Out of eighty or ninety days that we passed in Switzerland there must have been at least ten that were fair, not counting the forenoons before it began to rain, and the afternoons when it cleared up. They said that it was an unusually rainy autumn, and we could well believe it; yet I suspect that it rains a good deal in that little corner of the Canton Vaud even when the autumn is only usually rainy. We arrived late in September and came away early in December, and during that time we had neither the fevers that raged in France nor the floods that raged in Italy. We Vaudois were rather proud of that, but whether we had much else to be proud of I am not so certain. Of course we had our Alpine scenery, and when the day was fair the sun came loafing up over the eastern mountains about ten o'clock in the morning, and lounged down behind the western tops about half-past three, after dinner. But then he left the eternal snows of the Dent-du-Midi all flushed with his light, and in the mean time he had glittered for five hours on the "bleu impossible" of the Lake of Geneva, and had shown in a hundred changing lights and shadows the storied and sentimentalized towers of the Castle of Chillon. Solemn groups and ranks of Swiss and Savoyard Alps hemmed the lake in as far as the eye could reach, and the lateen-sailed craft lent it their picturesqueness, while the steamboats constantly making its circuit and stopping at all the little towns on the shores imparted a pleasant modern interest to the whole effect, which the trains of the railroad running under the lee of the castle agreeably heightened.
The Swiss railroad was always an object of friendly amusement with the children, who could not get used to having the trains started by a small Christmas-horn. They had not entirely respected the English engine, with the shrill falsetto of its whistle, after the burly roar of our locomotives; and the boatswain's pipe of the French conductor had considerably diminished the dignity of a sister republic in their minds; but this Christmas-horn was too droll. That a grown man, much more imposingly uniformed than an American general, should blow it to start a real train of cars was the source of patriotic sarcasm whenever its plaintive, reedy note was heard. We had come straight through from London, taking the sleeping-car at Calais, and rolling and bounding over the road towards Basle in a fashion that provoked scornful comparisons with the Pullman that had carried us so smoothly from Boston to Buffalo. It is well to be honest, even to our own adulation, and one must confess that the sleeping-car of the European continent is but the nervous and hysterical daughter of the American mother of sleeping-cars. Many express trains are run without any sleeper, and the charges for berths are ludicrously extravagant—five dollars apiece for a single night. It is not strange that the native prefers to doze away the night bolt-upright, or crouched into the corners of his repellently padded carriage, rather than toss upon the expensive pallet of the sleeping-car, which seems hung rather with a view to affording involuntary exercise than promoting dear-bought slumber. One advantage of it is that if you have to leave the car at five o'clock in the morning, you are awake and eager to do so long before that time. At the first Swiss station we quitted it to go to Berne, which was one of the three points where I was told by the London railway people that my baggage would be examined. I forget the second, but the third was Berne, and now at Delemont I looked about for the customs officers with the anxiety which the thought of them always awakens in the human heart, whether one has meant to smuggle or not. Even the good conscience may suffer from the upturning of a well-packed trunk. But nobody wanted to examine our baggage at Delemont, or at the other now-forgotten station; and at Berne, though I labored hard in several dialects with all the railway officials, I could not get them to open one of our ten trunks or five valises. I was so resolute in the matter that I had some difficulty to keep from opening them myself and levying duty upon their contents.
It was the first but not the last disappointment we suffered in Switzerland. A friend in London had congratulated us upon going to the Vaud in the grape season. "For thruppence," he said, "they will let you go into the vineyards and eat all the grapes you can hold." Arrived upon the ground, we learned that it was six francs fine to touch a grape in the vineyards; that every field had a watch set in it, who popped up between the vines from time to time, and interrogated the vicinity with an eye of sleepless vigilance; and that small boys of suspicious character, whose pleasure or business took them through a vineyard, were obliged to hold up their hands as they passed, like the victims of a Far Western road agency. As the laws and usages governing the grape culture run back to the time of the Romans, who brought the vine into the Vaud, I was obliged to refer my friend's legend of cheapness and freedom to an earlier period, whose customs we could not profit by. In point of fact, I could buy more grapes for thruppence in London than in the Vaud; and the best grapes we had in Switzerland were some brought from Italy, and sold at a franc a pound in Montreux to the poor foreigners who had come to feast upon the wealth of the local vineyards.
It was the rain that spoiled the grapes, they said at Montreux, and wherever we complained; and indeed the vines were a dismal show of sterility and blight, even to the spectator who did not venture near enough to subject himself to a fine of six francs. The foreigners had protected themselves in large numbers by not coming, and the natives who prosper upon them suffered. The stout lady who kept a small shop of ivory carvings at Montreux continually lamented their absence to me: "Die Fremden kommen nicht, dieses regenes Wetter! Man muss Geduldt haben! Die Fremden kommen nicht!" She was from Interlaken, and the accents of her native dialect were flavored with the strong waters which she seemed always to have been drinking, and she put her face close up to that of the good, all-sympathizing Amerikaner who alone patronized her shop, and talked her sorrows loudly into him, so that he should not misunderstand.
But one must not be altogether unreasonable. When we first came in sight of the lake the rain lifted, and the afternoon sun gushed out upon a world of vineyards. In other words, the vines clothe all the little levels and vast slopes of the mountain-sides as far up as the cold will let the grapes grow. There is literally almost no other cultivation, and it is a very pretty sight. On top of the mountains are the chalets with their kine, and at a certain elevation the milk and the wine meet, while below is the water of the lake, so good to mix with both. I do not know that the Swiss use it for that purpose, but there are countries where something of the sort would be done.
When the train put us down at Villeneuve, among railway people as indifferent as our own at country stations, and much crosser and more snubbing, the demand for grapes began with the party who remained with the baggage, while a party of the second part went off to find the pension where we were to pass the next three months. The grape-seekers strolled up the stony, steaming streets of the little town, asking for grapes right and left, at all the shops, in their imperfect French, and returned to the station with a paper of gingerbread which they had bought at a jeweller's. I do not know why this artist should have had it for sale, but he must have had it a long time, for it was densely inhabited. Afterwards we found two shops in Villeneuve where they had the most delicious petits gâteaux, fresh every day, and nothing but the mania for unattainable grapes prevented the first explorers from seeing them.
In the mean time the party of the second part had found the pension—a pretty stone villa overlooking the lake, under the boughs of tall walnut-trees, on the level of a high terrace. Laurel and holly hemmed it in on one side, and southward spread a pleasant garden full of roses and imperfectly ripening fig-trees. In the rear the vineyards climbed the mountains in irregular breadths to the belt of walnuts, beyond which were only forests and pastures. I heard the roar of the torrent that foamed down the steep; the fountain plashed under the group of laurels at the kitchen door; the roses dripped all round the house; and the lake lapped its shores below. Decidedly there was a sense of wet.
The house, which had an Italian outside covered with jasmine and wistarias, confessed the North within. There was a huge hall stove, not yet heated, but on the hearth of the pleasant salon an acceptable fire of little logs was purring. Beside it sat a lady reading, and at a table her daughter was painting flowers. A little Italian, a very little English, a good deal of French, helped me to understand that mademoiselle the landlady was momentarily absent, that the season was exceptionally bad, and that these ladies were glad of the sunshine which we were apparently bringing with us. They spoke with those Suissesse voices, which are the sweetest and most softly modulated voices in the world, whether they come from the throat of peasant or of lady, and can make a transaction in eggs and butter in the market-place as musical as chanted verse. To the last these voices remained a delight, and the memory of them made most Italian women's voices a pang when we heard them afterwards.
At first we were the only people in the house besides these Swiss ladies and their son and brother, but later there came two ladies from Strasburg, and with them our circle was complete at the table and around the evening lamp in the drawing-room. I am bound to say for the circle, outside of ourselves, that it was a cultivated and even intellectual company, with traits that provoked unusual sympathy and interest. But those friendly people are quite their own property, and I have no intention of compelling them to an involuntary celebrity in these pages, much as I should like to impart their quality to my narrative. In the Strasbourgeoises we encountered again that pathos of an insulted and down-trodden nationality which had cast its melancholy over our Venice of Austrian days. German by name and by origin, these ladies were intensely French in everything else. They felt themselves doomed to exile in their own country, they abhorred their Prussian masters, and they had no name for Bismarck that was bad enough. Our Swiss, indeed, hated him almost as bitterly. Their sympathies had been wholly with the French, and they could not repress a half-conscious dread of his principle of race nationality, which would be fatal to Switzerland, one neither in race nor religion, but hitherto indivisible in her ancient freedom. While he lives this fear can never die in Swiss hearts, for they know that if he will, he can, in a Europe where he is the only real power.
Mademoiselle sat at the chief place of the table, and led the talk, imparting to it a flavor of humorous good sense very characteristic. The villa had been her father's country-house, and it abounded in a scholar's accumulations of old books in divers languages. She herself knew literature widely in the better way that it was once read. The memories of many years spent in Florence made common Italian ground for us, and she spoke English perfectly.
As I wish to give a complete notion of our household, so far as it may be honestly set down, I will add that the domestics were three. Two of them, the cook and the housemaid, were German Swiss, of middle class, who had taken service to earn what money they could, but mainly to learn French, after the custom of their country, where the young people of a French or Italian canton would in like manner resort to a German province. The third was Louis, a native, who spoke his own patois, and found it sufficient for the expression of his ideas. He was chiefly employed about the grounds; in-doors his use was mostly to mount the peculiar clogs used for the purpose, and rub the waxed floors till they shone. These floors were very handsome, of hard woods prettily inlaid; and Louis produced an effect upon them that it seemed a pity to mar with muddy shoes.
I do not speak of Alexis, the farmer, who appeared in domestic exigencies; but my picture would be incomplete without the portrait of Poppi. Poppi was the large house-dog, who in early life had intended to call himself Puppy, but he naturally pronounced it with a French accent. He was now far from young, but he was still Poppi. I believe he was the more strictly domestic in his habits because an infirmity of temper had betrayed him into an attack upon a neighbor, or a neighbor's dog, and it was no longer safe for him to live much out-of-doors. The confinement had softened his temper, but it had rendered him effeminate and self-indulgent. He had, in fact, been spoiled by the boarders, and he now expected to be present at meals, and to be fed with choice morsels from their plates. As the cold weather came on he developed rheumatism, and demanded our sympathy as well as our hospitality. If Elise in waiting on table brushed him with her skirts, he set up a lamentable cry, and rushed up to the nearest guest, and put his chin on the table for his greater convenience in being comforted. At a dance which we had one evening Poppi insisted upon being present, and in his efforts to keep out of the way and in the apprehensions he suffered he abandoned himself to moans and howls that sometimes drowned the piano.
Yet Poppi was an amiable invalid, and he was on terms of perfect friendship with the cats, of which there were three generations—Boulette, Boulette's mother, and Boulette's grandmother. They were not readily distinguishable from one another, and I really forget which it was that used to mount to the dining-room window without, and paw the glass till we let her in; but we all felt that it was a great accomplishment, and reflected credit upon us.
The vineyard began immediately behind the laurels that enclosed the house, and at a little distance, where the mountain began to lift from the narrow plateau, stood the farmer's stone cottage, with the stables and the wine-vaults under the same roof. Mademoiselle gave us grapes from her vines at dinner, and the walnut-trees seemed public property, though I think one was not allowed to knock the nuts off, but was only free of the windfalls. A little later they were all gathered, and on a certain night the girls and the young men of the village have the custom to meet and make a frolic of cracking them, as they used in husking corn with us. Then the oil is pressed out, and the commune apportions each family its share, according to the amount of nuts contributed. This nut oil imparts a sentiment to salad which the olive cannot give, and mushrooms pickled in it become the most delicious and indigestible of all imaginable morsels. I have had dreams from those pickled mushrooms which, if I could write them out, would make my fortune as a romantic novelist.
The Swiss breakfast was our old friend the Italian breakfast, with butter and Gruyère cheese added to the milk and coffee. We dined at one o'clock, and at six or seven we supped upon a meal that had left off soup and added tea, in order to differ from the dinner. For all this, with our rooms, we paid what we should have paid at a New Hampshire farm-house; that is, a dollar a day each.
But the air was such as we could not have got in New Hampshire for twice the money. It restored one completely every twenty-four hours, and it not only stimulated but supported one throughout the day. Our own air is quite as exciting, but after stirring one up, it leaves him to take the consequences, whereas that faithful Swiss air stood by and helped out the enterprise. I rose fresh from my forenoon's writing and eager to walk; I walked all afternoon, and came in perfectly fresh to supper. One can't speak too well of the Swiss air, whatever one says of the Swiss sun.
Whenever it came out, or rather whenever the rain stopped, we pursued our explorations of the neighborhood. It had many interesting features, among which was the large Hôtel Byron, very attractive and almost empty, which we passed every day on our way to the post-office in Villeneuve, and noted two pretty American shes in eye-glasses playing croquet amid the wet shrubbery, as resolutely cheerful and as young-manless as if they had been in some mountain resort of our own. In the other direction there were simple villas dropped along the little levels and ledges, and vineyards that crept to the road's edge everywhere. There was also a cement factory, busy and prosperous; and to make us quite at home, a saw-mill. Above all, there was the Castle of Chillon; and one of the first Sundays after our arrival we descended the stone staircased steps of our gardened terrace, dripping with ivy and myrtle, and picked our steps over the muddy road to the old prison-fortress, where, in the ancient chapel of the Dukes of Savoy, we heard an excellent sermon from the pasteur of our parish. The castle was perhaps a bow-shot from our pension: I did not test the distance, having left my trusty cross-bow and cloth-yard shafts in Boston; but that is my confirmed guess. In point of time it is much more remote, for, as the reader need not be reminded, it was there, or some castle like it, almost from the beginning, or at least from the day when men first began to fight for the possession of the land. The lake-dwellers are imagined to have had some sort of stronghold there; and it is reasonably supposed that Romans, Franks, and Burgundians had each fortified the rock. Count Wala, cousin of Charlemagne, and grandson of Charles Martel, was a prisoner in its dungeon in 830 for uttering some words too true for an age unaccustomed to the perpetual veracity of our newspapers. Count Wala, who was also an abbot, had the misfortune to speak of Judith of Bavaria as "the adulterous woman," and when her husband, Louis le Debonair, came back to the throne after the conspiracy of his sons, the lady naturally wanted Wala killed; but Louis compromised by throwing him into the rock of Chillon. This is what Wala's friends say: others say that he was one of the conspirators against Louis. At any rate, he was the first great captive of Chillon, which was a political prison as long as political prisoners were needed in Switzerland. That is now a good while ago.
Chillon fell to the princes of the house of Savoy in 1033, and Count Peter, whom they nicknamed Little Charlemagne for his prowess and his conquests, built the present castle, after which the barons of the Pays de Vaud and the Duke of Cophingen (whoever he may have been) besieged Peter in it. Perhaps they might have taken him. But the wine was so good, and the pretty girls of the country were so fond of dancing! They forgot themselves in these delights. All at once Little Charlemagne was upon them. He leaves his force at Chillon, and goes by night to spy out the enemy at Villeneuve, returning at dawn to his people. He came back very gayly; when they saw him so joyous, "What news?" they asked. "Fine and good," he answers; "for, by God's help, if you will behave yourselves well, the enemy is ours." To which they cried with one voice, "Seigneur, you have but to command." They fell upon the barons and the duke, and killed a gratifying number of their followers, carrying the rest back to Chillon, where Peter "used them not as prisoners, but feasted them honorably. Much was the spoil and great the booty."
Afterwards Peter lost the castle, and in retaking it he launched fifty thousand shafts and arrows against it. "The castle was not then an isolated point of rock as we now see it, but formed part of a group of defences."
Two or three centuries later—how quickly all those stupid, cruel, weary years pass under the pen!—the spirit of liberty and protestantism began to stir in the heads and hearts of the burghers of Berne and of Geneva. A Savoyard, Francis de Bonivard, prior of St. Victor, sympathized with them. He was noble, accomplished, high-placed, but he loved freedom of thought and act. Yet when a deputation of reformers came to him for advice, he said: "It is to be wished, without doubt, that the evil should be cast out of our midst, provided that the good enters. You burn to reform our Church; certainly it needs it; but how can you reform it, deformed as you are? You complain that the monks and priests are buffoons; and you are buffoons; that they are gamblers and drunkards, and you are the same. Does the hate you bear them come from difference or likeness? You intend to overthrow our clergy and replace them by evangelical ministers. That would be a very good thing in itself, but a very bad thing for you, because you have no happiness but in the pleasures the priests allow you. The ministers wish to abolish vice, but there is where you will suffer most, and after having hated the priests because they are so much like you, you will hate their successors because they are so little like you. You will not have had them two years before you will put them down. Meanwhile, if you trust me, do one of two things: if you wish to remain deformed, as you are, do not wonder that others are like you; or, if you wish to reform them, begin by showing them how."
This was very odd language to use to a deputation of reformers, but I confess that it endears the memory of Bonivard to me. He was a thoroughly charming person, and not at all wise in his actions. Through mere folly he fell twice into the hands of his enemies, suffered two years' imprisonment, and lost his priory. To get it back he laid siege to it with six men and a captain. The siege was a failure. He trusted his enemy, the duke, and was thrown into Chillon, where he remained a sort of guest of the governor for two years. The duke visited the castle at the end of that time. "Then the captain threw me into a vault lower than the lake, where I remained four years. I do not know whether it was by order of the duke or from his own motion, but I do know that I then had so much leisure for walking that I wore in the rock which formed the floor of the dungeon a pathlet [vionnet], or little path, as if one had beaten it out with a hammer." He was fastened by a chain four feet in length to one of the beautiful Gothic pillars of the vault, and you still see where this gentle scholar, this sweet humorist, this wise and lenient philosopher, paced to and fro those weary years like a restless beast—a captive wolf, or a bear in his pit. But his soul was never in prison. As he trod that vionnet out of the stone he meditated upon his reading, his travels, the state of the Church and its reform, politics, the origin of evil. "His reflections often lifted him above men and their imperfect works; often, too, they were marked by that scepticism which knowledge of the human heart inspires. 'When one considers things well,' he said, 'one finds that it is easier to destroy the evil than to construct the good. This world being fashioned like an ass's back, the fardel that you would balance in the middle will not stay there, but hangs over on the other side.'"
Bonivard was set free by the united forces of Berne and Geneva, preaching political and religious liberty by the cannon's mouth, as has had so often to happen. That too must have seemed droll to Bonivard when he came to think it over in his humorous way. "The epoch of the Renaissance and the Reformation was that of strong individualities and undaunted characters. But let no one imagine a resemblance between the prior of St. Victor and the great rebels his contemporaries, Luther, Zwinglius, and Calvin. Like them he was one of the learned men of his time; like them he learned to read the Evangels, and saw their light disengage itself from the trembling gleams of tradition; but beyond that he has nothing in common with them. Bonivard is not a hero; he is not made to obey or to command; he is an artist, a kind of poet, who treats high matters of theology in a humorous spirit; prompt of repartee, gifted with happy dash; his irony has lively point, and he likes to season the counsels of wisdom with sauce piquante and rustic bonhomie.... He prepares the way for Calvin, while having nothing of the Calvinist; he is gay, he is jovial; he has, even when he censures, I know not what air of gentleness that wins your heart."
This and all the rest that I know of Bonivard I learn from a charming historical and topographical study of Montreux and its neighborhood, by MM. Rambert, Lebert, etc.; and I confess it at once, for fear some one else shall find me out by simply buying the book there. It leaves you little ground for classifying Bonivard with the great reformers, but it leaves you still less for identifying him historically with Byron's great melodramatic Prisoner of Chillon. If the Majority have somewhere that personal consciousness without which they are the Nonentity, one can fancy the liberal scholar, the humorous philosopher, meeting the romantic poet, and protesting against the second earthly captivity that he has delivered him over to. Nothing could be more alien to Bonivard than the character of Byron's prisoner; and all that equipment of six supposititious brothers, who perish one by one to intensify his sufferings, is, it must be confessed, odious and ridiculous when you think of the lonely yet cheerful sceptic pacing his vionnet, and composing essays and verses as he walked. Prisoner for prisoner, even if both were real, the un-Byronic Bonivard is much more to my mind. But the poet had to make a Byronic Bonivard, being of the romantic time he was, and we cannot blame him. The love of his sentimentality pervades the region; they have named the nearest hotel after him, and there is a Sentier Byron leading up to it. But, on the other hand, they have called one of the lake steamboats after Bonivard, which, upon the whole, I should think would be more satisfactory to him than the poem. At any rate, I should prefer it in his place.
The fine Gothic chapel where we heard our pasteur preach was whitewashed out of all memory of any mural decoration that its earlier religion may have given it; but the gloss of the whitewash was subdued by the dim light that stole in through the long slits of windows. We sat upon narrow wooden seats so very hard that I hope the old dukes and their court were protected by good stout armor against their obduracy, and that they had not to wait a quarter of an hour for the holy father to come walking up the railroad track, as we had for our pasteur. There were but three men in the congregation that day, and all the rest were Suissesses, with the hard, pure, plain faces their sex wear mostly in that country. The choir sat in two rows of quaintly carved seats on each side of the pulpit, and the school-master of the village led the singing, tapping his foot to keep time. The pastor, delicate and wan of face, and now no longer living, I came afterwards to know better, and to respect greatly for his goodness and good sense. His health had been broken by the hard work of a mountain parish, and he had vainly spent two winters in Nice. Now he was here as the assistant of the superannuated pastor of Villeneuve, who had a salary of $600 a year from the Government; but how little our preacher had I dare not imagine, or what the pastor of the Free Church was paid by his parishioners. M. P—— was a man of culture far above that of the average New England country minister of this day; probably he was more like a New England minister of the past, but with more of the air of the world. He wore the Genevan bands and gown, and represented in that tabernacle of the ancient faith the triumph of "the Religion" with an effectiveness that was heightened by the hectic brightness of his gentle, spiritual eyes; and he preached a beautiful sermon from the beautiful text, "Suffer little children," teaching us that they were the types, not the models, of Christian perfection. There was first a prayer, which he read; then a hymn, and one of the Psalms; then the sermon, very simply and decorously delivered; then another hymn, and prayer. Here, and often again in Switzerland, the New England that is past or passing was recalled to me; these Swiss are like the people of our hill country in their faith, as well as their hard, laborious lives; only they sang with sweeter voices than our women.
The wood-carving of the chapel, which must have been of the fourteenth century or earlier, was delightfully grotesque, and all the queerer for its contrast with the Protestant, the Calvinistic, whitewash which one of our fellow-boarders found here in the chapel and elsewhere in the castle un peu vulgaire—as if he were a Boston man. But the whole place was very clean, and up the corner of one of the courts ran a strip of Virginia-creeper, which the Swiss call the Canada vine, blood-red with autumn. There was also a rose-tree sixty years old stretching its arms abroad, over the ancient masonry, and feeling itself still young in that sheltered place.
We saw it when we came later to do the whole castle, and to revere the dungeon where Bonivard wore his vionnet in the rock. I will not trouble the reader with much about the Hall of Justice and the Chamber of Tortures opening out of it, with the pulley for the rack formerly used in cross-questioning prisoners. These places were very interesting, and so were the bedchambers of the duke and duchess, and the great Hall of the Knights. The wells or pits, armed round with knife points, against which the prisoner struck when hurled down through them into the lake, have long had their wicked throats choked with sand; and the bed hewn out of the rock, where the condemned slept the night before execution, is no longer used for that purpose—possibly because the only prisoners now in Chillon are soldiers punished for such social offences as tipsiness. But the place was all charmingly mediæval, and the more so for a certain rudeness of decoration. The artistic merit was purely architectural, and this made itself felt perhaps most distinctly in the prison vaults, which Longfellow pronounced "the most delightful dungeon" he had ever seen. A great rose-tree overhung the entrance, and within we found them dry, wholesome, and picturesque. The beautiful Gothic pillars rose like a living growth from the rock, out of which the vault was half hewn; but the iron rings to which the prisoners were chained still hung from them. The columns were scribbled full of names, and Byron's was among the rest. The vionnet of Bonivard was there, beside one of the pillars, plain enough, worn two inches deep and three feet long in the hard stone. Words cannot add to the pathos of it.
Nothing could be more nobly picturesque than the outside of Chillon. Its base is beaten by the waves of the lake, to which it presents wide masses of irregularly curving wall, pierced by narrow windows, and surmounted by Mansard-roofs. Wild growths of vines and shrubs break the broad surfaces of the wall, and out of the shoulders of one of the towers springs a tall young fir-tree. The water at its base is intensely blue and unfathomably deep. This is what nature has done; as for men, they have hugely painted the lakeward wall of the castle with the arms of the Canton Vaud, which are nearly as ugly as the arms of Ohio; and they have wrought into the roof of the tallest tower with tiles of a paler tint the word "Chillon," so that you cannot possibly mistake it for any other castle.
First and last, we hung about Chillon a good deal, both by land and by water. For the latter purpose we had to hire a boat; and deceived by the fact that the owner spoke a Latin dialect, I attempted to beat him down from his demand of a franc an hour. "It's too much," I cried. "It's the price," he answered, laconically. Clearly I was to take it or leave it, and I took it. We did not find our fellow-republicans flatteringly polite, but we found them firm, and, for all I know, honest. At least they seemed as honest as we were, and that is saying a great deal. What struck us from the beginning was the surliness of the men and the industry of the women; and I am persuaded that the Swiss Government is really carried on by the house-keeping sex. At any rate, the postmaster of Villeneuve was a woman; her little girl brought the mail up from the railway station in a hand-cart, and her old mother helped her to understand my French. They were rather cross about it, and one day, with the assistance of a child in arms, they defeated me in an attempt I made to get a postal order. I dare say they thought it quite a triumph; but it was not so very much to be proud of. At that period my French, always spoken with the Venetian accent of the friend with whom I had studied it many years before, was taking on strange and wilful characteristics, which would have disabled me in the presence of a much less formidable force. I think the only person really able to interpret me was the amiable mistress of the Croix Blanche, to whose hostelry I went every day for my after-dinner coffee. She knew what I wanted whenever I asked for it, and I simplified my wants so as to meet her in the same spirit. The inn stood midway of the village street that for hundreds of yards followed the curve of the lake shore with its two lines of high stone houses. At one end of it stood a tower springing out of an almost fabulous past; then you came to the first of three plashing fountains, where cattle were always drinking, and bareheaded girls washing vegetables for the pot. Aloft swung the lamps that lighted the village, on ropes stretching across the street. I believe some distinction was ascribed to Villeneuve for the antiquity of this method of street-lighting. There were numbers of useful shops along the street, which wandered out into the country on the levels of the Rhone, where the mountains presently shut in so close that there was scarcely room for the railway to get through. What finally became of the highway I don't know. One day I tried to run it down, but after a long chase I was glad to get myself brought back in a diligence from the next village.
The road became a street and ceased to be so with an abruptness that admitted nothing of suburban hesitation or compromise, and Villeneuve, as far as it went, was a solid wall of houses on either side. It was called Villeneuve because it was so very, very old; and in the level beyond it is placed the scene of the great Helvetian victory over the Romans, when the Swiss made their invaders pass under the yoke. I do not know that Villeneuve witnessed that incident, but it looks and smells old enough to have done so. It is reasonably picturesque in a semi-Italian, semi-French fashion, but it is to the nose that it makes its chief appeal. Every house has a cherished manure heap in its back yard, symmetrically shaped, with the projecting edges of the straw neatly braided: it is a source of family pride as well as profit. But it is chiefly the odor of world-old human occupation, otherwise indescribable, that pervades the air of Villeneuve, and makes the mildest of foreign sojourners long for the application of a little dynamite to its ancient houses. Our towns are perhaps the ugliest in the world, but how open to the sun and wind they are! how free, how pure, how wholesome!
On week-days a cart sometimes passed through Villeneuve with a most disproportionate banging over the cobble-stones, but usually the walls reverberated the soft tinkle of cow-bells as the kine wound through from pasture to pasture and lingered at the fountains. On Sundays the street was reasonably full of young men in the peg-top trousers which the Swiss still cling to, making eyes at the girls in the upper windows. These were the only times when I saw women of any age idle. Sometimes through the open door I caught a glimpse of a group of them busy with their work, while a little girl read to them. Once in a crowded café, where half a hundred men were smoking and drinking and chattering, the girl who served my coffee put down a volume of Victor Hugo's poems to bring it. But mostly their literary employments did not go beyond driving the cows to pasture and washing clothes in the lake, where they beat the linen with far-echoing blows of their paddles. They helped to make the hay on the marshes beyond the village, and they greatly outnumbered the men in the labors of the vintage. They were seldom pretty either in face or figure; they seemed all to have some stage of goitre; but their manners were charming, and their voices, as I have said, angelically sweet. Our pasteur's wife said that there was a great deal of pauperism in Villeneuve, "because of the drunkenness of the men and the disorder of the women;" but I saw only one man drunk in the streets there, and what the disorders of the women were I don't know. Possibly their labors in the field made them poor house-keepers, though this is mere conjecture. Divorce is theoretically easy, but the couple seeking it must go before a magistrate every four months for two years and insist that they continue to desire it. This makes it rather uncommon.
If the women were not good-looking, if their lives of toil stunted and coarsened them, the men, with greater apparent leisure, were no handsomer. Among the young I noticed the frequency of what may be called the republican face—thin and aquiline, whether dark or fair. The Vaudois as I saw them were at no age a merry folk. In the fields they toiled silently; in the cafés, where they were sufficiently noisy over their new wine, they talked without laughter, and without the shrugs and gestures that enliven conversation among other Latin peoples. They had a hard-favored grimness and taciturnity that with their mountain scenery reminded me of New England now and again, and gave me the bewildered sense of having dropped down in some little anterior America. But there was one thing that marked a great difference from our civilization, and that was the prevalence of uniforms, for which the Swiss have the true European fondness. This is natural in a people whose men all are or have been soldiers; and the war footing on which the little republic is obliged to keep a large force in that ridiculous army-ridden Europe must largely account for the abandonment of the peaceful industries to women. But the men are off at the mountain chalets too, and they are away in all lands, keeping hotels, and amassing from the candle-ends of the travelling public the fortune with which all Swiss hope to return home to die.
Sometimes the country people I met greeted me, as sometimes they still do in New Hampshire, but commonly they passed in silence. I think the mountains must have had something to do with hushing the people: far and near, on every hand, they rise such bulks of silence. The chief of their stately company was always the Dent-du-Midi, which alone remains perpetually snow-covered, and which, when not hooded in the rain-bearing mists of that most rainy autumn, gave back the changing light of every hour with new splendors, though of course it was most beautiful in the early sunsets. Then its cold snows warmed and softened into something supernally rosy, while all the other peaks were brown and purple, and its vast silence was thrilled with a divine message that spoke to the eye. Across the lake and on its farther shores the mountains were dimly blue; but nearer, in the first days of our sojourn, they were green to their tops. Away up there we could see the lofty steeps and slopes of the summer pastures, and set low among them the chalets where the herdsmen dwelt. None of the mountains seemed so bare and sterile as Mount Washington, and though they were on a sensibly vaster scale than the White Mountains generally, I remembered the grandeur of Chocorua and Kearsarge in their presence. But my national—not to say my hemispheric—pride suffered a terrible blow as the season advanced. I had bragged all my life of the glories of our American autumnal foliage, which I had, in common with the rest of my countrymen, complacently denied to all the rest of the world. Yet here, before my very eyes, the same beautiful miracle was wrought. Day after day the trees on the mountain-sides changed, and kindled and softly smouldered in a thousand delicate hues, till all their mighty flanks seemed draped in the mingling dyes of Indian shawls. Shall I own that while this effect was not the fiery gorgeousness of our autumn leaves, it was something tenderer, richer, more tastefully lovely? Never!
The clouds lowering, and as it were loafing along, among the tops and crags, were a perpetual amusement, and when the first cold came it was odd to see a cloud in a sky otherwise clear stoop upon some crest, and after lingering there awhile drift off about its business, and leave the mountain all white with snow. This grew more and more frequent, and at last, after a long rain, we looked out on the mountains whitened all round us far down their sides, while it was still summer green and summer bloom in the valley. The moon rose and blackened the mountains below the crags of snow, which shone out above like one of her own dead landscapes. Slowly the winter descended, snow after snow, keeping a line beautifully straight along the mountain-sides, till it reached the valley and put out our garden roses at last. The hard-wood trees lost their leaves, and stretched dim and brown along the lower ranges; the pines straggled high up into the snows. The Jura, far across the lake; was vaguely roseate, with an effect of perpetual sunset; the Dent-du-Midi lost the distinction of its eternal drifts; and the cold not only descended upon us, but from the frozen hills all round us hemmed us in with a lateral pressure that pierced and chilled to the marrow. The mud froze, and we walked to church dry-shod. It was quite time to fire the vestibule stove, which, after fighting hard and smoking rebelliously at first, sobered down to its winter work, and afforded Poppi's rheumatism the comfort for which he had longed pined.