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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsSaunterings - The Diligence To Chamouny
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Saunterings - The Diligence To Chamouny Post by :rossl58 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2586

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Saunterings - The Diligence To Chamouny

The greatest diligence we have seen, one of the few of the old-fashioned sort, is the one from Geneva to Chamouny. It leaves early in the morning; and there is always a crowd about it to see the mount and start. The great ark stands before the diligence-office, and, for half an hour before the hour of starting, the porters are busy stowing away the baggage, and getting the passengers on board. On top, in the banquette, are seats for eight, besides the postilion and guard; in the coupe, under the postilion's seat and looking upon the horses, seats for three; in the interior, for three; and on top, behind, for six or eight. The baggage is stowed in the capacious bowels of the vehicle. At seven, the six horses are brought out and hitched on, three abreast. We climb up a ladder to the banquette: there is an irascible Frenchman, who gets into the wrong seat; and before he gets right there is a terrible war of words between him and the guard and the porters and the hostlers, everybody joining in with great vivacity; in front of us are three quiet Americans, and a slim Frenchman with a tall hat and one eye-glass. The postilion gets up to his place. Crack, crack, crack, goes the whip; and, amid "sensation" from the crowd, we are off at a rattling pace, the whip cracking all the time like Chinese fireworks. The great passion of the drivers is noise; and they keep the whip going all day. No sooner does a fresh one mount the box than he gives a half-dozen preliminary snaps; to which the horses pay no heed, as they know it is only for the driver's amusement. We go at a good gait, changing horses every six miles, till we reach the Baths of St. Gervais, where we dine, from near which we get our first glimpse of Mont Blanc through clouds,--a section of a dazzlingly white glacier, a very exciting thing to the imagination. Thence we go on in small carriages, over a still excellent but more hilly road, and begin to enter the real mountain wonders; until, at length, real glaciers pouring down out of the clouds nearly to the road meet us, and we enter the narrow Valley of Chamouny, through which we drive to the village in a rain.

Everybody goes to Chamouny, and up the Flegere, and to Montanvert, and over the Mer de Glace; and nearly everybody down the Mauvais Pas to the Chapeau, and so back to the village. It is all easy to do; and yet we saw some French people at the Chapeau who seemed to think they had accomplished the most hazardous thing in the world in coming down the rocks of the Mauvais Pas. There is, as might be expected, a great deal of humbug about the difficulty of getting about in the Alps, and the necessity of guides. Most of the dangers vanish on near approach. The Mer de Glace is inferior to many other glaciers, and is not nearly so fine as the Glacier des Bossons: but it has a reputation, and is easy of access; so people are content to walk over the dirty ice. One sees it to better effect from below, or he must ascend it to the Jardin to know that it has deep crevasses, and is as treacherous as it is grand. And yet no one will be disappointed at the view from Montanvert, of the upper glacier, and the needles of rock and snow which rise beyond.

We met at the Chapeau two jolly young fellows from Charleston, S. C. who had been in the war, on the wrong side. They knew no language but American, and were unable to order a cutlet and an omelet for breakfast. They said they believed they were going over the Tete Noire. They supposed they had four mules waiting for them somewhere, and a guide; but they couldn't understand a word he said, and he couldn't understand them. The day before, they had nearly perished of thirst, because they could n't make their guide comprehend that they wanted water. One of them had slung over his shoulder an Alpine horn, which he blew occasionally, and seemed much to enjoy. All this while we sit on a rock at the foot of the Mauvais Pas, looking out upon the green glacier, which here piles itself up finely, and above to the Aiguilles de Charmoz and the innumerable ice-pinnacles that run up to the clouds, while our muleteer is getting his breakfast. This is his third breakfast this morning.

The day after we reached Chamouny, Monseigneur the bishop arrived there on one of his rare pilgrimages into these wild valleys. Nearly all the way down from Geneva, we had seen signs of his coming, in preparations as for the celebration of a great victory. I did not know at first but the Atlantic cable had been laid; or rather that the decorations were on account of the news of it reaching this region. It was a holiday for all classes; and everybody lent a hand to the preparations. First, the little church where the confirmations were to take place was trimmed within and without; and an arch of green spanned the gateway. At Les Pres, the women were sweeping the road, and the men were setting small evergreen-trees on each side. The peasants were in their best clothes; and in front of their wretched hovels were tables set out with flowers. So cheerful and eager were they about the bishop, that they forgot to beg as we passed: the whole valley was in a fever of expectation. At one hamlet on the mulepath over the Tete Noire, where the bishop was that day expected, and the women were sweeping away all dust and litter from the road, I removed my hat, and gravely thanked them for their thoughtful preparation for our coming. But they only stared a little, as if we were not worthy to be even forerunners of Monseigneur.

I do not care to write here how serious a drawback to the pleasures of this region are its inhabitants. You get the impression that half of them are beggars. The other half are watching for a chance to prey upon you in other ways. I heard of a woman in the Zermatt Valley who refused pay for a glass of milk; but I did not have time to verify the report. Besides the beggars, who may or may not be horrid-looking creatures, there are the grinning Cretins, the old women with skins of parchment and the goitre, and even young children with the loathsome appendage, the most wretched and filthy hovels, and the dirtiest, ugliest people in them. The poor women are the beasts of burden. They often lead, mowing in the hayfield; they carry heavy baskets on their backs; they balance on their heads and carry large washtubs full of water. The more appropriate load of one was a cradle with a baby in it, which seemed not at all to fear falling. When one sees how the women are treated, he does not wonder that there are so many deformed, hideous children. I think the pretty girl has yet to be born in Switzerland.

This is not much about the Alps? Ah, well, the Alps are there. Go read your guide-book, and find out what your emotions are. As I said, everybody goes to Chamouny. Is it not enough to sit at your window, and watch the clouds when they lift from the Mont Blanc range, disclosing splendor after splendor, from the Aiguille de Goute to the Aiguille Verte,--white needles which pierce the air for twelve thousand feet, until, jubilate! the round summit of the monarch himself is visible, and the vast expanse of white snow-fields, the whiteness of which is rather of heaven than of earth, dazzles the eyes, even at so great a distance? Everybody who is patient and waits in the cold and inhospitable-looking valley of the Chamouny long enough, sees Mont Blanc; but every one does not see a sunset of the royal order. The clouds breaking up and clearing, after days of bad weather, showed us height after height, and peak after peak, now wreathing the summits, now settling below or hanging in patches on the sides, and again soaring above, until we had the whole range lying, far and brilliant, in the evening light. The clouds took on gorgeous colors, at length, and soon the snow caught the hue, and whole fields were rosy pink, while uplifted peaks glowed red, as with internal fire. Only Mont Blanc, afar off, remained purely white, in a kind of regal inaccessibility. And, afterward, one star came out over it, and a bright light shone from the hut on the Grand Mulets, a rock in the waste of snow, where a Frenchman was passing the night on his way to the summit.

Shall I describe the passage of the Tete Noire? My friend, it is twenty-four miles, a road somewhat hilly, with splendid views of Mont Blanc in the morning, and of the Bernese Oberland range in the afternoon, when you descend into Martigny,--a hot place in the dusty Rhone Valley, which has a comfortable hotel, with a pleasant garden, in which you sit after dinner and let the mosquitoes eat you.

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