IN SUFFOLK

THE Orwell is reputed to have the finest estuary in East Anglia. It
is a broad stream, and immediately Shotley Barracks and the engines
of destruction have been left behind, it begins to be humane and
reassuring. Thanks to the surprising modernity of the town of Ipswich,
which has discovered that there are interests more important than those
of local pilots, it is thoroughly well buoyed, so that the stranger and
the amateur cannot fail to keep in the channel. It insinuates itself
into Suffolk in soft and civilized curves, and displays no wildness
of any kind and, except at one point, very little mud. When you are
navigating the Orwell, you know positively that you are in England.
On each side of you modest but gracefully wooded hills slope down with
caution to the bank, and you have glimpses of magnificent mansions set
in the midst of vast, undulating parks, crisscrossed with perfectly
graveled paths that gleam in the sunshine. Everything here is private
and sacred, and at the gates of the park lodge-keepers guard not only
the paradisiacal acres, but the original ideas that brought the estate
into existence.

Feudalism, benevolent and obstinate, flourishes with calm confidence in
itself; and even on your yacht’s deck you can feel it, and you are awed.
For feudalism has been, and still is, a marvelous cohesive force. And
it is a solemn thought that within a mile of you may be a hushed
drawingroom at whose doors the notion of democracy has been knocking
quite in vain for a hundred years. Presently you will hear the sweet and
solemn chimes of a tower-clock, sound which seems to spread peace and
somnolence over half a county. And as you listen, you cannot but be
convinced that the feudal world is august and beautiful, and that it
cannot be improved, and that to overthrow it would be a vandalism. That
is the estuary of the Orwell and its influence. Your pleasure in it will
be unalloyed unless you are so ill-advised as to pull off in the dinghy,
and try to land in one of the lovely demesnes.

About half-way up the estuary, just after passing several big
three-masters moored in midstream and unloading into lighters, you come
to Pinmill, renowned among yachtsmen and among painters. Its haven is
formed out of the angle of a bend in the river, and the narrowness of
the channel at this point brings all the traffic spectacularly close to
the yachts at anchor. Here are all manner of yachts, and you are fairly
certain to see a friend, and pay or receive a visit of state. And also
very probably, if you are on board the Velsa some painter on another
yacht will feel bound to put your strange craft into a sketch. And the
skipper, who has little partiality for these river scenes, will take the
opportunity to go somewhere else on a bicycle. You, too, must go
ashore, because Pinmill is an exhibition-village, entirely picturesque,
paintable, and English. It is liable to send the foreigner into
raptures, and Americans have been known to assert that they could exist
there in happiness forever and ever.

I believe that some person or persons in authority offer prizes to the
peasantry for the prettiest cottage gardens in Pinmill. It is well; but
I should like to see in every picturesque and paint-able English village
a placard stating the number of happy peasants who sleep more than three
in a room, and the number of adult able-bodied males who earn less than
threepence an hour. All aspects of the admirable feudal system ought to
be made equally apparent. The chimes of the castle-clock speak loud,
and need no advertisement; cottage gardens also insist on the traveler’s
attention, but certain other phenomena are apt to escape it.

[Illustration: 0297]

The charm of Pinmill is such that you usually decide to remain there
over night. In one respect this is a mistake, for the company of yachts
is such that your early morning Swedish exercises on deck attract an
audience, which produces self-consciousness in the exerciser.

Ipswich closes the estuary of the Orwell, and Ipswich is a genuine town
that combines industrialism with the historic sense. No American
can afford not to visit it, because its chief hotel has a notorious
connection with Mr. Pickwick, and was reproduced entire a lifelike-size at
a world’s fair in the United States. Aware of this important fact,
the second-hand furniture and curio-dealers of the town have adopted
suitable measures. When they have finished collecting, Americans should
go to the docks–as interesting as anything in Ipswich–and see the
old custom-house, with its arch, and the gloriously romantic French
and Scandinavian three-masters that usually lie for long weeks in the
principal basin. Times change. Less than eighty years ago the docks of
Ipswich were larger than those of London. And there are men alive and
fighting in Ipswich to-day who are determined that as a port Ipswich
shall resume something of her ancient position in the world.

Just around the corner from the Orwell estuary, northward, is the
estuary of the River Deben. One evening, feeling the need of a little
ocean air after the close feudalism of the Orwell, we ran down there
from to the North Sea, and finding ourselves off Woodbridgehaven, which
is at the mouth of the Deben, with a flood-tide under us, we determined
to risk the entrance. According to all printed advice, the entrance
ought not to be risked without local aid. There is a bank at the mouth,
with a patch that dries at low water, and within there is another bank.
The shoals shift pretty frequently, and, worst of all, the tide runs
at the rate of six knots and more. Still, the weather was calm, and the
flood only two hours old. We followed the sailing directions, and got in
without trouble just as night fell. The rip of the tide was very marked,
and the coast-guard who boarded us with a coast-guard’s usual curiosity
looked at us as though we were either heroes or rash fools, probably the
latter.

We dropped anchor for the night, and the next morning explored the
estuary, with the tide rising. We soon decided that the perils of this
famous river had been exaggerated. There were plenty of beacons,–which,
by the way, are continually being shifted as the shoals shift,–and
moreover the channel defined itself quite simply, for the reason
that the rest of the winding river-bed was dry. We arrived proudly at
Woodbridge, drawing all the maritime part of the town to look at us, and
we ourselves looked at Woodbridge in a fitting manner, for it is sacred
to the memory not of Omar Khayyam, but to much the same person, Edward
Fitzgerald, who well knew the idiosyncrasies of the Deben. Then it was
necessary for us to return, as only for about two hours at each tide is
there sufficient water for a yacht to lie at Woodbridge.

The exit from the Deben was a different affair from the incoming.
Instead of a clearly defined channel, we saw before us a wide sea. The
beacons or perches were still poking up their heads, of course, but they
were of no use, since they had nothing to indicate whether they were
starboard or port beacons. It is such details that harmonize well with
the Old-World air of English estuaries–with the swans, for instance,
those eighteenth-century birds that abound on the Deben. We had to
take our choice of port or starboard. Heaven guided us. We reached the
entrance. The tide was at half-ebb and running like a race; the weather
was unreliable. It was folly to proceed. We proceeded. We had got in
alone; we would get out alone. We shot past the coast-guard, who bawled
after us. We put the two beacons in a line astern, obedient to the
sailing directions; but we could not keep them in a line. The tide
swirled us away, making naught of the engine. We gave a tremendous
bump. Yes, we were assuredly on the bank for at least ten hours, if not
forever; if it came on to blow, we might well be wrecked. But no. The
ancient _Velsa_ seemed to rebound elastically off the traitorous sand,
and we were afloat again, In two minutes more we were safe. What the
coastguard said is not known to this day. We felt secretly ashamed of
our foolishness, but we were sustained by the satisfaction of having
deprived more local pilots of their fees.

Still, we were a sobered crew, and at the next river-mouth
northward–Orford Haven–we yielded to a base common sense, and signaled
for a pilot. The river Ore is more dangerous to enter, and far more
peculiar even than the Deben. The desolate spot, where it runs into the
sea is well called Shinglestreet, for it is a wilderness of shingles.
The tide runs very fast indeed; the bar shifts after every gale, and not
more than four feet of water is guaranteed on it. Last and worst, the
bottom is hard. It was probably the hardness of the bottom that finally
induced us to stoop to a pilot. To run aground on sand is bad, but to
run aground on anything of a rocky nature may be fatal. Our signal was
simply ignored. Not the slightest symptom anywhere of a pilot. We
were creeping in, and we continued to creep in. The skipper sent the
deck-hand forward with the pole. He called out seven feet, eight feet,
seven feet; but these were Dutch feet, of eleven inches each, because
the pole is a Dutch pole. The water was ominous, full of curling crests
and unpleasant hollows, as the wind fought the current. The deckhand
called out seven, six, five and a half. We could almost feel the ship
bump… and then we were over the bar. Needless to say that a pilot
immediately hove in sight. We waved him off, though he was an old man
with a grievance.

We approached the narrows. We had conquered the worst difficulties by
the sole help of the skipper’s instinct for a channel, for the beacons
were incomprehensible to us; and we imagined that we could get through
the narrows into the river proper. But we were mistaken. We had a fair
wind, and we set all sails, and the engine was working well; but there
was more than a six-knot tide rushing out through those narrows, and
we could not get through. We hung in them for about half an hour. Then,
imitating the example of a fisherman who had followed us, we just ran
her nose into the shingle, with the sails still set, and jumped ashore
with a rope. The opportunity to paint a water-color of the _Velsa_
under full sail was not to be lost. Also we bought fish and we borrowed
knowledge from the fisherman. He informed us that we had not entered by
the channel at all; that we were never anywhere near it. He said that
the channel had four feet at that hour. Thus we learned that local
wisdom is not always omniscience.

After a delay of two hours, we went up the Ore on the slack. The Ore is
a very dull river, but it has the pleasing singularity of refusing to
quit the ocean. For mile after mile it runs exactly parallel with the
North Sea, separated from it only by a narrow strip of shingle. Under
another name it all but rejoins the ocean at Aldeburgh where at length
it curves inland. On its banks is Orford, a town more dead than any
dead city of the Zuyder Zee, and quite as picturesque and as full of
character. The deadness of Orford may be estimated from the fact that
it can support a kinematograph only three nights a week. It has electric
light, but no railway, and the chief attractions are the lofty castle,
a fine church, an antique quay, and a large supply of splendid lobsters.
It knows not the tourist, and has the air of a natural self-preserving
museum.

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EAST ANGLIA

AFTER the exoticism of foreign parts, this chapter is very English.
But no island could be more surpassingly strange, romantic, and baffling
than this island. I had a doubt about the propriety of using the phrase
“East Anglia” in the title. I asked, therefore, three educated people
whether the northern part of Essex could be termed East Anglia,
according to current usage. One said he did n’t know. The next said
that East Anglia began only north of the Stour. The third said that East
Anglia extended southward as far as anybody considered that it ought to
extend southward. He was a true Englishman. I agreed with him. England
was not made, but born. It has grown up to a certain extent, and its
pleasure is to be full of anomalies, like a human being. It has to be
seen to be believed.

Thus, my income tax is assessed in one town, twelve miles distant. After
assessment, particulars of it are forwarded to another town in another
county, and the formal demand for payment is made from there; but the
actual payment has to be made in a third town, about twenty miles from
either of the other two. What renders England wondrous is not such
phenomena, but the fact that Englishmen see nothing singular in such
phenomena.

East Anglia, including North Essex, is as English as any part of
England, and more English than most. Angles took possession of it very
early in history, and many of their descendants, full of the original
Anglian ideas, still powerfully exist in the counties. And probably no
place is more Anglian than Brightlingsea, the principal yachting center
on the east coast, and the home port of the _Velsa_. Theoretically
and officially, Harwich is the home port of the _Velsa_, but not in
practice: we are in England, and it would never do for the theory to
accord with the fact. Brightlingsea is not pronounced Brightlingsea,
except at railway stations, but Brigglesea or Bricklesea. There is some
excuse for this uncertainty, as Dr.

Edward Percival Dickin, the historian of the town, has found 193
different spellings of the name.

Brightlingsea is proud of itself, because it was “a member of the Cinque
Ports.” Not _one_ of the Cinque Ports, of which characteristically there
were seven, but a member. A “member” was subordinate, and Brightlingsea
was subordinate to Sandwich, Heaven knows why. But it shared in the
responsibilities of the Cinque. It helped to provide fifty-seven ships
for the king’s service every year. In return it shared in the privilege
of carrying a canopy over the king at the coronation, and in a few
useful exemptions. After it had been a member of the Cinque for many
decades and perhaps even centuries, it began to doubt whether, after
all, it was a member, and demanded a charter in proof. This was in 1442.
The charter was granted, and it leads off with these words: “To all the
faithful in Christ, to whom these present letters shall come, the Mayors
and Bailiffs of the Cinque Ports, Greeting in the Lord Everlasting.” By
this time ships had already grown rather large. They carried four masts,
of which the aftermost went by the magnificent title of the “bonaventure
mizen”; in addition they had a mast with a square sail at the extremity
of the bow-sprit. They also carried an astrolabe, for the purposes of
navigation.

Later, smuggling was an important industry at Brightlingsea, and to
suppress it laws were passed making it illegal to construct fast rowing-
or sailing-boats. In the same English, and human, way, it was suggested
at the beginning of the twentieth century that since fast motor-cars
kicked up dust on the roads, the construction of motor-cars capable of
traveling fast should be made illegal. There are no four-masted ships
now at Brightlingsea; no bowsprit carries a mast; no ship puts to sea
with an astrolabe; the “bonaventure mizen” is no more; smuggling is
unfashionable; fast craft are encouraged.

Nevertheless, on a summer’s morning I have left the _Velsa_ in the
dinghy and rowed up the St. Osyih Creek out of Brightlingsea, and in ten
minutes have been lost all alone between slimy mud banks with a border
of pale grass at the top, and the gray English sky overhead, and the
whole visible world was exactly as it must have been when the original
Angles first rowed up that creek. At low water the entire Christian era
is reduced to nothing, in many a creek of the Colne, the Black water,
and the Stour; England is not inhabited; naught has been done; the
pristine reigns as perfectly as in the African jungle. And the charm of
the scene is indescribable. But to appreciate it one must know what
to look for. I was telling an Essex friend of mine about the dreadful
flatness of Schleswig-Holstein. He protested. “But aren’t you educated
up to flats?” he asked. I said I was. He persisted. “But are you
educated up to mud, the lovely colors on a mud-flat?” He was a true
connoisseur of Essex. The man who is incapable of being ravished by
a thin, shallow tidal stream running between two wide, shimmering mud
banks that curve through a strictly horizontal marsh, without a tree,
without a shrub, without a bird, save an eccentric sea-gull, ought not
to go yachting in Essex estuaries.

[Illustration: 0278]

Brightlingsea is one of the great centers of oyster-fishing, and it
catches more sprats than any other port in the island, namely, about
fifteen hundred tons of them per annum. But its most spectacular
industry has to do with yachting, It began to be a yachting resort
only yesterday; that is to say, a mere seventy-five years ago. It
has, however, steadily progressed, until now, despite every natural
disadvantage and every negligence, it can count a hundred and twenty
yachts and some eight hundred men employed therewith. A yacht cannot
get into Brightlingsea at all from the high sea without feeling her
way among sand-banks,–in old days before bell-buoys and gas-buoys, the
inhabitants made a profitable specialty of salving wrecks,–and when a
yacht has successfully come down Brightlingsea Reach, which is really
the estuary of the River Colne, and has arrived at the mouth of
Brightlingsea Creek, her difficulties will multiply.

In the first place, she will always discover that the mouth of the creek
is obstructed by barges at anchor. She may easily run aground at the
mouth, and when she is in the creek, she may, and probably will, mistake
the channel, and pile herself up on a bank known as the Cinders, or the
Cindery. Farther in, she may fail to understand that at one spot there
is no sufficiency of water except at about a yard and a half from
the shore, which has the appearance of being flat. Escaping all these
perils, she will almost certainly run into something, or something
will run into her, or she may entangle herself in the oyster preserves.
Yachts, barges, smacks, and floating objects without a name are anchored
anywhere and anyhow. There is no order, and no rule, except that a smack
always deems a yacht to be a lawful target. The yacht drops her anchor
somewhere, and asks for the harbormaster. No harbor-master exists or
ever has existed or ever will. Historical tradition–sacred! All craft
do as they like, and the craft with the thinnest sides must look to its
sides.

Also, the creek has no charm whatever of landscape or seascape. You can
see nothing from it except the little red streets of Brightlingsea
and the yacht-yards. Nevertheless, by virtue of some secret which is
uncomprehended beyond England, it prospers as a center of yachting.
Yachts go to it and live in it not by accident or compulsion, but from
choice. Yachts seem to like it. Of course it is a wonderful place,
because any place where a hundred and twenty yachts foregather must be
a wonderful place. The interest of its creek is inexhaustible, once you
can reconcile yourself to its primitive Anglianism, which, after all,
really harmonizes rather well with the mud-flats of the county.

An advantage of Brightlingsea is that when the weather eastward is
dangerously formidable, you can turn your back on the North Sea and go
for an exciting cruise up the Colne. A cruise up the Colne is always
exciting because you never know when you may be able to return. Even the
_Velsa_, which can float on puddles, has gone aground in the middle
of the fair and wide Colne. A few miles up are the twin villages
of Wivenhoe and Rowhedge, facing each other across the river, both
inordinately picturesque, and both given up to the industry of yachting.
At Wivenhoe large yachts and even ships are built, and in winter there
is always a choice selection of world-famous yachts on the mud, costly
and huge gewgaws, with their brass stripped off them, painfully forlorn,
stranded in a purgatory between the paradise of last summer and the
paradise of the summer to come.

If you are adventurous, you keep on winding along the curved reaches,
and as soon as the last yacht is out of sight, you are thrown hack once
more into the pre-Norman era, and there is nothing but a thin, shallow
stream, two wide mud hanks, and a border of grass at the top of them.
This is your world, which you share with a sea-gull or a crow for
several miles; and then suddenly you arrive at a concourse of great
barges against a quay, and you wonder by w hat magic they got there, and
above the quay rise the towers and steeples of a city that was already
ancient when William the Conqueror came to England in the interests of
civilization to take up the white man’s burden,–Colchester, where more
oysters are eaten on a certain night of the year at a single feast than
at any other feast on earth. Such is the boast.

But such contrasts as the foregoing do not compare in violence with the
contrasts offered by the River Stour, a few miles farther north on
the map of England. Harwich is on the Stour, at its mouth, where, in
confluence with the River Orwell (which truly _is_ in East Anglia) it
forms a goodish small harbor. And Harwich, though a tiny town, is a
fairly important naval port, and also “a gate of the empire,” where
steamers go forth for Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. We
came into Harwich Harbor on the tide one magnificent Sunday afternoon,
with the sea a bright green and the sky a dangerous purple, and the
entrance to the Stour was guarded by two huge battle-ships, the _Blake_
and the _Blenheim_, each apparently larger than the whole of the town of
Harwich. Up the Stour, in addition to all the Continental steamers, was
moored a fleet of forty or fifty men-of-war, of all sorts and sizes, in
a quadruple line. It was necessary for the _Velsa_ to review this fleet
of astoundingly ugly and smart black monsters, and she did so, to the
high satisfaction of the fleet, which in the exasperating tedium of
Sunday afternoon was thirsting for a distraction, even the mildest.
On every sinister ship–the _Basilisk_, the _Harpy_, etc., apposite
names!–the young bluejackets (they seemed nearly all to be youths) were
trying bravely to amuse themselves. The sound of the jews’-harp and of
the concertina was heard, and melancholy songs of love. Little circles
of men squatted here and there on the machinery-encumbered decks playing
at some game. A few students were reading; some athletes were sparring;
many others skylarking. None was too busy to stare at our strange lines.
Launches and longboats were flitting about full of young men, going
on leave to the ecstatic shore joys of Harwich or sadly returning
therefrom. Every sound and noise was clearly distinguishable in the
stillness of the hot afternoon. And the impression given by the fleet
as a whole was that of a vast masculine town, for not a woman could be
descried anywhere. It was striking and mournful. When we had got to the
end of the fleet I had a wild idea:

“Let us go up the Stour.”

At half-flood it looked a noble stream at least half a mile wide, and
pointing west in an almost perfect straight line. Nobody on board ever
had been up the Stour or knew anybody who had. The skipper said it was a
ticklish stream, but he was always ready for an escapade. We proceeded.
Not a keel of any kind was ahead. And in a moment, as it seemed, we had
quitted civilization and the latest machinery and mankind, and were
back in the Anglian period. River marshes, and distant wooded hills,
that was all; not even a tilled field in sight! The river showed small
headlands, and bights of primeval mud. Some indifferent buoys indicated
that a channel existed, but whether they were starboard or port buoys
nobody could tell. We guessed, and took no harm. But soon there were no
buoys, and we slowed down the engine in apprehension, for on the wide,
deceptive waste of smooth water were signs of shallows. We dared not put
about, we dared not go ahead. Astern, on the horizon, was the distant
fleet, in another world. A head, on the horizon, was a hint of
the forgotten town of Mistley. Then suddenly a rowboat approached
mysteriously out of one of those bights, and it was maimed by two men
with the air of conspirators.

“D’ ye want a pilot?”

We hardened ourselves.

“No.”

They rowed round us, critically staring, and receded.

“Why in thunder is n’t this river buoyed?” I demanded of the skipper.

The skipper answered that the intention obviously was to avoid taking
the bread out of the mouths of local pilots. He put on speed. No
catastrophe. The town of Mistley approached us. Then we had to pause
again, reversing the propeller. We were in a network of shallows. Far
to port could be seen a small red buoy; it was almost on the bank.
Impossible that it could indicate the true channel. We went straight
ahead and chanced it. The next instant we were hard on the mud in
midstream, and the propeller was making a terrific pother astern. We
could only wait for the tide to float us off. The rowboat appeared
again.

‘D’ ye want a pilot?”

“No.”

And it disappeared.

When we floated, the skipper said to me in a peculiar challenging tone:

“Shall we go on, sir, or shall we return?”

“We ‘ll go on,” I said. I could say no less.

[Illustration: 0288]

We bore away inshore to the red buoy, and, sure enough, the true channel
was there, right under the south bank. And we came safely to the town of
Mistley, which had never in its existence seen even a torpedo-boat and
seldom indeed a yacht, certainly never a _Velsa_. And yet the smoke of
the harbor of Harwich was plainly visible from its antique quay.
The town of Mistley rose from its secular slumber to enjoy a unique
sensation that afternoon.

“Shall we go on to Manningtree, sir?” said the skipper, adding with a
grin, “There’s only about half an hour left of the flood, and if we get
aground again—-”

It was another challenge.

“Yes,” I said.

Manningtree is a town even more recondite than Mistley, and it marks the
very end of the navigable waters of the Stour. It lay hidden round the
next corner. We thought we could detect the channel, curving out again
now into midstream. We followed the lure, opened out Manningtree the
desired–and went on the mud with a most perceptible bump. Out, quick,
with the dinghy! Cover her stern-sheets with a protecting cloth, and
lower an anchor therein and about fifty fathoms of chain, and row away!
We manned the windlass, and dragged the _Velsa_ off the mud.

“Shall we go on, sir?”

“No,” I said, not a hero. “We ‘ll give up Manningtree this trip.”
Obstinacy in adventure might have meant twelve hours in the mud. The
crew breathed relief. We returned, with great care, to civilization.
We knew now why the Stour is a desolate stream. Thus to this day I have
never reached Manningtree except in an automobile.

And there are still stranger waters than the Stour; for example, Hamford
Water, where explosives are manufactured on lonely marshes, where
immemorial wharves decay, and wild ducks and owls intermingle, and
public-houses with no public linger on from century to century, and
where the saltings are greener than anywhere else on the coast, and the
east wind more east, and the mud more vivid. And the _Velsa_ has been
there, too.

Continue Reading

BRUGES

WE moored at the Quai Spinola, with one of the most picturesque
views in Bruges in front of us, an irresistible temptation to the
watercolorist, even in wet weather. I had originally visited Bruges
about twenty years earlier. It was the first historical and consistently
beautiful city I had ever seen, and even now it did not appear to have
sunk much in my esteem. It is incomparably superior to Ghent, which is a
far more important place, but in which I have never been fortunate.

[Illustration: 0258]

Ghent is gloomy, whereas Bruges is melancholy, a different and a
finer attribute. I have had terrible, devastating adventures in the
restaurants of Ghent, and the one first-class monument there is
the medieval castle of the counts of Flanders, an endless field for
sociological speculation, but transcendency ugly and depressing. Ghent
is a modern town in an old suit of clothes, and its inhabitants are more
formidably Belgian than those of any other large city of Flanders.
I speak not of the smaller industrial places, where Belgianism is
ferocious and terrible.

At Bruges, water-colors being duly accomplished, we went straight to
Notre Dame, where there was just enough light left for us to gaze upon
Michelangelo’s “Virgin and Child,” a major work. Then to the streets
and lesser canals. I found changes in the Bruges of my youth.
Kinematographs, amid a conflagration of electricity, were to be
expected, for no show-city in Europe has been able to keep them out. Do
they not enliven and illumine the ground floors of some of the grandest
renaissance palaces in Florence? But there were changes more startling
than the advent kinematographs.

Incandescent gas-mantles had replaced the ordinary burners in the
street-lamps of the town! In another fifty years the corporation of
Bruges will be using electricity.

Still more remarkable, excursion motor-boats were running on the canals,
and at the improvised landing-stages were large signs naming Bruges “The
Venice of the North.” I admit that my feelings were hurt–not by the
motor-boats, but by the signs. Bruges is no more the Venice of the
North, than Venice is the Bruges of the South.

We allowed the soft melancholy of Bruges to descend upon us and
penetrate us, as the motorboats ceased to run and the kinematographs
grew more brilliant in the deepening night. We had to dine, and all the
restaurants of the town were open to us. Impossible to keep away from
the Grande Place and the belfry, still incessantly chattering about the
time of day. Impossible not to look with an excusable sentimentality at
the Hôtel du Panier d’Or, which in youth was the prince of hotels, with
the fattest landlord in the world, and thousands of mosquitos ready
among its bed-hangings to assist the belfry-chimes in destroying sleep.
The Panier d’Or was the only proper hotel for the earnest art-loving
tourist who could carry all his luggage and was firmly resolved not to
spend more than seven francs a day at the outside. At the Panier d’Or
one was sure to encounter other travelers who took both art and life
seriously.

No, we would not dine at the Panier d’Or, because we would not disturb
our memories. We glanced like ghosts of a past epoch at its exterior,
and we slipped into the café restaurant next door, and were served by
a postulant boy waiter who had everything to learn about food and human
nature, but who was a nice boy. And after dinner, almost saturated with
the exquisite melancholy of the Grande Place, we were too enchanted to
move. We drank coffee and other things, and lingered until all the white
cloths were removed from the tables; and the long, high room became
a café simply. A few middle-aged male habitués wandered in
separately,–four in all,–and each sat apart and smoked and drank beer.
The mournfulness was sweet and overwhelming. It was like chloroform.
The reflection that each of these sad, aging men had a home and an
_intimité_ somewhere in the spacious, transformed, shabby interiors of
Bruges, that each was a living soul with aspirations and regrets, this
reflection was excruciating in its blend of forlornness and comedy.

A few more habitués entered, and then a Frenchman and a young
Frenchwomen appeared on a dais at the back of the café and opened a
piano. They were in correct drawing-room costume, with none of the
eccentricities of the _cafe-chantant_, and they produced no effect
whatever on the faces or in the gestures of the habitués, They
performed. He sang; she sang; he played; she played. Just the common
songs and airs of the Parisian music-halls, vulgar, but more inane than
vulgar, The young woman was agreeable, with the large, red mouth which
is the index of a comfortable, generous, and good-natured disposition
They sang and played a long time. Nobody budged; nobody smiled.
Certainly we did not; in a contest of phlegm Englishmen can, it is
acknowledged, hold their own. Most of the habitués doggedly read
newspapers, but at intervals there was a momentary dull applause. The
economic basis of the entertainment was not apparent to us. The prices
of food and drink were very moderate, and no collection was made by or
on behalf of the artists.

At length, when melancholy ran off us instead of being absorbed,
because we had passed the saturation-point, we rose and departed.
Yes, incandescent-mantles and motor-boats were not the only changes in
Bruges. And in the café adjoining the one we had left a troupe of girls
in white were performing gaily to a similar audience of habitués. We
glimpsed them through the open door. And in front of the kinematograph
a bell was ringing loudly and continuously to invite habitués, and no
habitués were responding. It was all extremely mysterious. The chimes of
the belfry flung their strident tunes across the sky, and the thought of
these and of the habitués gave birth in us to a suspicion that perhaps,
after all, Bruges had not changed.

We moved away out of the Grande Place into the maze of Bruges toward the
Quai Spinola, our footsteps echoing along empty streets and squares of
large houses the fronts of which showed dim and lofty rooms inhabited
by the historical past and also no doubt by habitués. And after much
wandering I had to admit that I was lost in Bruges, a city which I was
supposed to know like my birthplace. And at the corner of a street,
beneath an incandescent-mantle, we had to take out a map and unfold
it and peer at it just as if we had belonged to the lowest rank of
tourists.

As we submitted ourselves to this humiliation, the carillon of the
belfry suddenly came to us over a quarter of a mile of roofs. Not the
clockwork chimes now, but the carillonneur himself playing on the bells,
a bravura piece, delicate and brilliant. The effect was ravishing,
as different from that of the clockwork chimes as a piano from a
barrel-organ. All the magic of Bruges was reawakened in its pristine
force. Bruges was no more a hackneyed rendezvous for cheap trippers
and amateur painters and poverty-stricken English bourgeois and their
attendant chaplains. It was the miraculous Bruges of which I had dreamed
before I had ever even seen the place–just that.

[Illustration: 0267]

Having found out where we were in relation to the Quai Spinola, we folded
up the map and went forward. The carillon ceased, and began again,
reaching us in snatches over the roofs in the night wind. We passed
under the shadows of rococo churches, the façades and interiors of which
are alike neglected by those who take their pleasures solely according
to the instructions of guide-books, and finally we emerged out of the
maze upon a long lake, pale bluish-gray in the gloom. And this lake was
set in a frame of pale bluish-gray houses with stepwise gables, and by
high towers, and by a ring of gas-lamps, all sleeping darkly. And on the
lake floated the _Velsa_, like the phantom of a ship, too lovely to be
real, and yet real. It was the most magical thing.

We could scarcely believe that there was our yacht right in the midst
of the town. This was the same vessel that only a little earlier had
rounded Cape Gris-Nez in a storm, and suffered no damage whatever. Proof
enough of the advantage of the barge-build, with a light draft, and
heavy lee-boards for use with a beam wind when close-hauled. Some
yachtsmen, and expert yachtsmen, too, are strongly against the barge.
But no ordinary yacht of the _Velsas_ size could have scraped into that
lake by the Quai Spinola and provided us with that unique sensation. The
_Velsa_ might have been designed specially for the background of Bruges.
She fitted it with exquisite perfection.

And the shaft of light slanting up from her forecastle hatch rendered
her more domestic than the very houses around, which were without
exception dark and blind, and might have been abandoned. We went
gingerly aboard across the narrow, yielding gangway, and before turning
in gazed again at the silent and still scene. Not easy to credit that a
little way off the kinematograph was tintinnabulating for custom, and a
Parisian couple singing and playing, and a troupe of white-frocked girls
coarsely dancing.

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