The winter and the vintage come on together at Villeneuve, and when the snows had well covered the mountains around, the grapes in the valley were declared ripe by an act of the Commune. There had been so much rain and so little sun that their ripeness was hardly attested otherwise. Fully two-thirds of the crop had blackened with blight; the imperfect clusters, where they did not hang sodden and mildewed on the vines, were small and sour. It was sorrowful to see them; and when, about the middle of October, the people assembled in the vineyards to gather them, the spectacle had none of that gayety which the poets had taught me to expect of it. Those poor clusters did not
"reel to earth
Purple and gushing,"
but limply waited the short hooked knife with which the peasants cut them from their stems; and the peasants, instead of advancing with jocund steps and rustic song to the sound of the lute and tabor and other convenient instruments, met in obedience to public notice duly posted about the Commune, and set to work, men, women, and children alike silent and serious. So many of the grapes are harvested and manufactured in common that it is necessary the vintage should begin on a fixed day, and no one was allowed to anticipate or postpone. Some cut the grapes, and dropped them into the flattish wooden barrels, which others, after mashing the berries with a long wooden pestle, bore off and emptied frothing and gurgling into big casks mounted on carts. These were then driven into the village, where the mess was poured into the presses, and the wine crushed out to the last bitter dregs. The vineyards were a scene of activity, but not hilarity, though a little way off they looked rather lively with the vintagers at work in them. We climbed to one of them far up the mountain-side one day, where a family were gathering the grapes on a slope almost as steep as a house roof, father, mother, daughter, son-in-law, big boy, and big girl all silently busy together. There were bees and wasps humming around the tubs of crushed grapes in the pale afternoon sun; the view of the lake and the mountains was inspiring; but there was nothing bacchanalian in the affair, unless the thick calves of the girl, as she bent over to cut the clusters, suggested a Mænad fury. These poor people were quite songless, though I am bound to say that in another vineyard I did hear some of the children singing. It had momentarily stopped raining; but it soon began again, and the vintage went sorrowfully on in the mud. All Villeneuve smelt of the harsh juice and pulp arriving from the fields in the wagons, carts, tubs, and barrels which crowded the streets and sidewalks, and in divers cavernous basements the presses were at work, and there was a slop and drip of new wine everywhere. After dark the people came in from the fields and gossiped about their doors, and the red light of flitting lanterns blotched the steady rainpour. Outside of the village rose the black mountains, white at the top with their snows.
In the cafés and other public places there were placards advertising American wine-presses, but I saw none of them in use. At a farm-house near us we looked on at the use of one of the old-fashioned Swiss presses. Under it lay a mighty cake of grapes, stems, and skins, crushed into a common mass, and bulging farther beyond the press with each turn of the screw, while the juice ran in a little rivulet into a tub below. When the press was lifted, the grapes were seen only half crushed. Two peasants then mounted the cake, and trimmed it into shape with long-handled spades, piling the trimmings on top, and then bringing the press down again. They invited us with charming politeness to taste the juice, but their heavy boots bore evidence of too recent a visit to the cherished manure heap, and we thanked them with equal courtesy.
This grape cake, when it had yielded up its last drop, would be broken to pieces and scattered over the fields as a fertilizer. The juice would meanwhile have been placed to ferment in the tuns, twelve and thirteen feet deep, which lay in the adjoining cellar.
For weeks after the vintage people were drinking the new wine, which looked thick and whitish in the glasses, at all the cafés. It seemed to be thought a dainty beverage, but our scruples against it remained, and I cannot say what its effect upon the drinkers might be. Perhaps it had properties as a "sweet, oblivious antidote" which rendered necessary the placard we saw in the café of the little Hôtel Chillon:
"Die Rose blüht,
Der Dorn der sticht;
Wer gleich bezahlt
Vergisst es nicht."
Or, in inadequate English:
The roses bloom,
The thorns they stick;
No one forgets
Who settles quick.
The relation of the ideas is not very apparent, but the lyric cry is distinctly audible.
One morning, a week before the vintage began, we were wakened by the musical clash of cow-bells, and for days afterwards the herds came streaming from the chalets on all the mountains round to feed upon the lowland pastures for a brief season before the winter should house them. There was something charming to ear and eye in this autumnal descent of the kine, and we were sorry when it ended. They thronged the village in their passage to the levels beside the Rhone, where afterwards they lent their music and their picturesqueness to the meadows. With each herd there were two or three goats, and these goats thought they were cows; but, after all, the public interest of this descent of the cows was not really comparable to that of the fall elections, now coming on with handbills and newspaper appeals very like those of our own country at like times. In the cafés, the steamboats, the railway stations, the street corners, vivid posters warned the voters against the wiles of the enemy, and the journals urged the people of the Canton Vaud to be up and doing; they declared the issue before them a vital one, and the crisis a crisis of the greatest moment.
In the mean time the people in our pension, who were so intelligent and well informed about other things, bore witness to the real security of the State, and the tranquillity of the Swiss mind generally concerning politics, by their ignorance of the name of their existing President. They believed he was a man of the name of Schultz; but it appeared that his name was not at all Schultz, when we referred the matter to our pasteur. It was from him, indeed, that I learned nearly all I knew of Swiss politics, and it was from his teaching that I became a conservative partisan in the question, then before the voters, of a national free-school law. The radicals, who, the pasteur said, wished Switzerland to attempt the role "grande nation," had brought forward this measure in the Federal legislature, and it was now, according to the sensible Swiss custom, to be submitted to a popular vote. It provided for the establishment of a national bureau of education, and the conservatives protested against it as the entering wedge of centralization in government affairs. They contended that in a country shared by three races and two religions education should be left as much as possible to the several cantons, which in the Swiss constitution are equivalent to our States. I am happy to say that the proposed law was overwhelmingly defeated; I am happy because I liked the pasteur so much, though when I remember the sympathetic bric-à-brac dealer at Vevay, who was a radical, but who sold me some old pewters at a very low price, I can't help feeling a little sorry too. However, the Swiss still keep their old school law, under which each canton taxes itself for education, as our States do, though all share in the advantages of the universities, which are part of the public-school system.
The parties in Switzerland are fortunately not divided by questions of race or religion, but the pasteur owned that the Catholics were a difficult element, and had to be carefully managed. They include the whole population of the Italian cantons, and part of the French and German. In Geneva and other large towns the labor question troublesomely enters, and the radicals, like our Democrats, are sometimes the retrograde party.
The pasteur spoke with smiling slight of the Père Hyacinthe and the Döllinger movements, and he confessed that the Protestants were cut up into too many sects to make progress among the Catholic populations. The Catholics often keep their children out of the public schools, as they do with us, but these have to undergo the State examinations, to which all the children, whether taught at home or in private schools, must submit. He deplored the want of moral instruction in the public schools, but he laughed at the attempts in France to instil non-religious moral principles: when I afterwards saw this done in the Florentine ragged schools I could not feel that he was altogether right. He was a member of the communal school committee, and he told me that this body was appointed by the syndic and council of each commune, who are elected by the people. To some degree religion influences local feeling, the Protestant Church being divided into orthodox and liberal factions; there is a large Unitarian party besides, and agnosticism is a qualifying element of religious thought.
Outside of our pension I had not many sources of information concerning the political or social life at Villeneuve. I knew the village shoemaker, a German, who had fixed his dwelling there because it was so bequem, and who had some vague aspirations towards Chicago, whither a citizen of Villeneuve had lately gone. But he was discouraged by my representation, with his wax, his awl, and his hammer, successively arranged as New York, Cleveland, and Chicago, on his shoe-bench, of the extreme distance of the last from the seaboard. He liked his neighbors and their political system; and so did the portier at the Hôtel Byron, another German, with whom I sometimes talked of general topics in transacting small affairs of carriage hire and the like, and who invited me to notice how perfectly well these singular Swiss, in the midst of a Europe elsewhere overrun with royalties, got on without a king, queen, or anything of the kind. In his country, he said, those hills would be covered with fortifications, but here they seemed not to be thought necessary.
I made friends with the instituteur of the Villeneuve public school, who led the singing at church, and kept the village book-store; and he too talked politics with me, and told me that all elections were held on Sunday, when the people were at leisure, for otherwise they would not take the time to vote. He was not so clear as to why they were always held in church, but that is the fact; and sometimes the sacred character of the place is not enough to suppress boisterous party feeling, though it certainly helps to control it.
After divine service on election Sunday I went to the Croix Blanche for my coffee, to pass the time till the voting should begin. On the church door was posted a printed summons to the electors, and on the café billiard tables I found ballots of the different parties scattered. Gendarmes had also distributed them about in the church pews; they were enclosed in envelops, which were voted sealed. On a table before the pulpit the ballot-box—a glass urn—was placed; and beside it sat the judges of election, with lists of the registered voters. But in any precinct of the canton an elector who could prove that he had not voted at home might deposit his ballot in any other. The church bell rang for the people to assemble, and the voting began and ended in perfect quiet. But I could not witness an election of this ancient republic, where Freedom was so many centuries old, without strong emotion; it had from its nature and the place the consecration of a religious rite.
The church itself was old—almost as old as Swiss freedom, and older than the freedom of the Vaud. The Gothic interior, which had once, no doubt, been idolatrously frescoed and furnished with statues, was now naked and coldly Protestant; one window, partly stained, let in a little colored light to mix with the wintry day that struck through the others. The pulpit was in the centre of the church, and the clerk's desk diagonally across from it. The floor was boarded over, but a chill struck through from the stones below, and the people seemed to shiver through the service that preceded the election. When the pasteur mounted the pulpit they listened faithfully, but when the clerk led the psalm they vented their suffering in the most dreadful groaning that ever passed for singing outside of one of our country churches.
It was all very like home, and yet unlike it, for there is much more government in Switzerland than with us, and much less play of individuality. In small communes, for example, like Villeneuve, there are features of practical socialism, which have existed apparently from the earliest times. Certain things are held in common, as mountain pasturage and the forests, from which each family has a provision of fuel. These and other possessions of the commune are "confided to the public faith," and trespass is punished with signal severity. The trees are felled under government inspection, and the woods are never cut off wholesale. When a tree is chopped down a tree is planted, and the floods that ravage Italy from the mountains denuded of their forests are unknown to the wiser Swiss. Throughout Switzerland the State insures against fire, and inflicts penalties for neglect and carelessness from which fires may result. Education is compulsory, and there is a rigid military service, and a show of public force everywhere which is quite unknown to our unneighbored, easy-going republic. I should say, upon the whole, that the likeness was more in social than in political things, strange as that may appear. There seemed to be much the same freedom among young people, and democratic institutions had produced a kindred type of manners in both countries. But I will not be very confident about all this, for I might easily be mistaken. The Swiss make their social distinctions as we do; and in Geneva and Lausanne I understood that a more than American exclusivism prevailed in families that held themselves to be peculiarly good, and believed themselves very old.
Our excursions into society at Villeneuve were confined to a single tea at the pasteur's, where we went with mademoiselle one evening. He lived in a certain Villa Garibaldi, which had belonged to an Italian refugee, now long repatriated, and which stood at the foot of the nearest mountain. To reach the front door we passed through the vineyard to the back of the house, where a huge dog leaped the length of his chain at us, and a maid let us in. The pasteur, in a coat of unclerical cut, and his wife, in black silk, received us in the parlor, which was heated by a handsome porcelain stove, and simply furnished, much like such a room at home. Madame P——, who was musical, played a tempestuously representative composition called "L'Orage" on the upright piano, and joined from time to time in her husband's talk about Swiss affairs, which I have already allowed the reader to profit by. They offered us tea, wine, grapes, and cake, and we came away at eleven, lighted home through the vineyards by Louis, the farm boy, with his lantern.
Another day mademoiselle did us the pleasure to take us to her sister, married, and living at Aigle—a clean, many-hotelled, prosperous town, a few miles off, which had also the merit of a very fine old castle. We found our friends in an apartment of a former convent, behind which stretched a pretty lawn, with flowers and a fountain, and then vineyards to the foot of the mountains and far up their sides. We entered the court by a great stone-paved carriage-way, as in Italy, and we found the drawing-room furnished with Italian simplicity, and abounding in souvenirs of the hostess's long Florentine sojourn; but it was fortified against the Swiss winter by the tall Swiss stove. The whole family received us, including the young lady daughter, the niece, the well-mannered boys and their father openly proud of them, and the pleasant young English girl who was living in the family, according to a common custom, to perfect her French. This part of Switzerland is full of English people, who come not always for the French, but often for the cheapness which they find equally there.
Mr. K—— was a business man, well-to-do, well educated, agreeable, and interesting; his house and his table, where we sat down to the mid-day dinner of the country, were witness to his prosperity. I hope it is no harm, in the interest of statistics, to say that this good Swiss dinner consisted of soup, cold ham put up like sausage, stuffed roast beef which had first been boiled, cauliflower, salad, corn-starch pudding, and apples stewed whole and stuck full of pine pips. There was abundance of the several kinds of excellent wine made upon the estate, both white and red, and it was freely given to the children. Mr. K—— seemed surprised when we refused it for ours; and probably he could have given us good reason for his custom. His boys were strong, robust, handsome fellows; he had a charming pride in showing us the prizes they had taken at school; and on the lawn they were equally proud to show the gymnastic feats they had learned there. I believe we are coming to think now that the American schools are better than the Swiss; but till we have organized something like the Swiss school excursions, and have learned to mix more open air with our instruction, I doubt if the Swiss would agree with us.
After dinner we went to the vente, or charitable fair, which the young ladies of the town were holding in one of the public buildings. It was bewilderingly like the church fair of an American country town, socially and materially. The young ladies had made all sorts of pretty knick-knacks, and were selling them at the little tables set about the room; they also presided, more or less alluringly, at fruit, coffee, and ice-cream stands; and—I will not be sure, but I think—some of them seemed to be flirting with the youth of the other sex. There was an auction going on, and the place was full of tobacco smoke, which the women appeared not to mind. A booth for the sale of wine and beer was set off, and there was a good deal of amiable drinking. This was not like our fairs quite; and I am bound to say that the people of Aigle had more polished manners, if not better, than our country-town average.
To quit this scene for the castle of Aigle was to plunge from the present into my favorite Middle Ages. We were directly in the times when the Lords of Berne held the Vaud by the strong hand, and forced Protestant convictions upon its people by the same vigorous methods. The castle was far older than their occupation, but it is chiefly memorable as the residence of their bailiffs before the independence of the Vaud was established after the French Revolution. They were hard masters, but they left political and religious freedom behind them, where perhaps neither would have existed without them. The castle, though eminently picturesque and delightfully Gothic, is very rudely finished and decorated, and could never have been a luxurious seat for the bailiffs. It is now used by the local courts of law; a solitary, pale, unshaven old prisoner, who seemed very glad of our tribute-money, inhabited its tower, and there was an old woman carding wool in the baronial kitchen. Her little grandson lighted a candle and showed us the oubliettes, which are subterranean dungeons, one above the other, and barred by mighty doors of wood and iron. The outer one bore an inscription, which I copied:
"Doubles grilles a gros cloux,
Triples portes, fortes Verroux,
Aux âmes vraiment méchantes
Vous représentez l'Enfer;
Mais aux âmes innocentes
Vous n'êtes que du bois, de la pierre, & du fer!"
But these doors, thus branded as representing the gates of hell to guilty souls, and to the innocent being merely wood, stone, and iron, sufficed equally to shut the blameless in, and I doubt if the reflection suggested was ever of any real comfort to them. For one thing, the captives could not read the inscription; it seems to have been intended rather for the edification of the public.
We visited the castle a second time, to let the children sketch it; and even I, who could not draw a line, became with them the centre of popular interest. Half a dozen little people who had been playing "snap-the-whip" left off and crowded round, and one of the boys profited by the occasion to lock into the barn, near which we sat, a peasant who had gone in to fodder his cattle. When he got out he criticised the pictures, and insisted that one of the artists should put in a certain window which he had left out of the tower. Upon the whole, we liked him better as a prisoner.
"What would you do," I asked the children, "if I gave you a piece of twenty-five centimes?"
They reflected, and then evidently determined to pose as good children. "We would give it to our mamma."
"Now don't you think," I pursued, "that it would be better to spend it for little cakes?"
This instantly corrupted them, and they cried with one voice, "Oh yes!"
Out of respect to me the oldest girl made a small boy pull up his stocking, which had got down round his ankle, and then they took the money and all ran off. Later they returned to show me that they had got it changed into copper and shared equally among them. They must have spent an evening of great excitement talking us over.
The October sun set early, chill, and disconsolate after a rain. A weary peasant with a heavy load on his back, which he looked as if he had brought from the dawn of time, approached the castle gate, and bowed to us in passing. I was not his feudal lord, but his sad, work-worn aspect gave me as keen a pang as if I had been.
The Pays de Vaud is also the land of castles, and the visitor to Vevay should not fail to see Blonay Castle, the seat of the ancient family which, with intervals of dispossession, has possessed it ever since the Crusades. It is only a little way off, on the first rise of the hills, from which it looks over the vineyards on inexpressible glories of lake and distant mountains, and it is most nobly approached through steeps of vine and grove. Apparently it is kept up in as much of the sentiment of the past as possible, and one may hire its baronial splendor fully furnished; for the keeper told it had been occupied by an English family for the last three winters. The finish, like that of the castle of Aigle, is rude, but the whole place is wonderfully picturesque and impressive. The arched gateway is alone worth a good rent; the long corridors from which the chambers open are suitable to ghosts fond of walking exercise; the superb dining-room is round, and the floor is so old that it would shake under the foot of the lightest spectre. The répertoire of family traditions is almost inexhaustible, and doubtless one might have the use of them for a little additional money. One of the latest is of the seventeenth century, when the daughter of the house was "the beautiful Nicolaïde de Blonay, before whom many adorers had bent the knee in vain. Among them, a certain Tavel de Villars, vanquished the proud beauty by his constancy. But the marriage was delayed. Officer in the service of France, Tavel was detained by his military duties. In the mean time Jean-François de Blonay, of another branch of the family, the Savoyard branch, fell in love with his cousin, and twice demanded her in marriage. Twice he was refused. Then, listening only to his passion, he assembled some of his friends, and hid himself with them near the castle. They watched the comings and goings of the baron, and suddenly profiting by his absence, they entered his dwelling and carried off the fair Nicolaïde, who, transported to Savoy, rewarded the boldness of her captor by becoming his wife. This history, which resembles that of the beautiful Helen, and is not less authentic, kindled the fiercest hostilities between the Tavel and Blonay families; the French and Italian ambassadors intervened; and it all ended in a sentence pronounced at Berne against the Blonays—a sentence as useless as it was severe—for the principal offenders had built a nest for their loves in domains which they possessed in Savoy. The old baron alone felt its effects. He was severely reprimanded for having so ill fulfilled his paternal duties."
The good burghers of Berne—the Lords as they called themselves—were in fact very hard with all their Vaudois subjects. "Equally merciless to the vanities and the vices, they confounded luxury and drunkenness in their rules, pleasures and bad manners. They were no less the enemies of innovations. Coffee at its introduction was stigmatized as a devilish invention; tea was no better; as to tobacco, whether snuffed or smoked, it was worse yet. Low-necked dresses and low-quartered shoes were rigorously forbidden. Games and all dances, 'except three modest dances on wedding-days,' were unlawful.... The Sabbath was strictly observed; silence reigned in the villages, even those remotest from the church, until the divine service of the afternoon was closed; no cart might pass in the street, and no child play there.... In short, all their ordinances and regulations witness a firm design on the part of their Excellencies 'to revive among all those under their domination a life and manners truly Christian.' The Pays de Vaud under this régime acquired its moral and religious education. A more serious spirit gradually prevailed. The Bible became the book par excellence, the book of the fireside, and on Sunday the exercises of devotion took the place of the public amusements."
When the regicides fled from England after the Restoration they could not have sought a more congenial refuge than such a land as this. One of them, as is known, died in Vevay by the shot of an assassin sent to murder him by Charles II.; with another he is interred in the old Church of St. Martin there; and I went there to revere the tombs of Ludlow and Broughton. While I was looking about for them a familiar name on a tablet caught my eye, and I read that "William Walter Phelps, of New Jersey, and Charles A. Phelps, of Massachusetts, his descendants beyond the seas," had set it there in memory of the brave John Phelps, who was so anxious to be known as clerk of the court which tried Charles Stuart that he set his name to every page of its record.
That tablet was the most interesting thing in the old church; but I found Vevay quaint and attractive in every way. It is, as all the world knows, the paradise of pensions and hotels and boarding-schools, and one may live well and study deeply there for a very little money. It was part of our mission to lunch at the most gorgeous of the hotels, and to look upon such of our fellow-countrymen as we might see there, after our long seclusion at Villeneuve; and we easily found all the splendor and compatriotism we wanted. The hotel we chose stood close upon the lake, with a superb view of the mountains, and its evergreens in tubs stood about the gravelled spaces in a manner that consoled us with a sense of being once more in the current of polite travel. The waiter wanted none of our humble French, but replied to our timorous advances in that tongue in a correct and finally expensive English. Under the stimulus of this experience we went to a bric-à-brac shop and bought a lot of fascinating old pewter platters and flagons, and then we went recklessly shopping about in all directions. We even visited an exhibition of Swiss paintings, which, from an ethical and political point of view, were admirable; and we strolled delightedly about through the market, where the peasant women sat and knitted before their baskets of butter, fruit, cheese, flowers, and grapes, and warbled their gossip and their bargains in their angelic Suissesse voices, while their husbands priced the cattle and examined the horses. It was all very picturesque, and prophesied of the greater picturesqueness of Italy, which we were soon to see.
In fact, there was a great deal to make one think of Italy in that region; but the resemblance ended mostly with the Southern architecture and vegetation. Our lake coast had its own features, one of the most striking of which was its apparent abandonment to the use and pleasure of strangers. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the water was everywhere bordered by hotels and pensions. Such large places as Vevay and Lausanne had their proper life, of course, but of smaller ones, like Montreux, the tourist seemed to be in exclusive possession. In our walks thither we met her—when the tourist was of that sex—young, gay, gathering the red leaves of the Virginia-creeper from the lakeward terraces of the highway; we met him, old, sick, pale, munching the sour grapes, and trying somehow to kill the time. Large listless groups of them met every steamboat from which we landed, and parties of them encountered us on every road. "A hash of foreigners," the Swiss call Montreux, and they scarcely contribute a native flavor to the dish. The Englishman no longer characterizes sojourn there, I should say; the Americans, who pay and speak little or no French, and the Russians, who speak beautiful French but do not pay, are there in about equal abundance; there are some French people; but if it came to my laying my hand upon my heart, I should say there seemed more Germans than any other nationality at Montreux. They are not pretty to look at, and apparently not pleasant; and it is said that the Swiss, who digest them along with the rest of us, do not like them. In fact, the Germans seem everywhere to take their new national consequence ungraciously.
Besides the foreigners, there is not much to see at Montreux, though one must not miss the ancient church which looks out from its lofty place over the lake, and offers the visitor many seats on its terrace for the enjoyment of the same view. The day we went he had pretty well covered the gravel with grape-skins; but he had left the prospect undisturbed.
What struck me principally in Montreux was its extreme suitability to the purposes of the international novelist. It was full of sites for mild incidents, for tacit tragedies, for subdued flirtations, and arrested improprieties. I can especially recommend the Kursaal at Montreux to my brother and sister fictionists looking about for a pretty entourage. Its terrace is beaten by the billows of the restless lake, and in soft weather people sit at little tables there; otherwise they take their ices inside the café, and all the same look out on the Dent-du-Midi, and feel so bored with everybody that they are just in the humor to be interested in anybody. There is a very pretty theatre in the Kursaal, where they seldom give entertainments, but where, if you ever go, you see numbers of pretty girls, and in a box a pale, delicate-looking middle-aged Englishman in a brown velvet coat, with his two daughters. The concert will be very good, and a young man of cultivated sympathies and disdainful tastes could have a very pleasant time there. For the rest, Montreux offers to the novelist's hand perhaps the crude American of the station who says it is the cheapest place he has struck, and he is going to stick it out there awhile; perhaps the group of chattering American school-girls; perhaps the little Jewish water-color painter who tells of his narrow escape from the mad dog, which having broken his chain at Bouveret, had bitten six persons on the way to Clarens, and been killed by the gendarmes near Vevay; perhaps two Englishwomen who talk for half an hour about their rooms at the hotel, and are presently joined by their husbands, who pursue the subject. These are the true features of modern travel, and for a bit of pensive philosophy, or to have a high-bred, refined widow with a fading sorrow encountered by a sensitive nature of the other sex, there is no better place than the sad little English church-yard at Montreux. It is full of the graves of people who have died in the search for health far from home, and it has a pathos therefore which cannot be expressed. The stones grow stained and old under the laurels and hollies, and the rain-beaten ivy creeps and drips all over the grassy mounds. Yes, that is a beautiful, lonely, heart-breaking place. Now and again I saw black-craped figures silently standing there, and paid their grief the tribute of a stranger's pang as I passed, happy with my children by my side.
I did not find Aigle and Blonay enough to satisfy my appetite for castles, and once, after several times passing a certain château meublé à louer in the levels of the Rhone Valley, I made bold to go in and ask to look at it. I loved it for the certain Louis XV. grandiosity there was about it; for the great clock in the stable wall; for the balcony frescos on the front of the garden-house, and for the arched driveway to the court. It seemed to me a wonderfully good thing of its kind, and I liked Napoleon's having lodged in it when his troops occupied Villeneuve. It had, of course, once belonged to a rich family, but it had long passed out of their hands into those of the sort of farmer-folk who now own it, and let it when they can. It had stood several years empty, for the situation is not thought wholesome, and the last tenant had been an English clergyman, who kept a school in it for baddish boys whom no one else could manage, and who were supposed to be out of harm's way there.
I followed a young man whom I saw going into the gateway, and asked him if I could see the house. He said "Yes," and summoned his mother, a fierce-looking little dame, in a black Vaudois cap, who came out of a farm-house near with jingling keys, and made him throw open the whole house, while she walked me through the sad, forgotten garden, past its silent fountain, and through its grove of pine to the top of an orchard wall, where the Dent-du-Midi showed all its snow-capped mass. Within, the château was very clean and dry; the dining-room was handsomely panelled, and equipped with a huge porcelain stove; the shelves of the library were stocked with soberly bound books, and it was tastefully frescoed; the pretty chambers were in the rococo taste of the fine old rococo time, with successive scenes of the same history painted over the fireplaces throughout the suite; the drawing-room was elegant with silk hangings and carved mirrors; and the noble staircase, whose landing was honored with the bust of the French king of the château's period, looked as if that prince had just mounted it. All these splendors, with the modern comfort of hot and cold water wherever needed, you may have, if you like, for $500 a year; and none of the castles I saw compared with this château in richness of finish or furnishing. I am rather particular to advertise it because a question, painfully debating itself in my mind throughout my visit, as to the sum I ought to offer the woman was awkwardly settled by her refusing to take anything, and I feel a lingering obligation. But, really, I do not see how the reader, if he likes solitary state, or has "daughters to educate," or baddish boys to keep out of mischief, or is wearing out a heavy disappointment, or is suffering under one of those little stains or uneasy consciences such as people can manage so much better in Europe—I say I do not see how he could suit himself more perfectly or more cheaply than in that pensively superb old château, with its aristocratic seclusion, and possibly malarious, lovely old garden.
Early in October, before the vintage began, we seized the first fine day, which the Dent-du-Midi lifted its cap of mists the night before to promise, and made an early start for the tour of the lake. Mademoiselle and her cousins came with us, and we all stood together at the steamer's prow to watch the morning sunshine break through the silvery haze that hung over Villeneuve, dimly pierced by the ghostly poplars wandering up the road beside the Rhone. As we started, the clouds drifted in ineffable beauty over the mountain-sides; one slowly dropped upon the lake, and when we had sailed through it we had come in sight of the first town on the French border, which the gendarmes of the two nations seemed to share equally between them. All these lake-side villages are wonderfully picturesque, but this first one had a fancy in chimney-tops which I think none of the rest equalled—some were twisted, some shaped like little chalets; and there were groups of old wood-colored roofs and gables which were luxuries of color. A half-built railroad was struggling along the shore; at times it seemed to stop hopelessly; then it began again, and then left off, to reappear beyond some point of hill which had not yet been bored through or blown quite away. I have never seen a railroad laboring under so many difficulties. The landscape was now grand and beautiful, like New England, now pretty and soft, like Old England, till we came to Evains-les-Bains, which looked like nothing but the French watering-place it was. It looked like a watering-place that would be very gay in the season; there were lots of pretty boats; there was a most official-looking gendarme in a cocked hat, and two jolly young priests joking together; and there were green, frivolous French fishes swimming about in the water, and apparently left behind when the rest of the brilliant world had flown.
Here the little English artist who had been so sociable all the way from Villeneuve was reinforced by other Englishmen, whom we found on the much more crowded boat to which we had to change. Our company began to diversify itself: there were French and German parties as well as English. We changed boats four times in the tour of the lake, and each boat brought us a fresh accession of passengers. By-and-by there came aboard a brave Italian, with birds in cages and gold-fish in vases, with a gay Southern face, a coral neck button, a brown mustache and imperial, and a black-tasselled red fez that consoled. He was the vividest bit of color in our composition, though we were not wanting in life without him. There began to be some Americans besides ourselves, and a pretty girl of our nation, who occupied a public station at the boat's prow, seemed to know that she was pretty, but probably did not. She will recognize herself in this sketch; but who was that other pretty maiden, with brown eyes wide apart, and upper lip projecting a little, as if pulled out by the piquant-nose? I must have taken her portrait so carefully because I thought she would work somewhere into fiction; but the reader is welcome to her as she is. He may also have the spirituelle English girl who ordered tea, and added, "I want some kätzchens with my tea." "Kätzchens! Kätzchen is a little cat." "Yes; it's a word of my own invention." These are the brilliant little passages of foreign travel that make a voyage to Europe worth while. I add to this international gallery the German girl in blue calico, who had so strong a belief that she was elegantly dressed that she came up on deck with her coffee, and drank it where we might all admire her. I intersperse also the comment that it is the Germans who seem to prevail now in any given international group, and that they have the air of coming forward to take the front seats as by right; while the English, once so confident of their superiority, seem to yield the places to them. But I dare say this is all my fancy.
I am sure, however, of the ever-varying grandeur and beauty of the Alps all round us. Those of the Savoyard shore had a softer loveliness than the Swiss, as if the South had touched and mellowed them, as it had the light-colored trousers which in Geneva recalled the joyous pantaloons of Italy. These mountains moulded themselves one upon another, and deepened behind their transparent shadows with a thousand dimmer and tenderer dyes in the autumnal foliage. From time to time a village, gray-walled, brown-roofed, broke the low helving shore of the lake, where the poplars rose and the vineyards spread with a monotony that somehow pleased; and at Nyon a twelfth-century castle, as noble as Chillon, offered the delight of its changing lines as the boat approached and passed.
At Geneva we had barely time to think Rousseau, to think Calvin, to think Voltaire, to drive swiftly through the town and back again to the boat, fuming and fretting to be off. There is an old town, gravely picturesque and austerely fine in its fine old burgherly, Calvinistic, exclusive way; and outside the walls there is a new town, very clean, very cold, very quiet, with horse-cars like Boston, and a new Renaissance theatre like Paris. The impression remains that Geneva is outwardly a small moralized Bostonian Paris; and I suppose the reader knows that it has had its political rings and bosses like New York. It also has an exact reproduction of the Veronese tombs of the Scaligeri, which the eccentric Duke of Brunswick, who died in Geneva, willed it the money to build; like most fac-similes, they are easily distinguishable from the original, and you must still go to Verona to see the tombs of the Scaligeri. But they have the real Mont Blanc at Geneva, bleak to the eye with enduring snow, and the Blue Rhone, rushing smooth and swift under the overhanging balconies of quaint old houses. With its neat quays, azure lake, symmetrical hotel fronts, and white steamboats, Geneva was like an admirable illustration printed in colors, for a holiday number, to imitate a water-color sketch.
When we started we were detained a moment by conjugal affection. A lady, who had already kept the boat waiting, stopped midway up the gang-plank to kiss her husband in parting, in spite of the captain's loud cries of "Allez! Allez!" and the angry derision of the passengers. We were in fact all furious, and it was as much as a mule team with bells, drawing a wagon loaded with bags of flower, and a tree growing out of a tower beside the lake, could do to put me in good-humor. Yet I was not really in a hurry to have the voyage end; I was enjoying every moment of it, only, when your boat starts, you do not want to stop for a woman to kiss her husband.
Again we were passing the wild Savoyard shore, where the yellow tops of the poplars jutted up like spires from the road-sides, and on the hill-sides tracts of dark evergreens blotted their space out of the vaster expanses of autumn foliage; back of all rose gray cliffs and crags. Now and then we met a boat of our line; otherwise the blue stretch of the water was broken only by the lateen-sails of the black-hulked lake craft. At that season the delicate flame of the Virginia-creeper was a prominent tint on the walls all round the lake.
Lausanne, which made us think Gibbon, of course, was a stately stretch of architecture along her terraces; Vevay showed us her quaint market square, and her old church on its heights; then came Montreux with its many-hotelled slopes and levels, and chalets peeping from the brows of the mountains that crowd it upon the lake. All these places keep multitudes of swans, whose snow reddened in the sunset that stained the water more and more darkly crimson till we landed at Villeneuve.
When December came, and the vintage and elections were over, and the winter had come down into the valley to stay, Italy called to us more and more appealingly.
Yet it was not so easy to pull up and go. I liked the row-boat on the lake, though it was getting too cold and rough for that; I liked the way the railway guards called out "Verney-Montreux!" and "Territey-Chillon!" as they ran alongside the carriages at these stations; I liked the pastel portraits of mademoiselle's grandmothers on the gray walls of our pretty chamber that overlooked the lake, and overheard the lightest lisp of that sometimes bellowing body of water; I liked the notion of the wild-ducks among the reeds by the Rhone, though I had no wish to kill them; I liked our little corner fireplace, where I covered a log of the grand bois every night in the coals, and found it a perfect line of bristling embers in the morning; I liked Poppi and the three generations of Boulettes; and, yes, I liked mademoiselle and all her boarders; and I hated to leave these friends. Mademoiselle made a grand Thanksgiving supper in honor of the American nation, for which we did our best to figure both at the table, where smoked a turkey driven over the Alps from his Italian home for that fête (there are no Swiss turkeys), and in the dance, for which he had wellnigh disabled us. Poppi was in uncommon tune that night, and the voice of this pensive rheumatic lent a unique interest to every change of the Virginia reel.
But these pleasures had to end; it grew colder and colder; we had long since consumed all the old grape-roots which constituted our petit bois, and we were ravaging our way through an expensive pile of grand bois without much effect upon the climate. One morning the most enterprising spirit of our party kindled such a mighty blaze on our chamber hearth that she set the chimney on fire, thus threatening the Swiss republic with the loss of the insurance, and involving mademoiselle in I know not what penalties for having a chimney that could be set on fire. By the blessing of Heaven, the vigor of mademoiselle, and the activity of Louis and Alexis the farmer, the flames were subdued and the house saved. Mademoiselle forgave us, but we knew it was time to go, and the next Sunday we were in Florence.