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The Ballade Of A Strange Town
by [?]

. . . . .

Suddenly the door burst open, and my friend appeared, transfigured and frantic.

“Get up!” he cried, waving his hands wildly. “Get up! We’re in the wrong town! We’re not in Mechlin at all. Mechlin is ten miles, twenty miles off–God knows what! We’re somewhere near Antwerp.”

“What!” I cried, leaping from my seat, and sending the furniture flying. “Then all is well, after all! Poetry only hid her face for an instant behind a cloud. Positively for a moment I was feeling depressed because we were in the right town. But if we are in the wrong town–why, we have our adventure after all! If we are in the wrong town, we are in the right place.”

I rushed out into the rain, and my friend followed me somewhat more grimly. We discovered we were in a town called Lierre, which seemed to consist chiefly of bankrupt pastry cooks, who sold lemonade.

“This is the peak of our whole poetic progress!” I cried enthusiastically. “We must do something, something sacramental and commemorative! We cannot sacrifice an ox, and it would be a bore to build a temple. Let us write a poem.”

With but slight encouragement, I took out an old envelope and one of those pencils that turn bright violet in water. There was plenty of water about, and the violet ran down the paper, symbolising the rich purple of that romantic hour. I began, choosing the form of an old French ballade; it is the easiest because it is the most restricted–

“Can Man to Mount Olympus rise,
And fancy Primrose Hill the scene?
Can a man walk in Paradise
And think he is in Turnham Green?
And could I take you for Malines,
Not knowing the nobler thing you were?
O Pearl of all the plain, and queen,
The lovely city of Lierre.

“Through memory’s mist in glimmering guise
Shall shine your streets of sloppy sheen.
And wet shall grow my dreaming eyes,
To think how wet my boots have been
Now if I die or shoot a Dean—-”

Here I broke off to ask my friend whether he thought it expressed a more wild calamity to shoot a Dean or to be a Dean. But he only turned up his coat collar, and I felt that for him the muse had folded her wings. I rewrote–

“Now if I die a Rural Dean,
Or rob a bank I do not care,
Or turn a Tory. I have seen
The lovely city of Lierre.”

“The next line,” I resumed, warming to it; but my friend interrupted me.

“The next line,” he said somewhat harshly, “will be a railway line. We can get back to Mechlin from here, I find, though we have to change twice. I dare say I should think this jolly romantic but for the weather. Adventure is the champagne of life, but I prefer my champagne and my adventures dry. Here is the station.”

. . . . .

We did not speak again until we had left Lierre, in its sacred cloud of rain, and were coming to Mechlin, under a clearer sky, that even made one think of stars. Then I leant forward and said to my friend in a low voice–“I have found out everything. We have come to the wrong star.”

He stared his query, and I went on eagerly: “That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. We are in the wrong world. When I thought that was the right town, it bored me; when I knew it was wrong, I was happy. So the false optimism, the modern happiness, tires us because it tells us we fit into this world. The true happiness is that we don’t fit. We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way.”

He silently nodded, staring out of the window, but whether I had impressed or only fatigued him I could not tell. “This,” I added, “is suggested in the last verse of a fine poem you have grossly neglected–

“‘Happy is he and more than wise
Who sees with wondering eyes and clean
The world through all the grey disguise
Of sleep and custom in between.
Yes; we may pass the heavenly screen,
But shall we know when we are there?
Who know not what these dead stones mean,
The lovely city of Lierre.'”

Here the train stopped abruptly. And from Mechlin church steeple we heard the half-chime: and Joris broke silence with “No bally HORS D’OEUVRES for me: I shall get on to something solid at once.”


Prince, wide your Empire spreads, I ween,
Yet happier is that moistened Mayor,
Who drinks her cognac far from fine,
The lovely city of Lierre.