As you go from Motiers-Navers to Boudry, on your way to
Neufchatel, said the young professor of botany, you follow a road
between two walls of rocks of immense height; they reach a
perpendicular elevation of five or six hundred feet, and are hung with
wild plants, the mountain basil (thymus alpinus), ferns (polypodium),
the whortleberry (vitis idoea), ground ivy, and other climbing plants
producing a wonderful effect.
The road winds along this defile; it rises, falls, turns, sometimes
tolerably level, sometimes broken and abrupt, according to the thousand
irregularities of the ground. Grey rocks almost meet in an arch
overhead, others stand wide apart, leaving the distant blue visible,
and discovering sombre and melancholy-looking depths, and rows of firs
as far as the eye could reach.
The Reuss flows along the bottom, sometimes leaping along in
waterfalls, then creeping through thickets, or steaming, foaming, and
thundering over precipices, while the echoes prolong the tumult and
roar of its torrents in one immense endless hum. Since I left Tubingen
the weather had continued fine; but when I reached the summit of this
gigantic staircase, about two leagues distant from the little hamlet of
Novisaigne, I suddenly noticed great grey clouds begin passing
overhead, which soon filled up the defile entirely; this vapour was so
dense that it soon penetrated my clothes as a heavy dew would have
Although it was only two in the afternoon, the sky became clouded
over as if darkness was coming on; and I foresaw a heavy storm was
about to break over my head.
I consequently began looking about for shelter, and I saw through
one of those wide openings which afford you a perspective view of the
Alps, about two or three hundred yards distant on the slope leading
down to the lake, an ancient-looking grey chalet, moss-covered, with
its small round windows and sloping roof loaded with large stones, its
stairs outside the house, with a. carved rail, and its basket-shaped
balcony, on which the Swiss maidens generally hang their snowy linen
and scarlet petticoats to dry.
Precisely as I was looking down, a tall woman in a black cap was
folding and collecting the linen which was blowing about in the wind.
To the left of this building a very large apiary supported on
beams, arranged like a balcony, formed a projection above the valley.
You may easily believe that without the loss of a moment I set off
bounding through the heather to seek for shelter from the coming storm,
and well it was I lost no time, for I had hardly laid my hand on the
handle of the door before the hurricane burst furiously overhead; every
gust of wind seemed about to carry the cottage bodily away; but its
foundations were strong, and the security of the good people within, by
the warmth of their reception, completely reassured me about the
probability of any accident.
The cottage was inhabited by Walter Young, his wife Catherine, and
little Roesel, their only daughter.
I remained three days with them; for the wind, which went down
about midnight, had so filled the valley of Neufchatel with mist, that
the mountain where I had taken refuge was completely enveloped in it;
it was impossible to walk twenty yards from the door without
experiencing great difficulty in finding it again.
Every morning these good people would say, when they saw me buckle
on my knapsack What are you about, Mr. Hennetius? You cannot mean to
go yet; you will never arrive anywhere. In the name of Heaven stay here
a little longer!'
And Young would open the door and exclaim
'Look there, sir; you must be tired of your life to risk it among
these rocks. Why, the dove itself would be troubled to find the ark
again in such a mist as this.'
One glance at the mountain side was enough for me to make up my
mind to put my stick back again in the corner.
Walter Young was a man of the old times. He was nearly sixty; his
grand head wore a calm and benevolent expressiona real Apostle's
head. His wife, who always wore a black silk cap, pale and thoughtful,
resembled him much in disposition. Their two profiles, as I looked at
them defined sharply against the little panes of glass in the chalet's
windows, recalled to may mind those drawings of Albert Durer the sight
of which carried me back to the age of faith and the patriarchal
manners of the fifteenth century. The long brown rafters of the
ceiling, the deal table, the ashen chairs with the carved backs, the
tin drinking-cups, the sideboard with its old-fashioned painted plates
and dishes, the crucifix with the Saviour carved in box on an ebony
cross, and the wormeaten clock-case with its many weights and its
porcelain dial, completed the illusion.
But the face of their little daughter Roesel was still more
touching. I think I can see her now, with her flat horsehair cap and
watered black silk ribbons, her trim bodice and broad blue sash down to
her knees, her little white hands crossed in the attitude of a dreamer,
her long fair curlsall that was graceful, slender, and ethereal in
nature. Yes, I can see Roesel now, sitting in a large leathern
armchair, close to the blue curtain of the recess at the end of the
room, smiling as she listened and meditated.
Her sweet face had charmed me from the first moment I saw her, and
I was continually on the point of inquiring why she wore such an
habitually melancholy air, why did she hold her pale face down so
invariably, and why did she never raise her eyes when spoken to?
Alas! the poor child had been blind from her birth. She had never
seen the lake's vast expanse, nor its blue sheet blending so
harmoniously with the sky, the fishermen's boats which ploughed its
surface, the wooded heights which crowned it and cast their quivering
reflection on its waters, the rocks covered with moss, the green Alpine
plants in their vivid and brilliant colouring; nor had she ever watched
the sun set behind the glaciers, nor the long shades of evening draw
across the valleys, nor the golden broom, nor the endless
heathernothing. None of these things had she ever seen; nothing of
what we saw every day from the windows of the chalet.
'What an ironical commentary on the gifts of Fortune!' thought I,
as I sat looking out of the window at the mist, in expectation of the
sun's appearing once more, 'to be blind in this place! here in presence
of Nature in its sublimest form, of such limitless grandeur! To be
blind! Oh, Almighty God, who shall dare to dispute Thy impenetrable
decrees, or who shall venture to murmur at the severity of Thy justice,
even when its weight falls on an innocent child? But to be thus blind
in the presence of Thy grandest creations, of creations which
ceaselessly renew our enthusiasm, our love, and our adoration for Thy
genius, Thy power, and Thy goodness; of what crime can this poor child
have been guilty thus to deserve Thy chastisement?'
And my reflections continually reverted to this topic.
I asked myself, too, what compensation Divine pity could make its
creature for the deprival of its greatest blessing, and, finding none,
I began to doubt its power.
'Man, in his presumption,' said the royal poet, dares to glorify
himself in his knowledge, and judge the Eternal. But his wisdom is but
folly, and his light darkness.'
On that day one of Nature's great mysteries was revealed to me,
doubtless with the purpose of humbling my vanity, and of teaching me
that nothing is impossible to God, and that it is in His power only to
multiply our senses, and by so doing gratify those who please Him.
Here the young professor took a pinch from his tortoiseshell
snuff-box, raised his eyes to the ceiling with a contemplative air, and
then, after a short pause, continued in these terms:
Does it not often happen to you, ladies, when you are in the
country in fine weather in summer, especially after a brief storm, when
the air is warm, and the exhalations from the ground filling it with
the perfume of thousands of plants, and their sweet scent penetrates
and warms you; when the foliage from the trees in the solitary avenues,
as well as from the hushes, seems to lean over you as if it sought to
take you in its arms and embrace you; when the minutest flowers, the
humble daisy, the blue forget-me-not, the convolvulus in the hedgerows
raise their heads and follow you with a longing lookdoes it not
happen to you to experience an inexpressible sensation of languor, to
sigh for no apparent reason, and even to feel inclined to shed tears,
and to ask yourselves, 'Why does this feeling of love oppress me? why
do my knees bend under me? whence these tears?'
Whence indeed, ladies? Why from life, and the thousands of living
things which surround you, lean to you, and call to you to stay with
them, while they gently murmur, 'We love you; love us, and do not leave
You can easily imagine, then, the deep enthusiastic feeling and the
religious sentiment of a person always in a similar state of ecstasy.
Even if blind, abandoned by his friends, do you think there is nothing
to envy in his lot? or that his destiny is not infinitely happier than
our own? For my own part I have not the slightest doubt of it.
But you will, doubtless, say such a condition is impossiblethe
mind of man would break down under such a load of happiness. And,
moreover, whence could such happiness be derived? What organs could
transmit, and where could it find, such a sensation of universal life?
This, ladies, is a question to which I can give you no answer; but
I ask you to listen and then judge.
The very day I arrived at the chalet I had made a singular
remarkthe blind girl was especially uneasy about the bees.
While the wind was roaring without Roesel sat with her head on her
hands listening attentively.
'Father,' said she, 'I think at the end of the apiary the third
hive on the right is still open. Go and see. The wind blows from the
north; all the bees are home; you can shut the hive.'
And her father having gone out by a side door, when he returned he
said 'It is all right, my child; I have closed the hive.
Half an hour afterwards the girl, rousing herself once more from
her reverie, murmured 'There are no more bees about, but under the
roof of the apiary there are some waiting; they are in the sixth hive
near the door; please go and let them in, father.'
The old man left the house at once. He was away more than a quarter
of an hour; then he came back and told his daughter that everything was
as she wished itthe bees had just gone into their hive.
The child nodded, and replied 'Thank you, father.'
Then she seemed to doze again.
I was standing by the stove, lost in a labyrinth of reflections;
how could that poor blind girl know that from such or such a hive there
were still some bees absent, or that such a hive had been left open?
This seemed inexplicable to me; but having been in the house hardly one
hour, I did not feel justified in asking my hosts any questions with
regard to their daughter, for it is sometimes painful to talk to people
on subjects which interest them very nearly. I concluded that Young
gave way to his daughter's fancies in order to induce her to believe
she was of some service in the family, and that her forethought
protected the bees from several accidents. That seemed the simplest
explanation I could imagine, and I thought no more about it.
About seven we supped on milk and cheese, and when it was time to
retire Young led me into a good-sized room on the first floor, with a
bed and a few chairs in it, panelled in fir, as is generally the case
in the greater number of Swiss châlets. You are only separated from
your neighbours by a deal partition, and you can hear every footstep
and nearly every word.
That night I was lulled to sleep by the whistling of the wind and
the sound of the rain beating against the window-panes. The next day
the wind had gone down and we were enveloped in mist. When I awoke I
found my windows quite white, quite padded with mist. When I opened my
window the valley looked like an immense stove; the tops of a few
fir-trees alone showed their outlines against the sky; below, the
clouds were in regular layers down to the surface of the lake;
everything was calm, motionless, and silent.
When I went down to the sitting-room I found my hosts seated at
tables about to begin breakfast.
'We have been waiting for you,' cried Young gaily.
'You must excuse us,' said the mother; 'this is our regular
'Of course, of course; I am obliged to you for not noticing my
Roesel was much more lively than the preceding evening; she had a
fresh colour in her cheeks.
'The wind has gone down,' said she; 'the storm has passed away
without doing any harm.'
'Shall I open the apiary?' asked Young.
'No, not yet; the bees would lose themselves in this mist. Besides,
everything is drenched with rain; the brambles and mosses are full of
water; the least puff of wind would drown many of them. We must wait a
little while. I know what is the matter: they feel dull, they want to
work; they are tormented at the idea of devouring their honey instead
of making it. But I cannot afford to lose them. Many of the hives are
weakthey would starve in winter. We will see what the weather is like
The two old people sat and listened without making any
About nine the blind girl proposed to go and visit her bees; Young
and Catherine followed her, and I did the same, from a very natural
feeling of curiosity.
We passed through the kitchen by a door which opened on to a
terrace. Above us was the roof of the apiary; it was of thatch, and
from its ledge honey-suckle and wild grapes hung in magnificent
festoons. The hives were arranged on three shelves.
Roesel went from one to the other, patting them, and murmuring
'Have a little patience; there is too much mist this morning. Ah!
the greedy ones, how they grumble!'
And we could hear a vague humming inside the hive, which increased
in intensity until she had passed.
That awoke all my curiosity once more. I felt there was some
strange mystery which I could not fathom, but what was my surprise,
when, as I went into the sitting-room, I heard the blind girl say in a
melancholy tone of voice
'No, father, I would rather not see at all to-day than lose my
eyes. I will sing, I will do something or other to pass the time, never
mind what; but I will not let the bees out.'
While she was speaking in this strange manner I looked at Walter
Young, who glanced out of the window and then quietly replied
'You are right, child; I think you are right. Besides, there is
nothing to see; the valley is quite white. It is not worth looking at.'
And while I sat astounded at what I heard, the child continued
'What lovely weather we had the day before yesterday! Who would
have thought that a storm on the lake would have caused all this mist?
Now one must fold up its wings and crawl about like a wretched
Then again, after a few moments' silence
'How I enjoyed myself under the lofty pines on the Grinderwald! How
the honey-dew dropped from the sky! It fell from every branch. What a
harvest we made, and how sweet the air was on the shores of the lake,
and in the rich Tannemath pasturesthe green moss, and the
sweet-smelling herbs! I sang, I laughed, and we filled our cells with
wax and, honey. How delightful to lie everywhere, see everything, to
fly humming about the woods, the mountains, and the valleys!'
There was a fresh silence, while I sat, with mouth and eyes open,
listening with the greatest attention, not knowing what to think or
what to say,
'And when the shower came,' she went on, 'how frightened we were! A
great humble-bee, sheltered under the same fern as myself, shut his
eyes at every flash; a grasshopper had sheltered itself under its great
green branches, and some poor little crickets had scrambled up a poppy
to save themselves from drowning. But what was most frightful was a
nest o warblers quite close to us in a bush. The mother hovered round
about us, and the little ones opened their beaks, yellow as far as
their windpipes. How frightened we were! Good lord, we were frightened
indeed! Thanks be to Heaven, a puff of wind carried us off to the
mountain side; and now the vintage is over we must not expect to get
out again so soon.'
On hearing these descriptions of Nature so true, at this worship of
day and light, I could no longer entertain the least doubt on the
'The blind girl sees,' said I to myself; 'she sees through
thousands of eyes; the apiary is her life, her soul. Every bee carries
a part of her away into space, and then returns drawn to her by
thousands of invisible threads. The blind girl penetrates the flowers
and the mosses; she revels in their perfume; when the sun shines she is
everywhere; in the mountain side, in the valleys, in the forests, as
far as her sphere of attraction extends.'
I sat confounded at this strange magnetic influence, and felt
tempted to exclaim
'Honour, glory, honour to the power, the wisdom, and the infinite
goodness of the Eternal God! For Him nothing is impossible. Every day,
every instant of our lives reveals to us His magnificence.'
While I was lost in these enthusiastic reflections, Roesel
addressed me with a quiet smile. 'Sir,' said she.
'What, my child?'
'You are very much surprised at me, and you are not the first
person who has been so. The rector Hegel, of Neufchatel, and other
travellers have been here on purpose to see me: they thought I was
blind. You thought so too, did you not?'
'I did indeed, my dear child, and I thank the Lord that I was
'Yes,' said she, 'I know you are a good manI can tell it by your
voice. When the sun shines I shall open my eyes to look at you, and
when you leave here I will accompany you to the foot of the mountain.'
Then she began to laugh most artlessly.
'Yes,' said she, 'you shall have music in your ears, and I will
seat myself on your cheek; but you must take caretake care. You must
not touch me, or I should sting you. You must promise not to be angry.'
'I promise you, Roesel, I promise you I will not,' I said with
tears in my eyes, 'and, moreover, I promise you never to kill a bee or
any other insect except those which do harm.'
'They are the eyes of the Lord,' she murmured. 'I can only see by
my own poor bees, but He has every hive, every ant's nest, every leaf,
every blade of grass. He lives, He feels, He loves, He suffers, He does
good by means of all these. Oh, Monsieur Hennetius, you are right not
to pain the Lord, who loves us so much!'
Never in my life had I been so moved and affected, and it was a
full minute before I could ask her
'So, my dear child, you see by your bees; will you explain to me
how that is?'
'I cannot tell, Monsieur Hennetius; it may be because I am so fond
of them. When I was quite a little child they adopted me, and they have
never once hurt me. At first I liked to sit for hours in the apiary all
alone and listen to their humming for hours together. I could see
nothing then, everything was dark to me; but insensibly light came upon
me. At first I could see the sun a little, when it was very hot, then a
little more, with the wild vine and the honeysuckle like a shade over
me, then the full light of day. I began to emerge from myself; my
spirit went forth with the bees. I could see the mountains, the rocks,
the lake, the flowers and mosses, and in the evening, when quite alone,
I reflected on these things. I thought how beautiful they were, and
when people talked of this and that, of whortleberries, and mulberries,
and heaths, I said to myself, I know what all these things are
likethey are black, or brown, or green. I could see them in my mind,
and every day I became better acquainted with them, thanks to my dear
bees; and therefore I love them dearly, Monsieur Hennetius. If you knew
how it grieves me when the time comes for robbing them of their wax and
'I believe you, my childI believe it does.'
My delight at this wonderful discovery was boundless.
Two days longer Roesel entertained me with a description of her
impressions. She was acquainted with every flower; every Alpine plant,
and gave me an account of a great number which have as yet received no
botanical names, and which are probably only to be found in
The poor girl was often much affected when she spoke of her dear
friends, some little flowers.
'Often and often,' said she, 'I have talked for hours with the
golden broom or the tender blue- eyed forget-me-not, and shared in
their troubles. They all wished to quit the earth and fly about; they
all complained of their being condemned to dry up in the ground, and of
being exposed to wait for days and weeks ere a drop of dew came to
And so Roesel used to repeat to me endless conversations of this
sort. It was marvellous! If you only heard her you would be capable of
falling in love with a dogrose, or of feeling a lively sympathy and a
profound sentiment of compassion for a violet, its misfortunes and its
What more can I tell you, ladies? It is painful to leave a subject
where the soul has so many mysterious emanations; there is such a field
for conjecture; but as everything in this world must have an end, so
must even the pleasantest dreams.
Early in the morning of the third day of my stay a gentle breeze
began to roll away the mist from off the lake. I could see its folds
become larger every second as the wind drove them along, leaving one
blue corner in the sky, and then another; then the tower of a village
church, some green pinnacles on the tops of the mountains, then a row
of firs, a valley, all the time the immense mass of vapour slowly
floated past us; by ten it had left us behind it, and the great cloud
on the dry peaks of the Chasseron still wore a threatening aspect; but
a last effort of the wind gave it a different direction, and it
disappeared at last in the gorges of Saint-Croix.
Then the mighty nature of the Alps seemed to me to have grown young
again; the heather, the tall pines, the old chestnut-trees dripping
with dew, shone with vigorous health; there was something in the view
of them joyous, smiling, and serious all at once. One felt the hand of
God was in it allHis eternity.
I went downstairs lost in thought; Roesel was already in the
apiary. Young opened the door and pointed her out to me sitting in the
shade of the wild vine, with her forehead resting on her hands, as if
in a doze.
'Be careful,' said he to me, 'not to awake her; her mind is
elsewhere; she sleeps; she is wandering about; she is happy.'
The bees were swarming about by thousands, like a flood of gold
over a precipice.
I looked on at this wonderful sight for some seconds, praying the
Lord would continue his love for the poor child.
Then turning round 'Master Young,' said I, 'it is tune to go.
He buckled my knapsack on for me himself, and, put my stick into my
Mistress Catherine looked on kindly, and they both accompanied me
to the threshold of the chalet.
'Farewell!' said Walter, grasping my hand; 'a pleasant journey; and
think of us sometimes!'
'I can never forget you,' I replied, quite melancholy; 'may your
bees flourish, and may Heaven grant you are as happy as you deserve to
'So be it, M. Hennetius,' said good Dame Catherine; 'amen; a happy
journey, and good health to you.'
I moved off.
They remained on the terrace until I reached the road.
Thrice I turned round and waved my cap, and they responded by
waving their hands.
Good people; why cannot we meet with such every day?'
Little Roesel accompanied me to the foot of the mountain, as she
had promised. For a long time her musical hum lightened the fatigue of
my journey; I seemed to recognise her in every bee which came buzzing
about my ears, and I fancied I could hear her say in a small shrill
tone of voice
'Courage, M. Hennetius, courage; it is very hot, is it not? Come,
let me give you a kiss; don't be afraid; you know we are very good
It was only at the end of the valley that she took leave of me,
when the sound of the lake drowned her gentle voice; but her idea
followed me all through my journey, nor do I think it will ever leave