A Tramp Abroad, Part 6
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Produced by David Widger (Illustrated HTML version)
A TRAMP ABROAD
By Mark Twain
(Samuel L. Clemens)
First published in 1880
[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
was any result. I knew, by my scientific reading,
that either thermometers or barometers ought to be boiled,
to make them accurate; I did not know which it was,
so I boiled them both. There was still no result;
so I examined these instruments and discovered that they
possessed radical blemishes: the barometer had no hand
but the brass pointer and the ball of the thermometer was
stuffed with tin-foil. I might have boiled those things
to rags, and never found out anything.
I hunted up another barometer; it was new and perfect.
I boiled it half an hour in a pot of bean soup which
the cooks were making. The result was unexpected: the
instrument was not affecting at all, but there was such
a strong barometer taste to the soup that the head cook,
who was a most conscientious person, changed its name
in the bill of fare. The dish was so greatly liked by all,
that I ordered the cook to have barometer soup every day.
It was believed that the barometer might eventually
be injured, but I did not care for that. I had demonstrated
to my satisfaction that it could not tell how high
a mountain was, therefore I had no real use for it.
Changes in the weather I could take care of without it;
I did not wish to know when the weather was going to be good,
what I wanted to know was when it was going to be bad,
and this I could find out from Harris's corns. Harris had
had his corns tested and regulated at the government
observatory in Heidelberg, and one could depend upon them
with confidence. So I transferred the new barometer to
the cooking department, to be used for the official mess.
It was found that even a pretty fair article of soup could
be made from the defective barometer; so I allowed that one
to be transferred to the subordinate mess.
I next boiled the thermometer, and got a most excellent result;
the mercury went up to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the opinion of the other scientists of the Expedition,
this seemed to indicate that we had attained the extraordinary
altitude of two hundred thousand feet above sea-level.
Science places the line of eternal snow at about ten thousand
feet above sea-level. There was no snow where we were,
consequently it was proven that the eternal snow-line
ceases somewhere above the ten-thousand-foot level and
does not begin any more. This was an interesting fact,
and one which had not been observed by any observer before.
It was as valuable as interesting, too, since it would open
up the deserted summits of the highest Alps to population
and agriculture. It was a proud thing to be where we were,
yet it caused us a pang to reflect that but for that ram we
might just as well been two hundred thousand feet higher.
The success of my last experiment induced me to try an
experiment with my photographic apparatus. I got it out,
and boiled one of my cameras, but the thing was a failure;
it made the wood swell up and burst, and I could not see
that the lenses were any better than they were before.
I now concluded to boil a guide. It might improve him,
it could not impair his usefulness. But I was not
allowed to proceed. Guides have no feeling for science,
and this one would not consent to be made uncomfortable
in its interest.
In the midst of my scientific work, one of those
needless accidents happened which are always occurring
among the ignorant and thoughtless. A porter shot
at a chamois and missed it and crippled the Latinist.
This was not a serious matter to me, for a Latinist's
duties are as well performed on crutches as otherwise
--but the fact remained that if the Latinist had not
happened to be in the way a mule would have got
that load. That would have been quite another matter,
for when it comes down to a question of value there is
a palpable difference between a Latinist and a mule.
I could not depend on having a Latinist in the right
place every time; so, to make things safe, I ordered
that in the future the chamois must not be hunted within
limits of the camp with any other weapon than the forefinger.
My nerves had hardly grown quiet after this affair when
they got another shake-up--one which utterly unmanned
me for a moment: a rumor swept suddenly through the camp
that one of the barkeepers had fallen over a precipice!
However, it turned out that it was only a chaplain.
I had laid in an extra force of chaplains, purposely to
be prepared for emergencies like this, but by some
unaccountable oversight had come away rather short-handed
in the matter of barkeepers.
On the following morning we moved on, well refreshed and in
good spirits. I remember this day with peculiar pleasure,
because it saw our road restored to us. Yes, we found
our road again, and in quite an extraordinary way.
We had plodded along some two hours and a half, when we came
up against a solid mass of rock about twenty feet high.
I did not need to be instructed by a mule this time.
I was already beginning to know more than any mule in
the Expedition. I at once put in a blast of dynamite,
and lifted that rock out of the way. But to my surprise
and mortification, I found that there had been a chalet
on top of it.
I picked up such members of the family as fell in my vicinity,
and subordinates of my corps collected the rest.
None of these poor people were injured, happily, but they
were much annoyed. I explained to the head chaleteer
just how the thing happened, and that I was only searching
for the road, and would certainly have given him timely
notice if I had known he was up there. I said I had
meant no harm, and hoped I had not lowered myself in
his estimation by raising him a few rods in the air.
I said many other judicious things, and finally when I
offered to rebuild his chalet, and pay for the breakages,
and throw in the cellar, he was mollified and satisfied.
He hadn't any cellar at all, before; he would not have
as good a view, now, as formerly, but what he had lost
in view he had gained in cellar, by exact measurement.
He said there wasn't another hole like that in the mountains
--and he would have been right if the late mule had not tried
to eat up the nitroglycerin.
I put a hundred and sixteen men at work, and they rebuilt
the chalet from its own debris in fifteen minutes.
It was a good deal more picturesque than it was before,
too. The man said we were now on the Feil-Stutz, above
the Schwegmatt--information which I was glad to get,
since it gave us our position to a degree of particularity
which we had not been accustomed to for a day or so.
We also learned that we were standing at the foot
of the Riffelberg proper, and that the initial chapter
of our work was completed.
We had a fine view, from here, of the energetic Visp,
as it makes its first plunge into the world from under a huge
arch of solid ice, worn through the foot-wall of the great
Gorner Glacier; and we could also see the Furggenbach,
which is the outlet of the Furggen Glacier.
The mule-road to the summit of the Riffelberg passed right
in front of the chalet, a circumstance which we almost
immediately noticed, because a procession of tourists was
filing along it pretty much all the time.  The chaleteer's
business consisted in furnishing refreshments to tourists.
My blast had interrupted this trade for a few minutes,
by breaking all the bottles on the place; but I gave
the man a lot of whiskey to sell for Alpine champagne,
and a lot of vinegar which would answer for Rhine wine,
consequently trade was soon as brisk as ever.
1. "Pretty much" may not be elegant English, but it is
high time it was. There is no elegant word or phrase
which means just what it means.--M.T.
Leaving the Expedition outside to rest, I quartered myself
in the chalet, with Harris, proposing to correct my journals
and scientific observations before continuing the ascent.
I had hardly begun my work when a tall, slender, vigorous
American youth of about twenty-three, who was on his
way down the mountain, entered and came toward me with
that breeze self-complacency which is the adolescent's
idea of the well-bred ease of the man of the world.
His hair was short and parted accurately in the middle,
and he had all the look of an American person who would
be likely to begin his signature with an initial,
and spell his middle name out. He introduced himself,
smiling a smirky smile borrowed from the courtiers
of the stage, extended a fair-skinned talon, and while
he gripped my hand in it he bent his body forward
three times at the hips, as the stage courtier does,
and said in the airiest and most condescending
and patronizing way--I quite remember his exact language:
"Very glad to make your acquaintance, 'm sure; very glad indeed,
assure you. I've read all your little efforts and greatly
admired them, and when I heard you were here, I ..."
I indicated a chair, and he sat down. This grandee was
the grandson of an American of considerable note in his day,
and not wholly forgotten yet--a man who came so near
being a great man that he was quite generally accounted
one while he lived.
I slowly paced the floor, pondering scientific problems,
and heard this conversation:
GRANDSON. First visit to Europe?
HARRIS. Mine? Yes.
G.S. (With a soft reminiscent sigh suggestive of bygone
joys that may be tasted in their freshness but once.)
Ah, I know what it is to you. A first visit!--ah,
the romance of it! I wish I could feel it again.
H. Yes, I find it exceeds all my dreams. It is enchantment.
G.S. (With a dainty gesture of the hand signifying "Spare
me your callow enthusiasms, good friend.") Yes, _I_ know,
I know; you go to cathedrals, and exclaim; and you drag
through league-long picture-galleries and exclaim; and you
stand here, and there, and yonder, upon historic ground,
and continue to exclaim; and you are permeated with
your first crude conceptions of Art, and are proud
and happy. Ah, yes, proud and happy--that expresses it.
Yes-yes, enjoy it--it is right--it is an innocent revel.
H. And you? Don't you do these things now?
G.S. I! Oh, that is VERY good! My dear sir, when you
are as old a traveler as I am, you will not ask such
a question as that. _I_ visit the regulation gallery,
moon around the regulation cathedral, do the worn round
of the regulation sights, YET?--Excuse me!
H. Well, what DO you do, then?
G.S. Do? I flit--and flit--for I am ever on the wing--but I
avoid the herd. Today I am in Paris, tomorrow in Berlin,
anon in Rome; but you would look for me in vain in the
galleries of the Louvre or the common resorts of the
gazers in those other capitals. If you would find me,
you must look in the unvisited nooks and corners where
others never think of going. One day you will find me
making myself at home in some obscure peasant's cabin,
another day you will find me in some forgotten castle
worshiping some little gem or art which the careless eye
has overlooked and which the unexperienced would despise;
again you will find me as guest in the inner sanctuaries
of palaces while the herd is content to get a hurried
glimpse of the unused chambers by feeing a servant.
H. You are a GUEST in such places?
G.S. And a welcoming one.
H. It is surprising. How does it come?
G.S. My grandfather's name is a passport to all the courts
in Europe. I have only to utter that name and every
door is open to me. I flit from court to court at my
own free will and pleasure, and am always welcome.
I am as much at home in the palaces of Europe as you are
among your relatives. I know every titled person in Europe,
I think. I have my pockets full of invitations all the time.
I am under promise to go to Italy, where I am to be the
guest of a succession of the noblest houses in the land.
In Berlin my life is a continued round of gaiety in the
imperial palace. It is the same, wherever I go.
H. It must be very pleasant. But it must make Boston
seem a little slow when you are at home.
G.S. Yes, of course it does. But I don't go home much.
There's no life there--little to feed a man's higher nature.
Boston's very narrow, you know. She doesn't know it, and you
couldn't convince her of it--so I say nothing when I'm
there: where's the use? Yes, Boston is very narrow, but she
has such a good opinion of herself that she can't see it.
A man who has traveled as much as I have, and seen as much
of the world, sees it plain enough, but he can't cure it,
you know, so the best is to leave it and seek a sphere
which is more in harmony with his tastes and culture.
I run across there, one a year, perhaps, when I have
nothing important on hand, but I'm very soon back again.
I spend my time in Europe.
H. I see. You map out your plans and ...
G.S. No, excuse me. I don't map out any plans. I simply
follow the inclination of the day. I am limited by no ties,
no requirements, I am not bound in any way. I am too old
a traveler to hamper myself with deliberate purposes.
I am simply a traveler--an inveterate traveler--a man of
the world, in a word--I can call myself by no other name.
I do not say, "I am going here, or I am going there"--I
say nothing at all, I only act. For instance, next week
you may find me the guest of a grandee of Spain, or you
may find me off for Venice, or flitting toward Dresden.
I shall probably go to Egypt presently; friends will say
to friends, "He is at the Nile cataracts"--and at that
very moment they will be surprised to learn that I'm away
off yonder in India somewhere. I am a constant surprise
to people. They are always saying, "Yes, he was in Jerusalem
when we heard of him last, but goodness knows where he
Presently the Grandson rose to leave--discovered he
had an appointment with some Emperor, perhaps. He did
his graces over again: gripped me with one talon,
at arm's-length, pressed his hat against his stomach
with the other, bent his body in the middle three times,
"Pleasure, 'm sure; great pleasure, 'm sure. Wish you
Then he removed his gracious presence. It is a great
and solemn thing to have a grandfather.
I have not purposed to misrepresent this boy in any way,
for what little indignation he excited in me soon
passed and left nothing behind it but compassion.
One cannot keep up a grudge against a vacuum.
I have tried to repeat this lad's very words;
if I have failed anywhere I have at least not failed
to reproduce the marrow and meaning of what he said.
He and the innocent chatterbox whom I met on the Swiss
lake are the most unique and interesting specimens of
Young America I came across during my foreign tramping.
I have made honest portraits of them, not caricatures.
The Grandson of twenty-three referred to himself five
or six times as an "old traveler," and as many as three
times (with a serene complacency which was maddening)
as a "man of the world." There was something very delicious
about his leaving Boston to her "narrowness," unreproved
I formed the caravan in marching order, presently,
and after riding down the line to see that it was
properly roped together, gave the command to proceed.
In a little while the road carried us to open, grassy land.
We were above the troublesome forest, now, and had an
uninterrupted view, straight before us, of our summit
--the summit of the Riffelberg.
We followed the mule-road, a zigzag course, now to the right,
now to the left, but always up, and always crowded and
incommoded by going and coming files of reckless tourists
who were never, in a single instance, tied together.
I was obliged to exert the utmost care and caution,
for in many places the road was not two yards wide,
and often the lower side of it sloped away in slanting
precipices eight and even nine feet deep. I had to
encourage the men constantly, to keep them from giving
way to their unmanly fears.
We might have made the summit before night, but for a
delay caused by the loss of an umbrella. I was allowing
the umbrella to remain lost, but the men murmured,
and with reason, for in this exposed region we stood
in peculiar need of protection against avalanches;
so I went into camp and detached a strong party to go
after the missing article.
The difficulties of the next morning were severe,
but our courage was high, for our goal was near.
At noon we conquered the last impediment--we stood
at last upon the summit, and without the loss of a
single man except the mule that ate the glycerin.
Our great achievement was achieved--the possibility of
the impossible was demonstrated, and Harris and I walked
proudly into the great dining-room of the Riffelberg
Hotel and stood our alpenstocks up in the corner.
Yes, I had made the grand ascent; but it was a mistake
to do it in evening dress. The plug hats were battered,
the swallow-tails were fluttering rags, mud added no grace,
the general effect was unpleasant and even disreputable.
There were about seventy-five tourists at the hotel
--mainly ladies and little children--and they gave us
an admiring welcome which paid us for all our privations
and sufferings. The ascent had been made, and the names
and dates now stand recorded on a stone monument there
to prove it to all future tourists.
I boiled a thermometer and took an altitude, with a most
curious result: THE SUMMIT WAS NOT AS HIGH AS THE POINT ON
THE MOUNTAINSIDE WHERE I HAD TAKEN THE FIRST ALTITUDE.
Suspecting that I had made an important discovery,
I prepared to verify it. There happened to be a still
higher summit (called the Gorner Grat), above the hotel,
and notwithstanding the fact that it overlooks a glacier
from a dizzy height, and that the ascent is difficult
and dangerous, I resolved to venture up there and boil
a thermometer. So I sent a strong party, with some
borrowed hoes, in charge of two chiefs of service, to dig
a stairway in the soil all the way up, and this I ascended,
roped to the guides. This breezy height was the summit
proper--so I accomplished even more than I had originally
purposed to do. This foolhardy exploit is recorded on
another stone monument.
I boiled my thermometer, and sure enough, this spot,
which purported to be two thousand feet higher than the
locality of the hotel, turned out to be nine thousand
feet LOWER. Thus the fact was clearly demonstrated that,
ABOVE A CERTAIN POINT, THE HIGHER A POINT SEEMS TO BE,
THE LOWER IT ACTUALLY IS. Our ascent itself was a
great achievement, but this contribution to science was
an inconceivably greater matter.
Cavilers object that water boils at a lower and lower
temperature the higher and higher you go, and hence the
apparent anomaly. I answer that I do not base my theory
upon what the boiling water does, but upon what a boiled
thermometer says. You can't go behind the thermometer.
I had a magnificent view of Monte Rosa, and apparently
all the rest of the Alpine world, from that high place.
All the circling horizon was piled high with a mighty
tumult of snowy crests. One might have imagined he
saw before him the tented camps of a beleaguering host
But lonely, conspicuous, and superb, rose that wonderful
upright wedge, the Matterhorn. Its precipitous sides were
powdered over with snow, and the upper half hidden in thick
clouds which now and then dissolved to cobweb films and gave
brief glimpses of the imposing tower as through a veil.
 A little later the Matterhorn took to himself the
semblance of a volcano; he was stripped naked to his apex
--around this circled vast wreaths of white cloud which strung
slowly out and streamed away slantwise toward the sun,
a twenty-mile stretch of rolling and tumbling vapor,
and looking just as if it were pouring out of a crater.
Later again, one of the mountain's sides was clean and clear,
and another side densely clothed from base to summit in
thick smokelike cloud which feathered off and flew around
the shaft's sharp edge like the smoke around the corners of
a burning building. The Matterhorn is always experimenting,
and always gets up fine effects, too. In the sunset,
when all the lower world is palled in gloom, it points
toward heaven out of the pervading blackness like a finger
of fire. In the sunrise--well, they say it is very fine
in the sunrise.
2. NOTE.--I had the very unusual luck to catch one little
momentary glimpse of the Matterhorn wholly unencumbered
by clouds. I leveled my photographic apparatus at it
without the loss of an instant, and should have got
an elegant picture if my donkey had not interfered.
It was my purpose to draw this photograph all by myself
for my book, but was obliged to put the mountain part
of it into the hands of the professional artist because
I found I could not do landscape well.
Authorities agree that there is no such tremendous "layout"
of snowy Alpine magnitude, grandeur, and sublimity to be
seen from any other accessible point as the tourist may see
from the summit of the Riffelberg. Therefore, let the
tourist rope himself up and go there; for I have shown
that with nerve, caution, and judgment, the thing can be done.
I wish to add one remark, here--in parentheses, so to speak
--suggested by the word "snowy," which I have just used.
We have all seen hills and mountains and levels with snow
on them, and so we think we know all the aspects and
effects produced by snow. But indeed we do not until
we have seen the Alps. Possibly mass and distance add
something--at any rate, something IS added. Among other
noticeable things, there is a dazzling, intense whiteness
about the distant Alpine snow, when the sun is on it,
which one recognizes as peculiar, and not familiar to
the eye. The snow which one is accustomed to has a tint
to it--painters usually give it a bluish cast--but there
is no perceptible tint to the distant Alpine snow when it
is trying to look its whitest. As to the unimaginable
splendor of it when the sun is blazing down on it--well,
it simply IS unimaginable.
[We Travel by Glacier]
A guide-book is a queer thing. The reader has just seen
what a man who undertakes the great ascent from Zermatt
to the Riffelberg Hotel must experience. Yet Baedeker
makes these strange statements concerning this matter:
1. Distance--3 hours.
2. The road cannot be mistaken.
3. Guide unnecessary.
4. Distance from Riffelberg Hotel to the Gorner Grat,
one hour and a half.
5. Ascent simple and easy. Guide unnecessary.
6. Elevation of Zermatt above sea-level, 5,315 feet.
7. Elevation of Riffelberg Hotel above sea-level,
8. Elevation of the Gorner Grat above sea-level, 10,289 feet.
I have pretty effectually throttled these errors by sending
him the following demonstrated facts:
1. Distance from Zermatt to Riffelberg Hotel, 7 days.
2. The road CAN be mistaken. If I am the first that did it,
I want the credit of it, too.
3. Guides ARE necessary, for none but a native can read
4. The estimate of the elevation of the several localities
above sea-level is pretty correct--for Baedeker.
He only misses it about a hundred and eighty or ninety
I found my arnica invaluable. My men were suffering
excruciatingly, from the friction of sitting down so much.
During two or three days, not one of them was able to do
more than lie down or walk about; yet so effective was
the arnica, that on the fourth all were able to sit up.
I consider that, more than to anything else, I owe the
success of our great undertaking to arnica and paregoric.
My men are being restored to health and strength,
my main perplexity, now, was how to get them down
the mountain again. I was not willing to expose the
brave fellows to the perils, fatigues, and hardships
of that fearful route again if it could be helped.
First I thought of balloons; but, of course, I had to
give that idea up, for balloons were not procurable.
I thought of several other expedients, but upon
consideration discarded them, for cause. But at last
I hit it. I was aware that the movement of glaciers
is an established fact, for I had read it in Baedeker;
so I resolved to take passage for Zermatt on the great
Very good. The next thing was, how to get down the
glacier comfortably--for the mule-road to it was long,
and winding, and wearisome. I set my mind at work,
and soon thought out a plan. One looks straight down
upon the vast frozen river called the Gorner Glacier,
from the Gorner Grat, a sheer precipice twelve hundred
feet high. We had one hundred and fifty-four umbrellas
--and what is an umbrella but a parachute?
I mentioned this noble idea to Harris, with enthusiasm,
and was about to order the Expedition to form on the
Gorner Grat, with their umbrellas, and prepare for
flight by platoons, each platoon in command of a guide,
when Harris stopped me and urged me not to be too hasty.
He asked me if this method of descending the Alps had
ever been tried before. I said no, I had not heard
of an instance. Then, in his opinion, it was a matter
of considerable gravity; in his opinion it would not be
well to send the whole command over the cliff at once;
a better way would be to send down a single individual,
first, and see how he fared.
I saw the wisdom in this idea instantly. I said as much,
and thanked my agent cordially, and told him to take
his umbrella and try the thing right away, and wave
his hat when he got down, if he struck in a soft place,
and then I would ship the rest right along.
Harris was greatly touched with this mark of confidence,
and said so, in a voice that had a perceptible tremble in it;
but at the same time he said he did not feel himself worthy
of so conspicuous a favor; that it might cause jealousy
in the command, for there were plenty who would not hesitate
to say he had used underhanded means to get the appointment,
whereas his conscience would bear him witness that he
had not sought it at all, nor even, in his secret heart,
I said these words did him extreme credit, but that he must not
throw away the imperishable distinction of being the first man
to descend an Alp per parachute, simply to save the feelings
of some envious underlings. No, I said, he MUST accept
the appointment--it was no longer an invitation, it was a
He thanked me with effusion, and said that putting
the thing in this form removed every objection.
He retired, and soon returned with his umbrella, his eye
flaming with gratitude and his cheeks pallid with joy.
Just then the head guide passed along. Harris's expression
changed to one of infinite tenderness, and he said:
"That man did me a cruel injury four days ago, and I
said in my heart he should live to perceive and confess
that the only noble revenge a man can take upon his enemy
is to return good for evil. I resign in his favor.
I threw my arms around the generous fellow and said:
"Harris, you are the noblest soul that lives. You shall
not regret this sublime act, neither shall the world
fail to know of it. You shall have opportunity far
transcending this one, too, if I live--remember that."
I called the head guide to me and appointed him on
the spot. But the thing aroused no enthusiasm in him.
He did not take to the idea at all.
"Tie myself to an umbrella and jump over the Gorner
Grat! Excuse me, there are a great many pleasanter roads
to the devil than that."
Upon a discussion of the subject with him, it appeared that he
considered the project distinctly and decidedly dangerous.
I was not convinced, yet I was not willing to try the
experiment in any risky way--that is, in a way that might
cripple the strength and efficiency of the Expedition.
I was about at my wits' end when it occurred to me to try
it on the Latinist.
He was called in. But he declined, on the plea
of inexperience, diffidence in public, lack of curiosity,
and I didn't know what all. Another man declined
on account of a cold in the head; thought he ought
to avoid exposure. Another could not jump well--never
COULD jump well--did not believe he could jump so far
without long and patient practice. Another was afraid it
was going to rain, and his umbrella had a hole in it.
Everybody had an excuse. The result was what the reader
has by this time guessed: the most magnificent idea
that was ever conceived had to be abandoned, from sheer
lack of a person with enterprise enough to carry it out.
Yes, I actually had to give that thing up--while doubtless
I should live to see somebody use it and take all the credit from
Well, I had to go overland--there was no other way.
I marched the Expedition down the steep and tedious mule-path
and took up as good a position as I could upon the middle
of the glacier--because Baedeker said the middle part
travels the fastest. As a measure of economy, however,
I put some of the heavier baggage on the shoreward parts,
to go as slow freight.
I waited and waited, but the glacier did not move.
Night was coming on, the darkness began to gather--still we
did not budge. It occurred to me then, that there might
be a time-table in Baedeker; it would be well to find out
the hours of starting. I called for the book--it could not
be found. Bradshaw would certainly contain a time-table;
but no Bradshaw could be found.
Very well, I must make the best of the situation. So I
pitched the tents, picketed the animals, milked the cows,
had supper, paregoricked the men, established the watch,
and went to bed--with orders to call me as soon as we came
in sight of Zermatt.
I awoke about half past ten next morning, and looked around.
We hadn't budged a peg! At first I could not understand it;
then it occurred to me that the old thing must be aground.
So I cut down some trees and rigged a spar on the starboard
and another on the port side, and fooled away upward of
three hours trying to spar her off. But it was no use.
She was half a mile wide and fifteen or twenty miles long,
and there was no telling just whereabouts she WAS aground.
The men began to show uneasiness, too, and presently they
came flying to me with ashy faces, saying she had sprung
Nothing but my cool behavior at this critical time saved us
from another panic. I order them to show me the place.
They led me to a spot where a huge boulder lay in a deep
pool of clear and brilliant water. It did look like
a pretty bad leak, but I kept that to myself. I made
a pump and set the men to work to pump out the glacier.
We made a success of it. I perceived, then, that it was not
a leak at all. This boulder had descended from a precipice
and stopped on the ice in the middle of the glacier,
and the sun had warmed it up, every day, and consequently
it had melted its way deeper and deeper into the ice,
until at last it reposed, as we had found it, in a deep
pool of the clearest and coldest water.
Presently Baedeker was found again, and I hunted eagerly
for the time-table. There was none. The book simply said
the glacier was moving all the time. This was satisfactory,
so I shut up the book and chose a good position to view
the scenery as we passed along. I stood there some time
enjoying the trip, but at last it occurred to me that we did
not seem to be gaining any on the scenery. I said to myself,
"This confounded old thing's aground again, sure,"--and
opened Baedeker to see if I could run across any remedy
for these annoying interruptions. I soon found a sentence
which threw a dazzling light upon the matter. It said,
"The Gorner Glacier travels at an average rate of a little
less than an inch a day." I have seldom felt so outraged.
I have seldom had my confidence so wantonly betrayed.
I made a small calculation: One inch a day, say thirty
feet a year; estimated distance to Zermatt, three and
one-eighteenth miles. Time required to go by glacier,
A LITTLE OVER FIVE HUNDRED YEARS! I said to myself, "I can
WALK it quicker--and before I will patronize such a fraud
as this, I will do it."
When I revealed to Harris the fact that the passenger part
of this glacier--the central part--the lightning-express part,
so to speak--was not due in Zermatt till the summer
of 2378, and that the baggage, coming along the slow edge,
would not arrive until some generations later, he burst
"That is European management, all over! An inch a day--think
of that! Five hundred years to go a trifle over three miles!
But I am not a bit surprised. It's a Catholic glacier.
You can tell by the look of it. And the management."
I said, no, I believed nothing but the extreme end of it
was in a Catholic canton.
"Well, then, it's a government glacier," said Harris.
"It's all the same. Over here the government runs
everything--so everything's slow; slow, and ill-managed. But
with us, everything's done by private enterprise--and then
there ain't much lolling around, you can depend on it.
I wish Tom Scott could get his hands on this torpid old
slab once--you'd see it take a different gait from this."
I said I was sure he would increase the speed, if there
was trade enough to justify it.
"He'd MAKE trade," said Harris. "That's the difference
between governments and individuals. Governments don't care,
individuals do. Tom Scott would take all the trade;
in two years Gorner stock would go to two hundred,
and inside of two more you would see all the other glaciers
under the hammer for taxes." After a reflective pause,
Harris added, "A little less than an inch a day; a little
less than an INCH, mind you. Well, I'm losing my reverence
I was feeling much the same way myself. I have traveled
by canal-boat, ox-wagon, raft, and by the Ephesus and
Smyrna railway; but when it comes down to good solid
honest slow motion, I bet my money on the glacier.
As a means of passenger transportation, I consider
the glacier a failure; but as a vehicle of slow freight,
I think she fills the bill. In the matter of putting
the fine shades on that line of business, I judge she
could teach the Germans something.
I ordered the men to break camp and prepare for the land
journey to Zermatt. At this moment a most interesting
find was made; a dark object, bedded in the glacial ice,
was cut out with the ice-axes, and it proved to be a piece
of the undressed skin of some animal--a hair trunk, perhaps;
but a close inspection disabled the hair-trunk theory,
and further discussion and examination exploded it
entirely--that is, in the opinion of all the scientists
except the one who had advanced it. This one clung
to his theory with affectionate fidelity characteristic
of originators of scientific theories, and afterward won
many of the first scientists of the age to his view,
by a very able pamphlet which he wrote, entitled, "Evidences
going to show that the hair trunk, in a wild state,
belonged to the early glacial period, and roamed the wastes
of chaos in the company with the cave-bear, primeval man,
and the other Ooelitics of the Old Silurian family."
Each of our scientists had a theory of his own, and put
forward an animal of his own as a candidate for the skin.
I sided with the geologist of the Expedition in the
belief that this patch of skin had once helped to cover
a Siberian elephant, in some old forgotten age--but we
divided there, the geologist believing that this discovery
proved that Siberia had formerly been located where
Switzerland is now, whereas I held the opinion that it
merely proved that the primeval Swiss was not the dull
savage he is represented to have been, but was a being
of high intellectual development, who liked to go to the
We arrived that evening, after many hardships and adventures,
in some fields close to the great ice-arch where the mad
Visp boils and surges out from under the foot of the
great Gorner Glacier, and here we camped, our perils over
and our magnificent undertaking successfully completed.
We marched into Zermatt the next day, and were received
with the most lavish honors and applause. A document,
signed and sealed by the authorities, was given to me
which established and endorsed the fact that I had made
the ascent of the Riffelberg. This I wear around my neck,
and it will be buried with me when I am no more.
[Piteous Relics at Chamonix]
I am not so ignorant about glacial movement, now, as I
was when I took passage on the Gorner Glacier.
I have "read up" since. I am aware that these vast
bodies of ice do not travel at the same rate of speed;
while the Gorner Glacier makes less than an inch a day,
the Unter-Aar Glacier makes as much as eight; and still
other glaciers are said to go twelve, sixteen, and even
twenty inches a day. One writer says that the slowest
glacier travels twenty-give feet a year, and the fastest
What is a glacier? It is easy to say it looks like a
frozen river which occupies the bed of a winding gorge
or gully between mountains. But that gives no notion
of its vastness. For it is sometimes six hundred
feet thick, and we are not accustomed to rivers six hundred
feet deep; no, our rivers are six feet, twenty feet,
and sometimes fifty feet deep; we are not quite able
to grasp so large a fact as an ice-river six hundred feet deep.
The glacier's surface is not smooth and level, but has
deep swales and swelling elevations, and sometimes has
the look of a tossing sea whose turbulent billows were
frozen hard in the instant of their most violent motion;
the glacier's surface is not a flawless mass, but is a river
with cracks or crevices, some narrow, some gaping wide.
Many a man, the victim of a slip or a misstep, has plunged
down on of these and met his death. Men have been
fished out of them alive; but it was when they did not
go to a great depth; the cold of the great depths would
quickly stupefy a man, whether he was hurt or unhurt.
These cracks do not go straight down; one can seldom see
more than twenty to forty feet down them; consequently men
who have disappeared in them have been sought for,
in the hope that they had stopped within helping distance,
whereas their case, in most instances, had really been
hopeless from the beginning.
In 1864 a party of tourists was descending Mont Blanc,
and while picking their way over one of the mighty glaciers
of that lofty region, roped together, as was proper,
a young porter disengaged himself from the line and
started across an ice-bridge which spanned a crevice.
It broke under him with a crash, and he disappeared.
The others could not see how deep he had gone, so it might
be worthwhile to try and rescue him. A brave young guide
named Michel Payot volunteered.
Two ropes were made fast to his leather belt and he bore
the end of a third one in his hand to tie to the victim
in case he found him. He was lowered into the crevice,
he descended deeper and deeper between the clear blue
walls of solid ice, he approached a bend in the crack
and disappeared under it. Down, and still down, he went,
into this profound grave; when he had reached a depth
of eighty feet he passed under another bend in the crack,
and thence descended eighty feet lower, as between
perpendicular precipices. Arrived at this stage of one
hundred and sixty feet below the surface of the glacier,
he peered through the twilight dimness and perceived
that the chasm took another turn and stretched away at
a steep slant to unknown deeps, for its course was lost
in darkness. What a place that was to be in--especially
if that leather belt should break! The compression
of the belt threatened to suffocate the intrepid fellow;
he called to his friends to draw him up, but could not make
them hear. They still lowered him, deeper and deeper.
Then he jerked his third cord as vigorously as he could;
his friends understood, and dragged him out of those icy jaws
Then they attached a bottle to a cord and sent it down
two hundred feet, but it found no bottom. It came up
covered with congelations--evidence enough that even if
the poor porter reached the bottom with unbroken bones,
a swift death from cold was sure, anyway.
A glacier is a stupendous, ever-progressing, resistless plow.
It pushes ahead of its masses of boulders which are
packed together, and they stretch across the gorge,
right in front of it, like a long grave or a long,
sharp roof. This is called a moraine. It also shoves
out a moraine along each side of its course.
Imposing as the modern glaciers are, they are not so
huge as were some that once existed. For instance,
Mr. Whymper says:
"At some very remote period the Valley of Aosta was occupied
by a vast glacier, which flowed down its entire length from
Mont Blanc to the plain of Piedmont, remained stationary,
or nearly so, at its mouth for many centuries, and deposited
there enormous masses of debris. The length of this
glacier exceeded EIGHTY MILES, and it drained a basin
twenty-five to thirty-five miles across, bounded by the
highest mountains in the Alps. The great peaks rose
several thousand feet above the glaciers, and then, as now,
shattered by sun and frost, poured down their showers of
rocks and stones, in witness of which there are the immense
piles of angular fragments that constitute the moraines of Ivrea.
"The moraines around Ivrea are of extraordinary dimensions.
That which was on the left bank of the glacier is
about THIRTEEN MILES long, and in some places rises
to a height of TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FEET
above the floor of the valley! The terminal moraines
(those which are pushed in front of the glaciers)
cover something like twenty square miles of country.
At the mouth of the Valley of Aosta, the thickness of
the glacier must have been at least TWO THOUSAND feet,
and its width, at that part, FIVE MILES AND A QUARTER."
It is not easy to get at a comprehension of a mass of ice
like that. If one could cleave off the butt end of such
a glacier--an oblong block two or three miles wide
by five and a quarter long and two thousand feet thick
--he could completely hide the city of New York under it,
and Trinity steeple would only stick up into it relatively
as far as a shingle-nail would stick up into the bottom
of a Saratoga trunk.
"The boulders from Mont Blanc, upon the plain below Ivrea,
assure us that the glacier which transported them existed
for a prodigious length of time. Their present distance from
the cliffs from which they were derived is about 420,000 feet,
and if we assume that they traveled at the rate of 400 feet
per annum, their journey must have occupied them no less
than 1,055 years! In all probability they did not travel so
Glaciers are sometimes hurried out of their characteristic
snail-pace. A marvelous spectacle is presented then.
Mr. Whymper refers to a case which occurred in Iceland
"It seems that in the neighborhood of the mountain Kotlugja,
large bodies of water formed underneath, or within
the glaciers (either on account of the interior heat of
the earth, or from other causes), and at length acquired
irresistible power, tore the glaciers from their mooring on
the land, and swept them over every obstacle into the sea.
Prodigious masses of ice were thus borne for a distance
of about ten miles over land in the space of a few hours;
and their bulk was so enormous that they covered the sea
for seven miles from the shore, and remained aground
in six hundred feet of water! The denudation of the land
was upon a grand scale. All superficial accumulations were
swept away, and the bedrock was exposed. It was described,
in graphic language, how all irregularities and depressions
were obliterated, and a smooth surface of several miles'
area laid bare, and that this area had the appearance
of having been PLANED BY A PLANE."
The account translated from the Icelandic says that the
mountainlike ruins of this majestic glacier so covered
the sea that as far as the eye could reach no open water
was discoverable, even from the highest peaks. A monster
wall or barrier of ice was built across a considerable
stretch of land, too, by this strange irruption:
"One can form some idea of the altitude of this barrier
of ice when it is mentioned that from Hofdabrekka farm,
which lies high up on a fjeld, one could not see
Hjorleifshofdi opposite, which is a fell six hundred and
forty feet in height; but in order to do so had to clamber
up a mountain slope east of Hofdabrekka twelve hundred feet
These things will help the reader to understand why it is
that a man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel
tolerably insignificant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers
together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man
and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only
remain within the influence of their sublime presence long
enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work.
The Alpine glaciers move--that is granted, now, by everybody.
But there was a time when people scoffed at the idea;
they said you might as well expect leagues of solid rock
to crawl along the ground as expect leagues of ice to do it.
But proof after proof as furnished, and the finally the
world had to believe.
The wise men not only said the glacier moved, but they
timed its movement. They ciphered out a glacier's gait,
and then said confidently that it would travel just
so far in so many years. There is record of a striking
and curious example of the accuracy which may be attained
in these reckonings.
In 1820 the ascent of Mont Blanc was attempted by a Russian
and two Englishmen, with seven guides. They had reached
a prodigious altitude, and were approaching the summit,
when an avalanche swept several of the party down a
sharp slope of two hundred feet and hurled five of them
(all guides) into one of the crevices of a glacier.
The life of one of the five was saved by a long barometer
which was strapped to his back--it bridged the crevice
and suspended him until help came. The alpenstock
or baton of another saved its owner in a similar way.
Three men were lost--Pierre Balmat, Pierre Carrier,
and Auguste Tairraz. They had been hurled down into the
fathomless great deeps of the crevice.
Dr. Forbes, the English geologist, had made frequent visits
to the Mont Blanc region, and had given much attention
to the disputed question of the movement of glaciers.
During one of these visits he completed his estimates
of the rate of movement of the glacier which had swallowed
up the three guides, and uttered the prediction that the
glacier would deliver up its dead at the foot of the
mountain thirty-five years from the time of the accident,
or possibly forty.
A dull, slow journey--a movement imperceptible to any eye
--but it was proceeding, nevertheless, and without cessation.
It was a journey which a rolling stone would make in a
few seconds--the lofty point of departure was visible
from the village below in the valley.
The prediction cut curiously close to the truth;
forty-one years after the catastrophe, the remains
were cast forth at the foot of the glacier.
I find an interesting account of the matter in the
HISTOIRE DU MONT BLANC, by Stephen d'Arve. I will
condense this account, as follows:
On the 12th of August, 1861, at the hour of the close of mass,
a guide arrived out of breath at the mairie of Chamonix,
and bearing on his shoulders a very lugubrious burden.
It was a sack filled with human remains which he had gathered
from the orifice of a crevice in the Glacier des Bossons.
He conjectured that these were remains of the victims
of the catastrophe of 1820, and a minute inquest,
immediately instituted by the local authorities,
soon demonstrated the correctness of his supposition.
The contents of the sack were spread upon a long table,
and officially inventoried, as follows:
Portions of three human skulls. Several tufts of black and
blonde hair. A human jaw, furnished with fine white teeth.
A forearm and hand, all the fingers of the latter intact.
The flesh was white and fresh, and both the arm and hand
preserved a degree of flexibility in the articulations.
The ring-finger had suffered a slight abrasion, and the
stain of the blood was still visible and unchanged after
forty-one years. A left foot, the flesh white and fresh.
Along with these fragments were portions of waistcoats, hats,
hobnailed shoes, and other clothing; a wing of a pigeon,
with black feathers; a fragment of an alpenstock;
a tin lantern; and lastly, a boiled leg of mutton,
the only flesh among all the remains that exhaled an
unpleasant odor. The guide said that the mutton had no
odor when he took it from the glacier; an hour's exposure
to the sun had already begun the work of decomposition upon it.
Persons were called for, to identify these poor pathetic relics,
and a touching scene ensured. Two men were still living
who had witnessed the grim catastrophe of nearly half
a century before--Marie Couttet (saved by his baton)
and Julien Davouassoux (saved by the barometer). These aged
men entered and approached the table. Davouassoux, more than
eighty years old, contemplated the mournful remains mutely
and with a vacant eye, for his intelligence and his memory
were torpid with age; but Couttet's faculties were still
perfect at seventy-two, and he exhibited strong emotion. He
"Pierre Balmat was fair; he wore a straw hat. This bit of skull,
with the tuft of blond hair, was his; this is his hat.
Pierre Carrier was very dark; this skull was his, and this
felt hat. This is Balmat's hand, I remember it so well!"
and the old man bent down and kissed it reverently,
then closed his fingers upon it in an affectionate grasp,
crying out, "I could never have dared to believe that
before quitting this world it would be granted me to
press once more the hand of one of those brave comrades,
the hand of my good friend Balmat."
There is something weirdly pathetic about the picture
of that white-haired veteran greeting with his loving
handshake this friend who had been dead forty years.
When these hands had met last, they were alike in the
softness and freshness of youth; now, one was brown and
wrinkled and horny with age, while the other was still
as young and fair and blemishless as if those forty years
had come and gone in a single moment, leaving no mark
of their passage. Time had gone on, in the one case;
it had stood still in the other. A man who has not seen
a friend for a generation, keeps him in mind always as he
saw him last, and is somehow surprised, and is also shocked,
to see the aging change the years have wrought when he
sees him again. Marie Couttet's experience, in finding
his friend's hand unaltered from the image of it which he
had carried in his memory for forty years, is an experience
which stands alone in the history of man, perhaps.
Couttet identified other relics:
"This hat belonged to Auguste Tairraz. He carried
the cage of pigeons which we proposed to set free upon
the summit. Here is the wing of one of those pigeons.
And here is the fragment of my broken baton; it was by
grace of that baton that my life was saved. Who could
have told me that I should one day have the satisfaction
to look again upon this bit of wood that supported me above
the grave that swallowed up my unfortunate companions!"
No portions of the body of Tairraz, other than a piece
of the skull, had been found. A diligent search was made,
but without result. However, another search was
instituted a year later, and this had better success.
Many fragments of clothing which had belonged to the lost
guides were discovered; also, part of a lantern, and a
green veil with blood-stains on it. But the interesting
feature was this:
One of the searchers came suddenly upon a sleeved arm
projecting from a crevice in the ice-wall, with the hand
outstretched as if offering greeting! "The nails of this white
hand were still rosy, and the pose of the extended fingers
seemed to express an eloquent welcome to the long-lost light of
The hand and arm were alone; there was no trunk.
After being removed from the ice the flesh-tints quickly
faded out and the rosy nails took on the alabaster
hue of death. This was the third RIGHT hand found;
therefore, all three of the lost men were accounted for,
beyond cavil or question.
Dr. Hamel was the Russian gentleman of the party which
made the ascent at the time of the famous disaster.
He left Chamonix as soon as he conveniently could after
the descent; and as he had shown a chilly indifference
about the calamity, and offered neither sympathy nor
assistance to the widows and orphans, he carried with
him the cordial execrations of the whole community.
Four months before the first remains were found,
a Chamonix guide named Balmat--a relative of one of
the lost men--was in London, and one day encountered
a hale old gentleman in the British Museum, who said:
"I overheard your name. Are you from Chamonix,
"Haven't they found the bodies of my three guides,
yet? I am Dr. Hamel."
"Alas, no, monsieur."
"Well, you'll find them, sooner or later."
"Yes, it is the opinion of Dr. Forbes and Mr. Tyndall,
that the glacier will sooner or later restore to us the
remains of the unfortunate victims."
"Without a doubt, without a doubt. And it will be a great
thing for Chamonix, in the matter of attracting tourists.
You can get up a museum with those remains that will draw!"
This savage idea has not improved the odor of Dr. Hamel's
name in Chamonix by any means. But after all, the man
was sound on human nature. His idea was conveyed
to the public officials of Chamonix, and they gravely
discussed it around the official council-table. They
were only prevented from carrying it into execution by
the determined opposition of the friends and descendants
of the lost guides, who insisted on giving the remains
Christian burial, and succeeded in their purpose.
A close watch had to be kept upon all the poor remnants
and fragments, to prevent embezzlement. A few accessory
odds and ends were sold. Rags and scraps of the coarse
clothing were parted with at the rate equal to about
twenty dollars a yard; a piece of a lantern and one or
two other trifles brought nearly their weight in gold;
and an Englishman offered a pound sterling for a single
[The Fearful Disaster of 1865]
One of the most memorable of all the Alpine catastrophes
was that of July, 1865, on the Matterhorn--already
sighted referred to, a few pages back. The details
of it are scarcely known in America. To the vast
majority of readers they are not known at all.
Mr. Whymper's account is the only authentic one.
I will import the chief portion of it into this book,
partly because of its intrinsic interest, and partly
because it gives such a vivid idea of what the perilous
pastime of Alp-climbing is. This was Mr. Whymper's
NINTH attempt during a series of years, to vanquish
that steep and stubborn pillar or rock; it succeeded,
the other eight were failures. No man had ever accomplished
the ascent before, though the attempts had been numerous.
MR. WHYMPER'S NARRATIVE
We started from Zermatt on the 13th of July, at half
past five, on a brilliant and perfectly cloudless morning.
We were eight in number--Croz (guide), old Peter
Taugwalder (guide) and his two sons; Lord F. Douglas,
Mr. Hadow, Rev. Mr. Hudson, and I. To insure steady
motion, one tourist and one native walked together.
The youngest Taugwalder fell to my share. The wine-bags
also fell to my lot to carry, and throughout the day,
after each drink, I replenished them secretly with water,
so that at the next halt they were found fuller than
before! This was considered a good omen, and little short
On the first day we did not intend to ascend to any
great height, and we mounted, accordingly, very leisurely.
Before twelve o'clock we had found a good position
for the tent, at a height of eleven thousand feet.
We passed the remaining hours of daylight--some basking
in the sunshine, some sketching, some collecting;
Hudson made tea, I coffee, and at length we retired,
each one to his blanket bag.
We assembled together before dawn on the 14th
and started directly it was light enough to move.
One of the young Taugwalders returned to Zermatt.
In a few minutes we turned the rib which had intercepted
the view of the eastern face from our tent platform.
The whole of this great slope was now revealed, rising for
three thousand feet like a huge natural staircase.
Some parts were more, and others were less easy, but we
were not once brought to a halt by any serious impediment,
for when an obstruction was met in front it could always
be turned to the right or to the left. For the greater part
of the way there was no occasion, indeed, for the rope,
and sometimes Hudson led, sometimes myself. At six-twenty we
had attained a height of twelve thousand eight hundred feet,
and halted for half an hour; we then continued the ascent
without a break until nine-fifty-five, when we stopped
for fifty minutes, at a height of fourteen thousand feet.
We had now arrived at the foot of that part which, seen from
the Riffelberg, seems perpendicular or overhanging.
We could no longer continue on the eastern side. For a little
distance we ascended by snow upon the ARE^TE--that is,
the ridge--then turned over to the right, or northern side.
The work became difficult, and required caution. In some places
there was little to hold; the general slope of the mountain
was LESS than forty degrees, and snow had accumulated in,
and had filled up, the interstices of the rock-face, leaving
only occasional fragments projecting here and there.
These were at times covered with a thin film of ice.
It was a place which any fair mountaineer might pass
in safety. We bore away nearly horizontally for about four
hundred feet, then ascended directly toward the summit
for about sixty feet, then doubled back to the ridge
which descends toward Zermatt. A long stride round
a rather awkward corner brought us to snow once more.
That last doubt vanished! The Matterhorn was ours! Nothing
but two hundred feet of easy snow remained to be surmounted.
The higher we rose, the more intense became the excitement.
The slope eased off, at length we could be detached,
and Croz and I, dashed away, ran a neck-and-neck race,
which ended in a dead heat. At 1:40 P.M., the world was at
our feet, and the Matterhorn was conquered!
The others arrived. Croz now took the tent-pole, and
planted it in the highest snow. "Yes," we said, "there is
the flag-staff, but where is the flag?" "Here it is,"
he answered, pulling off his blouse and fixing it to the stick.
It made a poor flag, and there was no wind to float it out,
yet it was seen all around. They saw it at Zermatt--at
the Riffel--in the Val Tournanche... .
We remained on the summit for one hour--
One crowded hour of glorious life.
It passed away too quickly, and we began to prepare
for the descent.
Hudson and I consulted as to the best and safest arrangement
of the party. We agreed that it was best for Croz
to go first, and Hadow second; Hudson, who was almost
equal to a guide in sureness of foot, wished to be third;
Lord Douglas was placed next, and old Peter, the strongest
of the remainder, after him. I suggested to Hudson
that we should attach a rope to the rocks on our arrival
at the difficult bit, and hold it as we descended,
as an additional protection. He approved the idea,
but it was not definitely decided that it should be done.
The party was being arranged in the above order while I
was sketching the summit, and they had finished,
and were waiting for me to be tied in line, when some one
remembered that our names had not been left in a bottle.
They requested me to write them down, and moved off
while it was being done.
A few minutes afterward I tied myself to young Peter,
ran down after the others, and caught them just as they
were commencing the descent of the difficult part.
Great care was being taken. Only one man was moving at a time;
when he was firmly planted the next advanced, and so on.
They had not, however, attached the additional rope
to rocks, and nothing was said about it. The suggestion
was not made for my own sake, and I am not sure that it
ever occurred to me again. For some little distance we
two followed the others, detached from them, and should
have continued so had not Lord Douglas asked me, about 3
P.M., to tie on to old Peter, as he feared, he said,
that Taugwalder would not be able to hold his ground if a
A few minutes later, a sharp-eyed lad ran into the Monte
Rosa Hotel, at Zermatt, saying that he had seen an avalanche
fall from the summit of the Matterhorn onto the Matterhorn
glacier. The boy was reproved for telling idle stories;
he was right, nevertheless, and this was what he saw.
Michel Croz had laid aside his ax, and in order to give
Mr. Hadow greater security, was absolutely taking
hold of his legs, and putting his feet, one by one,
into their proper positions. As far as I know, no one
was actually descending. I cannot speak with certainty,
because the two leading men were partially hidden
from my sight by an intervening mass of rock, but it
is my belief, from the movements of their shoulders,
that Croz, having done as I said, was in the act
of turning round to go down a step or two himself;
at this moment Mr. Hadow slipped, fell against him,
and knocked him over. I heard one startled exclamation
from Croz, then saw him and Mr. Hadow flying downward;
in another moment Hudson was dragged from his steps,
and Lord Douglas immediately after him. All this was the
work of a moment. Immediately we heard Croz's exclamation,
old Peter and I planted ourselves as firmly as the rocks
would permit; the rope was taut between us, and the jerk
came on us both as on one man. We held; but the rope
broke midway between Taugwalder and Lord Francis Douglas.
For a few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding
downward on their backs, and spreading out their hands,
endeavoring to save themselves. They passed from our
sight uninjured, disappeared one by one, and fell from the
precipice to precipice onto the Matterhorn glacier below,
a distance of nearly four thousand feet in height.
From the moment the rope broke it was impossible to help them.
So perished our comrades!
For more than two hours afterward I thought almost every
moment that the next would be my last; for the Taugwalders,
utterly unnerved, were not only incapable of giving assistance,
but were in such a state that a slip might have been
expected from them at any moment. After a time we were able
to do that which should have been done at first, and fixed
rope to firm rocks, in addition to being tied together.
These ropes were cut from time to time, and were left behind.
Even with their assurance the men were afraid to proceed,
and several times old Peter turned, with ashy face
and faltering limbs, and said, with terrible emphasis,
About 6 P.M., we arrived at the snow upon the ridge
descending toward Zermatt, and all peril was over.
We frequently looked, but in vain, for traces of our
unfortunate companions; we bent over the ridge and cried
to them, but no sound returned. Convinced at last that
they were neither within sight nor hearing, we ceased
from our useless efforts; and, too cast down for speech,
silently gathered up our things, and the little effects
of those who were lost, and then completed the descent.
Such is Mr. Whymper's graphic and thrilling narrative.
Zermatt gossip darkly hints that the elder Taugwalder
cut the rope, when the accident occurred, in order
to preserve himself from being dragged into the abyss;
but Mr. Whymper says that the ends of the rope showed
no evidence of cutting, but only of breaking. He adds
that if Taugwalder had had the disposition to cut the rope,
he would not have had time to do it, the accident was so
sudden and unexpected.
Lord Douglas' body has never been found. It probably
lodged upon some inaccessible shelf in the face of the
mighty precipice. Lord Douglas was a youth of nineteen.
The three other victims fell nearly four thousand feet,
and their bodies lay together upon the glacier when found
by Mr. Whymper and the other searchers the next morning.
Their graves are beside the little church in Zermatt.
[Chillon has a Nice, Roomy Dungeon]
Switzerland is simply a large, humpy, solid rock,
with a thin skin of grass stretched over it. Consequently,
they do not dig graves, they blast them out with power
and fuse. They cannot afford to have large graveyards,
the grass skin is too circumscribed and too valuable.
It is all required for the support of the living.
The graveyard in Zermatt occupies only about one-eighth
of an acre. The graves are sunk in the living rock, and are
very permanent; but occupation of them is only temporary;
the occupant can only stay till his grave is needed
by a later subject, he is removed, then, for they do not
bury one body on top of another. As I understand it,
a family owns a grave, just as it owns a house. A man dies
and leaves his house to his son--and at the same time,
this dead father succeeds to his own father's grave.
He moves out of the house and into the grave, and his
predecessor moves out of the grave and into the cellar
of the chapel. I saw a black box lying in the churchyard,
with skull and cross-bones painted on it, and was told that
this was used in transferring remains to the cellar.
In that cellar the bones and skulls of several hundred of
former citizens were compactly corded up. They made a pile
eighteen feet long, seven feet high, and eight feet wide.
I was told that in some of the receptacles of this kind
in the Swiss villages, the skulls were all marked,
and if a man wished to find the skulls of his ancestors
for several generations back, he could do it by these marks,
preserved in the family records.
An English gentleman who had lived some years in this region,
said it was the cradle of compulsory education.
But he said that the English idea that compulsory
education would reduce bastardy and intemperance was an
error--it has not that effect. He said there was more
seduction in the Protestant than in the Catholic cantons,
because the confessional protected the girls. I wonder
why it doesn't protect married women in France and Spain?
This gentleman said that among the poorer peasants in the Valais,
it was common for the brothers in a family to cast lots
to determine which of them should have the coveted privilege
of marrying, and his brethren--doomed bachelors--heroically
banded themselves together to help support the new family.
We left Zermatt in a wagon--and in a rain-storm, too
--for St. Nicholas about ten o'clock one morning.
Again we passed between those grass-clad prodigious cliffs,
specked with wee dwellings peeping over at us from
velvety green walls ten and twelve hundred feet high.
It did not seem possible that the imaginary chamois
even could climb those precipices. Lovers on opposite
cliffs probably kiss through a spy-glass, and correspond
with a rifle.
In Switzerland the farmer's plow is a wide shovel,
which scrapes up and turns over the thin earthy skin of his
native rock--and there the man of the plow is a hero.
Now here, by our St. Nicholas road, was a grave, and it
had a tragic story. A plowman was skinning his farm
one morning--not the steepest part of it, but still
a steep part--that is, he was not skinning the front
of his farm, but the roof of it, near the eaves--when he
absent-mindedly let go of the plow-handles to moisten
his hands, in the usual way; he lost his balance and fell
out of his farm backward; poor fellow, he never touched
anything till he struck bottom, fifteen hundred feet below.
 We throw a halo of heroism around the life of the
soldier and the sailor, because of the deadly dangers they
are facing all the time. But we are not used to looking
upon farming as a heroic occupation. This is because we
have not lived in Switzerland.
1. This was on a Sunday.--M.T.
From St. Nicholas we struck out for Visp--or Vispach--on foot.
The rain-storms had been at work during several days,
and had done a deal of damage in Switzerland and Savoy.
We came to one place where a stream had changed its
course and plunged down a mountain in a new place,
sweeping everything before it. Two poor but precious farms
by the roadside were ruined. One was washed clear away,
and the bed-rock exposed; the other was buried out of sight
under a tumbled chaos of rocks, gravel, mud, and rubbish.
The resistless might of water was well exemplified.
Some saplings which had stood in the way were bent to the ground,
stripped clean of their bark, and buried under rocky debris.
The road had been swept away, too.
In another place, where the road was high up on the mountain's
face, and its outside edge protected by flimsy masonry,
we frequently came across spots where this masonry had
carved off and left dangerous gaps for mules to get over;
and with still more frequency we found the masonry
slightly crumbled, and marked by mule-hoofs, thus showing
that there had been danger of an accident to somebody.
When at last we came to a badly ruptured bit of masonry,
with hoof-prints evidencing a desperate struggle
to regain the lost foothold, I looked quite hopefully
over the dizzy precipice. But there was nobody down there.
They take exceedingly good care of their rivers in Switzerland
and other portions of Europe. They wall up both banks
with slanting solid stone masonry--so that from end
to end of these rivers the banks look like the wharves
at St. Louis and other towns on the Mississippi River.
It was during this walk from St. Nicholas, in the shadow
of the majestic Alps, that we came across some little
children amusing themselves in what seemed, at first,
a most odd and original way--but it wasn't; it was in
simply a natural and characteristic way. They were roped
together with a string, they had mimic alpenstocks and
ice-axes, and were climbing a meek and lowly manure-pile
with a most blood-curdling amount of care and caution.
The "guide" at the head of the line cut imaginary steps,
in a laborious and painstaking way, and not a monkey
budged till the step above was vacated. If we had waited
we should have witnessed an imaginary accident, no doubt;
and we should have heard the intrepid band hurrah when they
made the summit and looked around upon the "magnificent view,"
and seen them throw themselves down in exhausted attitudes
for a rest in that commanding situation.
In Nevada I used to see the children play at silver-mining.
Of course, the great thing was an accident in a mine,
and there were two "star" parts; that of the man
who fell down the mimic shaft, and that of the daring
hero who was lowered into the depths to bring him up.
I knew one small chap who always insisted on playing
BOTH of these parts--and he carried his point.
He would tumble into the shaft and die, and then come
to the surface and go back after his own remains.
It is the smartest boy that gets the hero part everywhere;
he is head guide in Switzerland, head miner in Nevada,
head bull-fighter in Spain, etc.; but I knew a preacher's son,
seven years old, who once selected a part for himself compared
to which those just mentioned are tame and unimpressive.
Jimmy's father stopped him from driving imaginary
horse-cars one Sunday--stopped him from playing captain
of an imaginary steamboat next Sunday--stopped him
from leading an imaginary army to battle the following
Sunday--and so on. Finally the little fellow said:
"I've tried everything, and they won't any of them do.
What CAN I play?"
"I hardly know, Jimmy; but you MUST play only things
that are suitable to the Sabbath-day."
Next Sunday the preacher stepped softly to a back-room
door to see if the children were rightly employed.
He peeped in. A chair occupied the middle of the room,
and on the back of it hung Jimmy's cap; one of his little
sisters took the cap down, nibbled at it, then passed it
to another small sister and said, "Eat of this fruit,
for it is good." The Reverend took in the situation--alas,
they were playing the Expulsion from Eden! Yet he found
one little crumb of comfort. He said to himself, "For once
Jimmy has yielded the chief role--I have been wronging him,
I did not believe there was so much modesty in him;
I should have expected him to be either Adam or Eve."
This crumb of comfort lasted but a very little while;
he glanced around and discovered Jimmy standing in an
imposing attitude in a corner, with a dark and deadly frown
on his face. What that meant was very plain--HE WAS
IMPERSONATING THE DEITY! Think of the guileless sublimity of
We reached Vispach at 8 P.M., only about seven hours
out from St. Nicholas. So we must have made fully
a mile and a half an hour, and it was all downhill,
too, and very muddy at that. We stayed all night at
the Ho^tel de Soleil; I remember it because the landlady,
the portier, the waitress, and the chambermaid were not
separate persons, but were all contained in one neat and
chipper suit of spotless muslin, and she was the prettiest
young creature I saw in all that region. She was the
landlord's daughter. And I remember that the only native
match to her I saw in all Europe was the young daughter
of the landlord of a village inn in the Black Forest.
Why don't more people in Europe marry and keep hotel?
Next morning we left with a family of English friends
and went by train to Brevet, and thence by boat across
the lake to Ouchy (Lausanne).
Ouchy is memorable to me, not on account of its beautiful
situation and lovely surroundings--although these would
make it stick long in one's memory--but as the place
where _I_ caught the London TIMES dropping into humor.
It was NOT aware of it, though. It did not do it on purpose.
An English friend called my attention to this lapse,
and cut out the reprehensible paragraph for me. Think of
encountering a grin like this on the face of that grim
ERRATUM.--We are requested by Reuter's Telegram Company
to correct an erroneous announcement made in their Brisbane
telegram of the 2d inst., published in our impression of the 5th
inst., stating that "Lady Kennedy had given birth to twins,
the eldest being a son." The Company explain that the message
they received contained the words "Governor of Queensland,
TWINS FIRST SON." Being, however, subsequently informed
that Sir Arthur Kennedy was unmarried and that there
must be some mistake, a telegraphic repetition was at
once demanded. It has been received today (11th inst.)
and shows that the words really telegraphed by Reuter's
agent were "Governor Queensland TURNS FIRST SOD,"
alluding to the Maryborough-Gympic Railway in course
of construction. The words in italics were mutilated by
the telegraph in transmission from Australia, and reaching
the company in the form mentioned above gave rise to the mistake.
I had always had a deep and reverent compassion
for the sufferings of the "prisoner of Chillon,"
whose story Byron had told in such moving verse; so I took
the steamer and made pilgrimage to the dungeons of the
Castle of Chillon, to see the place where poor Bonnivard
endured his dreary captivity three hundred years ago.
I am glad I did that, for it took away some of the pain
I was feeling on the prisoner's account. His dungeon
was a nice, cool, roomy place, and I cannot see why he
should have been dissatisfied with it. If he had been
imprisoned in a St. Nicholas private dwelling, where the
fertilizer prevails, and the goat sleeps with the guest,
and the chickens roost on him and the cow comes in and
bothers him when he wants to muse, it would have been
another matter altogether; but he surely could not have
had a very cheerless time of it in that pretty dungeon.
It has romantic window-slits that let in generous bars
of light, and it has tall, noble columns, carved apparently
from the living rock; and what is more, they are written
all over with thousands of names; some of them--like
Byron's and Victor Hugo's--of the first celebrity.
Why didn't he amuse himself reading these names? Then
there are the couriers and tourists--swarms of them every
day--what was to hinder him from having a good time
with them? I think Bonnivard's sufferings have been overrated.
Next, we took the train and went to Martigny, on the way
to Mont Blanc. Next morning we started, about eight
o'clock, on foot. We had plenty of company, in the way
of wagon-loads and mule-loads of tourists--and dust.
This scattering procession of travelers was perhaps a
mile long. The road was uphill--interminable uphill--and
tolerably steep. The weather was blisteringly hot,
and the man or woman who had to sit on a creeping mule,
or in a crawling wagon, and broil in the beating sun,
was an object to be pitied. We could dodge among the bushes,
and have the relief of shade, but those people could not.
They paid for a conveyance, and to get their money's worth
We went by the way of the Te^te Noir, and after we
reached high ground there was no lack of fine scenery.
In one place the road was tunneled through a shoulder
of the mountain; from there one looked down into a gorge
with a rushing torrent in it, and on every hand was a
charming view of rocky buttresses and wooded heights.
There was a liberal allowance of pretty waterfalls, too,
on the Te^te Noir route.
About half an hour before we reached the village of
Argentie`re a vast dome of snow with the sun blazing on it
drifted into view and framed itself in a strong V-shaped
gateway of the mountains, and we recognized Mont Blanc,
the "monarch of the Alps." With every step, after that,
this stately dome rose higher and higher into the blue sky,
and at last seemed to occupy the zenith.
Some of Mont Blanc's neighbors--bare, light-brown, steeplelike
rocks--were very peculiarly shaped. Some were whittled
to a sharp point, and slightly bent at the upper end,
like a lady's finger; one monster sugar-loaf resembled
a bishop's hat; it was too steep to hold snow on its sides,
but had some in the division.
While we were still on very high ground, and before
the descent toward Argentie`re began, we looked up
toward a neighboring mountain-top, and saw exquisite
prismatic colors playing about some white clouds which
were so delicate as to almost resemble gossamer webs.
The faint pinks and greens were peculiarly beautiful;
none of the colors were deep, they were the lightest shades.
They were bewitching commingled. We sat down to study and
enjoy this singular spectacle. The tints remained during
several minutes--fitting, changing, melting into each other;
paling almost away for a moment, then reflushing--a shifting,
restless, unstable succession of soft opaline gleams,
shimmering over that air film of white cloud, and turning
it into a fabric dainty enough to clothe an angel with.
By and by we perceived what those super-delicate colors,
and their continuous play and movement, reminded us of;
it is what one sees in a soap-bubble that is drifting along,
catching changes of tint from the objects it passes.
A soap-bubble is the most beautiful thing, and the
most exquisite, in nature; that lovely phantom fabric
in the sky was suggestive of a soap-bubble split open,
and spread out in the sun. I wonder how much it would take
to buy a soap-bubble, if there was only one in the world?
One could buy a hatful of Koh-i-Noors with the same money,
We made the tramp from Martigny to Argentie`re in eight hours.
We beat all the mules and wagons; we didn't usually do that.
We hired a sort of open baggage-wagon for the trip down
the valley to Chamonix, and then devoted an hour to dining.
This gave the driver time to get drunk. He had a friend
with him, and this friend also had had time to get drunk.
When we drove off, the driver said all the tourists had
arrived and gone by while we were at dinner; "but," said he,
impressively, "be not disturbed by that--remain tranquil--give
yourselves no uneasiness--their dust rises far before us
--rest you tranquil, leave all to me--I am the king of drivers.
Down came his whip, and away we clattered. I never had such
a shaking up in my life. The recent flooding rains had
washed the road clear away in places, but we never stopped,
we never slowed down for anything. We tore right along,
over rocks, rubbish, gullies, open fields--sometimes with
one or two wheels on the ground, but generally with none.
Every now and then that calm, good-natured madman would
bend a majestic look over his shoulder at us and say,
"Ah, you perceive? It is as I have said --I am the
king of drivers." Every time we just missed going
to destruction, he would say, with tranquil happiness,
"Enjoy it, gentlemen, it is very rare, it is very unusual
--it is given to few to ride with the king of drivers
--and observe, it is as I have said, _I_ am he."
He spoke in French, and punctuated with hiccoughs.
His friend was French, too, but spoke in German--using
the same system of punctuation, however. The friend
called himself the "Captain of Mont Blanc," and wanted us
to make the ascent with him. He said he had made more
ascents than any other man--forty seven--and his brother
had made thirty-seven. His brother was the best guide
in the world, except himself--but he, yes, observe him
well--he was the "Captain of Mont Blanc"--that title
belonged to none other.
The "king" was as good as his word--he overtook that long
procession of tourists and went by it like a hurricane.
The result was that we got choicer rooms at the hotel
in Chamonix than we should have done if his majesty
had been a slower artist--or rather, if he hadn't most
providentially got drunk before he left Argentie`re.
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