Page images

years ago, of the evening when, like the dawning of a new hope, its white walls and stately temples first rose upon my eye, from the blue waters of the Rhone. Those pangs with which I had gazed on the receding cliffs of my own England, had lost their first bitterness, beneath the blue skies and sweet influences of sunny Italy; and the agonies of that wound which haş never healed, had been softened and subdued by time and travel. I had been many days sailing up the Rhone, or wandering upon its picturesque banks; and I remember, with an exactness which is almost magical, every feature of its shifting panorama. Every castellated tower and lordly chateau; every cliff which rose abruptly from the water, darkened by the tendrils of the wilding vine, and spangled with the silver stars of the clematis; every smooth slope which swelled away, in gentle acclivity, crowned with its tuft of lofty pines and chesnuts, and garlanded with the mountain ash and golden laburnum; and every vista through which the eye wandered over the luxuriant plains of Dauphiné, with their Alpine back-ground, or caught glimpses of peasant groups, dancing in the moonlight ;-all these are still present to my mind, with a clearness which partakes of reality. I sometimes think I sbould know again, wherever I met them, the long dark tresses of the village girls who crossed my path in that journey; and I have dreaming moments, when I am

haunted by every bright face which looked out upon me from the clustering vines, and every wild snatch of melody that reached my ear from the valleys of Languedoc. . It was in the deep and sabbath stillness of an autumnal sunset, that the little barge which I had hired at Tournon approached Lyons. The stealing motion with which we glided along, impelled by a single long oar, plied from the roof of the canopy linder which I sat, suited well with the mood of mind in which I found myself. My boatman was a native of Crussol, and relieved the languor and monotony of his employment by the vintage music of his own Languedoc. It was in fine keeping with the hour and the scene ; and I lay back in the boat, and yielded to their mingled influences. The sky, overhead, was still bright and blue; but, far to the east, the giant Alps, which had, all day long, formed a boundary-line of fantastic and ever-varying forms, began to lie like shapeless and indistinct masses upon the horizon. Groups of wandering Savoyards were occasionally seen, through some opening on the right bank of the river, dancing their sarabands beneath groves of limes and chesnuts, or threading their way to the magnificent towers of Lyons; and, not unfrequently, the sunburnt visage and gazelle eye of Arragon or Castile gazed upon us, from its rude bivouac upon some green slope, as we stole along shore. To the left, the eye stretched over the rich Lionois, and rested upon the mountains of Auvergne; with their hundred peaks defined and brightened in the gorgeous glories of a splendid sunset. In front rose the heights of Saint Sebastian, with their hanging thickets of vines and olives, and their white chateaux and villages gleaming in the evening sun.

I was inexpressibly soothed, and already gazed with a feeling nearer to happiness than any which I had long experienced, on those lofty summits, dark beneath their purple harvest; at whose feet, my heart told me, Lyons lay, like a home of repose. The sound of its many bells came wafted distinctly, but distantly, on the still air; and their lively chimes, as they rang out for vespers, were finely contrasted with the deep and solemn tolling from its old cathedral. At every vista, the eye ranged over the plains of Dauphiné, or the distant champaigns of Burgundy ; and rested, for relief from the almost oppressive feeling of richness which the warm flush of the departing daylight gave to their yellow harvests, on the white walls, peeping forth from their sheltering groves, which dotted every rising ground; or on the luxuriant clusters which dark-eyed girls were train. ing, in festoons, along the branches of the stately elms. Amid this scenery the river wound its meandering way; with the shadows projected far into its blue waters, from the western bank; and, here and

there, a single lazy sail reflected on its glowing mirror, or a solitary barge gliding along the eastern shore, where it lay, like a line of light, pointing to Lyons. There was that still and breathless hush which, if not so deep, is more deeply felt than at twilight; broken only by those sounds which add to silence, by marking it more strongly. The song of the boatman had died away; and the dull plash of his oar would have been startling in the stillness, had it been less frequent. The gush of music which had been poured, all day, upon our path, in a flood of rich and complicated harmony, was exchanged for the chirring and interrupted note of some solitary bird ; and the faint sound of laughter, borne at intervals through the calm air, from some scene of the vintage, with the chiming of the far-off bells, spoke of lifebut of life in the distance-and threw into strong re. lief the silence which reigned around.

I was in a dreaming mood; yet do I remember, without any of the indistinctness of a dream, all which passed in my mind, and before my eyes, as I lay, and looked up into the evening sky. That bright blue which is so intense and beautiful in Italy and the southern provinces of France, was now beginning to deepen, before the influence of the approaching twilight. Eastward, the eye followed its gradually darkening hues, till it crossed a single line of faint light, reflected from the opposite splendours, and then

lost itself amid the shadows that were mysteriously gathering above the huge and distant Alps. Over the western horizon, the clouds lay piled up in golden masses, forming combinations, and revealing depths of unimaginable splendour and incomprehensible intricacy. - Yet are they distinctly present to me now, in all their gorgeousness of glory, and mystery of detail : I remember watching a fleet of light, fleecy clouds, slowly sailing in the blue depths above me, before an eastern breeze, unfelt on earth ; and turning into gold, as they severally approached the west. I could, at this moment, draw the whole of them, in all their shifting varieties of form; for I traced them, one by one, till they anchored in the flood of western light, and formed, in marshalled glory, around the sun.

It was with something like a start, that I was awak. ened from these contemplations, by the voice of my boatman, once more falling upon my ear, in one of the songs of his country; and I became, at once, sensible of the progress which I had made. I had been so utterly lost in thought, that I had not perceived, till thus aroused, that I was in the midst of sights and sounds. The river, now lying in broad aod deepening shade, was studded with sails and covered with barges; many of them carrying lanterns at their sterns, in anticipation of the descending twilight. There lingered just light sufficient to show that the stream swept away in a magnificent reach,

« PreviousContinue »