During these musings the fiercely glaring clock warns me that time is running out; but a more singular monitor is the great lighthouse which rises at the entrance of the town, and goes through its extraordinary, almost fiendish, performance all the night long. This is truly a phenomenon. Lighthouses are usually relegated to some pier-end, and display their gyrations to the congenial ocean. But conceive a monster of this sort almost in the town itself, revolving ceaselessly, flashing and flaring into every street and corner of a street, like some Patagonian policeman with a giant ‘bull’s-eye.’ A more singular, unearthly effect cannot be conceived. Wherever I stand, in shadow or out of it, this sudden flashing pursues me. It might be called the ‘Demon Lighthouse.’ For a moment, in picturesque gloom, watching the shadows cast by the Hogarthian gateway, I may be thinking of our great English painter sitting sketching the lean Frenchwomen, noting, too, the portal where the English arms used to be, when suddenly the ’Demon Lighthouse’ directs his glare full on me, describes a sweep, is gone, and all is dark again. It suggests the policeman going his rounds. How the exile forced to sojourn here must detest this obtrusive beacon of the first class! It must become maddening in time for the eyes. Even in bed it has the effect of mild sheet-lightning. Municipality of Calais! move it away at once to a rational spot—to the end of the pier, where a lighthouse ought to be.
But now back to ‘Maritime Calais,’ down to the pier, where a strange busy contrast awaits us. All is now bustle. In the great ‘hall’ hundreds are finishing their ‘gorging,’ paying bills, etc., while on the platform the last boxes and chests are being tumbled into the waggons with the peculiar tumbling, crashing sound which is so foreign. Guards and officials in cloaks and hoods pace up and down, and are beginning to chant their favourite ‘En voiture, messieurs!’ Soon all are packed into their carriages, which in France always present an old-fashioned mail-coach air with their protuberant bodies and panels. By one o’clock the signal is given, the lights flash slowly by, and we are rolling away, off into the black night. ‘Maritime Calais’ is left to well-earned repose; but for an hour or so only, until the returning mail arrives, when it will wake up again—a troubled and troublous nightmare sort of existence. Now for a plunge into Cimmerian night, with that dull, sustained buzz outside, as of some gigantic machinery whirling round, which seems a sort of lullaby, contrived mercifully to make the traveller drowsy and enwrap him in gentle sleep. Railway sleeping is, after all, a not unrefreshing form of slumber. There is the grateful ’nod, nod, nodding,’ with the sudden jerk of an awakening; until the nodding becomes more overpowering, and one settles into a deep and profound sleep. Ugh! how chilly it gets! And the machinery—or is it the sea?—still roaring in one’s ear.