The Cabaret in the Pyrenees


Of what shall travellers talk on rainy days?
Of rain and snow? the sunshine and the storm?
Of Politics? Religion? Scandal? Shop?
Or personal anecdote? The weather? No; —
The topic is full stale. Of politics?
'Tis dangerous ground. Of creed? More dangerous still.
Of scandal? Heaven forefend! Or of the shop?
I prithee let us leave the shop alone!
Of personal anecdote? Why, what is that
But the old scandal in a new disguise!
What shall we talk of then? I know not well,
Unless you'll hear a mournful thing that chanced
Here in the Pyrenees, two years ago.
I parted from the heroes of the tale,
Two friends and comrades, in this very room,
And little thought, amid their merriment,
Their lusty health and joyous hopefulness,
How soon the end would come. This cabaret
Resounding now with laughter, jest and talk,
Seems no fit scene to lodge a tragedy.
Yet so it was: — but let me tell the tale.

'Twas in September, just two years ago,
That Vere and Huntley, youths scarce twenty-one,
And fresh from Cambridge, on their way to Spain
Stopped in the Pyrenees. They did not hunt,
Or shoot, or angle, or delight in sport,
But seemed to glory in ascending hills,
Scaling high rocks and tracking waterfalls.
They loved the rude and dizzy mountain-top,
And all the splendor of its wildest scenes.
Vere had a poet's eye and painter's hand,
And Huntley, though no poet, stored his mind
With images of beauty: — both would walk
Three leagues ere breakfast to a precipice,
To see the sunrise in its majesty;
Ever on foot, and ever full of joy.
Their cheeks were tanned in the healthy open air;
Their limbs were vigorous, their hearts were light,
Their talk was cheerful as the song of birds,
And when they laughed the clear loud volleys rang
With such contagious music, that I've laughed
For very sympathy, yet knew not why.

It was a lovely morning, crisp and fresh,
When they invited me to share their walk,
And trace a mountain-torrent to its source.
They had no object but the exercise,
And search for natural beauty, ever new.
But I had promised Jean Baptiste, the guide,
To hunt the chamois with him, and I longed
For my own sport, more hazardous than theirs,
And more congenial to my ruder tastes.
And so we parted. " We'll be back," said Vere,
" At six, to dinner in the Cabaret:
Wilt thou dine with us, Nimrod of the hills?" —
— " With all my heart!" and so we went our ways,
And far adown the valley I could hear
Their jocund voices singing English songs,
And catch amid the pauses of the tune
The echoes of their laughter on the wind.

I had good sport upon the hills that day.
When I returned, I noticed as I came
A crowd of peasants standing at the door;
Here was a group of women, — there of men;
And all discussing something that had chanced,
With quick gesticulation, and confused
And broken sentences: — some raised their hands,
Looked up to heaven, and shook their heads and sighed.
While twenty voices speaking all at once,
Told the same story twenty different ways.
" Here comes the other Englishman," said one:
" There's a sad sight within!" " Aye! sad indeed!"
Replied another. Quickly-passing through,
I forced my way into the inner room,
And there beheld poor Huntley on the bed
With Vere beside him, kneeling on the ground,
Clasping his hands, and burying his face
Between them, and the body of his friend.
In all the beauty and the pride of youth,
Huntley went forth at morning, and ere night
He lay a corpse: — an awful loveliness
Sat on his clay-cold form; so calm he lay
Amid the hurry and anxiety
And deep distress and pitying words and groans
Of those around — it seemed as he alone
Of all that crowd were happy. He was dead,
But how he died, 'twas long ere I could learn
From the survivor, who with senseless words
And sobs, and groans, and prayers to Heaven for help,
Broke off continually what he began.
I learned it afterwards when he grew calm,
And loved him ever since. They'd track'd the stream
From morn till noon, discovering as they went,
New beauties, grandeurs and sublimities
At every step. Right well in all her moods,
Those friends congenial loved dear Nature's face.
'Twas now the torrent with its burst and fall,
That charmed their sight; now, 'twas th' umbrageous arch
Of trees, high-perched on the o'erhanging rock;
Then 'twas the rock itself, with lichens grown,
And pine, and larch; — and then it was a glimpse
Betwixt the crags into a world beneath,
Stretching in loveliness of cultured plains,
Studded with farms and clustering villages
That filled them with delight; — and so they clomb
From crag to crag, and conquered as they went
More perils than they knew: lured ever on
By novelty of beauty and the heat
Of young adventure; but they clomb too well.
Vere took an upward track, and scaled the crag,
While Huntley, travelling lower, reached a ledge,
He knew not how — where — pausing on the brink
With scarcely room enough to lodge his heel,
He could not stand with safety — or descend
Without the risk of falling from the height,
An hundred feet into a chasm below,
Where boiled the angry flood o'er jutting rocks.
Ten feet above him in security
Stood Vere — alarmed, — but how to reach his friend
Seemed to defy all knowledge to discern,
Or known, his utmost daring to attempt.
To mount seemed easier than to clamber down;
And he was growing dizzy where he stood.
Vere stretched himself upon the beetling edge
Of the tall precipice, and held his hand
Toward his friend, in hope, if hands could meet,
He might, by help of some projecting root,
Some angle of the rock, a tufted herb,
Hoist him in safety; but the attempt was vain.
Their hands, by utmost stress of yearning grasp
Could reach no nearer than a long arm's length;
So Vere bethought him of his walking-stick,
An old companion of his mountain walks,
And stretched the handle to his eager friend,
That he might grasp it with his strong right hand,
And with the left spring upward to the root,
Twisted and sinuous, of a mountain ash
That nodded o'er the stream; and by this aid
Attain the safe high platform of the rock.
He caught the friendly aid; but as he grasped,
He felt it lengthening — lengthening — in his hand;
And his eyes swam in horror, as he saw
The handle separating from the stick,
Leaving a scabbard in the hand of Vere,
And sword in his. Vere shrieked in agony:
He had forgotten. Huntley groaned but once —
Cried to his God for mercy on his soul,
And lost his footing. Down amid the rocks
He fell — and fell again, and all was o'er.

When Vere descended by the usual path
And found his friend, the breath of life had fled;
The skull was fractured, but his face unhurt,
Seemed as he slumbered, while his stiff cold hand
Still held the fatal sword-stick in its grasp.
They brought the body to the Cabaret,
And on the third day laid him in his grave.
I thought, at times, two other deaths would fill
The awful measure of this tragedy.
That Vere's remorse, contrition, and despair,
At his unhappy, but most innocent act,
Would end his days. Yet though his grief was great,
'Twas nothing to the misery I saw
When Huntley's mother, young and beautiful,
Although her son was twenty years of age,
Hastened from London to behold the grave
Where they had lain her darling. Let me close
This sad recital: — language fails to tell
The holy madness of a grief like hers.
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