home | authors | books | about

Home -> Robert Louis Stevenson -> An Inland Voyage -> Antwerp to Boom

An Inland Voyage - Antwerp to Boom

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


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

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 Hotel 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?

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary