Page images

under the other. The Flemish peasants do not, or will not, trust the banks; they, therefore, invest all their wealth in jewellery, which they carry on their persons, and which forms the wealth and inheritance of families.

The more than usual crowds of bargainers, gazers, itinerant merchants, and pilgrims, render it almost impossible to pass through the streets this Saturday. We must say a word about the pilgrims. It has already been stated that the streets through which the procession of the Holy Blood passes become a much frequented pilgrimage about this time of the year. Whatever enlightened cynics may say to the contrary, it is a really edifying sight to watch the earnest simple faces, so intent on their prayers through all the din and confusion of the streets. The pilgrims go in groups or alone, as the case may be, the men bare-headed, and all with rosaries in their hands. They are never interrupted or annoyed, for here the whole proceeding is looked on as a matter of course. The day passes on, and Sunday comes and goes a day of general promenade and display of dress, but the great display of Flemish toilettes is reserved for Monday, decidedly the greatest day in the year.

[ocr errors]

On Monday, we took our places early in a window of one of the principal streets. The procession was not expected to pass until eleven or twelve, but we wanted to see the innumerable detachments passing from the various religious houses and churches to the cathedral, where the procession would form. While waiting for the small processions, we did not find the time hang heavy on our hands, for we were well occupied and amused by the sights and scenes of the crowded street below. The beauties of B- and it is famed for its pretty women, come out in all their summer splendour-no girl, of however low a class, but could boast to-day of a new The town girls, as distinct from the peasants, do not confine themselves to a particular colour or shape. This day, therefore, they appeared in tulle caps, with various knots and bows, or in pretty white muslin ones, covered with work and narrow lace. As the straight black cloak, universally worn here by the lower classes, completely hides the dress, the cap is the principal attraction; however, a neat black silk apron is considered to give great additional dressiness to the toilette.


The weather was splendid-most propitious for the summer toilettes— and the street below looked bright and happy. First came the Capuchiu fathers. As they passed one could almost have fancied oneself transported back to the middle ages, which the antique appearance of the high-gabled houses kept ever bofore the mind. But now the monks with their sandaled feet, shaven heads, and long beards, give additional character to the scene. There were about sixteen in number walking two and two, preceded by a hoary old lay-brother, bearing the large red cross, with lance and wand, the standard of their order. This procession struck us most forcibly as it was a scene not even to be imagined in England. Immediately following our favourite old Capuchins came a long line of children, in white muslin dresses and veils and blue sashes. Alas, for our picture of medieval ages the wide crinoline and hair a l'Imperatrice of these young ladies dispelled all our dreams in one moment. Then came St.

John the Baptist, personated by a pretty little boy of about six years of age. He appeared in little pink tights and vest, with a sheep-skin fastened over one shoulder and under the other. In one hand he carried a little rough wooden cross, and with the other he led the traditional lamb by means of a most untraditional broad pink ribbon. This group was exceedingly pretty. The boy was too young to think of acting his part, and his pretty simple face required no aid to make him really personate the infant St. John.

All the other processions from the different churches passed then in quick succession, each with the peculiarly venerated statue of its church or parish. All these statues dressed with the intensest magnificence, the velvet mantles with gold-embroidered borders, studded with precious stones, attracting general admiration. The statues themselves were of uniform ugliness. The priests and dignitaries would gladly substitute the white marble or plaster images, which add so much to the decoration of a church, but the townsfolk and peasants are so attached to these old figures, which date from many centuries back, that the least attempt at change causes murmur and discontent.

The Cuirassier band, which was to precede the procession, passed next; and the big bell of the cathedral, which was tolling all the time, having ceased, we knew that the High Mass had commenced. After about three-quarters of an hour the bell recommenced, giving notice that the procession was forming, and then a burst of music from the cuirassiers told us that the procession was emerging from the church. The acolytes ap

peared first in their white surplices and long red soutanes, then the canons of the cathedral, intoning a hymn. The sisters of St. Vincent, with their long school of female orphans, the Bogært school and the St. Vincent boys came next. These last were about thirty in number, and each bore a handsome banner of their patron saint. They are all Euglish or Irish boys, educated by a worthy English gentleman, who has devoted time and fortune to this work of charity.

Various were the banners sprinkled through these schools; it would be utterly impossible to enumerate them, for they amounted almost to hundreds. The religious part of the procession was closed by a number of priests bare-headed, two of whom carried the shrine containing the relic; several companies of infantry followed, who at intervals took up the music. The procession was immensely long, and took fully half an hour to defile before our windows, the bands being so far apart that all might have played together without producing any want of harmony.

The immense circuit of streets was at length accomplished, and benediction with the relic given at the altar erected for the occasion in the Place de la Bourg. All was now almost over, and the shrine was conveyed to the chapel of deposit, only a few paces distant, in the corner of the Place de la Bourg. The great excitement of the morning being now at an end, we walked quietly back to the Grand Place, where the "baraques" were in great force-everybody and everything giving full evidence of the intended month's enjoyment. Each "baraque" could boast of at least one musical instrument, and as they all played their chosen airs simultaneously, each

vieing with its neighbour to make the greatest noise-the effect can be more easily imagined than described. On the platform raised in front of each booth was also an orator, who looked exceedingly affected by the heat of his arguments-not to say the heat of the weather-which seemed to lie principally in the strength of his voice. The first "baraque" to be seen was that containing a series of moving pictures, pourtraying the passion of our Lord, though in England or Ireland such an exhibition would not be tolerated, as it would give rise to frightful profanity, it is looked upon here as a simple exposition of the gospel. Certainly, this particular booth was one of those most patronized, and as from time to time crowds issued from the performance, it was pleasing to observe that on no face was there to be seen the least approach to a joke or a sneer. The booth of which we have been speaking did not confine itself to these serious tableaux. After them was introduced a species of ballet, in which figured the stout lady mentioned towards the beginning of this sketch. We moved on then, and passing some smaller sheds devoted to roulette-tables, &c., we came to a show that holds a high place in the estimation of the B- populace.

The old Catholic legend of St. Anthony is here depicted, having undergone rather a curious transformation in its course of dramatising. The priests here strictly forbid their flocks to attend this performance, as it is rather calculated to lessen their respect for religion. The large, coarsely-painted pictures hanging outside are, however, too tempting in their delineations of devils of all shapes and sizes, whose appearance seems to promise extraordinary scenes, and the exhortations of the clergy are for the most part unavailing. The young and giddy of both sexes flock in, and at the conclusion of the performance, which lasts about twenty minutes, they emerge on the broad grin. Magicians, wonderful children, bearded women, photographic studies, followed in succession as we went round the market-place; but the hot sun conquered our desire of sight-seeing, end we returned home until evening, when some of the good shows would be in their splendour. About eight o'clock, accordingly, we set forth again, this time accompanied by a numerous party of children, to whom had been promised a ride on the grand whirligig." But though urgently coaxed on by the children to this great attraction, we could not resist first satisfying our curiosity by watching the operations carried on in the long line of "fritter shops," which occupied almost one entire side of the square. Perhaps, to a Fleming, the scene was nothing extraordinary, for every year these "fritter shops" take up the same position during the Kermesse, and to judge from their crowded attendance, they seemed to be considered one of the standard enjoyments that every one should visit, in order to have "done" the Kermesse thoroughly. We, however, found amusement, for a quarter of an hour, watching the proceedings from outside. We had stopped opposite the grandest, which was a long and very deep wooden booth, left almost entirely open in front. Down the centre was a range of large, handsome stoves, and by each stove stood a pail of what cooks term batter. At each side of the booth was a line of stalls, or double seats, like boxes in a tavern, with curtains arranged at the centre of each stall, in such a manner


that persons standing in the centre part could not distinguish the occupants. Two or three women, smartly dressed, stood at counters, with vases of powdered white sugar, to be dusted over each fritter before it is handed to the purchaser. A man, dressed as a French cook, sat before one of the stoves, having the pail of batter on one side, and a stand of instruments like tongs, with large oblong ends, on the other. The stove-fire burned briskly, and we watched him with curiosity, as he seized one of the tongs, opened it with a jerk, poured in a ladleful of batter, clapped the tongs again, gave it a shake to spread the contents evenly inside, and pushed it into the fire. This process he repeated until he had ten tongs at once in the fire; by that time the first one was ready to be withdrawn; out it was pulled, a slight shake to loosen the cake, the tongs were opened, and the fritter, a thin, oblong cake, very crisp, was deposited gently, but rapidly, on a dish near at hand; the tongs were then refilled, and placed in the fire; then number two taken out, and so on. In the time we have taken to describe the process, the cook would have had a pile of fritters, ready to be carried off by the waiter to the damozels with the sugar, thence to be dispensed among the fastidious purchasers. There, six or eight stoves almost constantly in full operation, the noise was a continual clapping of the tongs, a sharp, slight sound, which was not disagreeable, and to which the ear soon became accustomed. Over this booth were the words, "Le roi des fritures," which last word has, perhaps, been incorrectly translated fritters, as I believe fritters, in English, mean cakes with jam of some kind in their composition. There also was a representation of a Chinese mandarin, with his legs round his neck, rather an undignified position for a celestial, and a rebus, (in music) which was to be read as "C'est ici." This fritter sbop, though the grandest, had a rival placed very near, in a Dutch establishment of the same kind, the lady of which bore her native head-dress, which being rather curious, attracted many to her shop. It consisted of a wide, flat gold band, which fitted close round her head, quite concealing her hair, and confining two wide, handsome lace lappets, which fell down on her cheek at each side. She spoke Dutch and French, with a modicum of Flemish, just enough to be able to attend to the lower class of customers, who also came in numbers to buy and eat fritters. Both these boothes were gayest at night, for the insides were tastefully decorated with mirrors and pictures, and brilliantly lighted up with gas. In the evening, too, coffee, beer, and wine could be obtained, and as half-anhour in one of the fritter shops was considered the correct way to finish off an evening of sight-seeing, the scene at about nine or ten o'clock was very gay. Having driven the children nearly to distraction by stopping so long at these places, we at last allowed ourselves to be dragged off to the wonderful "merry-go-round." This was a large, round tent, hung alternately with mirrors and pictures, and lighted up by innumerable coloured lamps. There were two rows of carriages, covered in scarlet cloth, with bells hung from the corners, intended, we may suppose, to add to the din. Horses and steam-engines were also there for the enterprising. In one of the Carriages sat four men, who played on as many loud instruments as they

could possibly manage, during the whirling of the whole affair. All was set in motion by a poor white horse, who trotted round and round most indefatigably from morning till night, we might almost say without cessation, during the whole time the Kermesse lasted. His long apprenticeship seemed to have succeeded in rendering him quite insensible to megrim or dizziness. Not so with us, who stood by while the young folks were enjoying their ride. A few minutes reduced us almost to a state of stupefaction from the noise and motion going on. Soon everything in the square seemed to join in the dance; even the stiff old tower, which stood looking down from its obscure height on the noise and bustle of the square below, seemed to bow and nod, as if about to totter, leap down, and join in the universal merry-go-round. At length, a signal was given, and the whole machinery stopped, and we made our way as best we could from this " scene of delight." It was amazing to see the numbers of old men and women who crowded 66 up to go a round." How their old bones could possibly survive the jolting was indeed a mystery.

It would seem as if the Flemings kept all the activity and jollity of their nature for this one month. The gay and stirring look which the town of B- assumes at the commencement of May goes on increasing until the close of the month, when the shows and caravans pack up to travel off to some other Kermessing town. Towards the first of June the Grande Place of B- presents an appearance similar to that of a grand banquetting The remnants of the past dissipation alone

hall, after the feast is over.


are there to give evidence that the present tranquillity is of but recent date. Half pulled-down booths, dirty canvass, orange peels, &c., testify that the people of B have really been allowing themselves a spell of amusement; but, with the close of the month, they have retired again to their accustomed quiet life, the town again relapses into its usual dreamy tranquillity, and nothing more of any great note breaks the monotony, until the next advent of its "Annual May Kermesse."




AFTER passing the Holy Island, or 66 Inis-Cealtra," as the venerable locality is still styled by the Irish-speaking people of the district, the tourist is usually attracted by a grand range of mountains overhanging Killaloe. Upon the right loom Sleive Beragh, Ballycuggeren, and the Crag mountains; upon the left is Thomthinnia, sloping abruptly to the shore of the lake, where

"Just a trace of silver sand

Shows where the waters meet the land."

« PreviousContinue »