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to see it? Yes, it is locked up," he replied, after making a curious grimace, accompanied by a flourish of his head which might I thought, be intended for the sign of the cross thrown upon the air, “and certainement,” with strong emphasis, “certainement, every body that passes by is not permitted to see it.” “I suppose you mean that we are to pay for looking at it ?" said I.
Pay ?” he again echoed ; "the payment must be offered beforehand, madame, and must be given by prayer.” The good man looked so exceedingly solemn that I thought we were touching upon themes always better avoided on Popish ground. Wherever I find people believing sincerely I have respect for their belief, and think the miraculous agency of their saints as unsuitable a subject of pleasantry for Roman Catholics as the higher mysteries of our religion are to us. So I attempted to change the subject, and began talking of the lake, and of the “Rocher de Châtillon,” dimly visible at the extremity of it. But when I began to inquire if he remembered the visit of the celebrated M. de Lamartine to the residence of M. de Châtillon, placed as we had heard, with its beautiful gardens, amidst the ruins of the old Château des Sept. Tours, he shook his head, and declared that he knew nothing about the monsieur I talked of, though he knew Châtillon and M. de Châtillon well;—but all that was another day's work, and we should find La Fontaine des Merveilles quite enough to satisfy us for to-day; and the next minute he halted,
exclaiming, “ Voila donc ! Nous sommes arrivés.” The spot, like all others near it, was very beautiful, and in addition to the lake, and the majestic mountains round it, there was a little grove of chesnut trees, with benches of stone scattered here and there in the welcome shade, which suggested as plainly as any sign could have done, that it was there the felicity hunters of Lake Bourget and Aix-les-Bains were wont to recreate themselves during the least romantic, though perhaps not the least agreeable hour of their day's rambling. “ This is a place for pic-nics !” we exclaimed.
“Je le crois bien,” was the gay reply ; “ et voila ! la fontaine !"
“ Fountain ?" said I, “I see nothing but a few pebbles at the bottom of a little pond, completely dry. Is this your fountain ?"
The man then led us to the rocky bank beneath which was the little irregular reservoir I had remarked, and jumping down into it thrust hisfingers into a fissure of what appeared to me to be a block of limestone. " It is from this aperture,” he said, “ that the water flows when it pleases those who have the keeping of it to let it run." To this he could add nothing whatever in the way of information, though enough in the way of commentary, illustration, and anecdote. He assured us that this intermitting spring was affected, visibly, by no change of weather-that in winter, as in summer, its caprices defied all calculation, that its return was often vainly waited for after the most violent rain, and as often unexpectedly witnessed during long drought. All this we have, of course, inquired into since our visit to Hautecombe, and find that our informant exaggerated in no point respecting the complete uncertainty of the water's return. It is this uncertainty, as we have since been told, which causes all the wonder excited by this particular spring ; for intermittent springs have frequently been met with, but in other cases,
if the Savoy savans say sooth, the return of the water has been at regular intervals, which circumstance, they say, renders it easy to account for the phenomenon ; but here, at Hautecombe, every thing is most delightfully unintelligible, dark, and mysterious, and I sat down in a beautifully shady nook to watch for the water with as much impatience as if its coming, or its not coming, was to be to me, as well as to those who have followed me into the world at the interval of a few dozens of years, a symbol of coming joy or woe.
For, be it known to all whom it may concern-no one who sits beside that mystic basin without seeing the propitious stream flow into it, may hope to find the heart that should answer to their heart, faithful; for, as the current of that living water pauses, falters, and turns aside from the eyes that are longing to behold it, so does the living stream that animated the being they best love pause, falter, and turn aside from its right course, madly careering in another, wherein its unstable current anticipates a climate brighter and more congenial than the last, or to state the mysterious fact in more suitable language, borrowed from a native chronicle, “Si, par malheur, elle (la source) disparaît à votre aspect, et que vous attendiez en vain son retour, hélas ! l'oracle à parlé, jeune beauté, consolez vous.”
We had brought with us, as I doubt not many hundreds had done before, wherewithal to make a mid-day repast under the shelter of the chesnut-trees, and while we all three “munched and munched,” our guide, who divided his time pretty equally between eating, listening with his ear close to the aperture in the rock, and talking of all the most wondrous stories he could remember, began (as his memory went further and further back to furnish his anecdotes) to talk to us of the Empress Josephine. In none of his narratives was he so pathetic as in that which related to her, and there was positively something exceedingly touching in the manner in which he recounted it, although from the age of the man, it was quite impossible that he could have remembered any thing about it himself. The unhappy lady, he said, had passed whole days beneath the shade of these chesnut-trees, in the hope of seeing the friendly fountain pour forth its waters at her feet; but in vain! ever, and always in vain! Other people, of all ages and all conditions came in plenty, as they always did, he added, when the winter weather did not make the lake too rough for the pleasure-boats, and scarcely one of them all, that sooner or later, if they had patience to wait till the poor empress-lady was gone, did not see the water rush forth from the rock with ten times more than common violence, just as if it were tired, or angry at having been kept back by her presence.
The more than patience, the undeniably deep interest with which I listened to all this, and a great deal more on the same theme; as for instance, how the hapless Josephine had remained, just on the spot where we were seated, through the whole of one night, and was found fainting, exhausted, and in despair at the miraculous fruitlessness of her long watch, by the attendants, from whom she had contrived to escape on the preceding evening;-all this, and much, much more, I
listened to in a manner but little creditable to my wisdom, I am afraid, and giving very fair occasion to quote upon me
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works. In self-defence, however, I must just hint that I did not altogether believe in the miraculous and oracular nature of the fountain, (though I had every possible inclination to do so), but without this, there was quite enough to excite the fancy sufficiently to render the legend, with all its historical freshness, exceedingly captivating. And then, the peculiarity of the scene in which we listened to it. The solemn stillness of the lake, with its glorious frame of mountains—the half-seen towers of Hautecombe Abbey rising behind the trees—the picturesque grouping of the trees themselves-and, first in effect, though last in my catalogue, the mysterious-looking rock itself, with its dry, gaping aperture, and the empty reservoir before it, with the pebbles at its bottom, already white, and as free from every appearance of moisture, as if no water had visited it since the last long-ago shower of rain. The scene, in short, was both beautiful and interesting in no common degree, and together with the piteous tale and plaintive voice of our historic guide, kept us long after our repast was ended, very patiently still upon the stone bench beside the rock. But at length we remembered that there were other things to do, and other sights to see, and we civilly hinted as much to our guide, adding, that we had better submit, without farther delay, to share the fate of the Empress Josephine, and bid adieu to the inhospitable fountain.
The man looked vexed again, laid his ear against the aperture in the rock, shook his head, looked at the sun, observed that it was late, and, pointing to the dry stones at the bottom of the empty pool, declared that it must have been so many hours since the water ran last, that it would be a great pity to go without waiting a little longer ; for as the poor empress was dead and gone, there was no danger of its ever being so very long again without running. So once again we began gazing at the lovely lake, at the historic Châtillon in one direction, and the still more historic Hautecombe in the other; at the Mont du Chat, and its savage-looking apex on this side, and the not much tamer outline of the Dent de Nivolet on the other; and thus another half-hour wore away.
During this time, our guide continued about once in every five minutes to jump down into the empty basin at the foot of the rock, and apply his ear to the aperture, which still, however, showed no drop of moisture to reward hiin. All this was done with so many gesticulations, such clasping of his hands, and casting up his eyes in despair, that it suddenly occurred to me that the whole history of the intermittent fountain was an invention, fabricated for the purpose of giving the sojourners at Aix, une raison de plus for hiring a boat for the day to cross the Lake de Bourget, for which, save for the accustomed picnicking beside the miraculous fountain, three or four hours might suffice.
No sooner did this idea occur to me, than I communicated it with considerable indignation to my companion, and we both started up together, exclaiming that we would wait no longer. Our guide was at that moment with his indefatigable ear again glued against the rock, but without uttering a word in reply to our somewhat stern an
nouncement, he sprung from his station in the dry pool, and rushing towards us, seized me by the arm, and forcibly drew me to the verge of it.
“ Je ne veux pas rester,” said I, endeavouring to disengage my
" Ecoutez !” said he, in a whisper, beckoning forward my companion with his finger.
He was instantly by my side, and then in sober truth, we heard the strangest and most unwonted sound imaginable. It certainly was the running of water, but distant and pent-up as it was, it sounded infinitely more like a hollow and very dismal
groan. I really felt my heart beat as if some supernatural, or at any rate very marvellous operation were in process ; but the moments of expectation were of short duration ; the hollow sound I have described, was speedily changed for what was unmistakably that of running water, and in an instant afterwards out rushed a column of water, so abundant as to fill the receiver with great rapidity. I felt greatly ashamed of the suspicions which I had entertained of the veracity of our poor guide, and the more so when I witnessed the delight with which he hailed the arrival of the stream, which seemed to prove that the previous anxiety he had displayed was not counterfeited. Certainly it is one of the strangest phenomena I ever witnessed, and it has puzzled, I am told, rather wiser heads than mine. Our guide, all of whose statements I feel particularly bound to believe, repeatedly assured us that neither the season of the year, nor the state of the weather made any difference as to the length of time between the returns of the stream, nor in the quantity which poured forth. The quantity, he said, varied, though not very greatly, but never in accordance with the weather.
Of course we remained on the spot till the mysterious stream had ceased to flow, and then walked back to the abbey, the state apartments in which, still kept in high order as the occasional religious retreat of the dowager queen of Sardinia, we had not yet seen. The rooms, which are plainly, but handsomely furnished, most of them command fine views of the lake, and of the mountains which surround it; yet, nevertheless, I thought there was something singularly dull and dismal in their aspect. The solemn-looking dame, who did us the honour of displaying them to our view, informed us that her dowagermajesty had only left Hautecombe a few days before, having passed a fortnight there in the deepest retirement. This royal lady is, as I have stated above, to have the honour of being buried in the abbey, and is to be the last individual to whom this distinguished resting-place is to be accorded, the Sardinian crown being no longer in the line of Savoy princes, by whom the venerable shrine was founded above seven hun. dred years ago.
Our evening voyage across the lake in returning, showed us some beautiful varieties of effect from the glowing lights and long shadows produced by the setting sun. But despite these new beauties, our homeward voyage was not performed without some slight anxiety, for the boatmen descried some feecy, and as I should have thought, very innocent-looking clouds in the south-west, which they told us were the certain harbingers of a gale of wind.
They then amused us with a series of anecdotes in the eclogue style, in which by alternate speeches of constantly crescendo eloquence and power, they gave us to understand that the seemingly tranquil water on which we were floating, notwithstanding its excelling beauty, and the soft couleur de rose that it reflected, was occasionally subject to very violent and ungovernable fits of fury, during which many boats were overset, and lives now and then lost. They reminded each other also that we had reached the month of September, and then, after lowering their voices to a very sinister whisper, they set about taking down the awning, assuring us that we should be much safer without it. When this operation was completed they reseated themselves, with many injunctions to me not to be frightened, for that they should now be able to make more way with their oars, and whether impelled by real danger, or only the pleasure and possible advantage of talking of it, I know not, but certain it is that they now made their way across in vastly less time than it had taken us to go exactly the same distance in the morning. By the time we reached the shore, however, though we perceived no symptom of storm on the lake, the sky was looking in all directions surly and cross, instead of bright and smiling, and there was wind enough to make the dust of the very dusty road to the town exceedingly disagreeable. This, and the many hours of rambling we had indulged in, made me again feel that the lake was much too far from Aix to permit its being such an endless and ceaseless source of enjoyment to the company there as it would be were il as near as Derwent water to Keswick, or Windermere to Ambleside. Whether the predicted gale arrived during the night I know not, having slept most profoundly till a very bright sun awakened me on the following morning, just in time to get ready for an early breakfast before setting off for the celebrated Lake of Annecy. Nearly the whole way from Aix-les-Bains to the town of Annecy, the road is interesting, either from the beauty of the scenery it commands, or from the circumstances of its local history. But of all the traditions belonging to this region, so rich in old romance, the most recent is (contrary to custom) the one which seizes the most powerfully on the imagination and the feelings.
The beautiful Hortense de Beauharnais, ex-queen of Holland, passed some weeks of the summer of 1813 at Aix-les-Bains, with a small retinue of intimate and attached friends and adherents. The farourite amusement of the party consisted in making daily excursions to the
utiful and interesting spots in the neighbourhood. On the morning of the 10th of June, Hortense declared her intention of visiting the Lake of Annecy, and passing an hour or two in sailing and rowing upon it. Her favourite aitendant and friend, the young and lovely Baronne de Broc, besought her to change her project, and to devote the morning to Grezz, its venerably historic tower, and its wild and romantic cascade. No, not to-day,” was the reply; "to-day must be for Annecy,” and the party set off accordingly. On reaching the point in the road froin whence the rude path to the cascade of Grezz is visible, the Baronne de Broc renewed her entreaties that they might visit the cascade, if only to give it one short glance in passing; and her entreaties prevailed; the gentle-tempered queen was not proof against the pertinacily of her favourite, the carriages were ordered to stop, and the whole party descended, and pursued the short but rough path that leads to the cascade. The fall of water is but trifling, but