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- Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands V2 - 30/64 -
of a deck. The day is fine; the air is filled with golden beams.
More and more beautiful grows the scene as we approach the Rhone--the river broader, hills more commanding, and architecture tinged with the Italian. Bradshaw says it equals the Rhine.
At Lyons there was a scene of indescribable confusion. Out of the hold a man with a rope and hook was hauling baggage up a smooth board. Three hundred people were sorting their goods without checks. Porters were shouldering immense loads, four or five heavy trunks at once, corded together, and stalking off Atlantean. Hatboxes, bandboxes, and valises burst like a meteoric shower out of a crater. "_A moi, à moi!_" was the cry, from old men, young women, soldiers, shopkeepers, and _prêtres_, scuffling and shoving together. Careless at once of grammar and of grace, I pulled and shouted with the best, till at length our plunder was caught, corded and poised on an herculean neck. We followed in the wake, H. trembling lest the cord should break, and we experience a pre-Alpine avalanche. At length, however, we breathed more freely in rooms _au quatrième of Hotel de l'Univers_.
After dinner we drove to the cathedral. It was St. John's eve. "At twelve o'clock to-night," said H., "the spirits of all who are to die this year will appear to any who will go alone into the dark cathedral and summon them"! We were charmed with the interior. Twilight hid all the dirt, cobwebs, and tawdry tinsel; softened the outlines, and gave to the immense arches, columns, and stained windows a strange and thrilling beauty. The distant tapers, seeming remoter than reality, the kneeling crowds, the heavy vesper chime, all combined to realize, H. said, her dreams of romance more perfectly than ever before. We could not tear ourselves away. But the clash of the sexton's keys, as he smote them together, was the signal to be gone. One after another the tapers were extinguished. The kneeling figures rose; and shadowily we flitted forth, as from some gorgeous cave of grammarye.
Saturday, June 25. Lyons to Genève. As this was our first experience in the diligence line, we noticed particularly every peculiarity. A diligence is a large, heavy, strongly-built, well-hung stage, consisting of five distinct departments,--coupé, berline, omnibus, banquette, and baggage top.
[Illustration: _of a diligence coach drawn by four horses._]
After setting up housekeeping in our berline, and putting all "to rights," the whips cracked, bells jingled, and away we thundered by the arrowy Rhone. I had had the idea that a diligence was a rickety, slow-moulded antediluvian nondescript, toiling patiently along over impassable roads at a snail's pace. Judge of my astonishment at finding it a full-blooded, vigorous monster, of unscrupulous railway momentum and imperturbable equipoise of mind.
Down the macadamized slopes we thundered at a prodigious pace; up the hills we trotted with six horses, three abreast; madly through the little towns we burst, like a whirlwind, crashing across the pebbled streets, and out upon the broad, smooth road again. Before we had well considered the fact that we were out of Lyons, we stopped to change horses. Done in a jiffy; and whoop, crick, crack, whack, rumble, bump, whirr, whisk, away we blazed, till, ere we knew it, another change, and another.
"Really, H.," said I, "this is not slow. The fact is, we are going ahead. _I_ call this travelling--never was so comfortable in my life."
"Nor I," quoth she. "And, besides, we are unwinding the Rhone all along."
And, sure enough, we were; ever and anon getting a glimpse of him spread mazily all abroad in some beautiful vale, like a midguard anaconda done in silver.
At Nantua, a sordid town, with a squalid inn, we dined, at two, deliciously, on a red shrimp soup; no, not soup, it was a _potage_; no, a stew; no, a creamy, unctuous mess, muss, or whatever you please to call it. Sancho Panza never ate his olla podrida with more relish. Success to mine host of the jolly inn of Nantua!
Then we thunderbolted along again, shot through a grim fortress, crossed a boundary line, and were in Switzerland. Vive Switzerland! land of Alps, glaciers, and freemen!
As evening drew on, a wind sprang up, and a storm seemed gathering on the Jura. The rain dashed against the panes of the berime, as we rode past the grim-faced monarch of the "misty shroud." A cold wind went sweeping by, and the Rhone was rushing far below, discernible only in the distance as a rivulet of flashing foam. It was night as we drove into Geneva, and stopped at the Messagerie. I heard with joy a voice demanding if this were Monsieur Besshare. I replied, not without some scruples of conscience, "_Oui, monsieur, c'est moi,_" though the name did not sound exactly like the one to which I had been wont to respond. In half an hour we were at home, in the mansion of Monsieur Fazy.
Genève, Monday, June 27. The day dawned clear over this palace of enchantment. The mountains, the lake, the entire landscape on every side revealed itself from our lofty windows with transparent brilliancy. This house is built on high ground, at the end of the lake near where the Rhone flows out. It is very high in the rooms, and we are in the fourth story, and have distant views on all four sides. The windows are very large, and open in leaves, on hinges, like doors, leaving the entire window clear, as a frame for the distant picture.
In the afternoon we rode out across the Rhone, where it breaks from the lake, and round upon the ascending shore. It is seldom here that the Alps are visible. The least mist hides them completely, so that travellers are wont to record it in their diaries as a great event, "I saw Mont Blanc to-day." Yesterday there was nothing but clouds and thick gloom; but now we had not ridden far before H. sprang suddenly, as if she had lost her senses--her cheeks flushed, and her eye flashing. I was frightened. "There," said she, pointing out of the side of the carriage across the lake, "there he is--there's Mont Blanc." "Pooh," said I, "no such thing." And some trees for a moment intervened, and shut out the view. Presently the trees opened, and H. cried, "There, that _white_; don't you see?--there--there!" pointing with great energy, as if she were getting ready to fly. I looked and saw, sure enough, behind the dark mass of the Mole, (a huge blue-black mountain in the foreground,) the granite ranges rising gradually and grim as we rode; but, further still, behind those gray and ghastly barriers, all bathed and blazing in the sun's fresh splendors, undimmed by a cloud, unveiled even by a filmy fleece of vapor, and oh, so white--so intensely, blindingly white! against the dark-blue sky, the needles, the spires, the solemn pyramid, the transfiguration cone of Mont Blanc. Higher, and still higher, those apocalyptic splendors seemed lifting their spectral, spiritual forms, seeming to rise as we rose, seeming to start like giants hidden from behind the black brow of intervening ranges, opening wider the amphitheatre of glory, until, as we reached the highest point in our road, the whole unearthly vision stood revealed in sublime perspective. The language of the Revelation came rushing through my soul. This is, as it were, a door opened in heaven. Here are some of those everlasting mountain ranges, whose light is not of the sun, nor of the moon, but of the Lord God and of the Lamb. Here is, as it were, a great white throne, on which One might sit before whose face heaven and earth might flee; and here a sea of glass mingled with fire. Nay, rather, here are some faint shadows, some dim and veiled resemblances, which bring our earth-imprisoned spirits to conceive remotely what the disencumbered eye of the ecstatic apostle gazed upon.
With solemn thankfulness we gazed--thankfulness to God for having withdrawn his veil of clouds from this threshold of the heavenly vestibule, and brought us across the Atlantic to behold. And as our eyes, blinded by the dazzling vision,--which we might reside here years without beholding in such perfection,--filled with tears, we were forced to turn them away and hide them, or fasten them upon the dark range of Jura on the other side of us, until they were able to gaze again. Thus we rode onward, obtaining new points of view, new effects, and deeper emotions; nor can time efface the impressions we received in the depths of our souls.
A lady, at whose door we alighted for a moment to obtain a particular point of view, told us that at sunset the mountain assumed a peculiar transparency, with most mysterious hues of blue and purple; so that she had seen irreligious natures, frivolous and light, when suddenly called out to look, stand petrified, or rather exalted above themselves, and irresistibly turning their faces, their thoughts, their breathings of adoration up to God.
I do not wonder that the eternal home of the glorified should be symbolized by a Mount Zion. I do not wonder that the Psalmist should say, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the _hills,_ from whence cometh my help!" For surely earth cannot present, nor unassisted fancy conceive, an object more profoundly significant of divine majesty than these mountains in their linen vesture of everlasting snow.
Tuesday, June 28. The morning dawned clear, warm, and cloudless. A soft haze rested on the distant landscape, without, however, in the least dimming its beauty.
At about eleven we set off with two horses in an open carriage, by the left shore, to visit St. Cergue, and ascend the Jura. All our way was gradually ascending, and before us, or rather across the lake on one side, stood the glorious New Jerusalem scene. We were highly favored. Every moment diminished the intervening mountains, and lifted the gorgeous pageant higher into the azure.
Every step, every turn, presented it in some new point of view, and extended the range of observation. New Alps were continually rising, and diamond-pointed peaks glancing up behind sombre granite bulwarks.
At noon _cocher_ stopped at a village to refresh his horses. We proceeded to a cool terrace filled with trees, and lulled by the splash of a fountain, from whence the mountain was in full view. Here we investigated the mysteries of a certain basket which our provident hostess had brought with her.
After due refreshment and repose we continued our route, ascending the Jura, towards the Dôle, which is the highest mountain of that range. A macadamized road coiled up the mountain side, affording us at every turning a new and more splendid view of the other shore of the lake. At length we reached St. Cergue, and leaving the carriage, H. and I, guided by a peasant girl, went through the woods to the highest point, where were the ruins of the ancient chateau. Far be it from me to describe what we saw. I feel that I have already been too presumptuous. We sat down, and each made a hasty sketch of Mont Blanc.
We took tea at the hotel, which reminded us, by the neatness of its scoured chambers with their white bedspreads, of the apartments of some out-of-the-way New England farm house.
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