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    The Old Saint-Gothard

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    Chapter 7
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    Berne, September, 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 the
    last Cook's tourist to 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, for an occasional change
    from darker thoughts, a lively impression of the numbers of
    people now living, and above all now moving, at extreme ease in
    the world. Here is little Switzerland disgorging its tens of
    thousands of honest folk, 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 monopolised
    these pleasures; but nowadays i a month's tour in Switzerland is
    no more a jeu de prince than a Sunday excursion. To watch
    this huge Anglo-Saxon wave ebbing through Berne suggests, no
    doubt most fallaciously, that the common lot of mankind isn't
    after all so very hard and that the masses have reached a 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 most
    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," however, that I see every day at the
    table d'hôte? They have rather too few h's to the dozen, 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 offer them a personal welcome and take a
    peculiar satisfaction in seeing them here. Switzerland is a "show
    country"--I am more and more struck with the bearings of that
    truth; and its use in the world is to reassure persons of a
    benevolent imagination when they begin to wish for the drudging
    millions a greater supply of elevating amusement. Here is
    amusement for a thousand years, and as elevating certainly as
    mountains three 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.

    [Illustration: THE CLOCK TOWER, BERNE]

    I have been walking about the arcades, which used to bestow a
    grateful shade in July, but which seem rather dusky and chilly in
    these 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 anything
    and everything but admirably picturesque. I take us Americans for
    the only people who, in travelling, judge things on the first
    impulse--when we do judge them at all--not from the standpoint of
    simple comfort. Most of us, strolling forth into these bustling
    basements, are, I imagine, too much amused, too much diverted
    from the sense of an alienable right to public ease, to be
    conscious of heat or cold, of thick air, or even of the universal
    smell of strong charcuterie. If the visible romantic were
    banished from the face of the earth I am sure the idea of it
    would still survive in some typical American heart....

    Lucerne, September. --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 lovely in
    itself, and pervaded, to my sense, by the gentle glow of a
    natural satisfaction at my finding myself again on the threshold
    of Italy. 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 landscape-lover'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 so furiously 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 book and
    staff, alpenstock and Baedeker. There are so many hotels and
    trinket-shops, so many omnibuses and steamers, so many Saint-
    Gothard vetturini, so many ragged urchins poking
    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 pedlars, 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 to this conceit;
    there is something so 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
    effect--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 show 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 loom dimly
    behind it. I couldn't enjoy even The Swiss Times, over my
    breakfast, till I had marched forth to the office of the Saint-
    Gothard service of coaches 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 structure 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 sends up a painful glare from its white
    limestone, and is ornamented with candelabra in a meretricious
    imitation of platinum. As an almost professional cherisher of
    the quaint I ought to have chosen to return at least by the dark
    and narrow way; but mark how luxury unmans us. I was already
    demoralised. 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 fine falsity. But the other,
    the crooked and covered way, 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
    postoffice, waiting for my conductor to turn up and seeing the
    yellow malles-postes 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. To-morrow 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 on regarding the fact that, whatever happens, my
    place is paid to Milan. I loafed into the immense new Hotel
    National and read the New York Tribune on a blue satin
    divan; after which I was rather surprised, on coming out, to find
    myself staring at a green Swiss lake and not at the Broadway
    omnibuses. The Hotel National is adorned with a perfectly
    appointed Broadway bar--one of the "prohibited" ones seeking
    hospitality in foreign lands after the manner of an old-fashioned
    French or Italian refugee.

    Milan, October.--My journey hither was such a pleasant
    piece of traveller's luck that I feel a delicacy for taking it to
    pieces to see what it was made of. Do what we will, however,
    there remains in all deeply agreeable impressions a charming
    something we can't analyse. I found it agreeable even, given the
    rest of my case, to turn out of bed, at Lucerne, by 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 halfway 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
    Fliielen, 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 Flüelen, 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 turn nervous people's thoughts to the
    sharp corners of the downward twists of the great road. 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 that might have been offensive to the people
    scrambling and protesting below between coupé and intérieur. They
    were all English and all had false alarms about the claim of
    somebody else to their place, the place for which they produced
    their ticket, with a declaration in three or four different
    tongues of the inalienable right to it given them by the
    expenditure of British gold. 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. We surrender to the
    gaping traveller's mood, which surely isn't the unwisest the
    heart knows. I don't envy people, at any rate, who have outlived
    or outworn the simple sweetness of feeling 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 its 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, relegated to quite another part of the diligence with the
    clean shirts and the writing-case. I sucked in the gladness of
    gaping, 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 but played 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 conversible 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
    face of the sombre fact that the Saint-Gothard tunnel is scraping
    away into the mountain, all the while, under his nose, and
    numbering the days of the many-buttoned brotherhood. But he
    hopes, for long service's sake, to be taken into the employ of
    the railway; he at least is no cherisher of quaintness and
    has no romantic perversity. I found the railway coming on,
    however, in a manner very shocking to mine. About an hour short
    of Andermatt they have pierced a huge black cavity in the
    mountain, around which has grown up a swarming, digging,
    hammering, smoke-compelling colony. There are great barracks,
    with tall chimneys, down in the gorge that bristled the other day
    but with natural graces, 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 its 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 day's
    journey, well down in warm Italy, we came upon the other aperture
    of the tunnel, I could but uncap with a grim reverence. Truly
    Nature is great, but she seems to me to stand in very much the
    shoes of 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 to elapse before the cleverest of Ober-
    Ingénieurs decides that mountains are mere obstructive matter
    and has the Jungfrau melted down and the residuum carried away in
    balloons and dumped upon another planet.

    The Devil's Bridge, with the same failing apparently as the good
    Homer, was decidedly nodding. The volume of water in the torrent
    was shrunken, and I missed the thunderous uproar and far-leaping
    spray that have kept up a miniature tempest in the neighbourhood
    on my other passages. It suddenly occurs to me that the fault is
    not in the good Homer's inspiration, but simply in the big black
    pipes above-mentioned. They dip into the rushing stream higher
    up, presumably, and pervert its fine frenzy to their prosaic
    uses. There could hardly be a more vivid reminder of the standing
    quarrel between use and beauty, and of 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 which
    climbed away to the left. Even on one's way to Italy one may
    spare a throb of desire for the beautiful vision of the castled
    Grisons. Dear to me the memory of my day's drive last summer
    through that long blue avenue of mountains, to queer little
    mouldering Ilanz, visited before supper in the ghostly dusk. At
    Andermatt a sign over a little black doorway flanked by two dung-
    hills seemed to me tolerably comical: Mineraux,
    Quadrupedes, Oiseaux, OEufs, Tableaux
    . 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 an
    extraordinary resemblance to the portraits of Edward VI's and
    Mary's reigns. He walking, a convincing Holbein. The impression
    was of value to a cherisher of quaintness, and he must have
    wondered--not knowing me for such a character--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.

    From Andermatt, through its high, cold, sunny valley, we passed
    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 display 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 civilisation
    approached, in a manner not to be described, with her poor little
    blue-black hands. At the summit are the two usual grim little
    stone taverns, the steel-blue tarn, the snow-white peaks, the
    pause in the cold sunshine. Then we begin to rattle down with two
    horses. In five minutes we are 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 and 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 house-top would only last. But the zigzags last no more
    than Paddy's fall, and in due time we were all coming 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 that overshadowed us, and a thin magical light came
    trickling down into the winding, murmuring gorges. It was a most
    enchanting business. 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 wasn't sorry.

    All that was very well; but the drive next day from Bellinzona to
    Como is to my mind what gives its supreme beauty to this great
    pass. 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
    the Major, from whose head the diligence swerves away and begins
    to climb the bosky hills that divide it from Lugano; in the
    shimmering, melting azure of the southern slopes and masses; in
    the luxurious tangle of nature and the familiar amenity of man;
    in the lawn-like inclinations, where the great grouped chestnuts
    make so cool a shadow in so warm a light; in the rusty vineyards,
    the littered cornfields and the tawdry wayside shrines. But most
    of all it's the deep yellow light that 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, makes 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 has accident such grace. 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 to me 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 mouth full of bread and cheese. I looked into his open door,
    a la Sterne, and saw the young woman sitting rigid and grim,
    staring over his head and 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 knew of but one way for a
    respectable young insulary of her sex to receive the politeness
    of a foreign adventurer guilty of an eye betraying latent
    pleasantry. Heaven only knew what he was saying! I told her, and
    she gathered up her parcels and emerged. A part of the day's
    great pleasure perhaps was my grave sense of being an instrument
    in the hands of the powers toward the safe consignment of this
    young woman and her boxes. When once you have really bent to the
    helpless you are caught; there is no such steel trap, and it
    holds you fast. My rather grim Abigail was a neophyte in foreign
    travel, though doubtless cunning enough at her trade, which I
    inferred to be that of making up those prodigious chignons worn
    mainly by English ladies. Her mistress had gone on a mule over
    the mountains to Cadenabbia, and she herself was coming up with
    the wardrobe, two big boxes and a bath-tub. I had played my part,
    under the powers, 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 Cadenabbia?
    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 public basis of vanity to port. So unseen but
    not unfelt do we cross each other's orbits. The skiff however may
    have foundered that evening in sight of land. 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
    stone's throw of that lovely striped and toned cathedral which
    has the facade of cameo medallions. I could only make the
    facchino swear to take her to the steamboat. He too was a
    jovial dog, but I hope he was polite with precautions.

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