The Swiss Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
III. A Mountain Storm
The next day, and the day after that, the same lesson was repeated. The Twins went away with Fritz in the early morning and stayed all day long with the goats and came home with him in the sunset glow. But on the fourth day it was quite, quite different. It was different not only because they were to go alone with the goats for the first time, but also because it was the day when the greatest event of the whole year was to happen.
On that very morning the cattle were to start away to the high alps to be gone all summer! Every one in the little gray farm- house was up with the dawn, and while Mother Adolf milked the goats, the Twins took their breakfast to a high rock beside the mountain path, where they could get a good view of the village below. Father Adolf and Fritz had kissed Mother Adolf and the baby good-bye before daylight, and had gone to the village to get the cattle in line for their long march. They did not say good- bye to the Twins, for they were to join the procession when it passed the house; since for the first two miles the paths to the high alps where the cattle grazed and to the goat-pastures were the same.
Leneli and Seppi had finished their bread and milk and were hopping about in great excitement on the hill-top, when suddenly from the village below there was a burst of gay music and they knew that the procession had begun to move. Seppi ran back to the milking-shed as fast as his legs could carry him. "They're coming, they're coming!" he shouted.
"Our goats are ready," said Mother Adolf. "You and Bello may take them out to the path and wait there until the cattle have passed by. Then you must fall in behind them with Father and Fritz and go with them as far as the Giant Pine Tree that stands at the parting of the paths. Father and Fritz will leave you there, and you and Leneli must go on alone. You are sure you know the way?" She looked anxiously into Seppi's blue eyes.
"Oh, yes, Mother," said Seppi, confidently. "Don't you worry. I know it well, and so does Leneli. We can take care of the goats just as well as Fritz. You'll see!"
Seppi, with Bello's help, drove the goats to a place where they could crop the grass beside the mountain path, and there a few moments later Mother Adolf joined them, dragging the baby in the wooden cart. The procession was already in plain sight, winding up the steep mountain path from the village. First came three fine brindled cows, each with a bell as big as a bucket hanging from her neck and a wreath of flowers about her horns. After them came thirty more, each with a smaller bell, marching proudly along in single file behind the leaders. All the bells were jingling, and all the people who followed them from the village were singing and yodeling until the air was full of jolly sounds. The last cow in line carried the milking-stool on her horns, and behind her walked Father and Fritz.
Bello, who understood very well what was going on, kept the goats herded together beside the path, and when Seppi and Leneli, singing and shouting with the rest, drove them forward, Bello marched proudly right behind the goats, barking and waving his tail like a flag.
Mother Adolf's heart swelled with pride as she watched her husband and children march away so gayly, but when they had disappeared from view and the music sounded fainter and fainter as it grew more distant, she wiped her eyes on her apron. picked up the Twins' breakfast-bowls, and went slowly with little Roseli back to the lonely farm-house. The people from the village walked but a little way up the mountainside, and when they too returned to their homes, there were no mare songs and yodels; and a great silence settled over the mountain.
Up and up the rocky trail wound the long train of cattle and goats, until they came to the Giant Pine Tree, and here Father Adolf and Fritz stopped.
"Remember, my children," said Father Adolf solemnly to the Twins, "the goats are our only wealth. If they stray away and are lost or fall over a cliff and are killed, the fault will be yours. You must be faithful, watchful, and brave, and let nothing happen to the goats lest we go hungry when winter comes." Then he and Fritz said good-bye, and the children, feeling very solemn and important, went on their lonely way.
Bello was a wonderful dog. He could count, for he always knew when one of the goats was missing and would run about with his nose to the trail until he found her, then he would bark at her heels until she came back to join the flock. But, clever as he was, he was puzzled when he saw the goats going in one direction and Fritz in another. He stood at the parting of the paths and looked first one way, then the other, and whined; then he dashed after Fritz.
"No, no, Bello, go with the goats," cried Fritz. Bello's ears and tail drooped, and he looked pleadingly up at Fritz.
Fritz had given his little horn to Seppi, and now he shouted to him, "Blow your horn." Seppi could not play Fritz's merry little tune, but he blew a terrific blast, and Bello knew that he must follow the sound of the horn, even though it meant parting from his dear Fritz.
"Good old dog!" said Fritz, patting him; "go find them," and Bello licked his hand, then tore away up the mountain after the goats.
When he reached them, he tried to round them up and drive them back to Fritz, and it was some time before Seppi could make him understand that the goats must go to the pastures as usual. Then, though he followed them faithfully, he did not run about in circles and bark down every hollow log as he usually did. Instead, he walked along solemnly beside Leneli with his nose in her hand.
"See, Seppi," she said, "he knows he must help with the goats, but he wants to go with Fritz."
"There are lots of people in the world that know less than Bello," Seppi answered wisely. He put the horn to his lips, puffed out his cheeks, and blew with all his might. It made a fearful noise, which was echoed from all the surrounding cliffs and was answered by Fritz's yodel far away on the mountain path. Bello pricked up his ears and whined. They called back and forth in this way, the sounds growing fainter and fainter in the distance, until they could no longer hear each other at ail, and the Twins were for the first time quite alone on the mountain with Bello and the goats.
When at last they reached the pasture, they threw themselves down on the grass, and Leneli at once took her knitting out of her pocket and went to work. Bello sighed and lay down beside her, with his eyes on the goats. The sun was warm and it was very still on the mountain-side. There was no sound except the tearing noise made by the goats as they cropped the grass and the tinkle of their bells. Then Seppi began to practice on his horn. He blew and blew until he was red in the face, trying to play Fritz's tune, but only a hoarse bellow came from its throat.
Leneli stood the noise for some time. Then she plucked a blade of grass, stretched it across a hollow between her two thumbs, and, when Seppi was not looking, blew with all her might right by his ear! It made a fearful screech, which echoed and reechoed until it seemed as if the very air had been broken into a million bits.
Seppi gave a screech of his own and clapped his hands over his ears. "What did you do that for?" he said crossly, "just when I was beginning to get the tune."
"Well," said Leneli, "you may have begun, but you were still a long, long way from getting it! My noise was just as good as yours! I'll stop if you will."
Seppi grumpily laid aside his horn and sat hugging his knees and looking at the wonderful view spread out before them. Across the valley the Rigi lifted its crest to the sky. Little toy villages, each with its white spire, lay sleeping silently in the sunshine. On the shores of the lake far below he could see the city of Lucerne. It might have been a painted city, for not a sound reached them from its busy streets, and there was no movement to be seen except here and there the waving of a tiny thread of smoke. On the lake the white sails looked, at that distance, like tiny white butterflies hovering over the blue water.
"I suppose we can see almost the whole world from here; don't you?" said Leneli.
"Pooh! no," Seppi answered loftily. "There's lots more to it than this, though this is the best part of it, of course. Why, there are oceans bigger than Lake Lucerne and a mile deep, and there's Paris and London besides."
"Dear, dear," said Leneli. "Mother says we are very near to God on the mountains, and I suppose He can look down and see everybody and know just what they are doing all the time, but I don't see how He possibly can keep track of all of us at once."
"He can't, silly,' answered her brother, still more loftily. "Don't you know that the earth is round, so He can't see but one side at a time, if He looks ever so hard? I suppose that's why He made the nighttime. He shuts some of the people up in the dark whole He watches the rest of them on the other side." Seppi had never thought this out before, but he always tried to have some answer to give to Leneli when she asked questions, or else she might get the idea that he didn't know any more than she did. Leneli usually believed whatever he told her, and, this question being settled, she went on with her knitting.
The goats grazed peacefully about them; the air was very still and grew quite warm in the sunshine. About the snow-white crest of the Rigi little wisps of clouds were gathering. They grew longer and longer and sank lower on the mountain-side.
"It's raining in Lucerne," said Seppi.
The clouds fell still lower and spread over the whole valley, until the children from their high seat looked out over a sea of mist. There were sounds of distant thunder from the rolling clouds and vivid flashes of lightning far below them.
"It's a little lonesome up here with all the world shut away out of sight, and nobody around but God; isn't it?" said Leneli timidly.
"There are the goats, and Bello," answered Seppi comfortingly. He looked straight up into the sky. Little wisps of clouds were gathering around the crest of old Pilatus now. The sun was suddenly hidden, and he felt a drop of rain. "It's going to rain here in a minute, and hard, too," he said.
"What shall we do?" cried Leneli, rolling up her knitting and springing to her feet.
"Get wet, I guess," answered Seppi. "There's no shelter."
"There must be something," said Leneli. "I'll look, while you and Bello get the goats together." She dashed away as she spoke, and soon from a point farther down the mountain they heard her call.
Goats, Bello, and Seppi, all came thundering down the path together and found her huddled under an overhanging rock, sheltered by the branches of a spreading pine. Bello and Seppi dived under the rock beside her, and the goats gathered close about them just as the storm broke in earnest. The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and the rain came down in torrents, making a gray curtain of water about the rock. The children shrank back under the shelter as far as they could go, and neither one said a word, except once when a stream of water suddenly ran down the back of Leneli's neck. Then she jumped and said "Ow," in a voice that Seppi heard even above the roar of the thunder.
For a long time they sat there while the storm raged about them. Then the thunder went roaring away farther and farther down the valley, the rain ceased, and the sun came out.
"The storm's over," said Seppi. "Let's get out of here."
The goats had already scattered and were nibbling tufts of wet grass, when the two children crawled out from under the rock. Leneli's dress was quite muddy where the rain had come through the crack and poured down her neck, and she was twisting herself round, trying to see the extent of the damage, when suddenly there was a terrific roar and rumble as if the thunder had begun all over again, though the sky was blue and clear. Crash followed crash, and there was a sound of great rocks falling from dizzy mountain-heights far above them.
The children clung to each other in terror, the goats trembled, and Bello crept farther under the rock. "The avalanche!" gasped Leneli, shaking with fright. "Father thought there wouldn't be any more this spring! Oh, I wish we were home!"
Far down the mountain-side there were sounds of mighty trees being torn up by the roots and of rocks broken from the cliffs and bounding from ledge to ledge.
It seemed as if the whole world were being torn to pieces. At last the terrible roar ceased and a terrible silence settled over the mountains. The children knew well the awful dangers of the avalanche. Ever since they could remember they had heard stories of travelers buried alive under masses of snow and ice, and of whole villages swept away, or so covered with stones, trees, and, earth that not a sign of them was ever seen again.
Their first thought was of their mother.
"Oh," shuddered Leneli, "do you suppose our house was in the path of it?"
Seppi thought a moment; then he said soberly, "No, that couldn't be, for there is a wide hollow between our farm and the mountain- slope that would have to be filled first. I'm quite sure no avalanche could possibly carry the house away."
"Father--Fritz," sobbed Leneli.
"They are far round on the other side of the mountain by this time," said Seppi, "where the sun has not yet had so much chance to melt the snow and start avalanches. They could not have been harmed by this one, for it fell on our side of the mountain."
"Let us start home anyway," said Leneli, "even if it is early. I can't wait until night to know that Mother and Baby Roseli are safe."
"We ought to keep the goats up here eating all day," objected Seppi, "or they won't give any milk to-night."
"They may not give much anyway," answered Leneli, "because they've been so frightened, but we will let them go slowly and they can get a bite here and there as they go."
She took up her alpenstock, a long stick which she always carried with her, hung the little bundle of lunch, tied up in a cloth, from the end of it, put the stick over her shoulder, and, calling Bello, began at once to herd the goats together.
Seppi followed her a little doubtfully, and soon they were all on their way down the steep mountain path. The sun was now shining again as brilliantly as ever; the white clouds were floating lazily across the deep blue sky, and it did not seem as if anything unusual could possibly have happened.
Seppi's conscience troubled him. "It was only a thunder-storm after all," he said to Leneli, "and the avalanche is past and gone. It can't do any more harm. I'm afraid Father wouldn't like us to give up and go home now. He might think we were no better than babies to be so scared when we know we aren't hurt."
Leneli did not answer, but she kept right on going, and for a time they trudged along in silence. They had reached the Giant Pine where the trails divided, and had rounded a bend in the path, when Bello, who was a little way ahead with the goats, suddenly set up a furious barking.
"It's that Nanni, I do not doubt," said Seppi. "She's probably trying to break her neck somewhere." He dashed ahead and disappeared around a high rock, Leneli following him at a slower pace.
In a moment Seppi came running back to her, his face pale with surprise and alarm.
"It isn't Nanni," he gasped, "it's the avalanche! It's all across the pass! We can't get by."
He seized his sister's hand and dragged her to the top of the rock which overlooked the pass, and there they gazed in dismay at the scene before them. Where that morning the procession from the village had so gayly followed the winding trail up the mountain- side, there was now a great mass of rocks, ice, and snow completely blocking the path. Worse than that, the avalanche had made a dam across the bed of the mountain stream where the cattle stopped to drink, turning it into a little lake which was growing wider and deeper every moment. The goats were huddled together on the brink, bleating anxiously, while Bello, completely bewildered, ran back and forth, barking wildly.
The children knew well how serious their situation was; they were alone on the mountain, the only pass to the village closed, and without food except the lunch they had brought from home that morning. For a few moments they watched the water rising steadily in the little lake, too terrified to speak; then Leneli said, "Let's go back to the Giant Pine and think."
Seppi blew his little horn, but, instead of rounding up the goats, Bello only looked at him and whined. It had been a day of tremendous surprises to Bello. First Fritz had left him; then came the thunder-storm; then starting home in the middle of the day instead of at the proper time; and now the path itself was gone! No wonder he was bewildered. Seppi dashed down to the water's edge and drove the goats up the trail again himself, and while they snatched stray mouthfuls here and there about the pine tree, he and Leneli sat down under it to think.
"We can't get home that way; that's certain," said Seppi, pointing to the buried pass.
"And we can't stay here either," moaned Leneli; "not if there is a way out in any direction."
"There's the path Father and Fritz took this morning," said Seppi. "We might try that. It must go somewhere."
"Perhaps that is blocked too," said Leneli.
"I'll go a little way and see," said Seppi. "You stay here and watch the goats."
"Give me your horn, then," said Leneli; "and I'll blow it every little while so you can find your way back. You know Father always tells us not to leave the path because it's so easy to get lost."
"That's a good idea," said Seppi. "See if you can blow it."
Leneli put it to, her lips and blew until her face was purple, but achieved only a dismal squawk.
"I'll keep the horn myself," said Seppi, taking it from her, "and every little while I'll blow it. You can answer by blowing on a grass stem the way you did up yonder. Girls can't manage a horn anyway."
Leneli was too miserable to reply, and in another minute Seppi had disappeared up the strange path. For what seemed to her a very long time, Leneli answered the horn, as it grew fainter and fainter in the distance. Finally she could not hear it at all.
"Oh, what shall I do if Seppi's gone too?" she moaned when her desperate signals brought no answer.
Then her Mother's words came back to her, and, plumping herself down on her knees among the goats, she sent up a fervent prayer.
"Oh, dear God," she cried, clasping her hands, "Mother said we should be very close to you on the mountain and I suppose you can see me and Seppi both at the same time, from where you are. Please, please send him back for I'm scared. Dear God, do please hurry and help us find the way down the mountain before it gets dark and you have to go away to watch the other side of the world. Amen."
She rose from her knees and listened. Far away there came the sound of Seppi's horn. "Oh, thank you, God! There he comes!" she dried joyfully, and, snatching a grass-blade, she put it between her thumbs and gave an answering blast.
Soon Seppi himself came bounding into sight. "Come along," he shouted, waving his hand frantically toward the path, and Leneli at once called Bello, and together they started the goats.
"The avalanche must have begun on the other side of our pass," said Seppi when Leneli caught up with him. "There's no sign of it on this side."
"Maybe if we follow far enough we'll find Father and Fritz," said Leneli, brightening.
"I thought of that, too," answered Seppi, "but if there is any way to get down the mountain, I think we ought to do it on Mother's account. Father and Fritz won't know about it, so they won't be anxious, but if we don't get home Mother will think we are killed."
"Oh, I wish we could fly," said Leneli.
"Then we must wish for wings on the goats too," said Seppi, "for you know Father said we must take care of them whatever happens."
Sad and frightened though she was, Leneli giggled a little at that. "Wouldn't they look funny flying through the air with you and me and Bello all flopping after them?" she said. "Anyway, they might go a little faster than they do now," she added impatiently, giving Nanni a poke with her stick.
"They are hungry," said Seppi. "They hardly had time to eat anything before the storm came up."
Then a bright idea came into his head. "I'm hungry, too," he said, "and so are you. Let's eat our lunch while the goats get a few mouthfuls among the rocks, and then we shall all have more strength and shall get along faster."