The important town of Mantes is reached early in the evening, and a good inn found for the night.
The market-women are arraying their varied wares all along the main street of Mantes as I wheel down toward the banks of the Seine this morning. I stop to procure a draught of new milk, and, while drinking it, point to sundry long rows of light, flaky-looking cakes strung on strings, and motion that I am desirous of sampling a few at current rates; but the good dame smiles and shakes her head vigorously, as well enough she might, for I learn afterward that the cakes are nothing less than dried yeast-cakes, a breakfast off which would probably have produced spontaneous combustion. Getting on to the wrong road out of Mantes, I find myself at the river's edge down among the Seine watermen. I am shown the right way, but from Mantes to Paris they are not Normandy roads; from Mantes southward they gradually deteriorate until they are little or no better than the "sand-papered roads of Boston." Having determined to taboo vin ordinaire altogether I astonish the restaurateur of a village where I take lunch by motioning away the bottle of red wine and calling for " de I'eau," and the glances cast in my direction by the other customers indicate plainly enough that they consider the proceeding as something quite extraordinary.
Rolling through Saint Germain, Chalon Pavey, and Nanterre, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe looms up in the distance ahead, and at about two o'clock, Wednesday, May 13th, I wheel into the gay capital through the Porte Maillott. Asphalt pavement now takes the place of macadam, and but a short distance inside the city limits I notice the 'cycle depot of Renard Ferres. Knowing instinctively that the fraternal feelings engendered by the magic wheel reaches to wherever a wheelman lives, I hesitate not to dismount and present my card. Yes, Jean Glinka, apparently an employe there, comprehends Anglais; they have all heard of my tour, and wish me bon voyage, and Jean and his bicycle is forthwith produced and delegated to accompany me into the interior of the city and find me a suitable hotel. The streets of Paris, like the streets of other large cities, are paved with various compositions, and they have just been sprinkled. French-like, the luckless Jean is desirous of displaying his accomplishments on the wheel to a visitor so distingue; he circles around on the slippery pavement in a manner most unnecessary, and in so doing upsets himself while crossing a car-track, rips his pantaloons, and injures his wheel. At the Hotel du Louvre they won't accept bicycles, having no place to put them; but a short distance from there we find a less pretentious establishment, where, after requiring me to fill up a formidable-looking blank, stating my name, residence, age, occupation, birthplace, the last place I lodged at, etc., they finally assign me quarters.
From Paul Devilliers, to whom I bring an introduction, I learn that by waiting here till Friday evening, and repairing to the rooms of the Societe Velocipedique Metropolitaine, the president of that club can give me the best bicycle route between Paris and Vienna; accordingly I domicile myself at the hotel for a couple of days. Many of the lions of Paris are within easy distance of my hotel. The reader, however, probably knows more about the sights of Paris than one can possibly find out in two days; therefore I refrain from any attempt at describing them; but my hotel is worthy of remark.
Among other agreeable and sensible arrangements at the Hotel du Loiret, there is no such thing as opening one's room-door from the outside save with the key; and unless one thoroughly understands this handy peculiarity, and has his wits about him continually, he is morally certain, sometime when he is leaving his room, absent-mindedly to shut the door and leave the key inside. This is, of course, among the first things that happen to me, and it costs me half a franc and three hours of wretchedness before I see the interior of my room again.
The hotel keeps a rude skeleton-key on hand, presumably for possible emergencies of this nature; but in manipulating this uncouth instrument le portier actually locks the door, and as the skeleton-key is expected to manage the catch only, and not the lock, this, of course, makes matters infinitely worse. The keys of every room in the house are next brought into requisition and tried in succession, but not a key among them all is a duplicate of mine. What is to be done. Le portier looks as dejected as though Paris was about to be bombarded, as he goes down and breaks the dreadful news to le proprietaire. Up comes le proprietaire - avoirdupois three hundred pounds - sighing like an exhaust-pipe at every step. For fifteen unhappy minutes the skeleton-key is wriggled and twisted about again in the key- hole, and the fat proprietaire rubs his bald head impatiently, but all to no purpose. Each returns to his respective avocation. Impatient to get at my writing materials, I look up at the iron bars across the fifth- story windows above, and motion that if they will procure a rope I will descend from thence and enter the window. They one and all point out into the street; and, thinking they have sent for something or somebody, I sit down and wait with Job-like patience for something to turn up. Nothing, however, turns up, and at the expiration of an hour I naturally begin to feel neglected and impatient, and again suggest the rope; when, at a motion from le proprietaire, le portier pilots me around a neighboring corner to a locksmith's establishment, where, voluntarily acting the part of interpreter, he engages on my behalf, for half a franc, a man to come with a bunch of at least a hundred skeleton-keys of all possible shapes to attack the refractory key-hole. After trying nearly all the keys, and disburdening himself of whole volumes of impulsive French ejaculations, this man likewise gives it up in despair; but, now everything else has been tried and failed, the countenance of la portier suddenly lights up, and he slips quietly around to an adjoining room, and enters mine inside of two minutes by simply lifting a small hook out of a staple with his knife-blade. There appears to be a slight coolness, as it were, between le proprietaire and me after this incident, probably owing to the intellectual standard of each becoming somewhat lowered in the other's estimation in consequence of it. Le proprietaire, doubtless, thinks a man capable of leaving the key inside of the door must be the worst type of an ignoramus; and certainly my opinion of him for leaving such a diabolical arrangement unchanged in the latter half of the nineteenth century is not far removed from the same.
Visiting the headquarters of the Societe Velocipedique Mctropolitaine on Friday evening, I obtain from the president the desired directions regarding the route, and am all prepared to continue eastward in the morning. Wheeling down the famous Champs Elysees at eleven at night, when the concert gardens are in full blast and everything in a blaze, of glory, with myriads of electric lights festooned and in long brilliant rows among the trees, is something to be remembered for a lifetime. Before breakfast I leave the city by the Porte Daumesiul, and wheel through the environments toward Vincennes and Jonville, pedalling, to the sound of martial music, for miles beyond the Porte.
The roads for thirty miles east of Paris are not Normandy roads, but the country for most of the distance is fairly level, and for mile after mile, and league beyond league, the road is beneath avenues of plane and poplar, which, crossing the plain in every direction like emerald walls of nature's own building, here embellish and beautify an otherwise rather monotonous stretch of country. The villages are little different from the villages of Normandy, but the churches have not the architectural beauty of the Normandy churches, being for the most part massive structures without any pretence to artistic embellishment in their construction. Monkish-looking priests are a characteristic feature of these villages, and when, on passing down the narrow, crooked streets of Fontenay, I wheel beneath a massive stone archway, and looking around, observe cowled priests and everything about the place seemingly in keeping with it, one can readily imagine himself transported back to medieval times. One of these little interior French villages is the most unpromising looking place imaginable for a hungry person to ride into; often one may ride the whole length of the village expectantly looking around for some visible evidence of wherewith to cheer the inner man, and all that greets the hungry vision is a couple of four-foot sticks of bread in one dust-begrimed window, and a few mournful-looking crucifixes and Roman Catholic paraphernalia in another. Neither are the peasants hereabouts to be compared with the Normandy peasantry in personal appearance. True, they have as many patches on their pantaloons, but they don't seem to have acquired the art of attaching them in a manner to produce the same picturesque effect as does the peasant of Normandy; the original garment is almost invariably a shapeless corduroy, of a bagginess and an o'er-ampleness most unbeautiful to behold.
The well-known axiom about fair paths leading astray holds good with the high-ways and by-ways of France, as elsewhere, and soon after leaving the ancient town of Provins, I am tempted by a splendid road, following the windings of a murmuring brook, that appears to be going in my direction, in consequence of which I soon find myself among cross-country by-ways, and among peasant proprietors who apparently know little of the world beyond their native Tillages. Four o'clock finds me wheeling through a hilly vineyard district toward Villenauxe, a town several kilometres off my proper route, from whence a dozen kilometres over a very good road brings me to Sezanne, where the Hotel de France affords excellent accommodation. After the table d'hote the clanging bells of the old church hard by announce services of some kind, and having a natural penchant when in strange places from wandering whithersoever inclination leads, in anticipation of the ever possible item of interest, I meander into the church and take a seat. There appears to be nothing extraordinary about the service, the only unfamiliar feature to me being a man wearing a uniform similar to the gendarmerie of Paris: cockade, sash, sword, and everything complete; in addition to which he carries a large cane and a long brazen-headed staff resembling the boarding-pike of the last century.
It has rained heavily during the night, but the roads around here are composed mainly of gravel, and are rather improved than otherwise by the rain; and from Sezanne, through Champenoise and on to Vitry le Francois, a distance of about sixty-five kilometres, is one of the most enjoyable stretches of road imaginable. The contour of the country somewhat resembles the swelling prairies of Western Iowa, and the roads are as perfect for most of the distance as an asphalt boulevard. The hills are gradual acclivities, and, owing to the good roads, are mostly ridable, while - the declivities make the finest coasting imaginable; the exhilaration of gliding down them in the morning air, fresh after the rain, can be compared only to Canadian tobogganing. Ahead of you stretches a gradual downward slope, perhaps two kilometres long. Knowing full well that from top to bottom there exists not a loose stone or a dangerous spot, you give the ever-ready steel-horse the rein; faster and faster whirl the glistening wheels until objects "by the road-side become indistinct phantoms as they glide instantaneously by, and to strike a hole or obstruction is to be transformed into a human sky-rocket, and, later on, into a new arrival in another world. A wild yell of warning at a blue- bloused peasant in the road ahead, shrill screams of dismay from several females at a cluster of cottages, greet the ear as you sweep past like a whirlwind, and the next moment reach the bottom at a rate of speed that would make the engineer of the Flying Dutchman green with envy. Sometimes, for the sake of variety, when gliding noiselessly along on the ordinary level, I wheel unobserved close up behind an unsuspecting peasant walking on ahead, without calling out, and when he becomes conscious of my presence and looks around and sees the strange vehicle in such close proximity it is well worth the price of a new hat to see the lively manner in which he hops out of the way, and the next moment becomes fairly rooted to the ground with astonishment; for bicycles and bicycle riders are less familiar objects to the French peasant, outside of the neighborhood of a few large cities, than one would naturally suppose.
Vitry le Frangois is a charming old town in the beautiful valley of the Marne; in the Middle Ages it was a strongly fortified city; the moats and earth-works are still perfect. The only entrance to the town, even now, is over the old draw-bridges, the massive gates, iron wheels, chains, etc., still being intact, so that the gates can yet be drawn up and entrance denied to foes, as of yore; but the moats are now utilized for the boats of the Marne and Rhine Canal, and it is presumable that the old draw-bridges are nowadays always left open. To-day is Sunday - and Sunday in France is equivalent to a holiday - consequently Vitry le Frangois, being quite an important town, and one of the business centres of the prosperous and populous Marne Valley, presents all the appearance of circus-day in an American agricultural community. Several booths are erected in the market square, the proprietors and attaches of two peregrinating theatres, several peep-shows, and a dozen various games of chance, are vying with each other in the noisiness of their demonstrations to attract the attention and small change of the crowd to their respective enterprises. Like every other highway in this part of France the Marne and Bhine Canal is fringed with an avenue of poplars, that from neighboring elevations can be seen winding along the beautiful valley for miles, presenting a most pleasing effect.
East of Vitry le Francois the roads deteriorate, and from thence to Bar- le they are inferior to any hitherto encountered in France; nevertheless, from the American standpoint they are very good roads, and when, at five o'clock, I wheel into Bar-le-Duc and come to sum up the aggregate of the day's journey I find that, without any undue exertion, I have covered very nearly one hundred and sixty kilometres, or about one hundred English miles, since 8.30 A.M., notwithstanding a good hour's halt at Vitry le Francois for dinner. Bar-le-Duc appears to be quite an important business centre, pleasantly situated in the valley of the Ornain River, a tributary of the Marne; and the stream, in its narrow, fertile valley, winds around among hills from whose sloping sides, every autumn, fairly ooze the celebrated red wines of the Meuse and Moselle regions.
The valley has been favored with a tremendous downpour of rain and hail during the night, and the partial formation of the road leading along the level valley eastward being a light-colored, slippery clay, I find it anything but agreeable wheeling this morning; moreover, the Ornain Valley road is not so perfectly kept as it might be. As in every considerable town in France, so also in Bar-le-Duc, the military element comes conspicuously to the fore. Eleven kilometres of slipping and sliding through the greasy clay brings me to the little village of Tronville, where I halt to investigate the prospect of obtaining something to eat. As usual, the prospect, from the street, is most unpromising, the only outward evidence being a few glass jars of odds and ends of candy in one small window. Entering this establishment, the only thing the woman can produce besides candy and raisins is a box of brown, wafer-like biscuits, the unsubstantial appearance of which is, to say the least, most unsatisfactory to a person who has pedalled his breakfastless way through eleven kilometres of slippery clay. Uncertain of their composition, and remembering my unhappy mistake at Mantes in desiring to breakfast off yeast-cakes, I take the precaution of sampling one, and in the absence of anything more substantial conclude to purchase a few, and so motion to the woman to hand me the box in order that I can show her how many I want. But the o'er-careful Frenchwoman, mistaking my meaning, and fearful that I only want to sample yet another one, probably feeling uncertain of whether I might not wish to taste a whole handful this time, instead of handing it over moves it out of my reach altogether, meanwhile looking quite angry, and not a little mystified at her mysterious, pantomimic customer. A half-franc is produced, and, after taking the precaution of putting it away in advance, the cautious female weighs me out the current quantity of her ware; and I notice that, after giving lumping weight, she throws in a few extra, presumably to counterbalance what, upon sober second thought, she perceives to have been an unjust suspicion.
While I am extracting what satisfaction my feathery purchase contains, it begins to rain and hail furiously, and so continues with little interruption all the forenoon, compelling me, much against my inclination, to search out in Tronville, if possible, some accommodation till to-morrow morning. The village is a shapeless cluster of stone houses and stables, the most prominent feature of the streets being huge heaps of manure and grape-vine prunings; but I manage to obtain the necessary shelter, and such other accommodations as might be expected in an out-of-the-way village, unfrequented by visitors from one year's end to another. The following morning is still rainy, and the clayey roads of the Ornain Valley are anything but inviting wheeling; but a longer stay in Tronville is not to be thought of, for, among other pleasantries of the place here, the chief table delicacy appears to be boiled escargots, a large, ungainly snail procured from the neighboring hills. Whilst fond of table delicacies, I emphatically draw the line at escargots.
Pulling out toward Toul I find the roads, as expected, barely ridable; but the vineyard-environed little valley, lovely in its tears, wrings from one praise in spite of muddy roads and lowering weather. En route down the valley I meet a battery of artillery travelling from Toul to Bar-le Duc or some other point to the westward; and if there is any honor in throwing a battery of French artillery into confusion, and wellnigh routing them, then the bicycle and I are fairly entitled to it.
As I ride carelessly toward them, the leading horses suddenly wheel around and begin plunging about the road. The officers' horses, and, in fact, the horses of the whole company, catch the infection, and there is a plunging and a general confusion all along the line, seeing which I, of course, dismount and retire - but not discomfited - from the field until they have passed. These French horses are certainly not more than half-trained. I passed a battery of English artillery on the road leading out of Coventry, and had I wheeled along under the horses' noses there would have been no confusion whatever.
On the divide between the Ornain and Moselle Valleys the roads are hillier, but somewhat less muddy. The weather continues showery and unsettled, and a short distance beyond Void I find myself once again wandering off along the wrong road. The peasantry hereabout seem to have retained a lively recollection of the Prussians, my helmet appearing to have the effect of jogging their memory, and frequently, when stopping to inquire about the roads, the first word in response will be the pointed query, "Prussian." By following the directions given by three different peasants, I wander along the muddy by-roads among the vineyards for two wet, unhappy hours ere I finally strike the main road to Toul again. After floundering along the wellnigh unimproved by-ways for two hours one thoroughly appreciates how much he is indebted to the military necessities of the French Government for the splendid highways of France, especially among these hills and valleys, where natural roadways would be anything but good. Following down the Moselle Valley, I arrive at the important city of Nancy in the eventide, and am fortunate, I suppose, in discovering a hotel where a certain, or, more properly speaking, an uncertain, quantity and quality of English are spoken. Nancy is reputed to be one of the loveliest towns in France. But I merely remained in it over night, and long enough next morning to exchange for some German money, as I cross over the frontier to-day.
Luneville is a town I pass through, some distance nearer the border, and the military display here made is perfectly overshadowing. Even the scarecrows in the fields are military figures, with wooden swords threateningly waving about in their hands with every motion of the wind, and the most frequent sound heard along the route is the sharp bang! bang! of muskets, where companies of soldiers are target-practising in the woods. There seems to be a bellicose element in the very atmosphere; for every dog in every village I ride through verily takes after me, and I run clean over one bumptious cur, which, miscalculating the speed at which I am coming, fails to get himself out of the way in time. It is the narrowest escape from a header I have had since starting from Liverpool; although both man and dog were more scared than hurt. Sixty-five kilometres from Nancy, and I take lunch at the frontier town of Blamont. The road becomes more hilly, and a short distance out of Blamont, behold, it is as though a chalk-line were made across the roadway, on the west side of which it had been swept with scrupulous care, and on the east side not swept at all; and when, upon passing the next roadman, I notice that he bears not upon his cap the brass stencil-plate bearing the inscription, " Cantonnier," I know that I have passed over the frontier into the territory of Kaiser Wilhelm.
My journey through fair Prance has been most interesting, and perhaps instructive, though I am afraid that the lessons I have taken in French politeness are altogether too superficial to be lasting. The "Bonjour, monsieur," and "Bon voyage," of France, may not mean any more than the "If I don't see you again, why, hello." of America, but it certainly sounds more musical and pleasant. It is at the table d'hote, however, that I have felt myself to have invariably shone superior to the natives; for, lo! the Frenchman eats soup from the end of his spoon. True, it is more convenient to eat soup from the prow of a spoon than from the larboard; nevertheless, it is when eating soup that I instinctively feel my superiority. The French peasants, almost without exception, conclude that the bright-nickelled surface of the bicycle is silver, and presumably consider its rider nothing less than a millionnaire in consequence; but it is when I show them the length of time the rear wheel or a pedal will spin round that they manifest their greatest surprise. The crowning glory of French landscape is the magnificent avenues of poplars that traverse the country in every direction, winding with the roads, the railways, and canals along the valleys, and marshalled like sentinels along the brows of the distant hills; without them French scenery would lose half its charm.
GERMANY, AUSTRIA, AND HUNGARY.
Notwithstanding Alsace was French territory only fourteen years ago (1871) there is a noticeable difference in the inhabitants, to me the most acceptable being their great linguistic superiority over the people on the French side of the border. I linger in Saarburg only about thirty minutes, yet am addressed twice by natives in my own tongue; and at Pfalzburg, a smaller town, where I remain over night, I find the same characteristic. Ere I penetrate thirty kilometres into German territory, however, I have to record what was never encountered in France; an insolent teamster, who, having his horses strung across a narrow road- way in the suburbs of Saarburg, refuses to turn his leaders' heads to enable me to ride past, thus compelling me to dismount. Soldiers drilling, soldiers at target practice, and soldiers in companies marching about in every direction, greet my eyes upon approaching Pfalzburg; and although there appears to be less beating of drums and blare of trumpets than in French garrison towns, one seldom turns a street corner without hearing the measured tramp of a military company receding or approaching. These German troops appear to march briskly and in a business-like manner in comparison with the French, who always seem to carry themselves with a tired and dejected deportment; but the over-ample and rather slouchy-looking pantaloons of the French are probably answerable, in part, for this impression. One cannot watch these sturdy-looking German soldiers without a conviction that for the stern purposes of war they are inferior only to the soldiers of our own country.