You’re far, yet to my heart you’re nearest near;
Absent, yet present in my sprite you appear.
Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton’s “Arabian Nights”).
We left Venice one evening in early April at half past nine, after six weeks’ stay, and travelled by the night train to Padua. We then went through a terrible experience. We started on a twenty-four hours’ drive without a stoppage, without a crumb of bread or a drop of water. We drove through Milan at 8.30 in the morning, and after leaving it we got a magnificent view of the Alps, and had a very troublesome frontier. At last we came to Turin. We went on in a train with a diligence on it, and arrived at Susa, our last Italian town. Here the diligence was taken off the train. We had fourteen mules and two horses, and began to ascend Mont Cenis. These were the days when there were no trains there. Some of us with the conductor climbed up the shorter cuts (like ascending a chimney) until dark, and met the diligence. We had a splendid view. But what a night! The snow in some places was twenty feet deep, and the wind and sleet seemed as if they would sweep us over; it was wild and awful, one vast snow scene, and the scenery magnificent. At midnight we came to the top; but here was the worst part, where the smaller road begins. Here, as before, we only went at a foot’s pace, and the horses could hardly stand. The men kept tumbling off, the vehicle was half buried in the snow, there were drifts every few paces, and we had to be cut out. At Lans le Bourg at one o’clock we stopped, and they gave us some bad soup, for which we gratefully paid four francs. The few travellers were ascending and descending, asking all sorts of questions. We tried to sleep, but ever and anon some accident happened to wake us. Every here and there we tried to knock somebody up for assistance; but it appeared to me as if most of the houses of refuge were shut up, thinking that nobody would be mad enough to travel in such weather. We were so tired that it seemed as if the horses were wandering about, not knowing where they were going to. Everything tumbled about most uncomfortably in a snowy, dreamy state of confusion. Some of the men roared with laughter at one of the postilions sprawling off his horse into the snow, and floundering about without being able to get up again. Things went on like that till 7 a.m., when we pulled up at the station, St. Jean de Marienne, where we ought to have caught the 6 a.m. train, but it was gone; so there was nothing for it but to remain for the 10.20, and get a good breakfast. We took the 10.20 train, and arrived at 12.20 at Chambéry. Here a civil man convinced us that we had to choose between two disagreeables; so we took the lesser, remained at Chambéry till five o’clock, and then started by diligence, and (what we did not know) tired horses.
At midnight, when body and soul were worn out (we had not had our clothes off for three days and nights, hardly any food or other necessities; we had been sitting with our knees up to our chins in that blessed coupé, which was like a chimney-piece big enough for two, the windows close to our faces) — well, I say, when body and soul were worn out, they shot us down like so much rubbish at a miserable inn at Annecy at midnight, and swore they would go no farther. My brother-in-law stuck to his place, and refused to move till we had got another diligence and fresh horses; so seeing there was no help for it, they did get them, and transferred our baggage. Then we took our places and drove off. The road was nearly impassable; the driver frequently stopped at places to entreat that they would give him more horses, but all the inns were shut up and asleep, and nobody cared to hear him, so we lost half an hour every here and there. Morning came, but we stuck again, and were not near to the end of our journey. We turned into an inn, where we got some chocolate, and sat round a stove with the peasants, who chaffed our driver, his exploits, and his poor horses. That morning we passed an exquisite bridge over a chasm, of which I would give worlds to have a photograph. One seemed suspended between heaven and earth. I learnt afterwards that my bridge is between Crusie-Caille; it is 636 feet long, and 656 above the stream. The old road winds beneath it; the Sardinians call it the Ponte Carlo Aberto. A few more difficulties, and at 10.30 a.m., Wednesday, April 7, we arrived at the Hôtel des Bergues, Geneva. The poor horses were delighted the moment they saw Geneva below, and put on a spurt of themselves.
The Hôtel des Bergues, Geneva (at the time I write), is the second best hotel here; we have three cheerful rooms on the lake, and a dull table d’hôte at five o’clock. The lake is like blue crystal, on which we have a five-ton sailing-boat; the sky without a cloud; the weather like May. The nights are exquisite. The peasants are ugly; they wear big hats, and speak bad French. It is a terrible place for stomach-ache, owing to the mountain water. The religion is a contrast to Italy — little and good. As I am Number Three of our party, I have had all along to make my own life and never be in the way of the married couple. We arrived here in time for the railway fête; there were flags and feux de joie, bands, and a magnificent peasant ball. Our Minister for Switzerland, whose name was Gordon, came for the fête (the French Minister refused). He dined here, spent the evening with us, and took us to the ball. The Union Jack floated at our windows in his honour. A pretty place Geneva, but very dull. The spring begins to show itself in the trees and hedges. I long for the other side of the lake. We walk and sail a great deal.
I have not heard a word from Richard, and I am waiting like Patience on a monument in grand expectation of what the few months may bring, relying on his sister having told me that he will be home this summer, when I feel that something decisive will take place. This day I have had an offer from an American, polished, handsome, fifty years of age, a widower, with £300,000 made in California; but there is only one man in the world who could be master of such a spirit as mine. People may love (as it is called) a thousand times, but the real feu sacré only burns once in one’s life. Perhaps some feel more than others; but it seems to me that this love is the grandest thing in this nether world, and worth all the rest put together. If I succeed, I shall know how to prove myself worthy of it. If any woman wants to know what this feu sacré means, let her ascertain whether she loves fully and truly with brain, heart, and passion. If one iota is wanting in the balance of any of these three factors, let her cast her love aside as a spurious article — she will love again; but if the investigation is satisfactory, let her hold it fast, and let nothing take it from her. For let her rest assured love is the one bright vision Heaven sends us in this wild, desolate, busy, selfish earth to cheer us on to the goal.
My American Croesus is not my only chance. A Russian general here, a man of about forty years, with loads of decorations, who knows many languages, is a musician, and writes, has made me an offer. He is a man of family, has nine châteaux, and half a million of francs income. He saw me at the altar of the Madonna, Genoa, two months ago. He tells me he fell as much in love with me as if he were a boy of fifteen. He followed me, changed his hotel to come here, came to dinner, and took the room next to me. He serenades me on the violin at 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and at 7 a.m. He sent me a bouquet and a basket of fruit, and a letter of about six pages long to tell me that the Tsar is a great man, that he (the general) has bled for his country, and that if I will marry him — “Que je serai dans ses bras” (what a temptation!) “et qu’il me fera la déesse du pays.” I refused him of course.
On June 10, when we were in bed at one o’clock in the morning, all the steamers set up a peal. I, who was lying awake, rushed to the window, and then called up the others. We looked out, and saw that apparently the back of our hotel and the whole Quartier des Bergues was in flames. We gave the alarm in the house, ran down the corridors to arouse everybody, and then to our rooms to put on what we could, collect a few treasures and our animals. I took the bullfinch (Toby) and Richard’s picture, the Pigotts took each a dog, and down we cut. By this time thousands of people were running to the rescue, every bell in the town was ringing, the whole fire brigade turned out, and they even telegraphed to the borders of France to send down reinforcements. Dozens of engines were at work, and we soon learnt that our hotel was not on fire, but that the fire was so extensive they could scarcely distinguish what was on fire and what was not. In a street at the back of us nine houses were burning, a café, and an entrepôt of inflammables; and the pompiers said that if we had a north-east wind instead of a south-west one, nothing could have saved our whole quartier from destruction. Every soul in Geneva was there, and the roofs of the houses were crowded; and we went up on the roof of the hotel to see the wonderful sight. The fire brigade was on the ground for thirty hours. They could do nothing for the houses already on fire, but only prevent its spreading by playing on the surrounding ones, which were red-hot, as was the back of our hotel. Fresh firemen and engines arrived from France. Among the animals destroyed were one horse and two cows, some sheep, and some goats, in their sheds. A cage of birds fell and opened, and the poor little things escaped, but in their fright flew about in the flames. A baby, whom the mother forgot in its bed (most unnatural), and two men were killed: one was crushed by the falling roof, and the other burned. Two firemen lost their lives: one in trying to save a woman (God bless him!), in which he succeeded, but fell in the flames himself; another was mortally burnt; and also two persons were lost whose bodies could never be found. It appeared that a Frenchman had a quarrel in the café, and out of spite went out and contrived to set it alight. The populace say (he is caught and in prison) that they will lynch him, and burn him at the stake. The loss of property is great. The flames arose above the whole town, and seemed to lick the whole quartier. It was a dark night, and everybody was in deshabillé from their beds, and there was a horrible smell of burnt flesh.
We started on July 1, a large and merry party, from Geneva one beautiful morning at the top of the diligence, and drove through an English-looking country to Sallenches. Here we took some vehicles that ought to have been built in the year I B.C., which shook my sister quite ill; but we who could walk much preferred doing so, as well for ease as for seeing the scenery, to which no pen of mine could ever do justice. We arrived at Chamounix in the evening, bathed and dined, and took a moonlight stroll through the town and valley. Chamounix is the second thing that has never disappointed me. I look around, and as far as my eye can stretch up and down the valley are ranges of grand mountains, covered with firs, Alpine roses, and wild rhododendrons, and above these splendid peaks, some covered with snow, almost overhanging us, and standing out in bold relief against the bluest of skies. I note it all — the peaceful hamlet in the vale at the foot of Mont Blanc, the church spire distinct against that background of firs on the opposite mountainside, the Orne rushing through the town, the balconies and little gardens, the valley dotted with châlets, the Glacier du Boisson and Mer de Glace sparkling in the sun. How glorious it is!
We had to start next morning at daybreak before the sun should become too hot. We dressed in little thick boots, red petticoats that we might see each other at a distance, brown Holland jackets and big hats, a pike and a mule and a guide each, besides other guides. At first the mule appears to step like an ostrich, and you think of your mount at home, and you tremble as you see the places he has to go up, or, worse, to go down. In time you arrive at the top of the Flégère. From here you see five glaciers, the best view of Mont Blanc and other peaks too numerous to mention. We met some pleasant people, dined together at the châlet, and drew caricatures in the travellers’ book. One or two of us went up as far as the Grands Mulets without guides, slept there, and descended early, where we picked up our party. In the descent we walked, and some of the mules ran away. Not finding ourselves quite pumped by the descent, we proposed ascending to the Chapeau the opposite side, to look at the Mer de Glace, which we did; and as we were mounting we had the pleasure of seeing an avalanche and some smaller falls. We were joined by a party of seven jolly Scotch girls, and we descended with them. We were very tired.
Our next excursion was to Montanvert, which ascent was most magnificent. The lower part of the mountain is a garden of wild flowers, roses, and firs, and between the mountains stood out wondrous peaks. Against the sky was the Aiguille Verte, leaning as much over as the Campanile at Pisa. It is wonderful to think of the commotion there must have been when these immense masses of rock were scattered there by the convulsions of Nature, and the trees were crushed. At Montanvert we fed, and were joined by others from the Mer de Glace. Here those who had weak heads went back, and those who feared not nor cared not went on. Every lady had her guide and alpenstock, every man had his alpenstock, and all of us were strapped round our waists to hold on to each other. A little cannon was fired to tell us the echo and announce our start. The first part was easy enough, and a man with a hatchet in advance cut us footsteps. (Albert Smith has opened this passage within five years.) Here and there is a stream of water, so pure one might fancy it to be melted diamonds. Thousands of chasms in the ice, five hundred or more feet deep, of a beautiful blue colour, and a torrent beneath, had to be passed by a plank thrown across. What is a precipice to-day is closed up to-morrow by the constant movement of the ice. Take the tout ensemble, it gives you the idea of a rebellious sea that had dared to run mountains high, in defiance of its Creator, who had struck it (while in motion) into ice. Here and there came a furious waterfall or torrent; a plank was then thrown across in a safe part. Once I slipped, and my legs fell in, and my alpenstock; but I clung to the stump till hauled up. Then came the Mauvais Pas. You descend the side of a precipice by holes cut for your feet, and let yourself down by a rope. If one has got a good head, it is worth while looking down. Hamlets look like a set of tea-things, men (if seen at all) like ants beneath one; and how glorious! one is suspended between heaven and earth, and one’s immortal part soars higher than the prison carcase can! As one loves to feel one’s own nothingness by the side of the man to whom one has given one’s heart, so does this feeling (the best we own) increase in magnitude when it relates to God. He holds you there, He guards against that false step which would dash you to pieces, and gives you the power of brain to look below, around, and upwards, to wonder and to thank. I think this was the most intense excitement of its sort that I had felt in my girl travelling life. At last we arrived at the Chapeau, and descended the same mountain as yesterday.
The next day we proposed ascending the Glacier du Boisson, and reascending Mont Blanc for a few hours; but some of our party were anxious to get home so we ordered some rackety vehicles for Argentières next morning, and there the strong betook themselves to their legs and alpenstocks, and the weak to mules. We strolled gaily along, making wreaths of wild flowers for our hats, singing the Ranz des Vaches and all that, though still in Savoy, and we mounted the Col de Balme. This is one of the darkest and sublimest views imaginable. On one side you look down the valley of Chamounix and the Savoy Mountains; the Col seems like a high barrier with one hut on it. On the other side you look over the Bernese Alps, and you see a spectacle not of everyday occurrence. Turn to Switzerland, all is sunshiny, bright, and gay; turn to Savoy, a thunder-storm is rolling along the valley beneath, and you stand there on the Col in winter, in snow, shivering, hail, wind, and sleet driving in your face. You see on one side, half a mile below, autumn; on the other spring, with buttercups, daisies and all sorts of wild flowers, and forsooth the cuckoo; and at the bottom of both valleys is summer, bright or stormy. At this place the ruffian who keeps the hut makes you pay twenty-eight francs for a slice of ham, and you come out rather amused at the people who are swearing on that account. Some delicate ladies are in semi-hysterics at the storm, or the black, frowning spot on which we find ourselves, and are rushing about, making tender inquiries after each other’s sensitive feelings. After an hour’s rest we start, the weak ones for Martigny, the strong by a steep path in the mountains, which brings us after a couple of hours to spring. But stop awhile in winter. A black range of mountains dark and desolate are dressed in thunder-clouds. You feel awed, yet you would rather see it so than in sunshine. A small bit of table-land is on the side; it makes you think of an exile in Siberia or Dante’s Damned Soul in a Hell of Snow. We were all silent. No doubt we all made our reflections; and mine ran thus:
“If an angel from heaven came from almighty God, and told you that Richard was condemned to be chained on that plateau for a hundred years in expiation of his sins before he could enter heaven, and gave you the choice between sharing his exile with him or a throne in the world beneath, which would you choose?”
My answer did not keep me long in suspense; it came in this form:
“A throne would be exile without him, and exile with him a home!”
We reached spring, and passed the châlets where Gruyère cheese is made; and I stopped the herdsman, and took a lesson in the Ranz des Vaches amidst much laughter, and to the evident amusement of a cuckoo, who chimed in. The descent of the Tête Noir is the most beautiful thing we have seen; at any rate, it is the most graven on my memory. It is down the side of magnificently wooded mountains, with bridges of a primitive kind, overhanging precipices, and looks into the dark valley, part of which never sees the sun. Here we sang snatches of Linda de Chamounix; the scenery reminds one of it, and comes up to, or even surpasses, all that I have read or thought. In one place we came to an immense rock that had fallen, and was just on the balance over a precipice, and there it has hung for hundreds and thousands of years. The peasants are fait soit peu sauvage, and they dealt us out plainly plenty of chaff as they gave us water, in the fond belief that we did not understand French. At length we reached the châlet where travellers feed. After dinner at nine o’clock the moon rose, and we went through a splendid forest on a mountain-side, with a torrent dashing below. I lit my cigarette, and went a little ahead of my party. There are sacred moments and heavenly scenes I cannot share with the common herd. There was only one voice which I could have borne to break the silence, and that, like heaven, was so far off as to be like a fable now. At length we arrived at a hut at the top of the Mont Forclaz, a hut where we must have our passport viséd — why, I do not know, as we have long since been in Switzerland. The gendarme grumbled something about “eccentric English who scale the mountains in the night.” A hint to be quick is all he gets, and we descend. Now we were so tired that we mounted our mules on the assurance that it would rest us; but such a descent I should never care to do again. The road was steep and unfinished; the moon was under a cloud; there were precipices on each side. The step of the mule sends one upon a narrow, hard saddle, bumping one moment against the pommels, and the next on to the baggage here and there. There is a roll over a loose stone; but the clever mule, snuffing and pawing its way, nimbly puts its feet together, and slides down a slab of rock. My companions got down and walked, tired as they were. I really could not; and seeing the mule was so much cleverer than myself, I knotted the bridle and threw it on his back, and in the dark put my leg over the other side, and rode down straddle like a man, half an hour in advance of the rest. They said there were wolves on these mountains, but I did not see or hear any. I had only my pike to defend myself with, and should have been in an awful fright had I come across a wolf. At midnight I reached the hotel at Martigny, and went to bed.
Our next move was to charter a carriage that would hold us all inside and out. We had a splendid drive through the valley of the Rhone for some days, and visited many places.
I was immensely impressed by Chillon at night. The lake lies at our feet like a huge crystal with a broad track of moonlight on it. A moment ago it was fine starlight, and now the moon rises behind the Dent du Midi, lighting up those magnificent mountains too brightly for the stars. Vevey is asleep, and no noise is heard save the splash of an oar, or a bit of loose rock rolling with a crash down the mountain, or the buzz of some insect going home late. A bat flutters near my face now and then; there is a distant note from a nightingale. How refreshing is the soft breeze and the sweet smell of the hay after the heat of the day! And now crossing the moonlight track, westward bound, glides a lateen sail like a colossal swan. These are the scenes that, save for the God Who made them, let us know we are alone on earth. These are the moments when we miss the hand we want to clasp in ours without speaking, and yet be understood; but my familiar spirit with whom I could share these moments is not here.
At last we received orders to be ready within an hour’s notice to leave Geneva for Lausanne, and we were very glad to obey. We had been too long at Geneva, and were heartily tired of it, especially after all the beautiful things we had seen. It was, however, found that the cutter would not hold us all; so the maid and I went with the baggage and animals, and also Mr. Richard Sykes (who brought a letter from my brother Jack, a charming, gentlemanly boy of twenty, who joined us for a few weeks), by steamer to Lausanne, and put up at an auberge at Ouchy on the water’s edge, where we waited the sailing party. Ouchy consists (1858) of a humble street and an old fashioned inn at the water’s edge beneath Lausanne. Here we took three little rooms, one for Mr. Sykes, one for the maid, and one for me, which was half bedroom, half drawing-room, with a good view. The others arrived in a few days, having met the bise and had to put back to port. Here I found some one with whom I could begin German. I rowed and swam a great deal. There is a beautiful country for driving and walking, and our chaloupe is now at anchor. In this last we were able to make excursions.
Among other places we ran over to Evian, twelve miles across on the opposite coast. There were one hundred and twenty-five people in the hotel, who were very kind, and made a great fuss with us; and we had great fun, though they had great difficulty in making room for us. Mr. Sykes had to go to an old tower in the garden, and my room was somewhere under the tiles. We often gave them supper and cigarettes at 11.30, after music and impromptu dancing in the evening. They were all vastly kind to us, and when we went away they came down to see us off in our cutter.
When we got half-way across the lake, I said to my brother-in-law, “Does it not look rather like wind out there? “ He gave a short, quick command at once to take every bit of sail down; but we knew nothing of lake-sailing, though we knew sea-sailing, and before we had got it half down the wind came upon us like a wall, and threw us on our side. Our bobstay snapped like sealing-wax, our mainsail rent like ribbon, our foresail flew away, and she would not answer her helm, and we remained in the trough of the waves, which rose awfully high. We then cut away the jib. We had given up all hope, having beaten about for a long time, and two of us had been in the water for three-quarters of an hour. At length we spied five boats putting out to us, and we were truly thankful. It appeared that the fishermen had refused to come before, because they were convinced we had gone down long ago, and all the village people were on their knees praying for us. We were safely towed in by the five boats, much too disabled to help ourselves, and the cutter was smashed to pieces. We rewarded the men liberally, got some brandy, dried our clothes, and went back by the next steamer.
There was a grand fête at Lausanne. The canteen of Swiss woodwork was decorated with branches, and there were shooting-galleries, the usual booths and whirligigs, a very respectable vagrant theatre, a dancing-circus and band. The streets were all festooned with garlands, and bits of sentiment such as, “Liberté et patrie,” “Un bras pour la défendre, un coeur pour l’aimer,” etc.
It was cloudless weather that evening at Lausanne, the sky clear and high, the country fresh, green, and sweet-smelling. The mountains surrounded one-half the lake with twenty different shades at the setting sun, from palest pink on the snow-peaks to the deepest purple on the rocks. It was all quiet enough after leaving the merriment of the fair, with only the noise of birds or bees, and the sweet smell of wild flowers in the fresh air. Later the evening star came out in the pale sky, and the glow-worms shone like brilliants in the grass. I thought of Richard in that far-away swamp in Central Africa, and a voiceless prayer rose to my lips. I wonder if he too is thinking of me this time? And as I thought an angelic whisper knocked at my heart and murmured, “Yes.”
After we had been at Lausanne some time, I got ill. I was fretting because there was no news at all about Richard; I had been hoping to hear from him for two months. I had enough of the climate too. I had a habit of rowing myself out a little way, undressing in the boat, jumping in for a swim, climbing back into the boat, and rowing ashore; and one day I was too hot, and I just had the strength to give the last pull to the oar ashore, when I fainted. There were no doctors, no medicines, and I lay ill on my very hard bed with a dreadful pain in my side for three weeks. But I was too strong to die; and one day somebody got me a bottle of Kirschwasser, and drinking it in small quantities at a time seemed to take away the pain; but I was very pale and ill, and every one said I had rheumatic fever. We were all three more or less ill, and did not like to part; but it was a necessity, so I was sent forward with twelve pieces of baggage and sixteen napoleons to work my way from Ouchy to Honfleur, where I was to wait for my brother-in-law and sister, Honfleur being a quieter place than Havre. Poor Blanche looked so worn and sad!
I got in a railway-carriage by myself, and asked the guard to look after me because I was alone; but just before the train started he put in a man, and begged my pardon, saying it was inevitable, as there was not a place in any other carriage. In about twenty minutes the man began to make horrible faces at me, and I was so dreadfully frightened I felt I must speak; so I said, “I am afraid you are ill”; and he said, “Yes; I very sorry, but I am going to have an epileptic fit.” He was almost immediately black, and in horrible contortions. It was an express train. There was no means of communicating with the guard (1858), and there was no use in screaming; so, frightened though I was, I pulled the man down on the ground, undid his cravat, and loosened all about his neck. I had no medicine with me, except a quarter of a bottle of sweet spirits of nitre, which I was taking for rheumatic fever. I poured it all down his throat, and then I covered his face over with a black silk handkerchief I had round my neck, that I might not see him, and squeezed myself up in the farthest corner. In about twenty minutes he came to, and asked me how long he had been like that. I told him, and he asked me if I was dreadfully frightened, and I said,” Yes.” He said, “I am subject to these fits, but they generally last much longer; this has been very slight.” So I said, ‘‘l think it is my duty to tell you that I have put about three ounces of spirits of nitre down your throat.” He said, “Well, I think it must have done me good, because I feel very comfortable.” I called the guard the first station we arrived at, told him what had occurred, and begged him to move me into a carriage with other people, which he did. I never knew anything so slow as the trains were; and at the stations there seemed no one to help, nor to tell one where anything was. I got two seats with my back to the engine, so that I could lie down. The heat was intense. The carriage was crammed. There was a ladylike little woman, with a brawny nurse and two of the worst-behaved children I ever saw. They fought, and sang, and cried, and teased my bullfinch, and kicked my shins, and trod on my toes; but the mother was too nice to offend, and so I bore it. At Maçon at 8 p.m. we stopped to sup; and then I felt I could bear no more of it, so I begged the guard to change me to a quiet carriage, and he put me in with two gentlemanly Spaniards. There was plenty of room, and we had a quiet night enough, only one of them was so long that every now and then in his sleep he put his feet into my lap or on the birdcage.
We arrived at 6 a.m., and drove for at least an hour to the Havre station in the pouring rain. Here my troubles began. It was past seven, the train was at 8.25; so I thought I had time to get a little breakfast at the café. I did so, and returned. The porters were very rude to me, and refused to weigh my baggage, saying I was too late. In vain I entreated, and I had to return to my café and sit in a miserable room from 8 o’clock to 1 p.m. I drank a bottle of gingerbeer, and did my accounts, but my head was too stupid to do them properly; so with the idea that I had only forty-eight francs left, I had taken my ticket to Havre, but not paid the baggage, and I had still to get to Honfleur. I then got scared with fancying I had lost four napoleons, and sat looking at my purse in despair. Then I discovered I had lost a bunch of keys, that the turquoise had fallen out of my ring, that I had broken my back comb, and left behind part of my dressing-case. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I had no blessing because I had not said my morning prayers; so I at once knelt down, and during my prayers a light flashed on me that there were five napoleons to a hundred francs, and the money was right to a farthing, so I rose with a thankful heart heedless of smaller evils. I took the one o’clock train, which went fast. It was hot, windy, dusty, crowded; but no matter, I drove straight to the boat. Alas! it was gone, and I had only a few francs. There was nothing for it but to go to the hotel opposite the boats, and ask for a room, a hot bath, some tea and bread-and-butter (I had been out thirty-six hours without rest). I was on board the first boat, which steamed off at a quarter to seven in the morning, and at eight was safely housed at the Hôtel d’Angleterre, Honfleur, forty-eight hours after leaving Ouchy, with three-ha’pence in my pocket. Unfortunately at Havre there was a law by which the porters were not obliged to weigh your baggage unless you came half an hour before the time, but that nobody ever did, and they would not dare nor think of refusing a French person; but because I was an English girl, and alone, they abused their power. I was only five minutes after time; there was twenty-five minutes to spare, and they were rude into the bargain. They are not paid by Government (1858), and there is no tariff. They follow you like a flock of sheep, and say, “We will carry your baggage if you pay us, and if not we will not.” My purse prevented my being very free-handed; they would not take less than a franc and a half, and slang you for that; and I spent eighteen francs on them between Lausanne and Honfleur.
Honfleur is a horrid place. It is a fishing town, containing about ten thousand people of an inferior class, as dull as the grave, no society, and, still worse, not the necessaries of life — the only good things are the fruit, the sea, and country. There are two hotels, which in England we should call public-houses; not a room fit to sleep in, so I have had a bed put in a kind of observatory at the top of the house. I can shut out all, and live with nature and my books. There is a terrace, and at high tide the sea rolls under it, and at a stretch I could fancy myself on board a ship; but, thank God, I am getting better.
They come and ask you what you would like for dinner:
“Ce que vous avez à la maison; je ne suis pas difficile.” “Nous avons tout du melon, par exemple — des crevettes,” etc.
What they want to feed me on here are melons and water. An Englishman came the other day, very hungry, and wanted to dine. “Voulez-vous une omelette, monsieur?” “Damn your omelette!” he said; “I want to dine.” He was obliged to go. The servants are one remove from animals, and the family ditto, except madame, who is charming. The weather is beastly, the sea is muddy, the sand all dirt; there is not a piano in the town. The baths are half an hour from here, and the Basse gents are excessively sauvage. But even in this fifth-rate society I found a grain of wheat among the chaff — a Parisian Spanish woman, the wife of a physician, here for her child’s health, very spirituelle, not pretty, and devoted to Paris. We smoke and read, and she gives me the benefit of her experience, which I really think I had better have been without; but she is a jolly little creature, and I do not know how I should pass my time without her.
Blanche and my brother-in-law joined me at Honfleur a fortnight after my arrival; and having received a draft for fresh supplies, we determined to start next day. We had a delightful trip of six hours up the Seine to Rouen; we revisited the old cathedral, and walked up to that little gem Notre Dame de bon Secours. I am very fond of Rouen; it is such a lovely place. We went on to Dieppe, and had a calm passage to Southampton. Once more I was in England. We went straight to London, and home.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52