sterlings and buttresses and
along the slope of the embankment, gently occupied.  They were
indifferent, like pieces of dead nature.  They did not move any more than
if they had been fishing in an old Dutch print.  The leaves fluttered,
the water lapped, but they continued in one stay like so many churches
established by law.  You might have trepanned every one of their innocent
heads, and found no more than so much coiled fishing-line below their
skulls.  I do not care for your stalwart fellows in india-rubber
stockings breasting up mountain torrents with a salmon rod; but I do
dearly love the class of man who plies his unfruitful art, for ever and a
day, by still and depopulated waters.

At the last lock, just beyond Villevorde, there was a lock-mistress who
spoke French comprehensibly, and told us we were still a couple of
leagues from Brussels.  At the same place, the rain began again.  It fell
in straight, parallel lines; and the surface of the canal was thrown up
into an infinity of little crystal fountains.  There were no beds to be
had in the neighbourhood.  Nothing for it but to lay the sails aside and
address ourselves to steady paddling in the rain.

Beautiful country houses, with clocks and long lines of shuttered
windows, and fine old trees standing in groves and avenues, gave a rich
and sombre aspect in the rain and the deepening dusk to the shores of the
canal.  I seem to have seen something of the same effect in engravings:
opulent landscapes, deserted and overhung with the passage of storm.  And
throughout we had the escort of a hooded cart, which trotted shabbily
along the tow-path, and kept at an almost uniform distance in our wake.



THE ROYAL SPORT NAUTIQUE


THE rain took off near Laeken.  But the sun was already down; the air was
chill; and we had scarcely a dry stitch between the pair of us.  Nay, now
we found ourselves near the end of the Allée Verte, and on the very
threshold of Brussels, we were confronted by a serious difficulty.  The
shores were closely lined by canal boats waiting their turn at the lock.
Nowhere was there any convenient landing-place; nowhere so much as a
stable-yard to leave the canoes in for the night.  We scrambled ashore
and entered an _estaminet_ where some sorry fellows were drinking with
the landlord.  The landlord was pretty round with us; he knew of no
coach-house or stable-yard, nothing of the sort; and seeing we had come
with no mind to drink, he did not conceal his impatience to be rid of us.
One of the sorry fellows came to the rescue.  Somewhere in the corner of
the basin there was a slip, he informed us, and something else besides,
not very clearly defined by him, but hopefully construed by his hearers.

Sure enough there was the slip in the corner of the basin; and at the top
of it two nice-looking lads in boating clothes.  The _Arethusa_ addressed
himself to these.  One of them said there would be no difficulty about a
night’s lodging for our boats; and the other, taking a cigarette from his
lips, inquired if they were made by Searle and Son.  The name was quite
an introduction.  Half-a-dozen other young men came out of a boat-house
bearing the superscription ROYAL SPORT NAUTIQUE, and joined in the talk.
They were all very polite, voluble, and enthusiastic; and their discourse
was interlarded with English boating terms, and the names of English
boat-builders and English clubs.  I do not know, to my shame, any spot in
my native land where I should have been so warmly received by the same
number of people.  We were English boating-men, and the Belgian
boating-men fell upon our necks.  I wonder if French Huguenots were as
cordially greeted by English Protestants when they came across the
Channel out of great tribulation.  But after all, what religion knits
people so closely as a common sport?

The canoes were carried into the boat-house; they were washed down for us
by the Club servants, the sails were hung out to dry, and everything made
as snug and tidy as a picture.  And in the meanwhile we were led upstairs
by our new-found brethren, for so more than one of them stated the
relationship, and made free of their lavatory.  This one lent us soap,
that one a towel, a third and fourth helped us to undo our bags.  And all
the time such questions, such assurances of respect and sympathy!  I
declare I never knew what glory was before.

‘Yes, yes, the _Royal Sport Nautique_ is the oldest club in Belgium.’

‘We number two hundred.’

‘We’—this is not a substantive speech, but an abstract of many speeches,
the impression left upon my mind after a great deal of talk; and very
youthful, pleasant, natural, and patriotic it seems to me to be—‘We have
gained all races, except those where we were cheated by the French.’

‘You must leave all your wet things to be dried.’

‘O! _entre frères_!  In any boat-house in England we should find the
same.’  (I cordially hope they might.)

‘_En Angleterre_, _vous employez des sliding-seats_, _n’est-ce pas_?’

‘We are all employed in commerce during the day; but in the evening,
_voyez-vous_, _nous sommes sérieux_.’

These were the words.  They were all employed over the frivolous
mercantile concerns of Belgium during the day; but in the evening they
found some hours for the serious concerns of life.  I may have a wrong
idea of wisdom, but I think that was a very wise remark.  People
connected with literature and philosophy are busy all their days in
getting rid of second-hand notions and false standards.  It is their
profession, in the sweat of their brows, by dogged thinking, to recover
their old fresh view of life, and distinguish what they really and
originally like, from what they have only learned to tolerate perforce.
And these Royal Nautical Sportsmen had the distinction still quite
legible in their hearts.  They had still those clean perceptions of what
is nice and nasty, what is interesting and what is dull, which envious
old gentlemen refer to as illusions.  The nightmare illusion of middle
age, the bear’s hug of custom gradually squeezing the life out of a man’s
soul, had not yet begun for these happy-starred young Belgians.  They
still knew that the interest they took in their business was a trifling
affair compared to their spontaneous, long-suffering affection for
nautical sports.  To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen
to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your
soul alive.  Such a man may be generous; he may be honest in something
more than the commercial sense; he may love his friends with an elective,
personal sympathy, and not accept them as an adjunct of the station to
which he has been called.  He may be a man, in short, acting on his own
instincts, keeping in his own shape that God made him in; and not a mere
crank in the social engine-house, welded on principles that he does not
understand, and for purposes that he does not care for.

For will any one dare to tell me that business is more entertaining than
fooling among boats?  He must have never seen a boat, or never seen an
office, who says so.  And for certain the one is a great deal better for
the health.  There should be nothing so much a man’s business as his
amusements.  Nothing but money-grubbing can be put forward to the
contrary; no one but

    Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell
    From Heaven,

durst risk a word in answer.  It is but a lying cant that would represent
the merchant and the banker as people disinterestedly toiling for
mankind, and then most useful when they are most absorbed in their
transactions; for the man is more important than his services.  And when
my Royal Nautical Sportsman shall have so far fallen from his hopeful
youth that he cannot pluck up an enthusiasm over anything but his ledger,
I venture to doubt whether he will be near so nice a fellow, and whether
he would welcome, with so good a grace, a couple of drenched Englishmen
paddling into Brussels in the dusk.

When we had changed our wet clothes and drunk a glass of pale ale to the
Club’s prosperity, one of their number escorted us to an hotel.  He would
not join us at our dinner, but he had no objection to a glass of wine.
Enthusiasm is very wearing; and I begin to understand why prophets were
unpopular in Judæa, where they were best known.  For three stricken hours
did this excellent young man sit beside us to dilate on boats and
boat-races; and before he left, he was kind enough to order our bedroom
candles.

We endeavoured now and again to change the subject; but the diversion did
not last a moment: the Royal Nautical Sportsman bridled, shied, answered
the question, and then breasted once more into the swelling tide of his
subject.  I call it his subject; but I think it was he who was subjected.
The _Arethusa_, who holds all racing as a creature of the devil, found
himself in a pitiful dilemma.  He durst not own his ignorance for the
honour of Old England, and spoke away about English clubs and English
oarsmen whose fame had never before come to his ears.  Several times,
and, once above all, on the question of sliding-seats, he was within an
ace of exposure.  As for the _Cigarette_, who has rowed races in the heat
of his blood, but now disowns these slips of his wanton youth, his case
was still more desperate; for the Royal Nautical proposed that he should
take an oar in one of their eights on the morrow, to compare the English
with the Belgian stroke.  I could see my friend perspiring in his chair
whenever that particular topic came up.  And there was yet another
proposal which had the same effect on both of us.  It appeared that the
champion canoeist of Europe (as well as most other champions) was a Royal
Nautical Sportsman.  And if we would only wait until the Sunday, this
infernal paddler would be so condescending as to accompany us on our next
stage.  Neither of us had the least desire to drive the coursers of the
sun against Apollo.

When the young man was gone, we countermanded our candles, and ordered
some brandy and water.  The great billows had gone over our head.  The
Royal Nautical Sportsmen were as nice young fellows as a man would wish
to see, but they were a trifle too young and a thought too nautical for
us.  We began to see that we were old and cynical; we liked ease and the
agreeable rambling of the human mind about this and the other subject; we
did not want to disgrace our native land by messing an eight, or toiling
pitifully in the wake of the champion canoeist.  In short, we had
recourse to flight.  It seemed ungrateful, but we tried to make that good
on a card loaded with sincere compliments.  And indeed it was no time for
scruples; we seemed to feel the hot breath of the champion on our necks.



AT MAUBEUGE


PARTLY from the terror we had of our good friends the Royal Nauticals,
partly from the fact that there were no fewer than fifty-five locks
between Brussels and Charleroi, we concluded that we should travel by
train across the frontier, boats and all.  Fifty-five locks in a day’s
journey was pretty well tantamount to trudging the whole distance on
foot, with the canoes upon our shoulders, an object of astonishment to
the trees on the canal side, and of honest derision to all right-thinking
children.

To pass the frontier, even in a train, is a difficult matter for the
_Arethusa_.  He is somehow or other a marked man for the official eye.
Wherever he journeys, there are the officers gathered together.  Treaties
are solemnly signed, foreign ministers, ambassadors, and consuls sit
throned in state from China to Peru, and the Union Jack flutters on all
the winds of heaven.  Under these safeguards, portly clergymen,
school-mistresses, gentlemen in grey tweed suits, and all the ruck and
rabble of British touristry pour unhindered, _Murray_ in hand, over the
railways of the Continent, and yet the slim person of the _Arethusa_ is
taken in the meshes, while these great fish go on their way rejoicing.
If he travels without a passport, he is cast, without any figure about
the matter, into noisome dungeons: if his papers are in order, he is
suffered to go his way indeed, but not until he has been humiliated by a
general incredulity.  He is a born British subject, yet he has never
succeeded in persuading a single official of his nationality.  He
flatters himself he is indifferent honest; yet he is rarely taken for
anything better than a spy, and there is no absurd and disreputable means
of livelihood but has been attributed to him in some heat of official or
popular distrust. . . .

For the life of me I cannot understand it.  I too have been knolled to
church, and sat at good men’s feasts; but I bear no mark of it.  I am as
strange as a Jack Indian to their official spectacles.  I might come from
any part of the globe, it seems, except from where I do.  My ancestors
have laboured in vain, and the glorious Constitution cannot protect me in
my walks abroad.  It is a great thing, believe me, to present a good
normal type of the nation you belong to.

Nobody else was asked for his papers on the way to Maubeuge; but I was;
and although I clung to my rights, I had to choose at last between
accepting the humiliation and being left behind by the train.  I was
sorry to give way; but I wanted to get to Maubeuge.

Maubeuge is a fortified town, with a very good inn, the _Grand Cerf_.  It
seemed to be inhabited principally by soldiers and bagmen; at least,
these were all that we saw, except the hotel servants.  We had to stay
there some time, for the canoes were in no hurry to follow us, and at
last stuck hopelessly in the custom-house until we went back to liberate
them.  There was nothing to do, nothing to see.  We had good meals, which
was a great matter; but that was all.

The _Cigarette_ was nearly taken up upon a charge of drawing the
fortifications: a feat of which he was hopelessly incapable.  And
besides, as I suppose each belligerent nation has a plan of the other’s
fortified places already, these precautions are of the nature of shutting
the stable door after the steed is away.  But I have no doubt they help
to keep up a good spirit at home.  It is a great thing if you can
persuade people that they are somehow or other partakers in a mystery.
It makes them feel bigger.  Even the Freemasons, who have been shown up
to satiety, preserve a kind of pride; and not a grocer among them,
however honest, harmless, and empty-headed he may feel himself to be at
bottom, but comes home from one of their _coenacula_ with a portentous
significance for himself.

It is an odd thing, how happily two people, if there are two, can live in
a place where they have no acquaintance.  I think the spectacle of a
whole life in which you have no part paralyses personal desire.  You are
content to become a mere spectator.  The baker stands in his door; the
colonel with his three medals goes by to the _café_ at night; the troops
drum and trumpet and man the ramparts, as bold as so many lions.  It
would task language to say how placidly you behold all this.  In a place
where you have taken some root, you are provoked out of your
indifference; you have a hand in the game; your friends are fighting with
the army.  But in a strange town, not small enough to grow too soon
familiar, nor so large as to have laid itself out for travellers, you
stand so far apart from the business, that you positively forget it would
be possible to go nearer; you have so little human interest around you,
that you do not remember yourself to be a man.  Perhaps, in a very short
time, you would be one no longer.  Gymnosophists go into a wood, with all
nature seething around them, with romance on every side; it would be much
more to the purpose if they took up their abode in a dull country town,
where they should see just so much of humanity as to keep them from
desiring more, and only the stale externals of man’s life.  These
externals are as dead to us as so many formalities, and speak a dead
language in our eyes and ears.  They have no more meaning than an oath or
a salutation.  We are so much accustomed to see married couples going to
church of a Sunday that we have clean forgotten what they represent; and
novelists are driven to rehabilitate adultery, no less, when they wish to
show us what a beautiful thing it is for a man and a woman to live for
each other.

One person in Maubeuge, however, showed me something more than his
outside.  That was the driver of the hotel omnibus: a mean enough looking
little man, as well as I can remember; but with a spark of something
human in his soul.  He had heard of our little journey, and came to me at
once in envious sympathy.  How he longed to travel! he told me.  How he
longed to be somewhere else, and see the round world before he went into
the grave!  ‘Here I am,’ said he.  ‘I drive to the station.  Well.  And
then I drive back again to the hotel.  And so on every day and all the
week round.  My God, is that life?’  I could not say I thought it was—for
him.  He pressed me to tell him where I had been, and where I hoped to
go; and as he listened, I declare the fellow sighed.  Might not this have
been a brave African traveller, or gone to the Indies after Drake?  But
it is an evil age for the gypsily inclined among men.  He who can sit
squarest on a three-legged stool, he it is who has the wealth and glory.

I wonder if my friend is still driving the omnibus for the Grand Cerf?
Not very likely, I believe; for I think he was on the eve of mutiny when
we passed through, and perhaps our passage determined him for good.
Better a thousand times that he should be a tramp, and mend pots and pans
by the wayside, and sleep under trees, and see the dawn and the sunset
every day above a new horizon.  I think I hear you say that it is a
respectable position to drive an omnibus?  Very well.  What right has he
who likes it not, to keep those who would like it dearly out of this
respectable position?  Suppose a dish were not to my taste, and you told
me that it was a favourite amongst the rest of the company, what should I
conclude from that?  Not to finish the dish against my stomach, I
suppose.

Respectability is a very good thing in its way, but it does not rise
superior to all considerations.  I would not for a moment venture to hint
that it was a matter of taste; but I think I will go as far as this: that
if a position is admittedly unkind, uncomfortable, unnecessary, and
superfluously useless, although it were as respectable as the Church of
England, the sooner a man is out of it, the better for himself, and all
concerned.



ON THE SAMBRE CANALISED: TO QUARTES


ABOUT three in the afternoon the whole establishment of the _Grand Cerf_
accompanied us to the water’s edge.  The man of the omnibus was there
with haggard eyes.  Poor cage-bird!  Do I not remember the time when I
myself haunted the station, to watch train after train carry its
complement of freemen into the night, and read the names of distant
places on the time-bills with indescribable longings?

We were not clear of the fortifications before the rain began.  The wind
was contrary, and blew in furious gusts; nor were the aspects of nature
any more clement than the doings of the sky.  For we passed through a
stretch of blighted country, sparsely covered with brush, but handsomely
enough diversified with factory chimneys.  We landed in a soiled meadow
among some pollards, and there smoked a pipe in a flaw of fair weather.
But the wind blew so hard, we could get little else to smoke.  There were
no natural objects in the neighbourhood, but some sordid workshops.  A
group of children headed by a tall girl stood and watched us from a
little distance all the time we stayed.  I heartily wonder what they
thought of us.

At Hautmont, the lock was almost impassable; the landing-place being
steep and high, and the launch at a long distance.  Near a dozen grimy
workmen lent us a hand.  They refused any reward; and, what is much
better, refused it handsomely, without conveying any sense of insult.
‘It is a way we have in our countryside,’ said they.  And a very becoming
way it is.  In Scotland, where also you will get services for nothing,
the good people reject your money as if you had been trying to corrupt a
voter.  When people take the trouble to do dignified acts, it is worth
while to take a little more, and allow the dignity to be common to all
concerned.  But in our brave Saxon countries, where we plod threescore
years and ten in the mud, and the wind keeps singing in our ears from
birth to burial, we do our good and bad with a high hand and almost
offensively; and make even our alms a witness-bearing and an act of war
against the wrong.

After Hautmont, the sun came forth again and the wind went down; and a
little paddling took us beyond the ironworks and through a delectable
land.  The river wound among low hills, so that sometimes the sun was at
our backs, and sometimes it stood right ahead, and the river before us
was one sheet of intolerable glory.  On either hand, meadows and orchards
bordered, with a margin of sedge and water flowers, upon the river.  The
hedges were of great height, woven about the trunks of hedgerow elms; and
the fields, as they were often very small, looked like a series of bowers
along the stream.  There was never any prospect; sometimes a hill-top
with its trees would look over the nearest hedgerow, just to make a
middle distance for the sky; but that was all.  The heaven was bare of
clouds.  The atmosphere, after the rain, was of enchanting purity.  The
river doubled among the hillocks, a shining strip of mirror glass; and
the dip of the paddles set the flowers shaking along the brink.

In the meadows wandered black and white cattle fantastically marked.  One
beast, with a white head and the rest of the body glossy black, came to
the edge to drink, and stood gravely twitching his ears at me as I went
by, like some sort of preposterous clergyman in a play.  A moment after I
heard a loud plunge, and, turning my head, saw the clergyman struggling
to shore.  The bank had given way under his feet.

Besides the cattle, we saw no living things except a few birds and a
great many fishermen.  These sat along the edges of the meadows,
sometimes with one rod, sometimes with as many as half a score.  They
seemed stupefied with contentment; and when we induced them to exchange a
few words with us about the weather, their voices sounded quiet and far
away.  There was a strange diversity of opinion among them as to the kind
of fish for which they set their lures; although they were all agreed in
this, that the river was abundantly supplied.  Where it was plain that no
two of them had ever caught the same kind of fish, we could not help
suspecting that perhaps not any one of them had ever caught a fish at
all.  I hope, since the afternoon was so lovely, that they were one and
all rewarded; and that a silver booty went home in every basket for the
pot.  Some of my friends would cry shame on me for this; but I prefer a
man, were he only an angler, to the bravest pair of gills in all God’s
waters.  I do not affect fishes unless when cooked in sauce; whereas an
angler is an important piece of river scenery, and hence deserves some
recognition among canoeists.  He can always tell you where you are after
a mild fashion; and his quiet presence serves to accentuate the solitude
and stillness, and remind you of the glittering citizens below your boat.

The Sambre turned so industriously to and fro among his little hills,
that it was past six before we drew near the lock at Quartes.  There were
some children on the tow-path, with whom the _Cigarette_ fell into a
chaffing talk as they ran along beside us.  It was in vain that I warned
him.  In vain I told him, in English, that boys were the most dangerous
creatures; and if once you began with them, it was safe to end in a
shower of stones.  For my own part, whenever anything was addressed to
me, I smiled gently and shook my head as though I were an inoffensive
person inadequately acquainted with French.  For indeed I have had such
experience at home, that I would sooner meet many wild animals than a
troop of healthy urchins.

But I was doing injustice to these peaceable young Hainaulters.  When the
_Cigarette_ went off to make inquiries, I got out upon the bank to smoke
a pipe and superintend the boats, and became at once the centre of much
amiable curiosity.  The children had been joined by this time by a young
woman and a mild lad who had lost an arm; and this gave me more security.
When I let slip my first word or so in French, a little girl nodded her
head with a comical grown-up air.  ‘Ah, you see,’ she said, ‘he
understands well enough now; he was just making believe.’  And the little
group laughed together very good-naturedly.

They were much impressed when they heard we came from England; and the
little girl proffered the information that England was an island ‘and a
far way from here—_bien loin d’ici_.’

‘Ay, you may say that, a far way from here,’ said the lad with one arm.

I was as nearly home-sick as ever I was in my life; they seemed to make
it such an incalculable distance to the place where I first saw the day.
They admired the canoes very much.  And I observed one piece of delicacy
in these children, which is worthy of record.  They had been deafening us
for the last hundred yards with petitions for a sail; ay, and they
deafened us to the same tune next morning when we came to start; but
then, when the canoes were lying empty, there was no word of any such
petition.  Delicacy? or perhaps a bit of fear for the water in so crank a
vessel?  I hate cynicism a great deal worse than I do the devil; unless
perhaps the two were the same thing?  And yet ’tis a good tonic; the cold
tub and bath-towel of the sentiments; and positively necessary to life in
cases of advanced sensibility.

From the boats they turned to my costume.  They could not make enough of
my red sash; and my knife filled them with awe.

‘They make them like that in England,’ said the boy with one arm.  I was
glad he did not know how badly we make them in England now-a-days.  ‘They
are for people who go away to sea,’ he added, ‘and to defend one’s life
against great fish.’

I felt I was becoming a more and more romantic figure to the little group
at every word.  And so I suppose I was.  Even my pipe, although it was an
ordinary French clay pretty well ‘trousered,’ as they call it, would have
a rarity in their eyes, as a thing coming from so far away.  And if my
feathers were not very fine in themselves, they were all from over seas.
One thing in my outfit, however, tickled them out of all politeness; and
that was the bemired condition of my canvas shoes.  I suppose they were
sure the mud at any rate was a home product.  The little girl (who was
the genius of the party) displayed her own sabots in competition; and I
wish you could have seen how gracefully and merrily she did it.

The young woman’s milk-can, a great amphora of hammered brass, stood some
way off upon the sward.  I was glad of an opportunity to divert public
attention from myself, and return some of the compliments I had received.
So I admired it cordially both for form and colour, telling them, and
very truly, that it was as beautiful as gold.  They were not surprised.
The things were plainly the boast of the countryside.  And the children
expatiated on the costliness of these amphoræ, which sell sometimes as
high as thirty francs apiece; told me how they were carried on donkeys,
one on either side of the saddle, a brave caparison in themselves; and
how they were to be seen all over the district, and at the larger farms
in great number and of great size.



PONT-SUR-SAMBRE


WE ARE PEDLARS


THE _Cigarette_ returned with good news.  There were beds to be had some
ten minutes’ walk from where we were, at a place called Pont.  We stowed
the canoes in a granary, and asked among the children for a guide.  The
circle at once widened round us, and our offers of reward were received
in dispiriting silence.  We were plainly a pair of Bluebeards to the
children; they might speak to us in public places, and where they had the
advantage of numbers; but it was another thing to venture off alone with
two uncouth and legendary characters, who had dropped from the clouds
upon their hamlet this quiet afternoon, sashed and be-knived, and with a
flavour of great voyages.  The owner of the granary came to our
assistance, singled out one little fellow and threatened him with
corporalities; or I suspect we should have had to find the way for
ourselves.  As it was, he was more frightened at the granary man than the
strangers, having perhaps had some experience of the former.  But I fancy
his little heart must have been going at a fine rate; for he kept
trotting at a respectful distance in front, and looking back at us with
scared eyes.  Not otherwise may the children of the young world have
guided Jove or one of his Olympian compeers on an adventure.

A miry lane led us up from Quartes with its church and bickering
windmill.  The hinds were trudging homewards from the fields.  A brisk
little woman passed us by.  She was seated across a donkey between a pair
of glittering milk-cans; and, as she went, she kicked jauntily with her
heels upon the donkey’s side, and scattered shrill remarks among the
wayfarers.  It was notable that none of the tired men took the trouble to
reply.  Our conductor soon led us out of the lane and across country.
The sun had gone down, but the west in front of us was one lake of level
gold.  The path wandered a while in the open, and then passed under a
trellis like a bower indefinitely prolonged.  On either hand were shadowy
orchards; cottages lay low among the leaves, and sent their smoke to
heaven; every here and there, in an opening, appeared the great gold face
of the west.

I never saw the _Cigarette_ in such an idyllic frame of mind.  He waxed
positively lyrical in praise of country scenes.  I was little less
exhilarated myself; the mild air of the evening, the shadows, the rich
lights and the silence, made a symphonious accompaniment about our walk;
and we both determined to avoid towns for the future and sleep in
hamlets.

At last the path went between two houses, and turned the party out into a
wide muddy high-road, bordered, as far as the eye could reach on either
hand, by an unsightly village.  The houses stood well back, leaving a
ribbon of waste land on either side of the road, where there were stacks
of firewood, carts, barrows, rubbish-heaps, and a little doubtful grass.
Away on the left, a gaunt tower stood in the middle of the street.  What
it had been in past ages, I know not: probably a hold in time of war; but
now-a-days it bore an illegible dial-plate in its upper parts, and near
the bottom an iron letter-box.

The inn to which we had been recommended at Quartes was full, or else the
landlady did not like our looks.  I ought to say, that with our long,
damp india-rubber bags, we presented rather a doubtful type of
civilisation: like rag-and-bone men, the _Cigarette_ imagined.  ‘These
gentlemen are pedlars?—_Ces messieurs sont des marchands_?’—asked the
landlady.  And then, without waiting for an answer, which I suppose she
thought superfluous in so plain a case, recommended us to a butcher who
lived hard by the tower, and took in travellers to lodge.

Thither went we.  But the butcher was flitting, and all his beds were
taken down.  Or else he didn’t like our look.  As a parting shot, we had
‘These gentlemen are pedlars?’

It began to grow dark in earnest.  We could no longer distinguish the
faces of the people who passed us by with an inarticulate good-evening.
And the householders of Pont seemed very economical with their oil; for
we saw not a single window lighted in all that long village.  I believe
it is the longest village in the world; but I daresay in our predicament
every pace counted three times over.  We were much cast down when we came
to the last auberge; and looking in at the dark door, asked timidly if we
could sleep there for the night.  A female voice assented in no very
friendly tones.  We clapped the bags down and found our way to chairs.

The place was in total darkness, save a red glow in the chinks and
ventilators of the stove.  But now the landlady lit a lamp to see her new
guests; I suppose the darkness was what saved us another expulsion; for I
cannot say she looked gratified at our appearance.  We were in a large
bare apartment, adorned with two allegorical prints of Music and
Painting, and a copy of the law against public drunkenness.  On one side,
there was a bit of a bar, with some half-a-dozen bottles.  Two labourers
sat waiting supper, in attitudes of extreme weariness; a plain-looking
lass bustled about with a sleepy child of two; and the landlady began to
derange the pots upon the stove, and set some beefsteak to grill.

‘These gentlemen are pedlars?’ she asked sharply.  And that was all the
conversation forthcoming.  We began to think we might be pedlars after
all.  I never knew a population with so narrow a range of conjecture as
the innkeepers of Pont-sur-Sambre.  But manners and bearing have not a
wider currency than bank-notes.  You have only to get far enough out of
your beat, and all your accomplished airs will go for nothing.  These
Hainaulters could see no difference between us and the average pedlar.
Indeed we had some grounds for reflection while the steak was getting
ready, to see how perfectly they accepted us at their own valuation, and
how our best politeness and best efforts at entertainment seemed to fit
quite suitably with the character of packmen.  At least it seemed a good
account of the profession in France, that even before such judges we
could not beat them at our own weapons.

At last we were called to table.  The two hinds (and one of them looked
sadly worn and white in the face, as though sick with over-work and
under-feeding) supped off a single plate of some sort of bread-berry,
some potatoes in their jackets, a small cup of coffee sweetened with
sugar-candy, and one tumbler of swipes.  The landlady, her son, and the
lass aforesaid, took the same.  Our meal was quite a banquet by
comparison.  We had some beefsteak, not so tender as it might have been,
some of the potatoes, some cheese, an extra glass of the swipes, and
white sugar in our coffee.

You see what it is to be a gentleman—I beg your pardon, what it is to be
a pedlar.  It had not before occurred to me that a pedlar was a great man
in a labourer’s ale-house; but now that I had to enact the part for an
evening, I found that so it was.  He has in his hedge quarters somewhat
the same pre-eminency as the man who takes a private parlour in an hotel.
The more you look into it, the more infinite are the class distinctions
among men; and possibly, by a happy dispensation, there is no one at all
at the bottom of the scale; no one but can find some superiority over
somebody else, to keep up his pride withal.

We were displeased enough with our fare.  Particularly the _Cigarette_,
for I tried to make believe that I was amused with the adventure, tough
beefsteak and all.  According to the Lucretian maxim, our steak should
have been flavoured by the look of the other people’s bread-berry.  But
we did not find it so in practice.  You may have a head-knowledge that
other people live more poorly than yourself, but it is not agreeable—I
was going to say, it is against the etiquette of the universe—to sit at
the same table and pick your own superior diet from among their crusts.
I had not seen such a thing done since the greedy boy at school with his
birthday cake.  It was odious enough to witness, I could remember; and I
had never thought to play the part myself.  But there again you see what
it is to be a pedlar.

There is no doubt that the poorer classes in our country are much more
charitably disposed than their superiors in wealth.  And I fancy it must
arise a great deal from the comparative indistinction of the easy and the
not so easy in these ranks.  A workman or a pedlar cannot shutter himself
off from his less comfortable neighbours.  If he treats himself to a
luxury, he must do it in the face of a dozen who cannot.  And what should
more directly lead to charitable thoughts? . . . Thus the poor man,
camping out in life, sees it as it is, and knows that every mouthful he
puts in his belly has been wrenched out of the fingers of the hungry.

But at a certain stage of prosperity, as in a balloon ascent, the
fortunate person passes through a zone of clouds, and sublunary matters
are thenceforward hidden from his view.  He sees nothing but the heavenly
bodies, all in admirable order, and positively as good as new.  He finds
himself surrounded in the most touching manner by the attentions of
Providence, and compares himself involuntarily with the lilies and the
skylarks.  He does not precisely sing, of course; but then he looks so
unassuming in his open landau!  If all the world dined at one table, this
philosophy would meet with some rude knocks.



THE TRAVELLING MERCHANT


LIKE the lackeys in Molière’s farce, when the true nobleman broke in on
their high life below stairs, we were destined to be confronted with a
real pedlar.  To make the lesson still more poignant for fallen gentlemen
like us, he was a pedlar of infinitely more consideration than the sort
of scurvy fellows we were taken for: like a lion among mice, or a ship of
war bearing down upon two cock-boats.  Indeed, he did not deserve the
name of pedlar at all: he was a travelling merchant.

I suppose it was about half-past eight when this worthy, Monsieur Hector
Gilliard of Maubeuge, turned up at the ale-house door in a tilt cart
drawn by a donkey, and cried cheerily on the inhabitants.  He was a lean,
nervous flibbertigibbet of a man, with something the look of an actor,
and something the look of a horse-jockey.  He had evidently prospered
without any of the favours of education; for he adhered with stern
simplicity to the masculine gender, and in the course of the evening
passed off some fancy futures in a very florid style of architecture.
With him came his wife, a comely young woman with her hair tied in a
yellow kerchief, and their son, a little fellow of four, in a blouse and
military _képi_.  It was notable that the child was many degrees better
dressed than either of the parents.  We were informed he was already at a
boarding-school; but the holidays having just commenced, he was off to
spend them with his parents on a cruise.  An enchanting holiday
occupation, was it not? to travel all day with father and mother in the
tilt cart full of countless treasures; the green country rattling by on
either side, and the children in all the villages contemplating him with
envy and wonder?  It is better fun, during the holidays, to be the son of
a travelling merchant, than son and heir to the greatest cotton-spinner
in creation.  And as for being a reigning prince—indeed I never saw one
if it was not Master Gilliard!

While M. Hector and the son of the house were putting up the donkey, and
getting all the valuables under lock and key, the landlady warmed up the
remains of our beefsteak, and fried the cold potatoes in slices, and
Madame Gilliard set herself to waken the boy, who had come far that day,
and was peevish and dazzled by the light.  He was no sooner awake than he
began to prepare himself for supper by eating galette, unripe pears, and
cold potatoes—with, so far as I could judge, positive benefit to his
appetite.

The landlady, fired with motherly emulation, awoke her own little girl;
and the two children were confronted.  Master Gilliard looked at her for
a moment, very much as a dog looks at his own reflection in a mirror
before he turns away.  He was at that time absorbed in the galette.  His
mother seemed crestfallen that he should display so little inclination
towards the other sex; and expressed her disappointment with some candour
and a very proper reference to the influence of years.

Sure enough a time will come when he will pay more attention to the
girls, and think a great deal less of his mother: let us hope she will
like it as well as she seemed to fancy.  But it is odd enough; the very
women who profess most contempt for mankind as a sex, seem to find even
its ugliest particulars rather lively and high-minded in their own sons.

The little girl looked longer and with more interest, probably because
she was in her own house, while he was a traveller and accustomed to
strange sights.  And besides there was no galette in the case with her.

All the time of supper, there was nothing spoken of but my young lord.
The two parents were both absurdly fond of their child.  Monsieur kept
insisting on his sagacity: how he knew all the children at school by
name; and when this utterly failed on trial, how he was cautious and
exact to a strange degree, and if asked anything, he would sit and
think—and think, and if he did not know it, ‘my faith, he wouldn’t tell
you at all—_foi_, _il ne vous le dira pas_’: which is certainly a very
high degree of caution.  At intervals, M. Hector would appeal to his
wife, with his mouth full of beefsteak, as to the little fellow’s age at
such or such a time when he had said or done something memorable; and I
noticed that Madame usually pooh-poohed these inquiries.  She herself was
not boastful in her vein; but she never had her fill of caressing the
child; and she seemed to take a gentle pleasure in recalling all that was
fortunate in his little existence.  No schoolboy could have talked more
of the holidays which were just beginning and less of the black
school-time which must inevitably follow after.  She showed, with a pride
perhaps partly mercantile in origin, his pockets preposterously swollen
with tops and whistles and string.  When she called at a house in the way
of business, it appeared he kept her company; and whenever a sale was
made, received a sou out of the profit.  Indeed they spoiled him vastly,
these two good people.  But they had an eye to his manners for all that,
and reproved him for some little faults in breeding, which occurred from
time to time during supper.

On the whole, I was not much hurt at being taken for a pedlar.  I might
think that I ate with greater delicacy, or that my mistakes in French
belonged to a different order; but it was plain that these distinctions
would be thrown away upon the landlady and the two labourers.  In all
essential things we and the Gilliards cut very much the same figure in
the ale-house kitchen.  M. Hector was more at home, indeed, and took a
higher tone with the world; but that was explicable on the ground of his
driving a donkey-cart, while we poor bodies tramped afoot.  I daresay,
the rest of the company thought us dying with envy, though in no ill
sense, to be as far up in the profession as the new arrival.

And of one thing I am sure: that every one thawed and became more
humanised and conversible as soon as these innocent people appeared upon
the scene.  I would not very readily trust the travelling merchant with
any extravagant sum of money; but I am sure his heart was in the right
place.  In this mixed world, if you can find one or two sensible places
in a man—above all, if you should find a whole family living together on
such pleasant terms—you may surely be satisfied, and take the rest for
granted; or, what is a great deal better, boldly make up your mind that
you can do perfectly well without the rest; and that ten thousand bad
traits cannot make a single good one any the less good.

It was getting late.  M. Hector lit a stable lantern and went off to his
cart for some arrangements; and my young gentleman proceeded to divest
himself of the better part of his raiment, and play gymnastics on his
mother’s lap, and thence on to the floor, with accompaniment of laughter.

‘Are you going to sleep alone?’ asked the servant lass.

‘There’s little fear of that,’ says Master Gilliard.

‘You sleep alone at school,’ objected his mother.  ‘Come, come, you must
be a man.’

But he protested that school was a different matter from the holidays;
that there were dormitories at school; and silenced the discussion with
kisses: his mother smiling, no one better pleased than she.

There certainly was, as he phrased it, very little fear that he should
sleep alone; for there was but one bed for the trio.  We, on our part,
had firmly protested against one man’s accommodation for two; and we had
a double-bedded pen in the loft of the house, furnished, beside the beds,
with exactly three hat-pegs and one table.  There was not so much as a
glass of water.  But the window would open, by good fortune.

Some time before I fell asleep the loft was full of the sound of mighty
snoring: the Gilliards, and the labourers, and the people of the inn, all
at it, I suppose, with one consent.  The young moon outside shone very
clearly over Pont-sur-Sambre, and down upon the ale-house where all we
pedlars were abed.



ON THE SAMBRE CANALISED: TO LANDRECIES


IN the morning, when we came downstairs, the landlady pointed out to us
two pails of water behind the street-door.  ‘_Voilà de l’eau pour vous
débarbouiller_,’ says she.  And so there we made a shift to wash
ourselves, while Madame Gilliard brushed the family boots on the outer
doorstep, and M. Hector, whistling cheerily, arranged some small goods
for the day’s campaign in a portable chest of drawers, which formed a
part of his baggage.  Meanwhile the child was letting off Waterloo
crackers all over the floor.

I wonder, by-the-bye, what they call Waterloo crackers in France; perhaps
Austerlitz crackers.  There is a great deal in the point of view.  Do you
remember the Frenchman who, travelling by way of Southampton, was put
down in Waterloo Station, and had to drive across Waterloo Bridge?  He
had a mind to go home again, it seems.

Pont itself is on the river, but whereas it is ten minutes’ walk from
Quartes by dry land, it is six weary kilometres by water.  We left our
bags at the inn, and walked to our canoes through the wet orchards
unencumbered.  Some of the children were there to see us off, but we were
no longer the mysterious beings of the night before.  A departure is much
less romantic than an unexplained arrival in the golden evening.
Although we might be greatly taken at a ghost’s first appearance, we
should behold him vanish with comparative equanimity.

The good folk of the inn at Pont, when we called there for the bags, were
overcome with marvelling.  At sight of these two dainty little boats,
with a fluttering Union Jack on each, and all the varnish shining from
the sponge, they began to perceive that they had entertained angels
unawares.  The landlady stood upon the bridge, probably lamenting she had
charged so little; the son ran to and fro, and called out the neighbours
to enjoy the sight; and we paddled away from quite a crowd of wrapt
observers.  These gentlemen pedlars, indeed!  Now you see their quality
too late.

The whole day was showery, with occasional drenching plumps.  We were
soaked to the skin, then partially dried in the sun, then soaked once
more.  But there were some calm intervals, and one notably, when we were
skirting the forest of Mormal, a sinister name to the ear, but a place
most gratifying to sight and smell.  It looked solemn along the
river-side, drooping its boughs into the water, and piling them up aloft
into a wall of leaves.  What is a forest but a city of nature’s own, full
of hardy and innocuous living things, where there is nothing dead and
nothing made with the hands, but the citizens themselves are the houses
and public monuments?  There is nothing so much alive, and yet so quiet,
as a woodland; and a pair of people, swinging past in canoes, feel very
small and bustling by comparison.

And surely of all smells in the world, the smell of many trees is the
sweetest and most fortifying.  The sea has a rude, pistolling sort of
odour, that takes you in the nostrils like snuff, and carries with it a
fine sentiment of open water and tall ships; but the smell of a forest,
which comes nearest to this in tonic quality, surpasses it by many
degrees in the quality of softness.  Again, the smell of the sea has
little variety, but the smell of a forest is infinitely changeful; it
varies with the hour of the day, not in strength merely, but in
character; and the different sorts of trees, as you go from one zone of
the wood to another, seem to live among different kinds of atmosphere.
Usually the resin of the fir predominates.  But some woods are more
coquettish in their habits; and the breath of the forest of Mormal, as it
came aboard upon us that showery afternoon, was perfumed with nothing
less delicate than sweetbrier.

I wish our way had always lain among woods.  Trees are the most civil
society.  An old oak that has been growing where he stands since before
the Reformation, taller than many spires, more stately than the greater
part of mountains, and yet a living thing, liable to sicknesses and
death, like you and me: is not that in itself a speaking lesson in
history?  But acres on acres full of such patriarchs contiguously rooted,
their green tops billowing in the wind, their stalwart younglings pushing
up about their knees: a whole forest, healthy and beautiful, giving
colour to the light, giving perfume to the air: what is this but the most
imposing piece in nature’s repertory?  Heine wished to lie like Merlin
under the oaks of Broceliande.  I should not be satisfied with one tree;
but if the wood grew together like a banyan grove, I would be buried
under the tap-root of the whole; my parts should circulate from oak to
oak; and my consciousness should be diffused abroad in all the forest,
and give a common heart to that assembly of green spires, so that it also
might rejoice in its own loveliness and dignity.  I think I feel a
thousand squirrels leaping from bough to bough in my vast mausoleum; and
the birds and the winds merrily coursing over its uneven, leafy surface.

Alas! the forest of Mormal is only a little bit of a wood, and it was but
for a little way that we skirted by its boundaries.  And the rest of the
time the rain kept coming in squirts and the wind in squalls, until one’s
heart grew weary of such fitful, scolding weather.  It was odd how the
showers began when we had to carry the boats over a lock, and must expose
our legs.  They always did.  This is a sort of thing that readily begets
a personal feeling against nature.  There seems no reason why the shower
should not come five minutes before or five minutes after, unless you
suppose an intention to affront you.  The _Cigarette_ had a mackintosh
which put him more or less above these contrarieties.  But I had to bear
the brunt uncovered.  I began to remember that nature was a woman.  My
companion, in a rosier temper, listened with great satisfaction to my
Jeremiads, and ironically concurred.  He instanced, as a cognate matter,
the action of the tides, ‘which,’ said he, ‘was altogether designed for
the confusion of canoeists, except in so far as it was calculated to
minister to a barren vanity on the part of the moon.’

At the last lock, some little way out of Landrecies, I refused to go any
farther; and sat in a drift of rain by the side of the bank, to have a
reviving pipe.  A vivacious old man, whom I take to have been the devil,
drew near and questioned me about our journey.  In the fulness of my
heart, I laid bare our plans before him.  He said it was the silliest
enterprise that ever he heard of.  Why, did I not know, he asked me, that
it was nothing but locks, locks, locks, the whole way? not to mention
that, at this season of the year, we should find the Oise quite dry?
‘Get into a train, my little young man,’ said he, I and go you away home
to your parents.’  I was so astounded at the man’s malice, that I could
only stare at him in silence.  A tree would never have spoken to me like
this.  At last I got out with some words.  We had come from Antwerp
already, I told him, which was a good long way; and we should do the rest
in spite of him.  Yes, I said, if there were no other reason, I would do
it now, just because he had dared to say we could not.  The pleasant old
gentleman looked at me sneeringly, made an allusion to my canoe, and
marched of, waggling his head.

I was still inwardly fuming, when up came a pair of young fellows, who
imagined I was the _Cigarette’s_ servant, on a comparison, I suppose, of
my bare jersey with the other’s mackintosh, and asked me many questions
about my place and my master’s character.  I said he was a good enough
fellow, but had this absurd voyage on the head.  ‘O no, no,’ said one,
‘you must not say that; it is not absurd; it is very courageous of him.’
I believe these were a couple of angels sent to give me heart again.  It
was truly fortifying to reproduce all the old man’s insinuations, as if
they were original to me in my character of a malcontent footman, and
have them brushed away like so many flies by these admirable young men.

When I recounted this affair to the _Cigarette_, ‘They must have a
curious idea of how English servants behave,’ says he dryly, ‘for you
treated me like a brute beast at the lock.’

I was a good deal mortified; but my temper had suffered, it is a fact.



AT LANDRECIES


AT Landrecies the rain still fell and the wind still blew; but we found a
double-bedded room with plenty of furniture, real water-jugs with real
water in them, and dinner: a real dinner, not innocent of real wine.
After having been a pedlar for one night, and a butt for the elements
during the whole of the next day, these comfortable circumstances fell on
my heart like sunshine.  There was an English fruiterer at dinner,
travelling with a Belgian fruiterer; in the evening at the _café_, we
watched our compatriot drop a good deal of money at corks; and I don’t
know why, but this pleased us.

It turned out we were to see more of Landrecies than we expected; for the
weather next day was simply bedlamite.  It is not the place one would
have chosen for a day’s rest; for it consists almost entirely of
fortifications.  Within the ramparts, a few blocks of houses, a long row
of barracks, and a church, figure, with what countenance they may, as the
town.  There seems to be no trade; and a shopkeeper from whom I bought a
sixpenny flint-and-steel, was so much affected that he filled my pockets
with spare flints into the bargain.  The only public buildings that had
any interest for us were the hotel and the _café_.  But we visited the
church.  There lies Marshal Clarke.  But as neither of us had ever heard
of that military hero, we bore the associations of the spot with
fortitude.

In all garrison towns, guard-calls, and _réveilles_, and such like, make
a fine romantic interlude in civic business.  Bugles, and drums, and
fifes, are of themselves most excellent things in nature; and when they
carry the mind to marching armies, and the picturesque vicissitudes of
war, they stir up something proud in the heart.  But in a shadow of a
town like Landrecies, with little else moving, these points of war made a
proportionate commotion.  Indeed, they were the only things to remember.
It was just the place to hear the round going by at night in the
darkness, with the solid tramp of men marching, and the startling
reverberations of the drum.  It reminded you, that even this place was a
point in the great warfaring system of Europe, and might on some future
day be ringed about with cannon smoke and thunder, and make itself a name
among strong towns.

The drum, at any rate, from its martial voice and notable physiological
effect, nay, even from its cumbrous and comical shape, stands alone among
the instruments of noise.  And if it be true, as I have heard it said,
that drums are covered with asses’ skin, what a picturesque irony is
there in that!  As if this long-suffering animal’s hide had not been
sufficiently belaboured during life, now by Lyonnese costermongers, now
by presumptuous Hebrew prophets, it must be stripped from his poor hinder
quarters after death, stretched on a drum, and beaten night after night
round the streets of every garrison town in Europe.  And up the heights
of Alma and Spicheren, and wherever death has his red flag a-flying, and
sounds his own potent tuck upon the cannons, there also must the
drummer-boy, hurrying with white face over fallen comrades, batter and
bemaul this slip of skin from the loins of peaceable donkeys.

Generally a man is never more uselessly employed than when he is at this
trick of bastinadoing asses’ hide.  We know what effect it has in life,
and how your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating.  But in this
state of mummy and melancholy survival of itself, when the hollow skin
reverberates to the drummer’s wrist, and each dub-a-dub goes direct to a
man’s heart, and puts madness there, and that disposition of the pulses
which we, in our big way of talking, nickname Heroism:—is there not
something in the nature of a revenge upon the donkey’s persecutors?  Of
old, he might say, you drubbed me up hill and down dale, and I must
endure; but now that I am dead, those dull thwacks that were scarcely
audible in country lanes, have become stirring music in front of the
brigade; and for every blow that you lay on my old greatcoat, you will
see a comrade stumble and fall.

Not long after the drums had passed the _café_, the _Cigarette_ and the
_Arethusa_ began to grow sleepy, and set out for the hotel, which was
only a door or two away.  But although we had been somewhat indifferent
to Landrecies, Landrecies had not been indifferent to us.  All day, we
learned, people had been running out between the squalls to visit our two
boats.  Hundreds of persons, so said report, although it fitted ill with
our idea of the town—hundreds of persons had inspected them where they
lay in a coal-shed.  We were becoming lions in Landrecies, who had been
only pedlars the night before in Pont.

And now, when we left the _café_, we were pursued and overtaken at the
hotel door by no less a person than the _Juge de Paix_: a functionary, as
far as I can make out, of the character of a Scots Sheriff-Substitute.
He gave us his card and invited us to sup with him on the spot, very
neatly, very gracefully, as Frenchmen can do these things.  It was for
the credit of Landrecies, said he; and although we knew very well how
little credit we could do the place, we must have been churlish fellows
to refuse an invitation so politely introduced.

The house of the Judge was close by; it was a well-appointed bachelor’s
establishment, with a curious collection of old brass warming-pans upon
the walls.  Some of these were most elaborately carved.  It seemed a
picturesque idea for a collector.  You could not help thinking how many
night-caps had wagged over these warming-pans in past generations; what
jests may have been made, and kisses taken, while they were in service;
and how often they had been uselessly paraded in the bed of death.  If
they could only speak, at what absurd, indecorous, and tragical scenes
had they not been present!

The wine was excellent.  When we made the Judge our compliments upon a
bottle, ‘I do not give it you as my worst,’ said he.  I wonder when
Englishmen will learn these hospitable graces.  They are worth learning;
they set off life, and make ordinary moments ornamental.

There were two other Landrecienses present.  One was the collector of
something or other, I forget what; the other, we were told, was the
principal notary of the place.  So it happened that we all five more or
less followed the law.  At this rate, the talk was pretty certain to
become technical.  The _Cigarette_ expounded the Poor Laws very
magisterially.  And a little later I found myself laying down the Scots
Law of Illegitimacy, of which I am glad to say I know nothing.  The
collector and the notary, who were both married men, accused the Judge,
who was a bachelor, of having started the subject.  He deprecated the
charge, with a conscious, pleased air, just like all the men I have ever
seen, be they French or English.  How strange that we should all, in our
unguarded moments, rather like to be thought a bit of a rogue with the
women!

As the evening went on, the wine grew more to my taste; the spirits
proved better than the wine; the company was genial.  This was the
highest water mark of popular favour on the whole cruise.  After all,
being in a Judge’s house, was there not something semi-official in the
tribute?  And so, remembering what a great country France is, we did full
justice to our entertainment.  Landrecies had been a long while asleep
before we returned to the hotel; and the sentries on the ramparts were
already looking for daybreak.



SAMBRE AND OISE CANAL: CANAL BOATS


NEXT day we made a late start in the rain.  The Judge politely escorted
us to the end of the lock under an umbrella.  We had now brought
ourselves to a pitch of humility in the matter of weather, not often
attained except in the Scottish Highlands.  A rag of blue sky or a
glimpse of sunshine set our hearts singing; and when the rain was not
heavy, we counted the day almost fair.

Long lines of barges lay one after another along the canal; many of them
looking mighty spruce and shipshape in their jerkin of Archangel tar
picked out with white and green.  Some carried gay iron railings, and
quite a parterre of flower-pots.  Children played on the decks, as
heedless of the rain as if they had been brought up on Loch Carron side;
men fished over the gunwale, some of them under umbrellas; women did
their washing; and every barge boasted its mongrel cur by way of
watch-dog.  Each one barked furiously at the canoes, running alongside
until he had got to the end of his own ship, and so passing on the word
to the dog aboard the next.  We must have seen something like a hundred
of these embarkations in the course of that day’s paddle, ranged one
after another like the houses in a street; and from not one of them were
we disappointed of this accompaniment.  It was like visiting a menagerie,
the _Cigarette_ remarked.

These little cities by the canal side had a very odd effect upon the
mind.  They seemed, with their flower-pots and smoking chimneys, their
washings and dinners, a rooted piece of nature in the scene; and yet if
only the canal below were to open, one junk after another would hoist
sail or harness horses and swim away into all parts of France; and the
impromptu hamlet would separate, house by house, to the four winds.  The
children who played together to-day by the Sambre and Oise Canal, each at
his own father’s threshold, when and where might they next meet?

For some time past the subject of barges had occupied a great deal of our
talk, and we had projected an old age on the canals of Europe.  It was to
be the most leisurely of progresses, now on a swift river at the tail of
a steam-boat, now waiting horses for days together on some inconsiderable
junction.  We should be seen pottering on deck in all the dignity of
years, our white beards falling into our laps.  We were ever to be busied
among paint-pots; so that there should be no white fresher, and no green
more emerald than ours, in all the navy of the canals.  There should be
books in the cabin, and tobacco-jars, and some old Burgundy as red as a
November sunset and as odorous as a violet in April.  There should be a
flageolet, whence the _Cigarette_, with cunning touch, should draw
melting music under the stars; or perhaps, laying that aside, upraise his
voice—somewhat thinner than of yore, and with here and there a quaver, or
call it a natural grace-note—in rich and solemn psalmody.

All this, simmering in my mind, set me wishing to go aboard one of these
ideal houses of lounging.  I had plenty to choose from, as I coasted one
after another, and the dogs bayed at me for a vagrant.  At last I saw a
nice old man and his wife looking at me with some interest, so I gave
them good-day and pulled up alongside.  I began with a remark upon their
dog, which had somewhat the look of a pointer; thence I slid into a
compliment on Madame’s flowers, and thence into a word in praise of their
way of life.

If you ventured on such an experiment in England you would get a slap in
the face at once.  The life would be shown to be a vile one, not without
a side shot at your better fortune.  Now, what I like so much in France
is the clear unflinching recognition by everybody of his own luck.  They
all know on which side their bread is buttered, and take a pleasure in
showing it to others, which is surely the better part of religion.  And
they scorn to make a poor mouth over their poverty, which I take to be
the better part of manliness.  I have heard a woman in quite a better
position at home, with a good bit of money in hand, refer to her own
child with a horrid whine as ‘a poor man’s child.’  I would not say such
a thing to the Duke of Westminster.  And the French are full of this
spirit of independence.  Perhaps it is the result of republican
institutions, as they call them.  Much more likely it is because there
are so few people really poor, that the whiners are not enough to keep
each other in countenance.

The people on the barge were delighted to hear that I admired their
state.  They understood perfectly well, they told me, how Monsieur envied
them.  Without doubt Monsieur was rich; and in that case he might make a
canal boat as pretty as a villa—_joli comme un château_.  And with that
they invited me on board their own water villa.  They apologised for
their cabin; they had not been rich enough to make it as it ought to be.

‘The fire should have been here, at this side,’ explained the husband.
‘Then one might have a writing-table in the middle—books—and’
(comprehensively) ‘all.  It would be quite coquettish—_ça serait
tout-à-fait coquet_.’  And he looked about him as though the improvements
were already made.  It was plainly not the first time that he had thus
beautified his cabin in imagination; and when next he makes a bit, I
should expect to see the writing-table in the middle.

Madame had three birds in a cage.  They were no great thing, she
explained.  Fine birds were so dear.  They had sought to get a
_Hollandais_ last winter in Rouen (Rouen? thought I; and is this whole
mansion, with its dogs and birds and smoking chimneys, so far a traveller
as that? and as homely an object among the cliffs and orchards of the
Seine as on the green plains of Sambre?)—they had sought to get a
_Hollandais_ last winter in Rouen; but these cost fifteen francs
apiece—picture it—fifteen francs!

‘_Pour un tout petit oiseau_—For quite a little bird,’ added the husband.

As I continued to admire, the apologetics died away, and the good people
began to brag of their barge, and their happy condition in life, as if
they had been Emperor and Empress of the Indies.  It was, in the Scots
phrase, a good hearing, and put me in good humour with the world.  If
people knew what an inspiriting thing it is to hear a man boasting, so
long as he boasts of what he really has, I believe they would do it more
freely and with a better grace.

They began to ask about our voyage.  You should have seen how they
sympathised.  They seemed half ready to give up their barge and follow
us.  But these _canaletti_ are only gypsies semi-domesticated.  The
semi-domestication came out in rather a pretty form.  Suddenly Madam’s
brow darkened.  ‘_Cependant_,’ she began, and then stopped; and then
began again by asking me if I were single?

‘Yes,’ said I.

‘And your friend who went by just now?’

He also was unmarried.

O then—all was well.  She could not have wives left alone at home; but
since there were no wives in the question, we were doing the best we
could.

‘To see about one in the world,’ said the husband, ‘_il n’y a que
ça_—there is nothing else worth while.  A man, look you, who sticks in
his own village like a bear,’ he went on, ‘—very well, he sees nothing.
And then death is the end of all.  And he has seen nothing.’

Madame reminded her husband of an Englishman who had come up this canal
in a steamer.

‘Perhaps Mr. Moens in the _Ytene_,’ I suggested.

‘That’s it,’ assented the husband.  ‘He had his wife and family with him,
and servants.  He came ashore at all the locks and asked the name of the
villages, whether from boatmen or lock-keepers; and then he wrote, wrote
them down.  Oh, he wrote enormously!  I suppose it was a wager.’

A wager was a common enough explanation for our own exploits, but it
seemed an original reason for taking notes.



THE OISE IN FLOOD


BEFORE nine next morning the two canoes were installed on a light country
cart at Étreux: and we were soon following them along the side of a
pleasant valley full of hop-gardens and poplars.  Agreeable villages lay
here and there on the slope of the hill; notably, Tupigny, with the
hop-poles hanging their garlands in the very street, and the houses
clustered with grapes.  There was a faint enthusiasm on our passage;
weavers put their heads to the windows; children cried out in ecstasy at
sight of the two ‘boaties’—_barguettes_: and bloused pedestrians, who
were acquainted with our charioteer, jested with him on the nature of his
freight.

We had a shower or two, but light and flying.  The air was clean and
sweet among all these green fields and green things growing.  There was
not a touch of autumn in the weather.  And when, at Vadencourt, we
launched from a little lawn opposite a mill, the sun broke forth and set
all the leaves shining in the valley of the Oise.

The river was swollen with the long rains.  From Vadencourt all the way
to Origny, it ran with ever-quickening speed, taking fresh heart at each
mile, and racing as though it already smelt the sea.  The water was
yellow and turbulent, swung with an angry eddy among half-submerged
willows, and made an angry clatter along stony shores.  The course kept
turning and turning in a narrow and well-timbered valley.  Now the river
would approach the side, and run griding along the chalky base of the
hill, and show us a few open colza-fields among the trees.  Now it would
skirt the garden-walls of houses, where we might catch a glimpse through
a doorway, and see a priest pacing in the chequered sunlight.  Again, the
foliage closed so thickly in front, that there seemed to be no issue;
only a thicket of willows, overtopped by elms and poplars, under which
the river ran flush and fleet, and where a kingfisher flew past like a
piece of the blue sky.  On these different manifestations the sun poured
its clear and catholic looks.  The shadows lay as solid on the swift
surface of the stream as on the stable meadows.  The light sparkled
golden in the dancing poplar leaves, and brought the hills into communion
with our eyes.  And all the while the river never stopped running or took
breath; and the reeds along the whole valley stood shivering from top to
toe.

There should be some myth (but if there is, I know it not) founded on the
shivering of the reeds.  There are not many things in nature more
striking to man’s eye.  It is such an eloquent pantomime of terror; and
to see such a number of terrified creatures taking sanctuary in every
nook along the shore, is enough to infect a silly human with alarm.
Perhaps they are only a-cold, and no wonder, standing waist-deep in the
stream.  Or perhaps they have never got accustomed to the speed and fury
of the river’s flux, or the miracle of its continuous body.  Pan once
played upon their forefathers; and so, by the hands of his river, he
still plays upon these later generations down all the valley of the Oise;
and plays the same air, both sweet and shrill, to tell us of the beauty
and the terror of the world.

The canoe was like a leaf in the current.  It took it up and shook it,
and carried it masterfully away, like a Centaur carrying off a nymph.  To
keep some command on our direction required hard and diligent plying of
the paddle.  The river was in such a hurry for the sea!  Every drop of
water ran in a panic, like as many people in a frightened crowd.  But
what crowd was ever so numerous, or so single-minded?  All the objects of
sight went by at a dance measure; the eyesight raced with the racing
river; the exigencies of every moment kept the pegs screwed so tight,
that our being quivered like a well-tuned instrument; and the blood shook
off its lethargy, and trotted through all the highways and byways of the
veins and arteries, and in and out of the heart, as if circulation were
but a holiday journey, and not the daily moil of threescore years and
ten.  The reeds might nod their heads in warning, and with tremulous
gestures tell how the river was as cruel as it was strong and cold, and
how death lurked in the eddy underneath the willows.  But the reeds had
to stand where they were; and those who stand still are always timid
advisers.  As for us, we could have shouted aloud.  If this lively and
beautiful river were, indeed, a thing of death’s contrivance, the old
ashen rogue had famously outwitted himself with us.  I was living three
to the minute.  I was scoring points against him every stroke of my
paddle, every turn of the stream.  I have rarely had better profit of my
life.

For I think we may look upon our little private war with death somewhat
in this light.  If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a
journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon
all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves.  And above all,
where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for
some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss.  So every bit of
brisk living, and above all when it is healthful, is just so much gained
upon the wholesale filcher, death.  We shall have the less in our
pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver.  A
swift stream is a favourite artifice of his, and one that brings him in a
comfortable thing per annum; but when he and I come to settle our
accounts, I shall whistle in his face for these hours upon the upper
Oise.

Towards afternoon we got fairly drunken with the sunshine and the
exhilaration of the pace.  We could no longer contain ourselves and our
content.  The canoes were too small for us; we must be out and stretch
ourselves on shore.  And so in a green meadow we bestowed our limbs on
the grass, and smoked deifying tobacco and proclaimed the world
excellent.  It was the last good hour of the day, and I dwell upon it
with extreme complacency.

On one side of the valley, high up on the chalky summit of the hill, a
ploughman with his team appeared and disappeared at regular intervals.
At each revelation he stood still for a few seconds against the sky: for
all the world (as the _Cigarette_ declared) like a toy Burns who should
have just ploughed up the Mountain Daisy.  He was the only living thing
within view, unless we are to count the river.

On the other side of the valley a group of red roofs and a belfry showed
among the foliage.  Thence some inspired bell-ringer made the afternoon
musical on a chime of bells.  There was something very sweet and taking
in the air he played; and we thought we had never heard bells speak so
intelligibly, or sing so melodiously, as these.  It must have been to
some such measure that the spinners and the young maids sang, ‘Come away,
Death,’ in the Shakespearian Illyria.  There is so often a threatening
note, something blatant and metallic, in the voice of bells, that I
believe we have fully more pain than pleasure from hearing them; but
these, as they sounded abroad, now high, now low, now with a plaintive
cadence that caught the ear like the burthen of a popular song, were
always moderate and tunable, and seemed to fall in with the spirit of
still, rustic places, like the noise of a waterfall or the babble of a
rookery in spring.  I could have asked the bell-ringer for his blessing,
good, sedate old man, who swung the rope so gently to the time of his
meditations.  I could have blessed the priest or the heritors, or whoever
may be concerned with such affairs in France, who had left these sweet
old bells to gladden the afternoon, and not held meetings, and made
collections, and had their names repeatedly printed in the local paper,
to rig up a peal of brand-new, brazen, Birmingham-hearted substitutes,
who should bombard their sides to the provocation of a brand-new
bell-ringer, and fill the echoes of the valley with terror and riot.

At last the bells ceased, and with their note the sun withdrew.  The
piece was at an end; shadow and silence possessed the valley of the Oise.
We took to the paddle with glad hearts, like people who have sat out a
noble performance and returned to work.  The river was more dangerous
here; it ran swifter, the eddies were more sudden and violent.  All the
way down we had had our fill of difficulties.  Sometimes it was a weir
which could be shot, sometimes one so shallow and full of stakes that we
must withdraw the boats from the water and carry them round.  But the
chief sort of obstacle was a consequence of the late high winds.  Every
two or three hundred yards a tree had fallen across the river, and
usually involved more than another in its fall.

Often there was free water at the end, and we could steer round the leafy
promontory and hear the water sucking and bubbling among the twigs.
Often, again, when the tree reached from bank to bank, there was room, by
lying close, to shoot through underneath, canoe and all.  Sometimes it
was necessary to get out upon the trunk itself and pull the boats across;
and sometimes, when the stream was too impetuous for this, there was
nothing for it but to land and ‘carry over.’  This made a fine series of
accidents in the day’s career, and kept us aware of ourselves.

Shortly after our re-embarkation, while I was leading by a long way, and
still full of a noble, exulting spirit in honour of the sun, the swift
pace, and the church bells, the river made one of its leonine pounces
round a corner, and I was aware of another fallen tree within a
stone-cast.  I had my backboard down in a trice, and aimed for a place
where the trunk seemed high enough above the water, and the branches not
too thick to let me slip below.  When a man has just vowed eternal
brotherhood with the universe, he is not in a temper to take great
determinations coolly, and this, which might have been a very important
determination for me, had not been taken under a happy star.  The tree
caught me about the chest, and while I was yet struggling to make less of
myself and get through, the river took the matter out of my hands, and
bereaved me of my boat.  The _Arethusa_ swung round broadside on, leaned
over, ejected so much of me as still remained on board, and thus
disencumbered, whipped under the tree, righted, and went merrily away
down stream.

I do not know how long it was before I scrambled on to the tree to which
I was left clinging, but it was longer than I cared about.  My thoughts
were of a grave and almost sombre character, but I still clung to my
paddle.  The stream ran away with my heels as fast as I could pull up my
shoulders, and I seemed, by the weight, to have all the water of the Oise
in my trousers-pockets.  You can never know, till you try it, what a dead
pull a river makes against a man.  Death himself had me by the heels, for
this was his last ambuscado, and he must now join personally in the fray.
And still I held to my paddle.  At last I dragged myself on to my stomach
on the trunk, and lay there a breathless sop, with a mingled sense of
humour and injustice.  A poor figure I must have presented to Burns upon
the hill-top with his team.  But there was the paddle in my hand.  On my
tomb, if ever I have one, I mean to get these words inscribed: ‘He clung
to his paddle.’

The _Cigarette_ had gone past a while before; for, as I might have
observed, if I had been a little less pleased with the universe at the
moment, there was a clear way round the tree-top at the farther side.  He
had offered his services to haul me out, but as I was then already on my
elbows, I had declined, and sent him down stream after the truant
_Arethusa_.  The stream was too rapid for a man to mount with one canoe,
let alone two, upon his hands.  So I crawled along the trunk to shore,
and proceeded down the meadows by the river-side.  I was so cold that my
heart was sore.  I had now an idea of my own why the reeds so bitterly
shivered.  I could have given any of them a lesson.  The _Cigarette_
remarked facetiously that he thought I was ‘taking exercise’ as I drew
near, until he made out for certain that I was only twittering with cold.
I had a rub down with a towel, and donned a dry suit from the
india-rubber bag.  But I was not my own man again for the rest of the
voyage.  I had a queasy sense that I wore my last dry clothes upon my
body.  The struggle had tired me; and perhaps, whether I knew it or not,
I was a little dashed in spirit.  The devouring element in the universe
had leaped out against me, in this green valley quickened by a running
stream.  The bells were all very pretty in their way, but I had heard
some of the hollow notes of Pan’s music.  Would the wicked river drag me
down by the heels, indeed? and look so beautiful all the time?  Nature’s
good-humour was only skin-deep after all.

There was still a long way to go by the winding course of the stream, and
darkness had fallen, and a late bell was ringing in Origny
Sainte-Benoîte, when we arrived.



ORIGNY SAINTE-BENOÎTE


A BY-DAY


THE next day was Sunday, and the church bells had little rest; indeed, I
do not think I remember anywhere else so great a choice of services as
were here offered to the devout.  And while the bells made merry in the
sunshine, all the world with his dog was out shooting among the beets and
colza.

In the morning a hawker and his wife went down the street at a foot-pace,
singing to a very slow, lamentable music ‘_O France_, _mes amours_.’  It
brought everybody to the door; and when our landlady called in the man to
buy the words, he had not a copy of them left.  She was not the first nor
the second who had been taken with the song.  There is something very
pathetic in the love of the French people, since the war, for dismal
patriotic music-making.  I have watched a forester from Alsace while some
one was singing ‘_Les malheurs de la France_,’ at a baptismal party in
the neighbourhood of Fontainebleau.  He arose from the table and took his
son aside, close by where I was standing.  ‘Listen, listen,’ he said,
bearing on the boy’s shoulder, ‘and remember this, my son.’  A little
after he went out into the garden suddenly, and I could hear him sobbing
in the darkness.

The humiliation of their arms and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine made a
sore pull on the endurance of this sensitive people; and their hearts are
still hot, not so much against Germany as against the Empire.  In what
other country will you find a patriotic ditty bring all the world into
the street?  But affliction heightens love; and we shall never know we
are Englishmen until we have lost India.  Independent America is still
the cross of my existence; I cannot think of Farmer George without
abhorrence; and I never feel more warmly to my own land than when I see
the Stars and Stripes, and remember what our empire might have been.

The hawker’s little book, which I purchased, was a curious mixture.  Side
by side with the flippant, rowdy nonsense of the Paris music-halls, there
were many pastoral pieces, not without a touch of poetry, I thought, and
instinct with the brave independence of the poorer class in France.
There you might read how the wood-cutter gloried in his axe, and the
gardener scorned to be ashamed of his spade.  It was not very well
written, this poetry of labour, but the pluck of the sentiment redeemed
what was weak or wordy in the expression.  The martial and the patriotic
pieces, on the other hand, were tearful, womanish productions one and
all.  The poet had passed under the Caudine Forks; he sang for an army
visiting the tomb of its old renown, with arms reversed; and sang not of
victory, but of death.  There was a number in the hawker’s collection
called ‘Conscrits Français,’ which may rank among the most dissuasive
war-lyrics on record.  It would not be possible to fight at all in such a
spirit.  The bravest conscript would turn pale if such a ditty were
struck up beside him on the morning of battle; and whole regiments would
pile their arms to its tune.

If Fletcher of Saltoun is in the right about the influence of national
songs, you would say France was come to a poor pass.  But the thing will
work its own cure, and a sound-hearted and courageous people weary at
length of snivelling over their disasters.  Already Paul Déroulède has
written some manly military verses.  There is not much of the trumpet
note in them, perhaps, to stir a man’s heart in his bosom; they lack the
lyrical elation, and move slowly; but they are written in a grave,
honourable, stoical spirit, which should carry soldiers far in a good
cause.  One feels as if one would like to trust Déroulède with something.
It will be happy if he can so far inoculate his fellow-countrymen that
they may be trusted with their own future.  And in the meantime, here is
an antidote to ‘French Conscripts’ and much other doleful versification.

We had left the boats over-night in the custody of one whom we shall call
Carnival.  I did not properly catch his name, and perhaps that was not
unfortunate for him, as I am not in a position to hand him down with
honour to posterity.  To this person’s premises we strolled in the course
of the day, and found quite a little deputation inspecting the canoes.
There was a stout gentleman with a knowledge of the river, which he
seemed eager to impart.  There was a very elegant young gentleman in a
black coat, with a smattering of English, who led the talk at once to the
Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.  And then there were three handsome girls
from fifteen to twenty; and an old gentleman in a blouse, with no teeth
to speak of, and a strong country accent.  Quite the pick of Origny, I
should suppose.

The _Cigarette_ had some mysteries to perform with his rigging in the
coach-house; so I was left to do the parade single-handed.  I found
myself very much of a hero whether I would or not.  The girls were full
of little shudderings over the dangers of our journey.  And I thought it
would be ungallant not to take my cue from the ladies.  My mishap of
yesterday, told in an off-hand way, produced a deep sensation.  It was
Othello over again, with no less than three Desdemonas and a sprinkling
of sympathetic senators in the background.  Never were the canoes more
flattered, or flattered more adroitly.

‘It is like a violin,’ cried one of the girls in an ecstasy.

‘I thank you for the word, mademoiselle,’ said I.  ‘All the more since
there are people who call out to me that it is like a coffin.’

‘Oh! but it is really like a violin.  It is finished like a violin,’ she
went on.

‘And polished like a violin,’ added a senator.

‘One has only to stretch the cords,’ concluded another, ‘and then
tum-tumty-tum’—he imitated the result with spirit.

Was not this a graceful little ovation?  Where this people finds the
secret of its pretty speeches, I cannot imagine; unless the secret should
be no other than a sincere desire to please? But then no disgrace is
attached in France to saying a thing neatly; whereas in England, to talk
like a book is to give in one’s resignation to society.

The old gentleman in the blouse stole into the coach-house, and somewhat
irrelevantly informed the _Cigarette_ that he was the father of the three
girls and four more: quite an exploit for a Frenchman.

‘You are very fortunate,’ answered the _Cigarette_ politely.

And the old gentleman, having apparently gained his point, stole away
again.

We all got very friendly together.  The girls proposed to start with us
on the morrow, if you please!  And, jesting apart, every one was anxious
to know the hour of our departure.  Now, when you are going to crawl into
your canoe from a bad launch, a crowd, however friendly, is undesirable;
and so we told them not before twelve, and mentally determined to be off
by ten at latest.

Towards evening, we went abroad again to post some letters.  It was cool
and pleasant; the long village was quite empty, except for one or two
urchins who followed us as they might have followed a menagerie; the
hills and the tree-tops looked in from all sides through the clear air;
and the bells were chiming for yet another service.

Suddenly we sighted the three girls standing, with a fourth sister, in
front of a shop on the wide selvage of the roadway.  We had been very
merry with them a little while ago, to be sure.  But what was the
etiquette of Origny?  Had it been a country road, of course we should
have spoken to them; but here, under the eyes of all the gossips, ought
we to do even as much as bow?  I consulted the _Cigarette_.

‘Look,’ said he.

I looked.  There were the four girls on the same spot; but now four backs
were turned to us, very upright and conscious.  Corporal Modesty had
given the word of command, and the well-disciplined picket had gone
right-about-face like a single person.  They maintained this formation
all the while we were in sight; but we heard them tittering among
themselves, and the girl whom we had not met laughed with open mouth, and
even looked over her shoulder at the enemy.  I wonder was it altogether
modesty after all? or in part a sort of country provocation?

As we were returning to the inn, we beheld something floating in the
ample field of golden evening sky, above the chalk cliffs and the trees
that grow along their summit.  It was too high up, too large, and too
steady for a kite; and as it was dark, it could not be a star.  For
although a star were as black as ink and as rugged as a walnut, so amply
does the sun bathe heaven with radiance, that it would sparkle like a
point of light for us.  The village was dotted with people with their
heads in air; and the children were in a bustle all along the street and
far up the straight road that climbs the hill, where we could still see
them running in loose knots.  It was a balloon, we learned, which had
left Saint Quentin at half-past five that evening.  Mighty composedly the
majority of the grown people took it.  But we were English, and were soon
running up the hill with the best.  Being travellers ourselves in a small
way, we would fain have seen these other travellers alight.

The spectacle was over by the time we gained the top of the hill.  All
the gold had withered out of the sky, and the balloon had disappeared.
Whither? I ask myself; caught up into the seventh heaven? or come safely
to land somewhere in that blue uneven distance, into which the roadway
dipped and melted before our eyes?  Probably the aeronauts were already
warming themselves at a farm chimney, for they say it is cold in these
unhomely regions of the air.  The night fell swiftly.  Roadside trees and
disappointed sightseers, returning through the meadows, stood out in
black against a margin of low red sunset.  It was cheerfuller to face the
other way, and so down the hill we went, with a full moon, the colour of
a melon, swinging high above the wooded valley, and the white cliffs
behind us faintly reddened by the fire of the chalk kilns.

The lamps were lighted, and the salads were being made in Origny
Sainte-Benoîte by the river.



THE COMPANY AT TABLE


ALTHOUGH we came late for dinner, the company at table treated us to
sparkling wine.  ‘That is how we are in France,’ said one.  ‘Those who
sit down with us are our friends.’ And the rest applauded.

They were three altogether, and an odd trio to pass the Sunday with.

Two of them were guests like ourselves, both men of the north.  One
ruddy, and of a full habit of body, with copious black hair and beard,
the intrepid hunter of France, who thought nothing so small, not even a
lark or a minnow, but he might vindicate his prowess by its capture.  For
such a great, healthy man, his hair flourishing like Samson’s, his
arteries running buckets of red blood, to boast of these infinitesimal
exploits, produced a feeling of disproportion in the world, as when a
steam-hammer is set to cracking nuts.  The other was a quiet, subdued
person, blond and lymphatic and sad, with something the look of a Dane:
‘_Tristes têtes de Danois_!’ as Gaston Lafenestre used to say.

I must not let that name go by without a word for the best of all good
fellows now gone down into the dust.  We shall never again see Gaston in
his forest costume—he was Gaston with all the world, in affection, not in
disrespect—nor hear him wake the echoes of Fontainebleau with the
woodland horn.  Never again shall his kind smile put peace among all
races of artistic men, and make the Englishman at home in France.  Never
more shall the sheep, who were not more innocent at heart than he, sit
all unconsciously for his industrious pencil.  He died too early, at the
very moment when he was beginning to put forth fresh sprouts, and blossom
into something worthy of himself; and yet none who knew him will think he
lived in vain.  I never knew a man so little, for whom yet I had so much
affection; and I find it a good test of others, how much they had learned
to understand and value him.  His was indeed a good influence in life
while he was still among us; he had a fresh laugh, it did you good to see
him; and however sad he may have been at heart, he always bore a bold and
cheerful countenance, and took fortune’s worst as it were the showers of
spring.  But now his mother sits alone by the side of Fontainebleau
woods, where he gathered mushrooms in his hardy and penurious youth.

Many of his pictures found their way across the Channel: besides those
which were stolen, when a dastardly Yankee left him alone in London with
two English pence, and perhaps twice as many words of English.  If any
one who reads these lines should have a scene of sheep, in the manner of
Jacques, with this fine creature’s signature, let him tell himself that
one of the kindest and bravest of men has lent a hand to decorate his
lodging.  There may be better pictures in the National Gallery; but not a
painter among the generations had a better heart.  Precious in the sight
of the Lord of humanity, the Psalms tell us, is the death of his saints.
It had need to be precious; for it is very costly, when by the stroke, a
mother is left desolate, and the peace-maker, and _peace-looker_, of a
whole society is laid in the ground with Cæsar and the Twelve Apostles.

There is something lacking among the oaks of Fontainebleau; and when the
dessert comes in at Barbizon, people look to the door for a figure that
is gone.

The third of our companions at Origny was no less a person than the
landlady’s husband: not properly the landlord, since he worked himself in
a factory during the day, and came to his own house at evening as a
guest: a man worn to skin and bone by perpetual excitement, with baldish
head, sharp features, and swift, shining eyes.  On Saturday, describing
some paltry adventure at a duck-hunt, he broke a plate into a score of
fragments.  Whenever he made a remark, he would look all round the table
with his chin raised, and a spark of green light in either eye, seeking
approval.  His wife appeared now and again in the doorway of the room,
where she was superintending dinner, with a ‘Henri, you forget yourself,’
or a ‘Henri, you can surely talk without making such a noise.’  Indeed,
that was what the honest fellow could not do.  On the most trifling
matter his eyes kindled, his fist visited the table, and his voice rolled
abroad in changeful thunder.  I never saw such a petard of a man; I think
the devil was in him.  He had two favourite expressions: ‘it is logical,’
or illogical, as the case might be: and this other, thrown out with a
certain bravado, as a man might unfurl a banner, at the beginning of many
a long and sonorous story: ‘I am a proletarian, you see.’  Indeed, we saw
it very well.  God forbid that ever I should find him handling a gun in
Paris streets!  That will not be a good moment for the general public.

I thought his two phrases very much represented the good and evil of his
class, and to some extent of his country.  It is a strong thing to say
what one is, and not be ashamed of it; even although it be in doubtful
taste to repeat the statement too often in one evening.  I should not
admire it in a duke, of course; but as times go, the trait is honourable
in a workman.  On the other hand, it is not at all a strong thing to put
one’s reliance upon logic; and our own logic particularly, for it is
generally wrong.  We never know where we are to end, if once we begin
following words or doctors.  There is an upright stock in a man’s own
heart, that is trustier than any syllogism; and the eyes, and the
sympathies and appetites, know a thing or two that have never yet been
stated in controversy.  Reasons are as plentiful as blackberries; and,
like fisticuffs, they serve impartially with all sides.  Doctrines do not
stand or fall by their proofs, and are only logical in so far as they are
cleverly put.  An able controversialist no more than an able general
demonstrates the justice of his cause.  But France is all gone wandering
after one or two big words; it will take some time before they can be
satisfied that they are no more than words, however big; and when once
that is done, they will perhaps find logic less diverting.

The conversation opened with details of the day’s shooting.  When all the
sportsmen of a village shoot over the village territory _pro indiviso_,
it is plain that many questions of etiquette and priority must arise.

‘Here now,’ cried the landlord, brandishing a plate, ‘here is a field of
beet-root.  Well.  Here am I then.  I advance, do I not?  _Eh bien_!
_sacristi_,’ and the statement, waxing louder, rolls off into a
reverberation of oaths, the speaker glaring about for sympathy, and
everybody nodding his head to him in the name of peace.

The ruddy Northman told some tales of his own prowess in keeping order:
notably one of a Marquis.

‘Marquis,’ I said, ‘if you take another step I fire upon you.  You have
committed a dirtiness, Marquis.’

Whereupon, it appeared, the Marquis touched his cap and withdrew.

The landlord applauded noisily.  ‘It was well done,’ he said.  ‘He did
all that he could.  He admitted he was wrong.’  And then oath upon oath.
He was no marquis-lover either, but he had a sense of justice in him,
this proletarian host of ours.

From the matter of hunting, the talk veered into a general comparison of
Paris and the country.  The proletarian beat the table like a drum in
praise of Paris.  ‘What is Paris?  Paris is the cream of France.  There
are no Parisians: it is you and I and everybody who are Parisians.  A man
has eighty chances per cent. to get on in the world in Paris.’  And he
drew a vivid sketch of the workman in a den no bigger than a dog-hutch,
making articles that were to go all over the world.  ‘_Eh bien_, _quoi_,
_c’est magnifique_, _ca_!’ cried he.

The sad Northman interfered in praise of a peasant’s life; he thought
Paris bad for men and women; ‘_centralisation_,’ said he—

But the landlord was at his throat in a moment.  It was all logical, he
showed him; and all magnificent.  ‘What a spectacle!  What a glance for
an eye!’  And the dishes reeled upon the table under a cannonade of
blows.

Seeking to make peace, I threw in a word in praise of the liberty of
opinion in France.  I could hardly have shot more amiss.  There was an
instant silence, and a great wagging of significant heads.  They did not
fancy the subject, it was plain; but they gave me to understand that the
sad Northman was a martyr on account of his views.  ‘Ask him a bit,’ said
they.  ‘Just ask him.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said he in his quiet way, answering me, although I had not
spoken, ‘I am afraid there is less liberty of opinion in France than you
may imagine.’  And with that he dropped his eyes, and seemed to consider
the subject at an end.

Our curiosity was mightily excited at this.  How, or why, or when, was
this lymphatic bagman martyred?  We concluded at once it was on some
religious question, and brushed up our memories of the Inquisition, which
were principally drawn from Poe’s horrid story, and the sermon in
_Tristram Shandy_, I believe.

On the morrow we had an opportunity of going further into the question;
for when we rose very early to avoid a sympathising deputation at our
departure, we found the hero up before us.  He was breaking his fast on
white wine and raw onions, in order to keep up the character of martyr, I
conclude.  We had a long conversation, and made out what we wanted in
spite of his reserve.  But here was a truly curious circumstance.  It
seems possible for two Scotsmen and a Frenchman to discuss during a long
half-hour, and each nationality have a different idea in view throughout.
It was not till the very end that we discovered his heresy had been
political, or that he suspected our mistake.  The terms and spirit in
which he spoke of his political beliefs were, in our eyes, suited to
religious beliefs.  And _vice versâ_.

Nothing could be more characteristic of the two countries.  Politics are
the religion of France; as Nanty Ewart would have said, ‘A d-d bad
religion’; while we, at home, keep most of our bitterness for little
differences about a hymn-book, or a Hebrew word which perhaps neither of
the parties can translate.  And perhaps the misconception is typical of
many others that may never be cleared up: not only between people of
different race, but between those of different sex.

As for our friend’s martyrdom, he was a Communist, or perhaps only a
Communard, which is a very different thing; and had lost one or more
situations in consequence.  I think he had also been rejected in
marriage; but perhaps he had a sentimental way of considering business
which deceived me.  He was a mild, gentle creature, anyway; and I hope he
has got a better situation, and married a more suitable wife since then.



DOWN THE OISE: TO MOY


CARNIVAL notoriously cheated us at first.  Finding us easy in our ways,
he regretted having let us off so cheaply; and taking me aside, told me a
cock-and-bull story with the moral of another five francs for the
narrator.  The thing was palpably absurd; but I paid up, and at once
dropped all friendliness of manner, and kept him in his place as an
inferior with freezing British dignity.  He saw in a moment that he had
gone too far, and killed a willing horse; his face fell; I am sure he
would have refunded if he could only have thought of a decent pretext.
He wished me to drink with him, but I would none of his drinks.  He grew
pathetically tender in his professions; but I walked beside him in
silence or answered him in stately courtesies; and when we got to the
landing-place, passed the word in English slang to the _Cigarette_.

In spite of the false scent we had thrown out the day before, there must
have been fifty people about the bridge.  We were as pleasant as we could
be with all but Carnival.  We said good-bye, shaking hands with the old
gentleman who knew the river and the young gentleman who had a smattering
of English; but never a word for Carnival.  Poor Carnival! here was a
humiliation.  He who had been so much identified with the canoes, who had
given orders in our name, who had shown off the boats and even the
boatmen like a private exhibition of his own, to be now so publicly
shamed by the lions of his caravan!  I never saw anybody look more
crestfallen than he.  He hung in the background, coming timidly forward
ever and again as he thought he saw some symptom of a relenting humour,
and falling hurriedly back when he encountered a cold stare.  Let us hope
it will be a lesson to him.

I would not have mentioned Carnival’s peccadillo had not the thing been
so uncommon in France.  This, for instance, was the only case of
dishonesty or even sharp practice in our whole voyage.  We talk very much
about our honesty in England.  It is a good rule to be on your guard
wherever you hear great professions about a very little piece of virtue.
If the English could only hear how they are spoken of abroad, they might
confine themselves for a while to remedying the fact; and perhaps even
when that was done, give us fewer of their airs.

The young ladies, the graces of Origny, were not present at our start,
but when we got round to the second bridge, behold, it was black with
sightseers!  We were loudly cheered, and for a good way below, young lads
and lasses ran along the bank still cheering.  What with current and
paddling, we were flashing along like swallows.  It was no joke to keep
up with us upon the woody shore.  But the girls picked up their skirts,
as if they were sure they had good ankles, and followed until their
breath was out.  The last to weary were the three graces and a couple of
companions; and just as they too had had enough, the foremost of the
three leaped upon a tree-stump and kissed her hand to the canoeists.  Not
Diana herself, although this was more of a Venus after all, could have
done a graceful thing more gracefully.  ‘Come back again!’ she cried; and
all the others echoed her; and the hills about Origny repeated the words,
‘Come back.’  But the river had us round an angle in a twinkling, and we
were alone with the green trees and running water.

Come back?  There is no coming back, young ladies, on the impetuous
stream of life.

    ‘The merchant bows unto the seaman’s star,
    The ploughman from the sun his season takes.’

And we must all set our pocket-watches by the clock of fate.  There is a
headlong, forthright tide, that bears away man with his fancies like a
straw, and runs fast in time and space.  It is full of curves like this,
your winding river of the Oise; and lingers and returns in pleasant
pastorals; and yet, rightly thought upon, never returns at all.  For
though it should revisit the same acre of meadow in the same hour, it
will have made an ample sweep between-whiles; many little streams will
have fallen in; many exhalations risen towards the sun; and even although
it were the same acre, it will no more be the same river of Oise.  And
thus, O graces of Origny, although the wandering fortune of my life
should carry me back again to where you await death’s whistle by the
river, that will not be the old I who walks the street; and those wives
and mothers, say, will those be you?

There was never any mistake about the Oise, as a matter of fact.  In
these upper reaches it was still in a prodigious hurry for the sea.  It
ran so fast and merrily, through all the windings of its channel, that I
strained my thumb, fighting with the rapids, and had to paddle all the
rest of the way with one hand turned up.  Sometimes it had to serve
mills; and being still a little river, ran very dry and shallow in the
meanwhile.  We had to put our legs out of the boat, and shove ourselves
off the sand of the bottom with our feet.  And still it went on its way
singing among the poplars, and making a green valley in the world.  After
a good woman, and a good book, and tobacco, there is nothing so agreeable
on earth as a river.  I forgave it its attempt on my life; which was
after all one part owing to the unruly winds of heaven that had blown
down the tree, one part to my own mismanagement, and only a third part to
the river itself, and that not out of malice, but from its great
preoccupation over its business of getting to the sea.  A difficult
business, too; for the détours it had to make are not to be counted.  The
geographers seem to have given up the attempt; for I found no map
represent the infinite contortion of its course.  A fact will say more
than any of them.  After we had been some hours, three if I mistake not,
flitting by the trees at this smooth, break-neck gallop, when we came
upon a hamlet and asked where we were, we had got no farther than four
kilometres (say two miles and a half) from Origny.  If it were not for
the honour of the thing (in the Scots saying), we might almost as well
have been standing still.

We lunched on a meadow inside a parallelogram of poplars.  The leaves
danced and prattled in the wind all round about us.  The river hurried on
meanwhile, and seemed to chide at our delay.  Little we cared.  The river
knew where it was going; not so we: the less our hurry, where we found
good quarters and a pleasant theatre for a pipe.  At that hour,
stockbrokers were shouting in Paris Bourse for two or three per cent.;
but we minded them as little as the sliding stream, and sacrificed a
hecatomb of minutes to the gods of tobacco and digestion.  Hurry is the
resource of the faithless.  Where a man can trust his own heart, and
those of his friends, to-morrow is as good as to-day.  And if he die in
the meanwhile, why then, there he dies, and the question is solved.

We had to take to the canal in the course of the afternoon; because,
where it crossed the river, there was, not a bridge, but a siphon.  If it
had not been for an excited fellow on the bank, we should have paddled
right into the siphon, and thenceforward not paddled any more.  We met a
man, a gentleman, on the tow-path, who was much interested in our cruise.
And I was witness to a strange seizure of lying suffered by the
_Cigarette_: who, because his knife came from Norway, narrated all sorts
of adventures in that country, where he has never been.  He was quite
feverish at the end, and pleaded demoniacal possession.

Moy (pronounce Moÿ) was a pleasant little village, gathered round a
château in a moat.  The air was perfumed with hemp from neighbouring
fields.  At the Golden Sheep we found excellent entertainment.  German
shells from the siege of La Fère, Nürnberg figures, gold-fish in a bowl,
and all manner of knick-knacks, embellished the public room.  The
landlady was a stout, plain, short-sighted, motherly body, with something
not far short of a genius for cookery.  She had a guess of her excellence
herself.  After every dish was sent in, she would come and look on at the
dinner for a while, with puckered, blinking eyes.  ‘_C’est bon_,
_n’est-ce pas_?’ she would say; and when she had received a proper
answer, she disappeared into the kitchen.  That common French dish,
partridge and cabbages, became a new thing in my eyes at the Golden
Sheep; and many subsequent dinners have bitterly disappointed me in
consequence.  Sweet was our rest in the Golden Sheep at Moy.



LA FÈRE OF CURSED MEMORY


WE lingered in Moy a good part of the day, for we were fond of being
philosophical, and scorned long journeys and early starts on principle.
The place, moreover, invited to repose.  People in elaborate shooting
costumes sallied from the château with guns and game-bags; and this was a
pleasure in itself, to remain behind while these elegant pleasure-seekers
took the first of the morning.  In this way, all the world may be an
aristocrat, and play the duke among marquises, and the reigning monarch
among dukes, if he will only outvie them in tranquillity.  An
imperturbable demeanour comes from perfect patience.  Quiet minds cannot
be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their
own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.

We made a very short day of it to La Fère; but the dusk was falling, and
a small rain had begun before we stowed the boats.  La Fère is a
fortified town in a plain, and has two belts of rampart.  Between the
first and the second extends a region of waste land and cultivated
patches.  Here and there along the wayside were posters forbidding
trespass in the name of military engineering.  At last, a second gateway
admitted us to the town itself.  Lighted windows looked gladsome, whiffs
of comfortable cookery came abroad upon the air.  The town was full of
the military reserve, out for the French Autumn Manœuvres, and the
reservists walked speedily and wore their formidable great-coats.  It was
a fine night to be within doors over dinner, and hear the rain upon the
windows.

The _Cigarette_ and I could not sufficiently congratulate each other on
the prospect, for we had been told there was a capital inn at La Fère.
Such a dinner as we were going to eat! such beds as we were to sleep
in!—and all the while the rain raining on houseless folk over all the
poplared countryside!  It made our mouths water.  The inn bore the name
of some woodland animal, stag, or hart, or hind, I forget which.  But I
shall never forget how spacious and how eminently habitable it looked as
we drew near.  The carriage entry was lighted up, not by intention, but
from the mere superfluity of fire and candle in the house.  A rattle of
many dishes came to our ears; we sighted a great field of table-cloth;
the kitchen glowed like a forge and smelt like a garden of things to eat.

Into this, the inmost shrine and physiological heart of a hostelry, with
all its furnaces in action, and all its dressers charged with viands, you
are now to suppose us making our triumphal entry, a pair of damp
rag-and-bone men, each with a limp india-rubber bag upon his arm.  I do
not believe I have a sound view of that kitchen; I saw it through a sort
of glory: but it seemed to me crowded with the snowy caps of cookmen, who
all turned round from their saucepans and looked at us with surprise.
There was no doubt about the landlady, however: there she was, heading
her army, a flushed, angry woman, full of affairs.  Her I asked
politely—too politely, thinks the _Cigarette_—if we could have beds: she
surveying us coldly from head to foot.

‘You will find beds in the suburb,’ she remarked.  ‘We are too busy for
the like of you.’

If we could make an entrance, change our clothes, and order a bottle of
wine, I felt sure we could put things right; so said I: ‘If we cannot
sleep, we may at least dine,’—and was for depositing my bag.

What a terrible convulsion of nature was that which followed in the
landlady’s face!  She made a run at us, and stamped her foot.

‘Out with you—out of the door!’ she screeched.  ‘_Sortez_! _sortez_!
_sortez par la porte_!’

I do not know how it happened, but next moment we were out in the rain
and darkness, and I was cursing before the carriage entry like a
disappointed mendicant.  Where were the boating men of Belgium? where the
Judge and his good wines? and where the graces of Origny?  Black, black
was the night after the firelit kitchen; but what was that to the
blackness in our heart?  This was not the first time that I have been
refused a lodging.  Often and often have I planned what I should do if
such a misadventure happened to me again.  And nothing is easier to plan.
But to put in execution, with the heart boiling at the indignity?  Try
it; try it only once; and tell me what you did.

It is all very fine to talk about tramps and morality.  Six hours of
police surveillance (such as I have had), or one brutal rejection from an
inn-door, change your views upon the subject like a course of lectures.
As long as you keep in the upper regions, with all the world bowing to
you as you go, social arrangements have a very handsome air; but once get
under the wheels, and you wish society were at the devil.  I will give
most respectable men a fortnight of such a life, and then I will offer
them twopence for what remains of their morality.

For my part, when I was turned out of the Stag, or the Hind, or whatever
it was, I would have set the temple of Diana on fire, if it had been
handy.  There was no crime complete enough to express my disapproval of
human institutions.  As for the _Cigarette_, I never knew a man so
altered.  ‘We have been taken for pedlars again,’ said he.  ‘Good God,
what it must be to be a pedlar in reality!’  He particularised a
complaint for every joint in the landlady’s body.  Timon was a
philanthropist alongside of him.  And then, when he was at the top of his
maledictory bent, he would suddenly break away and begin whimperingly to
commiserate the poor.  ‘I hope to God,’ he said,—and I trust the prayer
was answered,—‘that I shall never be uncivil to a pedlar.’  Was this the
imperturbable _Cigarette_?  This, this was he.  O change beyond report,
thought, or belief!

Meantime the heaven wept upon our heads; and the windows grew brighter as
the night increased in darkness.  We trudged in and out of La Fère
streets; we saw shops, and private houses where people were copiously
dining; we saw stables where carters’ nags had plenty of fodder and clean
straw; we saw no end of reservists, who were very sorry for themselves
this wet night, I doubt not, and yearned for their country homes; but had
they not each man his place in La Fère barracks?  And we, what had we?

There seemed to be no other inn in the whole town.  People gave us
directions, which we followed as best we could, generally with the effect
of bringing us out again upon the scene of our disgrace.  We were very
sad people indeed by the time we had gone all over La Fère; and the
_Cigarette_ had already made up his mind to lie under a poplar and sup
off a loaf of bread.  But right at the other end, the house next the
town-gate was full of light and bustle.  ‘_Bazin_, _aubergiste_, _loge à
pied_,’ was the sign.  ‘_À la Croix de Malte_.’  There were we received.

The room was full of noisy reservists drinking and smoking; and we were
very glad indeed when the drums and bugles began to go about the streets,
and one and all had to snatch shakoes and be off for the barracks.

Bazin was a tall man, running to fat: soft-spoken, with a delicate,
gentle face.  We asked him to share our wine; but he excused himself,
having pledged reservists all day long.  This was a very different type
of the workman-innkeeper from the bawling disputatious fellow at Origny.
He also loved Paris, where he had worked as a decorative painter in his
youth.  There were such opportunities for self-instruction there, he
said.  And if any one has read Zola’s description of the workman’s
marriage-party visiting the Louvre, they would do well to have heard
Bazin by way of antidote.  He had delighted in the museums in his youth.
‘One sees there little miracles of work,’ he said; ‘that is what makes a
good workman; it kindles a spark.’  We asked him how he managed in La
Fère.  ‘I am married,’ he said, ‘and I have my pretty children.  But
frankly, it is no life at all.  From morning to night I pledge a pack of
good enough fellows who know nothing.’

It faired as the night went on, and the moon came out of the clouds.  We
sat in front of the door, talking softly with Bazin.  At the guard-house
opposite, the guard was being for ever turned out, as trains of field
artillery kept clanking in out of the night, or patrols of horsemen
trotted by in their cloaks.  Madame Bazin came out after a while; she was
tired with her day’s work, I suppose; and she nestled up to her husband
and laid her head upon his breast.  He had his arm about her, and kept
gently patting her on the shoulder.  I think Bazin was right, and he was
really married.  Of how few people can the same be said!

Little did the Bazins know how much they served us.  We were charged for
candles, for food and drink, and for the beds we slept in.  But there was
nothing in the bill for the husband’s pleasant talk; nor for the pretty
spectacle of their married life.  And there was yet another item
unchanged.  For these people’s politeness really set us up again in our
own esteem.  We had a thirst for consideration; the sense of insult was
still hot in our spirits; and civil usage seemed to restore us to our
position in the world.

How little we pay our way in life!  Although we have our purses
continually in our hand, the better part of service goes still
unrewarded.  But I like to fancy that a grateful spirit gives as good as
it gets.  Perhaps the Bazins knew how much I liked them? perhaps they
also were healed of some slights by the thanks that I gave them in my
manner?



DOWN THE OISE: THROUGH THE GOLDEN VALLEY


BELOW La Fère the river runs through a piece of open pastoral country;
green, opulent, loved by breeders; called the Golden Valley.  In wide
sweeps, and with a swift and equable gallop, the ceaseless stream of
water visits and makes green the fields.  Kine, and horses, and little
humorous donkeys, browse together in the meadows, and come down in troops
to the river-side to drink.  They make a strange feature in the
landscape; above all when they are startled, and you see them galloping
to and fro with their incongruous forms and faces.  It gives a feeling as
of great, unfenced pampas, and the herds of wandering nations.  There
were hills in the distance upon either hand; and on one side, the river
sometimes bordered on the wooded spurs of Coucy and St. Gobain.

The artillery were practising at La Fère; and soon the cannon of heaven
joined in that loud play.  Two continents of cloud met and exchanged
salvos overhead; while all round the horizon we could see sunshine and
clear air upon the hills.  What with the guns and the thunder, the herds
were all frightened in the Golden Valley.  We could see them tossing
their heads, and running to and fro in timorous indecision; and when they
had made up their minds, and the donkey followed the horse, and the cow
was after the donkey, we could hear their hooves thundering abroad over
the meadows.  It had a martial sound, like cavalry charges.  And
altogether, as far as the ears are concerned, we had a very rousing
battle-piece performed for our amusement.

At last the guns and the thunder dropped off; the sun shone on the wet
meadows; the air was scented with the breath of rejoicing trees and
grass; and the river kept unweariedly carrying us on at its best pace.
There was a manufacturing district about Chauny; and after that the banks
grew so high that they hid the adjacent country, and we could see nothing
but clay sides, and one willow after another.  Only, here and there, we
passed by a village or a ferry, and some wondering child upon the bank
would stare after us until we turned the corner.  I daresay we continued
to paddle in that child’s dreams for many a night after.

Sun and shower alternated like day and night, making the hours longer by
their variety.  When the showers were heavy, I could feel each drop
striking through my jersey to my warm skin; and the accumulation of small
shocks put me nearly beside myself.  I decided I should buy a mackintosh
at Noyon.  It is nothing to get wet; but the misery of these individual
pricks of cold all over my body at the same instant of time made me flail
the water with my paddle like a madman.  The _Cigarette_ was greatly
amused by these ebullitions.  It gave him something else to look at
besides clay banks and willows.

All the time, the river stole away like a thief in straight places, or
swung round corners with an eddy; the willows nodded, and were undermined
all day long; the clay banks tumbled in; the Oise, which had been so many
centuries making the Golden Valley, seemed to have changed its fancy, and
be bent upon undoing its performance.  What a number of things a river
does, by simply following Gravity in the innocence of its heart!



NOYON CATHEDRAL


NOYON stands about a mile from the river, in a little plain surrounded by
wooded hills, and entirely covers an eminence with its tile roofs,
surmounted by a long, straight-backed cathedral with two stiff towers.
As we got into the town, the tile roofs seemed to tumble uphill one upon
another, in the oddest disorder; but for all their scrambling, they did
not attain above the knees of the cathedral, which stood, upright and
solemn, over all.  As the streets drew near to this presiding genius,
through the market-place under the Hôtel de Ville, they grew emptier and
more composed.  Blank walls and shuttered windows were turned to the
great edifice, and grass grew on the white causeway.  ‘Put off thy shoes
from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’
The Hôtel du Nord, nevertheless, lights its secular tapers within a
stone-cast of the church; and we had the superb east-end before our eyes
all morning from the window of our bedroom.  I have seldom looked on the
east-end of a church with more complete sympathy.  As it flanges out in
three wide terraces and settles down broadly on the earth, it looks like
the poop of some great old battle-ship.  Hollow-backed buttresses carry
vases, which figure for the stern lanterns.  There is a roll in the
ground, and the towers just appear above the pitch of the roof, as though
the good ship were bowing lazily over an Atlantic swell.  At any moment
it might be a hundred feet away from you, climbing the next billow.  At
any moment a window might open, and some old admiral thrust forth a
cocked hat, and proceed to take an observation.  The old admirals sail
the sea no longer; the old ships of battle are all broken up, and live
only in pictures; but this, that was a church before ever they were
thought upon, is still a church, and makes as brave an appearance by the
Oise.  The cathedral and the river are probably the two oldest things for
miles around; and certainly they have both a grand old age.

The Sacristan took us to the top of one of the towers, and showed us the
five bells hanging in their loft.  From above, the town was a tesselated
pavement of roofs and gardens; the old line of rampart was plainly
traceable; and the Sacristan pointed out to us, far across the plain, in
a bit of gleaming sky between two clouds, the towers of Château Coucy.

I find I never weary of great churches.  It is my favourite kind of
mountain scenery.  Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made
a cathedral: a thing as single and specious as a statue to the first
glance, and yet, on examination, as lively and interesting as a forest in
detail.  The height of spires cannot be taken by trigonometry; they
measure absurdly short, but how tall they are to the admiring eye!  And
where we have so many elegant proportions, growing one out of the other,
and all together into one, it seems as if proportion transcended itself,
and became something different and more imposing.  I could never fathom
how a man dares to lift up his voice to preach in a cathedral.  What is
he to say that will not be an anti-climax?  For though I have heard a
considerable variety of sermons, I never yet heard one that was so
expressive as a cathedral.  ’Tis the best preacher itself, and preaches
day and night; not only telling you of man’s art and aspirations in the
past, but convicting your own soul of ardent sympathies; or rather, like
all good preachers, it sets you preaching to yourself;—and every man is
his own doctor of divinity in the last resort.

As I sat outside of the hotel in the course of the afternoon, the sweet
groaning thunder of the organ floated out of the church like a summons.
I was not averse, liking the theatre so well, to sit out an act or two of
the play, but I could never rightly make out the nature of the service I
beheld.  Four or five priests and as many choristers were singing
_Miserere_ before the high altar when I went in.  There was no
congregation but a few old women on chairs and old men kneeling on the
pavement.  After a while a long train of young girls, walking two and
two, each with a lighted taper in her hand, and all dressed in black with
a white veil, came from behind the altar, and began to descend the nave;
the four first carrying a Virgin and child upon a table.  The priests and
choristers arose from their knees and followed after, singing ‘Ave Mary’
as they went.  In this order they made the circuit of the cathedral,
passing twice before me where I leaned against a pillar.  The priest who
seemed of most consequence was a strange, down-looking old man.  He kept
mumbling prayers with his lips; but as he looked upon me darkling, it did
not seem as if prayer were uppermost in his heart.  Two others, who bore
the burthen of the chaunt, were stout, brutal, military-looking men of
forty, with bold, over-fed eyes; they sang with some lustiness, and
trolled forth ‘Ave Mary’ like a garrison catch.  The little girls were
timid and grave.  As they footed slowly up the aisle, each one took a
moment’s glance at the Englishman; and the big nun who played marshal
fairly stared him out of countenance.  As for the choristers, from first
to last they misbehaved as only boys can misbehave; and cruelly marred
the performance with their antics.

I understood a great deal of the spirit of what went on.  Indeed it would
be difficult not to understand the _Miserere_, which I take to be the
composition of an atheist.  If it ever be a good thing to take such
despondency to heart, the _Miserere_ is the right music, and a cathedral
a fit scene.  So far I am at one with the Catholics:—an odd name for
them, after all?  But why, in God’s name, these holiday choristers? why
these priests who steal wandering looks about the congregation while they
feign to be at prayer? why this fat nun, who rudely arranges her
procession and shakes delinquent virgins by the elbow? why this spitting,
and snuffing, and forgetting of keys, and the thousand and one little
misadventures that disturb a frame of mind laboriously edified with
chaunts and organings?  In any play-house reverend fathers may see what
can be done with a little art, and how, to move high sentiments, it is
necessary to drill the supernumeraries and have every stool in its proper
place.

One other circumstance distressed me.  I could bear a _Miserere_ myself,
having had a good deal of open-air exercise of late; but I wished the old
people somewhere else.  It was neither the right sort of music nor the
right sort of divinity for men and women who have come through most
accidents by this time, and probably have an opinion of their own upon
the tragic element in life.  A person up in years can generally do his
own _Miserere_ for himself; although I notice that such an one often
prefers _Jubilate Deo_ for his ordinary singing.  On the whole, the most
religious exercise for the aged is probably to recall their own
experience; so many friends dead, so many hopes disappointed, so many
slips and stumbles, and withal so many bright days and smiling
providences; there is surely the matter of a very eloquent sermon in all
this.

On the whole, I was greatly solemnised.  In the little pictorial map of
our whole Inland Voyage, which my fancy still preserves, and sometimes
unrolls for the amusement of odd moments, Noyon cathedral figures on a
most preposterous scale, and must be nearly as large as a department.  I
can still see the faces of the priests as if they were at my elbow, and
hear _Ave Maria_, _ora pro nobis_, sounding through the church.  All
Noyon is blotted out for me by these superior memories; and I do not care
to say more about the place.  It was but a stack of brown roofs at the
best, where I believe people live very reputably in a quiet way; but the
shadow of the church falls upon it when the sun is low, and the five
bells are heard in all quarters, telling that the organ has begun.  If
ever I join the Church of Rome, I shall stipulate to be Bishop of Noyon
on the Oise.



DOWN THE OISE: TO COMPIÈGNE


THE most patient people grow weary at last with being continually wetted
with rain; except of course in the Scottish Highlands, where there are
not enough fine intervals to point the difference.  That was like to be
our case, the day we left Noyon.  I remember nothing of the voyage; it
was nothing but clay banks and willows, and rain; incessant, pitiless,
beating rain; until we stopped to lunch at a little inn at Pimprez, where
the canal ran very near the river.  We were so sadly drenched that the
landlady lit a few sticks in the chimney for our comfort; there we sat in
a steam of vapour, lamenting our concerns.  The husband donned a game-bag
and strode out to shoot; the wife sat in a far corner watching us.  I
think we were worth looking at.  We grumbled over the misfortune of La
Fère; we forecast other La Fères in the future;—although things went
better with the _Cigarette_ for spokesman; he had more aplomb altogether
than I; and a dull, positive way of approaching a landlady that carried
off the india-rubber bags.  Talking of La Fère put us talking of the
reservists.

‘Reservery,’ said he, ‘seems a pretty mean way to spend ones autumn
holiday.’

‘About as mean,’ returned I dejectedly, ‘as canoeing.’

‘These gentlemen travel for their pleasure?’ asked the landlady, with
unconscious irony.

It was too much.  The scales fell from our eyes.  Another wet day, it was
determined, and we put the boats into the train.

The weather took the hint.  That was our last wetting.  The afternoon
faired up: grand clouds still voyaged in the sky, but now singly, and
with a depth of blue around their path; and a sunset in the daintiest
rose and gold inaugurated a thick night of stars and a month of unbroken
weather.  At the same time, the river began to give us a better outlook
into the country.  The banks were not so high, the willows disappeared
from along the margin, and pleasant hills stood all along its course and
marked their profile on the sky.

In a little while the canal, coming to its last lock, began to discharge
its water-houses on the Oise; so that we had no lack of company to fear.
Here were all our old friends; the _Deo Gratias_ of Condé and the _Four
Sons of Aymon_ journeyed cheerily down stream along with us; we exchanged
waterside pleasantries with the steersman perched among the lumber, or
the driver hoarse with bawling to his horses; and the children came and
looked over the side as we paddled by.  We had never known all this while
how much we missed them; but it gave us a fillip to see the smoke from
their chimneys.

A little below this junction we made another meeting of yet more account.
For there we were joined by the Aisne, already a far-travelled river and
fresh out of Champagne.  Here ended the adolescence of the Oise; this was
his marriage day; thenceforward he had a stately, brimming march,
conscious of his own dignity and sundry dams.  He became a tranquil
feature in the scene.  The trees and towns saw themselves in him, as in a
mirror.  He carried the canoes lightly on his broad breast; there was no
need to work hard against an eddy: but idleness became the order of the
day, and mere straightforward dipping of the paddle, now on this side,
now on that, without intelligence or effort.  Truly we were coming into
halcyon weather upon all accounts, and were floated towards the sea like
gentlemen.

We made Compiègne as the sun was going down: a fine profile of a town
above the river.  Over the bridge, a regiment was parading to the drum.
People loitered on the quay, some fishing, some looking idly at the
stream.  And as the two boats shot in along the water, we could see them
pointing them out and speaking one to another.  We landed at a floating
lavatory, where the washerwomen were still beating the clothes.



AT COMPIÈGNE


WE put up at a big, bustling hotel in Compiègne, where nobody observed
our presence.

Reservery and general _militarismus_ (as the Germans call it) were
rampant.  A camp of conical white tents without the town looked like a
leaf out of a picture Bible; sword-belts decorated the walls of the
_cafés_; and the streets kept sounding all day long with military music.
It was not possible to be an Englishman and avoid a feeling of elation;
for the men who followed the drums were small, and walked shabbily.  Each
man inclined at his own angle, and jolted to his own convenience, as he
went.  There was nothing of the superb gait with which a regiment of tall
Highlanders moves behind its music, solemn and inevitable, like a natural
phenomenon.  Who that has seen it can forget the drum-major pacing in
front, the drummers’ tiger-skins, the pipers’ swinging plaids, the
strange elastic rhythm of the whole regiment footing it in time—and the
bang of the drum, when the brasses cease, and the shrill pipes take up
the martial story in their place?

A girl, at school in France, began to describe one of our regiments on
parade to her French schoolmates; and as she went on, she told me, the
recollection grew so vivid, she became so proud to be the countrywoman of
such soldiers, and so sorry to be in another country, that her voice
failed her and she burst into tears.  I have never forgotten that girl;
and I think she very nearly deserves a statue.  To call her a young lady,
with all its niminy associations, would be to offer her an insult.  She
may rest assured of one thing: although she never should marry a heroic
general, never see any great or immediate result of her life, she will
not have lived in vain for her native land.

But though French soldiers show to ill advantage on parade, on the march
they are gay, alert, and willing like a troop of fox-hunters.  I remember
once seeing a company pass through the forest of Fontainebleau, on the
Chailly road, between the Bas Bréau and the Reine Blanche.  One fellow
walked a little before the rest, and sang a loud, audacious marching
song.  The rest bestirred their feet, and even swung their muskets in
time.  A young officer on horseback had hard ado to keep his countenance
at the words.  You never saw anything so cheerful and spontaneous as
their gait; schoolboys do not look more eagerly at hare and hounds; and
you would have thought it impossible to tire such willing marchers.

My great delight in Compiègne was the town-hall.  I doted upon the
town-hall.  It is a monument of Gothic insecurity, all turreted, and
gargoyled, and slashed, and bedizened with half a score of architectural
fancies.  Some of the niches are gilt and painted; and in a great square
panel in the centre, in black relief on a gilt ground, Louis XII. rides
upon a pacing horse, with hand on hip and head thrown back.  There is
royal arrogance in every line of him; the stirruped foot projects
insolently from the frame; the eye is hard and proud; the very horse
seems to be treading with gratification over prostrate serfs, and to have
the breath of the trumpet in his nostrils.  So rides for ever, on the
front of the town-hall, the good king Louis XII., the father of his
people.

Over the king’s head, in the tall centre turret, appears the dial of a
clock; and high above that, three little mechanical figures, each one
with a hammer in his hand, whose business it is to chime out the hours
and halves and quarters for the burgesses of Compiègne.  The centre
figure has a gilt breast-plate; the two others wear gilt trunk-hose; and
they all three have elegant, flapping hats like cavaliers.  As the
quarter approaches, they turn their heads and look knowingly one to the
other; and then, _kling_ go the three hammers on three little bells
below.  The hour follows, deep and sonorous, from the interior of the
tower; and the gilded gentlemen rest from their labours with contentment.

I had a great deal of healthy pleasure from their manœuvres, and took
good care to miss as few performances as possible; and I found that even
the _Cigarette_, while he pretended to despise my enthusiasm, was more or
less a devotee himself.  There is something highly absurd in the
exposition of such toys to the outrages of winter on a housetop.  They
would be more in keeping in a glass case before a Nürnberg clock.  Above
all, at night, when the children are abed, and even grown people are
snoring under quilts, does it not seem impertinent to leave these
ginger-bread figures winking and tinkling to the stars and the rolling
moon?  The gargoyles may fitly enough twist their ape-like heads; fitly
enough may the potentate bestride his charger, like a centurion in an old
German print of the _Via Dolorosa_; but the toys should be put away in a
box among some cotton, until the sun rises, and the children are abroad
again to be amused.

In Compiègne post-office a great packet of letters awaited us; and the
authorities were, for this occasion only, so polite as to hand them over
upon application.

In some ways, our journey may be said to end with this letter-bag at
Compiègne.  The spell was broken.  We had partly come home from that
moment.

No one should have any correspondence on a journey; it is bad enough to
have to write; but the receipt of letters is the death of all holiday
feeling.

‘Out of my country and myself I go.’  I wish to take a dive among new
conditions for a while, as into another element.  I have nothing to do
with my friends or my affections for the time; when I came away, I left
my heart at home in a desk, or sent it forward with my portmanteau to
await me at my destination.  After my journey is over, I shall not fail
to read your admirable letters with the attention they deserve.  But I
have paid all this money, look you, and paddled all these strokes, for no
other purpose than to be abroad; and yet you keep me at home with your
perpetual communications.  You tug the string, and I feel that I am a
tethered bird.  You pursue me all over Europe with the little vexations
that I came away to avoid.  There is no discharge in the war of life, I
am well aware; but shall there not be so much as a week’s furlough?

We were up by six, the day we were to leave.  They had taken so little
note of us that I hardly thought they would have condescended on a bill.
But they did, with some smart particulars too; and we paid in a civilised
manner to an uninterested clerk, and went out of that hotel, with the
india-rubber bags, unremarked.  No one cared to know about us.  It is not
possible to rise before a village; but Compiègne was so grown a town,
that it took its ease in the morning; and we were up and away while it
was still in dressing-gown and slippers.  The streets were left to people
washing door-steps; nobody was in full dress but the cavaliers upon the
town-hall; they were all washed with dew, spruce in their gilding, and
full of intelligence and a sense of professional responsibility.  _Kling_
went they on the bells for the half-past six as we went by.  I took it
kind of them to make me this parting compliment; they never were in
better form, not even at noon upon a Sunday.

There was no one to see us off but the early washerwomen—early and
late—who were already beating the linen in their floating lavatory on the
river.  They were very merry and matutinal in their ways; plunged their
arms boldly in, and seemed not to feel the shock.  It would be
dispiriting to me, this early beginning and first cold dabble of a most
dispiriting day’s work.  But I believe they would have been as unwilling
to change days with us as we could be to change with them.  They crowded
to the door to watch us paddle away into the thin sunny mists upon the
river; and shouted heartily after us till we were through the bridge.



CHANGED TIMES


THERE is a sense in which those mists never rose from off our journey;
and from that time forth they lie very densely in my note-book.  As long
as the Oise was a small rural river, it took us near by people’s doors,
and we could hold a conversation with natives in the riparian fields.
But now that it had grown so wide, the life along shore passed us by at a
distance.  It was the same difference as between a great public highway
and a country by-path that wanders in and out of cottage gardens.  We now
lay in towns, where nobody troubled us with questions; we had floated
into civilised life, where people pass without salutation.  In sparsely
inhabited places, we make all we can of each encounter; but when it comes
to a city, we keep to ourselves, and never speak unless we have trodden
on a man’s toes.  In these waters we were no longer strange birds, and
nobody supposed we had travelled farther than from the last town.  I
remember, when we came into L’Isle Adam, for instance, how we met dozens
of pleasure-boats outing it for the afternoon, and there was nothing to
distinguish the true voyager from the amateur, except, perhaps, the
filthy condition of my sail.  The company in one boat actually thought
they recognised me for a neighbour.  Was there ever anything more
wounding?  All the romance had come down to that.  Now, on the upper
Oise, where nothing sailed as a general thing but fish, a pair of
canoeists could not be thus vulgarly explained away; we were strange and
picturesque intruders; and out of people’s wonder sprang a sort of light
and passing intimacy all along our route.  There is nothing but
tit-for-tat in this world, though sometimes it be a little difficult to
trace: for the scores are older than we ourselves, and there has never
yet been a settling-day since things were.  You get entertainment pretty
much in proportion as you give.  As long as we were a sort of odd
wanderers, to be stared at and followed like a quack doctor or a caravan,
we had no want of amusement in return; but as soon as we sank into
commonplace ourselves, all whom we met were similarly disenchanted.  And
here is one reason of a dozen, why the world is dull to dull persons.

In our earlier adventures there was generally something to do, and that
quickened us.  Even the showers of rain had a revivifying effect, and
shook up the brain from torpor.  But now, when the river no longer ran in
a proper sense, only glided seaward with an even, outright, but
imperceptible speed, and when the sky smiled upon us day after day
without variety, we began to slip into that golden doze of the mind which
follows upon much exercise in the open air.  I have stupefied myself in
this way more than once; indeed, I dearly love the feeling; but I never
had it to the same degree as when paddling down the Oise.  It was the
apotheosis of stupidity.

We ceased reading entirely.  Sometimes when I found a new paper, I took a
particular pleasure in reading a single number of the current novel; but
I never could bear more than three instalments; and even the second was a
disappointment.  As soon as the tale became in any way perspicuous, it
lost all merit in my eyes; only a single scene, or, as is the way with
these _feuilletons_, half a scene, without antecedent or consequence,
like a piece of a dream, had the knack of fixing my interest.  The less I
saw of the novel, the better I liked it: a pregnant reflection.  But for
the most part, as I said, we neither of us read anything in the world,
and employed the very little while we were awake between bed and dinner
in poring upon maps.  I have always been fond of maps, and can voyage in
an atlas with the greatest enjoyment.  The names of places are singularly
inviting; the contour of coasts and rivers is enthralling to the eye; and
to hit, in a map, upon some place you have heard of before, makes history
a new possession.  But we thumbed our charts, on these evenings, with the
blankest unconcern.  We cared not a fraction for this place or that.  We
stared at the sheet as children listen to their rattle; and read the
names of towns or villages to forget them again at once.  We had no
romance in the matter; there was nobody so fancy-free.  If you had taken
the maps away while we were studying them most intently, it is a fair bet
whether we might not have continued to study the table with the same
delight.

About one thing we were mightily taken up, and that was eating.  I think
I made a god of my belly.  I remember dwelling in imagination upon this
or that dish till my mouth watered; and long before we got in for the
night my appetite was a clamant, instant annoyance.  Sometimes we paddled
alongside for a while and whetted each other with gastronomical fancies
as we went.  Cake and sherry, a homely rejection, but not within reach
upon the Oise, trotted through my head for many a mile; and once, as we
were approaching Verberie, the _Cigarette_ brought my heart into my mouth
by the suggestion of oyster-patties and Sauterne.

I suppose none of us recognise the great part that is played in life by
eating and drinking.  The appetite is so imperious that we can stomach
the least interesting viands, and pass off a dinner-hour thankfully
enough on bread and water; just as there are men who must read something,
if it were only _Bradshaw’s Guide_.  But there is a romance about the
matter after all.  Probably the table has more devotees than love; and I
am sure that food is much more generally entertaining than scenery.  Do
you give in, as Walt Whitman would say, that you are any the less
immortal for that?  The true materialism is to be ashamed of what we are.
To detect the flavour of an olive is no less a piece of human perfection
than to find beauty in the colours of the sunset.

Canoeing was easy work.  To dip the paddle at the proper inclination, now
right, now left; to keep the head down stream; to empty the little pool
that gathered in the lap of the apron; to screw up the eyes against the
glittering sparkles of sun upon the water; or now and again to pass below
the whistling tow-rope of the _Deo Gratias_ of Condé, or the _Four Sons
of Aymon_—there was not much art in that; certain silly muscles managed
it between sleep and waking; and meanwhile the brain had a whole holiday,
and went to sleep.  We took in, at a glance, the larger features of the
scene; and beheld, with half an eye, bloused fishers and dabbling
washerwomen on the bank.  Now and again we might be half-wakened by some
church spire, by a leaping fish, or by a trail of river grass that clung
about the paddle and had to be plucked off and thrown away.  But these
luminous intervals were only partially luminous.  A little more of us was
called into action, but never the whole.  The central bureau of nerves,
what in some moods we call Ourselves, enjoyed its holiday without
disturbance, like a Government Office.  The great wheels of intelligence
turned idly in the head, like fly-wheels, grinding no grist.  I have gone
on for half an hour at a time, counting my strokes and forgetting the
hundreds.  I flatter myself the beasts that perish could not underbid
that, as a low form of consciousness.  And what a pleasure it was!  What
a hearty, tolerant temper did it bring about!  There is nothing captious
about a man who has attained to this, the one possible apotheosis in
life, the Apotheosis of Stupidity; and he begins to feel dignified and
longævous like a tree.

There was one odd piece of practical metaphysics which accompanied what I
may call the depth, if I must not call it the intensity, of my
abstraction.  What philosophers call _me_ and _not-me_, _ego_ and _non
ego_, preoccupied me whether I would or no.  There was less _me_ and more
_not-me_ than I was accustomed to expect.  I looked on upon somebody
else, who managed the paddling; I was aware of somebody else’s feet
against the stretcher; my own body seemed to have no more intimate
relation to me than the canoe, or the river, or the river banks.  Nor
this alone: something inside my mind, a part of my brain, a province of
my proper being, had thrown off allegiance and set up for itself, or
perhaps for the somebody else who did the paddling.  I had dwindled into
quite a little thing in a corner of myself.  I was isolated in my own
skull.  Thoughts presented themselves unbidden; they were not my
thoughts, they were plainly some one else’s; and I considered them like a
part of the landscape.  I take it, in short, that I was about as near
Nirvana as would be convenient in practical life; and if this be so, I
make the Buddhists my sincere compliments; ’tis an agreeable state, not
very consistent with mental brilliancy, not exactly profitable in a money
point of view, but very calm, golden, and incurious, and one that sets a
man superior to alarms.  It may be best figured by supposing yourself to
get dead drunk, and yet keep sober to enjoy it.  I have a notion that
open-air labourers must spend a large portion of their days in this
ecstatic stupor, which explains their high composure and endurance.  A
pity to go to the expense of laudanum, when here is a better paradise for
nothing!

This frame of mind was the great exploit of our voyage, take it all in
all.  It was the farthest piece of travel accomplished.  Indeed, it lies
so far from beaten paths of language, that I despair of getting the
reader into sympathy with the smiling, complacent idiocy of my condition;
when ideas came and went like motes in a sunbeam; when trees and church
spires along the bank surged up, from time to time into my notice, like
solid objects through a rolling cloudland; when the rhythmical swish of
boat and paddle in the water became a cradle-song to lull my thoughts
asleep; when a piece of mud on the deck was sometimes an intolerable
eyesore, and sometimes quite a companion for me, and the object of
pleased consideration;—and all the time, with the river running and the
shores changing upon either hand, I kept counting my strokes and
forgetting the hundreds, the happiest animal in France.



DOWN THE OISE: CHURCH INTERIORS


WE made our first stage below Compiègne to Pont Sainte Maxence.  I was
abroad a little after six the next morning.  The air was biting, and
smelt of frost.  In an open place a score of women wrangled together over
the day’s market; and the noise of their negotiation sounded thin and
querulous like that of sparrows on a winter’s morning.  The rare
passengers blew into their hands, and shuffled in their wooden shoes to
set the blood agog.  The streets were full of icy shadow, although the
chimneys were smoking overhead in golden sunshine.  If you wake early
enough at this season of the year, you may get up in December to break
your fast in June.

I found my way to the church; for there is always something to see about
a church, whether living worshippers or dead men’s tombs; you find there
the deadliest earnest, and the hollowest deceit; and even where it is not
a piece of history, it will be certain to leak out some contemporary
gossip.  It was scarcely so cold in the church as it was without, but it
looked colder.  The white nave was positively arctic to the eye; and the
tawdriness of a continental altar looked more forlorn than usual in the
solitude and the bleak air.  Two priests sat in the chancel, reading and
waiting penitents; and out in the nave, one very old woman was engaged in
her devotions.  It was a wonder how she was able to pass her beads when
healthy young people were breathing in their palms and slapping their
chest; but though this concerned me, I was yet more dispirited by the
nature of her exercises.  She went from chair to chair, from altar to
altar, circumnavigating the church.  To each shrine she dedicated an
equal number of beads and an equal length of time.  Like a prudent
capitalist with a somewhat cynical view of the commercial prospect, she
desired to place her supplications in a great variety of heavenly
securities.  She would risk nothing on the credit of any single
intercessor.  Out of the whole company of saints and angels, not one but
was to suppose himself her champion elect against the Great Assize!  I
could only think of it as a dull, transparent jugglery, based upon
unconscious unbelief.

She was as dead an old woman as ever I saw; no more than bone and
parchment, curiously put together.  Her eyes, with which she interrogated
mine, were vacant of sense.  It depends on what you call seeing, whether
you might not call her blind.  Perhaps she had known love: perhaps borne
children, suckled them and given them pet names.  But now that was all
gone by, and had left her neither happier nor wiser; and the best she
could do with her mornings was to come up here into the cold church and
juggle for a slice of heaven.  It was not without a gulp that I escaped
into the streets and the keen morning air.  Morning? why, how tired of it
she would be before night! and if she did not sleep, how then?  It is
fortunate that not many of us are brought up publicly to justify our
lives at the bar of threescore years and ten; fortunate that such a
number are knocked opportunely on the head in what they call the flower
of their years, and go away to suffer for their follies in private
somewhere else.  Otherwise, between sick children and discontented old
folk, we might be put out of all conceit of life.

I had need of all my cerebral hygiene during that day’s paddle: the old
devotee stuck in my throat sorely.  But I was soon in the seventh heaven
of stupidity; and knew nothing but that somebody was paddling a canoe,
while I was counting his strokes and forgetting the hundreds.  I used
sometimes to be afraid I should remember the hundreds; which would have
made a toil of a pleasure; but the terror was chimerical, they went out
of my mind by enchantment, and I knew no more than the man in the moon
about my only occupation.

At Creil, where we stopped to lunch, we left the canoes in another
floating lavatory, which, as it was high noon, was packed with
washerwomen, red-handed and loud-voiced; and they and their broad jokes
are about all I remember of the place.  I could look up my history-books,
if you were very anxious, and tell you a date or two; for it figured
rather largely in the English wars.  But I prefer to mention a girls’
boarding-school, which had an interest for us because it was a girls’
boarding-school, and because we imagined we had rather an interest for
it.  At least—there were the girls about the garden; and here were we on
the river; and there was more than one handkerchief waved as we went by.
It caused quite a stir in my heart; and yet how we should have wearied
and despised each other, these girls and I, if we had been introduced at
a croquet-party!  But this is a fashion I love: to kiss the hand or wave
a handkerchief to people I shall never see again, to play with
possibility, and knock in a peg for fancy to hang upon.  It gives the
traveller a jog, reminds him that he is not a traveller everywhere, and
that his journey is no more than a siesta by the way on the real march of
life.

The church at Creil was a nondescript place in the inside, splashed with
gaudy lights from the windows, and picked out with medallions of the
Dolorous Way.  But there was one oddity, in the way of an _ex voto_,
which pleased me hugely: a faithful model of a canal boat, swung from the
vault, with a written aspiration that God should conduct the _Saint
Nicolas_ of Creil to a good haven.  The thing was neatly executed, and
would have made the delight of a party of boys on the waterside.  But
what tickled me was the gravity of the peril to be conjured.  You might
hang up the model of a sea-going ship, and welcome: one that is to plough
a furrow round the world, and visit the tropic or the frosty poles, runs
dangers that are well worth a candle and a mass.  But the _Saint Nicolas_
of Creil, which was to be tugged for some ten years by patient
draught-horses, in a weedy canal, with the poplars chattering overhead,
and the skipper whistling at the tiller; which was to do all its errands
in green inland places, and never get out of sight of a village belfry in
all its cruising; why, you would have thought if anything could be done
without the intervention of Providence, it would be that!  But perhaps
the skipper was a humorist: or perhaps a prophet, reminding people of the
seriousness of life by this preposterous token.

At Creil, as at Noyon, Saint Joseph seemed a favourite saint on the score
of punctuality.  Day and hour can be specified; and grateful people do
not fail to specify them on a votive tablet, when prayers have been
punctually and neatly answered.  Whenever time is a consideration, Saint
Joseph is the proper intermediary.  I took a sort of pleasure in
observing the vogue he had in France, for the good man plays a very small
part in my religion at home.  Yet I could not help fearing that, where
the Saint is so much commanded for exactitude, he will be expected to be
very grateful for his tablet.

This is foolishness to us Protestants; and not of great importance
anyway.  Whether people’s gratitude for the good gifts that come to them
be wisely conceived or dutifully expressed, is a secondary matter, after
all, so long as they feel gratitude.  The true ignorance is when a man
does not know that he has received a good gift, or begins to imagine that
he has got it for himself.  The self-made man is the funniest windbag
after all!  There is a marked difference between decreeing light in
chaos, and lighting the gas in a metropolitan back-parlour with a box of
patent matches; and do what we will, there is always something made to
our hand, if it were only our fingers.

But there was something worse than foolishness placarded in Creil Church.
The Association of the Living Rosary (of which I had never previously
heard) is responsible for that.  This Association was founded, according
to the printed advertisement, by a brief of Pope Gregory Sixteenth, on
the 17th of January 1832: according to a coloured bas-relief, it seems to
have been founded, sometime other, by the Virgin giving one rosary to
Saint Dominic, and the Infant Saviour giving another to Saint Catharine
of Siena.  Pope Gregory is not so imposing, but he is nearer hand.  I
could not distinctly make out whether the Association was entirely
devotional, or had an eye to good works; at least it is highly organised:
the names of fourteen matrons and misses were filled in for each week of
the month as associates, with one other, generally a married woman, at
the top for _zélatrice_: the leader of the band.  Indulgences, plenary
and partial, follow on the performance of the duties of the Association.
‘The partial indulgences are attached to the recitation of the rosary.’
On ‘the recitation of the required _dizaine_,’ a partial indulgence
promptly follows.  When people serve the kingdom of heaven with a
pass-book in their hands, I should always be afraid lest they should
carry the same commercial spirit into their dealings with their
fellow-men, which would make a sad and sordid business of this life.

There is one more article, however, of happier import.  ‘All these
indulgences,’ it appeared, ‘are applicable to souls in purgatory.’  For
God’s sake, ye ladies of Creil, apply them all to the souls in purgatory
without delay!  Burns would take no hire for his last songs, preferring
to serve his country out of unmixed love.  Suppose you were to imitate
the exciseman, mesdames, and even if the souls in purgatory were not
greatly bettered, some souls in Creil upon the Oise would find themselves
none the worse either here or hereafter.

I cannot help wondering, as I transcribe these notes, whether a
Protestant born and bred is in a fit state to understand these signs, and
do them what justice they deserve; and I cannot help answering that he is
not.  They cannot look so merely ugly and mean to the faithful as they do
to me.  I see that as clearly as a proposition in Euclid.  For these
believers are neither weak nor wicked.  They can put up their tablet
commanding Saint Joseph for his despatch, as if he were still a village
carpenter; they can ‘recite the required _dizaine_,’ and metaphorically
pocket the indulgence, as if they had done a job for Heaven; and then
they can go out and look down unabashed upon this wonderful river flowing
by, and up without confusion at the pin-point stars, which are themselves
great worlds full of flowing rivers greater than the Oise.  I see it as
plainly, I say, as a proposition in Euclid, that my Protestant mind has
missed the point, and that there goes with these deformities some higher
and more religious spirit than I dream.

I wonder if other people would make the same allowances for me!  Like the
ladies of Creil, having recited my rosary of toleration, I look for my
indulgence on the spot.



PRÉCY AND THE MARIONNETTES


WE made Précy about sundown.  The plain is rich with tufts of poplar.  In
a wide, luminous curve, the Oise lay under the hillside.  A faint mist
began to rise and confound the different distances together.  There was
not a sound audible but that of the sheep-bells in some meadows by the
river, and the creaking of a cart down the long road that descends the
hill.  The villas in their gardens, the shops along the street, all
seemed to have been deserted the day before; and I felt inclined to walk
discreetly as one feels in a silent forest.  All of a sudden, we came
round a corner, and there, in a little green round the church, was a bevy
of girls in Parisian costumes playing croquet.  Their laughter, and the
hollow sound of ball and mallet, made a cheery stir in the neighbourhood;
and the look of these slim figures, all corseted and ribboned, produced
an answerable disturbance in our hearts.  We were within sniff of Paris,
it seemed.  And here were females of our own species playing croquet,
just as if Précy had been a place in real life, instead of a stage in the
fairyland of travel.  For, to be frank, the peasant woman is scarcely to
be counted as a woman at all, and after having passed by such a
succession of people in petticoats digging and hoeing and making dinner,
this company of coquettes under arms made quite a surprising feature in
the landscape, and convinced us at once of being fallible males.

The inn at Précy is the worst inn in France.  Not even in Scotland have I
found worse fare.  It was kept by a brother and sister, neither of whom
was out of their teens.  The sister, so to speak, prepared a meal for us;
and the brother, who had been tippling, came in and brought with him a
tipsy butcher, to entertain us as we ate.  We found pieces of loo-warm
pork among the salad, and pieces of unknown yielding substance in the
_ragoût_.  The butcher entertained us with pictures of Parisian life,
with which he professed himself well acquainted; the brother sitting the
while on the edge of the billiard-table, toppling precariously, and
sucking the stump of a cigar.  In the midst of these diversions, bang
went a drum past the house, and a hoarse voice began issuing a
proclamation.  It was a man with marionnettes announcing a performance
for that evening.

He had set up his caravan and lighted his candles on another part of the
girls’ croquet-green, under one of those open sheds which are so common
in France to shelter markets; and he and his wife, by the time we
strolled up there, were trying to keep order with the audience.

It was the most absurd contention.  The show-people had set out a certain
number of benches; and all who sat upon them were to pay a couple of
_sous_ for the accommodation.  They were always quite full—a bumper
house—as long as nothing was going forward; but let the show-woman appear
with an eye to a collection, and at the first rattle of her tambourine
the audience slipped off the seats, and stood round on the outside with
their hands in their pockets.  It certainly would have tried an angel’s
temper.  The showman roared from the proscenium; he had been all over
France, and nowhere, nowhere, ‘not even on the borders of Germany,’ had
he met with such misconduct.  Such thieves and rogues and rascals, as he
called them!  And every now and again, the wife issued on another round,
and added her shrill quota to the tirade.  I remarked here, as elsewhere,
how far more copious is the female mind in the material of insult.  The
audience laughed in high good-humour over the man’s declamations; but
they bridled and cried aloud under the woman’s pungent sallies.  She
picked out the sore points.  She had the honour of the village at her
mercy.  Voices answered her angrily out of the crowd, and received a
smarting retort for their trouble.  A couple of old ladies beside me, who
had duly paid for their seats, waxed very red and indignant, and
discoursed to each other audibly about the impudence of these
mountebanks; but as soon as the show-woman caught a whisper of this, she
was down upon them with a swoop: if mesdames could persuade their
neighbours to act with common honesty, the mountebanks, she assured them,
would be polite enough: mesdames had probably had their bowl of soup, and
perhaps a glass of wine that evening; the mountebanks also had a taste
for soup, and did not choose to have their little earnings stolen from
them before their eyes.  Once, things came as far as a brief personal
encounter between the showman and some lads, in which the former went
down as readily as one of his own marionnettes to a peal of jeering
laughter.

I was a good deal astonished at this scene, because I am pretty well
acquainted with the ways of French strollers, more or less artistic; and
have always found them singularly pleasing.  Any stroller must be dear to
the right-thinking heart; if it were only as a living protest against
offices and the mercantile spirit, and as something to remind us that
life is not by necessity the kind of thing we generally make it.  Even a
German band, if you see it leaving town in the early morning for a
campaign in country places, among trees and meadows, has a romantic
flavour for the imagination.  There is nobody, under thirty, so dead but
his heart will stir a little at sight of a gypsies’ camp.  ‘We are not
cotton-spinners all’; or, at least, not all through.  There is some life
in humanity yet: and youth will now and again find a brave word to say in
dispraise of riches, and throw up a situation to go strolling with a
knapsack.

An Englishman has always special facilities for intercourse with French
gymnasts; for England is the natural home of gymnasts.  This or that
fellow, in his tights and spangles, is sure to know a word or two of
English, to have drunk English _aff-’n-aff_, and perhaps performed in an
English music-hall.  He is a countryman of mine by profession.  He leaps,
like the Belgian boating men, to the notion that I must be an athlete
myself.

But the gymnast is not my favourite; he has little or no tincture of the
artist in his composition; his soul is small and pedestrian, for the most
part, since his profession makes no call upon it, and does not accustom
him to high ideas.  But if a man is only so much of an actor that he can
stumble through a farce, he is made free of a new order of thoughts.  He
has something else to think about beside the money-box.  He has a pride
of his own, and, what is of far more importance, he has an aim before him
that he can never quite attain.  He has gone upon a pilgrimage that will
last him his life long, because there is no end to it short of
perfection.  He will better upon himself a little day by day; or even if
he has given up the attempt, he will always remember that once upon a
time he had conceived this high ideal, that once upon a time he had
fallen in love with a star.  ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost.’
Although the moon should have nothing to say to Endymion, although he
should settle down with Audrey and feed pigs, do you not think he would
move with a better grace, and cherish higher thoughts to the end?  The
louts he meets at church never had a fancy above Audrey’s snood; but
there is a reminiscence in Endymion’s heart that, like a spice, keeps it
fresh and haughty.

To be even one of the outskirters of art, leaves a fine stamp on a man’s
countenance.  I remember once dining with a party in the inn at Château
Landon.  Most of them were unmistakable bagmen; others well-to-do
peasantry; but there was one young fellow in a blouse, whose face stood
out from among the rest surprisingly.  It looked more finished; more of
the spirit looked out through it; it had a living, expressive air, and
you could see that his eyes took things in.  My companion and I wondered
greatly who and what he could be.  It was fair-time in Château Landon,
and when we went along to the booths, we had our question answered; for
there was our friend busily fiddling for the peasants to caper to.  He
was a wandering violinist.

A troop of strollers once came to the inn where I was staying, in the
department of Seine et Marne.  There was a father and mother; two
daughters, brazen, blowsy hussies, who sang and acted, without an idea of
how to set about either; and a dark young man, like a tutor, a
recalcitrant house-painter, who sang and acted not amiss.  The mother was
the genius of the party, so far as genius can be spoken of with regard to
such a pack of incompetent humbugs; and her husband could not find words
to express his admiration for her comic countryman.  ‘You should see my
old woman,’ said he, and nodded his beery countenance.  One night they
performed in the stable-yard, with flaring lamps—a wretched exhibition,
coldly looked upon by a village audience.  Next night, as soon as the
lamps were lighted, there came a plump of rain, and they had to sweep
away their baggage as fast as possible, and make off to the barn where
they harboured, cold, wet, and supperless.  In the morning, a dear friend
of mine, who has as warm a heart for strollers as I have myself, made a
little collection, and sent it by my hands to comfort them for their
disappointment.  I gave it to the father; he thanked me cordially, and we
drank a cup together in the kitchen, talking of roads, and audiences, and
hard times.

When I was going, up got my old stroller, and off with his hat.  ‘I am
afraid,’ said he, ‘that Monsieur will think me altogether a beggar; but I
have another demand to make upon him.’  I began to hate him on the spot.
‘We play again to-night,’ he went on.  ‘Of course, I shall refuse to
accept any more money from Monsieur and his friends, who have been
already so liberal.  But our programme of to-night is something truly
creditable; and I cling to the idea that Monsieur will honour us with his
presence.’  And then, with a shrug and a smile: ‘Monsieur understands—the
vanity of an artist!’  Save the mark!  The vanity of an artist!  That is
the kind of thing that reconciles me to life: a ragged, tippling,
incompetent old rogue, with the manners of a gentleman, and the vanity of
an artist, to keep up his self-respect!

But the man after my own heart is M. de Vauversin.  It is nearly two
years since I saw him first, and indeed I hope I may see him often again.
Here is his first programme, as I found it on the breakfast-table, and
have kept it ever since as a relic of bright days:

    ‘_Mesdames et Messieurs_,

    ‘_Mademoiselle Ferrario et M. de Vauversin auront l’honneur de
    chanter ce soir les morceaux suivants_.

    ‘_Madermoiselle Ferrario chantera—Mignon—Oiseaux Légers—France—Des
    Français dorment là—Le château bleu—Où voulez-vous aller_?

    ‘_M. de Vauversin—Madame Fontaine et M. Robinet—Les plongeurs à
    cheval—Le Mari mécontent—Tais-toi, gamin—Mon voisin
    l’original—Heureux comme ça—Comme on est trompé_.’

They made a stage at one end of the _salle-à-manger_.  And what a sight
it was to see M. de Vauversin, with a cigarette in his mouth, twanging a
guitar, and following Mademoiselle Ferrario’s eyes with the obedient,
kindly look of a dog!  The entertainment wound up with a tombola, or
auction of lottery tickets: an admirable amusement, with all the
excitement of gambling, and no hope of gain to make you ashamed of your
eagerness; for there, all is loss; you make haste to be out of pocket; it
is a competition who shall lose most money for the benefit of M. de
Vauversin and Mademoiselle Ferrario.

M. de Vauversin is a small man, with a great head of black hair, a
vivacious and engaging air, and a smile that would be delightful if he
had better teeth.  He was once an actor in the Châtelet; but he
contracted a nervous affection from the heat and glare of the footlights,
which unfitted him for the stage.  At this crisis Mademoiselle Ferrario,
otherwise Mademoiselle Rita of the Alcazar, agreed to share his wandering
fortunes.  ‘I could never forget the generosity of that lady,’ said he.
He wears trousers so tight that it has long been a problem to all who
knew him how he manages to get in and out of them.  He sketches a little
in water-colours; he writes verses; he is the most patient of fishermen,
and spent long days at the bottom of the inn-garden fruitlessly dabbling
a line in the clear river.

You should hear him recounting his experiences over a bottle of wine;
such a pleasant vein of talk as he has, with a ready smile at his own
mishaps, and every now and then a sudden gravity, like a man who should
hear the surf roar while he was telling the perils of the deep.  For it
was no longer ago than last night, perhaps, that the receipts only
amounted to a franc and a half, to cover three francs of railway fare and
two of board and lodging.  The Maire, a man worth a million of money, sat
in the front seat, repeatedly applauding Mlle. Ferrario, and yet gave no
more than three _sous_ the whole evening.  Local authorities look with
such an evil eye upon the strolling artist.  Alas! I know it well, who
have been myself taken for one, and pitilessly incarcerated on the
strength of the misapprehension.  Once, M. de Vauversin visited a
commissary of police for permission to sing.  The commissary, who was
smoking at his ease, politely doffed his hat upon the singer’s entrance.
‘Mr. Commissary,’ he began, ‘I am an artist.’  And on went the
commissary’s hat again.  No courtesy for the companions of Apollo!  ‘They
are as degraded as that,’ said M. de Vauversin with a sweep of his
cigarette.

But what pleased me most was one outbreak of his, when we had been
talking all the evening of the rubs, indignities, and pinchings of his
wandering life.  Some one said, it would be better to have a million of
money down, and Mlle. Ferrario admitted that she would prefer that
mightily.  ‘_Eh bien_, _moi non_;—not I,’ cried De Vauversin, striking
the table with his hand.  ‘If any one is a failure in the world, is it
not I?  I had an art, in which I have done things well—as well as
some—better perhaps than others; and now it is closed against me.  I must
go about the country gathering coppers and singing nonsense.  Do you
think I regret my life?  Do you think I would rather be a fat burgess,
like a calf?  Not I!  I have had moments when I have been applauded on
the boards: I think nothing of that; but I have known in my own mind
sometimes, when I had not a clap from the whole house, that I had found a
true intonation, or an exact and speaking gesture; and then, messieurs, I
have known what pleasure was, what it was to do a thing well, what it was
to be an artist.  And to know what art is, is to have an interest for
ever, such as no burgess can find in his petty concerns.  _Tenez_,
_messieurs_, _je vais vous le dire_—it is like a religion.’

Such, making some allowance for the tricks of memory and the inaccuracies
of translation, was the profession of faith of M. de Vauversin.  I have
given him his own name, lest any other wanderer should come across him,
with his guitar and cigarette, and Mademoiselle Ferrario; for should not
all the world delight to honour this unfortunate and loyal follower of
the Muses?  May Apollo send him rimes hitherto undreamed of; may the
river be no longer scanty of her silver fishes to his lure; may the cold
not pinch him on long winter rides, nor the village jack-in-office
affront him with unseemly manners; and may he never miss Mademoiselle
Ferrario from his side, to follow with his dutiful eyes and accompany on
the guitar!

The marionnettes made a very dismal entertainment.  They performed a
piece, called _Pyramus and Thisbe_, in five mortal acts, and all written
in Alexandrines fully as long as the performers.  One marionnette was the
king; another the wicked counsellor; a third, credited with exceptional
beauty, represented Thisbe; and then there were guards, and obdurate
fathers, and walking gentlemen.  Nothing particular took place during the
two or three acts that I sat out; but you will he pleased to learn that
the unities were properly respected, and the whole piece, with one
exception, moved in harmony with classical rules.  That exception was the
comic countryman, a lean marionnette in wooden shoes, who spoke in prose
and in a broad _patois_ much appreciated by the audience.  He took
unconstitutional liberties with the person of his sovereign; kicked his
fellow-marionnettes in the mouth with his wooden shoes, and whenever none
of the versifying suitors were about, made love to Thisbe on his own
account in comic prose.

This fellow’s evolutions, and the little prologue, in which the showman
made a humorous eulogium of his troop, praising their indifference to
applause and hisses, and their single devotion to their art, were the
only circumstances in the whole affair that you could fancy would so much
as raise a smile.  But the villagers of Précy seemed delighted.  Indeed,
so long as a thing is an exhibition, and you pay to see it, it is nearly
certain to amuse.  If we were charged so much a head for sunsets, or if
God sent round a drum before the hawthorns came in flower, what a work
should we not make about their beauty!  But these things, like good
companions, stupid people early cease to observe: and the Abstract Bagman
tittups past in his spring gig, and is positively not aware of the
flowers along the lane, or the scenery of the weather overhead.



BACK TO THE WORLD


OF the next two days’ sail little remains in my mind, and nothing
whatever in my note-book.  The river streamed on steadily through
pleasant river-side landscapes.  Washerwomen in blue dresses, fishers in
blue blouses, diversified the green banks; and the relation of the two
colours was like that of the flower and the leaf in the forget-me-not.  A
symphony in forget-me-not; I think Théophile Gautier might thus have
characterised that two days’ panorama.  The sky was blue and cloudless;
and the sliding surface of the river held up, in smooth places, a mirror
to the heaven and the shores.  The washerwomen hailed us laughingly; and
the noise of trees and water made an accompaniment to our dozing
thoughts, as we fleeted down the stream.

The great volume, the indefatigable purpose of the river, held the mind
in chain.  It seemed now so sure of its end, so strong and easy in its
gait, like a grown man full of determination.  The surf was roaring for
it on the sands of Havre.

For my own part, slipping along this moving thoroughfare in my
fiddle-case of a canoe, I also was beginning to grow aweary for my ocean.
To the civilised man, there must come, sooner or later, a desire for
civilisation.  I was weary of dipping the paddle; I was weary of living
on the skirts of life; I wished to be in the thick of it once more; I
wished to get to work; I wished to meet people who understood my own
speech, and could meet with me on equal terms, as a man, and no longer as
a curiosity.

And so a letter at Pontoise decided us, and we drew up our keels for the
last time out of that river of Oise that had faithfully piloted them,
through rain and sunshine, for so long.  For so many miles had this fleet
and footless beast of burthen charioted our fortunes, that we turned our
back upon it with a sense of separation.  We had made a long détour out
of the world, but now we were back in the familiar places, where life
itself makes all the running, and we are carried to meet adventure
without a stroke of the paddle.  Now we were to return, like the voyager
in the play, and see what rearrangements fortune had perfected the while
in our surroundings; what surprises stood ready made for us at home; and
whither and how far the world had voyaged in our absence.  You may paddle
all day long; but it is when you come back at nightfall, and look in at
the familiar room, that you find Love or Death awaiting you beside the
stove; and the most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek.





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