by Robert Louis Stevenson
ANTWERP TO BOOM
. . . . . 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 . . . .
ON THE WILLEBROEK CANAL
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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