The beauties of the Val de Travers end only with the valley itself, at the head of which a long tunnel ushers the traveller into a tamer country,—a preparation, as it were, for France. After the border is passed, the scenery begins to improve again, and the effect of the two castles of Joux, the new and the old, crowning the heights on either side of the narrow gorge through which the railway runs, is very fine. The guide-books inform us that the Chateau of Joux was the place of imprisonment of the unfortunate Toussaint L’Ouverture, and that there he died of neglect and cold; and it was in the same strong fortress that Mirabeau was confined by his father’s desire. The old castle, however, is more interesting from its connection with the history of Charles the Bold, who retired to La Riviere after the battle of Morat, and spent here those sad solitary weeks of which Philip de Comines tells with so many moral reflections; weeks of bodily and mental distress, which left him a mere wreck, and led to his wild want of generalship and his miserable death at Nancy. He had melted down the church-bells in this part of Burgundy and Vaud, to make cannon for the final effort which failed so fatally at Morat; and the old chroniclers relate—without any allusion to the sacrilege—that the artillery was wretchedly served on that cruel day. It is some comfort to Englishmen to know that their ancestors under the Duke of Somerset displayed a marvellous courage on the occasion.
We reached Pontarlier in time for a stroll through the quiet town; but we searched in vain for the tempting convents and gates, which were marked on my copy of an old plan of the place, dedicated to the Prince d’Arenberg, in the well-known times when he governed the Franche Comte. The convents had become for the most part breweries, and the gates had been improved away. Our enquiries respecting the place of our destination were fortunately more successful. The idea of a glaciere was new to the world of Pontarlier; but the landlord of the Hotel National had heard of Arc-sous-Cicon, and had no doubt that we could find a carriage of some sort to take us there. His own horses were all engaged in haymaking, but his neighbours’ horses might be less busy, and accordingly he took us first to call upon M. Paget, a friend who added to his income by keeping a horse and voiture for hire. The Pagets in general had gone to bed, and the door was fastened; but our guide seemed to know the ways of the house, and we found Madame in the stables, and arranged with her for a carriage at seven o’clock the next morning.
At the time appointed, M. Paget did not come, and I was obliged to go and look him up. He proved to me that it was all right, somehow, and evidently understood that his convenience, not ours, was the thing to be consulted. The hotel is in a narrow street, and, apparently on that account, a stray passer-by was caught, and pressed into M. Paget’s service to help to turn the carriage,—a feat accomplished by a bodily lifting of the hinder part, with its wheels. After-experience showed that the narrowness of the street had nothing to with it, and we discovered that the necessity for the manoeuvre was due to a chronic affection of some portion of the voiture; so that whenever in the course of the day it became necessary for us to turn round, M. Paget was constrained to call in foreign help.