[Baveno—Wednesday, 8 September 1869]
Wednesday Sep. 8th We were ready and in the carriage at half past 7 the next morning. The sunrise had been wonderful on the swiss alps and ever since soon after dawn we had been stirring. Dear Jamie brought me flowers, heaps of flowers from the garden for companionship. We started off with 5 horses and with the crack of whip and queer noises in which Italian vetturinos love to indulge. Jamie & I on the box in front, the others inside. It was a festa and the roads were filled with peasants in their gay dresses, many of them still wearing the caps of which Mr. Dickens speaks in his Pictures of Italy, as looking like a population of sword bearers to the Lord Mayor of London.
I have omitted to say in the right place that the vetturino who had such difficulty in producing himself at the right time at Menaggio was also the same person apparently of whom Mr. Dickens speaks when he refers to a postillion who did not sit on the horse’s back but on a low seat down among their tails in a convenient position for having his brains knocked out and when he was exhorted to go a little faster cried out with a shriek rising from his place, “The Devil! faster too!” and then with a loud snort and kind of halloo would sink contemptuously back into his place. Such precisely was the hero of Menaggio of that morning and his first reply threw us into such paroxysms of laughter and delight at meeting the very postillion in person that we none of us thought of repeating the useless solicitation but forgot our discontent in our amusement. It was just as well too, for we found we had plenty of time.
We cannot forget either the three boat-men who rowed us to Baveno. Mabel sat in the middle of the boat with her back towards them but only for a short time for at each movement of the oars they stepped forward like a charge of infantry bringing the oars of the first man out each side of her head so that any unwary movement would have given her a blow. Beside the first man was possessed of round eyes and a fierce expression which made him appear quite ready to charge over us all, so she speedily relinquished her place to Tom who is not at all nervous and very still and who soon forgot all about it in the regular motion of the boat.
All this has led me quite away from our long first day on the Simplon road. We were slowly ascending almost all the afternoon though until we came to Domo d’Ossola where we stopped for an early dinner at noon it was as level as a plain could be. The horses bells jingled pleasantly, the vetturino continued his cry (very much like the baa of a sheep and a spirited hiccough well combined) without any lengthened interval. The sun shone with welcome warmth making the prospect of the gayly dressed peasants, out for the festa and the drowsy villages through which we passed still more cheerful—sometimes there were long strips of white road with high hills somewhat removed on either hand always and sometimes long avenues of Lombardy poplars through which we passed. The bells were ringing in every town and as we approached one of the large villages we saw a musician and his wife, who was probably a singer arranging their toilette under a tree before entering the place that they might do themselves each other & the day as much justice as possible. Domo d’Ossola appeared half asleep when we arrived but the people of the Inn managed to give us a good dinner in a large salon like a public hall with a vaulted roof of plaster, a cement floor and frescoed walls.
We walked a great deal during the afternoon climbing, climbing gently and surely by a magnificent road. The wild river peaceful enough evidently at the season compared to what it can be, (to judge by the vast ruins we saw of its causing round about) always at our feet making strange echoes on the rocks above us which I took at first to be waterfalls dashing somewhere above our heads! It was most weird and awful but I must confess that terrible as Nature was it was less terrible than the visions of human suffering which rose before my sight as connected with every footstep of the way. Not alone Napoleon’s victims though these were sad enough and many enough but the countless lonely unrecorded journeys made through snow and stones upon the way.
It was night when we came to Simplon where we slept. The darks and lights of Napoleon’s own fall would turn upon us sometimes in spite of ourselves as we came upon some point of especial difficulty or beauty.
Fire was most grateful—fog and thick darkness came with the night; the floors were of stone and everything cheerless but clean. A little French woman, the landlady was most devoted warming our beds for us and doing all in her power to make us comfortable.