The Swiss Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
V. The Pass
All night long the children slept soundly in the hayloft, with the moon peering in at them through the chinks between the logs. In the morning they were awakened by the music of cow-bells, and by the voice of the old herdsman, who stuck his head up through the hole in the floor and called out "Wake up, my young heroes! The sun is already looking over the crest of Rigi, and it's time you were on your way."
Seppi and Leneli sat up and rubbed their eyes, and for a moment could not think where they were or how they came to be there. Then they remembered, and, springing from their rude beds, ran out into the glorious morning and washed their faces and hands in the mountain stream that flowed near the hut. Then there were the goats to be milked, and breakfast to be eaten, and the shadows were already shortening when at last they were ready for their lonely and dangerous journey.
The old herdsman packed some bread and cheese in their lunch- cloth, Leneli slung the bundle on her alpenstock, and Seppi called Bello to herd the goats. But the goats were well pleased with the rich green grass of the alp, and were unwilling to leave the pasture. They frisked and gamboled and stood on their hind legs butting each other playfully, and it was some time before Seppi and Bello could get them fairly started.
The old herdsman had done his milking very early in order to go a little way with the children, and now, leaving the cows in charge of his faithful dog, he led the way down the steep mountain path.
The morning air was so clear and sparkling and the sun shone so bright upon the snow-capped peaks, that the children almost forgot the dangers of the unknown path. It seemed impossible that anything could happen to them in such a wonderful and beautiful world, and they said good-bye quite cheerfully to the good old herdsman when at last he stopped and told them he must go back to his cheese-making. From the place where they stood, they could see the path like a tiny thread, winding through forests, down a long, narrow valley shut in by high cliffs, past waterfalls fed by mountain snows, and losing itself at last where a tiny white steeple marked the little village which was the home of the old herdsman. The old man pointed to it. "Follow the path and remember Peter of Lucerne," he said. "This is your chance! Trust the good God, do not be afraid, and soon your troubles will be over and you will be once more in your mother's arms." He stood on a rock and watched the little procession until a bend in the path hid it from sight, then he went back to his lonely pasture.
For an hour or so, the children trudged quite cheerfully on their way. "This isn't hard at all," said Seppi. "The pass is easier to follow than our own. How silly we were to be scared!"
They were so used to climbing about in perilous places that when a little later the path led them along a shelf-like projection on the side of steep cliffs, overhanging a mountain stream, they were not frightened. But when they began to grow tired, and the trail led them into a dark forest, where the sun came through the thick boughs and shone only in patches of light upon the slippery spruce needles, they grew less courageous.
"I don't like the forest," said Leneli, shivering a little and looking behind her. "It always seems as if things would happen to you in the woods."
"What kind of things?" said Seppi, who was beginning to feel a bit shaky himself.
"Why--you know," answered Leneli, "the kind of things that giants and dragons and dwarfs do! And then there's that story about Pontius Pilate. You know our old Mount Pilatus was named that because they say his body was thrown into one of its lakes, and his spirit haunts the mountain. He only comes out once a year, but oh, Seppi, suppose this should be the time!"
"Huh!" said Seppi scornfully. "Girls' talk! Of course I don't believe such things; besides, he only comes out on Good Friday, anyway!"
"Well," said Leneli, "lots of people do believe them, even grown- up people."
"Pooh," said Seppi, and just to show that he didn't care at all about such idle tales he began to whistle; but Leneli noticed that he too looked behind him now and then.
It grew more and more difficult to find the way, for there were openings between the trees that looked like paths and the true path wound in and out, and came near losing itself entirely among the rocks. The brown needles covered the ground in every direction, so the pass was no different in color from the rest of the forest floor. When they looked behind them or peered fearfully under the spruce boughs for dwarfs or giants, of course they were not watching the trail carefully, and so, when suddenly there was a loud whirring noise above the trees and a great bird flew almost over their heads, they were so startled they just ran without noticing which way they were going. Bello was startled too, and began to bark. This started the goats, and before you could say "Jack Robinson" children, dog, goats, and all were galloping pell-mell through the woods.
After the loud whirring noise the forest was still again, and the children stopped their mad race, but they could not stop the goats. On and on they ran with Bello after them, and there was nothing for the children to do but follow, for had not their father told them that the welfare of the whole family depended upon the goats, and if any should be lost, they alone would be to blame? Stumbling over roots, dodging trees and rocks, they plunged wildly along until finally they saw a light spot ahead and a moment later came out suddenly upon the edge of a precipice, from which they could look straight down into a deep valley below. The goats were there before them huddled together an the brow of the cliff, bleating piteously. Bello sat on his haunches with his tongue hanging out and looked at the scenery! Seppi and Leneli looked at each other in dismay.
"Now you've done it!" said Seppi miserably. "We've lost the path, and it's all your fault! If we had been thinking about Peter of Lucerne instead of about those silly old giants and dwarfs, this would not have happened."
"You were just as scared as I was," said Leneli, "and you needn't try to lay it all on me! You jumped and ran just as soon as I did, when that bird flew over our heads."
Seppi knew that this was true, so he said nobly: "Very well, let's not quarrel about it. What we need to do is to get the goats back to the path."
He took some salt from his pocket, as his big brother had taught him to do, and walked slowly toward them, holding out his hand. Nanni stretched her neck forward and had taken just one lick of the salt when suddenly the loud whirring noise came again, there was a terrific scream overhead, and from the crags above them a great golden eagle swooped down towards the frightened group on the cliff, and, sticking his terrible talons into Nanni's back, tried to lift her bodily into the air! For an instant she swung dizzily over the edge of the cliff as the eagle beat his wings furiously in an effort to rise with his heavy burden. But in that instant Seppi leaped forward and, seizing the goat by the tail, pulled back with all his might. Leneli sprang to the rescue of Seppi, grasping him firmly around the waist, and screaming like a wildcat as she added her strength to his.
Meanwhile Bello barked furiously, and the rest of the goats fled bleating into the woods in a mad stampede. It was all over in less time that it takes to tell it. The goat, wounded and bleeding, dropped to the ground, the great bird soared away into the dizzy spaces beyond the cliff, and the children dashed into the shelter of the woods, dragging Nanni after them. They could not sink down on the ground and recover from their fright as they longed to do, for by this time the goats had scattered among the trees and must be brought together again at once. Bello was distractedly trying to round them up, but as he had no idea of the direction. in which to drive them, they were all galloping wildly about, first this way, then that.
It was some time before the children succeeded in getting the flock together again, but at last they were able to drive them farther into the woods, and away from the dangers of the cliffs, and were soon fortunate enough to come upon a little mountain stream which was singing its way through the forest. Here the goats stopped willingly to drink, and for the first time the children were able to give some attention to Nanni. Her back was torn and bloody, but her injuries were not serious and on the whole she seemed little the worse for her experience.
"We must let all the goats rest a little," said Seppi. "There isn't any food for them, but they can have a good drink while we eat our lunch, and then we just must find that path."
They sat down on a rock and Leneli opened the bundle of food which the old herdsman had given them. "Isn't it queer?" said she, as she handed Seppi a piece of cheese, "I'm not as scared as I was before that dreadful eagle came. Are you?"
Seppi paused with his mouth open for a bite. "Why, I'm not, either!" he said with surprise.
Leneli's eyes grew big. "Seppi," said she earnestly, "do you suppose, maybe, we're heroes like Peter of Lucerne, after all, and never knew it?"
Seppi thought about this so seriously that for a minute he forgot to eat. Then he said, "Why, of course we are! We were scared but we did the right thing! My, but I'm glad!" He sighed with relief and took a big bite and munched away in silence.
At last he said solemnly, "Of course, now that we know we really are heroes, we won't be scared any more! We'll stop before we begin!"
Leneli looked doubtful. "I'm afraid I shall be scared again if we don't find the Pass," she said. "We might die up here in the mountains just like Moses in sight of the promised land. And some time maybe a hunter would find our bones lying scattered about on the ground." She sniffed a little at this pathetic picture, and her eyes filled with tears.
"Look here," said Seppi, jumping to his feet and gazing down at her sternly. "Is that any way for a hero to talk? They aren't going to find any bones of mine, I can tell you! I'm going to get down this mountain with all the goats, and so are you!"
"Well," said the heroine, doubtfully, "I was only supposing."
"Well, then, don't suppose that way," growled Seppi. "Just suppose we find the pass and get somewhere in time for supper, and get home to-morrow!"
At that very minute a bright thought struck him. "What a silly!" he said. "Why didn't I think of it before? This stream runs down hill, and if we follow it we shall have to get down to the valley, too. Come along!"
He was in such a hurry to carry out his idea that he started at once with his bread and cheese in his hand.
"But maybe it won't be anywhere near the village where the herdsman's home is, if we do get down," objected Leneli; "we ought to find the path."
"We'll be more likely to find it by following the stream," said Seppi, giving a loud blast on his horn, "and if we don't find that village, we'll find another place just as good. I'll bet there are some kind people everywhere."
Bello was at that moment barking down a hollow log in the hope of catching a hare, but he obediently rounded up the goats when Seppi called him, and the little caravan began to move.
It was not so simple as it sounded. The stream had worn a deep channel among the rocks. Trees had fallen across it, undermined by the swift current. Here it roared through a narrow gorge and there spread into a wide pool, then again plunged through underbrush and among rocks in its haste to reach the lake far below. The goats made slow progress and, whenever it was possible to do so, wandered away into easier paths and had to be driven back.
At last, to their great relief, the children saw a break in the trees, and they rushed joyfully forward, only to find that the stream at this point leaped over a cliff in a waterfall fifty feet high! The young explorers gazed at this new difficulty without a word.
Far below in the green valley they could see little white specks which were farm buildings, and tiny villages nestling among trees along the banks of a wide stream. They could even see the glacier which fed this river, lying like some huge white monster along the valley, its broad nose thrust between the banks on either side.
"Every time we think we've found the way out, we just get deeper in than ever," moaned Leneli, at last. "We can't get down this way, and if we did we'd have to cross the glacier."
"It isn't a very big one," said Seppi, looking down at it.
"You can't tell from here," quavered Leneli.
Seppi looked about him. To the right the forest slopes stretched upward toward the mountain-top. In front was the plunge, and at the left the stream gurgled over rocks and stones to its fall.
"We'll just have to cross it," said Seppi firmly. He drove the goats back a little way to a place where it was possible to ford the stream, and in, a little while the whole caravan stood dripping on the farther bank.
"I'm going to follow along the edge of this cliff," said Seppi, "and you and the goats follow after me. I'm sure we shall find a place where we can get down. I'll keep calling, so you'll know which way to go.
He plunged into the forest at the word and was lost to sight, and Leneli, driving the goats before her, plunged after him. Guided by the sound of the waterfall, they forced their way through underbrush, over great piles of rocks and around perilous curves, seeking always the lower levels, until at last, when she was almost ready to give up in despair, Leneli heard a joyful shout from Seppi and, hastening forward, found him at the edge of the forest, looking out over a wide range of foothills. The forest was now behind them, and before them lay green slopes spangled like the stars in the milky way with yellow daffodils and blue gentians.
The goats, wild with delight at seeing fresh pasturage, leaped forward and began to browse, and dear old Bello sat down on his haunches with his tongue hanging out and gazed upon the scene as benevolently as if his own stomach were full instead of empty. The children were so weary they threw themselves down in the grass beside him to rest.
Now that they had escaped the perils of the forest, it almost seemed to them for a little while as if their troubles were over, but by and by Seppi sat up and studied the scene before them. He looked past the long slopes to the glacier and the river in the valley below.
"We've got to get across that somehow," he said to Leneli, at last, pointing to the stream, "and there are only two ways of doing it. When we get down there, we must either go through the river, or across the glacier which feeds it."
"We can't go through it," answered Leneli. "We don't know how deep it is."
"Then it will have to be the glacier," said Seppi, "and I'm glad goats are so sure-footed. We'd better start along, for it's getting later every minute, and I'm bound to reach that farm- house before dark." He pointed to a speck in the distance.
"Oh, dear," sighed Leneli, as she followed his finger with her eye, "it's like dying to get to heaven! Suppose we fall into cracks in the glacier?"
"You're the worst supposer I ever saw," snapped Seppi. " Suppose we don't fall in! Suppose we get across all right with all the goats, and suppose there's a good woman at the farm-house who feeds us, and Bello too! Suppose she gives us... what would you like best for supper, Leneli?"
"Oh!" cried Leneli, clasping her hands, "soup and pancakes!"
"Hurry up, then," said Seppi. "We shall surely never get them, nor anything else, by staying here."
Leneli struggled to her feet, and once more they moved forward. Half an hour of brisk walking brought them to the edge of the glacier, and here Seppi arranged their marching order.
"I'll go first," he said, "the same as a guide, then the goats, and then you and Bello. You must watch every step, and keep sticking in your alpenstock to be sure you are on solid ice. If you don't, you might strike a hollow place and fall through the crust."
"I'll be careful," said Leneli.
"All right, then! here we go!" said Seppi. "I can just smell those pancakes!" and with that he set out across the river of ice.
The children understood very well the dangers of the glaciers. It was not simply a frozen stream on which one might skate. It was a great slow-moving, grinding avalanche of ice and rocks, full of seams and cracks and holes, which was creeping steadily down the valley. The river formed by the melting snows, gushed forth from beneath it and rushed away to join the lake still far below.
Even the goats knew it was a perilous journey, and besides they were unwilling to leave the rich grass of the fields, so it was with some difficulty that they were finally driven forward upon the glacier. Seppi led the way, blowing on his little horn to encourage them, trying every step with his stick, and waiting for them to catch up before going farther. They were nearly half way across, when Seppi stopped and called to Leneli to stand still. There in front of him yawned a wide crevasse. The frozen river had cracked open, and if they went forward in a straight line they would plunge down into an ice prison from which they could never escape alive.
It was the hardest puzzle and the greatest danger they had met in their whole journey, and for a minute poor Seppi almost gave up in despair. He thought they would have to go back and try the river after all. Shouting to Leneli to keep the goats together if she could, he turned and made his way up-stream along the edge of the crevasse. It grew narrower as he followed it, and broke into a number of smaller cracks.
The only way to get to the other side was to follow along these smaller cracks where they made a crooked natural bridge across the chasm. Even Seppi's stout heart quailed a little as he gazed down into the depths of the huge rifts. The walls of ice gleamed with wonderful greens and blues, but he had no heart to admire the beautiful colors.
"Remember Peter of Lucerne, and come on," he shouted back to Leneli, and without another word started across the treacherous ice bridge. It made no difference whether she was frightened or not, Leneli simply had to follow him even though the goats, sure- footed as they were, shrank from the journey, and Bello hung back and whined.
"Follow exactly in my footsteps," shouted Seppi, and Leneli swallowed a lump in her throat, grasped her alpenstock more firmly and went forward.
"Don't look down into the hole! Look at the bridge across it!" shouted Seppi.
He stepped carefully forward, finding solid footing with his stick before each step, and in a short time stood safely on the other side of the chasm. There he waited and held his breath, while the goats picked their way daintily across the ice bridge after him, and when Leneli and Bello at last reached his side, he hugged them both for joy.
"There," he said, "there can't be anything worse than that, and we'll soon be on green grass again.
They passed other smaller crevasses, but they could make their way around the ends of these, and it was not long before they had scrambled over the rocks at the glacier's edge and once more stood on solid ground. Even Bello seemed to realize that their troubles were now nearly over, for he barked and ran round them in circles and leaped up with his paws on their shoulders to give them dog kisses, and, as for his tail--he nearly wagged it loose in his joy. The goats sprang forward to reach the grass, and when the children drove them on, snatched greedy mouthfuls as they passed. The children could see the farm-house growing from a mere speck larger and larger as they came down the valley toward it, and at last the little group of stragglers pattered into the door- yard.
The noise of bleating goats and a barking dog brought the farmer's wife to the door, and for a moment she stood there with her baby in her arms and looked down at them in astonishment, just as the old herdsman had done on the mountain.
"Where in the world did you come from?" she cried at last. "Who are you? and what do you want here?"
Leneli opened her mouth to answer, but when she saw the woman's kind face, and the baby sucking its thumb and looking at them solemnly, it reminded her so of her mother and Baby Roseli that, instead of explaining, she burst into tears.
The woman clattered down the steps of once, put her free arm around Leneli, and patted her comfortingly, while Seppi told her their story. Before he had got farther than the avalanche part of it, she seemed to guess all the rest. It was not the first time that people had been lost on the mountain.
"Come right in this minute," she cried. "Don't stop to talk! You must be as hungry as wolves. I'll get you something to eat, and then you can tell me every word."
"Please," said Leneli timidly, drying her tears, "could you give Bello something first? The goats have had a little grass and we had some bread and cheese, but Bello hasn't had a bite all day."
"Bless my soul!" said the woman. "What a little woman it is, to think first of the dog! Here," she cried to Seppi; "take this bone to him right away, and shut up the goats in the barn-yard. Then come back and I'll give you whatever you like best, if I've got it!"
"If you please, ma'am," said Seppi, his eyes shining, "up on the mountain when we were lost, we saw your house and we just supposed that maybe you might have soup and pancakes!"
"Bless my soul!" cried the woman. "Soup and pancakes it shall be, and that's soon ready!"
She put the baby into Leneli's arms and flew about the kitchen, rattling pots and pans, stirring up the fire, and mixing her batter; and when Seppi returned, the smell of pancakes was already in the air, and the soup was bubbling in the pot. In five minutes more the children were seated at the kitchen table with steaming bowls before them, while their new friend cooked a pile of pancakes that it would have warmed the cockles of your heart to see.
The farmer himself was far away on the high alps with his cattle, and came down the mountain only once in a while with a load of cheeses on his back. His wife was very lonely in his absence and was glad to have company, if only for a single night; so she comforted the children and talked with them about their mother, and piled pancakes on their plates until they could not hold another mouthful. Then she helped them milk the goats, and when the sun went down, sent them to bed so they would be well rested for their long walk the next day.