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An Autumn Journey; Leaves From A Note-Book by Henry James


BERNE, September 25th, 1873.—-In Berne again, some eleven weeks after having left it in July. I have never been in Switzerland so late, and I came hither innocently supposing that the last Cook's tourist would have paid out his last coupon and departed. But I was lucky, it seems, to discover an empty cot in an attic and a very tight place at a table d'hôte. People are all flocking out of Switzerland, as in July they were flocking in, and the main channels of egress are terribly choked. I have been here several days, watching them come and go; it is like the march-past of an army. It gives one a lively impression of the quantity of luxury now diffused through the world. Here is little Switzerland disgorging it's tens of thousands of honest folks, chiefly English, and rarely, to judge by their faces and talk, children of light, in any eminent degree; for whom snow-peaks, and glaciers, and passes, and lakes, and chalets, and sunsets, and a café complet, “including honey,” as the coupon says, have become prime necessities for six weeks every year. It's not so long ago that lords and nabobs monopolized these pleasures; but nowadays a months tour in Switzerland is no more a jeu de prince than a Sunday excursion. To watch this huge Anglo-Saxon wave ebbing through Berne makes one fancy that the common lot of mankind is after all not so very hard, and that the masses have reached a rather high standard of comfort. The view of the Oberland chain, as you see it from the garden of the hotel, really butters one's bread very handsomely; and here are I don't know how many hundred Cook's tourists a day, looking at it through the smoke of their pipes. is it really the “masses” I see every day at the table d'hôte? They have rather too few h's to the dozen, as one may say, but their good-nature is great. Some people complain that they “vulgarise” Switzerland, but as far as I am concerned, I freely give it up to them, and take a peculiar satisfaction in seeing them here. Switzerland is a “show country”—-I think so more and more every time I come here; and it's use in the world is to reassure persons of a benevolent fancy when they begin to wish the mass of mankind had only a little more elevating amusement. Here is amusement for a thousand years, and elevating, certainly, as mountains five miles high can make it. I expect to live to see the summit of Monte Rosa heated by steam-tubes and adorned with a hotel setting three tables d'hôte a day. . . . I have been walking about the arcades, which used to bestow a grateful shade in July, but which seem rather dusky and chilly in there shortening autumn days. I am struck with the way the English always speak of them—-with a shudder, as gloomy, as dirty, as evil-smelling, as suffocating, as freezing (as it may be)—-as anything and everything but admirably picturesque. I believe we Americans are the only people who, in travelling, judge things on the first impulse—-when we do judge them at all—-not from the stand-point of simple comfort. Most Americans, strolling forth into these Gothic tunnels, are, I imagine, too much amused, too much diverted from their sense of an inalienable right to be comfortable, to be conscious of heat or cold, of thick air, or even of the universal smell of strong charcuterie. If the picturesque were banished from the face of the earth, I think the idea would survive in some typical American heart. . . . .I have perhaps spent too many days here to call Berne interesting, but the sturdy little town has certainly a powerful individuality. I ought before this to have made a few memoranda.

It stands on a high promontory, with the swift, green Aar girding it about and making it almost an island. The sides plunge down to the banks of the river, in some places steeply terraced (those, for instance, overlooked by the goodly houses of the grave old Junkerngasse)—-gardens which brown, skinny old women are always raking and scraping and watering, nosing and fumbling among the cabbages like goats on the edge of a precipice; in others, as beneath the cathedral terrace, cemented by an immense precipice of buttressed masonry. Within, it is homely, ugly, almost grotesque, but full of character; indeed, I don't know why it should have so much when there are cities which have played twice the part in the world which wear a much less striking costume. The town is almost all in length, and lies chiefly along a single street, stretching away, under various names, from the old city gate, with it's deserted grassy bear-pit, where little chamois now are kept—-tender little chamois, which must create an appetite, one would think, in the lurking ursine ghosts, if they still haunt the place—-to the great single-arched bridge over the Aar and the new bear-pit, where tourists hang over the rail and fling turnips to the shaggy monsters. This street, like most of it's neighbours, is built on arcades—-great, massive, low-browed, straddling arcades—-in the manner of Chester and Bologna (but far more solidly). The houses are grey and uneven, and mostly capped with great pent-house red roofs, surmounted with quaint little knobs and steeples and turrets. They have flowerpots in the windows and red cushions on the sills, on which, toward evening, there are generally planted a pair of solid Bernese elbows. If the elbows belong to a man, he is smoking a big-bowled pipe; if they belong to one of the softer sex, the colour in her cheeks is generally a fair match to the red in the cushion. The arcades are wonderful in their huge, awkward solidity; there is superfluous stone and mortar enough stowed away in the piers to build a good-sized city on the American plan. Some of these are of really fabulous thickness; I should think those in the Theater-Platz measured, laterally from edge to edge, some ten feet. The little shops in the arcades are very dusky and unventilated; few of them can have known a good fresh air-current these twenty years. There is always a sort of public extension of the household life on the deep green benches which occupy the depths of the piers. Here the women sit nursing their babies and patching their husbands breeches. One, who is young and most exceptionally pretty, sits all day plying her sewing-machine, with her head on one side and an upward glance at observant passers—-a something that one may call the coquetry of industry. Another, a perfect mountain of a woman, is brought forth every morning, lowered, with the proper precautions, into her bench, and left there till night. She is always knitting a stocking; I have an idea that she is the fournisseuse of the whole little Swiss army; or she ought to wear one of those little castellated crowns which form the coiffure of ladies on monuments, and sit there before all men's eyes as the embodied genius of the city—-the patroness of Berne. Like the piers of the arcades, she has a most fantastic thickness, and her superfluous fleshly substance could certainly furnish forth a dozen women on the American plan. I suppose she is forty years old, but her tremendous bulk is surmounted by a face of the most infantine freshness and naîveté. She is evidently not a fool; on the contrary, she looks very sensible and amiable; but her immense circumference has kept experience at bay, and she is perfectly innocent because nothing has ever happened to her. This wonderful woman is only a larger specimen of the general Bernese type—-the heaviest, grossest, stolidest, certainly, that I have ever seen. Every one here is ugly (except the little woman with the sewing-machine); every one is awkward, dogged, boorish, and bearish. Mr. B——called my attention to the shape of the men; it is precisely the shape of the bears in the pit when they stand up on their hind paws to beg for turnips—-the short, thick neck, the big, sturdy trunk, the flat, meagre hips—-the total absence of hips, in fact—-the shrunken legs and long flat feet. Since making this discovery I see the bear element humanly and socially at every turn, and begin to regard it as a kind of bearish cynicism that the townsfolk should hug the likeness as they do, and thrust the ugly monsters at you, in the flesh or in effigy—-carved on gate-posts and emblazoned on shields—-wherever you glance.

All down the middle of the long grey street are posted antique fountains—-sculptured and emblazoned columns rising out of a great stone trough, and supporting some grotesque symbolic figure. These figures are frankly ugly, like the people and the architecture, but they have a rude humour, which seems to have passed out of the local manners. If you make a joke, your interlocutor stares at you as if you were a placard in a foreign tongue. Doubtless the joke isn't broad enough; the joke of one of the fountains is to show you an ogre gobbling down a handful of little children. . . . There are broad jokes made, I imagine, at the abbayes or headquarters of the old guilds, of which some half a dozen present a wide antique façade to the main street, ornamented with some immense heraldic device, hung out like an inn sign. They serve, in a measure, the purpose of inns, though whether they entertain persons not members of their respective crafts, I am unable to say. All crafts at any rate are represented—-the marchands, the maréchaux, the tisserands, the charpentiers; there is even an abbaye des gentilshommes, with a great genteel device of plumes and crossed swords. They all look as if they had a deal of heavy plate on their sideboards—-as if a great many chopines were emptied by the smokers in the deep red-cushioned window-seats. The landlord of the “Faucon” showed me a quantity of ancient silver in his keeping, which figures at important civic banquets—-at which the burghers of Berne warm themselves up not infrequently, I believe, during their long winters. It was very handsome and picturesque, and seemed to tell of a great deal of savoury in-door abundance behind the thick walls of the grey houses. . . . The cathedral, indeed, indicates an opulent city, and is a building of some consequence. It is fifteenth-century Gothic, of a rather artificial and, as Mr. Ruskin would say, insincere kind: a long nave, without transepts; a truncated tower, capped with a little wooden coiffure which decidedly increases it's picturesqueness, especially as I see it from my window at sunrise, when it lifts it's odd silhouette against the faintly-flushing sky, like some fantastic cluster of spires in a drawing of Doré's; a number of short flying buttresses—-jumping buttresses, they might be called, as they perform the feat rather clumsily; a great many crocketed pinnacles, and a wealth of beautiful balustrade work around the roof, the nave, and aisles. The great doorway is covered with quaint theological sculptures—-the wise and foolish virgins, the former with a good deal of awkward millinery in the shape of celestial crowns, and the usual bas-relief of the blessed ascending to heaven, and the damned tumbling into the pit. But in the middle of the portal, dividing the two doors, stands a tall, slim figure of a lady with a sword and scales, so light and elegant and graceful that she casts the angular sisterhood about her into ignominious shadow. This slender Gothic Justitia, and the running lace-work of stone I have just mentioned, around the high parts of the church, seem to me to contain all the elegance that is to be found in Berne. This, however, sounds like an unthankful speech when I remember that every evening, in this very cathedral, one may hear some very fine music. The organ is famous, like those of Fribourg and Lucerne, and people adjourn from the table d'hôte to listen to it, at a franc a head. The church is lighted only by a few glimmering tapers, and as I have never been into it but at this hour, I know nothing of it's interior aspect. I believe that, thanks to Swiss Protestantism, though of fine proportions, it is as bare and bleak as a Methodist conventicle. While the organ plays, however, it is filled with a presence which affects the imagination in very much the same way as gorgeous colours and vistas receding through mists of incense. The tremendous tones of the instrument resound in the darkness with an energy and variety which even an unmusical man—-reclining irreverently in the impenetrable gloom of the deep choir—-may greatly enjoy. The organist, I believe, is rather unskilled, and addicted, according to his light, to musical clap-trap. I don't know whether his wonderful performances on the vox humana stops are clap-trap; to my poor ear they seem the perfect romance of harmony. He gives you a thunder-storm, complete, with shattering bolts and wind and rain; then a lull and a sound of dripping water and sobbing trees; and then, softly, a wonderful solemn choir of rejoicing voices. The voices are intensely real, but the charm of the thing is their strangely unlocalised whereabouts. From a hundred miles away they seem to come; from spaces from which we don't reckon our distance in miles. It's a wonderful piece of ventriloquism.

The terrace beside the cathedral was the bishops garden, I believe, in the Catholic days, and a stately many-windowed house (which must have been a good deal modernized a hundred and fifty years ago) was the bishop's palace. Now the terrace is planted with a dense cool shade of clipped horse-chestnut trees, with a capacious wooden settee under each; and you may sit there of a fine day as if you were in the balcony of a theatre, and look off at the great spectacle—-the view of the Oberland Alps. The foundations of the terrace plunge down to the bank of the Aar, a terrible distance below, and the swift green river sends up a constant uproar as it shoots foaming over it's darn. Across the river lie blooming slopes and woods and hills; never was a city more in the fields than Berne. No shabby suburbs, no dusty walks between walls the corn-fields ripen at it's gates; the smell of the mown grass, when I was here before, came wandering across into the streets. It is a place of three elements—-the straddling black arcade, the rapid green river, flung in a loop, as it were, around it's base, the goodly green country at five minutes walk. . . .Of the Oberland chain, on the two or three days out of the seven when it glitters it's brightest, what is one to say? During the clear hot days that I spent here in July it was constantly visible, and yet somehow I never came quite to accept it as a natural ornament of the horizon. It seemed, in it's fantastic beauty, a kind of spasmodic effort of Nature toward something in a higher key than her common performances—-an attempt to please herself—-not man, with his meagre fancy. Man is certainly pleased, though, as he sits at his ease forty miles off, and caresses with idle eyes the glittering bosom of the Jungfrau and the hoary forehead of the Monk. Hour after hour the vision lingers—-a mosaic of marble on a groundwork of lapis. Here at Berne we have the vision; nearer, in the clouds, on the ice, on the edge of a chasm, with a rope round your waist and twenty pounds of nails in your shoes, you may have the reality. Every summer a couple of thousand Englishmen and others find the supreme beauty in that. . . . There are plenty of delightful walks hereabouts, for which you need neither rope nor nails. All the main roads leading from the town are bordered with great trees, rising from grassy margins and meeting overhead; and sooner or later these verdurous vistas conduct you, in any direction, to a genuine Alpine fir-forest. Beside the road the grain-bearing fields stretch away without hedge, or ditch, or wall. In July the crops were yellowing under a great sun; but now there is nothing but stubble, with enormous ravens jumping about in it. The way the fields lie side by side for miles, without any prosaic property-marks, makes them seem a part of some landscape of picture or fable; they seem all to belong to the Marquis of Carabas. I have heard painters complain of the want of colour—-of certain colours at least—-in the Swiss summer landscape; of the greens all being blue, the browns all being cold. Perhaps they are right; autumn has fairly begun, but the foliage simply shrivels and rusts, and promises none of our October yellows and crimsons. But there is an indefinable, poignant charm in any autumn, under a long avenue of great trees, where you walk kicking the fallen leaves and looking at an old paysanne in the hazy distance, as she trudges under her fagot.

Lucerne, September 29th .—-Berne, I find, has been filling with tourists at the expense of Lucerne, which I have been having almost to myself. There are six people at the table d'hôte; the excellent dinner denotes, on the part of the chef, the easy leisure in which true artists love to work. The waiters have nothing to do but lounge about the hall and chink in their pockets the fees of the past season. The day has been most lovely in itself, and pervaded, to my sense, by the gentle glow of a natural satisfaction at finding myself on the threshold of Italy again. I am lodged en prince, in a room with a balcony hanging over the lake—-a balcony on which I spent a long time this morning at dawn, thanking the mountain-tops, from the depths of a tourist's heart, for their promise of superbly fair weather. There were a great many mountain-tops to thank, for the crags, and peaks, and pinnacles tumbled away through the morning mist, in an endless confusion of grandeur. I have been all day in better humour with Lucerne than ever before—-a forecast reflection of Italian moods. If Switzerland, as I wrote the other day, is a show-place, Lucerne is certainly one of the biggest booths at the fair. The little quay, under the trees, squeezed in between the decks of the steamboats and the doors of the hotels, is a terrible medley of Saxon dialects—-a jumble of pilgrims in all the phases of devotion, equipped with hook and staff—-alpenstock and Bädecker. There are so many hotels and trinket-shops, so many omnibuses and steamers, so many St. Gothard veturini, so many ragged urchins thrusting photographs, minerals, and Lucernese English at you, that you feel as if lake and mountains themselves, in all their loveliness, were but a part of the “enterprise” of landlords and peddlers, and half expect to see the Righi, and Pilatus, and the fine weather, figure as items on your hotel-bill, between the bougie and the siphon. Nature herself assists you in this fancy; for there is something extremely operatic and suggestive of footlights and scene-shifters in the view on which Lucerne looks out. You are one of five thousand—-fifty thousand—-"accommodated” spectators; you have taken your season ticket, and there is a responsible impresario somewhere behind the scenes. There is such a luxury of beauty in the prospect—-such a redundancy of composition and feature—-so many more peaks and pinnacles than are needed to make one heart happy or regale the vision of one quiet observer, that you finally accept the little Babel on the quay and the looming masses in the clouds as equal parts of a perfect system, and feel as if the mountains had been waiting so many ages for the hotels to come and balance the colossal group, that they have a right, after all, to have them big and numerous. The scene-shifters have been at work all day long, composing and discomposing the beautiful background of the prospect—-massing the clouds and scattering the light, effacing and reviving, making play with their wonderful machinery of mist and haze. The mountains rise one behind the other, in an enchanting gradation of distances and of melting blues and greys; you think each successive tone the loveliest and haziest possible, till you see another looming dimly behind it. I couldn't enjoy even the “Swiss Times,” over my breakfast, until I had marched forth to the office of the St. Gothard diligences and demanded the banquette for to-morrow. The one place at the disposal of the office was taken, but I might possibly m'entendre with the conductor for his own seat—-the conductor being generally visible, in the intervals of business, at the post-office. To the post-office, after breakfast, I repaired, over the fine new bridge which now spans the green Reuss, and gives such a woeful air of country-cousinship to the crooked old wooden causeway which did sole service when I was here four years ago. The old bridge is covered with a running hood of shingles, and adorned with a series of very quaint and vivid little paintings of the Dance of Death, quite in the Holbein manner; the new bridge sends up a painful glare from it's white limestone, and is ornamented with candelabra in a meretricious imitation of platinum. As a pure-minded tourist, I ought to have chosen to return at least by the dark and narrow way; but mark how luxury unmans us! I was already demoralized. I crossed the threshold of the timbered portal, took a few steps, and retreated. It smelt badly! So I marched back, counting the lamps in their mendacious platinum. But it smelt very badly indeed; and no good American is without a fund of accumulated sensibility to the odour of stale timber.

Meanwhile I had spent an hour in the great yard of the post-office waiting for my conductor to turn up, and watching the yellow malles-postes being pushed to and fro. At last, being told my man was at my service, I was brought to speech of a huge, jovial, bearded, delightful Italian, clad in the blue coat and waistcoat, with close, round silver buttons, which are a heritage of the old postilions. No, it was not he; it was a friend of his; and finally the friend was produced, en costume de ville, but equally jovial, and Italian enough—-a brave Lucernese, who had spent half of his life between Bellinzona and Camerlata. For ten francs this worthy man's perch behind the luggage was made mine as far as Bellinzona, and we separated with reciprocal wishes for good weather on the morrow. Tomorrow is so manifestly determined to be as fine as any other 30th of September since the weather became, on this planet, a topic of conversation, that I have had nothing to do but stroll about Lucerne, staring, loafing, and vaguely intent upon regarding the fact that, whatever happens, my place is paid to Milan, as the most comfortable fact in this uncertain world. I loafed into the immense new Hôtel National, and read the New York “Tribune” on a blue satin divan, and was rather surprised, on coming out, to find myself staring at a green Swiss lake, and not at the Broadway omnibuses. The Hôtel National is adorned with a perfectly appointed Broadway bar—-one of the “prohibited” ones, seeking hospitality in foreign lands, like an old-fashioned French or Italian refugee.

Milan, October 4th .—-My journey hither was such a pleasant piece of traveller's luck that it seems almost indelicate to take it to pieces to see what it was made of. But do what we will, there remains in all deeply agreeable impressions a charming something we cannot analyse. . . . I found it agreeable even, under the circumstances, to turn out of bed, at Lucerne, at four o'clock, into the chilly autumn darkness. The thick-starred sky was cloudless, and there was as yet no flush of dawn; but the lake was wrapped in a ghostly white mist, which crept half way up the mountains, and made them look as if they too had been lying down for the night, and were casting away the vaporous tissues of their bedclothes. Into this fantastic fog the little steamer went creaking away, and I hung about the deck with the two or three travellers who had known better than to believe it would save them francs or midnight sighs—-over those debts you “pay with your person”—-to go and wait for the diligence at the poste at Fiüelen, or yet at the Guillaume Tell. The dawn came sailing up over the mountain-tops, flushed but unperturbed, and blew out the little stars and then the big ones, as a thrifty matron, after a party, blows out her candles and lamps; the mist went melting and wandering away into the duskier hollows and recesses of the mountains, and the summits defined their profiles against the cool, soft light. . . . At Fiüelen, before the landing, the big yellow coaches were actively making themselves bigger, and piling up boxes and bags on their roofs in a way to make nervous people think of the short turns on the downward zigzags of the St. Gothard. I climbed into my own banquette, and stood eating peaches (half a dozen women were hawking them about under the horses' legs) With an air of security which must have been offensive to the people scrambling and protesting below between coupe and intérieur. They were all English, and they all had false alarms about some one else being in their places—-the places which they produced their tickets and proclaimed in three or four different languages that British gold had given them a sacred right to. They were all serenely confuted by the stout, purple-faced, many-buttoned conductors, patted on the backs, assured that their bath-tubs had every advantage of position on the top, and stowed away according to their dues. When once one has fairly started on a journey and has but to go and go, by the impetus received, it is surprising what entertainment one finds in very small things. The traveller's humour falls upon us, and surely it is not the unwisest the heart knows. I don't envy people, at any rate, who have outlived or outworn the simple satisfaction of the sense of being settled to go somewhere, with bag and umbrella, if we are settled on the top of a coach, and the “somewhere” contains an element of the new and strange, the case is at it's best. In this matter wise people are content to become children again. We don't turn about on our knees to look out of the omnibus window, but we indulge in very much the same round-eyed contemplation of accessible objects. Responsibility is left at home, or, at the worst, packed away in the valise, in quite another part of the diligence, with the clean shirts and the writing-case. I imbibed the travellers humour, for this occasion, with the somewhat acrid juice of my indifferent peaches; it made me think them very good. This was the first of a series of kindly services it rendered me. It made me agree next, as we started, that the gentleman at the booking-office at Lucerne had played but a harmless joke when he told me the regular seat in the banquette was taken. No one appeared to claim it; so the conductor and I reversed positions, and I found him quite as profitable a neighbour as the usual Anglo-Saxon. He was trolling snatches of melody, and showing his great yellow teeth in a jovial grin all the way to Bellinzona—-and this in the face of the sombre fact that the St. Gothard tunnel is scraping away into the mountain, all the while, under his nose, and numbering the days of the many-buttoned brotherhood, with the little caps hanging down on their purple ears. But he hopes, for long service' sake, to be taken into the employ of the railway; he has no æsthetic prejudices. I found the railway coming on, however, in a manner very shocking to mine. About one hour short of Andermatt they have pierced a huge black cavity in the mountain, and around this dusky aperture there has grown up a swarming, digging, hammering, smoke-compelling colony. There are great barracks, with tall chimneys, down in the romantic gorge, and a wonderful increase of wine-shops in the little village of Göschenen above. Along the breast of the mountain, beside the road, come wandering several miles of very handsome iron pipes, of a stupendous girth—-a conduit for the water-power with which some of the machinery is worked. It lies at it's mighty length among the rocks like an immense black serpent, and serves as a mere detail to give one the measure of the central enterprise. When at the end of our long days journey, well down in warm Italy, we came upon the other aperture of the tunnel, I felt really like uncapping, with a kind of reverence. Truly, Nature is great, but she seems to me to stand in very much the same shoes as my poor friend the conductor. She is being superseded at her strongest points, successively, and nothing remains but for her to take humble service with her master. If she can hear herself think, amid that din of blasting and hammering, she must be reckoning up the years which may elapse before the cleverest of Ober-Ingenieurs decides that mountains are altogether superfluous, and has the Jungfrau melted down and the residuum carried away in balloons and dumped upon another planet.

The Devil's Bridge, apparently, has the same failing as the good Homer. It was decidedly nodding. The volume of water in the torrent was shrunken, and there was none of that thunderous uproar and far-leaping spray which have kept up a miniature tempest in the neighbourhood when I have passed before. . . . It suddenly occurs to me that the fault is not in the good Homer's inspiration, but simply in the big black pipes I just mentioned. They dip into the rushing stream higher up, apparently, and pervert it's fine frenzy to their prosaic uses. There could hardly be a more vivid reminder of the standing quarrel between use and beauty, and the hard time poor beauty is having. I looked wistfully, as we rattled into dreary Andermatt, at the great white zigzags of the Oberalp road, climbing away to the left. Even on one's way to Italy one may spare a pulsation of desire for that beautiful journey through the castled Grisons. I shall always remember my days drive last summer through that long blue avenue of mountains, to queer little mouldering Ilanz, visited before supper in the ghostly dusk, as an episode with colour in it. . . . At Andermatt a sign over a little black doorway, flanked by two dunghills, seemed to me tolerably comical: Minéraux, Quadrupèdes, Oiseaux, Œufs, Tableaux Antiques. We bundled in to dinner, and the American gentleman in the banquette made the acquaintance of the Irish lady in the coupé, who talked of the weather as foine, and wore a Persian scarf twisted about her head. At the other end of the table sat an Englishman out of the intérieur, who bore a most extraordinary resemblance to the portraits of Edward VI.'s and Mary's reigns. He was a walking Holbein. It was fascinating, and he must have wondered why I stared at him. It wasn't him I was staring at, but some handsome Seymour, or Dudley, or Digby, with a ruff and a round cap and plume. An intense and most distinguished English type. . . . From Andermatt, through it's high, cold, sunny valley, into rugged little Hospenthal, and then up the last stages of the ascent. From here the road was all new to me. Among the summits of the various Alpine passes there is little to choose. You wind and double slowly into keener cold and deeper stillness; you put on your overcoat and turn up the collar; you count the nestling snow patches, and then you cease to count them; you pause, as you trudge before the lumbering coach, and listen to the last-heard cow bell tinkling away below you, in kindlier herbage. The sky was tremendously blue, and the little stunted bushes, on the snow-streaked slopes, were all dyed with autumnal purples and crimsons. It was a great piece of colour. Purple and crimson, too, though not so fine, were the faces thrust out at us from the greasy little double casements of a barrack beside the road, where the horses paused before the last pull. There was one little girl in particular, beginning to lisser her hair, as civilization approached, in a manner not to be described, with her poor little blue-black hands. . . . To think of chilblains beginning in August! . . At the summit there are the two usual grim little stone taverns, the steel-blue tarn, the snow-White peaks, the pause in the cold sunshine. Then we began to rattle down, with two horses. In five minutes we were swinging along the famous zigzags. Engineer, driver, horses—-it's very handsomely done by all of them. The road curves and curls, and twists and plunges, like the tail of a kite; sitting perched in the banquette, you see it making below you, in mid air, certain bold gyrations, which bring you as near as possible, short of the actual experience, to the philosophy of that immortal Irishman who wished that his fall from the housetop would only last. But the zigzags last no more than Paddy's fall, and in due time we were all coining to our senses over cafe au lait in the little inn at Faido. After Faido, the valley, plunging deeper, began to take thick afternoon shadows from the hills, and at Airolo we were fairly in the twilight. But the pink and yellow houses shimmered through the gentle gloom, and Italy began in broken syllables to whisper that she was at hand. For the rest of the way to Bellinzona her voice was muffled in the grey of evening, and I was half vexed to lose the charming sight of the changing vegetation; but only half vexed, for the moon was climbing all the while nearer the edge of the crags which overshadowed us, and a thin, magical light came trickling down into the winding, murmuring gorges. It was a most enchanting ride. The chestnut trees loomed up with double their daylight stature; the vines began to swing their low festoons like nets to trip up the fairies. At last the ruined towers of Bellinzona stood gleaming in the moonshine, and we rattled into the great post yard. It was eleven o'clock, and I had risen at four; moonshine apart, I was not sorry.

All that was very well; but the drive next day from Bellinzona to Como is to my mind what gives it's supreme beauty to the St. Gothard road. One can't describe the beauty of the Italian lakes, nor would one try if one could; the floweriest rhetoric can recall it only as a picture on a fireboard recalls a Claude. . . . But it lay spread before me for a whole perfect day—-in the long gleam of Lago Maggiore, from whose head the diligence swerves away, and begins to climb the bosky hills which divide it from Lugano; in the shimmering, melting azure of the Italian Alps; in the luxurious tangle of nature and the familiar picturesqueness of man; in the lawn-like slopes, where the great grouped chestnuts make so cool a shadow in so warm a light; in the rusty vineyards, the littered corn fields, and the tawdry wayside shrines. But most of all, it's the deep yellow light which enchants you and tells you where you are. See it come filtering down through a vine-covered trellis on the red handkerchief with which a ragged contadina has bound her hair; and all the magic of Italy, to the eye, seems to make an aureole about the poor girl's head. Look at a brown-breasted reaper eating his chunk of black bread under a spreading chestnut; nowhere is shadow so charming, nowhere is colour so charged, nowhere is accident so picturesque. The whole drive to Lugano was one long loveliness, and the town itself is admirably Italian. There was a great unlading of the coach, during which I wandered under certain brown old arcades, and bought for six sous, from a young woman in a gold necklace, a hatful of peaches and figs. When I came back, I found the young man holding open the door of the second diligence, which had lately come up, and beckoning tome with a despairing smile. The young man, I must note, was the most amiable of Ticinese; though he wore no buttons; he was attached to the diligence in some amateurish capacity, and had an eye to the mail-bags and other valuables in the boot. I grumbled, at Berne, over the want of soft curves in the Swiss temperament; but the children of the tangled Tessin are cast in the Italian mould. My friend had as many quips and cranks as a Neapolitan; we walked together for an hour under the chestnuts, while the coach was plodding up from Bellinzona, and he never stopped singing till we reached a little wine-house, where he got his mouthful of bread and cheese. . . . I looked into the open door and saw the young woman sitting rigid and grim, staring over his head, with a great pile of bread and butter in her lap. He had only informed her, most politely, that she was to be transferred to another diligence, and must do him the favour to descend; but she evidently thought there was but one way for a respectable British young woman, dropping her “h's,” to receive the politeness of a foreign young man with a moustache and much latent pleasantry in his eye. Heaven only knew what he was saying! I told her, and she gathered up her parcels and emerged. A part of the days great pleasure, perhaps, was my grave sense of being an instrument in the hands of Providence toward the safe consignment of this young woman and her boxes. When once you have taken a baby into your arms, you are in for it; you can't drop it—-you have to hold it till some one comes. My prim protégée was a baby as to the methods of foreign travel, though doubtless cunning enough at her trade, which I inferred to be that of making up those prodigious chignons which English ladies wear. Her mistress had gone on a mule over the mountains to Cadennabbia. and she was coming up with her wardrobe, in two big boxes and a bath-tub. I had played my part, under Providence, at Bellinzona, and had interposed between the poor girl's frightened English and the dreadful Ticinese French of the functionaries in the post-yard. At the custom-house, on the Italian frontier, I was of peculiar service; there was a kind of fateful fascination in it. The wardrobe was voluminous; I exchanged a paternal glance with my charge as the douanier plunged his brown fists into it. Who was the lady at Cadennabbia? What was she to me or I to her? She wouldn't know, when she rustled down to dinner next day, that it was I who had guided the frail skiff of her “millinerial" fortunes to port. So, unseen, but not unfelt, do we cross each others orbits. The skiff may have foundered that evening, in sight of land, though. I disengaged the young woman from among her fellow-travellers, and placed her boxes on a hand-cart, in the picturesque streets of Como, within a stones throw of that lovely cathedral, with it's façade of cameo medallions. I could only make the facchino swear to take her to the steamboat. I had done my best, but, being bound for Milan, I couldn't in conscience accompany her to Cadennabbia.


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