Every one must be delighted with the wonders of the line of rail, and the beauties through which the engineer has cut his way. In valleys on a less magnificent scale, cuttings and embankments on the face of the hill are sad eyesores, as in railway-ruined Killiecrankie; but here Nature’s works are so very grand, that the works of man are not offensively prominent, being overawed by the very facts over which they have triumphed. When we reached the more even part of the valley, where the Reuse no longer roars and rushes far below, but winds quietly through the soft grass on a level with the rail, the whole grouping was so exceedingly charming, and the river itself so suggestive of lusty trout, and the village of Noiraigue looked so tempting as it nestled in a sheltered nook among the headlong precipices, that I registered in a safe mental pigeon-hole a week at the auberge there with a fishing-rod, and excursions to the commanding summit in which the Creux de Vent is found. The engine-driver knew that he was in a region of beauties, and, when he whistled to warn his passengers that the train was about to move on, he remained stationary until the long-resounding echoes died out, floating lingeringly up the valley to neighbouring France.
We had no definite idea as to the locale of the glaciere we were now bent upon attacking. M. Thury’s list gave the following information:—’Glaciere de Motiers, Canton de Neufchatel, entre les vallees de Travers et de la Brevine, pres du sentier de la Brevine;’ and this I had rendered somewhat more precise by a cross-examination of the guard of the train on my way to Besancon. He had not heard of the glaciere, but from what I told him he was inclined to think that Couvet would be the best station for our purpose, especially as the ‘Ecu’ at that place was, in his eyes, a commendable hostelry. Some one in Geneva, also, had believed that Couvet was as likely as anything else in the valley; so at Couvet we descended.
This is a very clean and cheerful village, devoted to the lucrative manufacture of absinthe, and producing inhabitants who look like gentlemen and ladies, and promenade the ways in bonnets and hats, after a most un-Swiss-like fashion. They carefully restrict themselves to the making of the poisonous product of their village, and have nothing to do with the consumption thereof: hence nature has a fair chance with them, and they are a healthy and energetic race. The beauties of the surrounding mountains, with their fitful alternations of pasture and wood, and grey face of rock, are not marred by the outward appearance, at least, of that which Bishop Heber lamented in a country where ‘every prospect pleases.’ An old lady is commemorated in the annals of Couvet as an example of the healthiness of the situation, who saw seven generations of her family, having known her great-grandfather in her early years, and living to nurse great-grandchildren in her old age. The landlord of the inn informed us, with much pride, that Couvet was the birthplace of the man who invented a clock for telling the time at sea; by which, no doubt, he meant the chronometer, invented by M. Berthoud. At Motiers, the next village, Rousseau wrote his Lettres de la Montagne, and thence it was that he fled from popular violence to the island on the Lake of Bienne.