Who has been at Commines? though we are all familiar enough with the name of Philip of ‘that ilk.’ I saw how patriarchal life must be at Commines from a family repairing thither, who filled the whole compartment. This was a lady arrayed in as much jet-work as she could well carry, and who must have been an admirable femme de menage, for she brought with her three little girls, and two obstreperous boys who kept saying every minute ‘maman!’ in a sort of whine or expostulation, and two aides-de-camp maids in spotless fly-away caps. With these assistants she was on perfect terms, and the maids conversed with her and dissented from her opinions on the happiest terms of equality. When taking my ticket I was asked to say would I go to Commines in France or to Commines in Belgium, for it seems that, by an odd arrangement, half the town is in one country and half in the other! Each has a station of its own. This curious partition I did not quite comprehend at first, and I shall not forget the indignant style in which, on my asking ‘was this the French Commines,’ I was answered that ‘of course it was Commines in Belgium.’ Here was yet another piquant bell-tower seen rising above trees and houses, long before we even came near to it. I was pursued by these pretty monuments, and I could hear this one jangling away musically yet wheezily.
It is past noon now as we hurry by unfamiliar stations, where the invariable abbe waits with his bundle or breviary in hand, or peasant women with baskets stand waiting for other trains. There is a sense of melancholy in noting these strange faces and figures—whom you thus pass by, to whom you are unknown, whom you will never see again, and who care not if you were dead and buried. (And why should they?) Then we hurry away northwards.
As the fierce heat of the sun began to relax and the evening drew on—it was close on half-past six o’clock—we found ourselves in Belgium once more. Suddenly, on the right, I noted, with some trees interposed, a sort of clustered town with whitened buildings, which suggested forcibly the view of an English cathedral town seen from the railway. The most important of the group was a great tower with its four spires. I knew instinctively that this was the famous old town-hall, the most astonishing and overpowering of all Belgian monuments.
Here we halted half an hour. The sun was going down; the air was cool; and there was that strange tinge of sadness abroad, with which the air seems to be charged towards eventide, as we, strangers and pilgrims in a foreign country, look from afar off at some such unfamiliar objects. There were a number of Flemings here returning from some meeting where they had been contending at their national game—shooting at the popinjay. Near to every small town and village I passed, I had noted an enormously tall white