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Chapter 29

CHAPTER XXIX [Looking West for Sunrise]

He kept his word. We heard his horn and instantly got up. It was dark
and cold and wretched. As I fumbled around for the matches, knocking
things down with my quaking hands, I wished the sun would rise in the
middle of the day, when it was warm and bright and cheerful, and one
wasn't sleepy. We proceeded to dress by the gloom of a couple sickly
candles, but we could hardly button anything, our hands shook so.
I thought of how many happy people there were in Europe, Asia, and
America, and everywhere, who were sleeping peacefully in their beds,
and did not have to get up and see the Rigi sunrise--people who did
not appreciate their advantage, as like as not, but would get up in the
morning wanting more boons of Providence. While thinking these thoughts
I yawned, in a rather ample way, and my upper teeth got hitched on a
nail over the door, and while I was mounting a chair to free myself,
Harris drew the window-curtain, and said:

"Oh, this is luck! We shan't have to go out at all--yonder are the
mountains, in full view."

That was glad news, indeed. It made us cheerful right away. One could
see the grand Alpine masses dimly outlined against the black firmament,
and one or two faint stars blinking through rifts in the night. Fully
clothed, and wrapped in blankets, and huddled ourselves up, by the
window, with lighted pipes, and fell into chat, while we waited in
exceeding comfort to see how an Alpine sunrise was going to look by
candlelight. By and by a delicate, spiritual sort of effulgence spread
itself by imperceptible degrees over the loftiest altitudes of the snowy
wastes--but there the effort seemed to stop. I said, presently:

"There is a hitch about this sunrise somewhere. It doesn't seem to go.
What do you reckon is the matter with it?"

"I don't know. It appears to hang fire somewhere. I never saw a sunrise
act like that before. Can it be that the hotel is playing anything on

"Of course not. The hotel merely has a property interest in the sun, it
has nothing to do with the management of it. It is a precarious kind of
property, too; a succession of total eclipses would probably ruin this
tavern. Now what can be the matter with this sunrise?"

Harris jumped up and said:

"I've got it! I know what's the matter with it! We've been looking at
the place where the sun SET last night!"

"It is perfectly true! Why couldn't you have thought of that sooner? Now
we've lost another one! And all through your blundering. It was exactly
like you to light a pipe and sit down to wait for the sun to rise in the

"It was exactly like me to find out the mistake, too. You never would
have found it out. I find out all the mistakes."

"You make them all, too, else your most valuable faculty would be wasted
on you. But don't stop to quarrel, now--maybe we are not too late yet."

But we were. The sun was well up when we got to the exhibition-ground.

On our way up we met the crowd returning--men and women dressed in
all sorts of queer costumes, and exhibiting all degrees of cold and
wretchedness in their gaits and countenances. A dozen still remained on
the ground when we reached there, huddled together about the scaffold
with their backs to the bitter wind. They had their red guide-books open
at the diagram of the view, and were painfully picking out the several
mountains and trying to impress their names and positions on their
memories. It was one of the saddest sights I ever saw.

Two sides of this place were guarded by railings, to keep people from
being blown over the precipices. The view, looking sheer down into
the broad valley, eastward, from this great elevation--almost a
perpendicular mile--was very quaint and curious. Counties, towns, hilly
ribs and ridges, wide stretches of green meadow, great forest tracts,
winding streams, a dozen blue lakes, a block of busy steamboats--we saw
all this little world in unique circumstantiality of detail--saw it just
as the birds see it--and all reduced to the smallest of scales and as
sharply worked out and finished as a steel engraving. The numerous toy
villages, with tiny spires projecting out of them, were just as the
children might have left them when done with play the day before; the
forest tracts were diminished to cushions of moss; one or two big lakes
were dwarfed to ponds, the smaller ones to puddles--though they did not
look like puddles, but like blue teardrops which had fallen and lodged
in slight depressions, conformable to their shapes, among the moss-beds
and the smooth levels of dainty green farm-land; the microscopic
steamboats glided along, as in a city reservoir, taking a mighty time to
cover the distance between ports which seemed only a yard apart; and the
isthmus which separated two lakes looked as if one might stretch out on
it and lie with both elbows in the water, yet we knew invisible wagons
were toiling across it and finding the distance a tedious one. This
beautiful miniature world had exactly the appearance of those "relief
maps" which reproduce nature precisely, with the heights and depressions
and other details graduated to a reduced scale, and with the rocks,
trees, lakes, etc., colored after nature.

I believed we could walk down to Waeggis or Vitznau in a day, but I knew
we could go down by rail in about an hour, so I chose the latter method.
I wanted to see what it was like, anyway. The train came along about the
middle of the afternoon, and an odd thing it was. The locomotive-boiler
stood on end, and it and the whole locomotive were tilted sharply
backward. There were two passenger-cars, roofed, but wide open all
around. These cars were not tilted back, but the seats were; this
enables the passenger to sit level while going down a steep incline.

There are three railway-tracks; the central one is cogged; the "lantern
wheel" of the engine grips its way along these cogs, and pulls the
train up the hill or retards its motion on the down trip. About the same
speed--three miles an hour--is maintained both ways. Whether going up or
down, the locomotive is always at the lower end of the train. It pushes
in the one case, braces back in the other. The passenger rides backward
going up, and faces forward going down.

We got front seats, and while the train moved along about fifty yards
on level ground, I was not the least frightened; but now it started
abruptly downstairs, and I caught my breath. And I, like my neighbors,
unconsciously held back all I could, and threw my weight to the rear,
but, of course, that did no particular good. I had slidden down the
balusters when I was a boy, and thought nothing of it, but to slide down
the balusters in a railway-train is a thing to make one's flesh creep.
Sometimes we had as much as ten yards of almost level ground, and this
gave us a few full breaths in comfort; but straightway we would turn a
corner and see a long steep line of rails stretching down below us, and
the comfort was at an end. One expected to see the locomotive pause,
or slack up a little, and approach this plunge cautiously, but it
did nothing of the kind; it went calmly on, and went it reached the
jumping-off place it made a sudden bow, and went gliding smoothly
downstairs, untroubled by the circumstances.

It was wildly exhilarating to slide along the edge of the precipices,
after this grisly fashion, and look straight down upon that far-off
valley which I was describing a while ago.

There was no level ground at the Kaltbad station; the railbed was as
steep as a roof; I was curious to see how the stop was going to be
managed. But it was very simple; the train came sliding down, and when
it reached the right spot it just stopped--that was all there was "to
it"--stopped on the steep incline, and when the exchange of passengers
and baggage had been made, it moved off and went sliding down again. The
train can be stopped anywhere, at a moment's notice.

There was one curious effect, which I need not take the trouble to
describe--because I can scissor a description of it out of the railway
company's advertising pamphlet, and save my ink:

"On the whole tour, particularly at the Descent, we undergo an optical
illusion which often seems to be incredible. All the shrubs, fir trees,
stables, houses, etc., seem to be bent in a slanting direction, as by an
immense pressure of air. They are all standing awry, so much awry that
the chalets and cottages of the peasants seem to be tumbling down. It
is the consequence of the steep inclination of the line. Those who
are seated in the carriage do not observe that they are doing down a
declivity of twenty to twenty-five degrees (their seats being adapted
to this course of proceeding and being bent down at their backs). They
mistake their carriage and its horizontal lines for a proper measure of
the normal plain, and therefore all the objects outside which really
are in a horizontal position must show a disproportion of twenty to
twenty-five degrees declivity, in regard to the mountain."

By the time one reaches Kaltbad, he has acquired confidence in the
railway, and he now ceases to try to ease the locomotive by holding
back. Thenceforth he smokes his pipe in serenity, and gazes out upon the
magnificent picture below and about him with unfettered enjoyment. There
is nothing to interrupt the view or the breeze; it is like inspecting
the world on the wing. However--to be exact--there is one place where
the serenity lapses for a while; this is while one is crossing the
Schnurrtobel Bridge, a frail structure which swings its gossamer frame
down through the dizzy air, over a gorge, like a vagrant spider-strand.

One has no difficulty in remembering his sins while the train is
creeping down this bridge; and he repents of them, too; though he sees,
when he gets to Vitznau, that he need not have done it, the bridge was
perfectly safe.

So ends the eventual trip which we made to the Rigi-Kulm to see an
Alpine sunrise.

Mark Twain