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Saunterings - Our English Friends Post by :rossl58 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2984

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Saunterings - Our English Friends

Not the least of the traveler's pleasure in Switzerland is derived from the English people who overrun it: they seem to regard it as a kind of private park or preserve belonging to England; and they establish themselves at hotels, or on steamboats and diligences, with a certain air of ownership that is very pleasant. I am not very fresh in my geology; but it is my impression that Switzerland was created especially for the English, about the year of the Magna Charta, or a little later. The Germans who come here, and who don't care very much what they eat, or how they sleep, provided they do not have any fresh air in diningroom or bedroom, and provided, also, that the bread is a little sour, growl a good deal about the English, and declare that they have spoiled Switzerland. The natives, too, who live off the English, seem to thoroughly hate them; so that one is often compelled, in self-defense, to proclaim his nationality, which is like running from Scylla upon Charybdis; for, while the American is more popular, it is believed that there is no bottom to his pocket.

There was a sprig of the Church of England on the steamboat on Lake Leman, who spread himself upon a center bench, and discoursed very instructively to his friends,--a stout, fat-faced young man in a white cravat, whose voice was at once loud and melodious, and whom our manly Oxford student set down as a man who had just rubbed through the university, and got into a scanty living.

"I met an American on the boat yesterday," the oracle was saying to his friends, "who was really quite a pleasant fellow. He--ah really was, you know, quite a sensible man. I asked him if they had anything like this in America; and he was obliged to say that they had n't anything like it in his country; they really had n't. He was really quite a sensible fellow; said he was over here to do the European tour, as he called it."

Small, sympathetic laugh from the attentive, wiry, red-faced woman on the oracle's left, and also a chuckle, at the expense of the American, from the thin Englishman on his right, who wore a large white waistcoat, a blue veil on his hat, and a face as red as a live coal.

"Quite an admission, was n't it, from an American? But I think they have changed since the wah, you know."

At the next landing, the smooth and beaming churchman was left by his friends; and he soon retired to the cabin, where I saw him self-sacrificingly denying himself the views on deck, and consoling himself with a substantial lunch and a bottle of English ale.

There is one thing to be said about the English abroad: the variety is almost infinite. The best acquaintances one makes will be English,--people with no nonsense and strong individuality; and one gets no end of entertainment from the other sort. Very different from the clergyman on the boat was the old lady at table-d'hote in one of the hotels on the lake. One would not like to call her a delightfully wicked old woman, like the Baroness Bernstein; but she had her own witty and satirical way of regarding the world. She had lived twenty-five years at Geneva, where people, years ago, coming over the dusty and hot roads of France, used to faint away when they first caught sight of the Alps. Believe they don't do it now. She never did; was past the susceptible age when she first came; was tired of the people. Honest? Why, yes, honest, but very fond of money. Fine Swiss wood-carving? Yes. You'll get very sick of it. It's very nice, but I 'm tired of it. Years ago, I sent some of it home to the folks in England. They thought everything of it; and it was not very nice, either,--a cheap sort. Moral ideas? I don't care for moral ideas: people make such a fuss about them lately (this in reply to her next neighbor, an eccentric, thin man, with bushy hair, shaggy eyebrows, and a high, falsetto voice, who rallied the witty old lady all dinner-time about her lack of moral ideas, and accurately described the thin wine on the table as "water-bewitched"). Why did n't the baroness go back to England, if she was so tired of Switzerland? Well, she was too infirm now; and, besides, she did n't like to trust herself on the railroads. And there were so many new inventions nowadays, of which she read. What was this nitroglycerine, that exploded so dreadfully? No: she thought she should stay where she was.

There is little risk of mistaking the Englishman, with or without his family, who has set out to do Switzerland. He wears a brandy-flask, a field-glass, and a haversack. Whether he has a silk or soft hat, he is certain to wear a veil tied round it. This precaution is adopted when he makes up his mind to come to Switzerland, I think, because he has read that a veil is necessary to protect the eyes from the snow-glare. There is probably not one traveler in a hundred who gets among the ice and snow-fields where he needs a veil or green glasses: but it is well to have it on the hat; it looks adventurous. The veil and the spiked alpenstock are the signs of peril. Everybody--almost everybody--has an alpenstock. It is usually a round pine stick, with an iron spike in one end. That, also, is a sign of peril. We saw a noble young Briton on the steamer the other day, who was got up in the best Alpine manner. He wore a short sack,--in fact, an entire suit of light gray flannel, which closely fitted his lithe form. His shoes were of undressed leather, with large spikes in the soles; and on his white hat he wore a large quantity of gauze, which fell in folds down his neck. I am sorry to say that he had a red face, a shaven chin, and long side-whiskers. He carried a formidable alpenstock; and at the little landing where we first saw him, and afterward on the boat, he leaned on it in a series of the most graceful and daring attitudes that I ever saw the human form assume. Our Oxford student knew the variety, and guessed rightly that he was an army man. He had his face burned at Malta. Had he been over the Gemmi? Or up this or that mountain? asked another English officer. "No, I have not." And it turned out that he had n't been anywhere, and did n't seem likely to do anything but show himself at the frequented valley places. And yet I never saw one whose gallant bearing I so much admired. We saw him afterward at Interlaken, enduring all the hardships of that fashionable place. There was also there another of the same country, got up for the most dangerous Alpine climbing, conspicuous in red woolen stockings that came above his knees. I could not learn that he ever went up anything higher than the top of a diligence.

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