Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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little place where they fed us on sardines and goat's meat, in a

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beautifully clean kitchen with a tiled floor and oak furniture. In the
afternoon our way lay through Cosne and La Charity to Pougues-
les-eaux, just beyond which the spires of Nevers appear in the blue
distance. Our hotel at Nevers was distinguished neither by a
"fork" nor a "bed" in the Annuaire (I should explain that a fork
means good cooking and a bed good rooms), but in spite of that
both proved excellent.

Nevers is a quaint old town with high houses and narrow
streets, the usual proportion of old churches, and a very beautiful
cathedral with a double apse.

The radiator had sprung a leak during the day at the union of
the pipe which carries the hot water to the carburettor jacket, and it
was necessary to find a mechanician and a soldering iron. I was
afraid at the time that he had not made a very good job of it, and
sure enough next morning the leak became worse than ever about
ten miles out from Moulins. Also a valve spring broke and had to
be replaced, and we were all in a discontented frame of mind when
we reached the town. A good lunch made matters assume a better
aspect, and we found a first-rate repairing shop where a really good
joint was made. It was a matter for brazing, though, aqd took
time. The workmen about the place softly crooned quaint songs
over their work, one of them singing second very harmoniously,
while a whirring dynamo outlined the bass. The delay did not seem
very long; it is difficult to feel bored where men are singing and
machinery is working, but the afternoon was already old as we
hauled out of Moulins on the Lyon road. At La Palisse we began
to get into the hills, and the kilometres no longer vanished into the
Never Never with the same rapidity as heretofore. In this cramped
country of ours a run of 150 miles is quite a long day's journey, but
in the north of France it is an easy one. If a car will average
twenty miles an hour in England on an ordinary high road, say the
London and Portsmouth road, you may be certain she will average
thirty with ease in the north and west of France.

We stopped for a few minutes at Roanne for petrol and a cup
of coffee, and decided to push on for Lyon, though it was beginning
to get dark. Roanne appeared to be a most unattractive spot, just
an ugly manufacturing town. The road by St. Symphorien and
L'Arbresle is a very hilly one indeed, with as many twists and turns
as a Gordon Bennett course, but it soon became too dark to see all
its beauty, whereat we cursed our Nevers mechanic. Finally we
arrived in Lyon at about nine o'clock. Next morning it poured
with rain, so we stayed where we were, but as it cleared up in the
afternoon we routed out Clementina from her garage to take us
about the town. After duly admiring the cathedral we dived into

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some back streets in the direction of the junction of the Rhone and
Saone, and promptly caught a puncture — another nail.

Now I dislike running on the rim if it can possibly be avoided,
so Frederick proceeded to put in a new tube, although the street we
were in was not a savoury one. There had been no one about when
we stopped, but a most evil-looking crowd gathered in a minute or
two to watch the operation. Just as the tube emerged from the
cover a nice-looking young piou-piou — one of the few respectable
members of the crowd, edged up to me and whispered a warning,
with a significant look at the ring of unwashed faces round us. I
possessed myself of an enormous file, as thick as a belaying-pin —
a fancy tool which I always carry — and stood on guard while

Frederick put in another tube. Nothing happened, but I am not
at all sure they would not have rushed us if I had been engaged in
helping with the tyre.

We went on to the junction of the rivers; surely there is no
more beautiful city in France than Lyon, with its rivers, its bridges,
and its towering heights.

On next day to Annecy ; first of all a straight flat road to
Bourgoin, with the mountains gradually coming nearer to you ; then
by La Tour de Pin, where we lunched. Two big cars arrived while
we were waiting for our omelette, one of them from Switzerland,
where we gathered that the language of the peasants at the sight of

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a passing car was " frequent and painful and free," but that the
cases of actual molestation have been much exaggerated.

In the afternoon we were in the hills once more, and having
plenty of time did a little fern-hunting in the rocky banks of the
road close to Les Echelles. It is sad to have to add that the
ferns never reached England. If some horticulturally-minded post-
man has planted them in his back garden, I hope they will turn
into the rankest weeds. Just beyond the little town the road
burrows through the mountain in a tunnel 200 yards long — an
unpleasant place, dark and slippery and wet. Then through Cham-
b^ry to Aix-les-Bains, all along the lovely Lac du Bourget. In this
part of the world we met many other cars, including the most out-
rageous party of road-hogs, who came along through the suburbs
of Chamb^ry in what looked like a 70-horse Merc^d^s at a very
great pace, with two horns going, and everyone in the car shouting
at the top of his voice. But during the whole of our journeyings
this was the only flagrant case of dangerous driving we saw.

Going down the steep hill into Annecy one of the expanding
brake-bands broke with a crack. The other one held however, and
with that and the foot-brake she was under perfectly good control,
though of course in was inadvisable to use the side brake for fear
of damaging the wheel and tyre which had to take all the strain of
the remaining band. The broken ends were riveted together when
we got to Geneva — quite a satisfactory job that lasted perfectly well
until we returned to England.

We stayed the night at Annecy, and came to the conclusion
that the inhabitants had determined in some past epoch of history
to combine in their town what was most picturesque of all the
picturesque towns in Europe. So they made a castle on a high
rock, like Edinburgh, and brought waterways to their front doors,
like the Venetians, and built their houses upon great arches, with
the path under them, like Chester, and chose to have a very lovely
lake near by, like Geneva, and mountains all round about, like
Innsbruck. The only thing which seemed purely Annecian was the
smell of the '* Rows " (to borrow a word from Chester). We agreed
that we had never smelt anything quite so amazing, even in the
water slums of Venice.

Next day we started for Switzerland, and were caught in a
deluge of rain up in the hills. It was so heavy that we were
obliged to pull up and sit under our Cape-cart hood till the weather
cleared a little. The question of how to protect a car against the
weather is a very difficult one. In really wet times nothing of
course is so nice as a regular brougham body, with a projecting top
and a glass window covering the front seats. But the weight of

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such a body is very considerable, and undoubtedly slows a car of

medium horse-power by a good mady miles an hour, not to mention

the increased wear on the tyres. A Cape hood is of little use when

the car is moving, unless it has a celluloid flap to let down in front,

and such a window never lasts for long, as the stuff will not stand

much hard usage. One undoubtedly sees far more cars with landau

or landaulette bodies now than one did a couple of years ago;

it appears that ladies are beginning to strike against being buffeted

in an open car by rain and wind. But for all that I am inclined

to think that the best plan is to have just an ordinary open car.


whether tonneau or side entrance, and to cover oneself in cunningly-
made sack mackintoshes, unless one is prepared for heavy petrol
and tyre bills. An ordinary Cape hood, however, is very useful in
case of a heavy deluge which obviously will not last long, and it is
cosy to sit comfortably in the dry, with the engine just ticking away
to itself, until the rain is over.

We had quite a difficulty with the old fogey who presides over
the French douane at La Caille ; he did not appear to have seen an
Automobile Club customs guarantee before, and could not grasp
that we wanted his signature in order to prove that we had left

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France, and so were entitled to a return of the money deposited
with the club. He looked at the paper right way up, wrong way
up, and finally smelt it ! He was a perfectly civil old person, but
should have been pensioned off years ago. However, we finally
persuaded him to sign, and trundled on over the lofty suspension
bridge that spans the gorge of the Grandes Usses, into the neutral
zone between France and Switzerland.

The officials were very civil at the Swiss frontier, opening
nothing, and half an hour later we were in Geneva. Here we
stayed a few days, making various expeditions round about. The
Swiss roads are not up to much, but what does that matter in a
land where in spite of Cookites and Lunnites almost every prospect
still pleases ? Man is becoming very vile, though, if the stories one
hears of railways up Mont Blanc and searchlights on the top are

We started on our homeward journey in a gentle drizzle, run-
ning along by the lake as far as Nyon ; thence sharp round to the
left and up into the hills. If anyone wishes to test a car for its hill-
climbing capacities let him take it over the road between Nyon and
La Cure. The gradient is steep enough to bring a 20 h.p. car to its
second speed, and there is no break in the ascent for miles and miles,
while the corners for the most part form acute angles. We had
been advised to follow the alternative but longer road through Gex,
but hill-climbing is a strong point of Clementina's, and she never
overheats. My trust in her was not disappointed, and we arrived at
the douane at La Cure a little in front of a much more powerful car
which had left Geneva before us by the more usual road.

The Swiss official in charge signed my leaving souchc for me
without demur, but we expected a little bother at the French fron-
tier, as we had omitted to arm ourselves with any documents of re-
entry. However "Souche III." signed by our old friend at La
Caille proved that we had not recovered our deposited money as
yet, and after a little conversation we were allowed to proceed. For
the advice of those about to travel I may here remark that French
roadside customs houses are always shut up between 12 and 2, while
the douanier has his dejeuner, and nothing is more annoying than to
have to wait for hours in a grubby little village while Monsieur le
douanier is taking his nap.

The road now ran downhill for some miles into Morez. We
were stopped by a man just outside the town, whom I took to be an
octroi official ; he asked to see my " passavant *' ; I did not quite
catch what he said, and thinking it was the usual question at the
octroi — " Vous avez quelque chose k declarer ? " and that he was
running through the list of dutiable articles, I made answer, " Non,

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nous n'avons pas de savon/' thinking what a dirty town Morez must
be to discourage the importation of soap, and resolving that our
modest cakes of that article should not be taxed if I could help it.
My answer appeared to infuriate the poor man, and he forthwith
haled me before his superior officer, a kindly person who after a few
minutes' talk told his subordinate to go away and not make any more
betises. It appeared that this was another douane, and not an

Two roads meet just at this point, one from La Cure and one
from Saint-Claude ; and if you come by the latter road this is the


first douane you find. The man on watch had orders not to stop
cars coming from La Cure — I suppose he had been asleep. My
friend was highly entertained at the " pas savon " mistake, and
explained that a ** passavant " was a document which could be used
instead of the club papers for franking you through the customs and
generally making your path easy.

It was pouring with rain by the time we reached St. Laurent,
and we were caught in a very heavy thunderstorm, on some bare
open land near Champagnole. So violent was the lightning that it
seemed discreet to leave the car for a few minutes and take refuge
under a friendly bank. Clementina was the most prominent object

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in the landscape, and we preferred her room to her company till the
worst was over. I have never heard of a car being struck, and am
told that the rubber tyres are a sufficient protection, which I beg
leave to doubt, inasmuch as wet rubber cannot form a perfect

This road must be very beautiful on a fine day ; at one place in
particular, I think between Poligny and D6le, you look out from a
window in the hills upon all the plains of France. We reached
Dijon before dark, glad to be in out of the wet, but sorry that our
hill-climbing was over.

Clementina was in a terrible mess that night when we got in,
Wind, rain, and mud defeat almost any mudguards. However,
Frederick brought her out like a new pin in the morning, and we
started for Troyes looking very spick and span, in marked contrast
to certain other cars which had arrived from Paris the night before,
and which had obviously not been touched by their mechanicians.
I fear some proud professionals think it is beneath their dignity to
wash their car. Yet a dirty car invariably means trouble eventually.

That day we had a wayside lunch and watched the eclipse ; all
the peasants and villagers seemed to be keeping holiday in honour
thereof, and to be taking an immense amount of interest in the

At Bar-sur-Seine we overtook a long column of blue-coated
infantry, and Troyes was full of troops concentrating for the
manoeuvres. A general of division and his staff were putting up at
our hotel, and made an extremely gay party at dinner. We did
not think that the general obtained the same amount of outward
deference as would his English opposite number, and next morning
his staff seemed to leave him unattended and alone. Autre paySy
autres mceurs — a little starch more or less is not of much impor-
tance. From our window we watched the regiments swinging
along the narrow quaint old street. No one, I suppose, looks upon
conscription as aught but a necessary evil ; yet the manhood of a
nation in arms is a soul-stirring sight. Soldierly-looking men they
were, of good physique and bearing.

We ran to Coulommiers that morning, leaving the Paris road
at Provins. The cross-country roads are only tolerable as a rule,
and are certainly no better than our own as far as surface goes.
Our way in the afternoon lay through beautiful forests, and we
found in Pierrefonds the enchanted castle of our dreams. Its walls
and towers and pinnacles must surely have inspired Mr. Albert
Goodwin in some of his finest imaginings. One would be almost
frightened to take a child into Compiegne Forest. Its lofty trees,
its gloom, its weird tidiness — there is no undergrowth — its immen-

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sity, produce a strange feeling of uneasiness and unreality. Weir-
wolves and hob-goblins no longer appear impossibilities, and in fancy
one can see apes and bears, with horrid pink eyes and ugly snouts,
glowering at one from behind the dark tree-trunks ! I think
Mr. Lewis Carroll must have made the acquaintance of the
Jabberwock in Compi^gne Forest.

We found a most comfortable inn at Compiegne, and made a
short run of it next morning into Amiens. Thence, next day, in a
tempest of wind and rain, through Abbeville and Montreuil to
Boulogne, where we took ship for England.


Clementina was on her very best behaviour coming home. We
came right through from Geneva without a single involuntary stop,
without even a puncture.

It is always surprising to me to find so many people in this
country who own cars, who love motoring, and who have plenty of
time of their own, but who have never taken their car abroad.
Many of them go to Scotland in their cars in August, and speak of the
performance with bated breath for the next twelve months ; and
indeed it is quite arguable that a hundred miles in England contain
more danger than five hundred in France. To begin with, one is

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always liable to be held up by those licensed footpads the police ;
our ancestors must have felt much the same with regard to highway-
men as the modern traveller by road feels about the guardians — save
the mark — of the law. Doubtless they hoped, as we hope, with
ordinary luck to avoid molestation, and uttered much the same
complaints when caught. But they had the advantage in that in
their case it was all over very soon, and they were not liable to be
placed in a felon's dock for the edification of a bigoted bench
of thick-headed local nobodies ; moreover highwaymen were
occasionally caught and hanged. But it matters little after all.
The great roads across the Channel beckon to one. Smooth,
straight, enduring, they run through a kindly land where strangers
are sure of a welcome, where your c?Lr rejoices in her new freedom,
where inns are good and towns are beautiful. It may be that
England is too small, too overcrowded, that the police-trap is neces-
sary, and the anti-motor magisterial bench the embodiment of all
wisdom. The remedy is obvious and simple — how simple and easy
people who have not tried it do not realise : take your car and go
to France for a month.

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** Now, mind you, Ferguson, I don't speak twice about a thing. It's
not my way. I shouldn't have three country houses, a Piccadilly
mansion, and, well, let's call it two millions of money — I shouldn't,
I say, be the man I am if I'd wasted my time like that. Pass my
instructions on to the other fellows — your brother keepers, that is.
I'll have no tourists or other folks in the neighbourhood fishing a
blamed one of my rivers. No, nor the small streams either — burns,
you call 'em, eh ? Do you grasp it ? "

Mr. Ferguson, the head keeper, was a gaunt, brown, six-foot
man, with a grey outstanding frill to his chin. An hour ago he
might have told you that there wasn't much in natural history to
surprise him ; at least, as regards the one-legged, two-legged, four-
legged, and cold-blooded no-legged creatures more or less freely to
be discovered in his glen and glens like his in the North. But that
was before he had been summoned to the presence of Mr. Curdling,
the new owner of Glen Sloch Lodge, with all its many appurtenant
miles, square and linear, of sporting rights.

He had been brought up with The M agin ton and worshipped
the Maginton tartan. When The Maginton came to grief and
Mr. Ferguson heard of it, he made a special journey to London to
talk it over with his beloved laird. And it says much for Ferguson
that, by his earnest pleading, he persuaded this madcap last of a
magnificent old Highland line of chiefs to think it possible he
could let everything go to his creditors without a regret, save only
Glen Sloch.

** Come and live in yer own land for the rest of yer time,
sir," Ferguson entreated his late and, up to then, his only laird.
**Awa' from the blastin' temptations of toons, ye'll do fine, sir.
There's the stags on the hills and the fesh in the streams, and I'll
tak' my oath o* one thing — there's no man of the glen that wudna

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rather have his wages halved so he wass still under a Maginton.
Come here, laird, to the glen where ye wass born, and let troubles
just richt themselves by the blessin' o' God, whatever,"

But The Maginton couldn't do it. His creditors would have
been much amused by Ferguson's innocence. Mr. Curdling was
much amused when The Maginton, in recommending his head
keeper to the new lord of the glen, recounted this touching proof
of his fidelity. Mr. Curdling wouldn't, he said, have thought there
were such servants living in the twentieth century — he'd be hanged
if he would. He did a remarkable thing, however, in writing to
Ferguson and raising his wages fifty per cent, on the understanding
that Ferguson was to be as good a servant to him as he had,
presumably, been to The Maginton in the past.

" Are you listening to what I say, Ferguson ? " demanded
Mr. Curdling, impatiently. He had no sort of sympathy with
employees of his who gazed grey-eyed into space while he laid
down the law to them.

" Ay," said Ferguson, " I comprehend." He contemplated
Mr. Curdling now as if he were a hopeless retriever. " But, sir,
ye'll no be wishin* to close the Gisach Burn from Loch Beallach.
There's a bit story about it, and The Maginton did always say, and
his fathers before him, that the Gisach wass the Almighty's own
burn. It wass because of a great drought, sir, so it is related in a
book that I have read, and only the Gisach didna run dry. It
saved the cattle of the glen, sir. Master Colin — I'm meanin' my
late master, sir — he said he would be condemned eternally after
death (ye'll ken my meanin') if he'd ever stop a'body fishin' the
Gisach ; and it wass his father before him that blew up the rocks
with powder to let the salmons get into it for all the world to fesh
them. I wudna close the Gisach if I wass yerself, Mr. Curdling."

*'The Gisach! Which the devil is the Gisach?" exclaimed
Mr. Curdling, testily. "There are dozens of 'em on the estate,
and I don't know this from t'other. But never mind which it is.
I don't speak twice about a thing, as I just said. The Magintons
were no doubt a very respectable family, clan, or what you please to
call it ; but they're wiped out now, boot and cap. And with them
goes all such superstitious rot as that about one stream running on
for ever while all the rest dry up. I should think, for my part,
Ferguson " (and Mr. Curdling playfully grasped the lowest but one
button of Ferguson's waistcoat — it was level with his own chin),
"that this is the wettest patch on earth. The Flood may have
started here, but as for a drought — stuff! No free fishing at all,
remember. A warning first, and then just pitch the beggars into
the water. Refer 'em to me afterwards if it vexes them. I paid

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one hundred and ninety-five thousand pounds for this glen, and I'm
doing what I please with it. And now I want to talk about the
stags and bucks and things. I've never shot anything bigger than
a hare in the South. You'll have to teach me a lot, you'll find."

Ferguson drew a long, deep breath, and seemed to shiver. Yet
it wasn't cold ; and he was in the lodge smoking-room, with a large
wood fire in the grate.

" Why the devil don't you speak, man ? " demanded Mr. Curd-
ling. " You're not deaf, are you ? I tell you I've got to be coached
about stalking and all that. Maginton says you're a jewel. Show
a little sparkle of some kind, if it's only to prove your late master
isn't a liar. I suppose you got very fond of him, eh ? "

Mr. Curdling put that question coaxingly.

"Fond, sir! Ay — ^just that," said Ferguson, after a pause.
He again contemplated Mr. Curdling during the pause. "And —
I'll ask ye to put another man in my place. I've done with the
glen after all."

" What's that ? "

"My resignation, sir. No, I canna do it, Mr. Curdling. I
willna stop. I — I've a daughter in Glasgow that I'll be gangin'
awa' to. I'm no that young myself, and maybe it's time I changed
my manner of life like Master Colin. The ways of the Lord are
past kennin', and what maun be maun be."

And then Mr. Curdling stepped down from his stilts. They
were so habitually an accessory to him that it was not easy, but he
did it. He had an instinctive appreciation of Ferguson as a local
man, and he needed a man to initiate him into the tricks of the
trade (so he termed it) as lord of a deer forest. He shouldn't think
of it. Of course he would respect all Ferguson's little fads and pre-
possessions. If Ferguson feared about the tips and so on, which no
■ doubt had come upon him as thick as Glen Sloch midges in the old

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 14 of 52)