THE weather is entirely unlike anything that can be properly characterized as summer. All our available wraps and overcoats are called into requisition, our only regret being that we left a part of them in our stateroom trunks at Hamburg; for, in spite of the feather-beds piled on top of us at night, we suffer with the cold. We confide this and our other numerous grievances to each other on our route to Bingen.
But our attention is soon drawn from our miserable selves to the beautiful scenery through which we are passing, this being the most picturesque part of the Rhine. There is a ridge of mountains on each side of the river, at the foot of which lies a narrow plateau, occasionally interrupted by a spur of the adjacent mountain extending abruptly down to the water, through which tunnels have been cut for the passage of the railroad. Little towns lie cosily nestled along the shores. Human efforts seem to vie with nature to beautify the scene. The hand of the husbandman not only cultivates and beautifies the fertile valley, but stretches up the mountains to soften with its tender touch the rugged outlines, until it reaches their very summits, where ruins of historical old castles, with battered walls and towers, linger to remind the Germans that they have a grievance against the French dating back of the Franco-German war.
On our arrival at Bingen we are greeted by a formidable array of hotel porters, in whose faces we detect a peculiar hungry and longing look. As the numerous omnibuses roll away from the station, some with one or two passengers, but most of them with none at all, we wonder how many hotels there may be in a town of 7,000 inhabitants, and from all we subsequently learn there seems to be one for each traveller, and a large retinue of servants and officials, high and low, to attend to his wants.
On being shown to our rooms, we, according to the custom of the country, inquire the price of those selected, and modestly suggest that they are rather dear. The attendant admits that they are, but adds, with a most pitiful air, The season is so very short and it is so cold this year that we are compelled to do the best we can for ourselves with those who do come.” Such a frank avowal quite takes away our breath, but the plaintive and modest air with which this appeal to our sympathies is made so touches us that we declare the rooms to be entirely satisfactory, and the price, considering the circumstances, most moderate. A little later, at table d’hôte we find that we are entirely alone, with the whole retinue of servants at our command. We wonder among ourselves how this extensive establishment can be sustained on such meagre patronage, and when a facetious member of our party inquires of the head-waiter if the house is always so full the faint semblance of a smile which the remark elicits fades away in a dismal failure.
These and other similar experiences so work upon our feelings that we find ourselves vying with the landlord and his able assistants in lengthening the bill which will confront us upon leaving. Every traveller who has had experience with the bills of Continental landlords, and especially on the main routes of pleasure travel, will realize how completely our sympathies have been roused in behalf of this particular landlord ; and when he remembers the length of the bills usually presented on his departure, he can form some adequate conception of the formidable dimensions of ours on this occasion, and will readily agree with us in the opinion that these landlords and their aids do not require any active assistance from their guests in this matter. We do not escape without paying the full penalty of allowing our sympathy to be so liberally bestowed.
Throughout the visit we are the willing victims of a series of acknowledged impositions, and at our departure we find that the entire corps of employees are mustered in double ranks, commencing with the chambermaid and the ” boots,” at the foot of the stairs, and ending with the porter at the omnibus, and by the time we have run the gauntlet of these serried ranks both our sympathies and our small change are utterly exhausted. After we reach the porterwho might almost be mistaken for a major-general, in his resplendent uniformand bestow up-on him a fee somewhat commensurate with his imposing and dignified appearance, we roll away to the station very nearly in a state of collapse.
We have no strength or vitality left with which to describe the attractions of the place, but, fortunately, it does not seem to possess many. The one object of interest is a large monument far up the hill, on the opposite side of the river, erected as a memorial of the consolidation of the German Empire. We content our-selves with the distant view of it obtained from the window of our hotel.
We are assured on all sides that Bingen is a most charming place, and we are forced to conclude that the cold, damp weather, and the un-favorable conditions of our visit, have blinded us to its real beauties. As it is, we leave with the impression that it must be indebted mainly for its reputation to the plaintive story of the dying soldier-boy, who little realized what a legacy of fame he was leaving to his “fair Bingen-on-the-Rhine.”
Bingen has a large wine trade, being in the midst of the region producing the most celebrated German vintages. A short distance above, on the other side of the river, is Rüdesheim, which has for hundreds of years produced the wine of that name famous the world over.
Still further up the river, a little back and high up from its banks, is Schloss Johannisberg, the home of Prince Metternich, the owner of the famed vineyard that produces the wonderful ” Johannisberger.” This vineyard of only forty acres must be the most productive piece of land of its size on the face of the earth, when we consider that it not only supplies the tables of all the crowned heads of Europe, but furnishes England and America and other countries abundantly besides, if we can believe in the authenticity of the contents of the hotel wine-lists in those countries. But, no doubt, this anomalous productiveness may be largely accounted for by the circumstance that, in the minds of the `majority of the consumers of the aristocratic Johannisberger, the label on the bottle is a more potent factor in determining the quality of the wine in the bottle than the particular vineyard which produced it.
If the owner of these forty acres is inspired with the desire to do the “greatest possible good to the greatest possible number,” then surely he must be the happiest man on earth ; for, whatever may be the prevailing opinion as to the goodness or badness of wine in genera], the wine-drinker can have but one opinion as to the quality of this noted vintage, when he re-members that “a host which no man can number are daily drinking from the long-necked bottles that are duly labelled ” Johannisberger.”
Moreover, it is a source of the highest gratification to know that the enjoyment of this expansive benevolence is not confined to this vine-yard, as there are others of quite limited acre-age, both in Germany and France, which pro-duce exquisite wines possessing the same wonderful element of expansiveness. Countless thousand bottles of St. Julien, for example, are drank every day the world over, notwithstanding the small area upon which it is produced.
There is one rather suspicious circumstance connected with the consumption of these special brands. In the countries above mentioned a bottle of almost any of them may be obtained at any price from fifty cents to five dollars, while a choice bottle of the genuine article can hardly be procured at the vineyard where it is produced for less than the higher sum. Seriously, one is more likely to get shot in time of peace, or sent to the bottom of the Atlantic in making an average ocean passage, than to pro-cure a bottle of genuine Johannisberger at any price in America.
It is interesting to recall the history of the scenes which have transpired within view of these old castles during the hundreds of years they have stood as sentinels over the valley of the Rhine ; and yet more interesting and curious to speculate as to those scenes and events of which we have no record. In view of the comparative meagreness of the historical data of the middle ages and of the Robber Barons, it is not strange that the few known facts of the earlier period should have become inter-woven with much that is fanciful and weird. Many of these wonderful legends have become gracefully interwoven with the popular literature of the time.
One of these is that of the Mouse Tower, which is situate in the middle of the river opposite Bingen. It was built by Hatto, the archbishop of the diocese, for the purpose of ex-acting tolls from the boats going up and down the stream. The story is that the region was visited by a terrible famine, in consequence of a failure of the crops, and when winter came and the people were starving, and the price of bread had become exorbitant, the archbishop, who had bought up all the grain remaining from the previous harvest, retailed it at extravagant prices. The people begged him to throw open the granaries that they might be fed. He sneered at them and said : “Let the people go into the empty barn ; then they shall have warm bread.” The starving people crowded into the building, and when it was full and the doors were securely fastened the archbishop caused it to be set on fire on all sides. The fearful cries .issuing from the building did not move him. He stepped upon the balcony of his palace and cried out : “Listen to the piping of the mice.” The shrieks soon ceased, and all the poor wretches perished, being buried under the falling walls.
But, the legend runs, ere long they were fully avenged. Under the ashes of the barn it suddenly became alive. An innumerable host of mice crept out, filled the street leading to the archbishop’s palace, covered the steps of the splendid edifice, penetrated into every opening in the interior. The archbishop sent out his servants to destroy the troublesome guests, but in vain. As fast as they were crushed fresh swarms appeared to take their places. The archbishop escaped into a remote part of his palace. The mice were upon him immediately, pulling upon his robes and gnawing his shoes. He fled in terror from the palace. The inexorable mice pursued him. He sprang into a boat and pushed out into the rapid current, and, thinking himself safe from his pursuers, landed at the tower and shut himself up in the upper-most apartment.
But the little avengers were not daunted by the roaring elements. Myriads, covering the steps, climbing the walls, and gnawing at the doors, rushed into his hiding-place. There was a dreadful cry and all became still. Afterwards some courageous boatmen found the skeleton of the archbishop, which alone had escaped the rapacity of the mice. It is, doubtless, now claimed by his descendants that the archbishop was a most distinguished and worthy prelate, and that this slanderous tale was invented by the dissolute monks whose conduct he had from time to time severely reprobated. It is stated, in a little volume recounting some of their ancient legends, that the “Mouse Tower has no-thing at all to do with the mice !” So we will give the archbishop the benefit of the doubt.