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An Inland Voyage - Origny Sainte-Benoite A By-Day

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



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 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 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

'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

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

'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

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

'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

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

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