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Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter XXXI

A Tramp Abroad

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'ho^te 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.

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