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“ Then you are bound for Chamounix ?”
like my appearance ?” said the Dutchman, standing up: object to my company ?"
« On the contrary, we shall esteem it a great compliment, Mynherr von Artavel.--Your name, sir?” continued the Indian, checking himself.
66 Van Tasselt. Leave out the title, gentlemen, if you please. Van Tasselt is much shorter, and, like my beer, good enough in itself to require no additional flavouring. They only tack the Mynherr to my name when I am seated among the casks and surrounded by my coopers—do you see?”
“ Then it is agreed that we have each other's company at least as far as Chamounix ?”
“ With all my heart. Are you ready, gentlemen ?” and the Dutchman strode past the threshold, followed by us, into the street.
We had scarcely traversed the little village of Servoz, and were just passing its last house, when our new companion halted suddenly, gave his hands a nervous twitch, and without a word either of apology or explanation, set to running, as fast as his short legs would carry him, over the ground we had passed ; and rushing through the streets like wild fire, we saw him turn into the inn again.
• By George !” cried the Etonian, with a look as petrified as the specimens he had been purchasing.
“ The little damsel, the magd, as he calls her; he has yet another word to say to her," said the Indian, laughing.
Whatever might have been the cause of this mysterious proceeding on the Dutchman's part, no conjectures of ours were sufficient to fathom it, until we discovered him to emerge from the inn, with as much haste as he had entered, waving an umbrella on high. Here was the explanation; he had forgotten his umbrella.
He seemed anxious to make up for the delay which his neg. lect had occasioned, and therefore set forward at a smart pace. We all kept beside him.
Leaving to our left a ruined castle, situated on a lofty rock, and commanding a fine sweep of the valley of Servoz, we crossed our old friend the Arve at Pont Pélissier, one of those covered bridges so common in Switzerland, which I shall hereafter have occasion more minutely to mention. The road grew narrower and wilder at every step: it lies close under the foot of the Breven, whose overhanging rocks scowled at us as we passed,
threatening to crush us by a fall. A little farther on, and the road bent to the right again, crossing the Arve this time by a primitive bridge of stones. Here the river is densely wooded, and almost entirely lost sight of, till we reach the valley of Chamounix. We had it as a companion, however, for we could hear the gurgling of its waters below the wood. We slackened our speed a little before a steep hill, and when we had gained its summit, we threw ourselves on the grass, among the trees, to recover breath. A few wild strawberries, and a purple fruit, well known in the Highlands of Scotland, and here called ambresailles, very luscious and pleasant to the taste, rewarded our search. We refreshed ourselves with them, till the Dutchman deemed it proper to give the word :-“ En avant !”
And now for the promised land; now for the realization of all our hopes. A rapid descent brought us to Chamounix-the valley of vallies, the smiling border of eternal snows.
The first object that welcomed us was our old friend the Arve, which, so near its source, was even blacker and considerably narrower than before: then the Glaciers of Taconnard and Bossons, with a village at their foot, which we mistook for the Priory: and finally, the mighty monarch, whose crown we could not discover, from its immensity of height-indeed, the view we had of him was not nearly so extensive as that from the bridge at Saint Martin, though several leagues nearer in point of distance. It would be difficult to record one's first impressions of the valley of Chamounix, for the multitudinous objects which it displays to the eye, and the extreme novelty of each, confuse the memory to such a degree, that it can only contain a sense of pleasure.
As we approached, the objects developed themselves. Above the Glacier des Bossons rose the Aiguille du Midi, between which and the Mer de Glace there are no glaciers, but a succession of needles, namely, those of Blaitière, Crépon, Charmaux, Lechau, du Moine, shoot up towards the heavens. The loftiest is the Aiguille de Blaitière, but it is a mere dwarf compared with the Aiguille Verte, which towers above the Merde Glace, and which nothing can exceed in beauty, or grandeur. It is surrounded by small needles, which, however, have no distinct name, but are merged into that of the Verte, and its head of granite is higher than the Dome du Gouté, the last resting place of those who attempt the summit of Mont Blanc. It is not covered with snow, as many other needles less lofty are, but is only lined with it between the crags. It is more difficult of ascent than Mont Blanc,-indeed, I believe, that no one has ever gained the summit. Continuing our view, the eye, having passed the Aiguille Verte and the Mer de Glace,-sea of ice,
from which native appellation Byron probably caught the beautiful and expressive simile which he puts into the mouth of the “ First Destiny,”
“ The aspect of a tumbling tempest's foam,
Frozen in a moment ;''
rests successively upon the Glacier and Aiguille du Tour and the Col de Balme, which is the chief outlet of the valley at the other end.
We had now a view of the whole valley, and after passing the base of the Glacier de Taconnard, we entered a small village where a man offered to guide us to the Glacier des Bossons, which lies directly above it. We, therefore, unhooked our knapsacks, and gave them to another man, with strict charge that he should carry them safely to Chamounix, anå there deposit them at the Hôtel de la Couronne, where he was to bespeak rooms for us.
“And the parapluie of monsieur; shall I not carry your umbrella ?” said the porter to our new acquaintance.
“No! no! it will be safer with me."
“Does monsieur doubt my integrity ?” said the man, with a proud air.
“Far from it; I know that the men of Chamounix are honesty itself. I mean that the umbrella will assist me,” explained the Hollander.
“I hope I have not offended, monsieur. I was too hasty. But the parapluie will be an encumbrance. Pray let me carry it ?"
“No! no !” said the owner, clasping it with a tighter hand, and looking at us with the air of a school-boy, who possesses a cake or plaything, which he defends against the greed of his companions. “No, no! my good man. I want my umbrella.”
Relieved of our heavy knapsacks, we followed the guide at a smart pace, up an ascent which brought us to a wood of alders, where we halted to gain breath. Here there was a little cabin inhabited by a crone, who dispensed lemonade gazeuse for our refreshment, and who used every blandishment of her mumbling speech, and decrepid limbs, to induce us to purchase “specimens ;” but the Etonian was not to be caught. Had the speaker been any other than an old woman,-a fay of the Alps, for instance—he might have yielded, but he declared in strong terms, his aversion of hags, comparing the present one to those in “Gondoline,” or her of Vesuvius. The guide now produced a few alpenstocks, poles, such as are used in leaping, which support the bearer on the glaciers, and are necessary in all
Alpine excursions. He presented one to each of us; but the Hollander refused, saying that his umbrella would do. We all represented the danger he might incur, by trusting to an umbrella alone, for support across the glacier, and reminded him that he was a married man, and the father of a family.
“True, true," replied he; “I am a married man, and have a family but
Gretchen, I am sure, would recommend the umbrella.”
We did not choose to press the matter, so we departed upwards. The path was now lost, and the ascent became very steep and difficult, till we reached a wood of firs, where we halted to admire the view. Slanting upwards before us, were the glacier, and the snowy plains of Mont Blanc; opposite to us was the Brevent; in the valley to our right was the village of Chamounix. When we had traversed the wood of firs, we turned to our left, and, lo ! the glacier was beside us.
Carefully, messieurs, carefully! Allow me to go first, if you please,” said the guide to the Etonian, who was hurrying on; " and beware of the clefts. Short and nervous step, for the Alps, messieurs ; let your alpenstocks first feel the ground before you; keep to the left of that chasm. Take my arm, monsieur,” said he, addressing the Dutchman, “don't trust to that umbrella.”
The Glacier des Bossons is by no means the most extensive in the valley, the Mer de Glace, or sea of ice, being fifteen miles long, and nearly four broad at the top, but it ranks second in point of beauty. It divides itself in two parts, the lower and upper glacier. The lower is generally styled by the guides, Glacier des Pyramides, from the shape of its needles; the upper is the real Glacier des Bossons. Bossons, a corruption o? Buissons, signifies a thicket, and popular tradition has assigned the name to once existing woodlands on its spot. The country people tell you, that the fairies of this happy region, being insulted by some shepherds, informed the queen of Mont Blanc, who punished them, by covering, at a stroke of her wand, the groves and fields with ice. Where are now plains of snow, and pinnacles of ice, there formerly existed, according to these simple peasants,—and I admire them for such souvenirs ; there is a poetic fancy about them that well accords with the nature of the surrounding objects,—there formerly existed waving fields of corn, verdant meadows, bounding rivulets and groves of pine. Where the chamois alone is to be seen, there reclined flocks of sheep; where the hunter only ventures, there stood shepherds, some of whom, alas ! insulted the beautiful fays. The Glacier des Bossons has been compared by a Genevese poet, to the snout of a whale; the longitudinal pinnacles that furrow it, being the
fins. Another has likened it to a lovely nymph coming out of a bath and drying herself in the sun, voluptuously stretched on a carpet of turf. But the Etonian, delighted with the exceeding beauty, and novelty of the scene, recited aloud that hymn of the author of “Christabel,” which, intended for the description of glaciers in general, came home forcibly to the present one :
“Ye ice falls ! ve that from the mountain's brow
Adown enormous ravines slope amain ;
And in their perilous fall shall thunder, God !” The truth of these glorious lines struck deep into my heart, as I gazed around me, and felt their force in each object, and Caspar recited them with much feeling, and in a fresh, manly tone. The guide himself appeared to enter into our enthusiasm, and I inwardly vowed he should have an extra franc for his patient appreciation.
But the Dutchman—where was he? Shouts for help smote my ear, as Coleridge's last words were dying in the distance, and turning quickly round, I found them to proceed from the gentleman in question. Full of apprehension, I hurried to the spot; but my fears proved to be groundless, for the Hollander stood safe and sound on the brink of a chasm in the ice. We questioned him on the cause of his shouts, when he pointed with a most woeful countenance to the chasm below. We peered down; nothing was to be seen but blue towers of ice, glittering in the sun-like rainbows.
“Mon Dieu !” exclaimed the guide, “what has happened, sir ? Has any one fallen in ?"
“Yes—my umbrella, my regenshirm, my umbrella !” “Dame," said the guide slowly; "is that all?”
“Ail? Guide! we have hired you; you are our servant remember your duty," said the Dutchman, in an angry tone.
The other blushed like crimson, and appeared hurt, which the Dutchman observing was sorry for.