32 On Board the "Prince Albert"
The journey fortunately does not take very long, as it is only about twenty miles from Glasgow to Balloch. The railway passes through Royal Dumbarton, the county-town, spectacularly situated on the mouths of the Clyde and the Leven. Its castle, still fortified under the Treaty of the Union, perches on the twin peaks of a basalt crag. Dumbarton was where Mary left from to become Queen of France. Another historical fact brought this castle into focus for the two Frenchmen. It was here that the British Government thought of imprisoning Napoleon after 1815: Dumbarton or Saint-Helena, both rocks that the hate of the British intended for the enemy who had trusted in their integrity.
The train soon stopped at Balloch, near a wooden jetty leading to Loch Lomond.
"The very first lake I've seen in my life!" cried Jacques.
"And the first mountain. The ones you've seen so far are just joke ones, ones for Parisians, pocket mountains."
They rushed out of the station, along the jetty and onto the steamer the Prince Albert. They bought tickets for Inversnaid, at the other end of the lake, price 2s 6d each.
"It's a lot for a trip of thirty miles. But what a trip! Remember, my friend, you're in MacGregor country!"
At the beginning of Loch Lomond there are a large number of delightful little islands of all shapes imaginable. The Prince Albert sailed close to their steep sides and, in its windings, revealed a thousand different countrysides: now a fertile plain, now a solitary valley, now a wild gorge bristling with age-old rocks. Each island has its celebrated legend, and the history of this land is indisputably written in these gigantic characters of islands and mountains. The lake is perhaps four or five miles wide at this point. It all reminded Jacques of the myriad islands on Lake Ontario described by Scott's brilliant rival, Fenimore Cooper. Nature seemed here to have used every trick she could to make the islands as varied as possible. One of them, wild and rocky, apparently without any vegetation, raised its sharp peaks beside the green and rounded rumps of another. The larches and birches of a third protested, by their verdant boughs, at the yellow, dried-up heather of its neighbour; and yet the waters of the loch bathed them all with serene equality. Near Balmaha, which marks the beginning of the Highlands, Jacques noticed a few scattered gravestones: those of the ancient family of the MacGregors.
The shores of the lake, still quite wide apart, began however to draw together as the tiny port of Luss approached. The two friends stayed intrepidly on deck despite the violent rain, and not a single detail of the view was wasted on them. Jacques was watching through the mist for the summit of Ben Lomond.
He felt infused with a strong and wild poetry, reliving the emotions his beloved books had given him for these steep shores, these black and peaceful waters. In his mind the legendary heroes of Caledonia populated this captivating Highland realm once again.