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THE

ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. XIII. - JUNE, 1864. - NO. LXXX.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by TICKNOR
AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the
District of Massachusetts.




Transcriber's Note: Minor typos have been corrected. Footnotes have been
moved to the end of the article.




A TALK ABOUT GUIDES.


Talk about guides! Let Independence, Self-Conceit, and Go-ahead
undervalue them, if they will; but I, Sola Foemina, (for that is the
name I go by,) of Ignorance, (the place I hail from,) casting up my
unbalanced accounts, (with a view to settling,) find a large credit due
to this class of individuals, which (though I have not the means to
meet) I have no intention to repudiate.

Now and then, to be sure, I, S. F., have been reminded in my journeyings
of poor dear E., whose lively spirit was so chafed by the exactions made
upon his purse and his temper at the hands of this imperturbable race,
that at last he turned, like a stag at bay, and vented all his wrath in
the face of a startled old woman by the abrupt and emphatic query,
"What'll you take to clear out?"

Still, dogmatic and prosing as they sometimes proved, my experience on
the whole was favorable; and from the motherly old portress of the
English church at Honeybourne, who fed me with bread and butter under
her cottage-roof, and sent me away laden with garden-flowers and a
blessing, to faithful Michel, who held me over the blue fissures of the
glaciers that I might get a glimpse of their secret waterfalls, who
gathered violets for me on the margin of the icy sea, and, when I had
carelessly dropped them by the way, treasured up the faded things to
restore them to me at nightfall, - from the aged woman, with her "Good
bye till we meet in heaven," to the rough mountaineer, with his hearty
hand-pressure and God-speed at parting, I would not willingly lose one
link out of the chain of such fast friends which stretched along my way.

There is Warwick Castle, - a written history, no doubt, to scholars, a
mine of wealth to antiquaries and architects; but how incomplete would
my associations be with the spot, were you banished from the picture, my
sturdy friend, fit type of the female retainers of the household of the
King-Maker, who, stationed within the ivied approach to the castle,
presided at the brazen porridge-pot, once holding food enough to satisfy
ten score of men, now empty, save for the volume of sound which stuns
the ear when you strike it with your ponderous iron bar! Can I ever
forget the scene of laughter and riot, when you installed me within the
capacious vessel, dubbed me "Countess Guy, of the Porridge-Pot," and,
the rest of my party having been induced to accept the hospitalities of
the place, and mount my triumphal car, declared your intention to light
a fire beneath and have the finest stew in all England? The castle is a
stern place, perhaps; but how can I ever think it grim, with such a
jolly old flatterer as you stationed at its portal?

And here, in my blundering way, I have stumbled on the secret spring of
my whole subject; so I may as well make a merit of confession, and
acknowledge frankly that the trap in which these wary guides entangled
my affections was generally neither more nor less than a net of silken
flattery. Your good guide, your dear guide, your pet guide, whom
Neighbor So-and-so, going abroad, must look up immediately on his
arrival, this invaluable creature, depend upon it, is an arrant
flatterer. He does not go out of his way for you; he does not tell it
you to your face; but, somehow or other, (if he knows his vocation,) he
makes you believe, that, of all the travellers he ever escorted, (and he
has been a travellers' escort from his infancy,) you are the first, the
only one, in whose behalf duty became a privilege.

Do you suppose I put faith in Michel, when, on my second Alpine
excursion, this companion of the previous day's peril placed himself in
close proximity to my mule, took the bridle with an air of satisfaction,
and whispered with an insinuating smile, "I go with _you_ to-day; see,
there is another guide for Mademoiselle"? He was mistaken. It was my
young friend whom he was, on this occasion, destined to escort over the
mountain. He was as devoted to her as if she had been the apple of his
eye. Whether I followed next in the file, brought up the rear, or was
dashed over the precipice, I doubt if he looked behind him to discover.
Was I fool enough, then, to trust his professions? I acknowledge the
weakness. I was but a novice, he a practised courtier in the guise of a
mountaineer. To make a clean breast of it, I even suspect that his
self-gratulatory whisper is still ringing in my ear, for I find that
Mademoiselle and I are rivals in our devotion to Michel.

And Ann Harris, of Honeybourne, widow, portress of the ancient
village-church, surrounded by villagers' graves, approached by four
foot-paths over four stiles, perfect model of all the churches in all
the novels of English literature, - was it partiality for me, ancient
matron, or an eye to a silver sixpence, which made you, and makes you
still, the heroine of my day of romance? At any rate, I shall never
cease to invoke a blessing on that immaculate railway-company which
decoyed me from London into the heart of England, and, with a coolness
unexampled in the new districts of Iowa, dropped me at the sweetest nook
under the sun, there to wait three hours for the train which should have
taken me at once to Stratford, - three golden hours, in which I might
bask like a bee in a Honeybourne beyond my hopes.

Not that my Honeybourne was precisely the spot where the railway-train
left me standing deserted and alone, - alone save for a Stratford
furniture-dealer, who, unceremoniously set down in the midst of his new
stock of tables and chairs, and with nothing else in sight but a
platform, a shed, and me, looked at the last-mentioned object for
sympathy, while he cursed the departing train and swore the usual oath
of vengeance, namely, that he would never travel that road again.

_He_ got red with passion and cursed the road; _I_ stared round me and
kept cool. Was I more philosophical than he? No, but there was this
difference: he was bent on business, I on pleasure; he was in a hurry, I
could afford to wait.

Three hours, - and only a platform, a shed, and an infuriated
furniture-dealer to keep me company! This was the Honeybourne station,
but not Honeybourne. I found a railway-official hard by, had my baggage
stowed in the shed, crossed the platform, looked at my watch to make
sure of the time, then struck out into the open country. Through shady
lanes, over stiles, across the fields, on I went, in the direction
pointed out to me by two laborers whom I met at starting. The sweet
white may smiled at me from the hedges; the great sober eyes of the
cattle at pasture reflected my sense of contentment; the nonchalant
English sheep showed no signs of disturbance at my approach (unlike the
American species, which invariably take to their heels); the children
set to watch them lifted their heads from the long grass and looked
lazily after me, never doubting my right to tread the well-worn
foot-path with which every green field beguiled me on. I came out in the
vegetable-garden of a rustic cottage, one of some dozen thatched-roofed
dwellings, which, with the church and simple parsonage, constituted
sweet Honeybourne. "Oh that it were the bourne from which no traveller
returns!" was the thought of my heart, as, with a dreamy sense of
longings fulfilled, I wandered through the miniature village, across it,
around it, beyond it, and back to it again, as a bee saturated with
sweets floats round the hive.

And now to my queen-bee, Ann Harris, aforesaid!

"All the way from Lunnon! Alone, and such a distance! Bless my heart!"
cried the primitive Ann, with hands and eyes uplifted. "Come in and rest
you, and have something to eat! I have bread and butter, sweet and good,
and will boil the kettle and make you a cup of tea, if you say so."

I had already made the circuit of the church, strolled among the ancient
gravestones, crossed the moss-covered bridge, threaded the paths beneath
the hawthorn, had a vision of boundless beauty, drunk in the silence,
and dreamed out my dream of solitude, independence, and the joy of being
no one but myself knew where. Could I do better than accept this
invitation to enter the humble cottage, with the prospect of an
admittance also to an old woman's heart? Did I win the latter? or did I
only fancy it? Did the motherly creature believe me lost? or was her
astonishment only feigned? Was she really, despite her poverty, ready to
share her last crust with a stranger? or was the benignant glance which
gave me in my loneliness the sense of adoption merely an eye to
self-interest?

Dear old soul! One of us, at least, was simple-hearted and true, - either
she in her innocent professions, or I in my silly credulity. I have
faith that it was she. At all events, I do so cherish the memory of her
kindness, that, so far from treasuring the notion of the silver
sixpence, I hereby pledge myself, that, if ever the reminiscence I am
penning should be worth half as much to me in gold as it is in memory, I
will send Ann Harris at least one shining guinea, as a token how
willingly I would go shares with her in something.

And the guinea would not come amiss, for Ann was poor; her clay-floored
cottage boasted only its exquisite neatness, her furniture was of the
humblest, her dress the cheapest. She was too old for hard work; her
duties at the little church were light, - the profits, I fear, were
lighter; for that visitors to the remote sanctuary were rare her
reception of me was sufficient proof. As she guided me through the
church, I asked her if it was well attended. She shook her head sadly,
and, pointing in the direction of a neighboring village, answered, -

"Most of 'em go to chapel, yonder, - the more's the pity."

She told me that she had no provision for the coming winter, and feared
she must go to the Union. (It was not our own, then prosperous and
unbroken, Union, to which she dreaded emigrating.) She merely meant the
work-house; and as she spoke, her face wore a shadow that still clouds
my recollections of Honeybourne. I do not know if her fears were
realized, - if her cottage is forsaken, - if she dwells among paupers, or
sleeps in the village church-yard; but I cannot think of her as lonely
or poor or dead. Her saintly face told of blessed communion; I know that
she was rich in faith and hope; and were I assured that her spirit had
left the flesh, I should only picture her to myself standing erect at
heaven's doorway, welcoming strangers with the same serenity with which
she said to me at parting, - "I shall meet you _there_."

She offered me a farewell gift of flowers from her garden. It was a
beautiful cottage-garden, and many of the flowers were brilliant and
even rare, giving proof of careful, if not scientific culture. Still I
hesitated. My hands were full of sweet may, red campion, and other
native field-blossoms, which had introduced themselves to me
anonymously. They were the children of the green sod which I had been
treading so lightly on my way to the village; and, in the quiet of my
ramble, they had seemed to me like whispers from Him who made them, and
with whom I had never felt so utterly alone. I could not bear to see
them displaced by Ann's garden-belles, tempting as the latter would have
been at any other moment. She saw my indifference to her offer. I knew
she saw it working in my face. I attempted to apologize for my
preference, but she did not understand me; so I blurted out my thought,
awkwardly enough, saying, -

"Yours are beautiful; but God made these, you know, - and - and - I like
them best."

She looked down upon me gravely, pityingly, smiling, too, with a
tenderness which was neither grave nor pitying. I have seen
long-visioned people look with just that expression at the eyes of the
short-sighted, on the latter's confessing their inability to detect an
object at no great distance.

"_He made them all_," she said; and her words were an ascription of
praise.

They come to me often now. They bid me look farther and see more. They
tell me how _mine_ and _thine_ have no place in this world of _His_.
False distinctions shrink away from the light of the old woman's clearer
faith; I see how the ablest workers are but instruments in higher
hands, - how science, culture, inspiration itself, are but gifts to be
laid on His altar.

I need scarcely say that I at once found room for Ann's flowers in my
hand, as for her lesson in my heart. Some of the former are pressed and
laid away as a sacred memento, and something of the latter is treasured
up among good seed sown by the way-side.

I would gladly have lingered longer in this little nook, into which I
seemed to have been drifted by chance; but my time was up, - I had a mile
or two to walk over the fields in the direction of the railway, - my
friends were to meet me at Stratford. Should I miss the train this time,
my philosophy might fail me as signally as that of the above-mentioned
furniture-dealer failed him.

A few hours after I bade my old friend farewell, I was at my
destination. Millions have shared my experiences at the tomb of the
great poet. Everybody is familiar with William Shakspeare and
Stratford-on-Avon, but I hug the thought that nobody but I knows
anything about Ann Harris and Honeybourne.

* * * * *

I have dwelt upon an occasion in which the humble office of a guide
resulted in companionship, friendship, instruction. A brief sojourn in
Alpine regions has furnished me with a similar reminiscence.

We were setting forth for a day's ride across the Tête-Noire. Our party
consisted of five, and we had two guides. Our baggage, which was for the
most part light, was strapped on the backs of the mules behind the
riders. One article, however, a square box of considerable proportions,
proved refractory, and, veering from side to side, refused to maintain
the even balance which, owing to the rough nature of the bridle-path,
was essential to the safety of both mule and rider. We were obliged to
halt again and again, that the box might be restrapped, always with
doubtful success. Each time that we drew up in line for this purpose we
were overtaken by a Swiss youth, who had perceived our dilemma, and who
hoped, by following us up closely, to make a job out of it. There was
but a limited knowledge of French among us, (the language in which the
youth spoke,) still, by aid of his vehement gestures, he made us
understand that he was ready, for a consideration, to accompany us on
our toilsome journey, and carry the box on his back.

"Eight francs, Monsieur, - I will do it for eight francs!" But the box
was righted, his services seemed superfluous, and we moved on,
regardless of his beseeching looks.

A fresh delay soon ensued, the boy came panting up, and this time it was
"Seven francs," - nay, as we rode away from him, he frantically shouted,
"Six!" His prospects seemed hopeless, but destiny and perseverance were
on his side, - the box gave another alarming lurch, - the heated and
almost discouraged youth made one last appeal, -

"Four francs, Monsieur! I will do it for four francs!" and the day was
his.

He was not a regular guide, appointed by Government and furnished with a
certificate, as is the law of the Alpine district for all who serve in
this responsible capacity. We had engaged him simply as a porter. Still,
the docile youth had no sooner strapped the box on his back than, seeing
that I was the only lady unprovided with an attendant, he drew my mule's
bridle through his arm, and quietly took me in charge.

No matter how charming a travelling-party you belong to, the moment they
are all mounted and climbing a mountain, single file, you feel yourself
a unit in creation. Everybody has turned his back upon you, and you have
turned your back upon everybody. You are a solitary traveller. Are you
aghast at your own situation on the steep slope of a mule's back, with a
precipice above your head and your feet dangling over a gulf below?
There is no help for it. Imagine yourself a sack of meal, if you can,
and expect as little sympathy as would be accorded to that article. Are
you moved to a keen sense of the ridiculous, as a curve in the road
discloses the figures of your elongated party, unused to riding, and
rendered the more grotesque by their mountain-equipment? A laugh
unshared is no laugh at all, so you may as well smother it at once. Does
the scenery through which you are passing awaken emotions of sublimity?
It would be sacrilege to shout out your sentiments to the occupant of
the next mule in such tones as a watchman would employ to cry, "Fire!"
No, - if you are essentially a social creature, there is nothing for it
but to bottle up your sensibilities and await the opportunity for an
explosion when you reach your inn.

Something like this result occurred, I remember, on the evening of that
very day, when Mademoiselle, who, under the charge of Michel, led the
van, met me at the hotel at Martigny, at which place she had of course
arrived a little in advance. We were not usually more demonstrative in
our manners than is customary among New-England women, but the moment I
could alight we rushed into each other's embrace, regardless of a crowd
of astonished porters and guides, mutually insisting, by way of apology,
that it seemed as if we had not met for a year.

Having dwelt upon this peculiar isolation experienced by the Alpine
traveller, it may be conjectured, that, when the boy, Auguste, drew my
bridle through his arm, I felt very much as Robinson Crusoe did when he
was joined by his man Friday. Auguste and I soon became friends. He was
a large, round-faced, mild-eyed youth, who, the instant the excitement
of securing his employment was past, subsided into a soft, even pace
like that of a dog. Now and then, too, he looked up at the mule and me,
precisely as a dog, accompanying his master, looks up to see if all is
right.

I did not talk to him at first. His mere presence was satisfaction
enough. After a while we grew more sociable. He spoke a French _patois_.
So did I. His was peculiar to the province, - mine wholly original, - but
both answered the purpose of communication, and so were satisfactory.
He had the essential characteristic of his profession, - he was one of
the oily-tongued tribe, simple as he seemed, and I the willing victim;
for I am confident that I straightened in my saddle, and talked more
glibly than ever in the language peculiar to myself, on the strength of
his _naïve_ surprise at learning the place of my nativity, and his
polite exclamation, "_De l'Amèrique! O! j'avais cru que vous étiez de
Paris_!"

The conversation you hold with your guide has this advantage, - you can
suspend it at will. There are miles of travel, in crossing the
Tête-Noire, when, if your most sympathizing friend walked beside you,
the thought of both hearts would be, "Let all the earth keep silence!"
and in the absence of such unspoken sympathy, the next best thing is the
innocent gravity of an attendant hired for so many francs a day, and not
presuming to speak unless spoken to.

But when these sublimer passages are passed, when the path skirts the
edge of the valley, when the giant mountains have retired a little and
you slacken the tense cord of emotion which for a while has held you
spell-bound, it is a relief to loosen the tongue also, and reassure
yourself with the sound of the human voice. Thus Auguste and I had
frequent dialogues. He told me something of his past life, which I do
not remember very well. I think its chief incident was his having been
drafted for the army, and having served his term. Of his future,
however, he spoke with an earnestness which has left its impression on
my mind. He said that the next winter he meant to go to Paris and seek a
service; and his perseverance in wringing employment out of us inclines
me to think that he fulfilled his intention. Savoy, to which province he
belonged, had just been annexed to France. A party of guides from
Chamouni had the day before succeeded, with difficulty, in planting the
imperial flag on the summit of Mont Blanc. Was it this which had
awakened the ambition of the young Savoyard to share the spoils of the
empire of which he had so suddenly become a member? Perhaps (I never
thought of it before, but perhaps) he was already seeking means for his
journey to the capital. Perhaps the price of his hard-won service was to
be the nucleus of his savings. Have I, then, aided your purpose,
Auguste? helped to transform you from a simple mountain-lad to a mere
link in a chain of street-sweepers, an artful official of a third-rate
billiard-saloon, or a roystering cab-driver with his perpetual entreaty
for an extra fee in the form of "_Quelque chose à boire_"? My mind
shrinks from the possibility, for I cannot bear to think of him as other
than he then seemed, - a child of Nature and of the truth.

In the course of our day's journey we drew near a little village. I had
been chatting with Auguste and felt in a loquacious mood, but paused as
I found myself passing through the village, - in other words, sneaking
round the corner of one shabby hut, and straight through the farm-yard
of the next, and close by the windows of a third, - the three, and a few
other stray buildings, constituting the hamlet. As it seemed an
impertinence to follow such an intrusive, inquisitive little road at
all, we could, of course, do no less than maintain a dumb propriety in
the presence of the children and kitchen-utensils, but, as we left them
behind and struck across an open field, my eye fell on one of those
way-side shrines common in all Roman-Catholic districts. It was a
miniature arch of plastered or whitewashed stone, and contained, as
nearly as I could judge from the glimpse I had in passing, two coarse
dolls, intended to represent the Virgin and Child.

"What is that, Auguste?" I asked, with feigned ignorance.

"A place of worship," he answered; "the people come there to pray."

"But what do they come _there_ for?" I continued.

"_God is there_," he answered, with emphasis, pointing at the same time
to the gayly dressed puppets.

"No, He is not," I replied.

He turned round and looked at me defiantly. His mild face became that
of a fanatic, and I actually quailed beneath his angry eye, as he
retorted, -

"He _is_ there."

My mistake flashed upon me, too, at the instant, and I hastened to
explain myself in the simplest manner my poor French would allow,
saying, -

_"Oui, Auguste, Il est là, c'est vrai; mais Il est là aussi!"_ - and I
pointed to the snow-capped mountains on my right, - _"et là!"_ - and I
waved my hand towards the deeply shadowed heights on the opposite side
of the valley.

He caught my meaning as by an inspiration. His fierce frown melted
instantly into an intelligent smile.

_"Il est partout!"_ exclaimed the youth, with enthusiasm, his childlike,
eager eyes seeking a response in mine.

I nodded in affirmation of the truth. It was enough. Catholic and
Protestant had met on common ground, - we understood each other, - we were
reconciled.

Has he carried his large faith with him into the great metropolis? and
have I kept mine unshaken in spite of the storm that is raging in my
native land? Armed in his simplicity only, he has gone to meet the gusts
of temptation; and I have lived to see the Republic, which I believed
inviolable as Mother Earth herself, tremble and totter, as one after
another of her rotten pillars has fallen away. God grant that we may
both, in this day of our peril, be able, as then, to realize that "_Il
est partout_"!

During my short Alpine journey I held the office of paymaster for our
party, my election being due not so much to proficiency in the queer
dialect above alluded to as to courage in the use of it. It is always a
pleasant office to disburse the funds, but was never more so than when,
late at night, Michel and Auguste came to the hotel at Martigny to
receive the reward of their day's toil. Michel had his full dues in
money, and plenty of praise to boot; Auguste, evidently much to his


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 13, No. 80, June, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 21)