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Chapter 44



Paris, Feb. 6, 1840.

Every letter of the date is traced with an emotion of joy, for our dreary journey is over. There was a magic in the name that revived us during a long journey, and now the thought that it is all over--that these walls which enclose us, stand in the heart of the gay city--seems almost too joyful to be true. Yesterday I marked with the whitest chalk, on the blackest of all tablets to make the contrast greater, for I got out of the cramped diligence at the Barrière de Charenton, and saw before me in the morning twilight, the immense groy mass of Paris. I forgot my numbed and stiffened frame, and every other of the thousand disagreeable feelings of diligence traveling, in the pleasure which that sight afforded.

We arose in the dark at Lyons, and after bidding adieu to morose Monsieur Ferrand, traversed the silent city and found our way in the mist and gloom to the steamboat landing on the Saone. The waters were swollen much above their usual level, which was favorable for the boat, as long as there was room enough left to pass under the bridges. After a great deal of bustle we got under way, and were dashing out of Lyons, against the swift current, before day-break. We passed L'Isle Barbe, once a favorite residence of Charlemagne, and now the haunt of the Lyonnaise on summer holidays, and going under the suspension bridges with levelled chimneys, entered the picturesque hills above, which are covered with vineyards nearly to the top; the villages scattered over them have those square, pointed towers, which give such a quaintness to French country scenery.

The stream being very high, the meadows on both sides were deeply overflowed. To avoid the strong current in the centre, our boat ran along the banks, pushing aside the alder thickets and poplar shoots; in passing the bridges, the pipes were always brought down flat on the deck. A little after noon, we passed the large town of Macon, the birth-place of the poet Lamartine. The valley of the Saone, no longer enclosed among the hills, spread out to several miles in width. Along the west lay in sunshine the vine-mountains of Côte d'Or, and among the dark clouds in the eastern sky, we could barely distinguish the outline of the Jura. The waters were so much swollen as to cover the plain for two or three miles. We seemed to be sailing down a lake, with rows of trees springing up out of the water, and houses and villages lying like islands on its surface. A sunset that promised better weather tinged the broad brown flood, as Chalons came in sight, looking like a city built along the shore of a lake. We squeezed through the crowd of porters and diligence men, declining their kind offers, and hunted quarters to suit ourselves.

We left Chalons on the morning of the 1st, in high spirits at the thought that there were but little more than two hundred miles between us and Paris. In walking over the cold, muddy plain, we passed a family of strolling musicians, who were sitting on a heap of stones by the roadside. An ill-dressed, ill-natured man and woman, each carrying a violin, and a thin, squalid girl, with a tamborine, composed the group. Their faces bore that unfeeling stamp, which springs from depravity and degradation. When we had walked somewhat more than a mile, we overtook a little girl, who was crying bitterly. By her features, from which the fresh beauty of childhood had not been worn, and the steel triangle which was tied to her belt, we knew she belonged to the family we had passed. Her dress was thin and ragged and a pair of wooden shoes but ill protected her feet from the sharp cold. I stopped and asked her why she cried, but she did not at first answer. However, by questioning, I found her unfeeling parents had sent her on without food; she was sobbing with hunger and cold. Our pockets were full of bread and cheese which we had bought for breakfast, and we gave her half a loaf, which stopped her tears at once. She looked up and thanked us, smiling; and sitting down on a bank, began to eat as if half famished.

The physiognomy of this region is very singular. It appears as if the country had been originally a vast elevated plain, and some great power had scooped out, as with a hand, deep circular valleys all over its surface. In winding along the high ridges, we often looked down, on either side, into such hollows, several miles in diameter, and sometimes entirely covered with vineyards. At La Rochepot, a quaint, antique village, lying in the bottom of one of these dells, we saw the finest ruin of the middle ages that I have met with in France. An American lady had spoken to me of it in Rome, and I believe Willis mentions it in his "Pencillings," but it is not described in the guide books, nor could we learn what feudal lord had ever dwelt in its halls. It covers the summit of a stately rock, at whose foot the village is crouched, and the green ivy climbs up to the very top of its gray towers.

As the road makes a wide curve around the side of the hill, we descended to the village by the nearer foot-path, and passed among its low, old houses, with their pointed gables and mossy roofs. The path led close along the foot of the rock, and we climbed up to the ruin, and stood in its grass-grown courtyard. Only the outer walls and the round towers at each corner are left remaining; the inner part has been razed to the ground, and where proud barons once marshalled their vassals, the villagers now play their holiday games. On one side, several Gothic windows are left standing, perfect, though of simple construction, and in the towers we saw many fire-places and door-ways of richly cut stone, which looked as fresh as if just erected.

We passed the night at Ivry (not the Ivry which gained Henri Quatre his kingdom) and then continued our march over roads which I can only compare to our country roads in America during the spring thaw. In addition to this, the rain commenced early in the morning and continued all day, so that we were completely wet the whole time. The plains, too high and cold to produce wine, were varied by forests of beech and oak, and the population was thinly scattered over them in small villages. Travelers generally complain very much of the monotony of this part of France, and, with such dreary weather, we could not disagree with them.

As the day wore on, the rain increased, and the sky put on that dull, gray cast, which denotes a lengthened storm. We were fain to stop at nightfall, but there was no inn near at hand--not even a hovel of a cabaret in which to shelter ourselves, and, on enquiring of the wagoners, we received the comforting assurance that there was yet a league and a half to the nearest stopping place. On, then, we went, with the pitiless storm beating in our faces and on our breasts, till there was not a dry spot left, except what our knapsacks covered. We could not have been more completely saturated if we had been dipped in the Yonne. At length, after two hours of slipping and sliding along in the mud and wet and darkness, we reached Saulieu, and, by the warm fire, thanked our stars that the day's dismal tramp was over.

By good or bad luck (I have not yet decided which) a vehicle was to start the next morning for Auxerre, distant sixty miles, and the fare being but five francs, we thought it wisest to take places. It was always with reluctance that we departed from our usual mode of traveling, but, in the present instance, the circumstances absolutely compelled it.

Next morning, at sunrise, we took our seats in a large, square vehicle on two wheels, calculated for six persons and a driver, with a single horse. But, as he was fat and round as an elephant, and started off at a brisk pace, and we were well protected from the rain, it was not so bad after all, barring the jolts and jarred vertebræ. We drove on, over the same dreary expanse of plain and forest, passing through two or three towns in the course of the day, and by evening had made somewhat more than half our journey. Owing to the slowness of our fresh horse, we were jolted about the whole night, and did not arrive at Auxerre until six o'clock in the morning. After waiting an hour in a hotel beside the rushing Yonne, a lumbering diligence was got ready, and we were given places to Paris for seven francs. As the distance is one hundred and ten miles, this would be considered cheap, but I should not want to travel it again and be paid for doing so. Twelve persons were packed into a box not large enough for a cow, and no cabinet-maker ever dove-tailed the corners of his bureaus tighter than we did our knees and nether extremities. It is my lot to be blessed with abundance of stature, and none but tall persons can appreciate the misery of sitting for hours with their joints in an immovable vice. The closeness of the atmosphere--for the passengers would not permit the windows to be opened for fear of taking cold--combined with loss of sleep, made me so drowsy that my head was continually falling on my next neighbor, who, being a heavy country lady, thrust it indignantly away. I would then try my best to keep it up awhile, but it would droop gradually, till the crash of a bonnet or a smart bump against some other head would recall me, for a moment, to consciousness.

We passed Joigny, on the Yonne, Sens, with its glorious old cathedral, and at dusk reached Montercau, on the Seine. This was the scene of one of Napoleon's best victories, on his return from Elba. In driving over the bridge, I looked down on the swift and swollen current, and hoped that its hue might never be darkened again so fearfully as the last sixty years have witnessed. No river in Europe has such an association connected with it. We think of the Danube, for its majesty, of the Rhine, for its wild beauty, but of the Seine--for its blood!

In coming thus to the last famed stream I shall visit in Europe, I might say, with Barry Cornwall:

"We've sailed through banks of green,
Where the wild waves fret and quiver;
And we've down the Danube been--
The dark, deep, thundering river!
We've thridded the Elbe and Rhone,
The Tiber and blood dyed Seine,
And we've been where the blue Garonne
Goes laughing to meet the main!"

All that night did we endure squeezing and suffocation, and no morn was ever more welcome than that which revealed to us Paris. With matted hair, wild, glaring eyes, and dusty and dishevelled habiliments, we entered the gay capital, and blessed every stone upon which we placed our feet, in the fulness of our joy.

In paying our fare at Auxerre, I was obliged to use a draft on the banker, Rougemont de Lowenberg. The ignorant conductor hesitated to change this, but permitted us to go, on condition of keeping it until we should arrive. Therefore, on getting out of the diligence, after forty-eight hours of sleepless and fasting misery, the facteur of the office went with me to get it paid, leaving B---- to wait for us. I knew nothing of Paris, and this merciless man kept me for three hours at his heels, following him on all his errands, before he did mine, in that time traversing the whole length of the city, in order to leave a chèvre-feuille at an aristocratic residence in the Faubourg St. Germain. Yet even combined weariness and hunger could not prevent me from looking with vivid interest down a long avenue, at the Column of the place Vendôme, in passing, and gazing up in wonder at the splendid portico of the Madeleine. But of anything else I have a very faint remembrance. "You can eat breakfast, now, I think," said he, when we returned, "we have walked more than four leagues!"

I know we will be excused, that, instead of hurrying away to Notre Dame or the Louvre, we sat down quietly to a most complete breakfast. Even the most romantic must be forced to confess that admiration does not sit well on an empty stomach. Our first walk was to a bath, and then, with complexions several shades lighter, and limbs that felt us if lifted by invisible wings, we hurried away to the Post Office. I seized the welcome missives from my far home, with a beating heart, and hastening back, read till the words became indistinct in the twilight.

Bayard Taylor