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An Inland Voyage by Robert Louis Stevenson

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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 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
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 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 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 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 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 demoniacal possession.

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 FERE 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 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
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 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 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.

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 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 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 COMPIEGNE

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 Fere;
we forecast other La Feres 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
Fere 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
Conde 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 Compiegne 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 COMPIEGNE

We put up at a big, bustling hotel in Compiegne, 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 cafes; 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 Breau 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 Compiegne 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
Compiegne. 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 manoeuvres, 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 Nurnberg 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 Compiegne 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 Compiegne. 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 Compiegne 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 Conde, 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 longaevous 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 Compiegne 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 zelatrice: 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.

PRECY AND THE MARIONNETTES

We made Precy 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 Precy 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 Precy 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 ragout. 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 Chateau 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 Chateau 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 Legers--France--
Des Francais dorment la--Le chateau bleu--Ou voulez-vous aller?

'M. de Vauversin--Madame Fontaine et M. Robinet--Les plongeurs a
cheval--Le Mari mecontent--Tais-toi, gamin--Mon voisin l'original--
Heureux comme ca--Comme on est trompe.'

They made a stage at one end of the salle-a-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 Chatelet; 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
Precy 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
Theophile 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 detour 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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