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Valley of Chamouni.
Wyndham. Its little extent may be comprised in less than twenty miles of length, and less than one in breadth.-Enclosed on every side by the stupendous heights of Mont Blanc; the Breven; the Aiguilles Rouges, and lesser Glaciers, Winter here reigns, and holds his icy court from October to May; yet the meadows in their season are verdant and fertile, though in the midst of snows; and their honey is famed delicious.
How singular the life of this hardy, isolated, simple mountain race! In their fleeting summer months, the intrepid natives gladly attend their foreign visitors in exploring fantastic frosty pyramids, and solid icy ramparts that tower in the liquid skies, and block up the depths below; performing feats that rival the intrepidity and agility of their native Chamois goat; while in their long winter, shut up amid their own community, they watch the deeper terrors of ice and snow, armed by the rigorous elements with tenfold power.
Frost, which in our moderate clime, and generally, binds with its adamantine fetters all nature in inaction, stopping the roaring of the torrents, and the gurgling of the brook ;-and snows that hide all the things upon the earth with a silvery mantle, and bring a creeping silence o'er all, till nothing is heard save their gently dropping, sliding sleet;-yet here, in the wilds of Switzer, G 2
land, do these snows produce in their terrific rage, thunders that deafen the loudest artillery; and avalanches that in a moment tear away whole forests, villages, all, at one fell swoop!
Oh Nature! Nature! where'er we court thee, how sublime, how expanding, how immeasurably grand, how microscopically beautiful! All the most ardent human imaginations combined cannot conceive or fashion the least of the beauties which thout every where lavishest! nor can the deepest philosophy or reasoning fathom thy awful ways, and operations! Earth, water, air, fire, all the elements things animate and inanimate teem with thy wonders;-there is perfection of beauty and utility in the speek and the atom which is too fine for mortal eye to see; and here, in this land, thou hast piled mountain upon mountain even to the skies; and hast given to icy frost, and to the simple snow-ball, all the majesty, and all the terrors of the earthquake, and volcano!
Having alluded to the Chamois goat, it may be interesting to speak of these animals, and of the mode of hunting them. Their agility in bounding from precipice to precipice is equally astonishing, and fearful; which, with the perfection of their scent, their extreme timidity, and shyness of approach, impart a danger and hardihood in their pursuit which proportionately gives a charm to the chace.
Their hunters provide themselves with a pouch
containing some scanty provisions; an iron-pointed mountain stick, hooks for their shoes to steady their steps in the ice; with an instrument to cut it; and armed with a rifle, they thus scale the precipice by night, sleeping in a châlet, or summer hut for cattle. When in the morn, they hope to find a herd, they creep across the snows, assuming the same colour by wearing their shirt over their clothes, and occasionally resting to peep between two upright stones thus purposely placed. Some of their companions are, in the mean time, walking openly to drive the game that way.
Still the utmost precaution is necessary; a windward situation would betray, and even if all be fair, yet if once they spy their pursuer, rather than come within gun shot reach, a whole herd have been known wilfully to dash themselves to death by rushing down the steep; and when no other remedy was left, a single Chamois has been known to turn, to face, and to spring upon his savage pursuer, in the hope of hurling him down the precipice in this case the huntsman immediately falls prostrate on his face, and the frightened animal leaps over him. The herd are generally under the conduct of a female leader, who while the others are at feed, never rests from her watchful, anxious, observations. Sometimes ascending to a more elevated spot, she gives intimations of suspicion to arouse attention; but, when she gives
of danger, away, fleeter than the winds, away, the whole pack are in a moment, and as instantaneously above the most inaccessible heights.
Innumerable are the arts of man to entrap the creature which he cannot tame, or conquer. The gregarious habits of the Chamois tempt them to graze with other cattle, and often in the neighbourhood of salt marshes, of which they are all fond. The huntsman, creeping on all-fours among his cattle, his back laden with salt, is soon so surrounded, and concealed, that he can securely take too sure an aim on the unsuspicious Chamois which is quietly browsing near.
So invincibly averse is the Chamois to man, that, as I have understood, none were ever tamed but those few whom the huntsman has seized, when he had, cruelly, shot their dam at the very moment of their birth!
DANGEROUS EXPEDITION TO MONTANVERT-MER DE GLACE, AND THE JARDIN DES ALPES-SOURCE OF THE ARVERONFATAL AVALANCHE ON MONT BLANC-POETICAL EFFUSIONS LA TETE NOIRE-FATAL INUNDATION OF MARTIGNY-ST. BERNARD AND PERILOUS ASCENT-THE DOGS-SUMMARY OF EXPENCES-CRETINS.
YESTERDAY, Thursday, proved a memorable day, and one not easily effaced from my recollection. It was the day fixed upon by us for our excursion to the Mer de Glace.
Between seven and eight we left our inn, the Hotel de Londres, at Chamouni; each upon his mule, being four; two boys to bring back our animals from a certain point; and three guides: and here let me record their names, and testify to that intrepidity, patience, and kindness, to which we owe our lives:-Mathieu Balmat, Julien Devarassoud, and Jean Baptist Messart.
We mounted, by the help of our animals, half way up to Montanvert, by the sides of the most fearful heights; over roads, if so they can be termed, formed only by rocks, and heaps of stones, rudely jumbled together; up and down staircases, literally formed of huge mis-shapen masses of granite;-where one single stumble might hurl one to the fearful bottom. Yet the patient, sagacious, mules never trip; always attentive to the path be