« AnteriorContinuar »
letters could form. But this scene of ignorance and intolerance, at once ludicrous and lamentable, was over within a couple of hours; and the well-worried voyagers were pronounced free to pursue their progress.
And away we went, in carriages, on horseback, or on foot, as inclination or necessity prescribed, in many varieties of travelling acquaintanceship. But where was the Pilgrim ? or will my readers begin to ask if I am“ myself the great original ?” The last question must be answered by a negative, the former by a fact. The main
paperplot of mine was not there ; and I certainly cannot show him to my readers until I find him myself. Away, then, I go again, in full search. My baggage light, my heart not heavy, and my spirits up to the highwater-mark of adventure.
Several leagues were wended over, many noble mountains gazed at, and various villages passed through, or left on one or the other side. How beautiful in that glorious country is all nature, except human nature! But how little of divinity does the face of man (or woman either, “ not to speak it profanely”) there show forth! What a manufactory is every hamlet, yea every hut, for those little music-grinding urchins who fret the echoes of all the capitals of Europe with their discords! I never could look at one of them, happy in the broad savageness of its mountain home, without thinking it might be one day miserably burked in some foul sink of civilization.
But a painful thought had no more chance of fixing in my mind than one of those light clouds, which threw a shadow on my path, had of settling on the sun-gilt peaks over which they were swept by the dancing breeze of morning.
And so I went on. And at last, on the second day, I came to Servoz; that sunny spot, that vale of verdure, that gem of the picturesque, with its ruined castle, and its wooden bridge, its riotous stream, its neat chalets, all set in a giant frame-work of forest, crag, and cataract.
As I neared the village, I stopped for a few minutes, to read a scriptory announcement, transfixed by nails to a crucifix at the road-side. It was one of those pastoral impieties so common in Catholic countries; but as it may be a novelty to some remote untravelled heretic, I give it here in all its original presumption.
“ Monseign? Feois de Thiollaz, Eveque d'Annecy, accorde 40 jours d'indulgences a quiconque recitera devotement devant cette croix un PATER, UN AVE, & une ACTE de CONTRITION. Le 18. Juillet, 1831."
Would that Wickliffe, or the great Doctor of Wittemberg, or some other stalwart champion of reform, were to revisit the earth, exclaimed I, and thunder out again their eloquent fulminations, to purge it of these monstrous quackeries !
At the words, a kneeling figure, close by, which I had not before perceived, bent still more profoundly at the foot of the cross; and my horse (for I was mounted during this part of my expedition) started—as well he might-and threw back his ears with a movement that must have proceeded from amused surprise. I fixed my eyes for a moment in a like sensation. The Pilgrim-for it was he-thus passively afforded
Entertainment for man and beast."
I think I never saw such a long and so white a beard, or so ragged a beggarman. Yet I am unjust in calling him a mendicant, though he
looked so like one. He asked no alms, and when I dropped a small silver piece beside him, his finger and thumb mechanically picked it up, and then slipped it into the little poor’s-box whose neighbourhood somewhat redeemed the Bishop of Annecy's superstitious trash. I was grieved at the thought of having offended the old object of my intended bounty. I devoutly felt a thrill of regret. “I salute you, good father," said I, touching my hat and moving on one side. So having thus completed my "ave," my“ pater,” and my “ act of contrition," I felt myself entitled to full forty days' indulgence; and, with sentiments and sensations right catholic in the broadest sense of the word, I turned away to the enjoyment of universal nature.
My salutation was answered by a slow inclination of the hat-I concluded there was a head in it—but I saw none; for the Pilgrim kept the broad leaf of his straw sombrero (I want an English word to describe the article) drawn close down over his face, allowing nothing to be seen but that venerable apron of beard which covered the whole front of his ragged, grey great coat, and actually touched the carpet of nettles on which he was kneeling, in penance as I thought.
My guide, so to call the inconceivable lump of dulness, in the shape of a youth of nineteen, whom I was obliged to hire, along with the horse that carried me from Sallenche,—had stepped on to order breakfast at the village inn. When I arrived, there was as comfortable a cup of coffee, as good brown bread, as exquisite butter, and as delicious honey, as the most sensitive gourmand could desire, all ready spread out for my service. Having done ample justice to this repast, and chatted for a quarter of an hour to the fine old aubergiste, and gazed all round the splendid scenery of the place, I once more resumed my saddle seat, and ambled off, at the good pleasure and self-chosen pace of my admirable old steed, who well deserves a whole month of magazine immortality. Would that I knew his name- -if so I should certainly record it; but although I shall never forget that of “ the guide,” I forbear to “ damn him to eternal fame.” Poor devil! It was not his fault that he could not remember the names of the mountains or villages among which he had drawled out his dull existence. But it is really too bad for the “Maître des Guides” at Sallenche to impose such an incumbrance on the thirsty-minded traveller, at a tax of three francs a day.
Never mind,“ live and let live,” is a generous motto. So I pardon all my enemies—who are not worth hating. And who is ? Verily, verily I know not. Therefore I am in charity with all mankind. But if ever I meet one who to the wish to do me wrong joins the manliness to avow it, who scorns the sneaking and sordid selfishness which is the besetting vice of the age, who knows no double-dealing, poisons not by inuendo, whispers away no character, withers no reputation with a wink or a nod, but boldly says “I am your enemy,” and meets you face to face-by the thunderer! I will honor such a glorious foe with the deepest measure of my hatred. But “high, low, Jack and the game !" what is all this about, and where am I running ? Am I mounted, like Daniel O'Rourke, on the back of a great big ould gander, and flying up to the moon ? All this comes of throwing the reins loosely on the neck of a grey goose quill—but n'importe! I am going full speed before the wind. The mountains of Savoy are no neighbourhood for plain sailing, or for plain sense perhaps. So “ let's fly at them like French falconers”. but the quotation, like all others indeed, is almost as much beaten ground as the summits of Mont Blanc— but they are snow, now that I recollect myself.
There are two of them !” exclaimed I, (like the girl who saw her fellow servant and her double,) starting with astonishment, as I observed the figure of a man stretched on the grass by the side of my path, which had been a perilous one were my worthy old horse less sure-footed. He wore the very costume of the venerable devotee whom I had left telling his beads at the foot of the cross, two leagues and two hours behind me. The same tattered garment, the same weather-battered head-gear-but not the same beard; for on his turning round the head, or block as the case might be, which the large straw flap so closely concealed, I saw that a black bushy growth curled thickly round his neck and over his breast, such as bespoke him a man of middle age.
“The old man's son,” thought I. But it was an odd family costume; and the muscular leg which showed itself through the scant covering of a faded blue pantaloon, and the huge bludgeon on which he leaned, and the shaggy long-tailed dog which “barked at me as I passed him," formed as unprepossessing a combination as need have been associated, to make one hurry through such a convenient pass for battle, murder, or sudden death.
But I did not hurry through, nor turn my head as I continued my walking pace.
I am too old a traveller for that; for I have learned from occasional rough companionship that the surest way to find safety in such cases is not to look for it-pretty nearly on Sir Boyle Roche's principle that “the best way to avoid danger is to meet it plump."
I was by no means sorry to find myself a league farther on my road; and I had made up my mind that the two questionable individuals whom I had left behind, belonged to some sect of Simonianism or the like, and I soon forgot them.
I cannot stop now to expatiate on paper, as I did then in thought, on the magical beauties of that tiny lake, which seems perched on its mountain height only to let “the monarch” look down at the reflection of his hoary head, or to give an opportunity to visionaries like myself to plunge their minds into a bright bath of enthusiasm.
And then those exquisite cascades which “ look not of this earth” and quite as little of that water. I stood still before one of them, and gazed till thought dissolved away like it, and its strange murmur seemed to have passed into my mind a part and parcel of itself. It had not the least appearance of liquid. It came frothing over a ledge of granite a thousand feet high, from a mountain cleft four times that elevation, like the purest vapour; and was blown down the shelving precipice in most graceful folds, as if some fairy machinery above had worked the brilliant snow-heaps into a woven tissue, so finely transparent that every jutting point, every fissure, and all the various-coloured strata of the rocks were seen behind, as through a veil of gossamer. Joining the crags again midway down, this floating web seemed condensed into stripes of white gauze, flying over the mountain's breast in ever-waving motion. How lovely it was! How indescribable! with nothing in it elemental but its airy semblance.
The tones of a fiddle obligato, with a running accompaniment of laughter, attracted my attention a little farther on; and I saw on a grass-plat a group of girls frisking as gaily as the goats which they had left to run wild on the rocks above. But the minstrel ! Another, and another, and another!" cried I. “ What! has this representative of the third generation started up to throw some new delusion into this scene of natural magio?"
There he was ;-the same hat, the same coat, the same pantaloons, the same sandal-shoon, and, I could have almost sworn it, the very same legs and feet showing themselves through the rents of both the one and the other. But the beard ? It was now a brown, crisp selvage, skirting the chin and jowls, and speaking him, in the general language of crinosity, about five-and-twenty years of age. I had now no hesitation in my opinion that there was a wandering deputation of St. Simonians in search of “ the woman through the wild fastnesses of Savoy; and methought that this last of the apostles was the most likely to find and fix her.
The bark of a dog at my horse's heels roused me from the next of my reveries. I turned round and saw a smart brown and white pointer, with tail close cut, not a bit like the rough-coated wretch who had barked at me before, yet the voice was the very same. A family likeness, thought I; and, as I turned round, I saw close behind me one of the hairy triumvirate of raggedness—which I could not well distinguishstalking on with most formidable strides. An instinctive dig with my heels against the lanky sides of my horse was the immediate consequence of my discovery; and something very like a trot was the manner in which he acknowledged it. We were within a few hundred yards of Chamounix. “ Filoz! Filoz!” cried my St. Simonian; and he whistled back his dog, and evidently slackened his pace in accommodation to my humour. His retrograde movement, and my rapid advance, completed the separation I so much desired.
While I was in the act of dismounting from my horse at the door of hotel de l'Union, at Chamounix, sorry to part company from so safe and trustworthy a companion, (the guide had arrived long before,) a man brushed hastily past me, and strode up the outer flight of steps which led to the first floor entrance of the house. The waiters, hostlers, and maids, who all came out to receive me, (the season was young, and I was one of the earliest visitors,) gazed with wonderment, as well as the mountain guides, who lounged in the court-yard or stood leaning on their ironspiked batons, ready equipped for the glaciers. The ragged object of this general surprize never raised his hat or bent his head to look at or salute the motley group, but, followed by his dog, he reached the top gallery above, and entered the house. One or two of the waiters darted after him, as though they had suddenly remembered some spoons lying loose, or some drawer being unlocked. I soon followed; and, on entering the public Salon, I saw, not any one of the “ bearded Saracens” who had so variously crossed my path, but a smooth-chinned boy, whose chief stock of hair was in his brains, about twenty years young, and extremely handsome; who, having thrown aside his outer garment and his most extraordinary hat, had flung himself with perfect
nonchalance into a chair, and was discussing with the waiter the relative merits of sundry dishes, which he was selecting from the dinner carte that he held in his hand.
“Aha! good morning, Sir," said he, advancing towards me; "we are old travelling acquaintances. You don't recognise me; I fear ? But you know my family well. You have fallen in this morning with my elder brother, my father, and my grandfather; and now let me have the pleasure of showing them to you again!”
He laughed heartily as he spoke, and immediately drew from but of a canvas-covered pack three false beards, which he successively fitted to his chin, and he used at every change some grotesque action suited to the respective characters with admirable aptitude.
“Now dont you gape and stare so foolishly,” cried he, turning to the waiter; “that's nothing to what I'll do to astonish you, by and bye. Away, be off! order the dinner, and write no more letters, d’ye mind, to the miller's daughter,--at least, without confessing your perfidy to Jeannette of the Hotel de Londres."
The waiter seemed transfixed with wonder. “Away, I say, retire; and I'll tell you your fortune to-night on a pack of cards that never failed me. Filoz, show the waiter the door,-politely, mind ye.”
On this, the obedient animal moved as directed, with a most obsequious twist of the head; and the waiter glad, as it appeared to me, to escape from the presence, lost no time in obeying the peremptory order. Now, Sir, that we are alone,” continued my companion,
or the same thing as alone, for Filoz is a dog of an entire discretion, and never tells a secret, permit me to ask your pardon for having mystified you a little on the road. Filoz has an apology also to make you for a little masquerading. See here," and thereupon he produced from the pack the shaggy covering in which the dog had been disguised. He then ran on," Now pray don't be angry with us; we meant no harm, did we, Filoz ?” (the dog shook his head;)“ no, that we did not. Be convinced, Sir, that we belong neither to the Carbonari nor the Burschenschaft : we are not conspirators, highway robbers, or pickpockets; no, nor beggarmen, though you took us for such at Servoz. I am only on a pilgrimage, and Filoz travels with me as a friend. We came all the way from Paris just to do homage to Mont Blanc; and having fulfilled our entérprize, we shall return again. We have seen the majestic mass, and are satisfied; and, moreover, I have won my wager.”
I thought it required no skill in witchcraft to discover the character of my new acquaintance. I set him down as a harum scarum French youth, of polished manners, good education, ineffable good-humour, and inconceivable ingenuity. If I had space enough I should certainly relate some of the adventures of his journey from Paris, through a part of France, Germany, and Switzerland-his hair-breadth 'scapes, and the thousand tricks with which he deceived, if not “ the senate," at least its myrmidons. I believed all he told me: I always make that a point with a story-teller, and I hope my readers do the same. Indeed I always strive to believe everything. One starts in life with a passion for inquiry, which is sure to generate doubt, which infallibly leads to argument, which ends in quarrelling, and which never brings conviction. Then cui bono? no, no! in the words of the old English distich