Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

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.


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 coup6, 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

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.


It was eleven o'clock at night when we reached Sion, a dirty little

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: