No rowing or work of any kind to do--we merely float with the current we glide noiseless and swift--as fast as a London cab-horse rips along--8 miles an hour--the swiftest current I've ever boated in. We have the entire river to ourselves nowhere a boat of any kind.
Pleasant it must have been in the warm September days to go swinging down that swift, gray stream which comes racing out of Switzerland into France, fed from a thousand glaciers. He sent almost daily memoranda of his progress. Half-way to Arles he wrote:
It's too delicious, floating with the swift current under the awning these superb, sunshiny days in deep peace and quietness.
Some of these curious old historical towns strangely persuade me, but it is so lovely afloat that I don't stop, but view them from the outside and sail on. We get abundance of grapes and peaches for next to nothing. My, but that inn was suffocating with garlic where we stayed last night! I had to hold my nose as we went up-stairs or I believe I should have fainted.
Little bit of a room, rude board floor unswept, 2 chairs, unpainted white pine table--void the furniture! Had a good firm bed, solid as a rock, & you could have brained an ox with the bolster.
These six hours have been entirely delightful. I want to do all the rivers of Europe in an open boat in summer weather.
Still further along he described one of their shore accommodations.
Night caught us yesterday where we had to take quarters in a peasant's house which was occupied by the family and a lot of cows & calves, also several rabbits.--[His word for fleas. Neither fleas nor mosquitoes ever bit him--probably because of his steady use of tobacco.]--The latter had a ball & I was the ballroom; but they were very friendly and didn't bite.
The peasants were mighty kind and hearty & flew around & did their best to make us comfortable. This morning I breakfasted on the shore in the open air with two sociable dogs & a cat. Clean cloth, napkins & table furniture, white sugar, a vast hunk of excellent butter, good bread, first-class coffee with pure milk, fried fish just caught. Wonderful that so much cleanliness should come out of such a phenomenally dirty house.
An hour ago we saw the Falls of the Rhone, a prodigiously rough and dangerous-looking place; shipped a little water, but came to no harm. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of piloting & boat management I ever saw. Our admiral knew his business.
We have had to run ashore for shelter every time it has rained heretofore, but Joseph has been putting in his odd time making a waterproof sun-bonnet for the boat, & now we sail along dry, although we have had many heavy showers this morning.
Here follows a pencil-drawing of the boat and its new awning, and he adds: "I'm on the stern, under the shelter, and out of sight."
The trip down the Rhone proved more valuable as an outing than as literary material. Clemens covered one hundred and seventy-four pages with his notes of it, then gave it up. Traveling alone with no one but Joseph and the Admiral (former owner of the craft) was reposeful and satisfactory, but it did not inspire literary flights. He tried to rectify the lack of companionship by introducing fictitious characters, such as Uncle Abner, Fargo, and Stavely, a young artist; also Harris, from the Tramp Abroad; but Harris was not really there this time, and Mark Twain's genius, given rather to elaboration than to construction, found it too severe a task to imagine a string of adventures without at least the customary ten per cent. of fact to build upon.
It was a day above Avignon that he had an experience worth while. They were abreast of an old castle, nearing a village, one of the huddled jumble of houses of that locality, when, glancing over his left shoulder toward the distant mountain range, he received what he referred to later as a soul-stirring shock.