An Inland Voyage
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Sambre to the Oise
Partly from the terror we had of our good friends the
Royal Nauticals, partly from the fact that there were no fewer than fifty-five
locks between Brussels and Charleroi, we concluded that we should travel by
train across the frontier, boats and all. Fifty-five locks in a day's journey
was pretty well tantamount to trudging the whole distance on foot, with the
canoes upon our shoulders, an object of astonishment to the trees on the canal
side, and of honest derision to all right-thinking children.
To pass the frontier, even in a train, is a difficult
matter for the Arethusa. He is somehow or other a marked man for the
official eye. Wherever he journeys, there are the officers gathered together.
Treaties are solemnly signed, foreign ministers, ambassadors, and consuls sit
throned in state from China to Peru, and the Union Jack flutters on all the
winds of heaven. Under these safeguards, portly clergymen, school-mistresses,
gentlemen in grey tweed suits, and all the ruck and rabble of British touristry
pour unhindered, Murray in hand, over the railways of the
Continent, and yet the slim person of the Arethusa is taken in the
meshes, while these great fish go on their way rejoicing. If he travels without
a passport, he is cast, without any figure about the matter, into noisome
dungeons: if his papers are in order, he is suffered to go his way indeed, but
not until he has been humiliated by a general incredulity. He is a born British
subject, yet he has never succeeded in persuading a single official of his
nationality. He flatters himself he is indifferent honest; yet he is rarely
taken for anything better than a spy, and there is no absurd and disreputable
means of livelihood but has been attributed to him in some heat of official or
For the life of me I cannot understand it. I too have
been knolled to church, and sat at good men's feasts; but I bear no mark of it.
I am as strange as a Jack Indian to their official spectacles. I might come from
any part of the globe, it seems, except from where I do. My ancestors have
laboured in vain, and the glorious Constitution cannot protect me in my walks
abroad. It is a great thing, believe me, to present a good normal type of the
nation you belong to.
Nobody else was asked for his papers on the way to
Maubeuge; but I was; and although I clung to my rights, I had to choose at last
between accepting the humiliation and being left behind by the train. I was
sorry to give way; but I wanted to get to Maubeuge.
Maubeuge is a fortified town, with a very good inn, the Grand
Cerf. It seemed to be inhabited principally by soldiers and bagmen; at
least, these were all that we saw, except the hotel servants. We had to stay
there some time, for the canoes were in no hurry to follow us, and at last stuck
hopelessly in the custom-house until we went back to liberate them. There was
nothing to do, nothing to see. We had good meals, which was a great matter; but
that was all.
The Cigarette was nearly taken up upon a charge of
drawing the fortifications: a feat of which he was hopelessly incapable. And
besides, as I suppose each belligerent nation has a plan of the other's
fortified places already, these precautions are of the nature of shutting the
stable door after the steed is away. But I have no doubt they help to keep up a
good spirit at home. It is a great thing if you can persuade people that they
are somehow or other partakers in a mystery. It makes them feel bigger. Even the
Freemasons, who have been shown up to satiety, preserve a kind of pride; and not
a grocer among them, however honest, harmless, and empty-headed he may feel
himself to be at bottom, but comes home from one of their coenacula
with a portentous significance for himself.
It is an odd thing, how happily two people, if there are
two, can live in a place where they have no acquaintance. I think the spectacle
of a whole life in which you have no part paralyses personal desire. You are
content to become a mere spectator. The baker stands in his door; the colonel
with his three medals goes by to the café at night; the troops drum
and trumpet and man the ramparts, as bold as so many lions. It would task
language to say how placidly you behold all this. In a place where you have
taken some root, you are provoked out of your indifference; you have a hand in
the game; your friends are fighting with the army. But in a strange town, not
small enough to grow too soon familiar, nor so large as to have laid itself out
for travellers, you stand so far apart from the business, that you positively
forget it would be possible to go nearer; you have so little human interest
around you, that you do not remember yourself to be a man. Perhaps, in a very
short time, you would be one no longer. Gymnosophists go into a wood, with all
nature seething around them, with romance on every side; it would be much more
to the purpose if they took up their abode in a dull country town, where they
should see just so much of humanity as to keep them from desiring more, and only
the stale externals of man's life. These externals are as dead to us as so many
formalities, and speak a dead language in our eyes and ears. They have no more
meaning than an oath or a salutation. We are so much accustomed to see married
couples going to church of a Sunday that we have clean forgotten what they
represent; and novelists are driven to rehabilitate adultery, no less, when they
wish to show us what a beautiful thing it is for a man and a woman to live for
One person in Maubeuge, however, showed me something
more than his outside. That was the driver of the hotel omnibus: a mean enough
looking little man, as well as I can remember; but with a spark of something
human in his soul. He had heard of our little journey, and came to me at once in
envious sympathy. How he longed to travel! he told me. How he longed to be
somewhere else, and see the round world before he went into the grave!
"Here I am," said he. "I drive to the station. Well. And then I
drive back again to the hotel. And so on every day and all the week round. My
God, is that life?" I could not say I thought it was--for him. He pressed
me to tell him where I had been, and where I hoped to go; and as he listened, I
declare the fellow sighed. Might not this have been a brave African traveller,
or gone to the Indies after Drake? But it is an evil age for the gypsily
inclined among men. He who can sit squarest on a three-legged stool, he it is
who has the wealth and glory.
I wonder if my friend is still driving the omnibus for
the Grand Cerf? Not very likely, I believe; for I think he was on the
eve of mutiny when we passed through, and perhaps our passage determined him for
good. Better a thousand times that he should be a tramp, and mend pots and pans
by the wayside, and sleep under trees, and see the dawn and the sunset every day
above a new horizon. I think I hear you say that it is a respectable position to
drive an omnibus? Very well. What right has he who likes it not, to keep those
who would like it dearly out of this respectable position? Suppose a dish were
not to my taste, and you told me that it was a favourite amongst the rest of the
company, what should I conclude from that? Not to finish the dish against my
stomach, I suppose.
Respectability is a very good thing in its way, but it
does not rise superior to all considerations. I would not for a moment venture
to hint that it was a matter of taste; but I think I will go as far as this:
that if a position is admittedly unkind, uncomfortable, unnecessary, and
superfluously useless, although it were as respectable as the Church of England,
the sooner a man is out of it, the better for himself, and all concerned.
On the Sambre Canalised To
About three in the afternoon the whole establishment of
the Grand Cerf accompanied us to the water's edge. The man of the
omnibus was there with haggard eyes. Poor cage-bird! Do I not remember the time
when I myself haunted the station, to watch train after train carry its
complement of freemen into the night, and read the names of distant places on
the time-bills with indescribable longings?
We were not clear of the fortifications before the rain
began. The wind was contrary, and blew in furious gusts; nor were the aspects of
nature any more clement than the doings of the sky. For we passed through a
stretch of blighted country, sparsely covered with brush, but handsomely enough
diversified with factory chimneys. We landed in a soiled meadow among some
pollards, and there smoked a pipe in a flaw of fair weather. But the wind blew
so hard, we could get little else to smoke. There were no natural objects in the
neighbourhood, but some sordid workshops. A group of children headed by a tall
girl stood and watched us from a little distance all the time we stayed. I
heartily wonder what they thought of us.
At Hautmont, the lock was almost impassable; the
landing-place being steep and high, and the launch at a long distance. Near a
dozen grimy workmen lent us a hand. They refused any reward; and, what is much
better, refused it handsomely, without conveying any sense of insult. "It
is a way we have in our countryside," said they. And a very becoming way it
is. In Scotland, where also you will get services for nothing, the good people
reject your money as if you had been trying to corrupt a voter. When people take
the trouble to do dignified acts, it is worth while to take a little more, and
allow the dignity to be common to all concerned. But in our brave Saxon
countries, where we plod threescore years and ten in the mud, and the wind keeps
singing in our ears from birth to burial, we do our good and bad with a high
hand and almost offensively; and make even our alms a witness-bearing and an act
of war against the wrong.
After Hautmont, the sun came forth again and the wind
went down; and a little paddling took us beyond the ironworks and through a
delectable land. The river wound among low hills, so that sometimes the sun was
at our backs, and sometimes it stood right ahead, and the river before us was
one sheet of intolerable glory. On either hand, meadows and orchards bordered,
with a margin of sedge and water flowers, upon the river. The hedges were of
great height, woven about the trunks of hedgerow elms; and the fields, as they
were often very small, looked like a series of bowers along the stream. There
was never any prospect; sometimes a hill-top with its trees would look over the
nearest hedgerow, just to make a middle distance for the sky; but that was all.
The heaven was bare of clouds. The atmosphere, after the rain, was of enchanting
purity. The river doubled among the hillocks, a shining strip of mirror glass;
and the dip of the paddles set the flowers shaking along the brink.
In the meadows wandered black and white cattle
fantastically marked. One beast, with a white head and the rest of the body
glossy black, came to the edge to drink, and stood gravely twitching his ears at
me as I went by, like some sort of preposterous clergyman in a play. A moment
after I heard a loud plunge, and, turning my head, saw the clergyman struggling
to shore. The bank had given way under his feet.
Besides the cattle, we saw no living things except a few
birds and a great many fishermen. These sat along the edges of the meadows,
sometimes with one rod, sometimes with as many as half a score. They seemed
stupefied with contentment; and when we induced them to exchange a few words
with us about the weather, their voices sounded quiet and far away. There was a
strange diversity of opinion among them as to the kind of fish for which they
set their lures; although they were all agreed in this, that the river was
abundantly supplied. Where it was plain that no two of them had ever caught the
same kind of fish, we could not help suspecting that perhaps not any one of them
had ever caught a fish at all. I hope, since the afternoon was so lovely, that
they were one and all rewarded; and that a silver booty went home in every
basket for the pot. Some of my friends would cry shame on me for this; but I
prefer a man, were he only an angler, to the bravest pair of gills in all God's
waters. I do not affect fishes unless when cooked in sauce; whereas an angler is
an important piece of river scenery, and hence deserves some recognition among
canoeists. He can always tell you where you are after a mild fashion; and his
quiet presence serves to accentuate the solitude and stillness, and remind you
of the glittering citizens below your boat.
The Sambre turned so industriously to and fro among his
little hills, that it was past six before we drew near the lock at Quartes.
There were some children on the tow-path, with whom the Cigarette fell
into a chaffing talk as they ran along beside us. It was in vain that I warned
him. In vain I told him, in English, that boys were the most dangerous
creatures; and if once you began with them, it was safe to end in a shower of
stones. For my own part, whenever anything was addressed to me, I smiled gently
and shook my head as though I were an inoffensive person inadequately acquainted
with French. For indeed I have had such experience at home, that I would sooner
meet many wild animals than a troop of healthy urchins.
But I was doing injustice to these peaceable young
Hainaulters. When the Cigarette went off to make inquiries, I got out
upon the bank to smoke a pipe and superintend the boats, and became at once the
centre of much amiable curiosity. The children had been joined by this time by a
young woman and a mild lad who had lost an arm; and this gave me more security.
When I let slip my first word or so in French, a little girl nodded her head
with a comical grown-up air. "Ah, you see," she said, "he
understands well enough now; he was just making believe." And the little
group laughed together very good-naturedly.
They were much impressed when they heard we came from
England; and the little girl proffered the information that England was an
island "and a far way from here--bien loin d'ici."
"Ay, you may say that, a far way from here,"
said the lad with one arm.
I was as nearly home-sick as ever I was in my life; they
seemed to make it such an incalculable distance to the place where I first saw
the day. They admired the canoes very much. And I observed one piece of delicacy
in these children, which is worthy of record. They had been deafening us for the
last hundred yards with petitions for a sail; ay, and they deafened us to the
same tune next morning when we came to start; but then, when the canoes were
lying empty, there was no word of any such petition. Delicacy? or perhaps a bit
of fear for the water in so crank a vessel? I hate cynicism a great deal worse
than I do the devil; unless perhaps the two were the same thing? And yet 'tis a
good tonic; the cold tub and bath-towel of the sentiments; and positively
necessary to life in cases of advanced sensibility.
From the boats they turned to my costume. They could not
make enough of my red sash; and my knife filled them with awe.
"They make them like that in England," said
the boy with one arm. I was glad he did not know how badly we make them in
England now-a- days. "They are for people who go away to sea," he
added, "and to defend one's life against great fish."
I felt I was becoming a more and more romantic figure to
the little group at every word. And so I suppose I was. Even my pipe, although
it was an ordinary French clay pretty well "trousered," as they call
it, would have a rarity in their eyes, as a thing coming from so far away. And
if my feathers were not very fine in themselves, they were all from over seas.
One thing in my outfit, however, tickled them out of all politeness; and that
was the bemired condition of my canvas shoes. I suppose they were sure the mud
at any rate was a home product. The little girl (who was the genius of the
party) displayed her own sabots in competition; and I wish you could have seen
how gracefully and merrily she did it.
The young woman's milk-can, a great amphora of hammered
brass, stood some way off upon the sward. I was glad of an opportunity to divert
public attention from myself, and return some of the compliments I had received.
So I admired it cordially both for form and colour, telling them, and very
truly, that it was as beautiful as gold. They were not surprised. The things
were plainly the boast of the countryside. And the children expatiated on the
costliness of these amphorae, which sell sometimes as high as thirty francs
apiece; told me how they were carried on donkeys, one on either side of the
saddle, a brave caparison in themselves; and how they were to be seen all over
the district, and at the larger farms in great number and of great size.
We are Pedlars
The Cigarette returned with good news. There were
beds to be had some ten minutes' walk from where we were, at a place called
Pont. We stowed the canoes in a granary, and asked among the children for a
guide. The circle at once widened round us, and our offers of reward were
received in dispiriting silence. We were plainly a pair of Bluebeards to the
children; they might speak to us in public places, and where they had the
advantage of numbers; but it was another thing to venture off alone with two
uncouth and legendary characters, who had dropped from the clouds upon their
hamlet this quiet afternoon, sashed and be-knived, and with a flavour of great
voyages. The owner of the granary came to our assistance, singled out one little
fellow and threatened him with corporalities; or I suspect we should have had to
find the way for ourselves. As it was, he was more frightened at the granary man
than the strangers, having perhaps had some experience of the former. But I
fancy his little heart must have been going at a fine rate; for he kept trotting
at a respectful distance in front, and looking back at us with scared eyes. Not
otherwise may the children of the young world have guided Jove or one of his
Olympian compeers on an adventure.
A miry lane led us up from Quartes with its church and
bickering windmill. The hinds were trudging homewards from the fields. A brisk
little woman passed us by. She was seated across a donkey between a pair of
glittering milk-cans; and, as she went, she kicked jauntily with her heels upon
the donkey's side, and scattered shrill remarks among the wayfarers. It was
notable that none of the tired men took the trouble to reply. Our conductor soon
led us out of the lane and across country. The sun had gone down, but the west
in front of us was one lake of level gold. The path wandered a while in the
open, and then passed under a trellis like a bower indefinitely prolonged. On
either hand were shadowy orchards; cottages lay low among the leaves, and sent
their smoke to heaven; every here and there, in an opening, appeared the great
gold face of the west.
I never saw the Cigarette in such an idyllic
frame of mind. He waxed positively lyrical in praise of country scenes. I was
little less exhilarated myself; the mild air of the evening, the shadows, the
rich lights and the silence, made a symphonious accompaniment about our walk;
and we both determined to avoid towns for the future and sleep in hamlets.
At last the path went between two houses, and turned the
party out into a wide muddy high-road, bordered, as far as the eye could reach
on either hand, by an unsightly village. The houses stood well back, leaving a
ribbon of waste land on either side of the road, where there were stacks of
firewood, carts, barrows, rubbish- heaps, and a little doubtful grass. Away on
the left, a gaunt tower stood in the middle of the street. What it had been in
past ages, I know not: probably a hold in time of war; but now-a-days it bore an
illegible dial-plate in its upper parts, and near the bottom an iron letter-box.
The inn to which we had been recommended at Quartes was
full, or else the landlady did not like our looks. I ought to say, that with our
long, damp india-rubber bags, we presented rather a doubtful type of
civilisation: like rag-and-bone men, the Cigarette imagined.
"These gentlemen are pedlars?--Ces messieurs sont des
marchands?"--asked the landlady. And then, without waiting for an
answer, which I suppose she thought superfluous in so plain a case, recommended
us to a butcher who lived hard by the tower, and took in travellers to lodge.
Thither went we. But the butcher was flitting, and all
his beds were taken down. Or else he didn't like our look. As a parting shot, we
had "These gentlemen are pedlars?"
It began to grow dark in earnest. We could no longer
distinguish the faces of the people who passed us by with an inarticulate good-
evening. And the householders of Pont seemed very economical with their oil; for
we saw not a single window lighted in all that long village. I believe it is the
longest village in the world; but I daresay in our predicament every pace
counted three times over. We were much cast down when we came to the last
auberge; and looking in at the dark door, asked timidly if we could sleep there
for the night. A female voice assented in no very friendly tones. We clapped the
bags down and found our way to chairs.
The place was in total darkness, save a red glow in the
chinks and ventilators of the stove. But now the landlady lit a lamp to see her
new guests; I suppose the darkness was what saved us another expulsion; for I
cannot say she looked gratified at our appearance. We were in a large bare
apartment, adorned with two allegorical prints of Music and Painting, and a copy
of the law against public drunkenness. On one side, there was a bit of a bar,
with some half-a-dozen bottles. Two labourers sat waiting supper, in attitudes
of extreme weariness; a plain-looking lass bustled about with a sleepy child of
two; and the landlady began to derange the pots upon the stove, and set some
beefsteak to grill.
"These gentlemen are pedlars?" she asked
sharply. And that was all the conversation forthcoming. We began to think we
might be pedlars after all. I never knew a population with so narrow a range of
conjecture as the innkeepers of Pont-sur-Sambre. But manners and bearing have
not a wider currency than bank-notes. You have only to get far enough out of
your beat, and all your accomplished airs will go for nothing. These Hainaulters
could see no difference between us and the average pedlar. Indeed we had some
grounds for reflection while the steak was getting ready, to see how perfectly
they accepted us at their own valuation, and how our best politeness and best
efforts at entertainment seemed to fit quite suitably with the character of
packmen. At least it seemed a good account of the profession in France, that
even before such judges we could not beat them at our own weapons.
At last we were called to table. The two hinds (and one
of them looked sadly worn and white in the face, as though sick with over- work
and under-feeding) supped off a single plate of some sort of bread-berry, some
potatoes in their jackets, a small cup of coffee sweetened with sugar-candy, and
one tumbler of swipes. The landlady, her son, and the lass aforesaid, took the
same. Our meal was quite a banquet by comparison. We had some beefsteak, not so
tender as it might have been, some of the potatoes, some cheese, an extra glass
of the swipes, and white sugar in our coffee.
You see what it is to be a gentleman--I beg your pardon,
what it is to be a pedlar. It had not before occurred to me that a pedlar was a
great man in a labourer's ale-house; but now that I had to enact the part for an
evening, I found that so it was. He has in his hedge quarters somewhat the same
pre-eminency as the man who takes a private parlour in an hotel. The more you
look into it, the more infinite are the class distinctions among men; and
possibly, by a happy dispensation, there is no one at all at the bottom of the
scale; no one but can find some superiority over somebody else, to keep up his
We were displeased enough with our fare. Particularly
the Cigarette, for I tried to make believe that I was amused with the
adventure, tough beefsteak and all. According to the Lucretian maxim, our steak
should have been flavoured by the look of the other people's bread-berry. But we
did not find it so in practice. You may have a head-knowledge that other people
live more poorly than yourself, but it is not agreeable--I was going to say, it
is against the etiquette of the universe--to sit at the same table and pick your
own superior diet from among their crusts. I had not seen such a thing done
since the greedy boy at school with his birthday cake. It was odious enough to
witness, I could remember; and I had never thought to play the part myself. But
there again you see what it is to be a pedlar.
There is no doubt that the poorer classes in our country
are much more charitably disposed than their superiors in wealth. And I fancy it
must arise a great deal from the comparative indistinction of the easy and the
not so easy in these ranks. A workman or a pedlar cannot shutter himself off
from his less comfortable neighbours. If he treats himself to a luxury, he must
do it in the face of a dozen who cannot. And what should more directly lead to
charitable thoughts? . . . Thus the poor man, camping out in life, sees it as it
is, and knows that every mouthful he puts in his belly has been wrenched out of
the fingers of the hungry.
But at a certain stage of prosperity, as in a balloon
ascent, the fortunate person passes through a zone of clouds, and sublunary
matters are thenceforward hidden from his view. He sees nothing but the heavenly
bodies, all in admirable order, and positively as good as new. He finds himself
surrounded in the most touching manner by the attentions of Providence, and
compares himself involuntarily with the lilies and the skylarks. He does not
precisely sing, of course; but then he looks so unassuming in his open landau!
If all the world dined at one table, this philosophy would meet with some rude
The Travelling Merchant
Like the lackeys in Moliere's farce, when the true
nobleman broke in on their high life below stairs, we were destined to be
confronted with a real pedlar. To make the lesson still more poignant for fallen
gentlemen like us, he was a pedlar of infinitely more consideration than the
sort of scurvy fellows we were taken for: like a lion among mice, or a ship of
war bearing down upon two cock-boats. Indeed, he did not deserve the name of
pedlar at all: he was a travelling merchant.
I suppose it was about half-past eight when this worthy,
Monsieur Hector Gilliard of Maubeuge, turned up at the ale-house door in a tilt
cart drawn by a donkey, and cried cheerily on the inhabitants. He was a lean,
nervous flibbertigibbet of a man, with something the look of an actor, and
something the look of a horse-jockey. He had evidently prospered without any of
the favours of education; for he adhered with stern simplicity to the masculine
gender, and in the course of the evening passed off some fancy futures in a very
florid style of architecture. With him came his wife, a comely young woman with
her hair tied in a yellow kerchief, and their son, a little fellow of four, in a
blouse and military képi. It was notable that the child was many
degrees better dressed than either of the parents. We were informed he was
already at a boarding-school; but the holidays having just commenced, he was off
to spend them with his parents on a cruise. An enchanting holiday occupation,
was it not? to travel all day with father and mother in the tilt cart full of
countless treasures; the green country rattling by on either side, and the
children in all the villages contemplating him with envy and wonder? It is
better fun, during the holidays, to be the son of a travelling merchant, than
son and heir to the greatest cotton-spinner in creation. And as for being a
reigning prince--indeed I never saw one if it was not Master Gilliard!
While M. Hector and the son of the house were putting up
the donkey, and getting all the valuables under lock and key, the landlady
warmed up the remains of our beefsteak, and fried the cold potatoes in slices,
and Madame Gilliard set herself to waken the boy, who had come far that day, and
was peevish and dazzled by the light. He was no sooner awake than he began to
prepare himself for supper by eating galette, unripe pears, and cold
potatoes--with, so far as I could judge, positive benefit to his appetite.
The landlady, fired with motherly emulation, awoke her
own little girl; and the two children were confronted. Master Gilliard looked at
her for a moment, very much as a dog looks at his own reflection in a mirror
before he turns away. He was at that time absorbed in the galette. His mother
seemed crestfallen that he should display so little inclination towards the
other sex; and expressed her disappointment with some candour and a very proper
reference to the influence of years.
Sure enough a time will come when he will pay more
attention to the girls, and think a great deal less of his mother: let us hope
she will like it as well as she seemed to fancy. But it is odd enough; the very
women who profess most contempt for mankind as a sex, seem to find even its
ugliest particulars rather lively and high-minded in their own sons.
The little girl looked longer and with more interest,
probably because she was in her own house, while he was a traveller and
accustomed to strange sights. And besides there was no galette in the case with
All the time of supper, there was nothing spoken of but
my young lord. The two parents were both absurdly fond of their child. Monsieur
kept insisting on his sagacity: how he knew all the children at school by name;
and when this utterly failed on trial, how he was cautious and exact to a
strange degree, and if asked anything, he would sit and think--and think, and if
he did not know it, "my faith, he wouldn't tell you at all--ma foi, il
ne vous le dira pas": which is certainly a very high degree of
caution. At intervals, M. Hector would appeal to his wife, with his mouth full
of beefsteak, as to the little fellow's age at such or such a time when he had
said or done something memorable; and I noticed that Madame usually pooh-poohed
these inquiries. She herself was not boastful in her vein; but she never had her
fill of caressing the child; and she seemed to take a gentle pleasure in
recalling all that was fortunate in his little existence. No schoolboy could
have talked more of the holidays which were just beginning and less of the black
school-time which must inevitably follow after. She showed, with a pride perhaps
partly mercantile in origin, his pockets preposterously swollen with tops and
whistles and string. When she called at a house in the way of business, it
appeared he kept her company; and whenever a sale was made, received a sou out
of the profit. Indeed they spoiled him vastly, these two good people. But they
had an eye to his manners for all that, and reproved him for some little faults
in breeding, which occurred from time to time during supper.
On the whole, I was not much hurt at being taken for a
pedlar. I might think that I ate with greater delicacy, or that my mistakes in
French belonged to a different order; but it was plain that these distinctions
would be thrown away upon the landlady and the two labourers. In all essential
things we and the Gilliards cut very much the same figure in the ale-house
kitchen. M. Hector was more at home, indeed, and took a higher tone with the
world; but that was explicable on the ground of his driving a donkey-cart, while
we poor bodies tramped afoot. I daresay, the rest of the company thought us
dying with envy, though in no ill sense, to be as far up in the profession as
the new arrival.
And of one thing I am sure: that every one thawed and
became more humanised and conversible as soon as these innocent people appeared
upon the scene. I would not very readily trust the travelling merchant with any
extravagant sum of money; but I am sure his heart was in the right place. In
this mixed world, if you can find one or two sensible places in a man--above
all, if you should find a whole family living together on such pleasant
terms--you may surely be satisfied, and take the rest for granted; or, what is a
great deal better, boldly make up your mind that you can do perfectly well
without the rest; and that ten thousand bad traits cannot make a single good one
any the less good.
It was getting late. M. Hector lit a stable lantern and
went off to his cart for some arrangements; and my young gentleman proceeded to
divest himself of the better part of his raiment, and play gymnastics on his
mother's lap, and thence on to the floor, with accompaniment of laughter.
"Are you going to sleep alone?" asked the
"There's little fear of that," says Master
"You sleep alone at school," objected his
mother. "Come, come, you must be a man."
But he protested that school was a different matter from
the holidays; that there were dormitories at school; and silenced the discussion
with kisses: his mother smiling, no one better pleased than she.
There certainly was, as he phrased it, very little fear
that he should sleep alone; for there was but one bed for the trio. We, on our
part, had firmly protested against one man's accommodation for two; and we had a
double-bedded pen in the loft of the house, furnished, beside the beds, with
exactly three hat-pegs and one table. There was not so much as a glass of water.
But the window would open, by good fortune.
Some time before I fell asleep the loft was full of the
sound of mighty snoring: the Gilliards, and the labourers, and the people of the
inn, all at it, I suppose, with one consent. The young moon outside shone very
clearly over Pont-sur-Sambre, and down upon the ale-house where all we pedlars
PART ONE /
TWO / PART THREE