« PreviousContinue »
by its grandeur—others have read Lord Byron's familiar | worthy advice does
But beyond the “Cascade of the Pilgrims," with its rainbow flood of bright water, it is almost impossible for ladies to go. They must be content to use their lorgnettes on the Brevent; to pluck slips of rhododendrons on the brown shelves of the Montanvert; to gaze at the countless cloud-wreathed pinnacles from the vale; and, with pavilion visits to the Flegere, to trace the winding waters of the Arve. The “ upper grandeurs” of Mont Blanc to them must be a sealed book. Its heavenward mysteries must lie cold and silent, away from their scrutiny.
I remember meeting a lady at Ravenna who had crossed the St. Bernard on a mule (after the fashion of Napoleon le Grand), who confidently looked forward to the epoch when all mountain passes and summits would be reached by the gentle means of comfortable balleons. If this ever comes to pass, then ladies will not be excluded from enjoying the beauties of unamiable inaccessibilities, of which Mont Blanc and Himalaya are twin tyrants. The “ Chamouni and Mont Blanc Incorporated Patent Steam Balloon Company” would certainly be a novelty, and—would do a safe-paying busi
Though by no means original in this feeling, for many years I have had a passion for mountain-peaks, and of all others that of Mont Blanc. Twice have I visited the Chamouni valley for the purpose of making the ascent, and twice failed—inglorious record as this may seem. Not that I lacked enterprise (though I say it, who perhaps should not); not that the dread of dangers subverted the desire, nor that I could not bring to bear the energy and fortitude the task requires. There are other reasons which I shall presently detail. There is a consolation in the knowledge that my failures were only two of ten thousand, for
your if a faithful catalogue had been maintained, they would spent skill, surely reach that number. I am, therefore, not the and coldly only individual who has turned his back on the defiant
spurns you peak with a vexed spirit, and then wonder why nature from his breast. had shut her portals of snow directly in my face. It | It takes more than was clear I was not a chosen one, no matter how maxims to barning my ardor or intense my desires. Bulwer has mount a chasm, written a famous line—"In the bright lexicon of youth and in the matter of glaciers, a pair of hobnailed boots there is no such word as fail," and there is a sea of is worth the tersest epithets ever coined. Never go to apopthegms floating from lip to lip in which we are Savoy with nothing to your back for proverbs. They told “not to be cast down,” but “try on, try ever," will serve you only as stairs of sand. and “upward, onward, Excelsior !" but all this praise
My first essay in the Chamouni vale was early in the
month of June; and having consulted the chef of the to my feet at the Châlet de la Para, on the arid hill-
three degrees—just above the freezing point—but, the I left my card for him next, late in the month of exertion being excessive, we did not observe the change August, when the weather was superb, and not a of temperature. We were now traversing the huge wreath of mist had been seen in the valley for a week. buttress of the Aiguille du Midi, which was somewhat Chamouni (provoking fact), was full of company at the dangerous, great rocks rearing their broad fronts on the time, and the whole community from La Comptesse left, and the right looking over the precipice down d'Anglebert, at the Hôtel Royal, to the dirty hurdy- to the moraine of the vast glacier. The view that here gurdy boy at the Pélerins, predicted 1 should be suc- presented itself was very impressive; but, as the precicessful.
pice is steep, and the route narrow and uncertain, The night before the morning I was to start, albeit II found it better to keep my eyes ahead, and not permit retired early for the purpose of refreshing, I did not them to wander over the craggy grangeurs of the close my eyes, or if I did, they might as well have been glacier. A false step might have had a fatal teropen. All I could do was to get up and look out mination. of the window at the moon, and then seek my pil- Another half-hour, after crossing a troublesome col. low again, which in no way encouraged the desire to lection of stray boulders, and we reached what the slumber.
guides termed the Pierre à l'Echelle, where we found a I arose at five, and the florid east, as far as the ladder in tolerable repair, and an old knapsack, full of mountain barriers would permit the gaze to extend, short billets of wood, which had evidently been left by gave promise of a brilliant day. Many of the guests of some former pilgrim. Jean told me that a ladder is the Hôtel de Londres were assembled in the courtyard, constantly kept here, to assist travellers in crossing creto see me start, and the guides and porters (seven vices, and I found its service was most important, after in number) were equipped and loaded in due form. I getting into the glacier. was attired in a coarse, warm suit of dark woollen stuff, It was still twenty minutes' walk to the border of the with knapsack full of minor necessities, in the way of ice, which we reached without difficulty. We had here socks, veils, spectacles (a protection against the glare a fine view of the Montagne de la Côte, on which of the sun on the ice), and little bars of chocolate. A the celebrated de Saussure, the pioneer of this hazardmule, elaborately caparisoned by my favorite guide, ous route, proceeded, on his ascent in 1787. Beneath stood at the door, on which I was to ride as far as the us the valley sloped away, and its châlets and sloping Pélerins. A hasty breakfast in the salle à manger, pasturages looked like a confused and chequered surface a stupendous shaking of hands, a few glances of bright far in the distance. The pine forests on the mountains eyes from the lattices overlooking the courtyard, the looked like a sere livery, while many of the chain bustle and confusion among the porters, the division of of peaks, rising behind the village, stood out bold and the knapsacks and lanterns, with three loud cheers from lofty, their summits tipped with white. Above us vast the assembled lookers-on-these matters settled and ridges of snow rose on all sides, and through them we enacted, off I went on my mule, with the guides lead- could distinguish colossal masses of glittering ice, that ing the way, and the porters and a lot of their rabble- looked as if they had been split and torn asunder by the compatriots bringing up the rear in a very picturesque fury of a tempest. Looking up the glacier, jutting pin
nacles and frosted crags fiercely broke the gaze. These For two hours we toiled through a copse of pine and glistened in the sunlight, so that we could scarcely look shrubs up a rugged path, avoiding the ravine and torrent at them. The shattered surface of the two ridges shuton the left, and occasionally having glimpses of the ice- ting in the channel we were about to traverse, preturret of the Glacier des Bossons on the right, as sented ledges of ice of inconceivable magnitude. Had the path assumed a hasty elevation in its course. Iwe been nearer to them, our wonder would have been was the only one of the party mounted, but my animal, still more excited, as the vastness of the view, and the in its steep, zigzag progress, threw me into so many impossibility to calculate distance, destroys all idea of painful attitudes, that I was truly delighted when I got proportionate bulk.
Jean Carrier now went ahead on the glacier, and, in good spirits. When the sun shifted his beains from the snow being firm, we found no difficulty in proceed my ledge we prepared dinner-fashionable hour, it ing while we kept in each other's track. We all put on being about five---and all fell to in earnest. glasses and veils, and found them extremely useful It was arranged that we should quit the Mulets, and in protecting our eyes from the dazzling shimmer of the start for the Grand Plateau as soon as the moon arose, sun on the ice. As we advanced, we found the way but it seems we reckoned without our host. During less practicable, and frequently encountered chasms of our banquet a mass of clouds appeared in the southterrific width, which caused us to make détours of east, and gradually spread around the loftiest summits, several hundred yards. The upper part of the glacier, including the calotte of Mont Blanc. Jean seemed to be as seen from the valley, presents no remarkable features uneasy at this, and stood, with his arms folded, gazing beyond that of a score of glaciers met with in Swit- above, as if something important was passing in his zerland; but, when on it, how startling the impres- mind. At length he clambered over to my tent, and, sion ! A million ice-crags, rent and torn asunder with a serious air, communicated the unpleasant conin the most grotesque shapes, and scattered on all sides, viction that he believed the weather was suddenly form a scene of the most splendid and overwhelming going to change. The very thought palled me for character.
the moment, as I knew it would be impossible to ascend We found it necessary, as a inutual protection, to tie La Côte if there was a cloud in that quarter. I sugourselves together with cords, and step with extreme gested it might possibly clear up before midnight. He caution. The fissures were every moment growing more shook his head doubtingly, but promised to wait. numerous, and small walls of ice had to be clambered After passing, securely, one of the most difficult porby means of footholds cut with a hatchet by Jean, who tions of the journey, this was indeed dispiriting, and I displayed wonderful nerve and skill in his operations. anxiously watched my barometer with the hope of Several of these walls or arches were steep and narrow, detecting a favorable alteration in the glass. and after two of the guides had reached the top, The clouds, instead of disappearing, slowly thickened, the rest of us were half-drawn up, assisting ourselves as and by midnight all around was dense, dark, and threatbest we could, by clinging like flies to the footholds. Iening. The guides held a consultation, and determined stood more in awe of treacherous paths across the that an attempt to proceed would be rash, with the crevices than any other of the various dangers, as a sin- weather wearing an unsettled prospect. Jean added that gle block of the path giving way, the whole would we had better descend to the valley early in the mornslide, and we should be hurled mercilessly down a ing, or we might suffer from what seemed to be chasm of unknown depth. I was truly glad when we an approaching storm. With all my anxiety to accombegan the ascent of the Grands Mulets, the lofty rocks plish the ascent I could offer no objections, feeling conthat rise from the desert of ice at the extremity of the vinced that he based his advice on an experience and glacier we had just toiled over.
sagacity which I had not. We scrambled on to these rocks with no little trouble, The sunset glories seen from these rocks have been so and iminediately set about arranging the knapsacks and often vividly detailed by able writers that I will not contents, which had been violently knocked about by attempt to describe what I saw. A feeble pen like mine our troubles on the glacier. Jean arranged a sort could never do justice to the gorgeous scenes that passed of tent for me on a platform of rock, with batons and a around and above me. I remember them as a magnificouple of blankets, that looked excessively inviting, cent dream, wild, splendid, and inconceivable! I was considering we were two thousand feet above the line spell-bound and entranced by the changing glories that of eternal frost. It was not the cold, though, that had hovered like fairy visions on every side. It was an annoyed us after we had changed our garments, but the atmospheric romance; soft, transparent, changing, and fierce heat of the burning sun striking on the cornices of beautiful, beyond human comprehension. I trembled the rock. The tent so kindly thought of served as with rapture as I watched those wondrous effects; and & protection against its rays; and, after covering the when they passed away, it was as if I had awakened surface of the ledge with two or three knapsacks, and from a strange unearthly vision, the memory of which blankets over these, I managed to assume a lounging filled me with emotions I could not comprehend. position, and rest from the fatigue just undergone. After the resolve to remain at the Mulets all night,
Our bivonac on the cone-like rocks presented a wild the guides arranged themselves about the ledges of the and singular aspect. We seemed to be wrecked on a rocks as best they could, and soon were wrapped great barque of rock in an immense ocean of tempest- in slumber. Jean sought my tent, and was also quickly driven ice, desolate, and lost, beyond human reach. asleep, and I alone kept watch in the dreary ice-bound This was merely a thought, however, for here we were solitude. It was fearfully impressive, with not a star to out of the way of the avalanches, and in no danger of be seen, nor light, except the dim cold reflection from slipping down crevices. The only thing we had to look the ice of the glaciers that lay silently beneath. The out for was not to go too near the edge of the parapets clouds above still thickened, and gloom, black, and and slip off, but this only wanted an exercise of ordi- impenetrable, hung over us like a canopy of evil. nary caution.
The novelty of our position, the pure air, and the At last the morning dawned. It was raw, chilly, and favorable situation for rest, all combined to put us / uncomfortable. The clouds were still overhanging the
high peaks, and we prepared to descend. The guides summit, I felt that the myriad anxieties, labor, oppresattacked the remainder of the provisions, and once more sion, and danger, overbalanced the solitary glory of assumed the packs, now well-nigh emptied of their con- standing on the crown of the Monarch. I was contented tents. I was so stiff and paralyzed by the cold, and in the knowledge that I was once more alive, and on a regretful of the necessity of returning, that I could par- soil unencompassed with danger. I reached Chamouni take of nothing but a cup of chocolate. The men in a deplorable state of exhaustion, where every comfort seemed to regard the whole affair as a “matter of was prepared for my reception. I sought my bed with course," and uttered nothing in complaint beyond a few a weary, intense disgust of everything in the shape of idle remarks, which in no way tended to soothe my dis- mountains and glaciers. I was literally worn out. appointment. In twenty minutes after bidding adieu to Just as I was settling my jaded faculties into slumber, the rocks, the descent of which required some caution, Jean rattled at my door to say that a furious flood of we were full upon the glacier.
rain was dashing over our recent path. We had The re-passage of this vast ice-field was marked by escaped it. I remember I attempted to atter a sentinu incidents of importance. It was the same toilsome ment of thankfulness, but the effort died on my lips. I undertaking as before. With all my desire to attain the was asleep.
A FRENCH SOLDIER'S ADVENTURE.
We were all in the highest spirits as, with drums once, and so, before I had been a year and beating and colors flying, we marched out of Bayonne active service, I had exchanged my musket for the daron the road to Spain. The majority of my comrades ling object of every poor conscript's ambition in France were as new as I was to the trade of a soldier, having -an epaulet; a reward which I considered far more only just become liable to that devouring conscription than repaid me for all that I had suffered since leaving which in those days swept off the whole youth of the my happy home. nation before it had reached to maturity. Few of It is necessary that I should describe somewhat parus, therefore, had had any experience of the innumer- ticularly the place in which we were to pass some able hardships of all kinds which we should have few weeks, in order to get ourselves again in a fit conto endure before we should again see la belle France, dition to face the enemy. At little more than a quarter even supposing that we should be so favored as to es- of a league from the picturesque old town which we cape with lite from the swords and bullets of the were to occupy, was situated a large convent, strongly enemy.
built of stone, and admirably adapted, as nearly all the As none of my comrades play a prominent part in my convents and monasteries of the Spanish peninsula were story, I need not describe thein farther than by saying found to be, for temporary defence. About half our that they were generally brave and good-tempered, and number found accommodation in the convent I have that the utmost good-will and harmony prevailed described ; while the remainder were quartered on the throughout the regiment. Indeed, officers and men inhabitants of the neighboring town. Now these worwere upon the best possible terms, with one exception, thy people, although not animated by the patriotic and nainely, that of the colonel, who was the only unpopu- devoted spirit which burned so brightly in the bosoms lar man amongst us. Not that he was a harsh marti- of the heroes and heroines of Saragossa and Gerona, net, harassing and worrying his men unnecessarily, but were patriotic enough, like most of their countrymen, we knew that he had no pretensions to the character to be at best very lukewarm in their attachment to of a good soldier; and his cold, haughty manner was the government of his majesty King Joseph, the brother but ill calculated to claim affection and confidence. of Napoleon, then placed upon the throne. Though But, even if his professional abilities and his manner they might not have the spirit to rise against us in an had been ever so commendable and agreeable, he would unguarded moment themselves, it was more than prohave found it a hard matter to make himself a favorite bable that they would quietly allow us to be pounced with us. The revolutionary hatred of the upper classes upon by others; and the most that we could safely had not yet burned out, and the colonel was consi- count on was, that they would remain the passive specdered an aristocrat-a title which, right or wrong, was tators of events, leaving us to provide for our safety, quite sufficient to insure him the hatred of a set whatever might happen, in the best way we could. in of young men thoroughly imbued with the spirit of fact, we could not expect that they would help us, these times. We were accustomed to see men, like either by word or deed; and as the town itself was quite Victor and others, rising by merit alone from the open and totally incapable of defence, while numerous lowest ranks in the army to the most important com- bands of guerrillas swarmed in the neighboring mounmard; and we looked with extreme jealousy on those tains, it should have been the first care of a vigilant and members of the old families, whom Napoleon believed prudent commander to insure that a strict watch was it to be good policy to conciliate, by promoting them kept, and that a strict communication should be kept far beyond their deserts, whenever, either from expe- up between the convent and the town, as upon those diency or conviction, they avowed themselves partisans precautions it was evident that the safety of at least one of the imperial régime. There was ample cause, there- half of his men must depend, in case of sudden attack fore, for the unpopularity of our commanding officer. by a powerful body of guerillas. These measures Soldiers never esteem an officer in whose ability they of prudence were, however, neglected by our colonel, have no confidence: and, so far as inilitary knowledge and the catastrophe I am about to describe was the went, the colonel was a mere ignoramus. Add to this, consequence. that he was haughty and proud, and it is plain that It was my lot to be of the party who occupied he could hardly be otherwise than disliked by his the town, and I was consigned to the care of an old men.
lady, who inhabited a tolerably commodious house situWe played our part in several important engage- ated in a street in the rear of the place d'armes. My ments with the Spanish troops, distinguishing ourselves hostess was terribly put out at first, being a thorough more by our fearlessness and zeal than by our dis- hater of the French invaders, and had flattered herself cipline; and, after some time, were marched to the rear that for this time, at any rate, she had escaped having during a lull in the storm of war, in order that we any of the detested race forced on her hospitality. I might recruit our strength, now terribly weakened by was not surprised, therefore, that she received me with sickness and the sword. It lad been my good fortune ill-concealed vexation, and with a scowl on her dark and to find occasion of distinguishing myself more than withered face.