Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place X
The diligences did not suit our hours, and Françoid could obtain no carriage to take us Aix-la-Champelle but an enormous lumbering omnibus. Imagine what a travelling-carriage! Though the distance is but about twenty-five miles, we were nine mortal hours passing it; however, it was through a lovely country, varied with bill and dale, a refreshing variety after the monotonous dead-level of our preceding days in Belgium. On leaving Liege we passed the Meuse and ascended a long hill, and from the summit looked over a world of gracefully-formed land, all under the dominion of the husbandman. The fields are enclosed by hedges, inferior to the English, but resembling them in the trees that intersperse them. There is very little pasture-land amid this garden-like cultivation. I have seen one flock of sheep to-day of a tall, slender breed; and very beautiful cows, white with brown spots, that, cow-fancier as you are, would enchant you. They rival your Victoria and her mother the duchess.
We passed villages at abort intervals, not bearing the smallest resemblance to a New-England village, for there is nothing that bears the name in Europe so beautiful. I may say this without presumption after having seen the English villages. The village here is usually one long street of small, mean houses built contiguously. At almost every house there is something exposed to sell. The tenants are all out of door—the "seven ages" of man—and at least half are smoking. We saw girls not more than six years old with their faces; and they smoke on to old age, apparently cheerful and healthy. Yet we hold tobacco to be a poison; perhaps the out-of-door life is the antidote. We have passed pretty villas to-day, end substantial farm-houses with capital barns and offices, all indicating rural plenty.
With the threats of beggars in our guide-book, we have been surprised at our general exemption; but to-day we have seen enough of them, and a sight it is quite as novel to our New-World eyes as a cathedral or a—police-man. They have followed us in troops, and started out from their little lairs planted along the road, blind old men and old crones on crutches. As we begin the ascension of the hills we hear slender young voices, almost overpowered by the rattling of the wheels on the paved road; by degrees they multiply and grow louder, and before we reach the summit they overpower every other sound, crying out to the mademoiselles is the coupé and to the monsieur and madame in the intérieure, in a mongrel patois of French and Flemish; "Ah donnez moi un petit morceau de brod—vous n'en serez pas plus pauvre—da-do—charité pour un pauvre avaugle, madame—da-do !"
A few leagues before reaching liege we experienced another equally disagreeable characteristic of the social system of the Old World. We passed the Prussian frontier, and were admonished by the black eagle—a proper insignia for a custom-house, a bird of prey—that our baggage must be inspected. We dreaded the disturbance of our trunks, and looked with suitable detestation on the moustachoed officials that approached us. While they were chaffering with François to settle the question whether they should go up to the baggage or the baggage come down to them, and deciding that the mountain should come to Mahomet, an officer of as harmless aspect as Deacon I., with spectacles on nose and a baby in his arms, came to our relief, saying that if Monsieur le Courier would give hiss parole d'honneur (a courier's parole d'honneur!) that there was nothing to declare—that is customable—the examination might be omitted. François pledged his word, and there was no farther trouble. This contrasts with the torment we had in England, of baring all our baggage overhauled and disarranged, and sent home to us, some light articles lost and delicate ones rained. That this should happen in civilized England at this time of day is disgraceful. I felt it a mortification, as if the barbarism had been committed by my own kindred.
While our lunch was preparing we strolled off to a little meadow, where there were some young people loading a cart with hay. We sat down on the grass. The scene was pretty and rural, and so home-like that it brought tears to our eyes; homelike, except that there was a gift not so big as your Grace—no, not five years old, raking hay and smoking a pipe.
Returning to the inn we passed the open window of our friend the master of the customs. I thanked him for his forbearance. He appeared gratified, and when we came away he came out of his door with a friend, and they bowed low and repeatedly. Better this wayside courtesy than the bickerings that usually occur on similar occasions.
- "Give us a morsel of bread—da-do—you will not be the poorerfor it—sa-da!—charity for a poor blind man!"