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A TALE OF THE SWISS MOUNTAINS.
It is many years ago that I surmounted the terrors of an Oxford “great go,” and assumed the long-sleeved gown ; but the day is now as fresh in my recollection as the events of yesterday. A few weeks intervened between the completion of the examination and the commemoration, which is to the gens togata the signal for dispersion. These weeks were spent in the enjoyment of friendships, formed in the buoyancy of youth, cemented by a community of feelings and pursuits, and now about to be broken off ere their freshness had worn away.
It was, therefore, with saddened feelings that I met, on the evening of the commemoration day, a farewell wine party in a friend's rooms. All our set were there. Most of them were joyful in the anticipation of the warm welcome, the happy home which a few hours would bring. My thoughts were of a more gloomy cast. I had none upon whose affection I might throw myself
. Left an orphan at an early age, with property, indeed, to save me from neglect, but with none to extend the hand of disinterested affections, Oxford was the little world in which all my feelings centred, by which all my knowledge of society was bounded.
The mails were starting, the post-chaises were ready, great-coats buttoned, cigars lighted, loud jokes and warm shakes of the hand exchanged, the whips cracked and wheels rattled, and the only friendships I had ever formed, the only friends who might ever bear my name in their remembrance, were gone, perhaps, for ever.
I have since met many of them in the great world ;—but, alas! how changed. The reckless youth has now subsided into the steady man of business, the reverend pastor, or the grave magistrate. Yet even to these the accidental meeting of a college crony seems to revive all the freshness of youth. We recall the scenes of early life, and their flitting phantoms, as they rise, seem to bid the heart grow young again.
But I digress. The connexions of my youth were broken; I was now to form others for manhood; I determined to travel. This would appear an infallible resource to one who was a professed hater of solitude; every one you meet is a companion, every countryman you encounter is a friend. My first attempt was not, however, very successful. My health was tender, and a dreadful passage from London to Rotterdam brought on a fit of sickness, that confined me to a room, which nobody approached but Rotterdam apotheeks, the most ignorant bipeds, by-the-by, I cver had the misfortune to be subjected to, and big broad-faced women in wooden shoes, who insisted upon swilling the room out, and setting all the furniture afloat twice or thrice a week. Of course, as I could speak nothing but French, I had no voice in the matter. I took the earliest opportunity of making my escape from the land of dykes, and sought the more genial atmosphere of la belle France. Í fluttered long, and singed myself a little, in the dangerous glare of Parisian gaiety; but still I was alove-companions I had plenty —but my heart yet yearned for some one to whom I might pour out my secret thoughts—but there was none. I had no friend. Pursued by a
feeling of loneliness, which is no where so insupportable as in a crowd, I tired of dandyism and dissipation, and longed for green hills and mountain breezes.- I traced the majestic Rhine through all his windings, rambled among his vine-clad mounts, and climbed his ruin-crested hills; now skirted his banks upon some wretched hack, and now tugged desperately, but with little avail, against the headlong stream. Their boats are like the canoes of the Mohawks, propelled by paddles—how different from our graceful, gliding, college eight-oar ! There were at that time no friendly steam-boats, where a youth a little enthusiastic, or a maiden a little sentimental, might read Byron at leisure, or sketch ruins by moonlight. Every yard must be won by dint of muscle. I gave it up, and betook me alternately to my hack and my car, soliloquized upon the mutability of human grandeur, speculated upon the fortunes of the former inhabitants of the ruins above me, or tried to draw from the driver traditions of the loves and frays of the chieftain robbers who once held iron rule over these verdant valleys.
A sort of morbid restlessness had possessed me; I never liked to remain a day in a town: the excitement arising from mere motion seemed all my pleasure. Even the beautiful banks of the Rhine soon became tedious to me. Amid the clustering vine and the waving woods of the Rhine bills, I imaged and longed for the rugged ravines, the rushing torrents, the bare peaks and the frozen seas of Alpine scenery. I followed the fickleness of my humour, and in a few days arrived at Schaffhausen. Here it was all before me. Even the unbroken fall of the mighty river, which thundered above my head and enveloped me in its spray, could hardly divert my gaze from the scene of snows and mountains which glittered in the distance. They were the very mountains I had thought of, read of, dreamt of, in my childhood ;-not like our mysterious monsters, Nevis and Snowdon, shrouding their altitude in clouds, but shooting their glancing snowy peaks far, far into the immensity of ether. I rushed among them with all the impetuosity of youth. There were few spots where human foot could attain, where I did not stand. There was not a lake where boat had floated that I did not traverse. I loved, too, to bound from my tiny bark into the fathomless depths, to dash back the little curling waves, and buffet with the mimic billows.
The summer passed, and I was still ranging the mountains, wild as their native chamois. Autumn was now setting in; the snow-fed torrents grew less impetuous; the glacier ice more rigid. The wind was beginning to be heard among the mountains, and the fallen foliage of the pine was swept along the valleys. These were warnings which bade me seek the banks of Lacheman before the winter closed upon me—but I could not resist lingering yet another week. With this intention, after a day's walk under the peaks of the Jungfrau, the Shreckhorn, the Eiger Aarhorn, and other of the highest of the Alps, I arrived at the Spital upon the Grimsel. He who has never wandered in Switzerland can have little idea of the savage scenery which surrounds this rude solitary cot, perched upon a height far above the reach even of the mountain pine, in a spot where, during half the year, the foot of man never penetrates. The spirit of humanity, so necessary and so general among the inhabitants of these perilous regions, gave rise to the establishment of an inn in this forlorn place. In summer it serves as a homely but a welcome resting-place
for the traveller; in the winter as a refuge to the benighted wanderer. When the inhabitants are forced by the storms to desert it, they leave a supply of food and fuel, that, should any erring wayfarer stray hither, he may at least be supplied with the necessaries of life to help him onwards on his solitary journey.
When I arrived there, it was a sunny autumnal evening, but the sun shone only against bare rocks, or glanced amid the spray of the tumbling torrent. There was not a shrub to take from the bleak and savage character of the scene. The season for tourists was passed, and a single chamois-hunter, who had opened his wallet in the cottage to take his evening meal, was, except my guide, my only companion. My day's walk had been long and arduous, and I slept soundly, notwithstanding the indifferent accommodation which the Spital afforded. The next morning was fine, so, summoning my guide, I prepared to start. There is a small, deep lake just behind the cottage, beautifully clear; I could not resist the temptation to a plunge before I started; but I did not remember, until too late, that it was fed from the snows immediately above us, and was of course dangerously cold. I had no sooner jumped in than I felt a chill which seemed to freeze the very fountains of my blood; but it went off and I thought no more of it. As we proceeded upon our journey, the route lay over the Furka and by the glacier whence the infant Rhone issues with a turbulence which gives early promise of the headlong rapidity that marks its further course. Under other circumstances, I could have dwelt long and rapturously upon the scenery of these rugged spots, but I was now becoming tardily convinced that the consequences of my bath were more important than I had anticipated—I felt seriously ill—ill upon a bare mountain, without a friend near, or a human habitation within many miles. It is in hours like these that the horrid sense of utter friendlessness seems to overcome the mind. I rallied, however, against the despair which was momentarily creeping upon me; and at the expense of efforts, which I even now remember with pain, reached the little hamlet of Realp. Realp possessed no inn; but a Carthusian monk, the pastor of the little village, proffered a humble hospitality to those who sought it. Gladly did I embrace it. I was scarcely sensible, when I was rather borne by my guide, than walked into his cottage.
The conduct of this old man might shame many who profess a purer faith ; whatever his little store afforded, he welcomed me to. Like many of his brethren, he was conversant with the simple remedies which the simple diseases of his country-people require ; and he tended me so judiciously and so tenderly, that I had no cause to regret being so remote from hopes of surgical aid. The early stage of my disorder was violent, I believe dangerous, but it gradually subsided. I shall at present pass over the slow progress of my recovery and the tedium of my confinement; suffice it, that when I was enabled to leave my bed, and to venture heyond the walls of my host's cottage, winter had raised a chain of ice-hills round our little valley. Those who visit Realp in the summer think it bare and bleak; had they seen it when those snows are gathering upon the mountains which a thaw of six months cannot dissolve, and when those waters are congealing which, set free in summer, tumble in hcadlong torrents from every hill, and uniting, give birth to those mighty ocean tributaries, the Rhine and the Rhone-had they seen Realp then, so bleak, so drear, so comfortless, their hearts would
almost have frozen in sympathy with the objects around. But in scenes so desolate, the soul will, like the starving plant, throw out tendrils in search of an object around which its sympathies may entwine--and I was not at all alone. My host was devoted to his flock, and they were ardently attached to him. He encouraged their simple gaieties, approved their innocent amusements, and presided at their holiday festivities. Separated from all without, by the rigour of the elements, their sympathies seemed to strike inwards, and blend all in a community and harmony of feeling. It is not strange, therefore, that many of the maidens of the little hamlet should repair frequently to the cottage of the worthy father. It is not strange, that with the innate tenderness of woman, they should offer to tend the stranger whom he had made his charge; and that stranger, you will please to remember, my fair reader, was then, whatever he may be now, neither old nor ugly; not that I would insinuate that these two trifling contingencies would have for a moment relaxed the charitable attentions of the fair maidens of Realp—but my vanity was ready enough to whisper that they might have made those attentions more arduous.
During the early stage of my malady, the reverend physician prescribed silence and repose as the most indispensable of his remedies, and when he was absent there was little temptation to disobey his injunctions. However disposed I might have been to converse with my fair nurses, (and I was never famed for taciturnity,) I here received Tittle encouragement. My first overture was invariably met by placing the finger upon the lip, my next by a five minutes answer of villainous German. I always hated German, perhaps for the very sufficient reason that I never understood a word of it. So I gave up conversation with the Switzers, and contented myself with speculating upon the probable circumference of their ancles, studying Keller's map, and wondering when the roads would be open.
This was, as I said, in the early and more violent stage of my disorder; soon afterwards my speculations were diverted to another channel. I was surprised to observe, among my ever-varying train of nurses, one who appeared indeed but at intervals, but who never seemed far distant. She fitted occasionally through my little chamber, and her light step and timorous manner, so different from her companions, told that she was
among them, but not of them.” I remarked also that her dress was different from the others; they wore the costumes of the canton, which, by-the-by, although pretty and picturesque, particularly upon a holiday, look very different in reality from what they appear on paper. My fitful fairy, however, betrayed, as far as my transient opportunities enabled me to discover, nothing of the canton costume in her dress, and but little of the Swiss. True, the fashion of the country had abridged the drapery a little of its flowing length, but not without reason, as I soon discovered. I had never seen her face; my eye could never even rest a moment upon her form, ere she was gone. She seemed to appear only to whisper some instruction to my nurse, and was flown ere the eye could catch her; by some strange coincidence she never came except when my head was turned away, and I was apparently dozing, though perhaps only indulging in some day-dream of the happy past or the doubtful future. The slightest movement was sufficient to make her vanish, quick as a sprite before the first beam of morning. . Is it wonderful that a mind so void of object as mine should become feverishly
interested in the solution of this enigma ? How often I feigned sleephow many stratagems did I devise-how often did I make up my mind to inquire her name of my host, and to acknowledge to him how much she had raised my-curiosity; yes, it must be curiosity, for I had never seen her; to me she was only an image, nay, less than that; and the horrid idea obtruded upon my mind that it was possible she was afllicted with goître. That would certainly account for her disliking to be noticed, and its possibility forbade my first mentioning her to my host, with whom she was evidently connected. One day I nearly caught her; I had been dreaming that I saw her skipping across a lawn, hotly pursued by an old tutor of mine, who was insisting upon a kiss; poor man, he used to walk every day in his thick shoes and worsted stockings from his rooms to Summer Town, and I verily believe never pursued anything more feminine or corporeal than a digamma. However, I had mingled them up together, and, as I awoke, I saw one of the parties, not the tutor, making all speed to escape; but I was all alive in a moment, and by a little adroit alteration in my position, caught a glimpse of as pretty an ancle stealing pit-a-pat out at the door as ever tripped to Weippert's strains upon the boards of Almack's. This decided my fate; for in spite of gallantry and gratitude, truth obliges me to declare that the feet and ancles of peasant girls in La Suisse are the very reverse of those which appertain to the Venus de' Medici. Must I own it? I had fallen in love. But what else had I to do? To be sure it was only with a pretty ancle; but then the face to match that ancle-bow beautiful she must be! But who was she? who could she be? where could she have come from ? with many other equally edifying ideas, tormented me so, that I would have taken another plunge in the snow-lake upon the Grimsel rather than have left Realp, unsatisfied.
I was now rapidly recovering; in a few days I should leave my room, and then little Miss Flit-about and must become better acquainted. I was convinced she was an inmate of the house, and, since my suspicion had become awakened, I thought I detected in the furniture of the chamber several marks of a feminine taste, far superior to what a Swiss cottage ordinarily exhibits. The dear creature, then, thought I, has resigned her chamber to me; how generous—how compassionate-how lovely is woman! I was immediately in a passion with myself that I had not discovered this before, and I determined to suffer it no longer. I would introduce the subject that very evening, when my host paid me his customary visit. After I had made up my mind, I thought no midsummer day had ever been so long the hours seemed ages-my repeater must have stopped-no, it answered to the touch, but it was the same hour which I had made it strike so often before. At last night did come, and with it came the venerable Carthusian. After the first greetings were over, I watched eagerly for an opportunity of introducing my subject, but I found now the temper of my host seemed changed. Í observed upon his brow, usually so open and cheerful, traces of thought and anxiety. Gratitude prompted me to inquire and seek to remove the cause of his evident uneasiness; perhaps love, too, may have whispered that my fair incognita might have something to do with it; and I really was in love, despite any ill-natured objections which any matterof-fact sort of antiquated spinster may raise; I'm sure every young and pretty one will believe me. I had ever found the good Père frank