CHAPTER XLVI [Meeting a Hog on a Precipice]
Mr. Harris and I took some guides and porters and ascended to the Hôtel
des Pyramides, which is perched on the high moraine which borders the
Glacier des Bossons. The road led sharply uphill, all the way, through
grass and flowers and woods, and was a pleasant walk, barring the
fatigue of the climb.
From the hotel we could view the huge glacier at very close range. After
a rest we followed down a path which had been made in the steep inner
frontage of the moraine, and stepped upon the glacier itself. One of the
shows of the place was a tunnel-like cavern, which had been hewn in the
glacier. The proprietor of this tunnel took candles and conducted us
into it. It was three or four feet wide and about six feet high. Its
walls of pure and solid ice emitted a soft and rich blue light that
produced a lovely effect, and suggested enchanted caves, and that sort
of thing. When we had proceeded some yards and were entering darkness,
we turned about and had a dainty sunlit picture of distant woods and
heights framed in the strong arch of the tunnel and seen through the
tender blue radiance of the tunnel's atmosphere.
The cavern was nearly a hundred yards long, and when we reached its
inner limit the proprietor stepped into a branch tunnel with his candles
and left us buried in the bowels of the glacier, and in pitch-darkness.
We judged his purpose was murder and robbery; so we got out our matches
and prepared to sell our lives as dearly as possible by setting the
glacier on fire if the worst came to the worst--but we soon perceived
that this man had changed his mind; he began to sing, in a deep,
melodious voice, and woke some curious and pleasing echoes. By and by he
came back and pretended that that was what he had gone behind there for.
We believed as much of that as we wanted to.
Thus our lives had been once more in imminent peril, but by the exercise
of the swift sagacity and cool courage which had saved us so often, we
had added another escape to the long list. The tourist should visit that
ice-cavern, by all means, for it is well worth the trouble; but I would
advise him to go only with a strong and well-armed force. I do not
consider artillery necessary, yet it would not be unadvisable to take
it along, if convenient. The journey, going and coming, is about three
miles and a half, three of which are on level ground. We made it in
less than a day, but I would counsel the unpracticed--if not pressed
for time--to allow themselves two. Nothing is gained in the Alps by
over-exertion; nothing is gained by crowding two days' work into one for
the poor sake of being able to boast of the exploit afterward. It will
be found much better, in the long run, to do the thing in two days, and
then subtract one of them from the narrative. This saves fatigue, and
does not injure the narrative. All the more thoughtful among the Alpine
tourists do this.
We now called upon the Guide-in-Chief, and asked for a squadron of
guides and porters for the ascent of the Montanvert. This idiot glared
at us, and said:
"You don't need guides and porters to go to the Montanvert."
"What do we need, then?"
"Such as YOU?--an ambulance!"
I was so stung by this brutal remark that I took my custom elsewhere.
Betimes, next morning, we had reached an altitude of five thousand feet
above the level of the sea. Here we camped and breakfasted. There was
a cabin there--the spot is called the Caillet--and a spring of ice-cold
water. On the door of the cabin was a sign, in French, to the effect
that "One may here see a living chamois for fifty centimes." We did not
invest; what we wanted was to see a dead one.
A little after noon we ended the ascent and arrived at the new hotel on
the Montanvert, and had a view of six miles, right up the great glacier,
the famous Mer de Glace. At this point it is like a sea whose deep
swales and long, rolling swells have been caught in mid-movement and
frozen solid; but further up it is broken up into wildly tossing billows
We descended a ticklish path in the steep side of the moraine, and
invaded the glacier. There were tourists of both sexes scattered far and
wide over it, everywhere, and it had the festive look of a skating-rink.
The Empress Josephine came this far, once. She ascended the Montanvert
in 1810--but not alone; a small army of men preceded her to clear the
path--and carpet it, perhaps--and she followed, under the protection of
Her successor visited Chamonix later, but in far different style.
It was seven weeks after the first fall of the Empire, and poor Marie
Louise, ex-Empress was a fugitive. She came at night, and in a storm,
with only two attendants, and stood before a peasant's hut, tired,
bedraggled, soaked with rain, "the red print of her lost crown still
girdling her brow," and implored admittance--and was refused! A few days
before, the adulations and applauses of a nation were sounding in her
ears, and now she was come to this!
We crossed the Mer de Glace in safety, but we had misgivings. The
crevices in the ice yawned deep and blue and mysterious, and it made one
nervous to traverse them. The huge round waves of ice were slippery and
difficult to climb, and the chances of tripping and sliding down them
and darting into a crevice were too many to be comfortable.
In the bottom of a deep swale between two of the biggest of the
ice-waves, we found a fraud who pretended to be cutting steps to insure
the safety of tourists. He was "soldiering" when we came upon him, but
he hopped up and chipped out a couple of steps about big enough for a
cat, and charged us a franc or two for it. Then he sat down again, to
doze till the next party should come along. He had collected blackmail
from two or three hundred people already, that day, but had not chipped
out ice enough to impair the glacier perceptibly. I have heard of a good
many soft sinecures, but it seems to me that keeping toll-bridge on a
glacier is the softest one I have encountered yet.
That was a blazing hot day, and it brought a persistent and persecuting
thirst with it. What an unspeakable luxury it was to slake that thirst
with the pure and limpid ice-water of the glacier! Down the sides of
every great rib of pure ice poured limpid rills in gutters carved by
their own attrition; better still, wherever a rock had lain, there was
now a bowl-shaped hole, with smooth white sides and bottom of ice, and
this bowl was brimming with water of such absolute clearness that the
careless observer would not see it at all, but would think the bowl was
empty. These fountains had such an alluring look that I often stretched
myself out when I was not thirsty and dipped my face in and drank till
my teeth ached. Everywhere among the Swiss mountains we had at hand the
blessing--not to be found in Europe EXCEPT in the mountains--of water
capable of quenching thirst. Everywhere in the Swiss highlands brilliant
little rills of exquisitely cold water went dancing along by the
roadsides, and my comrade and I were always drinking and always
delivering our deep gratitude.
But in Europe everywhere except in the mountains, the water is flat and
insipid beyond the power of words to describe. It is served lukewarm;
but no matter, ice could not help it; it is incurably flat, incurably
insipid. It is only good to wash with; I wonder it doesn't occur to
the average inhabitant to try it for that. In Europe the people say
contemptuously, "Nobody drinks water here." Indeed, they have a sound
and sufficient reason. In many places they even have what may be called
prohibitory reasons. In Paris and Munich, for instance, they say, "Don't
drink the water, it is simply poison."
Either America is healthier than Europe, notwithstanding her "deadly"
indulgence in ice-water, or she does not keep the run of her death-rate
as sharply as Europe does. I think we do keep up the death statistics
accurately; and if we do, our cities are healthier than the cities of
Europe. Every month the German government tabulates the death-rate of
the world and publishes it. I scrap-booked these reports during several
months, and it was curious to see how regular and persistently each city
repeated its same death-rate month after month. The tables might as well
have been stereotyped, they varied so little. These tables were
based upon weekly reports showing the average of deaths in each 1,000
population for a year. Munich was always present with her 33 deaths in
each 1,000 of her population (yearly average), Chicago was as constant
with her 15 or 17, Dublin with her 48--and so on.
Only a few American cities appear in these tables, but they are
scattered so widely over the country that they furnish a good general
average of CITY health in the United States; and I think it will be
granted that our towns and villages are healthier than our cities.
Here is the average of the only American cities reported in the German
Chicago, deaths in 1,000 population annually, 16; Philadelphia, 18; St.
Louis, 18; San Francisco, 19; New York (the Dublin of America), 23.
See how the figures jump up, as soon as one arrives at the transatlantic
Paris, 27; Glasgow, 27; London, 28; Vienna, 28; Augsburg, 28;
Braunschweig, 28; Königsberg, 29; Cologne, 29; Dresden, 29; Hamburg,
29; Berlin, 30; Bombay, 30; Warsaw, 31; Breslau, 31; Odessa, 32; Munich,
33; Strasburg, 33, Pesth, 35; Cassel, 35; Lisbon, 36; Liverpool, 36;
Prague, 37; Madras, 37; Bucharest, 39; St. Petersburg, 40; Trieste, 40;
Alexandria (Egypt), 43; Dublin, 48; Calcutta, 55.
Edinburgh is as healthy as New York--23; but there is no CITY in the
entire list which is healthier, except Frankfort-on-the-Main--20. But
Frankfort is not as healthy as Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, or
Perhaps a strict average of the world might develop the fact that where
one in 1,000 of America's population dies, two in 1,000 of the other
populations of the earth succumb.
I do not like to make insinuations, but I do think the above statistics
darkly suggest that these people over here drink this detestable water
"on the sly."
We climbed the moraine on the opposite side of the glacier, and then
crept along its sharp ridge a hundred yards or so, in pretty constant
danger of a tumble to the glacier below. The fall would have been only
one hundred feet, but it would have closed me out as effectually as one
thousand, therefore I respected the distance accordingly, and was
glad when the trip was done. A moraine is an ugly thing to assault
head-first. At a distance it looks like an endless grave of fine sand,
accurately shaped and nicely smoothed; but close by, it is found to be
made mainly of rough boulders of all sizes, from that of a man's head to
that of a cottage.
By and by we came to the Mauvais Pas, or the Villainous Road, to
translate it feelingly. It was a breakneck path around the face of a
precipice forty or fifty feet high, and nothing to hang on to but some
iron railings. I got along, slowly, safely, and uncomfortably, and
finally reached the middle. My hopes began to rise a little, but they
were quickly blighted; for there I met a hog--a long-nosed, bristly
fellow, that held up his snout and worked his nostrils at me
inquiringly. A hog on a pleasure excursion in Switzerland--think of it!
It is striking and unusual; a body might write a poem about it. He
could not retreat, if he had been disposed to do it. It would have been
foolish to stand upon our dignity in a place where there was hardly room
to stand upon our feet, so we did nothing of the sort. There were twenty
or thirty ladies and gentlemen behind us; we all turned about and went
back, and the hog followed behind. The creature did not seem set up by
what he had done; he had probably done it before.
We reached the restaurant on the height called the Chapeau at four in
the afternoon. It was a memento-factory, and the stock was large, cheap,
and varied. I bought the usual paper-cutter to remember the place by,
and had Mont Blanc, the Mauvais Pas, and the rest of the region branded
on my alpenstock; then we descended to the valley and walked home
without being tied together. This was not dangerous, for the valley was
five miles wide, and quite level.
We reached the hotel before nine o'clock. Next morning we left for
Geneva on top of the diligence, under shelter of a gay awning. If I
remember rightly, there were more than twenty people up there. It was
so high that the ascent was made by ladder. The huge vehicle was full
everywhere, inside and out. Five other diligences left at the same time,
all full. We had engaged our seats two days beforehand, to make sure,
and paid the regulation price, five dollars each; but the rest of the
company were wiser; they had trusted Baedeker, and waited; consequently
some of them got their seats for one or two dollars. Baedeker knows
all about hotels, railway and diligence companies, and speaks his mind
freely. He is a trustworthy friend of the traveler.
We never saw Mont Blanc at his best until we were many miles away; then
he lifted his majestic proportions high into the heavens, all white
and cold and solemn, and made the rest of the world seem little and
plebeian, and cheap and trivial.
As he passed out of sight at last, an old Englishman settled himself in
his seat and said:
"Well, I am satisfied, I have seen the principal features of Swiss
scenery--Mont Blanc and the goiter--now for home!"
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