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And well might gentle Dante swoon with ruth
Hath noon less glory mused upon by night?
THE EVE OF ST. JOHN IN A DESERTED CHÂLET.
BY FRANK COWPER.
It was a beautiful day. A gray mist pictures of the past. All other costumes curled up from the lake and clung to the change. If I were intimately acquainted dark ravines of the mountains. As the with the cut of the friar's dress in past sun grew warmer, a gentle breeze fanned ages, perhaps I should notice slight differthe still water, and the mists rolled up to ences ; but in the main the clothes they the mountain-tops. A few lazy patches wore when the monks tore Hypatia to lingered behind, lost in the deep gorges of pieces, when Peter the Hermit preached, the hills, where, blindly rubbing against when Bernard and Abelard ruled their the dark pines, they gradually melted be monasteries, when Chaucer wrote, when fore the mid-day heat, as luckless jelly-fish the fires of Smithfield blazed and the Instranded on a sandy beach slowly evaporato quisition terrified, are much the same under the fierce sun.
clothes they wear now. The color may The steamer was crowded with tourists, be different ; but black, brown, or gray, -girl-schools, spectacled Germans, smart a friar centuries ago would be a friar now. young Frenchmen, the usual sprinkling of They are no anachronism but a reality. English, the inevitable curate or country I could not help being struck at the conrector, two friars, and one Swiss pusteur. trast they afforded, those men apart, with This latter was a curious fossil. He was their bleared eyes, sensual lips, dirty short, wizened, and decrepit. He wore a beards, as they came on board amid a tall bat on the back of his head like the crowd of simple school-girls and startled hatter in “ Alice's Adventures in Won- English matrons. Living assertors of derland ;" his coat was long, his waist- eighteen centuries of celibacy, they moved coat low, and his necktie meagre and not about amid that ship-load of nineteenthclean. It was difficult to look at him and century frivolity. Their power was gone, then at the friars without thinking of his- but their picturesqueness remained. tory. I never can see a friar, with his And that insignificant comic little figure corded frock, sandalled feet, and bare was the representative of the power that head, without seeming to see romantic had supplanted them. How well he
seemed to typify the dry syllogisms of It was hot. The mountain road wound that dreary controversy of Predestination np and up. No breath of air seemed able and Free-will ! Could any spark of poetic to penetrate those thick chestnut-woods. fire come from so wizened and matter. The grass under the trees was a perfect of-fact a being ? Vates and Sacerdos are carpet of wild loveliness. Flowers of near akin, and those poetic souls who like every kind grew thick all round-the mystery in their religion will always prefer stately mountain-lily, bluebells, and yel. a priesthood whose garb is poetic. And low cowslips. Red, white, purple, and those who think a religion cannot be typi- blue ; yellow, green, mauve, and carmine : fied by a garb will prefer the doll prose of all the colors and blendings possible were coinmon dress.
spread everywhere. Delicate, dainty, At the end of the lake I left the steamer. mossy lawns, where the grass had just I intended to walk over the mountains by been cut, alternated with the rich wealth a little path marked in the Swiss Ordnance of unkempt pasture. The sunlight fell in Survey, and which would lead me across brilliant patches across the twisting chestthe frontier into Savoy. The girl-school nut-boles, and on the cut and uncut grass. landed also. It is curious the way moth. Bees hummed and flies persecuted, and all ers dress their fair daughters abroad. the while I trudged over ruthless stones Many of these girls were undoubtedly upward and ever upward. It was hot! English. Fortunately they disguised the I could hear down below the merry fact very well.
laughter of the girls. A church clock What shapeless frocks, what marvellous struck the hour, and the thud, thud, thud colors, these nymphs were clothed in! of a distant steamer palpitated on the Were there girl-schools at Lausanne, I drowsy silence. The air quivered in the wonder, when Byron moped away his heat, a gray-green gloom shimmered under time at Meillerie opposite ; and did he the fantastic chestnut-trees, velvety moss write that "
they always smelled of bread- spread teinptingly over shady banks. and-butter”--the fair, innocent ones ! What a home for fairies ! I sat down. in bitter disappointment because they But it would never do to waste time in offered no other attractions ? However, dull sloth, I had many miles to go, and in spite of their chaotic clothes, these sim some fairly stiff climbing before me. ple maidens seemed to enjoy themselves. There were awkward precipices to be They trooped up the road, under the chest- faced, and Swiss weather is never certain. nut and walnut trees, and laughed and Up and up I trudged. The stony road chattered, and picked flowers, and ate bis- had changed to a still more stony path. cuits and sandwiches, as healthy whole- The chestnut-trees had given place to some girls should. There were two girls brushwood, where the hornbeam and who were really pretty, and with a flush mountain-ash reigned instead of the chestof pride I was glad to recognize they were nut and walnut ; a gentle breeze stirred English. And not only were they pretty, the ferns, and the gray weather-worn sides but they were well dressed : and, if the of a few snow-streaked peaks rose above dress be an index of the mind, then these the foliage. How scarred and furrowed young ladies were indeed perfect ; but those solemn rocks looked ! Snow still perhaps their mother dressed them. How- lay in the crevices, and little silver streaks ever, I soon left these fair sirens behind, trickled down their rugged faces. My and, like the hero of “Excelsior," I object was to find the path which led up steeled
my heart against all softer feel over these cliffs, across the neck which ings. I don't know how it would bave united them to the highest point, and so been, however, had these young ladies down into a deep valley where France and gone so far as the strange young person Switzerland joined hands across a foaming in that incoherent poem. They didn't. torrent. Instead of any tender invitation, expressed I had been warned the path was dangerverbally or ocularly, they only ate wild ous. Only a week ago a hapless professor strawberries, and made remarks sotto voce, from Vevey had fallen over a precipice which, as laughter was the result, caused and been killed. His body was brought me, with that self-consciousness of a true over the day before I started. He was Briton, to feel a twitching in the back as actually in the right path, and his death I walked on.
had been the result of a slip. A moun
taineer whom I met told me it was because posite Montreux. I knew the snow would he wore Oxford shoes, and bad no pails present obstacles which might be very in them. I thanked Providence I had a dangerous ; but I calculated that a cliff in heavy pair of stout boots, and, what ap- Switzerland_must be very like a cliff in peared to me as I walked, a ton of nails in England. There was little or no snow the soles.
here. There were only cliffs. But when Up and up I clambered. The stony I looked at them I could not help thinkpath had changed to a vague rut in the ing, “ But what cliffs !!! close herbage. The brushwood had yield The track I had been doubtfully followed to a few straggling bushes, with here ing led to the very base of an over hanging and there a clump of fir. Their sombre precipice, and there ended. I looked up foliage and fragrant odor invited me to at the gray height above me. Sheer walls rest. The dry red cones lay all about of rock looked down at me. There was a under the solemn shade. No sound sinister expression about the sharp lines reached me now. The breeze fitfully which furrowed the face of the cliff. whispered among the pine-plumes, but the They went zigzag down the surface like stately trees disdained to break the brood- the grim sneer on the face of some coldly ing stillness. Far, far down below lay the sarcastic man, The silent gloom of the blue lake. The basement of the peak overshadowing rock chilled ine. A little whereon I sat was entirely hidden. The jet of water spouted over a black ledge flowers and lower pine-trees seemed to above, and splashed into an old patch of spring at once from the small blue patch snow below—so dirty and stone-covered a below. On the other side rose tier upon patch that at first I took it only for the tier of jagged rocks. Range on range of brown soil of the mountain. It was tough precipitous peaks tossed themselves aloft, and hard to tread on. I could hardly while above all, against the blue sky, realize such a substance could inelt. soared the white billows of the Oberland Clearly I had missed the path. Not of Berne, where the everlasting snows even a goat could climb up there. Howpiled themselves along the horizon. How ever, climbing had to be done ; it was strange the contrast seems from the busy getting late in the afternoon, and I had every-day life of that blue lake, with its yet far to go. Without wasting time in fashionable hotels, tennis-lawns, and arti. going back to look for the path, I deterficial society, to the unknown solitude of mined to get up this wall somehow. Το that arctic region ! In that white mys- my left was a dark gully, black and fortery before me, so near and yet so far, lay bidding. I instinctively felt I could never spots as untrodden by man as any soli. get up that. To my right a few pines tudes in Spitzbergen or Enderby land. grew, 'stunted and wind-torn, and above There is no spot in the world which brings them was a ledge which I felt I might into such striking proximity the primeval reach. After a difficult climb, and sevand the ephemeral as Switzerland. eral narrow slips, I reached the ledge.
Up and up I trudged. It was no longer How magnificent was the view! But I felt sultry. The sun scorched, but the air was if I looked long I should grow giddy. I keen. I had passed all shade, except could no longer see any grass slope below. where the precipitous cliff flung its cool Not even the top of the last pine-tree was shadow over the deep ravine. The track visible, although only a few feet beneath. was becoming difficult to find. I was There seemed nothing between me and climbing a steep slope of coarse grass lit- that small blue patch, some five thousand tered with huge boulders. The path had fect below. I turned to look at the wall dwindled to countless holes made by the behind. hoofs of the goats who alone could browse It was not encouraging. By clinging up here. It was impossible to find any to my ledge I hoped I might reach a rift real track.
in the rock which seemed to present an And now my difficulties began. I was easier foothold, as seen from below. But a novice in Alpine climbing. Counting on I could not disguise from myself the diffibeing what is usually called a good crags- culty of the attempt. I had begun to man where crags are not frequent, I had realize that what looks only a little way anticipated little difficulty in surmounting up, seems a horrible distance down. It the rugged cliffs which towered up op was no longer warm. The sun was be
hind the towering precipice overhead. but with more comfort. I began to realIts rich light flooded the downward slope ize that speed is not everything among of a grass patch to the right. There must the Alps. I was much too hurried bebe a gully there, down which the light fore. But it was getting late. The can penetrate. The keen mountain air shadows behind were growing longer, even against the cold face of this never-warmed a purple shade seemed to have reached the rock chilled me.
That rock had never blue lake below. And, worst of all, a seen the sun. I buttoned up my coat, mist was creeping over the top of the cliff. and altered my course for the gully. Vague shreds, as if of cotton wool, were
After great exertions, I managed to spreading overhead. I should be in a reach a fairly easy place. The narrow cheerful position if a thick fog came on. escapes I had gone through caused me to I couldn't go down, I knew. It had appreciate the change from the position taken me all I was capable of to get of a fly when clinging to the ceiling to the along that ledge when going up. It would Jess sustained effort of resting on a ledge be death to attempt it going down. A of the cornice. At last I could sit down. way must be found past that twenty feet
There was the same view before me. of cliff between me and dinner. A few more peaks of the Bernese Ober By warily hooking on to slight roughland rose up. The blue lake looked nesses in the sides of the gully, I managed smaller and farther down. That was all, to work my way so far to the right that I I looked at my watch. It was four could see round the edge. There was a o'clock. I must get on. I had taken an ledge beyond, which seemed to extend up hour in climbing about two hundred feet. to the top.
to the top. Could I reach it? It was This would never do. After a little re very ticklish work, but, thanks to my nails freshment I buckled to my work. The -I mean on my boots—I managed it. gully was reached, the course became less In another quarter of an hour I was a vichazardous, although rather more fatiguing. tor. I had gained the summit, but I was At last I was within sight of the top. A utterly ignorant of where I was. Almost few more scrapings, a little more back- at the same moment that I set foot on the wrenching, knee-twisting struggles, and I edge of the cliff, drops of rain began to should be there. I endured them all, and fall, and in an instant, as it were, I was -I was not there! I was on my ledge in a shroud of mist. again, and very nearly in another world. “ This is what I expected," I said ; My foot had slipped, as I tried for the it won't last long. I've observed these thousandth tiine to bump my mouth with fogs seldom do. Only I must be careful my knees, and, to the great destruction of how I go." And so I warily stepped out my garments, I alighted on my feet and into the unknown. Somehow I felt like the ledge at the same moment -- What a sort of Jack who had climbed his Beananguish I suffered ! I had come down in stalk and was setting out for the ogre's a second as many feet as it had taken me castle. Presently I observed I was going minutes to get up.
But time is no meas- down-hill. The descent became steeper. ure of such effort. And then my gar- Once I nearly slipped. This would not ments—-! Luckily, at the rate I was do. I could see nothing ahead of me, progressing, it would be midnight before and I knew that steep grass slopes like I reached the haunts of men. But what this often end in terrible precipices. I distressed me most was that I had broken must be careful. I stopped and picked my flask and dropped my match-box. up a stone-a large one. I let it roli After a little rest I set to work again, and gently out of my hand. It bounded away this time I succeeded—that is, I climbed in an instant. I heard one bump not far to within twenty feet of the top, and there off, then absolute silence. This looked found a perpendicular wall of sheer rock, awkward. I hardly dared to move. It utterly impossible to get up. I have since seemed little use going back ; to go foradmired Alpine climbers much more. I ward was very like walking to certain thought they overrated themselves before ; death. It was better to stand still, and now I don't think they can estimate them- hope for the mist to lift. selves enough. I am an Alpine climber. After sitting shivering in the cold air,
And so I had to come down half-way wet to the skin, for about half an hour, a again. I did this less rapidly than before, yellow gleam rent the veil before me, and,
almost like magic, a wonderful picture ap- stiff. My head seemed aching a good
had hardly taken three steps, when to my The sickly light of the sunset, dazzling further relief I noticed the châlet was as it was, did not forebode a dry evening. lighted up. A pale light streamed out I was already shivering with cold ; how from some opening on the side away from should I manage if I had to pass the night me. All doubt was at an end now. I on this bleak peak? The snow lay in stepped throngh the long wet grass more broad patches around, and the chill even- confidently. In a few minntes I had reached ing air cut through my tattered clothes. the angle of the wall. I noticed that the I hastened to find a way down.
way down. After ground dropped directly from the edge of walking across a pretty level patch of the further side of the building. It bescrub, a steep slope fell away before me. hooved me to be very careful.
I had no Cautiously going down this, I had almost wish for another descent. The light still reached the edge, where it seemed I threw its pale beam across the darkness. might find foothold down the cliff, when In another moment I stood before a black the sunlight disappeared, and like a pall patch in the gray mass in front. The the mist closed in again.
light had disappeared. I thought it odd ; But I could not stop now : I was too but concluded that, alarmed by the steps cold, and it was getting dark. I could of some unknown person, the occupant see the face of the precipice, and a little had concealed the light. I took the dark ledge seemed to give hopes of a footing. patch before me for a door. I tapped at The descent was not so sheer as had been it with my stick ; but it touched nothing. that of the cliff up which I had climbed. The door must be open. I called out. For some little distance I managed famous- No answer. There was absolute silence, ly, when suddenly I missed my footing, as there had been since the church clock and—well, I don't know what happened boomed far down below in the valley. Not for the following hour or so. The next a sound in that quiet ledge, surrounded by thing I can remember is that I was lying precipices above and below, broke the on iny side, very cold and wet, and rather utter stillness of the solemn gloom.
go a little