THE OISE IN FLOOD
BEFORE nine next morning the two canoes were installed on a
light country cart at Etreux: 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 three-score
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
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-Benoite, when we arrived.
ORIGNY SAINTE-BENOITE: 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
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 Francais,' 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 Deroulede 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 Deroulede 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
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
'It is like a violin,' cried one of the girls in an
'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
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
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-Benoite by the river.
ORIGNY SAINTE-BENOITE: 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
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 TETES 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
Caesar 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
The Inner Gate, La Fère
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
'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
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
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
'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
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 VERSA.
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
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
sight-seers! 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 detours 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
Moy (pronounce Moy) was a pleasant little village, gathered
round a chateau 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 Fere, Nurnberg 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 chateau 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 Fere; but the dusk was
falling, and a small rain had begun before we stowed the boats. La Fere 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 Manoeuvres,
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
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
Fere. 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
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
Fere 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 Fere 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 Fere; 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 A PIED,' was the sign. 'A 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 Fere. '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 Fere 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 Fere; 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.
The Town-hall at Compiègne
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 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
Hotel 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 Hotel 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 Chateau 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
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
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.