Chapter X

The direct road to Verdun, taken in mistake by Leonard, the queen’s coiffeur, on that fatal evening, leads to the right from the hotel of the Grand Monarque. We had intended to follow it, but were told that it was declasse, and was no longer cyclable. We retraced our steps, and soon rejoined the road from Clermont, which is part of the great road from Paris to Metz. Verdun has left as pleasant a memory to us as any town we have passed through. A bright, lively little place, well watered, surrounded by considerable hills, and crowned with a cathedral and a bishop’s palace worthy of the name. In Verdun we found a good museum, an intelligent director, a good library and a learned librarian, an excellent inn—the Coq Hardi—with good food, and an attractive local wine called vin gris. We naturally asked after traditions of the English prisoners and hostages who were kept here by Napoleon the First. They had left many memories behind them. Some of them had married Frenchwomen generally (we were told, their cooks), and had established themselves permanently in the place. We heard of half-a-dozen families with English names. We saw a model ship rigged by them which they used to sail on the Meuse, and a bas-relief presented by a grateful English sculptor to the church in which he was baptised. They wrote poems—” The Captive Muse”—they had an English club, they quarrelled, they gossiped and they backbit, and they left behind them £40,000 of debt, which the Verdunais to this day hope to recover from the English Government. After labourously pushing our machines up the heights above Nerdun, a favourable wind carried us rapidly to Mars le Tour, the last French village. From this point to Gravelotte the country is one huge graveyard. The fields are almost deserted: monuments erected by regiments, wooden crosses set up by private friends, extend as far as the eye can reach. Traffic seems to avoid the path as if it were haunted. We met a man who was sixteen in 1870. He spent the day of June 16 on the battle-field helping the wounded; he escaped with a bullet through his cap. I asked a peasant ploughing if he could give me a bullet or a badge as a souvenir. “Nous avons assez de souvenirs sans cela,” he replied. We were not sorry to reach Gravelotte. The inn was full of Germans: plans of the battlefields and of the monuments abounded. Just opposite the inn is a house of stone, where the French Emperor and his son slept on the night of the 15th. They had a narrow escape of being shut up in Metz. A stonebreaker by the roadside told us that he had seen Napoleon and Loulou. “Oui, j’ai vu son gamin.” He also informed us that he had spent the next two days in the cellar of his house. A short ride brought us through the terrible ravine of Grivelotte, where so many soldiers found their death, past the public house of St Hubert, so gallantly stormed by the Germans, to the heights of Point du Jour, which was the key of the French position. It appeared to us impregnable, and indeed it was never taken. The capture of St Privat on the left, or perhaps the failure of amunition, led them to retire on the following morning. From the point du Jour the cathedral and the fortifications of Mets were almost visible. A delightful descent brought us into the valley in which the heart of Lorraine lies. France may well regret the loss of so fair a province. She will never recover it: the town is full of soldiers, and the Germans hold it in an iron grasp. We were not sorry to repose in the palatial Hotel de I Europe, and the excellence of the military bands almost made us forgive them for waking us up at half-past four every morning. At Metz the weather broke, and we travelled ignominiously by rail to Strasbourg. Finis chartceque viceque.

Oscar Browning.

(Blackwood’s Edinburgh magazine, Volume 140, 1886, pp. 348-363)


Chapter IX

Valmy passed, we rode onward to Ste. Menehould. We crossed Orbeval, where Choiseul ought to have awaited the king, even though he had been forced to leave Pont-Sommevesle, and left Dampierre on the left, which recalled to us the unfortunate squire who came to pay his respects to Louis XVI. on his return from Varennes, and was massacred for his pains. “What is that disturbance?” asked the queen. “They are only killing a madman,” was the answer. Shortly after this we touched the pave of Ste. Menehould. St Menehould is famous for pigs’ feet, which are sent in baskets all over the world. We refreshed our famished bodies with an excellent dinner, of which they formed a notable portion. Ste. Menehould is not a village, as Carlyle calls it; it is an important town now, and was still more important a hundred years ago. The palatial town-hall dates from 1730. Close by is the fatal post-house, built in 1788, at which the royal family changed horses during their flight, and were recognised by the postmaster Drouet, who stopped them at Varennes. He was not bustling about in a night-gown, as Carlyle represents him, but had onjy just returned from working in the fields; nor was he an “old dragoon,” as he was only twenty-eight years old. Notwithstanding Carlyle’s graphic narrative, the true history of the flight to Varennes has yet to be written.’ From Ste. Menehould the road rises rapidly and enters the forest of the Argonne. The scenery is beautiful, but was scarcely discernible in the gathering twilight. We descend merrily to Les Islettes, one of the passages of the Argonne, which Dumourize called the Thermopyloae of France. The Duke of Brunswick, Goethe tells us, expected serious resistance here, but found none. We light our lamps and hurry through the gloomy woods to Clermont.We found the little town en fete. There was no place in the inn, and we had to content ourselves with small but clean rooms in a cafe. A platform was erected in the market-place, a brass band struck up lively tunes, and the whole population was prepared to dance from nine o’clock till two in the morning, as they had done the night before. This is the manner in which they celebrate the feast of St Fiacre, whoever he may be. We looked forward to a sleepless night, but the rain came down and scattered the merry crowd, and we were allowed to slumber in peace. It is but a short distance from Clermont to Varennes, a place of which every one has heard, but which few have visited; yet no one can properly understand the catastrophe of the king’s arrest, and of one of the most important events in the history of France and of Europe, unless he has been tn) this desolate spot, which lies on the way to nowhere. The town (for it is a town, and not a village) is of peculiar construction. It is built on an incline sloping down to the river Aire. Across the A ire there is a bridge, and on the other side of ‘the bridge is the chief hotel—the Grand Monarque —and the principal church. The upper town has two large open spaces—the Pace Verte or Place du Chateau—where the old original castle stood, and the marketplace. In the market-place in 1791 stood a church, now pulled down, connected by an archway with a clock-tower which still exists. Next below the clocktower was the inn of the Bras d’Or, and a little way down the street on the other side was the house of M. Sauce. The royal family arrived at Varennes about midnight with horses from Clermont; the relay which was to carry them on the next stage was in the stables of the Grand Monarque on the other side of the bridge.1 The carriage stopped in the Place Verte, and the queen got out to ask where the relays were to be found. She even called at a large house, still standing, and took some refreshment, but the owner could not help her. The postboys were unwilling to go any farther, as they had been specially told by the wife of the postmaster at Clermont to come back directly, as the horses were required next day for harvest-work. It is said that she never forgave herself, and regarded herself to her dying day as the cause of the king’s death. Had young Bouille, who was in charge of the escort, waited at the entrance to the town, or had the gardes du corps sauntered down to the bridge all would have been well. But thirty-five minutes were lost. Drouet and his friend Guil laume arrived on horseback from Ste. Menehould, and told the postilions to stop—vous menez le Roi! He found a few faithful patriots as the Bras d’Or, and with their assistance he stopped the carriage at the fatal archway. There was but a step from the street of Varennes to the guillotine. We went over the house formerly occupied by Sauce. A nextdoor neighbour told us that it had been completely altered, that the street had been widened, the houses on that side had been moved back, and nothing of the original structure remained. It appeared to us that the narrow corkscrew staircase which Choiseul and i Damas were prepared to defend stair by stair was unchanged. The Abbe Gabriel, the best authority on the subject, states that the rooms are still the same. The back bedroom in which the royal family passed the night could not well have been longer than ten feet by eight. It is pitiable to think how chance after chance was lost. The bridge was barricaded, but there were two easy fords, one above and the other below. A moment of decision would have saved the monarchy, but the weakness which destroyed it was continued to the end.

Chapter VIII

At Chalons one is already in the clutches of the destiny which closed with such fatal effect round the royal travellers to Varennes in 1791. The king thought if he could once pass Chalqns he would be safe. He was recognised, indeed, as he changed horses, but his prudent major advised that nothing should be said about the matter. The post-house at which the royal family stopped still exists, the residence of the general in command of the forces. The stone pave begins there to slope slightly upwards; and we can imagine how the leaders of the six horses stumbled, broke their traces and had to be replaced —an interruption to the journey, and a bad omen for success. At the other side of the town are two mournful memorials — the triumphal arch built for the first reception of Marie Antoinette on her arrival from Germany, with the royal lilies of France on one side and the united shields of France and Lorraine on the other; and the beautiful little prefecture, a perfect specimen of the domestic architecture of the late ancien regime. Under this ,arch the queen passed for the last time, on her return from Varennes surrounded by seething crowds who might have offered violence had the carriage entered the town by the ordinary route, and in the prefecture she was lodged a prisoner— the first night of that lingering confinement which was only to terminate with the scaffold. This was also a favourite sojourn of Napoleon III when he visited the camp of Chalons, and it once or twice afforded a lodging to Napoleon I. A short distance out of the town is the picturesque church of the Holy Thorn, built to cover with a worthy shrine a sacred picture and a holy well. The church is an interesting specimen of late and rather florid Gothic, scarcely worthy of the praise which Victor Hugo has so lavishly bestowed upon it. The most interesting feature of it is a delicate little chapel on the south side of the choir. We gazed at the picture, or rather as much of it as was visible through obtrusive ornaments and ex-votos, and we drank of the water of the well, which was exceedingly good. We wished solemnly as we drank, and who knows if one’s wishes will not be fulfilled! We continued our journey with the thought of the royal pair continually in our minds, and arrived eventually at Font-Summevesle, about twelve miles from Chalons. This momentous spot, where Choiseul waited during a summer day for the coming of the royal berlin, and, worn out with impatience, rode away just at the time when his royal naster was leaving Chalons, is described by Carlyle as a village, and called by him Pont de Sommevelle. It is not a village, but a farmhouse, with another house opposite to it, once an inn. It lies in a deep ravine, surrounded by trees. It is hard to see why it was made a post-station, except that the road from Rheims falls in a little higher up, and the villages of Courtisols and Sommevesle lie to the right of the road. The buildings of 1791 are still to be seen. It is difficult to understand why Choiseul should not have remained in this desert spot until nightfall. Had he been patient for two hours longer, the king would have been saved. After this, the interest of the roads grew thicker. A sign-post is passed upon the left with the inscription, “Valmy 5 kilometres.” We resist the temptation to follow it, and continue on our course, the ease and delightfulness of which it would have been a pity to interrupt. Soon the monument of Valmy comes into sight, taking the place of the famous windmill. On the summit of a cote we find ourselves close to the inn of La Lune, occupied during the battle by the Duke of Brunswick, and very near the spot whence Goethe rode forward to taste the dangerous rapture of the cannon-fever. The battle of Valmy is difficult to understand, because the French were posted between the Prussians and the frontier, and the Prussians between the French and Paris. But it was not a battle, it was a canonade. The Prussians thought that the undisciplined French would break and run at the first volley of grape-shot. They stood to their position, and thus, as Goethe had the insight to perceive, inaugurated a new era in the history of Europe. The Prussians seized the position of Valmy the next day, and could, if energetically led, have marched on to Paris, where they would have met with little resistance. But the rain had fallen and made the roads impassable; bread failed, ammunition failed, and the Allies were uncertain as to what they should do. To conquer Paris with a crowd of emigres would be embarrassing: it were better to hold the balance, and if possible to bring Louis XVI into Dumouriez’s camp. First inaction followed, then retreat, and the French pressed on so vigorously that the retreat became a route. A slight detour brought us in sight of the village of Valmy, which lay peacefully in the sunlight, unconscious of its reputation. The village schoolmaster, whom we met, complained of his scanty income; knew that a battle had at once been fought there, but could tell us nothing of its details.

Chapter VII

There are other things to be seen at Rheims besides the cathedral. There is the archbishop’s palace, with its great banqueting hall used for coronations, far inferior to our own Hall at Westminster or to the Romer at Frankfurt. There are the suite of rooms in which the king resided during his coronation, and which still retain the decorations made for Charles X. He must have had strange recollections of his brother’s crowning fifty years before! There is the abbey of St Remi, in which the holy oil was always preserved till it was brought to the cathedral just in time for use. This church was shorn of its splendour in the Revolution, but the tomb of St Remi still exists, guarded by the twelve peers of France, six lay and six clerical. There is the site of the abbey of St Nicaise, sold at the Revolution to Santerre, the Paris brewer, and pulled down— a site better known now by the champagne-vaults of Messrs Pommery and Messrs Ruinart. There is also the great square, with the statue of Louis XV., the Well-Beloved, and the fair-proportioned buildings of the eighteenth century. We had seen the sights of Rheims, and were preparing to ride along the level road which separates that town from Chalonssur-Marne, when a continuance of torrential rain made the roads impassable, and forced us to travel by train. It has been hitherto our experience that the inhabitants of one French, provincial town never speak well of any other. When we expressed our intention of visiting a place as next in our programme, we have always been told that it was a little town, and that there was nothing to see: there might be one inn where we could lodge for the night, but that was all. Chalons was no exception to this rule, If we had listened to our friends, we should certainly not have gone there; and yet no place we visited gave us greater pleasure. Chalons is situated on three rivers and a canal. The Marne, the Mau, and the Nau, here join their forces, and form the prettiest combinations in doing so. The Marne is a wide river like the Oise and the Aisne, with which we were already acquainted. The Nau flows through the middle of the former, and is partly arched over. There are no less than twenty-two bridges to facilitate communications. Between the stretches of these waters lie deliciously green ramparts and open spaces, which form delightful promenades. The town is bright and cheerful, with a strong flavour of the country. There are two open squares, one in front of the Hotel de Ville, and another now called the Place de la Republique, but formerly the corn-market. It was once surrounded by arcades like the rows of Chester, but only a few of them remain. Our hotel was a model of cleanliness, comfort, and hospitality. It rejoiced in the singular name of the Haute Mere Dieu, and was once the town office of a convent in the country, Chalons, like so many other French towns, has a great cathedral and another great church besides. The cathedral has so constantly suffered from fire, restoration, and other accidents, that what is left is not particularly striking. Still it has the remains of grandeur. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is worthy of the best days of French architecture. Its twin spires rise with magnificent effect. Its central and southern portals are rich with varied sculpture. The interior contains three huge galleries of stone under the triforium, which are such striking features at Laon and St Remi, and might be imitated with advantage in modern buildings. The windows, if they lack the gem-like colour of the fourteenth century, which is the date of the completion of the church, are worthy specimens of the art and piety of the sixteenth century. The life of the Virgin from the Golden legion, the touching story of Joachim and Anna, the rejection of the sacrifice, the meeting at the Golden Gate, recall many well – known masterpieces of Italian art. It would, indeed, seem not improbable that the design was of Italian origin. Besides the cathedral and Notre Dame, there are the interesting old churches of St Alpin, a local saint, and of St Jean, on the ramparts. The church of Notre Dame was full of worshippers at the morning service. Here and elsewhere we were struck by the vigour of the French clergy in restoring their churches, and maintaining reverent and impressive services. The French church appeared to us to be full of life, the clergy to be well educated, courteous, and intelligent. Chalons had recently sent a deputation to a pilgrimage at Lourdes, with the object of planting there a larger cross, made of olive-wood, from the Convent of Olive. A young priest of striking appearance mounted the pulpit, and told in eloquent and touching language the story of his mission, of what he had seen at Lourdes. We heard that a procession would be held in the evening at the Convent of St Joseph in honour of the same event, and we determined to be present. The little chapel of the convent was full to overflowing. After a service of litanies and hymns, candles were distributed to the congregation, and they began to file out of the church. Two and two they marched into the cloister—the women first, the men following. After making the circuit of the cloister, the line of worshippers passed into the garden — the different walks of which were arranged like a labyrinth. Here the scene was indeed impressive. The large orchard was full of slowly moving forms—two thousand people, we heard, were present: countless candles lighted up the starless sky, and the ceaseless chant of Ave Maria rose through the summer air. Only a few soldiers were to be seen. There are at present only two living forces in France — the Church and the Army. These are now opposed face to face, but some day may find them united.

Chapter VI

The road from Laon to Rheims is all paved, so we were obliged to take the train. In the great champagne town we find broad streets and many cafes, while our hotel is exactly opposite the west portal of the cathedral. . To the modern traveller Rheims means champagne and biscuits; to the historian, it means the coronation of the kings of France. The cathedral, which is as interesting and as beautiful as any in France, recalls the coronation in every feature. For this great event Rheims woke up once in every generation or so, and then went fast to sleep again. The cathedral has gained and lost by the honour which has been thrown upon it. It owes to it the richness of its windows and of its portals, but it also owes to it perpetual restorations which have impaired its beauty, and disfigured the architect’s original idea. Some months before each coronation, an official came from Paris with the bustling determination to make everything in the dull little provincial town as smart as possible. houses were pulled down, streets widened, old decorations furbished up, and the only limits to this unwholesome zeal were set by the chapter of the cathedral of St Remi, who had some regard for their pockets. The roof of the cathedral is thus disfigured by the gold lilies on a blue ground, which were painted to harmonise with the draperies of Charles X’s coronation. The capitals of the columns still bear the yellow whitewash which was used as a cheap substitute for gold: on the other hand, the cathedral treasure has profited by the liberality of the last Bourbon king, and the crucifix and candlesticks which he presented to the high altar are really magnificent. The western porch of Rouen Cathedral is the finest work of its kind in Christendom. There are three entrances, each a masterpiece of carving, rich with innumerable statues. The design is carried up to the top of the highest pinnacle. The meaning of the devices cannot be learned without attentive study. There are angels in adoration at the entrance to the sanctuary, prophets and evangelists, priests and kings. There are the virtues and the vices, the liberal arts, the months and the seasons of the year. There is the baptism of Clovis, which first gave the city its renown, the history of the Virgin, of Christ, and of the last judgment. The effect of this wealth of allegory when once recognised is very impressive: but the portal of Rheims cannot be classed with the best Italian works of the same kind, such as the bell tower of Giotto or the shrine of Orcagna. The reason is, as far as we can see, that the French artist was content with producing a general effect. The long slim figures of the principal statues in the porch are admirable adjuncts to architecture, but are not in themselves high works of art. They do not “speak” and “march” like the St Mark and the St George of the Oy San Michele at Florence. So the little groups which represent the arts or the seasons could not be photographed with the same enhancement of beauty as is found in the similar designs of Giotto, or in the smallest details of Ghiberti’s gates. No French art1st has reached so high a level of concentration as to spend the whole of a long life in making four bronze doors. The interior of the cathedral is worthy of its entrance. It is not so massive as Laon, nor so lofty as Beauvais, but it is full of grace, charm, and dignity. No church in France has more beautiful stained glass. The rose-window above the west door is filled with glass of such intensity of colour that the eye cannot penetrate its depths, and the other windows are not far inferior. Will Rheims ever see another coronation? The sacristan told us that Louis Phillippe could not be crowned there because he was not legitimate, and was king of the French, not of France. Would the Comte de Paris pass this scrutiny, or would the holy oil be available for no one but Don Carlos? These are not questions of pressing importance. It is, however, ominous that Louis XV was the last king who was crowned on the ancient rood-screen; and that Louis XVI and Charles X.—who were both crowned on the same platform in the nave—both ended badly.

Chapter V

A visit to Soissons would be incomplete without a visit to Coucyle Chateau. The name is well known from the proud device—”Roi ne suis, ne prince, ne due, ne comte aussi; je suis le sire de Coucy. This, in its simplest meaning, is nothing but the proud boast of a country gentleman of ancient lineage, who thinks himself as good as a peer. But the sight of the castle gives a new force to the words. They imply that the possessor of Coucy is a match for any king or prince in France; and he must, indeed have been a tough subject to deal with. The road from -Soissons to the Castle of Coucy is very good, but rises steeply. On reaching the top of a hill just when Soissons is passing out of sight, the keep of Coucy bursts upon the traveller like the keep of Windsor. It is round and massive, and the castle, like its English prototype, covers a large space of ground. Indeed, Coucy-le-Chateau is a town in itself, nearly if not quite as large as the town of Coucy-la-Ville outside the walls. At Coucy everything is on an enormous scale. It is some time before the eye can accustom itself to the grandiose proportions of the edifice; yet it was all built by a single man—Enguerrand III.—in a very few years. M. Viollet-leDuc suggests that it must have been garrisoned by an army of giants. There is no thought of luxury; everything is for stern defence. A drawing-room, made for some lady of Coucy at a late dute, is cut out of the thickness of the wall. We pass into the inner ward of the castle, and find ourselves at the door of the Round Tower, which bears on the architrave the crest of the Coucys —a man clad in Templar’s armour, with shield and sword, slaying a lion. We climb up the massive staircase, and try to repeople the shell with its jiving inmates. The upper room, with its huge galleries cut out of the stone, suggests a comparison with the great tribunes of Laon cathedral and of the Abbey of St Remi. From the summit the eye ranges over the district which the Coucys held so long in subjection. We cannot see the cathedrals of Noyon and Soissons, but we can see their immediate environs. We then understand how great a noble the Sieur de Coucy was, posted with his colossal fortress on the very frontier of France, and holding in his hand the lives and the power of three of its spiritual peers. Saint Louis must have been a bold and strong ruler to have dared to punish such a subject. The direct road from Soissons to Laon is half pave, and is therefore impassable for tricycles. After much inquiry, we discovered that our best course lay up the valley of the Aisne to a village called Vailly. The morning was hot and oppressive, but the road was good and the scenery pretty. We were again often reminded of the well-known reaches of the Thames. From Vailly we followed the Aisne as far as Soupir, where there is a country house with far-renowned show-gardens belonging to the daughter of a champagne merchant. Here we turned aside, and cutting across ‘country reached the main road again at Vendresse. A short ascent to the summit of a hill gave us a magnificient view. We then ran down a splendidly engineered road for three kilometres without touching the treadles of our machines. Another long ascent awaited us on the other side of the village, and from a cantinc close to a fort on the summit of a lofty hill we saw the fortress-cliff of Laon crowned with its cathedral and its abbey, commanding and subduing the subjected land which surrounds it. A long and rapid run brought us to Bruyeres, where there is a very old Romanesque church full of curious carving, the remains of an ancient abbey. After a very short ride we were at the foot of the cliff of Laon, but had two kilometres of weary marching before we could reach our inn. Our hotel rejoiced in the singular sign of La Hure—the Boar’s Head. We have met with it nowhere else in France. The town was so full of recruits just come in for their twenty-eight days’ service that we had some difficulty in procuring either lodging or board; but when obtained, both were excellent. The cathedral at Laon is one of the most impressive in France. It resembles that of Soissons, but is a little rougher in style. It is a marvel of simplicity and vastness. The huge galleries which surround its entire circuit, and the triforium which runs above them, would hold an immense concourse of people. It is more suited for a great spectacle—such as a coronation—than the cathedral at Rheims. It lacks a special beauty which Soissons possesses in the apsoidal termination of the transept. The cathedral has been thoroughly restored, and is not yet finished. The work has been done well, and with good taste—perhaps too well for doctrinaires, who believe that work of all epochs should be respected, and that the faintest trace of the original carver’s knife should never be meddled with. No one should omit to ascend the towers. They are curious and beautiful in themselves, and, raised above the summit of an isolated rock, they have an unrivalled view. Very strange are the figures of oxen interspersed among the pillars—an act of gratitude to the patient beasts who dragged the materials for the edifice up the toilsome hill. We felt here more ‘strongly, what was .never absent from our minds, the strategical importance of Laon as a bulwark of France against Normandy. Napoleon I., in 1814, failed to capture it from Bliicher; the Prussians, in 1870, entered it without resistance; but an obstinate officer blew up the powder magazine, and not only killed himself but injured the cathedral and the bishop’s palace. This last building is worthy of its destination. A great hall, in which the prince-bishop held his court, is cut up in courts of justice, but its former magnificence can easily be recalled. The archbishop’s chapel is still perfect, while the crypt bears witness to the antiquity of the see.

Chapter IV

But all the glory has departed. The forest of Compiegne is let out in lots to sportsmen. The chalet of the Empress, from the tower of which she shot the stag, is silent and dismantled. The avenue planned by Napoleon I., which leads in a broad sweep from the chateau to Beaugency, no longer echoes the prancing hoofs or is resplendent with gorgeous liveries. The charity of the Empress is missed in the surrounding villages. The palace of Louis XV is turned into a museum, the flower-gardens are still kept up, the band plays on Sunday, but the life is gone out of the place. Memories haunt us, as we saunter in the streets or in the forest, of young brides of France brought here for their honeymoon who ended in a coil of trouble; of Marie Antoinette received here by Louis XV.; of Marie Louise hurried hither prematurely by Napoleon; and finally, of the last gracious, occupant of the chateau, who, in her many recollections, can have few which are so bright as the fair days of Compiegne. The town is sunk in the dullness of French provincial life. There is no food for the higher nature—no literature, no art, no music; nothing but the army, the cafe, and the indecent novel, and the soil in which these ill weeds grow. There is a direct road from Chalons to Soissoos, which, passing at first through the forest of Compiegne, runs to the south of the river Aisne, and ends in that long line bordered with poplars which is so familiar an object to travellers in France. We were well advised in turning to the left, crossing the river at Francport, and following an older and more humble track. The scenery is lovely. Below us lie the quiet pools and reaches of the Aisne, with woody hills rising on the further bank. We are constantly reminded of the Thames, sometimes of the peaceful stretches of old Windsor and Ankerwyke, sometimes of the woods of Bisham. The villages through which we pass are composed of solid stone houses, with many appearances of comfort and prosperity. The village church is generally worth a visit, as it exhibits the rude Romanesque work of the twelfth century, or the richer tracery of the thirteenth or fourteenth. We halt for lunch at Vic-sur-Aisne, at the hospitable inn of La Croix d’Or. On the other side of the square is an old dungeon-keep, flanked by round towers, the remains of the strong chateau of the Clouet family, who have been lords of the manor for” three centuries. Behind the dungeon is the more modern residence, with a large tangled garden laid out in the style of the last century, and a terraced walk overlooking the river. At this point we crossed the bridge and rejoined the main road; but a long stretch of pave was in store for us, and we should have done better to have made our whole journey through the villages on the left bank. Soissons, like many French cities, has a large cathedral and a large abbey. They are placed, like St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, at different ends of the town.  This is the case also at Laon, at Rheims, at Rouen, and at Metz. The cathedral of Soissons is extremely impressive for the unity of purpose with which it has been conceived and constructed. It dates from the thirteenth century, the high-water mark of French Gothic architecture. It differs also from many of its sister churches by having been executed in a comparatively short space of time. Its whole construction did not extend over more than a hundred and fifty years. The cathedral stands complete, but the Abbey of St John in the Vineyards was destroyed in the Revolution. Nothing remains of it but two gigantic towers, a landmark to the surrounding country, which rise on each side of the richly carved portal—and a fragment of the thirteenth century cloister, which can only be seen from the platform of the tower. The present Republic restores churches at the public expense, but it can never replace what the first Republic wantonly devoted to destruction. On entering the cathedral by the great west door are seen two kneeling figures of nuns in painted marble. One of them is Marie de Rochefoucauld, and the other Henriette de Lorraine d’Elbeuf. They were both of them abbesses of the royal convent of Notre Dame, and are splendid types of the union of piety and culture, of courtly manners and simplicity of life, which distinguished the Church of France before the cataclysm which destroyed it. If the traveller wishes to see the halls in which these princesses lived, and the building which they ruled over, he will find nothing but a modern barrack, full, as it was when we saw it, of reluctant recruits. There is yet another Abbey at Soissons which has played a great part in history, St Medard, in which Pepin was crowned, and Louis le Debonnaire imprisoned. Very little remains of it except the subterranean vault which contains the prison of that unfortunate king. Its seven churches have disappeared, and it is now a school for the deaf, dumb, and blind.

Chapter III

There are other things to be seen at Beauvais besides the cathedral. There is the church of St Stephen, with its wealth of windows, the masterpieces of Engrand, le Prince and his followers: one of these has a field of blue, pure and limpid as the sky of Italy. A tree of Jesse bears on its upward branches the familiar figures of David, Solomon, the Virgin Mary, and Christ. The side branches, by a strange licence, carry kings of France—Louis XL, Louis XII., and Francis I.—while among them sits Engrand le Prince himself, now called, in proud veneration of his art, Engrand le Roy. This window is perhaps the finest which the sixteenth century has produced. There is also the great square of Beauvais, surrounded by picturesque houses, more various and broken in outline than is usual in a French town. Something of Flemish eccentricity, as well as of Flemish neatness, must have crept into the architecture. We are reminded of the neighbourhood of the Low Countries by the statue of Jeanne 1 Hachette in the centre of the square,—the brave girl who, at the head of others of her own sex, defended the ramparts in 1472 against the assault of Charles of Burgundy. The bishops of Beauvais were counts palatine, like our own bishops of Durhanj. Their ancient palace still exists, half of it a strong fortress, with a portal of twin towers like the Norman tower of Windsor or the palace of St Louis at Paris, half of it a luxurious building of late Gothic, with stately steps, grim gargoyles, and turret staircases. We must also visit the manufacture of tapestry still kept up by a republican government, and many other things of which the guidebook will inform us. The road from Beauvais to Clermont-sur-Oise is a cyclist’s paradise. It stretches for seventeen or eighteen miles flat and smooth without a break. We ran merrily along, only hindered by passing carts and by frightened horses,—for in this part of France the horses are not so well accustomed as in Normandy to the flash of the dazzling wheel. We reached Clermont in two hours in the cool of the evening, and enjoyed the fresh invigorating air. On the summit of the rock of Clermont is seated the ancient castle of its feudal counts, and from its terraced gardens the eye ranges far over hill and plain, field and forest. The church at the castle gates is rich with painted glass and is well restored in every part. In these regions France is indeed felt to be ‘the beautiful’ Few travellers on the ugly line from Boulogne to Paris know what scenery lies on either side of them. The ride to Compiegne took us a long time. The road is good at first, and passes many ancient manors and churches; but soon there are hills and, still worse, pave. Pave is the cyclist’s curse: for kilometre after kilometre he must tramp over uneven paving stones, pushing before him a machine not constructed to be pushed which jolts and rattles at every step. If he flies to the side he finds himself either ankle-deep in sand, or jolting over grass intersected by continual grips. It’s certain place of torment is paved, as we are told, with good intentions, depend upon it cyclists are punished by having to ride there. However, every road has its turning and our last turning brings us to the similar banks of the Oise, crowned by the town of Compiegne. Alas! Its glory is departed. We had been told that it was the season at Compiegne, that it was the beautiful moment that strangers would be found both there and at Pierrefonds. We saw nothing but commis-voyageurs, who abound everywhere. We expected to find a Capua in Compiegne, but there was no theatre, no concert, nothing but the crowded cafe and the eternal billiard. Still, Compiegne is well worth a visit. The castle of Pierrefonds, restored at a vast expense by Napoleon III., is a splendid specimen of the later feudal castle which combined strength and magnificence in their fullest proportions. An essay of M. Viollet-le-Duc teaches us to observe how the donjon, the living rooms of the castellan, were carefully isolated from the rest of the building; and how security was gained by an elaborate network of passages well known to those within, but difficult to be traced by those without. The fortress was so well constructed that it could be held in ordinary times by a garrison of fifty men. The long vaulted chamber which lies under the great hall could afford place for five hundred mercenaries who were admitted in time of need. It is a mark of the manners of the time to see that they were treated with the strongest suspicion, were allowed access to no part of the castle except the room in which they lived, while along the side of it ran a gallery paced by trusty guards who could fire on the defenceless mercenaries if they attempted an act of disobedience. The restoration of Pierrefonds was not a whim of boastful extravagance, but a work of national importance, and the Republic still continues parsimoniously what the Empire had begun.

Chapter II

The road to Gisors crosses the highroad between Paris and Havre at Les Thilliers, where a hospitable inn gives us an excellent luncheon. We meet two English boys resident in France, who have run down on their bicycles to Dieppe for a day’s holiday and are hastening back to Paris. They learn with dismay that the direct road is paved and that they must make a detour by Vetnon and Mantes. They will scarcely reach Paris that evening, as they intended. Our route runs first to Dangu, once the home of Gladiateur the Derby winner. Comte Lagrange is gone, the chateau is sold and the glory of the training stables is dimmed. As we stop on a hill to look back upon the English-looking house of the sporting Frenchman, we see the towers of Gisors in front of us. Who has not heard of the prisoner of Gisors? Who has not seen his portrait, as published under the auspices of the English Art Union? We all know him as he sits carving a large crucifix on the walls of his prison with one of the links of the chain which binds him. The rock is hard, the light is scanty and the work appears prodigious. The reality was apparently not so bad. The Chevalier Poulain covered three parts of his circular chamber with a number of subjects partly sacred and partly secular, interesting from their variety and naivete, and form the light they throw on the customs of the times. But the rock is soft and yields easily to a sharp nail, and the light from the loopholes was sufficient for his purpose. Little is known of him except his name, which he has carved himself, and he was perhaps only imprisoned for a few months. In the matter of pathos and romance the prisoner of the Art Union has the best of it, but there are other reasons for going to Gisors. The castle fortress is enormous in extent: the round keep and the large space enclosed remind us of Windsor. It was built by Robert of Bellesme for William Rufus as a portion of the systematic defence of Normandy. The view from the highest turret is extremely beautiful, as it sweeps over hill and forest, and follows the course of the Epte to the Abbey of St. Clair, where the treaty was signed which gave Normandy to the Normans. The castle of Gisors, once seen, will never be forgotten. Like the castle and church of Little Andelys, it has a special voice for Englishmen. The church at Gisors is well worth a visit. It is a curious mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The towers are very late, but the north door is a masterpiece of delicate tracery and lace-like carving. It opens directly upon a narrow lane through which all married couples pass on their way from church, and which bears their name. Gisors is evidently a well-to-do country town, the centre of a neighbourhood of rich squires devoted to field-sports. The shops are bright and well stocked, and the arqucbusiers have made ample preparation for the opening day of sport on August 30. A good road takes us from Gisors to Beauvais. A few miles out we pass Trye-chateau, a village with a beautiful Romanesque church and town-hall and a country house in which the Prince of Conti gave an asylum to Rousseau. After leaving this we see few signs of habitation. The road rises perceptibly but in gradual slopes. We are constantly obliged to dismount and leave our machines up the hills In less dry weather it would not be difficult to ride up the hills without leaving our saddles, but the roads art covered with sand which impedes our progress as much as mud. At last the welcome plateau of Les Houssoirs is reached, a miserable street of dirty houses. We seek refreshment in a cabaret, and are terribly cheated: we pay less than is asked, and that is twice too much. But our labours are over: a good road and an easy descent leads us to Beauvais. Beauvais lies in a valley, and we see nothing of it until we are close upon it. The cathedral from a distance looks like a huge barn, and the suburbs are as squalid as those of an English manufacturing town. Beauvais must be known to be appreciated, but when known it produces a profound effect. The design of the cathedral is perhaps the most hazardous which was ever conceived by an artist’s mind. It consists of nothing but a choir and transepts; but the height of the choir is stupendous—a fairy erection of shafts, mullions, and windows, soaring far into the sky. This aerial palace is supported by a forest of flying buttresses, which appear to cross and interlace from each different point of view. The choir has the effect of a crystal casket let down from heaven by angelic hands, and anchored to earth by the slenderest ties. The architect soon found that his projected interior arches were not sufficient to support his build1ng, and he was forced to double their number. The multiplicity of columns which result from this change does not diminish the effect of the interior. The doors at the end of each transept are rich with elaborate tracery, but their statues and sculptures were destroyed at the Revolution. The windows of the nave contain the figures of prophets and kings sketched out in bold masses of colour, for no delicate work could have been appreciated from below. For three hundred years the piety of Beauvais toiled at the completion of this monument. There was money enough to build the nave, but the architect employed desired to immortalise himself by a colossal spire, open in the inside from base to summit, so lofty that the towers of Paris could be seen from its topmost gallery. The tower was built, but lasted only five years. Unsupported on the west side by any of the nave, it fell with a crash, after five years of existence, on Ascension Day 1573, at the moment when the customary procession was leaving the cathedral to make its circuit round the town. The cathedral will remain a torso, for no future generation will dare to touch it. In the eyes of the neighbourhood the chief wonder of Beauvais is not the cathedral, but the astronomical clock made by M. Verite, a distinguished native of the town, still living. The mechanical part of the clock is admirable. It tells everything which any one can wish to know—the month, the day, the hour; the saints days and the movable feasts; the time at every important place in the civilised globe; the golden number, the epact, the indiction, the dominical letter, and many other similar mysteries; the stars visible both at Beauvais and at its antipodes; the hours of high and low water at Mont St Michael and Jersey. But what most people come to see is a dramatic representation of the last judgment. At noon, the little chamber which holds the clock is crowded with expectant folk. Shortly after the hour has struck, a figure of Christ at the summit of the clock gives his benediction; the’ twelve apostles who stand around turn towards the central figure; the forms of various kings approach at open niches, disappear, and give place to flames. Then a statuette of Virtue is seen below the Redeemer. She is conducted to the place of blessing by an angel, to the sound of solemn music. A hideous resemblance of Vice is slowly driven to the other side by a devil of most revolting aspect. St Joseph and the Virgin intercede in vain. The balance held by the archangel Michael falls remorselessly on the wrong side. There ought to have been thunder, but we did not hear it. Justice having been satisfied, the flames disappear, and all the figures resume their previous position. There is a cock which crows with a ghastly croak, less lifelike than the bird of Strasbourg. This play of marionettes is, in the eyes of the Beauvaisins, worth all the science in the world. We suspect that it could not have been so to its author.

Oscar Browning (17 January 1837 – 6 October 1923) was an English writer, historian, and educational reformer. His greatest achievement was the cofounding, along with Henry Sidgwick, of the Cambridge University Day Training College in 1891. This was one of the earliest institutions in Great Britain to focus on the training of educators, preempted only by the founding of the Cambridge Teaching College for Women by Elizabeth Hughes in 1885

To be found in Blackwood’s Edinburgh magazine, Volume 140, 1886, pp. 348-363


Chapter I

No traveller should despise railways. Rapid trains, lightning trains, are not the worst triumphs of civilisation. We breakfast one morning in London, the next morning at Lucerne, and dine that evening at Milan. We commit ourselves to a sleeping-carriage, and wake up some days afterwards at Rome or Constantinople, having found all our wants supplied in our travelling house. But this rapidity is purchased at some cost. There are towns which habitual travellers never see. Early in an autumn morning we brush the film from our windows to catch a glimpse of the hill-fortress of Laon, or of the cathedral of Rheims. If we wish to visit them, we must get out in the cold, and wait twenty-four hours for another train. Other names great in history or art pass by us unnoticed. We know the refreshment-room of Amiens better than its cathedral. What is the remedy for this? We cannot return to the days of travelling-carriages. The old post-stations are shut up; post-horses and postilions are not to be had. We should not like to stable our own horses in the close, ill-smelling hovels which would be offered to us for our accommodation. It is poor fun to take a walking tour along the hard high-road. Luckily civilisation has provided the best remedy for it own ravages. The bicycle supplies the place of the pad-horse, and the tricycle of the gig. We rattle merrily along the macadam at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour; our steeds only need a few drops of Tringham’s oil; we carry in our wallet enough clothes for a night or two, and send our heavy luggage by train or diligence. We are restored again to the delights of the road,—we see the hills, the open fields, the peasantry, and the country inns; we stay in many an old town, forgotten since the time of our grandfathers; we have freedom, air, and exercise for our bodies and plenty of entertainment for our minds. Filled with this idea, two friends started, on a summer afternoon, from the good city of Rouen. As we mounted the steep slope which leads up to Boos, we looked down for the last time on the pools and islands of the Seine, on the towers of St Ouen and the cathedral, and on the tall chimneys of the manufacturing suburbs. Trade, we were told, is dull in this rival of Manchester, but Rouen does not lay this to the fault of the Republic. At Boos we refreshed ourselves with Normandy cider, the peculiar drink of the province, visited a fifteenth-century dovecot which marks a manor of the Abbey of St Amand and fare on the highroad to Paris. At Fleury we cross the Andelle, a humble tributary of the Seine, mount the laborious slope on the other side, take a road to the right which leads to the English-looking village of Fresne-l’Archeveque, in which a magnificent mountain-ash full of berries justifies the name of the township. The slope of a deep Devonshire lane opens a vista which is closed by the majestic keep of Chateau Gaillard, the favourite child of Richard Cceurde-Lion. We soon find ourselves in the streets of Grand Andely and commit ourselves to the hospitality of Madame Leroy of the Hotel Grand Cerf. Les Andelys, the large and the small, are two of the prettiest villages in France. The lesser Andelys lies on the banks of the Seine, as it flows in graceful curves, and embraces wooden islands in its course; the greater spreads in a long line up the valley. The church of Grand Andelys is rich with carved crockets and painted windows. Its construction was spread over three hundred years, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. It is too imposing for a village church, and attests the former splendour of the town of Saint Clotilde. Just opposite stands our inn, the Grand Cerf, a curiosity worth a visit. It was the country house of Niaolas du Val, counsellor at the Parliament of Rouen in the time of Francis I. He built this house in the first half of the fifteenth century. The front towards the street is carved with helmeted heads and works of agriculture. The lower story contains the great hall, now divided by a partition, with its huge chimney, where ten people can warm themselves with ease. The projecting cover of the fireplace is carved with coats of arms and other devices. We are shown into a large bedroom on the upper floor with two beds set in deep alcoves. The room is full of ancient furniture, pottery and pictures. Three large commodes of the time of Louis XV are placed against the walls. The tables are so covered with every form of blue and white china, Rouen, Moustiers, Strasbourg and Delft, that there is no room for anything else. Our very hand-basins are of majolica, while the walls are hidden with clocks, Flemish pictures, ivory statuettes, fragments of stained glass, resting on large panels of Beauvais tapestry. The house is a Musee de Cluny on a small scale, better perhaps to visit than to live in. Little Andelys owes its celebrity to the ‘saucy’ castle which Richard I built in a single year’s truce as a barrier against France. It remained untouched till the beginning of the seventeenth century and was lived in by Henri IV. We are sometimes tempted to regret the dismantling of these ancient buildings and to wish that they had been quietly left to the ravages of time. But it is easy to see that, as long as they were habitable, but un-kept and unguarded, they were a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Their deserted halls and intricate passages found a shelter for brigands, false coiners, beggars, tramps and vagrants of all kinds. It was necessary either to garrison them or to destroy them. The first course was expensive or impossible; the second was lucrative, by sale of the materials. Chateau Gaillard is justly considered as the high-water mark of castle-building at the end of the twelfth century and dates from the year 1197. We still admire the lofty donjon with its circular bastians, the three concentric fosses cut in the living rock and the precipitous escarpment which falls directly to the Seine. But the traveller must not forget to visit the parish church. It is a gem of architecture of the same date as the castle. The exquisite purity of its vaulting fascinates the eye. It would be just in place in an English village.

This is the finale chapter

Chapter XXIV

As I came in front the door flew open. Five men rushed out, smiling and bowing. I recognised them at once: it was not long since in their carriage they had, as we thought, been mocking us. My spirits fell still lower. “Ist es ein gasthaus?” I asked in my very best German, which might have been, I admit, far better, and still not good. “Madame speaks French, is it not so?” one answered in that blessed language. “It is here, the inn. Enter— enter!” Never before did French sound so sweet in my ears. And they were glad enough to speak it, since they were Hungarians, and no self-respecting Hungarian will talk German if he can avoid it. They helped me with my bicycle; they opened the door wide; they bowed and scraped. When Joseph joined me, there they were all smiling in a row. He recognised them too. “What are these idiots grinning for? ” he said, for hunger makes one savage. “They don’t mean anything by it,” I told him. “They are enchanted to see us –  I don’t know why — and, what’s of more account, there’s something to eat inside.” The front door opened immediately into a good- sized room. In the centre was a table with seven covers. They pulled up chairs for us by the window, they surrounded us, and then a tall, big, fine -looking old man, with white beard and hair, brought a decanter, wine-glasses, and something on a plate, and placed them before us. “What is it?” asked Joseph “Two specialities of the country,” they all answered; “bread and cognac made in this district. We always begin our dinner with them here.” Joseph turned to the old man, who was the landlord, to find out what else he could give us. “He speaks only Hungarian,” they all explained for him. “But he is preparing a dinner. It will be simple, because he expected no guests. What there is you shall have.” The dinner was served almost at once. It was a banquet— soup, gulyas, that still more famous Hungarian speciality, an omelette and cheese. And when I said to the friendly landlord, who hovered over us heaping up our plates, “Thank you” in Hungarian—“Koszonom,” as the man at my right wrote it in my note-book—he added an extra course of honey and apples. He had a pretty granddaughter, with very red cheeks and black hair, whom he would not allow to come nearer than the kitchen-door. Three of our friends, who were young, kept making excursions into the kitchen to see her: she was the true type of the Hungarian girl, they said, to explain their interest. The banquet was all but at an end when one of them said gravely, looking at J oseph and myself: “Now that you are in Hungary, you must conform to the usage of the country, is it not so? Will you not then drink with us?” We all chinked glasses, and they drank first to our bon voyage, and then to America. It was gracefully done. It was at this stage of the meal that they at last explained why we had been received as distinguished guests. The party of five men, who were engineers travelling on some Government business and had studied in Paris, had heard of us in Vienna, had spent the night in the same hotel at Raab, had seen us start, and, as we knew, had overtaken us. Their smiles then had been all friendliness, not mockery. They knew this was the inn we must reach by noon; we were strangers travelling in Hungary, and the honour of their country was at stake. The landlord understood the position at once. Was he not a patriot? He had fought with Kossuth; these pictures on his bare white walls were portraits of the great democrats of Europe. Never must it be said that strangers had come to his house and been turned away empty. His duty it was to prove that the far-famed hospitality of Hungary was no idle word. Well, we liked it—the warm, cordial, heart-whole Hungarian hospitality, of which this, in the little inn of a nameless village, was destined to be but the first of a long series of delightful examples. The engineers left before us. It was time to settle our bill. The old man brought a slate and chalked it up. It came to a gulden and a half for the two. This was preposterous, and we were sure he must have forgotten something, but how could we tell him? “It’s the cognac, for one thing,” said Joseph, and he asked the landlord “Cognac?” pointing to the slate. But the old man shook his head violently. It explained as plainly as if he had spoken that he, as a Hungarian patriot, even though he was an innkeeper, would have been disgraced for ever had he taken a kreutzer for the glass with which he bade us welcome under his roof. Then he wanted to fill our pockets with all the apples that were left. The engineers had given us elaborate directions at parting. But it was no use. We were as much astray as ever, and not long afterwards, to our surprise, we found ourselves on the shore of the Danube, close to Gran, the town with the big sham St. Peter’s on the hill, and the crowds of seminarists in long blue robes in the streets. The boat from Vienna was already in sight. It seemed like fate, and we bought our tickets and went on board. Upon the first-class deck we were in the West, in the Europe of black coats and Parisian bonnets. But surely it was the East down there on the second-class deck, where a tiny boy in the divided skirts of his country was playing on his fiddle a Czardas for the white-robed Hungarians, for the Servians in baggy red breeches and fez, for the Slovaks with hair hanging long and loose under their broad-brimmed black hats, with enormous leather belts covering the gap between their drawers and their short white shirts. Down the river floated rafts worked by these same creatures, who look as wild as savages and are as tame as sheep. Hills now rose on each side and presently behind them, on our right, the sun sank and we steamed on in the dusk. Then lights were lit on shore, little points of gold in the darkness, first scattered, and then grouped on the hillsides and on the low banks, until suddenly a burst of electric light blazed upon us. We were steering under a wide bridge, and the street-lamps of Budapest and their long, shining reflections stretched in two beautiful curves in front of us. It was worth coming by boat to get this for our first impression of the town. At the wharf a porter took our bags. We wheeled our machines along the embankment, under the trees, where people were sauntering up and down in gay crowds, and open-air cafes in a brilliant line looked riverward. In five minutes we reached the hotel. As we opened the doors, a wild burst of gipsy music greeted us. We were in Budapest, and our journey was at an end.

The Illustrated London News, Elizabeth Robins Pennell, 1892

Chapter XXIII

Between Amstatten and Vienna stretch one hundred and twenty-seven kilometres, and we rode them in a day. There was no longer mud to flounder through, showers to dodge, hills to crawl up and down. The rain had stopped, a hot summer sun was shining, and for the first ninety or so kilometres to Neulengbach, where we lunched, we flew over the smooth hard surface of a road fairly level and mostly good—indeed, in places not far behind the perfection of a French Route Nationale. It is the charm of cycling that when the pleasure comes the misery is forgotten; and today the pleasure was all in the going. We stopped only once to look from a hilltop to the far Danube, with the little white towns and big castle on its banks; once to buy fruit under the shadow of the enormous Renaissance monastery of Melk, where we again came out on the river. We dismounted only to walk over the paved streets of St. Polten and Boheim- kirchen. But all this was changed after lunch. Gone was the good road, and in its place had come back familiar mud and ruts. Too soon were the wheeling through interminable suburbs full of people and carts and carriages, too soon did the paving begin, the dust become intolerable. The last kilometres into Vienna were as wearisome as the first out of Amstatten had been exhilarating. For days we had been living in small towns and villages, travelling over lonely country roads. Now, by contrast, the noise and movement of the capital were bewildering. I thought I had never seen such reckless driving even among Parisian glazed coats and red waistcoats. But the excitement of our first impressions wore quickly off. By our second evening Vienna seemed dull and lifeless—a milk-and-water Paris. Theatres were closed galleries were either moving or taking a holiday. If we went to the Volksgarten to hear a Strauss concert, the rain was sure to drive us away again. When soldiers, with oak-leaves in their hats, marched through the town in honour of the Kaiser’s birthday they aroused such languid interest that there was no inducement to go later to see the fireworks in the Prater. Only a few of the giddier cafes made a show of life and gaiety. We would have left at once had we not given our bicycles for a general cleaning and overhauling to a Viennese cycle agent, who said that they were the dirtiest he had ever seen. We felt this to be a distinction, but to him it was an excuse to keep them several days. Under any circumstances, it is a nuisance to ride through a large town which you do not know. In Vienna it is something worse; since, if you have not a license, if you have not a number big enough to be seen a mile off on the front of your machine, a policeman as likely as not will stop you at every turn. And so, when our bicycles were clean and in order again, we did not attempt to start from the hotel, but took the boat going eastward from Vienna, and went down the river as far as Pressburg. Hungary was the end of our long journey across Central Europe. We felt that it ought to be uncivilised and Eastern, all gipsies and music and wild creatures with the stamp of Attila—whatever that might mean—on every feature. But, then, we had hoped for almost as much of Bohemia, and Bohemia had turned out to be very like any other country in Europe, only below the average of picturesqueness in costume and architecture. Now, however, the boat had hardly passed the “Gates of Hungary,” where the old fortress stands in ruins on the rocks—it had not touched the first pier below— when we found that we were in another world, a world where men wore wide white linen drawers, real divided skirts, the link between the trousers of the West and what Kinglake calls the petticoat breeches of the East; where the women’ s skirts stood out as in the days of crinoline, and were short enough to show either bare ankles and sturdy calves or a pair of neat high boots; where the occasional man in a fez was a real Servian, and not a sham Turk; where soldiers were arrayed in skin-tight red breeches, braided with yellow, and brilliant Hussar jackets. All along, now, in the wide fields and meadows washed by the river, the same white divided skirts followed the plough or wandered with the great herds of cattle that grazed on the banks; everywhere and there on the water lay an old floating mill. Even at a glance, even so near the Austrian frontier, Hungary could not be reproached with lack of character. When Pressburg, with its castle-crowned hill, came in sight, we had seen enough to make us glad to be on shore and on our machines again. But not long did our gladness last. The country was all right—the endless plain dotted with the white peasants, the villages with their wide streets lined with low white houses, their little pond in the centre, and at their every door a well, with long inclined pole, so that as you entered it the street looked like a quay with the masts of ships rising its entire length. And the peasants, too, were all that they should have been, with costume enough to satisfy the most exacting, and, despite their strange loose shirts and drawers, a certain dignity about the men, tall and erect their faces clean-shaven save for the long moustache burnt yellow by the sun. But the road was all wrong. It was nothing better than a broad sand track across the plain: in places it got inextricably lost in the no less sandy fields, and we seemed to be going across country as recklessly as a huntsman after the hounds. Only by good luck was it that we kept on in the right direction. It was a long, steady, slow grind to work our bicycles over the loose surface, the wheels sinking deeper at every turn. Nor was it much easier to walk; mud, I think, would have been pleasanter. By evening we had got no farther than Raab. It was a pretty town, and in front of the hotel there was a carriage with a crest on the door and a coachman, worthy of the stage, in white drawers, blue coat, braided and frogged like a Hussar’s, and a round felt hat with long ribbons hanging in the back, a feather stuck on one side. But we were so tired that, even though the gipsies we had come all this long distance to see and hear were going to play in the restaurant, we went to bed as soon as we had eaten our supper. It was through our window, open to the soft August night, that we heard the first wail of the Czardas on its native soil. If we had not let mud and hills long before this bring our cycling to an end, now we were not going to be baulked by sand. We started out the next morning, again by the road, which was no better. It was just the same sand track across the same sandy fields. Of our route I can say nothing, since we promptly lost our way; nor could we ask it of the peasants, who spoke only Hungarian. “Why don’t they talk a decent Christian language?” we grumbled; though, if they had, of course we would be the first to take them to task for not having a language of their own. The plain still stretched far away on each side; there were still the little white villages with their wide street and great rows of mast-like poles to the wells; still the crowd of white-robed peasants rushing out to watch us ride. Men in the ordinary clothes of civilised life we saw only occasionally in a village, and once in carriages on the road, when they stared and smiled and tried to race us. ‘‘Cads are the same the world over,” said Joseph, for we were ploughing through the sand, and in no smiling humour. Things looked serious towards noon. We were starving; not a town was in sight, and, as we had no idea where we were, there was no help to be got from a map. For all we knew, we might follow the road for kilometres and kilometres, and see never so much as an inn by the way. And when we did, in the course of an hour, reach a village, it seemed as if, for all prospect of eating, we might as well be back in the open fields. We wheeled slowly through the wide street: there was not a sign of inn or even shop where bread could be bought. We came to the far end: nothing. A little beyond was a small house standing quite alone. Without much hope, I walked towards it, while Joseph waited with his machine.

Chapter XXII

Into a second we wheeled just at the dinner hour, and in the big hall of the inn where we stopped to dine, some old men, in knee-breeches and short jackets with silver buttons, were gathered round a table singing a long grace. Wherever we went there were always the same operatic groups. But as the day wore on, instead of living up to their clothes and dancing Tyrolese dances on the green, as we expected, they drank in honour of the Virgin, and from every Gasthaus, with a bunch of grapes hanging in front—for we were now in a wine country—came the familiar sound one hears in a London public-house on a Bank Holiday. But the funniest part of it all was that the endless tourists were got up too—were also a part of the big spectacle. There were the cyclists, clubs of half a dozen at a time, in their jerseys and tight knee-breeches and little caps—a contrast to the slouchy Germans—and there were the people in brakes and the people on foot, all in grey and green, doing their best to imitate the peasants. Even the women among them wore the soft Tyrolean hats and bodices. But, whatever their costume, Austrians know how to wear it well; and even here, in the mountains, as later in Vienna, they gave us the impression of a well-dressed nation. It was in the Ennsthal we met them in greatest number, after Admont, with its big cathedral and bishop’s palace and our old friends the rococo statues, when the Enns, which had been flowing quietly through pasture land, leaped down between rocks, and the valley narrowed into a gorge, and between green hills the road brought us nearer and nearer to the big, bare mountains we had been watching all day. People were just coming home from their day’s expedition, many genuine Austrian Tartarins on foot, greyer and greener and more braided and embroidered than the native guides at their sides; many in brakes that rattled by with great jingling of bells. And in a little hollow at the very foot of the steep, bare mountain sides we came suddenly upon a big hotel with a railroad station opposite, and a parlour car waiting on a siding. They were such very superior tourists that we kept on, though it was getting late, and though the valley beyond, where it narrowed again, was already dark. Two or three kilometres farther, we were off our machines and walking. It was now black as night between the mountains. The road was, as it had been all along, atrocious, wandering up and down at abrupt angles, innocent of even a pretence at engineering— no better really than the widened track of primeval man. It was all stones and ruts and mud, except where here and there it had disappeared entirely under the mass of dirt and boulders left by a late- wash-out. It was impossible to ride, and we were still “eirn gute Stunde,” as the last native we met told us, from Hieflau. The rocks rose abruptly to our left, to our right the mountain fell away sheer and steep to the river just below us. Above we could see the fantastic shapes of the peaks, black against the dark blue of the sky. From the rocks came low moanings and whisperings, like ghost voices, and once or twice a dim light went wandering high upon the brow of the precipice. It was uncanny. But what worried me most was the very matter- of-fact and disagreeable chance of meeting holiday-makers on their way home, for by this time every other man in the country was hopelessly drunk. A good hour? It was fully two before the shriek of a passing train made a friendly sound in the wild, lonely valley, before we crossed the railroad and saw a lamp at the window of the little house at the gate. And another weary kilometre or more we tramped before, green and red in the darkness, burned the lights of Hieflau station, and, as if suspended in mid-air, glowed the fiery smoke of two high factory chimneys, while a pale moon was just beginning to shine on the hilltops. Hieflau itself was as dark and silent as the valley; we had to wait for someone to come by to ask our way to the hotel. It was a blessed relief to wheel the machines into the hall. The landlord met us. “We want a room,” we said, and begun to unstrap our knapsacks. “But I have none,” he answered. “Is there another inn in the town?” “No.” “What can we do?” “I can make you a bed in the straw.” This was cheerful. “We had better get something to eat anyway,” Joseph suggested, and we strapped our knapsacks on again, and went into the dining-room. Then Joseph was struck with one of his most brilliant ideas. We would have an adventure—the real one of our journey. It was nonsense to try and sleep in the straw. We would spend the night out of doors, as we had been wanting to do for years. We would find a pretty place in the valley—there would be no trouble to find one lonely enough—and we would wrap ourselves up in all the clothes we had with us, and then we would sleep in the coolness of the night and watch the dawn come, and be very romantic, and lay in a stock of rheumatism for years. But first we must eat and drink heartily: that was very important. We ordered a big supper. We had a bottle of good wine and liqueur with our coffee afterwards. In the meantime more people had been crowding into the dining-room—men in flannel shirts, girls with big white hats, a Jew with a ring in one ear and a feather in his soft felt, boys and children; and the two long tables were full. We had not had the valley to ourselves after all, and it was clear that the landlord had no rooms: at first we thought that it was our appearance he objected to. Perhaps he had, and perhaps now it was the size of our supper which made him think we were good people to have in the house. When we asked for our bill, up he came, and in a low whisper told us that he found he could manage to give us a room, and to follow him. We looked at each other in despair. But we had enough common-sense to know that it would be simple idiocy to sleep in a rain-drenched valley by the riverside when decent beds were at our disposal. But first we asked the price of the room, hoping that by preposterously overcharging us he might still leave us a reasonable excuse to prefer the rocks. But two gulden, under the circumstances, were moderate. Not quite sure of us yet, he made us pay at once, and then he showed us and our bicycles into a large room on the ground floor. And so ended our adventure! When we came out in the morning, the young men were brushing the straw off their clothes and filling their pockets with hard-boiled eggs; the Jew was breakfasting on Kummel and black bread. Again we followed that prehistoric track through the Ennsthal, the hillsides now less precipitous and more pastoral; again we met peasants in holiday dress, for it was Sunday, and tourists and cyclists; again we passed little villages with groups at the inn door and on the church steps. At Weyr, where we lunched, we left the Enns, but with no great regret, for the further we went from it the better became the road, so that we wheeled at a good pace into Waidhofen, with its fine old bridge and castle. And now the mountains lowered, and fell farther away on each side, and it was over a long level stretch, between pine woods, that we rode to Amstatten, where we put up for the night in a big new hotel, with its restaurant in the street. A cyclist from Vienna ate his supper with us, and told us he had passed us in Admont the day before, and that I was the first Frau he had ever seen on a bicycle.

Chapter XXI

The next morning there was a good deal about St. Gilgen to remind us of the Scottish Highlands—the grey and drear and rain-driven lake our window’s overlooked; the pleasure parties starting out in macintoshes and under umbrellas; the young men on make-believe walking tours and the young women ready to flirt with them: the people from town masquerading in the dress of the country—not kilts and Tam-o’-Shanters, but no less theatrical Tyrolese knee-breeches, short jackets, and feathered soft hats, all striped and bound and braided with green; and the amiable landlord, with advice and fine weather forecasts and a hearty handshake for everyone, except the preposterously rude Herr Graf, who, with his liveried servants, tried to monopolise the hotel, and for whom, therefore, were obsequious bows. Scotch-like, too, was our own start in a fine Scotch mist, and our ride, skirting the lake in alternate sunshine and shower; but not the roadside shrines, the tablets and pictures commemorating miraculous escapes of lone wayfarers; not the pretty old mill worked by horses driven round and round by a boy in a curious swinging seat; not the many benches for the convenience of tourists whose mountaineering enterprise ceased with their dress. At Strobl a dismal party with umbrellas raised were sitting on the deck of a little steam boat at the pier, bound for the excursion up the lake, though rain poured and clouds blotted out the near mountain sides. Just so have I seen tourists set out for a day’s excursion in Mull and Skye. There are Scotchmen who have never forgiven us because we once ventured to say that it rains sometimes in the Highlands; Austrians themselves admit that it never does anything else in the Salzkammergut. We dried off over a good breakfast in a tiny inn, the Pole having tabooed the hotel at Strobl, which, he said, was bad and clear: we got wet again in time to ride, dripping and sloshing, into Ischl. No wonder that the royal horses took fright and almost ran off and spilled the Empress of Austria; no wonder that we made a sensation in the cafe where we drank coffee. I was relieved afterwards, when everyone—waiters and loungers alike—came out into the street to see us mount, that I did not show them how much easier it was to land in the mud than in the saddle. We had gone about ten kilometres from Ischl when I heard behind me a crash and a thud ; I turned, and there were the Pole and his machine clinging to each other in the mud. “Tis nothing! ” he cried. But he had been so amiable the day before in picking me up when I had taken a gutter by mistake that I got down and went to him. He had broken his Pedal pin. Joseph, who, as always, was far ahead, missed us, thought something awful had happened to me, and came back full tilt. We held a consultation there in the mud where; he had fallen, coachmen and footmen in the passing carriages smiling down upon us in supercilious sympathy. However, there was nothing for him to do but to go to Ischl or hunt up a blacksmith in the last village. We did not say good-bye. With ‘his imperturbable good spirits he declared he would catch a late train and join us at Aussee, where we were to spend the night. And so Joseph and I rode on alone between the poplars, and through the little hilly villages, where flat roofs gave way to gables; now and then getting down to walk, or to look nearer at the life-size painted figures in the small chapels opening upon the road—one representing the Saviour carrying his cross, with Turks for executioners. It was only between Ischl and Aussee that we found these very striking groups, so like the more famous statues of the Italian Alps. It would have been wiser not to linger. It was getting late when we reached Agatha, and the road began to climb, not a hill, but a precipice. We pushed our machines resolutely up for live minutes, then we stopped for breath. Joseph got his first “I’m going back to Ischl,” he said, “and I’m going to take the train for Vienna. This sort of thing don’t pay, and I ve had about enough of it.” So had I, but a woman with a baby and a man with a pipe volunteered the information that in a very few minutes we would be at the top, and we went on. For a little while the road was at least less precipitous, and a-tramp we overtook assured us that in a very few moments more it began to go down. Of course, it did not, and on we pushed and panted, now between dense pine woods. We met a guard with a gun slung across his back: about fifteen minutes still, he told us, we must walk; after that it was all easy going. He was wrong too. But then the last thing to be expected of the average man is that he should know anything about his own country. The road just kept on scaling that precipice, with an occasional little break, or, what we would call at home, a “thank-you-Ma’am” I saw nothing but my machine except when we stood to take breath and to wipe the perspiration from our faces. Then, once I looked down through a clearing in the wood to a beautiful wide lake below; at other times, on both sides stretched the forest. The farther up we went, the lower fell the sun; we were still climbing when the afterglow deepened into twilight. And now we met no one. For all we knew there might be highwaymen and assassins and all sorts of dangers in the woods here, as the roadside pictures showed there were in the hills near Salzburg. We ought to have stayed with the Pole: he carried a pistol in his bag and a whip on his handle-bar. We had not even a good-sized spanner. When the road at last began to go down, it was worse than ever trying to back-pedal over ruts and mud in the darkness. Presently two men passed, but they were drunk, and wanted to steady themselves by grabbing our machine’s and could tell us nothing. I was wretchedly tired, and ready to stop at the first cottage. Joseph was for pushing on to Aussee; the Pole, he said, would be waiting for us. “And what if he was?” I asked. I think under the cover of night I shed a few tears. Joseph insisted that it was easier to ride on a bad road in the dark, and begged me to come on. But I knew that it was not, and I walked. How far we had gone I hardly know, when we came to a solitary house directly on the road, with lights in the window. Out of pity for me Joseph got down, and knocked at the door. It was an inn, and the landlady, before she saw me, told him he could have a room for two people for eighty kreutzers. Had she known it was a poor, weary woman waiting for him outside, probably she would have charged double. We thought this inn our discovery, it was so primitive and simple, all but the price of ham at supper, which cost us twice as much as our beds. But there was a dining-room with great rafters, and benches and tables of delightful design around the walls; there was a little maid, pattering about in bare feet, to wait on us; there were peasants, who looked as if they had strayed out of an opera chorus, smoking together, in a walled-in balcony, and upstairs there was for us a bedroom on the other side of a large chamber, with huge presses flanking the door; and we were, the only guests. But in the morning we found another larger dining-room enclosed in glass, with tariffs and time-tables hanging on the walls, and a visitors’ book, with page’s of closely written names. It was really a mere appendage to Ischl. Its picturesqueness was all “got up” for the benefit of the tourist. But the whole country, as we rode on, had this air of being got up, turned into a big show or spectacle, like Tartarin’s Alps. It.was Saturday Aug 25, the Feast of tile Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and therefore a holiday. As we rode down into Aussee, we met the peasants on their way to church—the men in knee-breeches, short jackets, and soft hats, now braided with gold and embroidered with green, the women in bright skirts (some of silk) and big black handkerchiefs over their heads. In Aussee, where we went to the hotel to find our friend the Pole, who, however, had not as yet appeared, people, in the same costumes that smelt so strongly of the stage, were arranged in approved operatic groups in the street and in the hotel dining-room below stairs, where they began their pious celebrations with a bottle of wine, while we drank our second coffee. And so it was all along the road and in the many villages into which we climbed or coasted. One we reached just in time for Mass, and around the church, which stood on a little hill above the main street, knelt the people, the men on one side, the women on the other.

Chapter XX

The road grew worse in the afternoon. It was full of ruts, which brought me several times—the Pole oftener—to the ground and I believe Joseph, when he was out of sight, indulged in a private tumble on his own account. And so, when the sun set, we were kilometres away from Salzburg. But the Pole insisted that the Keller would make up for everything, and on we pushed. In the twilight we crossed a bridge: at one end the blue-and- white Bavarian pole and the inevitable German soldier with his rifle, who wished us good evening; at the other, the Austrian orange-and-black and Customs officers, who let us pass without a word. We were again in the home of the gulden. Salzburg may be very picturesque as you ride towards it from Bavaria. But only its lights at intervals we saw, as, in single file, Joseph leading and the Pole bringing up the rear, we hurried through the darkness—first in the open road, then between high white walls, and at last under a gateway that promised, and proved the next morning, to be fine by daylight. Here the Pole thought it would be wiser for him to lead, since he knew his Salzburg. So well did he know it that twice we followed him over the same bridge, twice up and down the same streets, and then twice we watched him bargain at the hotel where the landlord, in confusion, talked English to him, French to us. But never once did he lose his temper—not even when there seemed no escape from that extra half-gulden for a candle. Long after Joseph’s patience and mine had flown. He was amiability itself. He understood, if we did not, that, as somebody says, the wisdom of daily life enjoins politeness. Like the Bohemians, he seemed bent on showing us that the dreamy Slav is all a humbug, that the real Slav is the most practical of mankind. He would not let us off from that visit to the Weinkeller, which half-a-dozen stray citizens and a couple of policemen politely helped him to find. It was no more a genuine cellar than Wagner’s in Baireuth. There were a few rooms indoors, but it was mainly a large, open court, shut in on one side with the rough rock of the overshadowing mountain. If it was as crowded in proportion as the brewery of Munich, currents of fresh air from over the hills and continual showers kept it fresh and clean. So long as the rain gave us a chance, we sat in the large square with sky for roof, eating Wiener Schnitzel and drinking Hungarian wine out of compliment to the country, while we looked at the people, so much jauntier in dress and bearing than the Bavarians, the men wearing their theatrical soft hats with feather at one side, or big paintbrush (Joseph’s name for it) at the back, with a grace which the uncompromising top hat could never borrow. But it was not until morning that we had our first impressions of Salzburg as we saw it from our windows, a place of narrow, rain-driven streets, where dogs, harnessed to milk-carts, sat under umbrellas in the gutters; as we saw it in the sham Tyrolese room that served for hotel cafe, a haunt of tourists, English, American, French, but chiefly German and Austrian. Between showers we went out, but just as we began to learn how well the town stands on both sides the Salzach—like Budapest on the Danube—and how effective is the castle on its hilltop, down came the rain again and drove us into a very bad picture,-show of native painters, where the only good things were German or American. It cleared towards noon. We could not afford to waste the sunshine, and so we made a new start after breakfast. The road out of Salzburg was first a wide river; then it ran up hill in a perpendicular line. Naturally we walked. It might have been some help if that marvellous outlook over the valley of the Salzach, with Salzburg coming up so finely in the centre of the picture it made, had been in front and not behind us. Except when we turned for a minute, we saw nothing but the steep mountain we had to climb. Peasants, with empty carts, were climbing too, and the Pole, equal to the occasion, tried to bargain with them to carry our machines. But one laughed idiotically for an answer, another said half a kilometre would bring as to the top, a third wanted half a gulden for each. There was a stupid passiveness about all the peasant in the Salzkammergut. A laugh, as a rule, was the only answer we could force from them. Perhaps they did not understand us: but the hideous goitres, the more hideous dwarfs, we saw suggested another reason for their dullness. Not till the very end of the afternoon was our climbing over, though we had an occasional coast down to a lake, as brilliantly and impossibly blue as the sky in the painted shrines and memorial tablets by the way. It was here we saw the true art of the country rather than in the gallery of Salzburg-an art