Extract of:


by Robert Louis Stevenson




. . . . . Here and there was a pleasant village among trees,

with a noisy shipping-yard; here and there a villa in a lawn. The

wind served us well up the Scheldt and thereafter up the Rupel; and

we were running pretty free when we began to sight the brickyards

of Boom, lying for a long way on the right bank of the river. The

left bank was still green and pastoral, with alleys of trees along

the embankment, and here and there a flight of steps to serve a

ferry, where perhaps there sat a woman with her elbows on her

knees, or an old gentleman with a staff and silver spectacles. But

Boom and its brickyards grew smokier and shabbier with every

minute; until a great church with a clock, and a wooden bridge over

the river, indicated the central quarters of the town.


Boom is not a nice place, and is only remarkable for one thing:

that the majority of the inhabitants have a private opinion that

they can speak English, which is not justified by fact. This gave

a kind of haziness to our intercourse. As for the Hotel de la

Navigation, I think it is the worst feature of the place . . . .


. . . . The food, as usual in Belgium, was of a nondescript occasional

character; indeed I have never been able to detect anything in the

nature of a meal among this pleasing people; they seem to peck and

trifle with viands all day long in an amateur spirit: tentatively

French, truly German, and somehow falling between the two . . . .




Next morning, when we set forth on the Willebroek Canal, the rain

began heavy and chill. The water of the canal stood at about the

drinking temperature of tea; and under this cold aspersion, the

surface was covered with steam . . . .


. . . . when the cloud passed and the sun came out again, our spirits went

up above the range of stay-at-home humours. A good breeze rustled and

shivered in the rows of trees that bordered the canal. The leaves

flickered in and out of the light in tumultuous masses. It seemed

sailing weather to eye and ear; but down between the banks, the

wind reached us only in faint and desultory puffs. There was

hardly enough to steer by. Progress was intermittent and

unsatisfactory. A jocular person, of marine antecedents, hailed us

from the tow-path with a 'C'EST VITE, MAIS C'EST LONG.'


The canal was busy enough. Every now and then we met or overtook a

long string of boats, with great green tillers; high sterns with a

window on either side of the rudder, and perhaps a jug or a flower-

pot in one of the windows; a dinghy following behind; a woman

busied about the day's dinner, and a handful of children. These

barges were all tied one behind the other with tow ropes, to the

number of twenty-five or thirty; and the line was headed and kept

in motion by a steamer of strange construction. It had neither

paddle-wheel nor screw; but by some gear not rightly comprehensible

to the unmechanical mind, it fetched up over its bow a small bright

chain which lay along the bottom of the canal, and paying it out

again over the stern, dragged itself forward, link by link, with

its whole retinue of loaded skows. Until one had found out the key

to the enigma, there was something solemn and uncomfortable in the

progress of one of these trains, as it moved gently along the water

with nothing to mark its advance but an eddy alongside dying away

into the wake . . . .


Half-way between Willebroek and Villevorde, in a beautiful reach of the

canal like a squire's avenue, we went ashore to lunch . . . .



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