Part 6 out of 10
than a trip from Interlaken, by the Gemmi and Visp,
clear to Zermatt, on foot! So it was necessary to plan
the details, and get ready for an early start. The courier
(this was not the one I have just been speaking of)
thought that the portier of the hotel would be able
to tell us how to find our way. And so it turned out.
He showed us the whole thing, on a relief-map, and we could
see our route, with all its elevations and depressions,
its villages and its rivers, as clearly as if we were sailing
over it in a balloon. A relief-map is a great thing.
The portier also wrote down each day's journey and the
nightly hotel on a piece of paper, and made our course
so plain that we should never be able to get lost without
high-priced outside help.
I put the courier in the care of a gentleman who was
going to Lausanne, and then we went to bed, after laying
out the walking-costumes and putting them into condition
for instant occupation in the morning.
However, when we came down to breakfast at 8 A.M., it
looked so much like rain that I hired a two-horse top-buggy
for the first third of the journey. For two or three hours
we jogged along the level road which skirts the beautiful
lake of Thun, with a dim and dreamlike picture of watery
expanses and spectral Alpine forms always before us,
veiled in a mellowing mist. Then a steady downpour
set in, and hid everything but the nearest objects.
We kept the rain out of our faces with umbrellas, and away
from our bodies with the leather apron of the buggy;
but the driver sat unsheltered and placidly soaked the weather
in and seemed to like it. We had the road to ourselves,
and I never had a pleasanter excursion.
The weather began to clear while we were driving up
a valley called the Kienthal, and presently a vast black
cloud-bank in front of us dissolved away and uncurtained
the grand proportions and the soaring loftiness of the
Blumis Alp. It was a sort of breath-taking surprise;
for we had not supposed there was anything behind
that low-hung blanket of sable cloud but level valley.
What we had been mistaking for fleeting glimpses of sky
away aloft there, were really patches of the Blumis's
snowy crest caught through shredded rents in the drifting
pall of vapor.
We dined in the inn at Frutigen, and our driver ought
to have dined there, too, but he would not have had
time to dine and get drunk both, so he gave his mind
to making a masterpiece of the latter, and succeeded.
A German gentleman and his two young-lady daughters had
been taking their nooning at the inn, and when they left,
just ahead of us, it was plain that their driver was
as drunk as ours, and as happy and good-natured, too,
which was saying a good deal. These rascals overflowed
with attentions and information for their guests, and with
brotherly love for each other. They tied their reins,
and took off their coats and hats, so that they might
be able to give unencumbered attention to conversation
and to the gestures necessary for its illustration.
The road was smooth; it led up and over and down a continual
succession of hills; but it was narrow, the horses were
used to it, and could not well get out of it anyhow;
so why shouldn't the drivers entertain themselves and us?
The noses of our horses projected sociably into the rear
of the forward carriage, and as we toiled up the long
hills our driver stood up and talked to his friend,
and his friend stood up and talked back to him, with his
rear to the scenery. When the top was reached and we
went flying down the other side, there was no change in
the program. I carry in my memory yet the picture of that
forward driver, on his knees on his high seat, resting his
elbows on its back, and beaming down on his passengers,
with happy eye, and flying hair, and jolly red face,
and offering his card to the old German gentleman while he
praised his hack and horses, and both teams were whizzing
down a long hill with nobody in a position to tell whether
we were bound to destruction or an undeserved safety.
Toward sunset we entered a beautiful green valley dotted
with chalets, a cozy little domain hidden away from the busy
world in a cloistered nook among giant precipices topped
with snowy peaks that seemed to float like islands above
the curling surf of the sea of vapor that severed them from
the lower world. Down from vague and vaporous heights,
little ruffled zigzag milky currents came crawling,
and found their way to the verge of one of those tremendous
overhanging walls, whence they plunged, a shaft of silver,
shivered to atoms in mid-descent and turned to an air puff
of luminous dust. Here and there, in grooved depressions
among the snowy desolations of the upper altitudes,
one glimpsed the extremity of a glacier, with its sea-green
and honeycombed battlements of ice.
Up the valley, under a dizzy precipice, nestled the
village of Kandersteg, our halting-place for the night.
We were soon there, and housed in the hotel. But the waning
day had such an inviting influence that we did not remain
housed many moments, but struck out and followed a roaring
torrent of ice-water up to its far source in a sort of
little grass-carpeted parlor, walled in all around by vast
precipices and overlooked by clustering summits of ice.
This was the snuggest little croquet-ground imaginable;
it was perfectly level, and not more than a mile long
by half a mile wide. The walls around it were so gigantic,
and everything about it was on so mighty a scale that it
was belittled, by contrast, to what I have likened it
to--a cozy and carpeted parlor. It was so high above
the Kandersteg valley that there was nothing between it
and the snowy-peaks. I had never been in such intimate
relations with the high altitudes before; the snow-peaks
had always been remote and unapproachable grandeurs,
hitherto, but now we were hob-a-nob--if one may use
such a seemingly irreverent expression about creations
so august as these.
We could see the streams which fed the torrent we
had followed issuing from under the greenish ramparts
of glaciers; but two or three of these, instead of flowing
over the precipices, sank down into the rock and sprang
in big jets out of holes in the mid-face of the walls.
The green nook which I have been describing is called
the Gasternthal. The glacier streams gather and flow through
it in a broad and rushing brook to a narrow cleft between
lofty precipices; here the rushing brook becomes a mad torrent
and goes booming and thundering down toward Kandersteg,
lashing and thrashing its way over and among monster boulders,
and hurling chance roots and logs about like straws.
There was no lack of cascades along this route.
The path by the side of the torrent was so narrow
that one had to look sharp, when he heard a cow-bell,
and hunt for a place that was wide enough to accommodate
a cow and a Christian side by side, and such places were
not always to be had at an instant's notice. The cows
wear church-bells, and that is a good idea in the cows,
for where that torrent is, you couldn't hear an ordinary
cow-bell any further than you could hear the ticking of a watch.
I needed exercise, so I employed my agent in setting
stranded logs and dead trees adrift, and I sat on a
boulder and watched them go whirling and leaping head
over heels down the boiling torrent. It was a wonderfully
exhilarating spectacle. When I had had enough exercise,
I made the agent take some, by running a race with one
of those logs. I made a trifle by betting on the log.
After dinner we had a walk up and down the Kandersteg valley,
in the soft gloaming, with the spectacle of the dying lights
of day playing about the crests and pinnacles of the still
and solemn upper realm for contrast, and text for talk.
There were no sounds but the dulled complaining of the
torrent and the occasional tinkling of a distant bell.
The spirit of the place was a sense of deep, pervading peace;
one might dream his life tranquilly away there, and not miss
it or mind it when it was gone.
The summer departed with the sun, and winter came with
the stars. It grew to be a bitter night in that little hotel,
backed up against a precipice that had no visible top to it,
but we kept warm, and woke in time in the morning to find
that everybody else had left for Gemmi three hours before--
so our little plan of helping that German family (principally
the old man) over the pass, was a blocked generosity.
[The World's Highest Pig Farm]
We hired the only guide left, to lead us on our way.
He was over seventy, but he could have given me nine-tenths
of his strength and still had all his age entitled him to.
He shouldered our satchels, overcoats, and alpenstocks,
and we set out up the steep path. It was hot work.
The old man soon begged us to hand over our coats
and waistcoats to him to carry, too, and we did it;
one could not refuse so little a thing to a poor old man
like that; he should have had them if he had been a hundred
When we began that ascent, we could see a microscopic
chalet perched away up against heaven on what seemed
to be the highest mountain near us. It was on our right,
across the narrow head of the valley. But when we got
up abreast it on its own level, mountains were towering
high above on every hand, and we saw that its altitude
was just about that of the little Gasternthal which we had
visited the evening before. Still it seemed a long way up
in the air, in that waste and lonely wilderness of rocks.
It had an unfenced grass-plot in front of it which seemed
about as big as a billiard-table, and this grass-plot
slanted so sharply downward, and was so brief, and ended
so exceedingly soon at the verge of the absolute precipice,
that it was a shuddery thing to think of a person's venturing
to trust his foot on an incline so situated at all.
Suppose a man stepped on an orange peel in that yard;
there would be nothing for him to seize; nothing could
keep him from rolling; five revolutions would bring him
to the edge, and over he would go. What a frightful distance
he would fall!--for there are very few birds that fly
as high as his starting-point. He would strike and bounce,
two or three times, on his way down, but this would be
no advantage to him. I would as soon taking an airing
on the slant of a rainbow as in such a front yard.
I would rather, in fact, for the distance down would be about
the same, and it is pleasanter to slide than to bounce.
I could not see how the peasants got up to that chalet--
the region seemed too steep for anything but a balloon.
As we strolled on, climbing up higher and higher, we were
continually bringing neighboring peaks into view and lofty
prominence which had been hidden behind lower peaks before;
so by and by, while standing before a group of these giants,
we looked around for the chalet again; there it was,
away down below us, apparently on an inconspicuous ridge
in the valley! It was as far below us, now, as it had been
above us when we were beginning the ascent.
After a while the path led us along a railed precipice,
and we looked over--far beneath us was the snug parlor again,
the little Gasternthal, with its water jets spouting
from the face of its rock walls. We could have dropped
a stone into it. We had been finding the top of the world
all along--and always finding a still higher top stealing
into view in a disappointing way just ahead; when we looked
down into the Gasternthal we felt pretty sure that we
had reached the genuine top at last, but it was not so;
there were much higher altitudes to be scaled yet.
We were still in the pleasant shade of forest trees,
we were still in a region which was cushioned with beautiful
mosses and aglow with the many-tinted luster of innumerable
We found, indeed, more interest in the wild flowers
than in anything else. We gathered a specimen or two
of every kind which we were unacquainted with; so we
had sumptuous bouquets. But one of the chief interests
lay in chasing the seasons of the year up the mountain,
and determining them by the presence of flowers and
berries which we were acquainted with. For instance,
it was the end of August at the level of the sea;
in the Kandersteg valley at the base of the pass,
we found flowers which would not be due at the sea-level
for two or three weeks; higher up, we entered October,
and gathered fringed gentians. I made no notes, and have
forgotten the details, but the construction of the floral
calendar was very entertaining while it lasted.
In the high regions we found rich store of the splendid
red flower called the Alpine rose, but we did not find
any examples of the ugly Swiss favorite called Edelweiss.
Its name seems to indicate that it is a noble flower
and that it is white. It may be noble enough,
but it is not attractive, and it is not white.
The fuzzy blossom is the color of bad cigar ashes,
and appears to be made of a cheap quality of gray plush.
It has a noble and distant way of confining itself to the
high altitudes, but that is probably on account of its looks;
it apparently has no monopoly of those upper altitudes,
however, for they are sometimes intruded upon by some
of the loveliest of the valley families of wild flowers.
Everybody in the Alps wears a sprig of Edelweiss in his hat.
It is the native's pet, and also the tourist's.
All the morning, as we loafed along, having a good time,
other pedestrians went staving by us with vigorous strides,
and with the intent and determined look of men who were
walking for a wager. These wore loose knee-breeches, long
yarn stockings, and hobnailed high-laced walking-shoes.
They were gentlemen who would go home to England or Germany
and tell how many miles they had beaten the guide-book
every day. But I doubted if they ever had much real fun,
outside of the mere magnificent exhilaration of the
tramp through the green valleys and the breezy heights;
for they were almost always alone, and even the finest
scenery loses incalculably when there is no one to enjoy
All the morning an endless double procession of mule-mounted
tourists filed past us along the narrow path--the one
procession going, the other coming. We had taken
a good deal of trouble to teach ourselves the kindly
German custom of saluting all strangers with doffed hat,
and we resolutely clung to it, that morning, although it
kept us bareheaded most of the time and was not always
responded to. Still we found an interest in the thing,
because we naturally liked to know who were English
and Americans among the passers-by. All continental
natives responded of course; so did some of the English
and Americans, but, as a general thing, these two races
gave no sign. Whenever a man or a woman showed us
cold neglect, we spoke up confidently in our own tongue
and asked for such information as we happened to need,
and we always got a reply in the same language.
The English and American folk are not less kindly than
other races, they are only more reserved, and that comes
of habit and education. In one dreary, rocky waste,
away above the line of vegetation, we met a procession
of twenty-five mounted young men, all from America.
We got answering bows enough from these, of course,
for they were of an age to learn to do in Rome as Rome does,
without much effort.
At one extremity of this patch of desolation, overhung by bare
and forbidding crags which husbanded drifts of everlasting
snow in their shaded cavities, was a small stretch
of thin and discouraged grass, and a man and a family
of pigs were actually living here in some shanties.
Consequently this place could be really reckoned as
"property"; it had a money value, and was doubtless taxed.
I think it must have marked the limit of real estate
in this world. It would be hard to set a money value
upon any piece of earth that lies between that spot
and the empty realm of space. That man may claim the
distinction of owning the end of the world, for if there
is any definite end to the world he has certainly found it.
From here forward we moved through a storm-swept
and smileless desolation. All about us rose gigantic
masses, crags, and ramparts of bare and dreary rock,
with not a vestige or semblance of plant or tree or
flower anywhere, or glimpse of any creature that had life.
The frost and the tempests of unnumbered ages had battered
and hacked at these cliffs, with a deathless energy,
destroying them piecemeal; so all the region about
their bases was a tumbled chaos of great fragments
which had been split off and hurled to the ground.
Soiled and aged banks of snow lay close about our path.
The ghastly desolation of the place was as tremendously
complete as if Dor'e had furnished the working-plans
for it. But every now and then, through the stern
gateways around us we caught a view of some neighboring
majestic dome, sheathed with glittering ice, and displaying
its white purity at an elevation compared to which
ours was groveling and plebeian, and this spectacle
always chained one's interest and admiration at once,
and made him forget there was anything ugly in the world.
I have just said that there was nothing but death
and desolation in these hideous places, but I forgot.
In the most forlorn and arid and dismal one of all,
where the racked and splintered debris was thickest,
where the ancient patches of snow lay against the very path,
where the winds blew bitterest and the general aspect was
mournfulest and dreariest, and furthest from any suggestion
of cheer or hope, I found a solitary wee forget-me-not
flourishing away, not a droop about it anywhere,
but holding its bright blue star up with the prettiest
and gallantest air in the world, the only happy spirit,
the only smiling thing, in all that grisly desert.
She seemed to say, "Cheer up!--as long as we are here,
let us make the best of it." I judged she had earned
a right to a more hospitable place; so I plucked her up
and sent her to America to a friend who would respect
her for the fight she had made, all by her small self,
to make a whole vast despondent Alpine desolation stop
breaking its heart over the unalterable, and hold up its
head and look at the bright side of things for once.
We stopped for a nooning at a strongly built little inn
called the Schwarenbach. It sits in a lonely spot among
the peaks, where it is swept by the trailing fringes
of the cloud-rack, and is rained on, and snowed on,
and pelted and persecuted by the storms, nearly every day
of its life. It was the only habitation in the whole
Close at hand, now, was a chance for a blood-curdling
Alpine adventure. Close at hand was the snowy mass
of the Great Altels cooling its topknot in the sky
and daring us to an ascent. I was fired with the idea,
and immediately made up my mind to procure the necessary
guides, ropes, etc., and undertake it. I instructed
Harris to go to the landlord of the inn and set him
about our preparations. Meantime, I went diligently
to work to read up and find out what this much-talked-of
mountain-climbing was like, and how one should go about
it--for in these matters I was ignorant. I opened
Mr. Hinchliff's SUMMER MONTHS AMONG THE ALPS (published
1857), and selected his account of his ascent of Monte Rosa.
"It is very difficult to free the mind from excitement
on the evening before a grand expedition--"
I saw that I was too calm; so I walked the room a while
and worked myself into a high excitement; but the book's
next remark --that the adventurer must get up at two
in the morning--came as near as anything to flatting it
all out again. However, I reinforced it, and read on,
about how Mr. Hinchliff dressed by candle-light and was "soon
down among the guides, who were bustling about in the passage,
packing provisions, and making every preparation for the start";
and how he glanced out into the cold clear night and saw that--
"The whole sky was blazing with stars, larger and brighter
than they appear through the dense atmosphere breathed
by inhabitants of the lower parts of the earth.
They seemed actually suspended from the dark vault
of heaven, and their gentle light shed a fairylike gleam
over the snow-fields around the foot of the Matterhorn,
which raised its stupendous pinnacle on high, penetrating to
the heart of the Great Bear, and crowning itself with a
diadem of his magnificent stars. Not a sound disturbed
the deep tranquillity of the night, except the distant
roar of streams which rush from the high plateau of the
St. Theodule glacier, and fall headlong over precipitous
rocks till they lose themselves in the mazes of
the Gorner glacier."
He took his hot toast and coffee, and then about
half past three his caravan of ten men filed away
from the Riffel Hotel, and began the steep climb.
At half past five he happened to turn around, and "beheld
the glorious spectacle of the Matterhorn, just touched
by the rosy-fingered morning, and looking like a huge
pyramid of fire rising out of the barren ocean of ice
and rock around it." Then the Breithorn and the Dent
Blanche caught the radiant glow; but "the intervening
mass of Monte Rosa made it necessary for us to climb many
long hours before we could hope to see the sun himself,
yet the whole air soon grew warmer after the splendid
birth of the day."
He gazed at the lofty crown of Monte Rosa and the wastes
of snow that guarded its steep approaches, and the chief
guide delivered the opinion that no man could conquer
their awful heights and put his foot upon that summit.
But the adventurers moved steadily on, nevertheless.
They toiled up, and up, and still up; they passed
the Grand Plateau; then toiled up a steep shoulder
of the mountain, clinging like flies to its rugged face;
and now they were confronted by a tremendous wall from
which great blocks of ice and snow were evidently in the
habit of falling. They turned aside to skirt this wall,
and gradually ascended until their way was barred by a "maze
of gigantic snow crevices,"--so they turned aside again,
and "began a long climb of sufficient steepness to make
a zigzag course necessary."
Fatigue compelled them to halt frequently, for a moment
or two. At one of these halts somebody called out,
"Look at Mont Blanc!" and "we were at once made aware
of the very great height we had attained by actually seeing
the monarch of the Alps and his attendant satellites
right over the top of the Breithorn, itself at least
14,000 feet high!"
These people moved in single file, and were all tied
to a strong rope, at regular distances apart, so that if
one of them slipped on those giddy heights, the others
could brace themselves on their alpenstocks and save him
from darting into the valley, thousands of feet below.
By and by they came to an ice-coated ridge which was tilted
up at a sharp angle, and had a precipice on one side of it.
They had to climb this, so the guide in the lead cut
steps in the ice with his hatchet, and as fast as he
took his toes out of one of these slight holes, the toes
of the man behind him occupied it.
"Slowly and steadily we kept on our way over this dangerous
part of the ascent, and I dare say it was fortunate for
some of us that attention was distracted from the head
by the paramount necessity of looking after the feet;
FOR, WHILE ON THE LEFT THE INCLINE OF ICE WAS SO STEEP
THAT IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY MAN TO SAVE HIMSELF
IN CASE OF A SLIP, UNLESS THE OTHERS COULD HOLD HIM UP,
ON THE RIGHT WE MIGHT DROP A PEBBLE FROM THE HAND OVER
PRECIPICES OF UNKNOWN EXTENT DOWN UPON THE TREMENDOUS
"Great caution, therefore, was absolutely necessary,
and in this exposed situation we were attacked by all
the fury of that grand enemy of aspirants to Monte
Rosa--a severe and bitterly cold wind from the north.
The fine powdery snow was driven past us in the clouds,
penetrating the interstices of our clothes, and the pieces
of ice which flew from the blows of Peter's ax were
whisked into the air, and then dashed over the precipice.
We had quite enough to do to prevent ourselves from being
served in the same ruthless fashion, and now and then,
in the more violent gusts of wind, were glad to stick our
alpenstocks into the ice and hold on hard."
Having surmounted this perilous steep, they sat down and
took a brief rest with their backs against a sheltering
rock and their heels dangling over a bottomless abyss;
then they climbed to the base of another ridge--a more
difficult and dangerous one still:
"The whole of the ridge was exceedingly narrow, and the
fall on each side desperately steep, but the ice in some
of these intervals between the masses of rock assumed
the form of a mere sharp edge, almost like a knife;
these places, though not more than three or four short
paces in length, looked uncommonly awkward; but, like the
sword leading true believers to the gates of Paradise,
they must needs be passed before we could attain to
the summit of our ambition. These were in one or two
places so narrow, that in stepping over them with toes
well turned out for greater security, ONE END OF THE
FOOT PROJECTED OVER THE AWFUL PRECIPICE ON THE RIGHT,
WHILE THE OTHER WAS ON THE BEGINNING OF THE ICE SLOPE ON
THE LEFT, WHICH WAS SCARCELY LESS STEEP THAN THE ROCKS.
On these occasions Peter would take my hand, and each
of us stretching as far as we could, he was thus enabled
to get a firm footing two paces or rather more from me,
whence a spring would probably bring him to the rock
on the other side; then, turning around, he called
to me to come, and, taking a couple of steps carefully,
I was met at the third by his outstretched hand ready
to clasp mine, and in a moment stood by his side.
The others followed in much the same fashion. Once my
right foot slipped on the side toward the precipice,
but I threw out my left arm in a moment so that it caught
the icy edge under my armpit as I fell, and supported
me considerably; at the same instant I cast my eyes
down the side on which I had slipped, and contrived
to plant my right foot on a piece of rock as large as a
cricket-ball, which chanced to protrude through the ice,
on the very edge of the precipice. Being thus anchored
fore and aft, as it were, I believe I could easily have
recovered myself, even if I had been alone, though it must
be confessed the situation would have been an awful one;
as it was, however, a jerk from Peter settled the matter
very soon, and I was on my legs all right in an instant.
The rope is an immense help in places of this kind."
Now they arrived at the base of a great knob or dome
veneered with ice and powdered with snow--the utmost,
summit, the last bit of solidity between them and the hollow
vault of heaven. They set to work with their hatchets,
and were soon creeping, insectlike, up its surface, with their
heels projecting over the thinnest kind of nothingness,
thickened up a little with a few wandering shreds and
films of cloud moving in a lazy procession far below.
Presently, one man's toe-hold broke and he fell! There he
dangled in mid-air at the end of the rope, like a spider,
till his friends above hauled him into place again.
A little bit later, the party stood upon the wee pedestal
of the very summit, in a driving wind, and looked out
upon the vast green expanses of Italy and a shoreless
ocean of billowy Alps.
When I had read thus far, Harris broke into the room
in a noble excitement and said the ropes and the guides
were secured, and asked if I was ready. I said I
believed I wouldn't ascend the Altels this time.
I said Alp-climbing was a different thing from what I had
supposed it was, and so I judged we had better study its
points a little more before we went definitely into it.
But I told him to retain the guides and order them to
follow us to Zermatt, because I meant to use them there.
I said I could feel the spirit of adventure beginning
to stir in me, and was sure that the fell fascination
of Alp-climbing would soon be upon me. I said he could
make up his mind to it that we would do a deed before we
were a week older which would make the hair of the timid
curl with fright.
This made Harris happy, and filled him with ambitious
anticipations. He went at once to tell the guides to
follow us to Zermatt and bring all their paraphernalia
[Swindling the Coroner]
A great and priceless thing is a new interest! How
it takes possession of a man! how it clings to him,
how it rides him! I strode onward from the Schwarenbach
hostelry a changed man, a reorganized personality.
I walked into a new world, I saw with new eyes.
I had been looking aloft at the giant show-peaks only as
things to be worshiped for their grandeur and magnitude,
and their unspeakable grace of form; I looked up at
them now, as also things to be conquered and climbed.
My sense of their grandeur and their noble beauty
was neither lost nor impaired; I had gained a new
interest in the mountains without losing the old ones.
I followed the steep lines up, inch by inch, with my eye,
and noted the possibility or impossibility of following
them with my feet. When I saw a shining helmet of ice
projecting above the clouds, I tried to imagine I saw
files of black specks toiling up it roped together with a
We skirted the lonely little lake called the Daubensee,
and presently passed close by a glacier on the right--
a thing like a great river frozen solid in its flow
and broken square off like a wall at its mouth.
I had never been so near a glacier before.
Here we came upon a new board shanty, and found some men
engaged in building a stone house; so the Schwarenbach was
soon to have a rival. We bought a bottle or so of beer here;
at any rate they called it beer, but I knew by the price
that it was dissolved jewelry, and I perceived by the
taste that dissolved jewelry is not good stuff to drink.
We were surrounded by a hideous desolation. We stepped
forward to a sort of jumping-off place, and were confronted
by a startling contrast: we seemed to look down into fairyland.
Two or three thousand feet below us was a bright green level,
with a pretty town in its midst, and a silvery stream
winding among the meadows; the charming spot was walled
in on all sides by gigantic precipices clothed with pines;
and over the pines, out of the softened distances,
rose the snowy domes and peaks of the Monte Rosa region.
How exquisitely green and beautiful that little valley
down there was! The distance was not great enough to
obliterate details, it only made them little, and mellow,
and dainty, like landscapes and towns seen through the
wrong end of a spy-glass.
Right under us a narrow ledge rose up out of the valley,
with a green, slanting, bench-shaped top, and grouped
about upon this green-baize bench were a lot of black
and white sheep which looked merely like oversized worms.
The bench seemed lifted well up into our neighborhood,
but that was a deception--it was a long way down to it.
We began our descent, now, by the most remarkable road I
have ever seen. It wound its corkscrew curves down the face
of the colossal precipice--a narrow way, with always
the solid rock wall at one elbow, and perpendicular
nothingness at the other. We met an everlasting procession
of guides, porters, mules, litters, and tourists climbing
up this steep and muddy path, and there was no room
to spare when you had to pass a tolerably fat mule.
I always took the inside, when I heard or saw the
mule coming, and flattened myself against the wall.
I preferred the inside, of course, but I should have had
to take it anyhow, because the mule prefers the outside.
A mule's preference--on a precipice--is a thing to
be respected. Well, his choice is always the outside.
His life is mostly devoted to carrying bulky panniers
and packages which rest against his body--therefore he
is habituated to taking the outside edge of mountain paths,
to keep his bundles from rubbing against rocks or banks
on the other. When he goes into the passenger business he
absurdly clings to his old habit, and keeps one leg of his
passenger always dangling over the great deeps of the lower
world while that passenger's heart is in the highlands,
so to speak. More than once I saw a mule's hind foot
cave over the outer edge and send earth and rubbish into
the bottom abyss; and I noticed that upon these occasions
the rider, whether male or female, looked tolerably unwell.
There was one place where an eighteen-inch breadth of
light masonry had been added to the verge of the path,
and as there was a very sharp turn here, a panel of fencing
had been set up there at some time, as a protection.
This panel was old and gray and feeble, and the light
masonry had been loosened by recent rains. A young
American girl came along on a mule, and in making the turn
the mule's hind foot caved all the loose masonry and one
of the fence-posts overboard; the mule gave a violent lurch
inboard to save himself, and succeeded in the effort,
but that girl turned as white as the snows of Mont Blanc
for a moment.
The path was simply a groove cut into the face of
the precipice; there was a four-foot breadth of solid rock
under the traveler, and four-foot breadth of solid rock
just above his head, like the roof of a narrow porch;
he could look out from this gallery and see a sheer
summitless and bottomless wall of rock before him,
across a gorge or crack a biscuit's toss in width--
but he could not see the bottom of his own precipice
unless he lay down and projected his nose over the edge.
I did not do this, because I did not wish to soil my clothes.
Every few hundred yards, at particularly bad places,
one came across a panel or so of plank fencing; but they
were always old and weak, and they generally leaned
out over the chasm and did not make any rash promises
to hold up people who might need support. There was one
of these panels which had only its upper board left;
a pedestrianizing English youth came tearing down the path,
was seized with an impulse to look over the precipice,
and without an instant's thought he threw his weight
upon that crazy board. It bent outward a foot! I never
made a gasp before that came so near suffocating me.
The English youth's face simply showed a lively surprise,
but nothing more. He went swinging along valleyward again,
as if he did not know he had just swindled a coroner by the
closest kind of a shave.
The Alpine litter is sometimes like a cushioned box
made fast between the middles of two long poles,
and sometimes it is a chair with a back to it and a support
for the feet. It is carried by relays of strong porters.
The motion is easier than that of any other conveyance.
We met a few men and a great many ladies in litters;
it seemed to me that most of the ladies looked pale
and nauseated; their general aspect gave me the idea
that they were patiently enduring a horrible suffering.
As a rule, they looked at their laps, and left the scenery
to take care of itself.
But the most frightened creature I saw, was a led horse
that overtook us. Poor fellow, he had been born and reared
in the grassy levels of the Kandersteg valley and had
never seen anything like this hideous place before.
Every few steps he would stop short, glance wildly out from
the dizzy height, and then spread his red nostrils wide
and pant as violently as if he had been running a race;
and all the while he quaked from head to heel as with
a palsy. He was a handsome fellow, and he made a fine
statuesque picture of terror, but it was pitiful to see
him suffer so.
This dreadful path has had its tragedy. Baedeker, with his
customary overterseness, begins and ends the tale thus:
"The descent on horseback should be avoided.
In 1861 a Comtesse d'Herlincourt fell from her saddle
over the precipice and was killed on the spot."
We looked over the precipice there, and saw the monument
which commemorates the event. It stands in the bottom
of the gorge, in a place which has been hollowed out of
the rock to protect it from the torrent and the storms.
Our old guide never spoke but when spoken to, and then
limited himself to a syllable or two, but when we asked
him about this tragedy he showed a strong interest
in the matter. He said the Countess was very pretty,
and very young--hardly out of her girlhood, in fact.
She was newly married, and was on her bridal tour.
The young husband was riding a little in advance; one guide
was leading the husband's horse, another was leading the
The old man continued:
"The guide that was leading the husband's horse happened
to glance back, and there was that poor young thing sitting
up staring out over the precipice; and her face began
to bend downward a little, and she put up her two hands
slowly and met it--so,--and put them flat against her
eyes--so--and then she sank out of the saddle, with a
sharp shriek, and one caught only the flash of a dress,
and it was all over."
Then after a pause:
"Ah, yes, that guide saw these things--yes, he saw them all.
He saw them all, just as I have told you."
After another pause:
"Ah, yes, he saw them all. My God, that was ME.
I was that guide!"
This had been the one event of the old man's life; so one
may be sure he had forgotten no detail connected with it.
We listened to all he had to say about what was done and what
happened and what was said after the sorrowful occurrence,
and a painful story it was.
When we had wound down toward the valley until we were about
on the last spiral of the corkscrew, Harris's hat blew
over the last remaining bit of precipice--a small cliff
a hundred or hundred and fifty feet high--and sailed down
toward a steep slant composed of rough chips and fragments
which the weather had flaked away from the precipices.
We went leisurely down there, expecting to find it without
any trouble, but we had made a mistake, as to that.
We hunted during a couple of hours--not because the old
straw hat was valuable, but out of curiosity to find out
how such a thing could manage to conceal itself in open
ground where there was nothing left for it to hide behind.
When one is reading in bed, and lays his paper-knife down,
he cannot find it again if it is smaller than a saber;
that hat was as stubborn as any paper-knife could have been,
and we finally had to give it up; but we found a fragment
that had once belonged to an opera-glass, and by digging
around and turning over the rocks we gradually collected
all the lenses and the cylinders and the various odds
and ends that go to making up a complete opera-glass.
We afterward had the thing reconstructed, and the owner
can have his adventurous lost-property by submitting
proofs and paying costs of rehabilitation. We had hopes
of finding the owner there, distributed around amongst
the rocks, for it would have made an elegant paragraph;
but we were disappointed. Still, we were far from
being disheartened, for there was a considerable area
which we had not thoroughly searched; we were satisfied he
was there, somewhere, so we resolved to wait over a day at
Leuk and come back and get him.
Then we sat down to polish off the perspiration and
arrange about what we would do with him when we got him.
Harris was for contributing him to the British Museum;
but I was for mailing him to his widow. That is the difference
between Harris and me: Harris is all for display, I am
all for the simple right, even though I lose money by it.
Harris argued in favor of his proposition against mine,
I argued in favor of mine and against his. The discussion
warmed into a dispute; the dispute warmed into a quarrel.
I finally said, very decidedly:
"My mind is made up. He goes to the widow."
Harris answered sharply:
"And MY mind is made up. He goes to the Museum."
I said, calmly:
"The museum may whistle when it gets him."
"The widow may save herself the trouble of whistling,
for I will see that she never gets him."
After some angry bandying of epithets, I said:
"It seems to me that you are taking on a good many airs
about these remains. I don't quite see what YOU'VE got
to say about them?"
"I? I've got ALL to say about them. They'd never have
been thought of if I hadn't found their opera-glass. The
corpse belongs to me, and I'll do as I please with him."
I was leader of the Expedition, and all discoveries
achieved by it naturally belonged to me. I was entitled
to these remains, and could have enforced my right;
but rather than have bad blood about the matter,
I said we would toss up for them. I threw heads and won,
but it was a barren victory, for although we spent all
the next day searching, we never found a bone. I cannot
imagine what could ever have become of that fellow.
The town in the valley is called Leuk or Leukerbad.
We pointed our course toward it, down a verdant slope
which was adorned with fringed gentians and other flowers,
and presently entered the narrow alleys of the outskirts
and waded toward the middle of the town through liquid
"fertilizer." They ought to either pave that village or
organize a ferry.
Harris's body was simply a chamois-pasture; his person
was populous with the little hungry pests; his skin,
when he stripped, was splotched like a scarlet-fever patient's;
so, when we were about to enter one of the Leukerbad inns,
and he noticed its sign, "Chamois Hotel," he refused
to stop there. He said the chamois was plentiful enough,
without hunting up hotels where they made a specialty of it.
I was indifferent, for the chamois is a creature that will
neither bite me nor abide with me; but to calm Harris,
we went to the Ho^tel des Alpes.
At the table d'ho^te, we had this, for an incident.
A very grave man--in fact his gravity amounted to solemnity,
and almost to austerity--sat opposite us and he was
"tight," but doing his best to appear sober. He took up
a CORKED bottle of wine, tilted it over his glass awhile,
then set it out of the way, with a contented look, and went
on with his dinner.
Presently he put his glass to his mouth, and of course
found it empty. He looked puzzled, and glanced furtively
and suspiciously out of the corner of his eye at a
benignant and unconscious old lady who sat at his right.
Shook his head, as much as to say, "No, she couldn't have
done it." He tilted the corked bottle over his glass again,
meantime searching around with his watery eye to see
if anybody was watching him. He ate a few mouthfuls,
raised his glass to his lips, and of course it was
still empty. He bent an injured and accusing side-glance
upon that unconscious old lady, which was a study to see.
She went on eating and gave no sign. He took up his glass
and his bottle, with a wise private nod of his head,
and set them gravely on the left-hand side of his plate--
poured himself another imaginary drink--went to work
with his knife and fork once more--presently lifted
his glass with good confidence, and found it empty,
This was almost a petrifying surprise. He straightened
himself up in his chair and deliberately and sorrowfully
inspected the busy old ladies at his elbows, first one and
then the other. At last he softly pushed his plate away,
set his glass directly in front of him, held on to it
with his left hand, and proceeded to pour with his right.
This time he observed that nothing came. He turned the
bottle clear upside down; still nothing issued from it;
a plaintive look came into his face, and he said, as if
" 'IC! THEY'VE GOT IT ALL!" Then he set the bottle down,
resignedly, and took the rest of his dinner dry.
It was at that table d'ho^te, too, that I had under inspection
the largest lady I have ever seen in private life.
She was over seven feet high, and magnificently proportioned.
What had first called my attention to her, was my stepping
on an outlying flange of her foot, and hearing, from up
toward the ceiling, a deep "Pardon, m'sieu, but you encroach!"
That was when we were coming through the hall, and the place
was dim, and I could see her only vaguely. The thing
which called my attention to her the second time was,
that at a table beyond ours were two very pretty girls,
and this great lady came in and sat down between them
and me and blotted out my view. She had a handsome face,
and she was very finely formed--perfected formed,
I should say. But she made everybody around her look trivial
and commonplace. Ladies near her looked like children,
and the men about her looked mean. They looked like failures;
and they looked as if they felt so, too. She sat with
her back to us. I never saw such a back in my life.
I would have so liked to see the moon rise over it.
The whole congregation waited, under one pretext or another,
till she finished her dinner and went out; they wanted to see
her at full altitude, and they found it worth tarrying for.
She filled one's idea of what an empress ought to be,
when she rose up in her unapproachable grandeur and moved
superbly out of that place.
We were not at Leuk in time to see her at her heaviest weight.
She had suffered from corpulence and had come there to get
rid of her extra flesh in the baths. Five weeks of soaking--
five uninterrupted hours of it every day--had accomplished
her purpose and reduced her to the right proportions.
Those baths remove fat, and also skin-diseases. The
patients remain in the great tanks for hours at a time.
A dozen gentlemen and ladies occupy a tank together,
and amuse themselves with rompings and various games.
They have floating desks and tables, and they read or lunch
or play chess in water that is breast-deep. The tourist
can step in and view this novel spectacle if he chooses.
There's a poor-box, and he will have to contribute.
There are several of these big bathing-houses, and you can
always tell when you are near one of them by the romping
noises and shouts of laughter that proceed from it.
The water is running water, and changes all the time,
else a patient with a ringworm might take the bath with only
a partial success, since, while he was ridding himself of
the ringworm, he might catch the itch.
The next morning we wandered back up the green valley,
leisurely, with the curving walls of those bare and
stupendous precipices rising into the clouds before us.
I had never seen a clean, bare precipice stretching up
five thousand feet above me before, and I never shall
expect to see another one. They exist, perhaps, but not
in places where one can easily get close to them.
This pile of stone is peculiar. From its base to the
soaring tops of its mighty towers, all its lines and
all its details vaguely suggest human architecture.
There are rudimentary bow-windows, cornices, chimneys,
demarcations of stories, etc. One could sit and stare up
there and study the features and exquisite graces of this
grand structure, bit by bit, and day after day, and never
weary his interest. The termination, toward the town,
observed in profile, is the perfection of shape.
It comes down out of the clouds in a succession of rounded,
colossal, terracelike projections--a stairway for the gods;
at its head spring several lofty storm-scarred towers,
one after another, with faint films of vapor curling
always about them like spectral banners. If there were
a king whose realms included the whole world, here would
be the place meet and proper for such a monarch. He would
only need to hollow it out and put in the electric light.
He could give audience to a nation at a time under its roof.
Our search for those remains having failed, we inspected with
a glass the dim and distant track of an old-time avalanche
that once swept down from some pine-grown summits behind
the town and swept away the houses and buried the people;
then we struck down the road that leads toward the Rhone,
to see the famous Ladders. These perilous things are
built against the perpendicular face of a cliff two or
three hundred feet high. The peasants, of both sexes,
were climbing up and down them, with heavy loads on
their backs. I ordered Harris to make the ascent, so I
could put the thrill and horror of it in my book, and he
accomplished the feat successfully, though a subagent,
for three francs, which I paid. It makes me shudder yet
when I think of what I felt when I was clinging there
between heaven and earth in the person of that proxy.
At times the world swam around me, and I could hardly keep
from letting go, so dizzying was the appalling danger.
Many a person would have given up and descended, but I stuck
to my task, and would not yield until I had accomplished it.
I felt a just pride in my exploit, but I would not
have repeated it for the wealth of the world. I shall
break my neck yet with some such foolhardy performance,
for warnings never seem to have any lasting effect on me.
When the people of the hotel found that I had been
climbing those crazy Ladders, it made me an object of
Next morning, early, we drove to the Rhone valley and took
the train for Visp. There we shouldered our knapsacks
and things, and set out on foot, in a tremendous rain,
up the winding gorge, toward Zermatt. Hour after hour we
slopped along, by the roaring torrent, and under noble
Lesser Alps which were clothed in rich velvety green
all the way up and had little atomy Swiss homes perched
upon grassy benches along their mist-dimmed heights.
The rain continued to pour and the torrent to boom, and we
continued to enjoy both. At the one spot where this torrent
tossed its white mane highest, and thundered loudest,
and lashed the big boulders fiercest, the canton had done
itself the honor to build the flimsiest wooden bridge
that exists in the world. While we were walking over it,
along with a party of horsemen, I noticed that even
the larger raindrops made it shake. I called Harris's
attention to it, and he noticed it, too. It seemed
to me that if I owned an elephant that was a keepsake,
and I thought a good deal of him, I would think twice
before I would ride him over that bridge.
We climbed up to the village of St. Nicholas, about half
past four in the afternoon, waded ankle-deep through
the fertilizer-juice, and stopped at a new and nice hotel
close by the little church. We stripped and went to bed,
and sent our clothes down to be baked. And the horde
of soaked tourists did the same. That chaos of clothing
got mixed in the kitchen, and there were consequences.
I did not get back the same drawers I sent down, when our
things came up at six-fifteen; I got a pair on a new plan.
They were merely a pair of white ruffle-cuffed absurdities,
hitched together at the top with a narrow band, and they did
not come quite down to my knees. They were pretty enough,
but they made me feel like two people, and disconnected
at that. The man must have been an idiot that got himself
up like that, to rough it in the Swiss mountains.
The shirt they brought me was shorter than the drawers,
and hadn't any sleeves to it--at least it hadn't anything
more than what Mr. Darwin would call "rudimentary" sleeves;
these had "edging" around them, but the bosom was
ridiculously plain. The knit silk undershirt they brought
me was on a new plan, and was really a sensible thing;
it opened behind, and had pockets in it to put your
shoulder-blades in; but they did not seem to fit mine,
and so I found it a sort of uncomfortable garment.
They gave my bobtail coat to somebody else, and sent me
an ulster suitable for a giraffe. I had to tie my collar on,
because there was no button behind on that foolish little shirt
which I described a while ago.
When I was dressed for dinner at six-thirty, I was too loose
in some places and too tight in others, and altogether I
felt slovenly and ill-conditioned. However, the people
at the table d'ho^te were no better off than I was;
they had everybody's clothes but their own on. A long
stranger recognized his ulster as soon as he saw the tail
of it following me in, but nobody claimed my shirt or
my drawers, though I described them as well as I was able.
I gave them to the chambermaid that night when I went
to bed, and she probably found the owner, for my own
things were on a chair outside my door in the morning.
There was a lovable English clergyman who did
not get to the table d'ho^te at all. His breeches
had turned up missing, and without any equivalent.
He said he was not more particular than other people,
but he had noticed that a clergyman at dinner without
any breeches was almost sure to excite remark.
[The Fiendish Fun of Alp-climbing]
We did not oversleep at St. Nicholas. The church-bell
began to ring at four-thirty in the morning, and from
the length of time it continued to ring I judged that it
takes the Swiss sinner a good while to get the invitation
through his head. Most church-bells in the world
are of poor quality, and have a harsh and rasping
sound which upsets the temper and produces much sin,
but the St. Nicholas bell is a good deal the worst one
that has been contrived yet, and is peculiarly maddening
in its operation. Still, it may have its right and its
excuse to exist, for the community is poor and not every
citizen can afford a clock, perhaps; but there cannot be
any excuse for our church-bells at home, for their is no
family in America without a clock, and consequently there
is no fair pretext for the usual Sunday medley of dreadful
sounds that issues from our steeples. There is much more
profanity in America on Sunday than is all in the other six
days of the week put together, and it is of a more bitter
and malignant character than the week-day profanity, too.
It is produced by the cracked-pot clangor of the cheap
We build our churches almost without regard to cost;
we rear an edifice which is an adornment to the town, and we
gild it, and fresco it, and mortgage it, and do everything
we can think of to perfect it, and then spoil it all by
putting a bell on it which afflicts everybody who hears it,
giving some the headache, others St. Vitus's dance,
and the rest the blind staggers.
An American village at ten o'clock on a summer Sunday is
the quietest and peacefulest and holiest thing in nature;
but it is a pretty different thing half an hour later.
Mr. Poe's poem of the "Bells" stands incomplete to this day;
but it is well enough that it is so, for the public reciter
or "reader" who goes around trying to imitate the sounds
of the various sorts of bells with his voice would find
himself "up a stump" when he got to the church-bell--
as Joseph Addison would say. The church is always trying
to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea
to reform itself a little, by way of example. It is still
clinging to one or two things which were useful once,
but which are not useful now, neither are they ornamental.
One is the bell-ringing to remind a clock-caked town
that it is church-time, and another is the reading from
the pulpit of a tedious list of "notices" which everybody
who is interested has already read in the newspaper.
The clergyman even reads the hymn through--a relic
of an ancient time when hymn-books are scarce and costly;
but everybody has a hymn-book, now, and so the public reading
is no longer necessary. It is not merely unnecessary,
it is generally painful; for the average clergyman could
not fire into his congregation with a shotgun and hit a worse
reader than himself, unless the weapon scattered shamefully.
I am not meaning to be flippant and irreverent, I am only
meaning to be truthful. The average clergyman, in all
countries and of all denominations, is a very bad reader.
One would think he would at least learn how to read
the Lord's Prayer, by and by, but it is not so. He races
through it as if he thought the quicker he got it in,
the sooner it would be answered. A person who does not
appreciate the exceeding value of pauses, and does not know
how to measure their duration judiciously, cannot render
the grand simplicity and dignity of a composition like
We took a tolerably early breakfast, and tramped off
toward Zermatt through the reeking lanes of the village,
glad to get away from that bell. By and by we had a fine
spectacle on our right. It was the wall-like butt end of a
huge glacier, which looked down on us from an Alpine height
which was well up in the blue sky. It was an astonishing
amount of ice to be compacted together in one mass.
We ciphered upon it and decided that it was not less than
several hundred feet from the base of the wall of solid
ice to the top of it--Harris believed it was really
twice that. We judged that if St. Paul's, St. Peter's,
the Great Pyramid, the Strasburg Cathedral and the Capitol
in Washington were clustered against that wall, a man
sitting on its upper edge could not hang his hat on the top
of any one of them without reaching down three or four
hundred feet--a thing which, of course, no man could do.
To me, that mighty glacier was very beautiful. I did
not imagine that anybody could find fault with it; but I
was mistaken. Harris had been snarling for several days.
He was a rabid Protestant, and he was always saying:
"In the Protestant cantons you never see such poverty
and dirt and squalor as you do in this Catholic one;
you never see the lanes and alleys flowing with foulness;
you never see such wretched little sties of houses;
you never see an inverted tin turnip on top of a church
for a dome; and as for a church-bell, why, you never hear
a church-bell at all."
All this morning he had been finding fault, straight along.
First it was with the mud. He said, "It ain't muddy in a
Protestant canton when it rains." Then it was with the dogs:
"They don't have those lop-eared dogs in a Protestant canton."
Then it was with the roads: "They don't leave the roads
to make themselves in a Protestant canton, the people make
them--and they make a road that IS a road, too." Next it
was the goats: "You never see a goat shedding tears
in a Protestant canton--a goat, there, is one of the
cheerfulest objects in nature." Next it was the chamois:
"You never see a Protestant chamois act like one of these--
they take a bite or two and go; but these fellows camp
with you and stay." Then it was the guide-boards: "In
a Protestant canton you couldn't get lost if you wanted to,
but you never see a guide-board in a Catholic canton."
Next, "You never see any flower-boxes in the windows,
here--never anything but now and then a cat--a torpid one;
but you take a Protestant canton: windows perfectly lovely
with flowers--and as for cats, there's just acres of them.
These folks in this canton leave a road to make itself,
and then fine you three francs if you 'trot' over it--
as if a horse could trot over such a sarcasm of a road."
Next about the goiter: "THEY talk about goiter!--I haven't
seen a goiter in this whole canton that I couldn't put
in a hat."
He had growled at everything, but I judged it would puzzle
him to find anything the matter with this majestic glacier.
I intimated as much; but he was ready, and said with surly
discontent: "You ought to see them in the Protestant cantons."
This irritated me. But I concealed the feeling, and asked:
"What is the matter with this one?"
"Matter? Why, it ain't in any kind of condition.
They never take any care of a glacier here. The moraine
has been spilling gravel around it, and got it all dirty."
"Why, man, THEY can't help that."
"THEY? You're right. That is, they WON'T. They could
if they wanted to. You never see a speck of dirt
on a Protestant glacier. Look at the Rhone glacier.
It is fifteen miles long, and seven hundred feet think.
If this was a Protestant glacier you wouldn't see it looking
like this, I can tell you."
"That is nonsense. What would they do with it?"
"They would whitewash it. They always do."
I did not believe a word of this, but rather than have
trouble I let it go; for it is a waste of breath to argue
with a bigot. I even doubted if the Rhone glacier WAS
in a Protestant canton; but I did not know, so I could
not make anything by contradicting a man who would
probably put me down at once with manufactured evidence.
About nine miles from St. Nicholas we crossed a bridge
over the raging torrent of the Visp, and came to a log
strip of flimsy fencing which was pretending to secure
people from tumbling over a perpendicular wall forty feet
high and into the river. Three children were approaching;
one of them, a little girl, about eight years old,
was running; when pretty close to us she stumbled and fell,
and her feet shot under the rail of the fence and for a
moment projected over the stream. It gave us a sharp shock,
for we thought she was gone, sure, for the ground slanted
steeply, and to save herself seemed a sheer impossibility;
but she managed to scramble up, and ran by us laughing.
We went forward and examined the place and saw the long
tracks which her feet had made in the dirt when they
darted over the verge. If she had finished her trip she
would have struck some big rocks in the edge of the water,
and then the torrent would have snatched her downstream
among the half-covered boulders and she would have been
pounded to pulp in two minutes. We had come exceedingly
near witnessing her death.
And now Harris's contrary nature and inborn selfishness
were striking manifested. He has no spirit of self-denial.
He began straight off, and continued for an hour,
to express his gratitude that the child was not destroyed.
I never saw such a man. That was the kind of person he was;
just so HE was gratified, he never cared anything about
anybody else. I had noticed that trait in him, over and
over again. Often, of course, it was mere heedlessness,
mere want of reflection. Doubtless this may have been
the case in most instances, but it was not the less hard
to bar on that account--and after all, its bottom,
its groundwork, was selfishness. There is no avoiding
that conclusion. In the instance under consideration,
I did think the indecency of running on in that way might
occur to him; but no, the child was saved and he was glad,
that was sufficient--he cared not a straw for MY feelings,
or my loss of such a literary plum, snatched from my
very mouth at the instant it was ready to drop into it.
His selfishness was sufficient to place his own gratification
in being spared suffering clear before all concern for me,
his friend. Apparently, he did not once reflect upon the
valuable details which would have fallen like a windfall
to me: fishing the child out--witnessing the surprise of
the family and the stir the thing would have made among the
peasants--then a Swiss funeral--then the roadside monument,
to be paid for by us and have our names mentioned in it.
And we should have gone into Baedeker and been immortal.
I was silent. I was too much hurt to complain. If he could
act so, and be so heedless and so frivolous at such a time,
and actually seem to glory in it, after all I had done for him,
I would have cut my hand off before I would let him see
that I was wounded.
We were approaching Zermatt; consequently, we were
approaching the renowned Matterhorn. A month before,
this mountain had been only a name to us, but latterly
we had been moving through a steadily thickening double
row of pictures of it, done in oil, water, chromo, wood,
steel, copper, crayon, and photography, and so it had at
length become a shape to us--and a very distinct, decided,
and familiar one, too. We were expecting to recognize
that mountain whenever or wherever we should run across it.
We were not deceived. The monarch was far away when we
first saw him, but there was no such thing as mistaking him.
He has the rare peculiarity of standing by himself;
he is peculiarly steep, too, and is also most oddly shaped.
He towers into the sky like a colossal wedge, with the
upper third of its blade bent a little to the left.
The broad base of this monster wedge is planted upon
a grand glacier-paved Alpine platform whose elevation
is ten thousand feet above sea-level; as the wedge itself
is some five thousand feet high, it follows that its
apex is about fifteen thousand feet above sea-level.
So the whole bulk of this stately piece of rock, this
sky-cleaving monolith, is above the line of eternal snow.
Yet while all its giant neighbors have the look of being
built of solid snow, from their waists up, the Matterhorn
stands black and naked and forbidding, the year round,
or merely powdered or streaked with white in places,
for its sides are so steep that the snow cannot stay there.
Its strange form, its august isolation, and its majestic
unkinship with its own kind, make it--so to speak--the Napoleon
of the mountain world. "Grand, gloomy, and peculiar,"
is a phrase which fits it as aptly as it fitted the great
Think of a monument a mile high, standing on a pedestal
two miles high! This is what the Matterhorn is--a monument.
Its office, henceforth, for all time, will be to keep
watch and ward over the secret resting-place of the young
Lord Douglas, who, in 1865, was precipitated from the
summit over a precipice four thousand feet high, and never
seen again. No man ever had such a monument as this before;
the most imposing of the world's other monuments are
but atoms compared to it; and they will perish, and their
places will pass from memory, but this will remain. 
1. The accident which cost Lord Douglas his life (see
Chapter xii) also cost the lives of three other men.
These three fell four-fifths of a mile, and their bodies
were afterward found, lying side by side, upon a glacier,
whence they were borne to Zermatt and buried in the
The remains of Lord Douglas have never been found.
The secret of his sepulture, like that of Moses, must remain
a mystery always.
A walk from St. Nicholas to Zermatt is a wonderful experience.
Nature is built on a stupendous plan in that region.
One marches continually between walls that are piled
into the skies, with their upper heights broken into
a confusion of sublime shapes that gleam white and cold
against the background of blue; and here and there one
sees a big glacier displaying its grandeurs on the top
of a precipice, or a graceful cascade leaping and flashing
down the green declivities. There is nothing tame,
or cheap, or trivial--it is all magnificent. That short
valley is a picture-gallery of a notable kind, for it
contains no mediocrities; from end to end the Creator
has hung it with His masterpieces.
We made Zermatt at three in the afternoon, nine hours out
from St. Nicholas. Distance, by guide-book, twelve miles;
by pedometer seventy-two. We were in the heart and home
of the mountain-climbers, now, as all visible things
testified. The snow-peaks did not hold themselves aloof,
in aristocratic reserve; they nestled close around,
in a friendly, sociable way; guides, with the ropes and
axes and other implements of their fearful calling slung
about their persons, roosted in a long line upon a stone
wall in front of the hotel, and waited for customers;
sun-burnt climbers, in mountaineering costume, and followed
by their guides and porters, arrived from time to time,
from breakneck expeditions among the peaks and glaciers
of the High Alps; male and female tourists, on mules,
filed by, in a continuous procession, hotelward-bound from
wild adventures which would grow in grandeur very time
they were described at the English or American fireside,
and at last outgrow the possible itself.
We were not dreaming; this was not a make-believe home
of the Alp-climber, created by our heated imaginations;
no, for here was Mr. Girdlestone himself, the famous
Englishman who hunts his way to the most formidable Alpine
summits without a guide. I was not equal to imagining
a Girdlestone; it was all I could do to even realize him,
while looking straight at him at short range. I would rather
face whole Hyde Parks of artillery than the ghastly forms
of death which he has faced among the peaks and precipices
of the mountains. There is probably no pleasure equal
to the pleasure of climbing a dangerous Alp; but it is
a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who can
find pleasure in it. I have not jumped to this conclusion;
I have traveled to it per gravel-train, so to speak.
I have thought the thing all out, and am quite sure I
am right. A born climber's appetite for climbing is hard
to satisfy; when it comes upon him he is like a starving
man with a feast before him; he may have other business
on hand, but it must wait. Mr. Girdlestone had had
his usual summer holiday in the Alps, and had spent it
in his usual way, hunting for unique chances to break
his neck; his vacation was over, and his luggage packed
for England, but all of a sudden a hunger had come upon
him to climb the tremendous Weisshorn once more, for he
had heard of a new and utterly impossible route up it.
His baggage was unpacked at once, and now he and a friend,
laden with knapsacks, ice-axes, coils of rope, and canteens
of milk, were just setting out. They would spend
the night high up among the snows, somewhere, and get
up at two in the morning and finish the enterprise.
I had a strong desire to go with them, but forced it down--
a feat which Mr. Girdlestone, with all his fortitude,
could not do.
Even ladies catch the climbing mania, and are unable to
throw it off. A famous climber, of that sex, had attempted
the Weisshorn a few days before our arrival, and she
and her guides had lost their way in a snow-storm high up
among the peaks and glaciers and been forced to wander
around a good while before they could find a way down.
When this lady reached the bottom, she had been on her
feet twenty-three hours!
Our guides, hired on the Gemmi, were already at Zermatt
when we reached there. So there was nothing to interfere
with our getting up an adventure whenever we should
choose the time and the object. I resolved to devote
my first evening in Zermatt to studying up the subject
of Alpine climbing, by way of preparation.
I read several books, and here are some of the things
I found out. One's shoes must be strong and heavy,
and have pointed hobnails in them. The alpenstock
must be of the best wood, for if it should break,
loss of life might be the result. One should carry an ax,
to cut steps in the ice with, on the great heights.
There must be a ladder, for there are steep bits of rock
which can be surmounted with this instrument--or this
utensil--but could not be surmounted without it;
such an obstruction has compelled the tourist to waste
hours hunting another route, when a ladder would have
saved him all trouble. One must have from one hundred
and fifty to five hundred feet of strong rope, to be used
in lowering the party down steep declivities which are
too steep and smooth to be traversed in any other way.
One must have a steel hook, on another rope--a very
useful thing; for when one is ascending and comes to a low
bluff which is yet too high for the ladder, he swings
this rope aloft like a lasso, the hook catches at the top
of the bluff, and then the tourist climbs the rope,
hand over hand--being always particular to try and forget
that if the hook gives way he will never stop falling
till he arrives in some part of Switzerland where they
are not expecting him. Another important thing--there
must be a rope to tie the whole party together with,
so that if one falls from a mountain or down a bottomless
chasm in a glacier, the others may brace back on the rope
and save him. One must have a silk veil, to protect
his face from snow, sleet, hail and gale, and colored
goggles to protect his eyes from that dangerous enemy,
snow-blindness. Finally, there must be some porters,
to carry provisions, wine and scientific instruments,
and also blanket bags for the party to sleep in.
I closed my readings with a fearful adventure which
Mr. Whymper once had on the Matterhorn when he was prowling
around alone, five thousand feet above the town of Breil.
He was edging his way gingerly around the corner of a
precipice where the upper edge of a sharp declivity
of ice-glazed snow joined it. This declivity swept
down a couple of hundred feet, into a gully which curved
around and ended at a precipice eight hundred feet high,
overlooking a glacier. His foot slipped, and he fell.
"My knapsack brought my head down first, and I pitched into
some rocks about a dozen feet below; they caught something,
and tumbled me off the edge, head over heels, into the gully;
the baton was dashed from my hands, and I whirled downward
in a series of bounds, each longer than the last; now over ice,
now into rocks, striking my head four or five times,
each time with increased force. The last bound sent me
spinning through the air in a leap of fifty or sixty feet,
from one side of the gully to the other, and I struck
the rocks, luckily, with the whole of my left side.
They caught my clothes for a moment, and I fell back on
to the snow with motion arrested. My head fortunately
came the right side up, and a few frantic catches brought
me to a halt, in the neck of the gully and on the verge
of the precipice. Baton, hat, and veil skimmed by
and disappeared, and the crash of the rocks--which I had
started--as they fell on to the glacier, told how narrow
had been the escape from utter destruction. As it was,
I fell nearly two hundred feet in seven or eight bounds.
Ten feet more would have taken me in one gigantic leaps
of eight hundred feet on to the glacier below.
"The situation was sufficiently serious. The rocks could
not be let go for a moment, and the blood was spurting
out of more than twenty cuts. The most serious ones were
in the head, and I vainly tried to close them with one hand,
while holding on with the other. It was useless;
the blood gushed out in blinding jets at each pulsation.
At last, in a moment of inspiration, I kicked out a big
lump of snow and struck it as plaster on my head.
The idea was a happy one, and the flow of blood diminished.
Then, scrambling up, I got, not a moment too soon, to a
place of safety, and fainted away. The sun was setting
when consciousness returned, and it was pitch-dark before
the Great Staircase was descended; but by a combination
of luck and care, the whole four thousand seven hundred
feet of descent to Breil was accomplished without a slip,
or once missing the way."
His wounds kept him abed some days. Then he got up
and climbed that mountain again. That is the way with
a true Alp-climber; the more fun he has, the more he wants.
[Our Imposing Column Starts Upward]
After I had finished my readings, I was no longer myself;
I was tranced, uplifted, intoxicated, by the almost
incredible perils and adventures I had been following
my authors through, and the triumphs I had been sharing
with them. I sat silent some time, then turned to Harris
"My mind is made up."
Something in my tone struck him: and when he glanced
at my eye and read what was written there, his face
paled perceptibly. He hesitated a moment, then said:
I answered, with perfect calmness:
"I will ascend the Riffelberg."
If I had shot my poor friend he could not have fallen from
his chair more suddenly. If I had been his father he could
not have pleaded harder to get me to give up my purpose.
But I turned a deaf ear to all he said. When he perceived
at last that nothing could alter my determination,
he ceased to urge, and for a while the deep silence was
broken only by his sobs. I sat in marble resolution,
with my eyes fixed upon vacancy, for in spirit I was already
wrestling with the perils of the mountains, and my friend
sat gazing at me in adoring admiration through his tears.
At last he threw himself upon me in a loving embrace and
exclaimed in broken tones:
"Your Harris will never desert you. We will die together."
I cheered the noble fellow with praises, and soon his
fears were forgotten and he was eager for the adventure.
He wanted to summon the guides at once and leave at
two in the morning, as he supposed the custom was;
but I explained that nobody was looking at that hour;
and that the start in the dark was not usually made from
the village but from the first night's resting-place
on the mountain side. I said we would leave the village
at 3 or 4 P.M. on the morrow; meantime he could notify
the guides, and also let the public know of the attempt
which we proposed to make.
I went to bed, but not to sleep. No man can sleep when he
is about to undertake one of these Alpine exploits.
I tossed feverishly all night long, and was glad enough
when I heard the clock strike half past eleven and knew it
was time to get up for dinner. I rose, jaded and rusty,
and went to the noon meal, where I found myself the center
of interest and curiosity; for the news was already abroad.
It is not easy to eat calmly when you are a lion; but it is
very pleasant, nevertheless.
As usual, at Zermatt, when a great ascent is about to
be undertaken, everybody, native and foreign, laid aside
his own projects and took up a good position to observe
the start. The expedition consisted of 198 persons,
including the mules; or 205, including the cows.
CHIEFS OF SERVICE SUBORDINATES
Myself 1 Veterinary Surgeon Mr. Harris 1 Butler 17
Guides 12 Waiters 4 Surgeons 1 Footman 1 Geologist 1
Barber 1 Botanist 1 Head Cook 3 Chaplains 9 Assistants
15 Barkeepers 1 Confectionery Artist 1 Latinist
27 Porters 3 Coarse Washers and Ironers 44 Mules 1 Fine
ditto 44 Muleteers 7 Cows 2 Milkers
Total, 154 men, 51 animals. Grand Total, 205.
RATIONS, ETC. APPARATUS
16 Cases Hams 25 Spring Mattresses 2 Barrels Flour 2
Hair ditto 22 Barrels Whiskey Bedding for same 1 Barrel
Sugar 2 Mosquito-nets 1 Keg Lemons 29 Tents 2,000 Cigars
Scientific Instruments 1 Barrel Pies 97 Ice-axes 1 Ton
of Pemmican 5 Cases Dynamite 143 Pair Crutches 7 Cans
Nitroglycerin 2 Barrels Arnica 22 40-foot Ladders 1 Bale
of Lint 2 Miles of Rope 27 Kegs Paregoric 154 Umbrellas
It was full four o'clock in the afternoon before my cavalcade
was entirely ready. At that hour it began to move.
In point of numbers and spectacular effect, it was the most
imposing expedition that had ever marched from Zermatt.
I commanded the chief guide to arrange the men and animals
in single file, twelve feet apart, and lash them all
together on a strong rope. He objected that the first
two miles was a dead level, with plenty of room, and that
the rope was never used except in very dangerous places.
But I would not listen to that. My reading had taught
me that many serious accidents had happened in the Alps
simply from not having the people tied up soon enough;
I was not going to add one to the list. The guide then
obeyed my order.
When the procession stood at ease, roped together,
and ready to move, I never saw a finer sight. It was 3,122
feet long--over half a mile; every man and me was on foot,
and had on his green veil and his blue goggles, and his
white rag around his hat, and his coil of rope over one
shoulder and under the other, and his ice-ax in his belt,
and carried his alpenstock in his left hand, his umbrella
(closed) in his right, and his crutches slung at his back.
The burdens of the pack-mules and the horns of the cows
were decked with the Edelweiss and the Alpine rose.
I and my agent were the only persons mounted. We were
in the post of danger in the extreme rear, and tied
securely to five guides apiece. Our armor-bearers carried
our ice-axes, alpenstocks, and other implements for us.
We were mounted upon very small donkeys, as a measure
of safety; in time of peril we could straighten our legs
and stand up, and let the donkey walk from under.
Still, I cannot recommend this sort of animal--at least
for excursions of mere pleasure--because his ears interrupt
the view. I and my agent possessed the regulation
mountaineering costumes, but concluded to leave them behind.
Out of respect for the great numbers of tourists of both
sexes who would be assembled in front of the hotels
to see us pass, and also out of respect for the many
tourists whom we expected to encounter on our expedition,
we decided to make the ascent in evening dress.
We watered the caravan at the cold stream which rushes
down a trough near the end of the village, and soon
afterward left the haunts of civilization behind us.
About half past five o'clock we arrived at a bridge which
spans the Visp, and after throwing over a detachment to see
if it was safe, the caravan crossed without accident.
The way now led, by a gentle ascent, carpeted with
fresh green grass, to the church at Winkelmatten.
Without stopping to examine this edifice, I executed
a flank movement to the right and crossed the bridge
over the Findelenbach, after first testing its strength.
Here I deployed to the right again, and presently entered
an inviting stretch of meadowland which was unoccupied save
by a couple of deserted huts toward the furthest extremity.
These meadows offered an excellent camping-place. We
pitched our tents, supped, established a proper grade,
recorded the events of the day, and then went to bed.
We rose at two in the morning and dressed by candle-light. It
was a dismal and chilly business. A few stars were shining,
but the general heavens were overcast, and the great shaft
of the Matterhorn was draped in a cable pall of clouds.
The chief guide advised a delay; he said he feared it
was going to rain. We waited until nine o'clock, and then
got away in tolerably clear weather.
Our course led up some terrific steeps, densely wooded with
larches and cedars, and traversed by paths which the rains
had guttered and which were obstructed by loose stones.
To add to the danger and inconvenience, we were constantly
meeting returning tourists on foot and horseback,
and as constantly being crowded and battered by ascending
tourists who were in a hurry and wanted to get by.
Our troubles thickened. About the middle of the afternoon
the seventeen guides called a halt and held a consultation.
After consulting an hour they said their first suspicion
remained intact--that is to say, they believed they
were lost. I asked if they did not KNOW it? No, they said,
they COULDN'T absolutely know whether they were lost or not,
because none of them had ever been in that part of the
country before. They had a strong instinct that they
were lost, but they had no proofs--except that they
did not know where they were. They had met no tourists
for some time, and they considered that a suspicious sign.
Plainly we were in an ugly fix. The guides were naturally
unwilling to go alone and seek a way out of the difficulty;
so we all went together. For better security we moved
slow and cautiously, for the forest was very dense.
We did not move up the mountain, but around it, hoping to
strike across the old trail. Toward nightfall, when we
were about tired out, we came up against a rock as big
as a cottage. This barrier took all the remaining spirit
out of the men, and a panic of fear and despair ensued.
They moaned and wept, and said they should never see
their homes and their dear ones again. Then they began
to upbraid me for bringing them upon this fatal expedition.
Some even muttered threats against me.
Clearly it was no time to show weakness. So I made
a speech in which I said that other Alp-climbers had been
in as perilous a position as this, and yet by courage
and perseverance had escaped. I promised to stand by them,
I promised to rescue them. I closed by saying we had plenty
of provisions to maintain us for quite a siege--and did they
suppose Zermatt would allow half a mile of men and mules
to mysteriously disappear during any considerable time,
right above their noses, and make no inquiries? No,
Zermatt would send out searching-expeditions and we should be
This speech had a great effect. The men pitched the tents
with some little show of cheerfulness, and we were snugly
under cover when the night shut down. I now reaped
the reward of my wisdom in providing one article which is
not mentioned in any book of Alpine adventure but this.
I refer to the paregoric. But for that beneficent drug,
would have not one of those men slept a moment during that
fearful night. But for that gentle persuader they must
have tossed, unsoothed, the night through; for the whiskey
was for me. Yes, they would have risen in the morning
unfitted for their heavy task. As it was, everybody slept
but my agent and me--only we and the barkeepers.
I would not permit myself to sleep at such a time.
I considered myself responsible for all those lives.
I meant to be on hand and ready, in case of avalanches
up there, but I did not know it then.
We watched the weather all through that awful night,
and kept an eye on the barometer, to be prepared for
the least change. There was not the slightest change
recorded by the instrument, during the whole time.
Words cannot describe the comfort that that friendly,
hopeful, steadfast thing was to me in that season
of trouble. It was a defective barometer, and had no hand
but the stationary brass pointer, but I did not know that
until afterward. If I should be in such a situation again,
I should not wish for any barometer but that one.
All hands rose at two in the morning and took breakfast,
and as soon as it was light we roped ourselves together
and went at that rock. For some time we tried the hook-rope
and other means of scaling it, but without success--that is,
without perfect success. The hook caught once, and Harris
started up it hand over hand, but the hold broke and if
there had not happened to be a chaplain sitting underneath
at the time, Harris would certainly have been crippled.
As it was, it was the chaplain. He took to his crutches,
and I ordered the hook-rope to be laid aside.
It was too dangerous an implement where so many people
are standing around.
We were puzzled for a while; then somebody thought of
the ladders. One of these was leaned against the rock,
and the men went up it tied together in couples.
Another ladder was sent up for use in descending.
At the end of half an hour everybody was over, and that rock
was conquered. We gave our first grand shout of triumph.
But the joy was short-lived, for somebody asked how we were
going to get the animals over.
This was a serious difficulty; in fact, it was an impossibility.
The courage of the men began to waver immediately; once more
we were threatened with a panic. But when the danger
was most imminent, we were saved in a mysterious way.
A mule which had attracted attention from the beginning
by its disposition to experiment, tried to eat a five-pound
can of nitroglycerin. This happened right alongside
the rock. The explosion threw us all to the ground,
and covered us with dirt and debris; it frightened
us extremely, too, for the crash it made was deafening,
and the violence of the shock made the ground tremble.
However, we were grateful, for the rock was gone.
Its place was occupied by a new cellar, about thirty
feet across, by fifteen feet deep. The explosion was
heard as far as Zermatt; and an hour and a half afterward,
many citizens of that town were knocked down and quite
seriously injured by descending portions of mule meat,
frozen solid. This shows, better than any estimate
in figures, how high the experimenter went.
We had nothing to do, now, but bridge the cellar and proceed
on our way. With a cheer the men went at their work.
I attended to the engineering, myself. I appointed a strong
detail to cut down trees with ice-axes and trim them for
piers to support the bridge. This was a slow business,
for ice-axes are not good to cut wood with. I caused
my piers to be firmly set up in ranks in the cellar,
and upon them I laid six of my forty-foot ladders,
side by side, and laid six more on top of them.
Upon this bridge I caused a bed of boughs to be spread,
and on top of the boughs a bed of earth six inches deep.
I stretched ropes upon either side to serve as railings,
and then my bridge was complete. A train of elephants
could have crossed it in safety and comfort. By nightfall
the caravan was on the other side and the ladders were
Next morning we went on in good spirits for a while,
though our way was slow and difficult, by reason of the
steep and rocky nature of the ground and the thickness
of the forest; but at last a dull despondency crept into
the men's faces and it was apparent that not only they,
but even the guides, were now convinced that we were lost.
The fact that we still met no tourists was a circumstance
that was but too significant. Another thing seemed to
suggest that we were not only lost, but very badly lost;
for there must surely be searching-parties on the road
before this time, yet we had seen no sign of them.
Demoralization was spreading; something must be done,
and done quickly, too. Fortunately, I am not unfertile
in expedients. I contrived one now which commended itself
to all, for it promised well. I took three-quarters
of a mile of rope and fastened one end of it around
the waist of a guide, and told him to go find the road,
while the caravan waited. I instructed him to guide himself
back by the rope, in case of failure; in case of success,
he was to give the rope a series of violent jerks,
whereupon the Expedition would go to him at once.
He departed, and in two minutes had disappeared among
the trees. I payed out the rope myself, while everybody
watched the crawling thing with eager eyes. The rope
crept away quite slowly, at times, at other times with
some briskness. Twice or thrice we seemed to get the signal,
and a shout was just ready to break from the men's lips
when they perceived it was a false alarm. But at last,
when over half a mile of rope had slidden away, it stopped
gliding and stood absolutely still--one minute--two
minutes--three--while we held our breath and watched.
Was the guide resting? Was he scanning the country from
some high point? Was he inquiring of a chance mountaineer?
Stop,--had he fainted from excess of fatigue and anxiety?
This thought gave us a shock. I was in the very first act
of detailing an Expedition to succor him, when the cord
was assailed with a series of such frantic jerks that I
could hardly keep hold of it. The huzza that went up,
then, was good to hear. "Saved! saved!" was the word
that rang out, all down the long rank of the caravan.
We rose up and started at once. We found the route to be
good enough for a while, but it began to grow difficult,
by and by, and this feature steadily increased. When we
judged we had gone half a mile, we momently expected
to see the guide; but no, he was not visible anywhere;
neither was he waiting, for the rope was still moving,
consequently he was doing the same. This argued that he
had not found the road, yet, but was marching to it
with some peasant. There was nothing for us to do but
plod along--and this we did. At the end of three hours
we were still plodding. This was not only mysterious,
but exasperating. And very fatiguing, too; for we had
tried hard, along at first, to catch up with the guide,
but had only fagged ourselves, in vain; for although he
was traveling slowly he was yet able to go faster than the
hampered caravan over such ground.
At three in the afternoon we were nearly dead with
exhaustion--and still the rope was slowly gliding out.
The murmurs against the guide had been growing steadily,
and at last they were become loud and savage.
A mutiny ensued. The men refused to proceed. They declared
that we had been traveling over and over the same ground
all day, in a kind of circle. They demanded that our
end of the rope be made fast to a tree, so as to halt
the guide until we could overtake him and kill him.
This was not an unreasonable requirement, so I gave the order.
As soon as the rope was tied, the Expedition moved
forward with that alacrity which the thirst for
vengeance usually inspires. But after a tiresome march
of almost half a mile, we came to a hill covered thick
with a crumbly rubbish of stones, and so steep that no
man of us all was now in a condition to climb it.
Every attempt failed, and ended in crippling somebody.
Within twenty minutes I had five men on crutches.
Whenever a climber tried to assist himself by the rope,
it yielded and let him tumble backward. The frequency
of this result suggested an idea to me. I ordered
the caravan to 'bout face and form in marching order;
I then made the tow-rope fast to the rear mule, and gave
"Mark time--by the right flank--forward--march!"
The procession began to move, to the impressive strains
of a battle-chant, and I said to myself, "Now, if the rope
don't break I judge THIS will fetch that guide into the camp."
I watched the rope gliding down the hill, and presently
when I was all fixed for triumph I was confronted
by a bitter disappointment; there was no guide tied
to the rope, it was only a very indignant old black ram.
The fury of the baffled Expedition exceeded all bounds.
They even wanted to wreak their unreasoning vengeance on this
innocent dumb brute. But I stood between them and their prey,
menaced by a bristling wall of ice-axes and alpenstocks,
and proclaimed that there was but one road to this murder,
and it was directly over my corpse. Even as I spoke I
saw that my doom was sealed, except a miracle supervened
to divert these madmen from their fell purpose. I see
the sickening wall of weapons now; I see that advancing
host as I saw it then, I see the hate in those cruel eyes;
I remember how I drooped my head upon my breast,
I feel again the sudden earthquake shock in my rear,
administered by the very ram I was sacrificing myself to save;
I hear once more the typhoon of laughter that burst from
the assaulting column as I clove it from van to rear
like a Sepoy shot from a Rodman gun.
I was saved. Yes, I was saved, and by the merciful instinct
of ingratitude which nature had planted in the breast
of that treacherous beast. The grace which eloquence
had failed to work in those men's hearts, had been wrought
by a laugh. The ram was set free and my life was spared.
We lived to find out that that guide had deserted us as soon
as he had placed a half-mile between himself and us.
To avert suspicion, he had judged it best that the line
should continue to move; so he caught that ram, and at
the time that he was sitting on it making the rope fast
to it, we were imagining that he was lying in a swoon,
overcome by fatigue and distress. When he allowed the ram
to get up it fell to plunging around, trying to rid itself
of the rope, and this was the signal which we had risen
up with glad shouts to obey. We had followed this ram
round and round in a circle all day--a thing which was
proven by the discovery that we had watered the Expedition
seven times at one and same spring in seven hours.
As expert a woodman as I am, I had somehow failed to notice
this until my attention was called to it by a hog.
This hog was always wallowing there, and as he was the
only hog we saw, his frequent repetition, together with
his unvarying similarity to himself, finally caused me
to reflect that he must be the same hog, and this led
me to the deduction that this must be the same spring,
also--which indeed it was.
I made a note of this curious thing, as showing
in a striking manner the relative difference between
glacial action and the action of the hog. It is now
a well-established fact that glaciers move; I consider
that my observations go to show, with equal conclusiveness,
that a hog in a spring does not move. I shall be glad
to receive the opinions of other observers upon this point.
To return, for an explanatory moment, to that guide,
and then I shall be done with him. After leaving the ram
tied to the rope, he had wandered at large a while,
and then happened to run across a cow. Judging that
a cow would naturally know more than a guide, he took
her by the tail, and the result justified his judgment.
She nibbled her leisurely way downhill till it was near
milking-time, then she struck for home and towed him
[I Conquer the Gorner Grat]
We went into camp on that wild spot to which that ram
had brought us. The men were greatly fatigued.
Their conviction that we were lost was forgotten in the cheer
of a good supper, and before the reaction had a chance
to set in, I loaded them up with paregoric and put them to bed.
Next morning I was considering in my mind our desperate
situation and trying to think of a remedy, when Harris
came to me with a Baedeker map which showed conclusively
that the mountain we were on was still in Switzerland--yes,
every part of it was in Switzerland. So we were not lost,
after all. This was an immense relief; it lifted the weight
of two such mountains from my breast. I immediately
had the news disseminated and the map was exhibited.
The effect was wonderful. As soon as the men saw with
their own eyes that they knew where they were, and that it
was only the summit that was lost and not themselves,
they cheered up instantly and said with one accord,
let the summit take care of itself.
Our distresses being at an end, I now determined to rest
the men in camp and give the scientific department of the
Expedition a chance. First, I made a barometric observation,
to get our altitude, but I could not perceive that there