BOBBIE drove us via Picquigny Abbeville. There is a shorter road to Montreuil but, as there was ample time to catch the three o’clock boat from Boulogne, the best-looking road was chosen. Had we noticed that the short cut led through the battlefield of Crécy, where Edward III of England defeated Philip of Valois, this route might have been the one selected. We have since been sorry to have missed a view of the field where old, blind King Johann of Bohemia was slain, and where the Black Prince, as victor, assumed the king’s crestthose famous three feathers with the motto, Ich Dien. Surely this crest has never been more gallantly borne than by old King John who, when the battle went against his allies, had his reins lashed to those of two knights and rode to his death in the fight.
Shortly after leaving Amiens a crack appeared in one of the wrought-iron uprights supporting the car’s top; as it could be discerned only while the car was moving, Bobbie would never have made the discovery. Investigation showed that the three-quarter inch bar was snapped off like a pipestem; the pavé of our previous day had done mischief after all, and we were fortunate to have so quickly seen the break, for a bad bit of road might have overtaxed the right-hand iron and precipitated the roof, with its heavy baggage, upon our heads. Pater had long objected to the amount of this baggage, declaring, “When you reach your trunks, in London, fully half of it must be put away.” But this proved hard to doespecially for Scoffy, despite the levity with which he offered to take only a toothbrush and a box of collars.
The immediate need was a blacksmith to repair the damage, and, at Ailly-sur-Somme, we paused to seek one. Had our vocabulary been as extensive as our baggage, we might have had a smith for the asking; but a summary of the polite French we had learned, from “Will the good landady’s pretty daughter give us some nice fresh milk” to “When does the next train leave for Paris,” failed to produce the name of so “rude” and “useless” a person. Though Scoffy timidly murmured we wished to be conducted to a forge (smithy) and this was replete with suggestionno light dawned upon the willing shoemaker, whom we were interrogating, until we showed him the broken rod; thereupon he promptly removed his apron, climbed on our step, and conducted us to the object of our desires. The shop was prominently marked “Maréchalerie et Ferronerie,” and that is one thing we shall never forget. “Oh, fudge!” said the Youth, “I never would have had the cheek to guess that a marshal could be a farrier.”
At Picquigny, Bobbie crossed to the north bank of the Somme, and at Mouflers he passed l’Etoile cross-road which leads to the finest Roman camp in France. Besides Etoile, impending rain lost us Pont Remy -this side of Abbevillewhose castle, through commanding a crossing of the Somme, played an important part in the Hundred Years’ War. Northward, the Pont Remy road leads to St. Riquier, site of a famous abbey of this name patronized by Dagobert and Charlemagne, but now represented only by a handsome Gothic church.
Abbeville is indeed historic; sharing the fortunes of much disputed Normandy, the town is said to have been in English hands the better part of two hundred years. Here, Mary Tudor was married to Louis XII and, here, Wolsey and Francis I made an alliance against Kaiser Charles V. In earlier days, Abbeville was capital of the county of Ponthieu, over which Flanders and Normandy were continually wrangling; the Norman duke, William, conquered it ten years be-fore he invaded England. The museums, and the old churches of St. Gilles and St. Sépulcre are worth a visit, but its most noted building is the church of St. Vulfran, a fine example of the French Flamboyant style, which corresponds in period with England’s Perpendicular. The large Roman camp known to have crowned the hills south of Abbeville has entirely disappeared.
An indication of the heavy automobile traffic through this region was the appearance, on the market place of many a town, of children crying, “A Boulogne ? A Boulogne ?”some pointing out the way, others holding out their hands for coppers.
At Nouvion, Crécy forest lay on our right, the battlefield itself being three miles distant as the crow flies. About the same distance in the opposite direction, lay St. Valery at the mouth of the Somme, where William the Conqueror finally set sail for England. Near Namport we crossed the line between the departments of Somme and Pas de Calais. The threatened rain now fell in torrents and our car reached Montreuil in the face of a driving storm. Montreuil-sur-Mer, as you may judge from its name, was once a seaport; now, like some of the Cinque Ports of England, it lies inlandthe shore nine miles away. As a port at the mouth of the Canche it was strongly fortified, and its walls, moat and citadel are still extant; the moat, now dry, has been turned into gardens with fine sward underfoot and vine-covered walls each side. They re-mind one of the bowling greens in some famous old English gardens.
Some miles southeast, along the Canche, lies Beaurainville, which has scanty remains of the castle where Guy of Ponthieu imprisoned Harold of England in 1064 at the instigation of the duke of Normandy. About twelve miles due east of Montreuil (though more than twenty miles by road) is famous Agincourt where, in 1415, the English, under Henry V, won an-other glorious victory over the French who outnumbered them more than four to one. At Crécy the odds were almost three to one against the English, but here their allied adversaries were hampered by lack of concerted action.
It seemed strange to be within gunshot, almost, of those famous battlefields familiar since childhood. How very, very long ago those bitter fights were waged ! What changes have come since thenchanges of every kind ! The fact that Montreuil, once a prosperous sea-port, is now a sleepy little inland town serves to show how very long ago it was.
Because of the downpour, Bobbie turned in at Montreuil’s cosy Hôtel de France. As he drove into a protected part of the court, an open kitchen door revealed busy ranges and gleaming copper pans and saucepans. This stimulus to our appetites was not necessary but, as dinner hour was far off, we had to be content with coffee and cake served in the sitting-room. Mountains of cake and generous supplies of fine coffee and cream disappeared with astonishing rapidity. The coffee cups were as large as porridge bowls. “A place after my own heart,” said Scoffy. “I’d like to stay and sample that dinner.” A lessening of the rain was the signal to resume our journey to Bolognetwenty-two miles awaya town not new to us; here we waited at Hôtel du Louvre till it was time to load the automobile on the “Onward”an old acquaintance. Five cars were stowed away below, but our auto, having a top, was left on deck. Although exposed to possible damage by salt water, the car was sure to be first ashore.
Our short run across France proved pleasant and well worth while. Touring northern France from centers, you will take a few days longer than we did, but will see more. As the French once led the world at motoring, there should be good cars for hire in almost any small city or flourishing town. Rheims and Amiens look promising as geographical centers. From Rheims you may make a pretty, hundred-and-fifteen-mile sweep through vine-clad Champagne, visiting Epernay, Châtillon and Dormansall on the Marne-thence circling north through Soissons and Coucy to Laon, and back via Fismes; this should really be little more than a hundred-mile run, but fully ten additional miles are necessary to avoid pavé roads.
In the country around Amiens the paved roads preclude many advantageous combinations of routes. Driving to Péronne, St. Quentin, Chauny, Noyon, and home via Roye, would make about a hundred-mile run; Montdidier, Tricot, Ressons, Compiègne, Rive-coup, St. Martin, Clermont, and home via Breteuil, would make anotherincluding eighteen miles from Compiègne to Pierrefonds and back. But it would take only twenty miles more from Clermont to include Beauvais and its cathedral, which would give you, all told, a splendid tour not over one-hundred and thirty miles in length. To Arras and back is about seventy-two miles, so this trip could be made in an afternoon. To extend it to Cambraifamous for the origin of cambric, but of greater historic famewould be to risk a deal of pavé.
That fascinating town, Rouen, is too far west to be easily included in a one-day auto ride from any center. But a two-day trip from Paris to Rouen might be made to embrace Beauvais, Gisors, the ruins of château Gaillard (“the saucy castle” of Richard the Lion Hearted) and other points of interest. Even a general view of Paris is most easily gained in an automobile.
There still remainsthough we stretch a point to include it in northern Francethe château district of the Loire. Tours is the proper center for this. With virtually our same party, Pater hired a car there, some years ago, and viewed many châteaux very comfort-ably in one day. A two-day trip should include even the châteaux less frequented by tourists and, possibly, Orléans.
The trip from Paris to Fontainebleau might readily be extended to embrace Sens, Troyes, Provins, and other quaint and interesting towns. But I am getting away from personal experience into the field of conjecturea departure entirely unnecessary; for when you have seen Rheims and Amiens, Paris and the château country, you have seen the very best la belle France has to offer.
As the Onward ploughed her way through the rough Channel, and Boulogne and the Continent began to fade into distance, the clouds broke and a beautiful rainbow appeared; we accepted this as an omen of fair weather, for such a magnificent, double bow would be likely to fulfill its promise even in misty old England.