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A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe
on Rivers and Lakes of Europe

By J. MacGregor (1825-1892), 1866, 1892

Chapter 3

Höllenthal Pass-- Lady Friends-- Night Music-- Manners-- Pontius Pilate-- A Schwartzwald Storm-- Starers-- The Singers-- Donaueschigen-- Banket-- An English Groom-- Waiterdom-- Source of the Danube-- Its Name.

PLANNING your summer tour is a pleasant ploy. It is in June or July that the Foreign Bradshaw suddenly gets interesting, and its well-known pages of "Steamers and Railways," and (oh, selfish thought!) only one mind to consult as to whither away.

All this pleasure is a good deal influenced, however, by true answers to these questions. Is this to be a vacation of refreshment, or an idle lounge? Are we going off to rest, or to recruit delicate health, or with vigour to enjoy a summer of active exertion?

But now the infallible Bradshaw could not help me one atom about the canoe, and Baedeker was not written for a boat; so at Freyburg my cogitations ended in the simple resolve, "Go at once to the source of the Danube."

Next morning, therefore, found the Rob Roy in a cart, and the grey-clothed traveller walking beside it on the dusty Höllenthal road. The gay, light-hearted exultation of being strong and well, and on a right errand, and with unknown things to do and places to see and people to meet, who can describe this? How easy it is at such times to be glad, and to think that this is being "thankful!"

After moralizing for a few miles, a carriage full of English people overtook me, and soon we became companions. "The English are so distant, so silent, such hauteur and gloomy distrust," forsooth! A false verdict, say I. The ladies carried me off through the very pretty glen, and the canoe on its cart trundled slowly after us behind, through the Höllenthal Pass, which is too seldom visited by travellers, who so often admire the spire of Freyburg from the railway as they pass on their route to Switzerland.

This entrance to the Schwartzwald, or Black Forest, is a woody, rocky, grim defile, with an excellent road, and good inns. The villages are of wood, and there is a saw-mill in every other house, giving a busy, wholesome sound, mellowed by the patter of the water-wheel. Farther on, where tourists' scenery stops, it is a grand, dark-coloured ocean of hills. The houses get larger and larger, and fewer and fewer, and nearly every one has a little chapel built alongside, with a wooden saint's image of life-size nailed on the gable end. One night I was in one of these huge domiciles, when all the servants and ploughboys came in, and half said, half sung, their prayers, in a whining but yet musical tone, and then they attacked a hearty supper.

Our carriage mounted still among crags, that bowed from each side across the narrow gorge, and were crested above by the grand old trees that will be felled and floated down the Rhine on one of those huge rafts you meet at Strasbourg. But everybody must have seen a Rhine raft, so I need not describe it, with its acres of wood and its street of cabins, and its gay bannerets. A large raft needs 500 men to navigate it, and the timber will sell for 30,000l.

At the top of this pass was the watershed of the first chain of hills, and the Rob Roy was safely housed in the Baar Inn, so I set off for a long walk to find if the tiny stream there would possibly be navigable.

Alone on a hillside in a foreign land, and with an evening sun pouring warm light on the wild mountains, and the playful breeze and the bleating sheep around you--there is a strong sentiment of independent delight that possesses the mind then with buoyant gladness; but how can I explain it in words, unless you have felt this sort of pleasure?

The rivulet was found to be quite unsuited for a canoe; so now let me go to bed in my wooden room, where the washing-basin is oval, and the partitions are so thin that one hears all the noises of the place at midnight. Now, the long-drawn snore of the landlord; then, the tittle-tattle of the servants not asleep yet,--a pussy's plaintive mew, and the scraping of a mouse; the cows breathing in soft slumber; and again, the sharp rattle of a horse's chain.

The elaborate construction of that edifice of housewifery called a "bett" here, and which we are expected to sleep upon, can only be understood when you have to undermine and dismantle it night after night to arrive at a reasonable flat surface on which to recline.

First you take off a great fluff bag at least two feet thick, then a counterpane, and then a brilliant scarlet blanket; next you extract one enormous pillow, another enormous pillow, and a huge wedge-shaped bolster,--all, it appears, requisite for the Teutonic race, who yet could surely put themselves to sleep at an angle of forty-five degrees, without all this trouble, by merely tilting up the end of a flat bedstead.

Simple but real courtesy have I found throughout. Every one says "Gut tag;" and, even in a hotel, on getting up from breakfast a guest who has not spoken a word will wish "Gut morgen" as he departs, and perhaps "Bon appetit" to those not satisfied like himself. About eight o'clock the light repast of tea or coffee, bread, butter, and honey begins the day; at noon is the dinner, or "mittagessen," mid-day meal, giving all proper excuse for another dining operation in the shape of a supper at seven.

No fine manners here! My driver sat down to dinner with me, and the waiter along with him, smoking a cigar between whiles, as he waited on us both. But all this is just as one sees in Canada and in Norway, and wherever there are mountains, woods, and torrent streams, with a sparse population; and, as in Norway too, you see at once that all can read, and they do read. There is more reading in one day in a common house in Germany than in a month in the same sort of place in France.

I had hired the cart and driver by the day, but he by no means admired my first directions next morning--namely, to take the boat off the main road, so as to get to the Titisee, a pretty mountain lake about four miles long, and surrounded by wooded knolls. His arguments and objections were evidently superficial, and something deeper than he said was in his mind. In fact, it appears that, by a superstition long cherished there, Pontius Pilate is supposed to be in that deep, still lake, and dark rumours were told that he would surely drag me down if I ventured upon it.

The legend about Pilate extends over Germany and Italy. Even on the flanks of Stromboli there is a talus of the volcano which the people dare not approach, "because of Pontius Pilate."

Of course, this decided the matter, and when I launched the Rob Roy from the pebbly shore in a fine foggy morning, and in full view of the inhabitants of the region (eight in number at last census), I had a most pleasant paddle for several miles.

At a distance the boat was invisible (being so low in the water), and they said that only a man was seen, whirling a paddle about his head.

There is nothing interesting about this lake, except that it is 3,000 feet above the sea and very lonely, in the middle of the Black Forest. Certainly no English boat has been there before, and probably no other will visit the deserted water.

After this, the Rob Roy is carted again still further into the forests. Lumbering vehicles meet us, all carrying wood. Some have joined three carts together, and have eight horses. Others have a bullock or two besides, and all the men are intelligent enough, for they stop and stare, and my driver deigns to tell them, in a patois wholly beyond me, as to what a strange fare he has got with a boat and no other luggage. However, they invariably conclude that the canoe is being carried about for sale, and it could have been well sold frequently already.

About mid-day my sage driver began to mutter something at intervals, but I could only make out from his gestures and glances that it had to do with a storm overhead. The mixture of English, French, and German on the borders of the Rhine accustoms one to hear odd words. "Shall have you pottyto?" says a waiter, and he is asking if you will have potatoes. Another hands you a dish, saying, it is "sweetbone," and you must know it is "sweetbread."

Yes, the storm came, and as it seldom does come except in such places. I once heard a thunder peal while standing on the crater of Mount Vesuvius, and I have seen the grand beauty of bright lightning playing on the Falls of Niagara in a black dark night, but the vividness of the lightning to-day in the Black Forest, and the crashing, rolling, and booming of the terrible and majestic battery of heaven was astounding. Once a bolt fell so near and with such a blaze that the horse (albeit tired enough) started off down a hill and made me quite nervous lest he should overturn the cart and injure my precious boat, which naturally was more and more dear to me as it was longer my sole companion.

As we toiled up the Rothenhaus Pass, down came the rain, whisting and rushing through the cold, dark forests of larch, and blackening the top of great Feldberg, the highest mountain here, and then pouring heavy and fast on the cart and horse, the man, the canoe, and myself. This was the last rain my boat got in the tour. All other days I spent in her were perfectly dry.

People stared out of their windows to see a cart and a boat in this heavy shower--what! a boat, up here in the hills? Where can it be going, and whose is it? Then they ran out to us, and forced the driver to harangue, and he tried to satisfy their curiosity, but his explanation never seemed to be quite exhaustive, for they turned homeward shaking their heads and looking grave, even though I nodded and laughed at them through the bars of the cart, lifting up my head among the wet straw.

The weather dried up its tears at last, and the sun glittered on the road, still sparkling with its rivulets of rain water. The boat was soon cleared from wet by a sponge, while a smart walk warmed its well-soaked captain.

The horse too had got into a cheerful vein and actually trotted with excitement, for now it was down hill, and bright sun--a welcome change in ten minutes from our labouring up a steep forest road in a thunder-storm.

I suppose that the most rigid teetotaller (I am only a temperance man) would allow that just a very small glass of kirchwasser might be prescribed at this moment with advantage, and as there was no "faculty" there but myself, I administered the dose medicinally to the driver and to his employer, and gave a bran-mash and a rub down to the horse, which made all three of us better satisfied with ourselves and each other, and so we jogged on again.

By dusk I marched into Donauesehingen, and on crossing the little bridge, saw at once I could begin the Danube from its very source, for there were at least three inches of water in the middle of the stream.

In five minutes a crowd assembled round the boat, even before it could be loosened from the cart. [Footnote 1]

The ordinary idlers came first, then the more shy townspeople, and then a number of strange folks, whose exact position I could not make out, until it was explained that the great singing meeting for that part of Germany was to be held next day in the town, and so there were 600 visitors, all men of some means and intelligence, who were collected from a wide country round about.

The town was in gala for this meeting of song. The inns were full, but still the good landlord of the "Poste" by the bridge gave me an excellent room, and the canoe was duly borne in procession to the coachhouse.

What a din these tenors and basses did make at the table d'hôte! Everything about the boat had to be told a dozen times over to them, while my driver had a separate lecture-room on the subject below.

The town was well worth inspection next day, for it was m a violent fit of decoration. Every house was tidied up, and all the streets were swept clean. From the humbler windows hung green boughs and garlands, rugs, quilts, and blankets; while banners, Venetian streamers, arches, mottoes, and wreaths of flowers announced the wealthier houses. Crowds of gaping peasants paraded the streets and jostled against bands drumming and tromboning (if there be such a word), and marching in a somewhat ricketty manner over the undoubtedly rough pavement. Every now and then the bustle had a fresh paroxysm when four horses rattled along, bringing in new visitors from some distant choir. They are coming you see in a long four-wheeled cart, covered with evergreens and bearing four pine trees in it erect among sacks which are used as seats--only the inmates do not sit but stand up in the cart and shout, and sing, and wave banners aloft, while the hundreds of on-lookers roar out the "Hoch," the German hurrah! with only one note.

As every window had its ornament or device, I made one for mine also, and my sails were festooned (rather tastefully, I flatter myself) to support the little blue silk English jack of the canoe. This complimentary display was speedily recognized by the Germans, who greeted it with cheers, and sung glees below, and improvised verses about England, and then sang round the boat itself laughing, shouting, and hurraing boisterously with the vigour of youthful lungs. Never tell me again that the Germans are a phlegmatic people!

They had a "banket" in the evening at the Museum. It was "free for all" and so 400 came on these inexpensive terms, and all drank beer from long glass cylinders at a penny a glass, all smoked cigars at a farthing a piece, and all talked and sung, though a splendid brass band was playing beside them, and whenever it stopped a glee or chorus commenced.

The whole affair was a scene of bewildering excitement, very curious to contemplate for one sitting in the midst. Next me I found a young bookseller who had sold me a French book in the morning. He said I must take a ticket for the Sunday concert; but I told him I was an Englishman, and had learned in my country that it was God's will and for men's good to keep Sunday for far better things, which are too much forgotten when one day in seven is not saved from the business, excitement, and giddiness of every-day life.

There is a feeling of dull sameness about life in those countries and places where the week is not steadied and centered round a solid day on which lofty and deep things, pure and lasting things may have at least some hours of our attention.

So I left the merry singers to bang their drums and hoch! at each other in the great hall provided for their use by the Prince of Furstemburg. He had reared this near his stables, in which are many good horses, some of the best being English, and named on their stalls "Miss," "Pet," "Lady," or "Tom," &c.

An English gentleman whom I met afterwards had been travelling through Germany with a four-in-hand drag, and he came to Donauesehingen, where the Prince soon heard of his arrival. Next day His Serene Highness was at his stables, and seeing an English visitor there, he politely conducted the stranger over the whole establishment, explaining every item with minute care. He found out afterwards that this visitor was not the English gentleman, but only his groom!

The intelligence, activity, and good temper of most of the German waiters in hotels will surely be observed by travellers whose daily enjoyment depends so much on that class. Here, for instance, is a little waiter at the Poste Inn. He is the size of a boy, but looks twenty years older. His face is flat, and broad, and brown, and so is his jacket. His shoulders are high, and he reminds you of those four everlasting German juveniles, with thick comforters about their necks, who stand in London streets blowing brass music, with their cheeks puffed out, and their cold grey eyes turning on all the passing objects while the music, or at any rate a noise, blurts out as if mechanically from the big, unpolished instruments held by red benumbed fingers.

This waiter lad then is all day at the beck of all, and never gets a night undisturbed, yet he is as obliging at ten o'clock in the dark as for the early coffee at sunrise, and he quite agrees with each guest, in the belief that his particular cutlet or cognac is the most important feature of the hour.

I honour this sort of man. He tills a hard place well, and Bismarck or Mussurus cannot do more.

Then again, there is Ulric, the other waiter, hired only for to-day as an "extra," to meet the crush of hungry vocalists who will soon fill the saal. He is timid yet, being young, and only used to a village inn where "The Poste at Donaueschingen" is looked up to with solemn admiration as the pink of fashion. He was learning French too, and was sentimental, so I gave him a very matter-of-fact book, and then he asked me to let him sit in the canoe while I was to paddle it down the river to his home. The naive simplicity of this request was truly refreshing, and if I had been sure of shallow water all the way, and yet not too shallow, it would perhaps have been amusing to admit such a passenger.

The actual source of the Danube is by no means agreed upon any more than the source of the Nile. I had a day's exploration of the country, after seeking exact information on this point from the townspeople in vain. The land round Donaueschingen is a spongy soil, with numerous rivulets and a few large streams. I went along one of these, the Brege, which rises twenty miles away, near St. Martin, and investigated about ten miles of another, the Brigach, a brook rising near St. Georgen, about a mile from the source of the Neckar, which river runs to the Rhine. These streams join near Donauesehingen, but in the town there bubbles up a clear spring of water in the gardens of the Prince near the church, and this, the infant Danube, runs into the other water already wide enough for a boat, but which then for the first time has the name of Donau.

The name, it is said, is never given to either of the two larger rivulets, because sometimes both have been known to fail in dry summers, while the bubbling spring has been perennial for ages.

The Brege and another confluent arc caused to fill an artificial pond close by the Brigach. This lake is wooded round, and has a pretty island, and swans, and gold fish. A waterwheel (in vain covered for concealment) pumps up water to flow from an inverted horn amid a group of statuary in this romantic pond, and the stream flowing from it also joins the others.

That there might be no mistake however in this matter, I went on each stream from the first point where it would float a canoe, and while the singers sol-faed excessively at the boat, and shouted hochs and farewells to the English "flagge," and the landlord bowed (his bill of thirteen francs for three full days being duly paid), and the populace stared, the Rob Roy shot off like an arrow on a river delightfully new.


[Footnote 1:] After trying various modes of securing the canoe in a springless cart for long journeys on rough and hilly roads, I am convinced that the best way is to fasten two ropes across the top of a long cart and let the boat lie on these, which will bear it like springs and so modify the jolts. The painter is then made fast fore and aft, so as to keep the boat from moving back and forward. All plans for using trusses of straw, &c., fail after a few miles of rolling gravel and coarse ruts.

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