Chapter Sixteen.

A Day of Wonder.

“Flowers are lovely. Love is flowerlike,
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O the joys that came down showerlike
With virtue, truth, and liberty,
When I was young.”—Coleridge.

“To-morrow, then, we are all to ascend the Schilthorn,” said Mr Kennedy, as he bade good-night to the merry party assembled in the salle à manger of the chalet inn at Mürrem.

“Or as high as we ladies can get,” said Mrs Dudley.

“Oh, we’ll get you up, aunt,” said Kennedy; “if Julian and my father and I can’t get you and Miss Home and Eva up, we’re not worth much.”

“To say nothing of me” said Cyril, putting his arms akimbo, with a look of immense importance.

“Breakfast, then, at five to-morrow morning, young people,” said Mr Kennedy, retiring; and full of happy anticipations they went off to bed.

Punctually at five they were all seated round the breakfast-table, eagerly discussing the prospects of the day.

“I say, did any of you see the first sunbeam tip the Jungfrau this morning?” said Kennedy. “It looked like—like—what did it look like, Miss Home?”

“Like the golden rim of a crown of pearls,” said Violet, smiling. “And did you see the morning star, shining above the orange-coloured line of morning light, over the hills behind us, Eva? What did that remind you of?”

“Oh, I can’t invent poetic similes,” answered Eva. “I must take refuge in Wordsworth’s—

“‘Sweet as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky.’”

“Yes,” said Julian; “or Browning’s—

“‘One star—the chrysolite!’”

“Hum!” said Cyril, who had been standing impatiently at the door during the colloquy; “when you young ladies and people have done poetising, etcetera, the guide’s quite ready.”

“Come along, then; we’re soon equipped,” said Violet, adjusting at the looking-glass her pretty straw hat, with its drooping feather, and the blue veil tied round it.

“I say, Miss Kennedy—bother take it though, I can’t always be saying Miss Kennedy—it’s too long. I shall call you Eva—may I?” said Cyril.

“By all means, if you like.”

“Well, then, Eva, the guide is such a rum fellow; he looks like a revived mummy out of—out of Palmyra,” said he, blundering a little in his geography.

“Mummy or no,” said Julian, “he’ll carry all our provisions and plaids to-day up to the top, which is more than most of your A Cs would do.”

“A C—what does that mean?” asked Violet. “One sees it constantly in the visitors’ books.”

“Don’t you know, Vi?” said Cyril. “It stands for athletic climber.”

“Alpine Club, you little monkey,” said Kennedy, throwing a fir-cone at him. “You’ll be qualified for the Alpine Club, Miss Home, before the day’s over, I’ve no doubt.”

“No,” said Julian, “they want 13,000 feet, I believe, and the Schilthorn is only 9,000.”

“Nearly three times higher than Snowdon; only fancy!” said Cyril.

Meanwhile the party had started with fair weather, and in high spirits. The guide, with the gentlemen’s plaids strapped together, led the way cheerily, occasionally talking his vile patois with Julian and Mr Kennedy, or laughing heartily at Cyril’s “bad language”—for Cyril, not being strong in German, exercised a delightful ingenuity in making a very few words go a very long way. Kennedy walked generally with Eva and Violet, while Julian often joined them, and Cyril, always with some new scheme in hand, or some new fancy darting through his brain, ran chattering, from one group to another, plucking bilberries and wild strawberries in handfuls, and trying the merits of his alpenstock as a leaping-pole.

The light of morning flowed down in an ever-broadening river, and peak after peak flashed first into rose, then into crimson, and then into golden light, as the sun fell on their fields of snow; high overhead rose Alp after Alp of snow-white and luminous cloud, but the flowing curves of the hills themselves stood unveiled, with their crests cut clearly on the pale, divine, lustrous blue of heaven, and our happy band of travellers gazed untired on that glorious panorama of glistering heights from the towering cones of the Eiger and the Moench to the crowding precipices of the Ebenen-fluen and the Silberhorn. Deep below them, in the valley, “like handfuls of pearl in a goblet of emerald,” the quiet châlets clustered over their pastures of vivid grass, and gave that touch of human interest which alone was wanting to complete the loveliness of the scene.

Every step brought them some new object to gaze upon with loving admiration; now the gaunt spurs of some noble pine that had thrust his gnarled roots into the crevices of rock to look down in safety on the torrent roaring far below him, and now the track of a chamois, or the bright black eyes of some little marmot peering from his burrow on the side of a sunny bank, and whistling a quick alarm to his comrades at their play.

“What an extraordinary howl,” said Cyril, laughing, as the guide whooped back a sort of jodel in answer to a salute from the other side of the valley.

“It’s very harmonious—is it not?” said Violet.

“Yes, that’s one of the varieties of the Ranz des Vaches,” said Kennedy.

“And why do they shout at each other in that way?”

“Because the mountains are lonely, Cyril, and the shepherds don’t see human faces too often; so men begin to feel like brothers, and are glad to greet each other in these silent hills.”

“Did you hear how the mountain echoed back his cry?” said Eva; “it sounded like a band of elves mocking at him.”

“Yes, you’ll hear something finer directly; the guide told me he was going to borrow an alpen-horn at one of these châlets, and then you’ll discover for the first time what echo can do.”

In a few minutes the guide appeared with the horn, and blew. Heavens! what a melody of replications! How in the hollows of the hills every harsh tone died away, and all the softer notes flowed to and fro in tenderest music, and fainted in distant reverberations more and more exquisite, more and more exquisitely low. Can it be a mere echo of those rude blasts? It seemed as though some choir of spirits had caught each tone as it came from the peasant’s horn, and had deified it there among the clouds, and had repeated it over and over with divinest variations, to show man how crabbed were the sounds which he produced, and yet how ravishing they might one day become, when to the symphony of silver strings they rang out amid the seraph harps and choral harmonies of heaven. All the party stood still in rapturous attention, and even Cyril forgot for ten minutes his frolicsome and noisy mirth.

Reader, have you ever seen an Alpine pasture in warm July at early morning? If not, you can hardly conceive the glorious carpet over which the feet of the wanderer in Switzerland press during summer tours. Around them as they passed the soft mosses glowed with gold and crimson, and the edges of the lady’s-mantle shimmered with such diamonds and pearls as never adorned a lady’s mantle yet. Everywhere the grass was vivid with a many-coloured tissue of dew-dropped flowers: pale crocuses, and the bright crimson-lake carnation, and monk’s-hood, and crane’s-bill, and aster alpinus, and the lovely myosotis, and thousands of yellow and purple flowers, nameless or lovelier than their names, were the tapestry on which they trod; and it was interwoven through warp and woof with the blue gleam of a myriad harebells. At last they came to the cold region of those delicate nurslings of the hills, the gentianellas and gentians. Kennedy, who had been keenly on the look out, was the first of the party to find the true Alpine gentian, and instantly recognising it, ran with it to Violet and his sister.

“There,” he said, “the first Alpine gentian you ever saw. Did you ever know real blue in a flower before? Doesn’t it actually seem to shed a blue radiation round it?”

“How perfectly beautiful!” said Violet; “see, Eva, how intense blue and green seem to be shot into each other, or to play together like the waters of a shoaling sea.”

“Shall I take a root or two?” said Kennedy.

“Not the slightest use,” said Julian; “they only grow at certain elevations, and would be dead before you got down.”

“Isn’t it strange, Violet, that Nature should fling such a tender and exquisite gem so high up among these awful hills, where so few eyes see them?”

“Just look,” said Julian, “how the moss and the grass seem to be illuminated with them, as though the heavens were golden, and stars in it were of blue.”

While they talked, Cyril dashed past them with all the ardour of a young entomologist in full chase of a little mountain-ringlet, which he soon caught and pinned on the top of his straw hat. In a few minutes more he had added a great fritillery to his collection, and it gave him no trouble to pick out the finest of the superb lazy-flying Apollos, which quickly shared the same fate.

“Here’s another for you, Cyril,” said Eva, pointing to a gorgeous peacock-butterfly which had settled amicably by a bee on the pink-and-downy coronet of a great thistle.

“Oh, I don’t want that; one can get it any day in England; here though, look at this lovely burnet-moth,” he cried, as the blue-and-red-winged little creature settled on the same thistle-head.

“What a shame to disturb that beautiful Psyche,” said Julian, as Cyril dashed his cap over the prey, and the peacock fluttered off; “it was enjoying itself so intensely in the sunshine, opening and shutting its wings in unmitigated contentment.” But Cyril had secured his moth without heeding the remark, and was now twenty yards ahead.

A sudden roar of sound stopped him, and he waited to ask the rest, “if they had heard the thunder?”

“It wasn’t thunder, but the rush of an avalanche,” said Kennedy; “there, you may see it still on the side of the Jungfrau.”

“What, those little white streaks, which look like a mountain torrent?”


“And can those threads of snow make all that row?”

“You must remember that the threads of snow are five miles off, and are perhaps thousands of tons in weight.”

By this time they had reached the part of the mountain where the climb became really toilsome, and they settled down into the steady pace, which the Swiss guides always adopt because they know that it is the quickest in the long run. And at this point Mr Kennedy and Mrs Dudley left them, preferring, like sensible old people, to stroll back in quiet, and avoid an exertion which they found too fatiguing. They knew that they could safely entrust the party to the care of Julian and the guide. The ladies often needed help, and there seemed to be something very pleasant to Kennedy in the light touch of Violet’s hand, for he lent her his arm or his alpenstock oftener than was absolutely required. They only stopped once more to quench their thirst at a streamlet which was rushing impetuously down the rocks, and a little below them foamed over the precipice into a white and noisy cataract.

“I never noticed water before falling from such a height,” said Julian; “it looks exactly like a succession of white comets plunging through the sky in a crowd.”

“Or a throng of white-sheeted ghosts hurrying deliriously through the one too-narrow entrance of the lower world,” said Kennedy. “Doesn’t it remind one of Schiller’s line—

“‘Und es wallet und liedet und brauset und Pikcht?’”

“I admire the rainbow most, which over-arches the fall, and plays into light, or dies away as the sunbeams touch the foam,” said Violet.

“Doesn’t it remind you of Al-Sirat’s arch, Miss Home?” asked Kennedy.

“Haven’t the pleasure of that gentleman’s acquaintance,” observed Cyril.

“Nor I,” said Kennedy; “but Al-Sirat’s arch is the bridge—narrow as the edge of a razor, or the thread of an attenuated spider—which is supposed to span the fiery abyss, over which the good skate into Paradise, while the bad topple over it. Don’t you remember Byron’s lines about it in the Giaour?

“‘Yea, Soul, and should our prophet say
That form was nought but breathing clay,
By Alla! I would answer nay;
Though on Al-Sirat’s arch I stood,
That topples o’er the fiery flood,
With Paradise within my view,
And all its Houris beckoning through.’

“Pretty nearly the only lines of Byron I know.” Somehow Kennedy was looking at Violet while he repeated the lines.

A few minutes more brought them on to the great field of snow, through which they toiled along laboriously, treading as much as possible in the footsteps of the guide.

“This isn’t a glacier, is it?” asked Cyril.

“Oh dear, no! If it were, you wouldn’t find it such easy walking, for it would be full of hidden crevasses, and we should have to march much more carefully, occasionally poking our feet through the snow that lightly covers a fathomless depth.”

“Yes, you must have read in Murray that eerie story of the guide that actually tumbled, though not very deep, into the centre of the glacier, and found his way back to light down the bed of a sub-glacial torrent, with no worse result than a broken arm.”

“There is a still eerier story, though, of two brothers,” said Kennedy, “of whom one fell into a crevasse, and was caught on a ledge some fifty feet down, where he could be actually seen and heard.”

“Did he ever get out?” asked Violet.

“Yes; the guide went back four hours’ walk, and brought ropes and assistance just before dark, and meanwhile the other brother waited anxiously by the side of the crevasse, talking, and letting down brandy and other things to keep the poor fellow alive. He did escape, but not without considerable risk of being frozen to death.”

Beguiling the way with talk, they at last got over the tedious climb, and reached the summit. Eva and Violet were very tired, but the difficult and eager air of the icy mountain-top was exhilarating as new wine, and the provisions they had brought with them reinvigorated them completely. To hungry and thirsty climbers black bread and vin ordinaire taste like nectar and ambrosia. The day was cloudless, the view unspeakably magnificent, and Cyril’s high spirits were contagious. They lingered long before they began the descent, and laughingly pooh-poohed the guide’s repeated suggestion that it was getting late.

“I bet you Kennedy has been writing poetry,” said Cyril; “do make him read it, Julian.”

“Hear, hear!” said all in chorus, and Julian with playful force possessed himself of the pocket-book, while Kennedy, only asseverating that the verses were addressed to nobody in particular, fled from the sound of his own lyrics, which Julian proceeded to read.

“Rose-opals of the sunlit hills
    Are flashing round my lonely way,
And cataracts dash the rushing rills
    To plumes of glimmering spray.
But mountain-streams and sunny gleams
    Are not so dear to me,
As dawning of the golden love
    My spirit feels for thee!
“Their diamond crowns and giant forms,
    The lordly hills upraise;
Nor rushing winds nor shattering storms
    Can shake their solid base:
Though Europe rests beneath their crests,
    And empires sleep secure,
Less firm their bases than my love,
    Their snow less brightly pure.”

“There, rubbish enough,” said Kennedy, returning and snatching away the pocket-book before Julian could read another verse. “‘Like coffee made without trouble, drunk without regret,’ as the Monday Oracle, with its usual exquisite urbanity, observed of a recent poet.”

“Of course addressed quite to an imaginary object, Eddy,” said Eva, while Violet looked towards the hills, and hoped that the glow which covered her fair face might be taken for a reflection of the faint tinge that already began to fall over the distant ridges of pale snow.

“We really must come away,” said Julian; “it’ll be sunset very soon, and then we shall have to climb down nearly in the dark.”

So they left the ridge, and while Kennedy and Cyril, amid shouts of laughter, glissaded gallantly over the slopes of snow, Julian and the guide conducted the girls by a method less rapid, but more secure. Arrived at the rocks, Cyril went forward with the guide, Julian followed with Eva, and Kennedy with Violet led up the rear.

Why did they linger so long? Violet was tired, no doubt, but could she not have walked as fast as Eva, or was Kennedy’s arm less stout than Julian’s? She lingered, it seemed, with something of a conscious pleasure, now to pluck a flower or a fern, now to look at some yellow lichens on the purple crags; and once, when Julian looked back, the two were some way behind the rest of the party. They were standing on a rock gazing on the fading splendour of the mountains in front of them, while the light wind that had risen during the sunset, flung back his hair from his forehead, and played with one golden tress which had strayed down Violet’s neck. He shouted to them to make haste, and they waved their hands to him with a gay salute. Thinking that they would soon overtake him, he pressed forward with Eva, and did not look back again.

While Kennedy walked on with Violet in silence more sweet than speech, they fell into a dreamy mood, and wandered on half-oblivious of things around them, while deeper and deeper the shades of twilight began to cast their gloom over the hills.

“Look, Violet, I mean Miss Home; the moon is in crescent, and we shall have a pleasant night to walk in; won’t it be delightful?”

“Yes,” she murmured; but neither of them observed that the clouds were gathering thick and fast, and obscured all except a few struggling glimpses of scattered stars.

They came to a sort of stile formed by two logs of wood laid across the gap in a stone wall, and Kennedy vaulting over it, gave her his hand.

“Surely,” she said, stopping timidly for a moment, “we did not pass over this in coming, did we?”

Kennedy looked back. “No,” he said, “I don’t remember it; but no doubt it has been put up merely for the night to prevent the cattle from going astray.”

They went forward, but a deeper and deeper misgiving filled Violet’s mind that they had chosen a wrong road.

“I think,” she said with a fluttered voice, “that the path looks much narrower than it did this morning. Do you see the others?”

They both strained their eyes through the gloom, now rendered more thick than ever by the dark driving clouds, but they could see no trace of their companions, and though they listened intently, not the faintest sound of voices reached their eager ears.

They spoke no word, but a few steps farther brought them to a towering rock around the base of which the path turned, and then seemed to cease abruptly in a mass of loose shale. It was too clear now. They had lost their road and turned, whilst they were indulging those golden fancies, into a mere cattle-path worn by the numerous herds of goats and oxen, the music of whose jangling bells still came to them now and then in low sweet snatches from the pastures of the valley and hill.

What was to be done? They were alone amid the all but unbroken silence, and the eternal solitudes of the now terrible mountain. The darkness began to brood heavily above them; no one was in sight, and when Kennedy shouted there was no answer, but only an idle echo of his voice. Sheets of mist were sweeping round them, and at length the gusts of wind drove into their faces cold swirls of plashing rain.

“Oh, Mr Kennedy, what can we do? Do shout again.”

Once more Kennedy sent his voice ringing through the mist and darkness, and once more there was no answer, except that to their now excited senses it seemed as if a scream of mocking laughter was carried back to them upon the wind. And clinging tightly to his arm, as he wrapped her in his plaid to shelter her from the wet, she again cried, “Oh, Edward, what must we do?”

Even in that fearful situation—alone on the mountain, in the storm,—he felt within him a thrill of strength and pleasure that she called him Edward, and that she clung so confidingly upon his arm.

“Dare you stay here, Violet,” he asked, “while I run forward and try to catch some glimpse of a light?”

“Oh, I dare not, I dare not,” she cried; “you might miss your way in coming back to me, and I should be alone.”

He saw that she loved him; he had read the secret of her heart, and he was happy. Passionately he drew her towards him, and on her soft fragrant cheek—on which the pallor of dread had not yet extinguished the glow which had been kindled by the mountain wind—he printed a lover’s kiss; but in maidenly reserve she drew back, and was afraid to have revealed her secret, and once more she said, “Oh, Mr Kennedy, we shall die if we stay here unsheltered in this storm.”

As though to confirm her words, the thunder began to growl, and while the sounds of it were beaten back with long loud hollow buffetings from the rocks on every side, the blue and winged flash of lightning glittered before their eyes, cleaving a rift with dazzling and vivid intensity amid the purple gloom.

“Stay here but one instant, Violet—Miss Home,”—he said; “I will climb this rock to see if any light is near, and will be with you again in a moment.”

He bounded actively up the rock, reckless of danger, and gazed from the summit into the night. For a second, another flash of lightning half blinded him with its lurid glare, but when he was again accustomed to the darkness, he saw a dull glimmer in the distance, and supposing it to come from the hotel, sprang down the rock again to Violet’s side.

“This way,” he said, “dear Violet; I see a light, and from the direction of it I think it must be from our hotel. Keep up courage, and we shall soon reach it.”

Dangerous as it was to hurry over the wet and slippery shale, and down the steep sides of the rugged hill, Kennedy half drew, half-carried her along with swift steps towards the place from which the dim light still seemed to allure them by its wavering and uncertain flicker.

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