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Home -> Robert Louis Stevenson -> An Inland Voyage -> At Landrecies

An Inland Voyage - At Landrecies

1. Preface

2. Antwerp to Boom

3. On the Willebroek Canal

4. The Royal Sport Nautique

5. At Maubeuge

6. On the Sambre Canalised

7. Pont-Sur-Sambre We are Pedlars

8. Pont-Sur-Sambre The Travelling Merchant

9. On the Sambre Canalised

10. At Landrecies

11. Sambre and Oise Canal

12. The Oise in Flood

13. Origny Sainte-Benoite A By-Day

14. Origny Sainte-Benoite The Company at Table

15. Down the Oise

16. La Fere of Cursed Memory

17. Down the Oise

18. Noyon Cathedral

19. Down the Oise To Compiegne

20. At Compiegne

21. Changed Times

22. Down the Oise: Church Interiors

23. Precy and the Marionnettes

24. Back to the World


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 cafe, 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 cafe. 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 reveilles, 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

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 cafe, 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 cafe, 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

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.

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