As this long day was at last closing in, I noticed from the window a bright-looking town nestling, as it were, in rich green velvet and dark plantation, with a bright, snug-looking gate, drawbridge, etc. One of these gates was piquant enough, having a sort of pavilion perched on the top. Here there was a quaint sort of ‘surprise’ in a clock, the hours of which are struck by a mechanical figure known to the town as ‘Mathurin.’ There was something very tempting in the look of the place, betokening plenty of flowers and shaded walks and umbrageous groves. Most conspicuous, however, was the magnificent abbey ruin, suggesting Fountains Abbey, with its tall, striking, and wholly perfect tower. This is the Abbey of St. Bertin, one of the most striking and almost bewildering monuments that could be conceived. I look up at the superb tower, sharp in its details, and wonder at its fine proportions; then turn to the ruined aisles, and with a sort of grief recall that this, one of the wonders of France, had been in perfect condition not a hundred years ago, and at the time of the Revolution had been stripped, unroofed, and purposely reduced to its present condition! This disgrace reflects upon the Jacobins—Goths and Vandals indeed.
The streets of this old town, as it is remarked by one of the Guide Books, ’want animation’—an amiable circumlocution. Nothing so deserted or lonely can be conceived, and the phenomenon of ’grass literally growing in the streets’ is here to be seen in perfection. There appeared to be no vehicles, and the few shops carry on but a mild business. A few English families are said to repair hither for economy. I recognise a peculiar shabby shooting-coat which betokens the exile, accounted for by the pathetic fact that he clings to his superannuated garment, long after it is worn out, for the reason that it ‘was made in London.’ There is a rich and beautiful church here—Notre Dame—with a deeply embayed porch full of lavish detail. Here, too, rises the image of John Kemble, who actually studied for the priesthood at the English College.
By this time the day has gone, and darkness has set in. It is time to think of journeying home. Yet on the way to Calais there are still some objects to be seen en passant. Most travellers are familiar with Hazebrouck, the place of ‘bifurcation,’ a frontier between France and Belgium. Yet this is known for a church with a most elegant spire rising from a tower, but of this we can only have a glimpse. And, on the road to Bergues, I had noted that strange, German-named little town—Cassel—perched on an umbrageous hill, which has its quaint mediaeval town-hall. But I may not pause to study it. The hours are shrinking; but little margin is left. By midnight I am back in Calais once more, listening to its old wheezy chimes. It seems like an old friend, to which I have returned after a long, long absence, so many events have been crowded into the day. It still wants some interval to the hour past midnight, when the packet sails.