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Chapter 31

CHAPTER XXXI [Alp-scaling by Carriage]

We now prepared for a considerable walk--from Lucerne to Interlaken,
over the Bruenig Pass. But at the last moment the weather was so good
that I changed my mind and hired a four-horse carriage. It was a huge
vehicle, roomy, as easy in its motion as a palanquin, and exceedingly
comfortable.

We got away pretty early in the morning, after a hot breakfast, and
went bowling over a hard, smooth road, through the summer loveliness of
Switzerland, with near and distant lakes and mountains before and about
us for the entertainment of the eye, and the music of multitudinous
birds to charm the ear. Sometimes there was only the width of the road
between the imposing precipices on the right and the clear cool water on
the left with its shoals of uncatchable fish skimming about through the
bars of sun and shadow; and sometimes, in place of the precipices, the
grassy land stretched away, in an apparently endless upward slant,
and was dotted everywhere with snug little chalets, the peculiarly
captivating cottage of Switzerland.

The ordinary chalet turns a broad, honest gable end to the road, and
its ample roof hovers over the home in a protecting, caressing way,
projecting its sheltering eaves far outward. The quaint windows are
filled with little panes, and garnished with white muslin curtains,
and brightened with boxes of blooming flowers. Across the front of the
house, and up the spreading eaves and along the fanciful railings of
the shallow porch, are elaborate carvings--wreaths, fruits, arabesques,
verses from Scripture, names, dates, etc. The building is wholly of
wood, reddish brown in tint, a very pleasing color. It generally has
vines climbing over it. Set such a house against the fresh green of the
hillside, and it looks ever so cozy and inviting and picturesque, and is
a decidedly graceful addition to the landscape.

One does not find out what a hold the chalet has taken upon him, until
he presently comes upon a new house--a house which is aping the town
fashions of Germany and France, a prim, hideous, straight-up-and-down
thing, plastered all over on the outside to look like stone, and
altogether so stiff, and formal, and ugly, and forbidding, and so out of
tune with the gracious landscape, and so deaf and dumb and dead to the
poetry of its surroundings, that it suggests an undertaker at a picnic,
a corpse at a wedding, a puritan in Paradise.

In the course of the morning we passed the spot where Pontius Pilate is
said to have thrown himself into the lake. The legend goes that after
the Crucifixion his conscience troubled him, and he fled from Jerusalem
and wandered about the earth, weary of life and a prey to tortures
of the mind. Eventually, he hid himself away, on the heights of Mount
Pilatus, and dwelt alone among the clouds and crags for years; but rest
and peace were still denied him, so he finally put an end to his misery
by drowning himself.

Presently we passed the place where a man of better odor was born. This
was the children's friend, Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas. There are some
unaccountable reputations in the world. This saint's is an instance. He
has ranked for ages as the peculiar friend of children, yet it appears
he was not much of a friend to his own. He had ten of them, and when
fifty years old he left them, and sought out as dismal a refuge from the
world as possible, and became a hermit in order that he might reflect
upon pious themes without being disturbed by the joyous and other noises
from the nursery, doubtless.

Judging by Pilate and St. Nicholas, there exists no rule for the
construction of hermits; they seem made out of all kinds of material.
But Pilate attended to the matter of expiating his sin while he was
alive, whereas St. Nicholas will probably have to go on climbing down
sooty chimneys, Christmas eve, forever, and conferring kindness on other
people's children, to make up for deserting his own. His bones are kept
in a church in a village (Sachseln) which we visited, and are naturally
held in great reverence. His portrait is common in the farmhouses of
the region, but is believed by many to be but an indifferent likeness.
During his hermit life, according to legend, he partook of the bread
and wine of the communion once a month, but all the rest of the month he
fasted.

A constant marvel with us, as we sped along the bases of the steep
mountains on this journey, was, not that avalanches occur, but that they
are not occurring all the time. One does not understand why rocks
and landslides do not plunge down these declivities daily. A landslip
occurred three quarters of a century ago, on the route from Arth to
Brunnen, which was a formidable thing. A mass of conglomerate two miles
long, a thousand feet broad, and a hundred feet thick, broke away from a
cliff three thousand feet high and hurled itself into the valley below,
burying four villages and five hundred people, as in a grave.

We had such a beautiful day, and such endless pictures of limpid lakes,
and green hills and valleys, and majestic mountains, and milky cataracts
dancing down the steeps and gleaming in the sun, that we could not help
feeling sweet toward all the world; so we tried to drink all the
milk, and eat all the grapes and apricots and berries, and buy all the
bouquets of wild flowers which the little peasant boys and girls offered
for sale; but we had to retire from this contract, for it was too heavy.

At short distances--and they were entirely too short--all along the
road, were groups of neat and comely children, with their wares nicely
and temptingly set forth in the grass under the shade trees, and as soon
as we approached they swarmed into the road, holding out their baskets
and milk bottles, and ran beside the carriage, barefoot and bareheaded,
and importuned us to buy. They seldom desisted early, but continued to
run and insist--beside the wagon while they could, and behind it until
they lost breath. Then they turned and chased a returning carriage back
to their trading-post again. After several hours of this, without any
intermission, it becomes almost annoying. I do not know what we should
have done without the returning carriages to draw off the pursuit.
However, there were plenty of these, loaded with dusty tourists and
piled high with luggage. Indeed, from Lucerne to Interlaken we had
the spectacle, among other scenery, of an unbroken procession of
fruit-peddlers and tourists carriages.

Our talk was mostly anticipatory of what we should see on the down-grade
of the Bruenig, by and by, after we should pass the summit. All our
friends in Lucerne had said that to look down upon Meiringen, and the
rushing blue-gray river Aar, and the broad level green valley; and
across at the mighty Alpine precipices that rise straight up to the
clouds out of that valley; and up at the microscopic chalets perched
upon the dizzy eaves of those precipices and winking dimly and fitfully
through the drifting veil of vapor; and still up and up, at the superb
Oltschiback and the other beautiful cascades that leap from those rugged
heights, robed in powdery spray, ruffled with foam, and girdled with
rainbows--to look upon these things, they say, was to look upon the last
possibility of the sublime and the enchanting. Therefore, as I say,
we talked mainly of these coming wonders; if we were conscious of any
impatience, it was to get there in favorable season; if we felt any
anxiety, it was that the day might remain perfect, and enable us to see
those marvels at their best.


As we approached the Kaiserstuhl, a part of the harness gave way.

We were in distress for a moment, but only a moment. It was the
fore-and-aft gear that was broken--the thing that leads aft from the
forward part of the horse and is made fast to the thing that pulls the
wagon. In America this would have been a heavy leathern strap; but, all
over the continent it is nothing but a piece of rope the size of
your little finger--clothes-line is what it is. Cabs use it, private
carriages, freight-carts and wagons, all sorts of vehicles have it. In
Munich I afterward saw it used on a long wagon laden with fifty-four
half-barrels of beer; I had before noticed that the cabs in Heidelberg
used it--not new rope, but rope that had been in use since Abraham's
time--and I had felt nervous, sometimes, behind it when the cab was
tearing down a hill. But I had long been accustomed to it now, and had
even become afraid of the leather strap which belonged in its place. Our
driver got a fresh piece of clothes-line out of his locker and repaired
the break in two minutes.

So much for one European fashion. Every country has its own ways. It may
interest the reader to know how they "put horses to" on the continent.
The man stands up the horses on each side of the thing that projects
from the front end of the wagon, and then throws the tangled mess of
gear forward through a ring, and hauls it aft, and passes the other
thing through the other ring and hauls it aft on the other side of the
other horse, opposite to the first one, after crossing them and bringing
the loose end back, and then buckles the other thing underneath the
horse, and takes another thing and wraps it around the thing I spoke
of before, and puts another thing over each horse's head, with broad
flappers to it to keep the dust out of his eyes, and puts the iron thing
in his mouth for him to grit his teeth on, uphill, and brings the ends
of these things aft over his back, after buckling another one around
under his neck to hold his head up, and hitching another thing on
a thing that goes over his shoulders to keep his head up when he is
climbing a hill, and then takes the slack of the thing which I mentioned
a while ago, and fetches it aft and makes it fast to the thing that
pulls the wagon, and hands the other things up to the driver to steer
with. I never have buckled up a horse myself, but I do not think we do
it that way.

We had four very handsome horses, and the driver was very proud of his
turnout. He would bowl along on a reasonable trot, on the highway, but
when he entered a village he did it on a furious run, and accompanied it
with a frenzy of ceaseless whip-crackings that sounded like volleys of
musketry. He tore through the narrow streets and around the sharp curves
like a moving earthquake, showering his volleys as he went, and before
him swept a continuous tidal wave of scampering children, ducks, cats,
and mothers clasping babies which they had snatched out of the way of
the coming destruction; and as this living wave washed aside, along the
walls, its elements, being safe, forgot their fears and turned their
admiring gaze upon that gallant driver till he thundered around the next
curve and was lost to sight.

He was a great man to those villagers, with his gaudy clothes and his
terrific ways. Whenever he stopped to have his cattle watered and fed
with loaves of bread, the villagers stood around admiring him while
he swaggered about, the little boys gazed up at his face with humble
homage, and the landlord brought out foaming mugs of beer and conversed
proudly with him while he drank. Then he mounted his lofty box, swung
his explosive whip, and away he went again, like a storm. I had not
seen anything like this before since I was a boy, and the stage used to
flourish the village with the dust flying and the horn tooting.

When we reached the base of the Kaiserstuhl, we took two more horses; we
had to toil along with difficulty for an hour and a half or two hours,
for the ascent was not very gradual, but when we passed the backbone and
approached the station, the driver surpassed all his previous efforts in
the way of rush and clatter. He could not have six horses all the time,
so he made the most of his chance while he had it.

Up to this point we had been in the heart of the William Tell region.
The hero is not forgotten, by any means, or held in doubtful veneration.
His wooden image, with his bow drawn, above the doors of taverns, was a
frequent feature of the scenery.

About noon we arrived at the foot of the Bruenig Pass, and made a
two-hour stop at the village hotel, another of those clean, pretty, and
thoroughly well-kept inns which are such an astonishment to people
who are accustomed to hotels of a dismally different pattern in remote
country-towns. There was a lake here, in the lap of the great mountains,
the green slopes that rose toward the lower crags were graced with
scattered Swiss cottages nestling among miniature farms and gardens,
and from out a leafy ambuscade in the upper heights tumbled a brawling
cataract.

Carriage after carriage, laden with tourists and trunks, arrived, and
the quiet hotel was soon populous. We were early at the table d'hôte
and saw the people all come in. There were twenty-five, perhaps. They
were of various nationalities, but we were the only Americans. Next to
me sat an English bride, and next to her sat her new husband, whom
she called "Neddy," though he was big enough and stalwart enough to be
entitled to his full name. They had a pretty little lovers' quarrel over
what wine they should have. Neddy was for obeying the guide-book and
taking the wine of the country; but the bride said:

"What, that nahsty stuff!"

"It isn't nahsty, pet, it's quite good."

"It IS nahsty."

"No, it ISN'T nahsty."

"It's Oful nahsty, Neddy, and I shahn't drink it."

Then the question was, what she must have. She said he knew very well
that she never drank anything but champagne.

She added:

"You know very well papa always has champagne on his table, and I've
always been used to it."

Neddy made a playful pretense of being distressed about the expense,
and this amused her so much that she nearly exhausted herself with
laughter--and this pleased HIM so much that he repeated his jest a
couple of times, and added new and killing varieties to it. When the
bride finally recovered, she gave Neddy a love-box on the arm with her
fan, and said with arch severity:

"Well, you would HAVE me--nothing else would do--so you'll have to make
the best of a bad bargain. DO order the champagne, I'm Oful dry."

So with a mock groan which made her laugh again, Neddy ordered the
champagne.

The fact that this young woman had never moistened the selvedge edge of
her soul with a less plebeian tipple than champagne, had a marked and
subduing effect on Harris. He believed she belonged to the royal family.
But I had my doubts.

We heard two or three different languages spoken by people at the
table and guessed out the nationalities of most of the guests to our
satisfaction, but we failed with an elderly gentleman and his wife and
a young girl who sat opposite us, and with a gentleman of about
thirty-five who sat three seats beyond Harris. We did not hear any of
these speak. But finally the last-named gentleman left while we were not
noticing, but we looked up as he reached the far end of the table. He
stopped there a moment, and made his toilet with a pocket comb. So he
was a German; or else he had lived in German hotels long enough to catch
the fashion. When the elderly couple and the young girl rose to leave,
they bowed respectfully to us. So they were Germans, too. This national
custom is worth six of the other one, for export.

After dinner we talked with several Englishmen, and they inflamed our
desire to a hotter degree than ever, to see the sights of Meiringen from
the heights of the Bruenig Pass. They said the view was marvelous, and
that one who had seen it once could never forget it. They also spoke of
the romantic nature of the road over the pass, and how in one place it
had been cut through a flank of the solid rock, in such a way that the
mountain overhung the tourist as he passed by; and they furthermore said
that the sharp turns in the road and the abruptness of the descent would
afford us a thrilling experience, for we should go down in a flying
gallop and seem to be spinning around the rings of a whirlwind, like
a drop of whiskey descending the spirals of a corkscrew. I got all the
information out of these gentlemen that we could need; and then, to make
everything complete, I asked them if a body could get hold of a little
fruit and milk here and there, in case of necessity. They threw up
their hands in speechless intimation that the road was simply paved with
refreshment-peddlers. We were impatient to get away, now, and the rest
of our two-hour stop rather dragged. But finally the set time arrived
and we began the ascent. Indeed it was a wonderful road. It was smooth,
and compact, and clean, and the side next the precipices was guarded
all along by dressed stone posts about three feet high, placed at short
distances apart. The road could not have been better built if Napoleon
the First had built it. He seems to have been the introducer of the sort
of roads which Europe now uses. All literature which describes life as
it existed in England, France, and Germany up to the close of the last
century, is filled with pictures of coaches and carriages wallowing
through these three countries in mud and slush half-wheel deep; but
after Napoleon had floundered through a conquered kingdom he generally
arranged things so that the rest of the world could follow dry-shod.

We went on climbing, higher and higher, and curving hither and thither,
in the shade of noble woods, and with a rich variety and profusion of
wild flowers all about us; and glimpses of rounded grassy backbones
below us occupied by trim chalets and nibbling sheep, and other glimpses
of far lower altitudes, where distance diminished the chalets to toys
and obliterated the sheep altogether; and every now and then some
ermined monarch of the Alps swung magnificently into view for a moment,
then drifted past an intervening spur and disappeared again.

It was an intoxicating trip altogether; the exceeding sense of
satisfaction that follows a good dinner added largely to the enjoyment;
the having something especial to look forward to and muse about, like
the approaching grandeurs of Meiringen, sharpened the zest. Smoking
was never so good before, solid comfort was never solider; we lay back
against the thick cushions silent, meditative, steeped in felicity.

I rubbed my eyes, opened them, and started. I had been dreaming I was at
sea, and it was a thrilling surprise to wake up and find land all around
me. It took me a couple seconds to "come to," as you may say; then I
took in the situation. The horses were drinking at a trough in the edge
of a town, the driver was taking beer, Harris was snoring at my side,
the courier, with folded arms and bowed head, was sleeping on the box,
two dozen barefooted and bareheaded children were gathered about the
carriage, with their hands crossed behind, gazing up with serious and
innocent admiration at the dozing tourists baking there in the sun.
Several small girls held night-capped babies nearly as big as themselves
in their arms, and even these fat babies seemed to take a sort of
sluggish interest in us.

We had slept an hour and a half and missed all the scenery! I did not
need anybody to tell me that. If I had been a girl, I could have cursed
for vexation. As it was, I woke up the agent and gave him a piece of
my mind. Instead of being humiliated, he only upbraided me for being
so wanting in vigilance. He said he had expected to improve his mind by
coming to Europe, but a man might travel to the ends of the earth with
me and never see anything, for I was manifestly endowed with the very
genius of ill luck. He even tried to get up some emotion about that
poor courier, who never got a chance to see anything, on account of my
heedlessness. But when I thought I had borne about enough of this kind
of talk, I threatened to make Harris tramp back to the summit and make a
report on that scenery, and this suggestion spiked his battery.

We drove sullenly through Brienz, dead to the seductions of its
bewildering array of Swiss carvings and the clamorous HOO-hooing of
its cuckoo clocks, and had not entirely recovered our spirits when we
rattled across a bridge over the rushing blue river and entered the
pretty town of Interlaken. It was just about sunset, and we had made the
trip from Lucerne in ten hours.

Mark Twain