Rivers of Ice
by R. M. Ballantyne
Chapter I. THE ROVER'S RETURN.
Chapter II. THE SEAMAN TAKES THE “CABIN” BY SURPRISE AND STORM.
Chapter III. DIFFICULTIES AMONG THE SOCIAL SUMMITS.
Chapter IV. SHOWS HOW THE CAPTAIN CAME TO AN ANCHOR, AND CONCEIVED A DEEP
Chapter V. IN WHICH SEVERAL IMPORTANT MATTERS ARE ARRANGED, AND GILLIE WHITE
UNDERGOES SOME REMARKABLE AND HITHERTO UNKNOWN EXPERIENCES.
Chapter VI. A LESSON TAUGHT AND LEARNED.
Chapter VII. THE GREAT WHITE MOUNTAIN.
Chapter VIII. INTRODUCES THE READER TO VARIOUS PERSONAGES, AND TOUCHES ON
Chapter IX. A SOLID STREAM.
Chapter X. THE FIRST EXCURSION.
Chapter XI. THE PURSUIT OF SCIENCE UNDER DIFFICULTIES.
Chapter XII. IN WHICH GILLIE IS SAGACIOUS, AN EXCURSION IS UNDERTAKEN, WONDROUS
SIGHTS ARE SEEN, AND AVALANCHES OF MORE KINDS THAN ONE ARE ENCOUNTERED.
Chapter XIII. SHOWS WHAT DANGERS MAY BE ENCOUNTERED IN THE PURSUIT OF ART AND
Chapter XIV. THE GRAND ASCENT BEGUN.
Chapter XV. THE GRAND ASCENT CONTINUED AND COMPLETED.
Chapter XVI. TELLS HOW LEWIS DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF.
Chapter XVII. DANGER AND DEATH ON THE GLACIER.
Chapter XVIII. A MYSTERY CLEARED UP.
Chapter XIX. MOUNTAINEERING IN GENERAL.
Chapter XX. RECORDS A SERIOUS EVENT.
Chapter XXI. DOWN IN THE MORAINE AT LAST.
Chapter XXII. MYSTERIOUS PROCEEDINGS OF THE CAPTAIN AND GILLIE.
Chapter XXIII. THE CAPTAIN SURPRISES HIS FRIENDS IN VARIOUS WAYS, AND IS HIMSELF
Chapter XXIV. IN WHICH TREMENDOUS FORCES COME TO THE CAPTAIN'S AID.
Chapter XXV. AN UNEXPECTED GEM FOUND.
Chapter XXVI. THE DENOUEMENT.
Chapter XXVII. THE LAST.
Chapter I. THE ROVER'S RETURN.
On a certain summer morning, about the middle of the present
century, a big bluff man, of seafaring aspect, found himself sauntering
in a certain street near London Bridge. He was a man of above fifty,
but looked under forty in consequence of the healthful vigour of his
frame, the freshness of his saltwater face, and the blackness of his
Although his gait, pilot-cloth coat, and pocketed hands proclaimed
him a sailor, there were one or two contradictory points about him. A
huge beard and moustache savoured more of the diggings than the deep,
and a brown wide-awake with a prodigiously broad brim suggested the
Pausing at the head of one of those narrow lanes which—running down
between warehouses, filthy little rag and bone shops, and low poverty-stricken dwellings—appear to terminate their career, not unwillingly,
in the Thames, the sailor gazed before him with nautical earnestness
for a few seconds, then glanced at the corner house for a name; found
no name; cast his eyes up to the strip of blue sky overhead, as if for
inspiration; obtained none; planted his legs wide apart as if he had
observed a squall coming, and expected the lane to lurch heavily
—wrinkled his eyebrows, and pursed his lips.
“Lost yer bearin's, capp'n?” exclaimed a shrill pert voice at his
The seaman looked down, and beheld a small boy with a head like a
disorderly door-mat, and garments to match. He stood in what may be
styled an imitative attitude, with his hands thrust into his ragged
pockets, his little legs planted wide apart, his cap thrust well back
on his head, and his eyebrows wrinkled. He also pursed his lips to such
an extent that they resembled a rosebud in a dirty bush.
“Yes, imp,” replied the seaman—he meant to have said “impudence,”
but stopped at the first syllable as being sufficiently appropriate—
“yes, imp, I HAVE lost my bearings, and I'll give you a copper if
you'll help me to find 'em.”
“Wot sort o' copper?” demanded the urchin, “there's three sorts of
'em, you know, in this 'ere kingdom—which appears to be a queendom at
present—there's a farding and a ha'penny and a penny. I mention it,
capp'n,” he added apologetically, “in case you don't know, for you look
as if you'd come from furrin parts.”
The seaman's look of surprise melted into a broad grin of amusement
while this speech was being fluently delivered. At its conclusion he
pulled out a penny and held it up.
“Well, it ain't much,” said the small boy, “and I ain't used to hire
myself out so cheap. However, as you seem to be raither poorly off, I
don't mind if I lend you a hand for that. Only, please, don't mention
it among your friends, as it would p'raps lower their opinion of you,
d'you see? Now then w'ot d'you want to know?”
To this the “capp'n,” still smiling at the small boy's precocious
insolence, replied that he was in search of an old woman who dwelt in a
small court styled Grubb's Court, so he was told, which lay somewhere
in that salubrious neighbourhood, and asked if he, the imp, knew of
such a place.
“Know's of it? I should think I does. W'y, I lives there. It's right
down at the foot o' this 'ere lane, an' a wery sweet 'ristocratik spot
it is—quite a perninsular, bein' land, leastwise mud, a'most
surrounded by water, the air bein' 'ighly condoosive to the 'ealth of
rats, likewise cats. As to old women, there's raither a broad
sprinklin' of 'em in the court, rangin' from the ages of seventy to a
hundred an twenty, more or less, an' you'll take some time to go over
'em all, capp'n, if you don't know your old woman's name.”
“Her name is Roby—,” said the seaman.
“O, Roby? ah,” returned the small boy, looking sedately at the
ground, “let me see—yes, that's the name of the old 'ooman, I think,
wot 'angs out in the cabin, right-'and stair, top floor, end of the
passage, w'ere most wisiters flattens their noses, by consekince of
there bein' no light, and a step close to the door which inwariably
trips 'em up. Most wisiters to that old 'ooman begins their
acquaintance with her by knocking at her door with their noses instead
of their knuckles. We calls her place the cabin, 'cause the windows is
raither small, and over'angs the river.”
“Well then, my lad,” said the seaman, “clap a stopper on your
tongue, if you can, and heave ahead.”
“All right, capp'n,” returned the small boy, “foller me, an' don't
be frightened. Port your helm a bit here, there's a quicksand in the
middle o' the track—so, steady!”
Avoiding a large pool of mud with which the head of the lane was
garnished, and which might have been styled the bathing, not to say
wallowing, quarters of the Grubb's Court juveniles, the small boy led
the bluff seaman towards the river without further remark, diverging
only once from the straight road for a few seconds, for the purpose of
making a furious rush at a sleeping cat with a yell worthy of a
Cherokee savage, or a locomotive whistle; a slight pleasantry which had
the double effect of shooting the cat through space in glaring
convulsions, and filling the small boy's mind with the placidity which
naturally follows a great success.
The lane presented this peculiarity, that the warehouses on its left
side became more and more solid and vast and tall as they neared the
river, while the shops and dwellings on its right became poorer,
meaner, and more diminutive in the same direction, as if there were
some mysterious connection between them, which involved the adversity
of the one in exact proportion to the prosperity of the other. Children
and cats appeared to be the chief day-population of the place, and
these disported themselves among the wheels of enormous waggons, and
the legs of elephantine horses with an impunity which could only have
been the result of life-long experience.
The seaman was evidently unaccustomed to such scenes, for more than
once during the short period of his progress down the lane, he uttered
an exclamation of alarm, and sprang to the rescue of those large babies
which are supposed to have grown sufficiently old to become nursing
mothers to smaller babies—acts which were viewed with a look of pity
by the small boy, and called from him the encouraging observations,
“Keep your mind easy, capp'n; THEY'RE all right, bless you; the hosses
knows 'em, and wouldn't 'urt 'em on no account.”
“This is Grubb's Court,” said the boy, turning sharply to the right
and passing through a low archway.
“Thank 'ee, lad,” said the seaman, giving him a sixpence.
The small boy opened his eyes very wide indeed, exclaiming, “Hallo!
I say, capp'n, wot's this?” at the same time, however, putting the coin
in his pocket with an air which plainly said, “Whether you've made a
mistake or not, you needn't expect to get it back again.”
Evidently the seaman entertained no such expectations, for he turned
away and became absorbed in the scene around him.
It was not cheering. Though the summer sun was high and powerful, it
failed to touch the broken pavement of Grubb's Court, or to dry up the
moisture which oozed from it and crept up the walls of the surrounding
houses. Everything was very old, very rotten, very crooked, and very
dirty. The doorways round the court were wide open—always open—in
some cases, because of there being no doors; in other cases, because
the tenements to which they led belonged to a variety of families,
largely composed of children who could not, even on tiptoe, reach or
manipulate door-handles. Nursing mothers of two feet high were
numerous, staggering about with nurslings of a foot and a half long. A
few of the nurslings, temporarily abandoned by the premature mothers,
lay sprawling—in some cases squalling—on the moist pavement, getting
over the ground like large snails, and leaving slimy tracks behind
them. Little boys, of the “City Arab” type, were sprinkled here and
there, and one or two old women sat on door-steps contemplating the
scene, or conversing with one or two younger women. Some of the latter
were busy washing garments so dirty, that the dirty water of old Father
Thames seemed quite a suitable purifier.
“Gillie,” cried one of the younger women referred to, wiping the
soap- suds from her red arms, “come here, you bad, naughty boy. W'ere
'ave you bin? I want you to mind baby.”
“W'y, mother,” cried the small boy—who answered to the name of
Gillie—“don't you see I'm engaged? I'm a-showin' this 'ere sea- capp'n
the course he's got to steer for port. He wants to make the cabin of
old mother Roby.”
“W'y don't you do it quickly, then?” demanded Gillie's mother, “you
bad, naughty, wicked boy. Beg your parding, sir,” she added, to the
seaman, “the boy 'an't got no sense, besides bein' wicked and naughty
—'e ain't 'ad no train', sir, that's w'ere it is, all along of my
'avin' too much to do, an' a large family, sir, with no 'usband to
speak of; right up the stair, sir, to the top, and along the passage-door straight before you at the hend of it. Mind the step, sir, w'en
you gits up. Go up with the gentleman, you bad, wicked, naughty boy,
The remainder of the sentence became confused in distance, as the
boy and the seaman climbed the stair; but a continuous murmuring sound,
as of a vocal torrent, conveyed the assurance that the mother of Gillie
was still holding forth.
“'Ere it is,” said the young pilot, pausing at the top of the
staircase, near the entrance to a very dark passage. “Keep 'er 'ead as
she goes, but I'd recommend you to shorten sail, mind your 'elm, an
'ave the anchor ready to let go.”
Having thus accommodated his language to the supposed intelligence
of the seaman, the elfin youth stood listening with intense eagerness
and expectation as the other went into the passage, and, by sundry
kicks and bumps against wooden walls, gave evidence that he found the
channel intricate. Presently a terrible kick occurred. This was the
seaman's toe against the step, of which he had been warned, but which
he had totally forgotten; then a softer, but much heavier blow, was
heard, accompanied by a savage growl—that was the seaman's nose and
forehead against old Mrs. Roby's portal.
At this, Gillie's expectations were realised, and his joy
consummated. With mischievous glee sparkling in his eyes, he hastened
down to the Court to exhibit his sixpence to his mother, and to
announce to all whom it might concern, that “the sea-capp'n had run his
jib-boom slap through the old 'ooman's cabin-door.”
Chapter II. THE SEAMAN TAKES THE
“CABIN” BY SURPRISE AND STORM.
Without having done precisely what Gillie had asserted of him, our
seaman had in truth made his way into the presence of the little old
woman who inhabited “the cabin,” and stood there gazing round him as if
lost in wonder; and well he might be, for the woman and cabin, besides
being extremely old, were exceedingly curious, quaint, and small.
The former was wrinkled to such an extent, that you could not have
found a patch of smooth skin large enough for a pea to rest on. Her
teeth were all gone, back and front, and her nose, which was straight
and well-formed, made almost successful attempts to meet a chin which
had once been dimpled, but was now turned up. The mouth between them
wore a benignant and a slightly humorous expression; the eyes, which
were bright, black, and twinkling, seemed to have defied the ravages of
time. Her body was much bent as she sat in her chair, and a pair of
crutches leaning against the chimney-piece suggested the idea that it
would not be much straighter if she stood up. She was wrapped in a
large, warm shawl, and wore a high cap, which fitted so close round her
little visage, that hair, if any, was undistinguishable.
The room in which she sat resembled the cabin of a ship in more
respects than one. It was particularly low in the root so low that the
seaman's hair touched it as he stood there looking round him; and
across this roof ran a great beam, from which hung a variety of curious
ornaments, such as a Chinese lantern, a Turkish scimitar, a New Zealand
club, an Eastern shield, and the model of a full-rigged ship. Elsewhere
on the walls were, an ornamented dagger, a worsted- work sampler, a
framed sheet of the flags of all nations, a sou'-wester cap and oiled
coat, a telescope, and a small staring portrait of a sea-captain in his
“go-to-meeting” clothes, which looked very much out of keeping with his
staring sunburnt face, and were a bad fit. It might have been a good
likeness, and was certainly the work of one who might have raised
himself to the rank of a Royal Academician if he had possessed
sufficient talent and who might have painted well if he had understood
the principles of drawing and colour.
The windows of the apartment, of which there were two very small
square ones, looked out upon the river, and, to some extent overhung
it, so that a man of sanguine temperament might have enjoyed fishing
from them, if he could have been content to catch live rats and dead
cats. The prospect from these windows was, however, the best of them,
being a wide reach of the noble river, crowded with its stately craft,
and cut up by its ever-bustling steamers. But the most noteworthy part
of this room, or “cabin,” was the space between the two windows
immediately over the chimney-piece, which the eccentric old woman had
covered with a large, and, in some cases, inappropriate assortment of
objects, by way of ornament, each article being cleaned and polished to
the highest possible condition of which it was susceptible. A group of
five photographs of children—three girls and two boys, looking amazed
—formed the centrepiece of the design; around these were five other
photographs of three young ladies and two young gentlemen, looking
conscious, but pleased. The spaces between these, and every available
space around them, were occupied by pot-lids of various sizes, old and
battered, but shining like little suns; small looking- glasses, also of
various sizes, some square and others round; little strings of beads;
heads of meerschaums that had been much used in former days;
pin-cushions, shell-baskets, one or two horse-shoes, and iron-heels of
boots; several flat irons belonging to doll's houses, with a couple of
dolls, much the worse for wear, mounting guard over them; besides a
host of other nick-nacks, for which it were impossible to find names or
imagine uses. Everything—from the old woman's cap to the uncarpeted
floor, and the little grate in which a little fire was making feeble
efforts to warm a little tea-kettle with a defiant spout—was
scrupulously neat, and fresh, and clean, very much the reverse of what
one might have expected to find in connection with a poverty-stricken
population, a dirty lane, a filthy court, a rickety stair, and a dark
passage. Possibly the cause might have been found in a large and
much-worn family Bible, which lay on a small table in company with a
pair of tortoiseshell spectacles, at the old woman's elbow.
On this scene the nautical man stood gazing, as we have said, with
much interest; but he was too polite to gaze long.
“Your servant, missis,” he said with a somewhat clumsy bow.
“Good morning, sir,” said the little old woman, returning the bow
with the air of one who had once seen better society than that of
“Your name is Roby, I believe,” continued the seaman, advancing, and
looking so large in comparison with the little room that he seemed
almost to fill it.
The little old woman admitted that that was her name.
“My name,” said the seaman, “is Wopper, tho' I'm oftener called
Skipper, also Capp'n, by those who know me.”
Mrs. Roby pointed to a chair and begged Captain Wopper to sit down,
which he did after bestowing a somewhat pointed glance at the chair, as
if to make sure that it could bear him.
“You was a nuss once, I'm told,” continued the seaman, looking
steadily at Mrs. Roby as he sat down.
“I was,” answered the old woman, glancing at the photographs over
the chimney-piece, “in the same family for many years.”
“You'll excuse me, ma'am,” continued the seaman, “if I appear
something inquisitive, I want to make sure that I've boarded the right
craft d'ee see—I mean, that you are the right 'ooman.”
A look of surprise, not unmingled with humour, beamed from Mrs.
Roby's twinkling black eyes as she gazed steadily in the seaman's face,
but she made no other acknowledgment of his speech than a slight
inclination of her head, which caused her tall cap to quiver. Captain
Wopper, regarding this as a favourable sign, went on.
“You was once, ma'am, I'm told, before bein' a nuss in the family of
which you've made mention, a matron, or somethin' o' that sort, in a
foundlin' hospital—in your young days, ma'am?”
Again Mrs. Roby admitted the charge, and demanded to know, “what
“Ah, jus' so—that's what I'm comin' to,” said Captain Wopper,
drawing his large hand over his beard. “You was present in that
hospital, ma'am, was you not, one dark November morning, when a porter-cask was left at the door by some person unknown, who cut his cable and
cleared off before the door was opened,—which cask, havin' on its head
two Xs, and bein' labelled, `This side up, with care,' contained two
healthy little babby boys?”
Mrs. Roby, becoming suddenly grave and interested, again said, “I
“Jus' so,” continued the captain, “you seem to be the right craft—
'ooman, I mean—that I'm in search of. These two boys, who were
supposed to be brothers, because of their each havin' a brown mole of
exactly the same size and shape on their left arms, just below their
elbows, were named `Stout,' after the thing in which they was headed
up, the one bein' christened James, the other Willum?”
“Yes, yes,” replied the little old woman eagerly, “and a sweet
lovely pair they was when the head of that barrel was took off, lookin'
out of the straw in which they was packed like two little cheruphims,
though they did smell strong of the double X, and was a little elevated
because of the fumes that 'ung about the wood. But how do you come to
know all this, sir, and why do you ask?”
“Excuse me, ma'am,” replied the sailor with a smile, which curled up
his huge moustache expressively,—“you shall know presently, but I must
make quite sure that I'm aboard of—that is to say, that you ARE the
right 'ooman. May I ask, ma'am, what became of these two cheruphims, as
you've very properly named 'em?”
“Certainly,” answered Mrs. Roby, “the elder boy—we considered him
the elder, because he was the first took out of the barrel—was a
stoodious lad, and clever. He got into a railway company, I believe,
and became a rich man—married a lady, I'm told,—and changed his name
to Stoutley, so 'tis said, not thinkin' his right name suitable to his
circumstances, which, to say truth, it wasn't, because he was very
thin. I've heard it said that his family was extravagant, and that he
went to California to seek his brother, and look after some property,
and died there, but I'm not rightly sure, for he was a close boy, and
latterly I lost all knowledge of him and his family.”
“And the other cheruphim, Willum,” said the sailor, “what of him?”
“Ah!” exclaimed Mrs. Roby, a flush suffusing her wrinkled
countenance, while her black eyes twinkled more than usual, “he was a
jewel, HE was. They said in the hospital that he was a wild
good-for-nothing boy, but I never thought him so. He was always fond of
me—very fond of me, and I of him. It is true he could never settle to
anythink, and at last ran away to sea, when about twelve year old; but
he didn't remain long at that either, for when he got to California, he
left his ship, and was not heard of for a long time after that. I
thought he was dead or drowned, but at last I got a letter from him,
enclosing money, an' saying he had been up at the noo gold-diggings,
an' had been lucky, dear boy, and he wanted to share his luck with me,
an would never, never, forget me; but he didn't need to send me money
to prove that. He has continued to send me a little every year since
then;—ah! it's many, many years now,—ay, ay, many years.”
She sighed, and looked wistfully at the spark of fire in the grate
that was making ineffectual attempts to boil the little tea-kettle with
the defiant spout; “but why,” she continued, looking up suddenly, “why
do you ask about him?”
“Because I knew him,” replied Captain Wopper, searching for
something which appeared to be lost in the depths of one of his
capacious pockets. “Willum Stout was a chum of mine. We worked together
at the Californy gold-mines for many a year as partners, and, when at
last we'd made what we thought enough, we gave it up an' came down to
San Francisco together, an' set up a hotel, under the name of the
`Jolly Tars,' by Stout and Co. I was the Co., ma'am; an', for the
matter o' that I may say I was the Stout too, for both of us answered
to the Stout or the Co., accordin' as we was addressed, d'ee see? When
Co. thought he'd made enough money to entitle him to a holiday, he came
home, as you see; but before leavin', Willum said to him, `Co., my lad,
w'en you get home, you'll go and see that old 'oom of the name of Roby,
whom I've often told you about. She lives in Lunun, somewheres down by
the river in a place called Grubb's Court. She was very good to me,
that old 'oom was, when she was young, as I've told you before. You go
an' give her my blessin'—Willum's blessin'—and this here bag and that
there letter.' `Yes,' says I, `Willum, I'll do it, my boy, as soon as
ever I set futt on British soil.' I did set futt on British soil this
morning, and there's the letter; also the bag; so, you see, old lady,
I've kep' my promise.”
Captain Wopper concluded by placing a small but heavy canvas bag,
and a much-soiled letter, in Mrs. Roby's lap.
To say that the little old woman seized the letter with eager
delight, would convey but a faint idea of her feelings as she opened it
with trembling hands, and read it with her bright black eyes.
She read it half aloud, mingled with commentary, as she proceeded,
and once or twice came to a pause over an illegible word, on which
occasions her visitor helped her to the word without looking at the
letter. This circumstance struck her at last as somewhat singular, for
she looked up suddenly, and said, “You appear, sir, to be familiar with
the contents of my letter.”
“That's true, ma'am,” replied Captain Wopper, who had been regarding
the old woman with a benignant smile; “Willum read it to me before I
left, a-purpose to enable me to translate the ill-made pot-hooks and
hangers, because, d'ee see, we were more used to handlin' the pick and
shovel out there than the pen, an' Willum used to say he never was much
of a dab at a letter. He never wrote you very long ones, ma'am, I
Mrs. Roby looked at the fire pensively, and said, in a low voice, as
if to herself rather than her visitor, “No, they were not long—never
very long—but always kind and sweet to me—very sweet—ay, ay, it's a
long, long time now, a long time, since he came to me here and asked
for a night's lodging.”
“Did you give it him, ma'am?” asked the captain. “Give it him!”
exclaimed Mrs. Roby, with sudden energy, “of course I did. The poor boy
was nigh starving. How could I refuse him? It is true I had not much to
give, for the family I was with as nuss had failed and left me in great
distress, through my savings bein' in their hands; and that's what
brought me to this little room long, long ago—ay, ay. But no blame to
the family, sir, no blame at all. They couldn't help failin', an' the
young ones, when they grew up, did not forget their old nuss, though
they ain't rich, far from it; and it's what they give me that enables
me to pay my rent and stay on here—God bless 'em.”
She looked affectionately at the daguerreotypes which hung, in the
midst of the sheen and glory of pot-lids, beads, and looking-glasses,
above the chimney-piece.
“You gave him, meanin' Willum, nothing else, I suppose?” asked the
captain, with a knowing look; “such, for instance, as a noo suit of
clothes, because of his bein' so uncommon ragged that he looked as if
he had bin captured in a clumsy sort of net that it would not have been
difficult to break through and escape from naked; also a few shillin's,
bein' your last, to pay his way down to Gravesend, where the ship was
lyin', that you had, through interest with the owners, got him a berth
“Ah!” returned Mrs. Roby, shaking her head and smiling gently, “I
see that William has told you all about it.”
“He has, ma'am,” replied Captain Wopper, with a decisive nod. “You
see, out in the gold-fields of Californy, we had long nights together
in our tent, with nothin' to do but smoke our pipes, eat our grub, and
spin yarns, for we had no books nor papers, nothin' to read except a
noo Testament, and we wouldn't have had even that, ma'am, but for
yourself. It was the Testament you gave to Willum at partin', an' very
fond of it he was, bein' your gift. You see, at the time we went to
Californy, there warn't many of us as cared for the Word of God. Most
of us was idolaters that had run away from home, our chief gods—for we
had many of 'em—bein' named Adventure, Excitement and Gold; though
there was some noble exceptions, too. But, as I was saying, we had so
much time on our hands that we recalled all our past adventures
together over and over again, and, you may be sure, ma'am, that your
name and kindness was not forgotten. There was another name,” continued
Captain Wopper, drawing his chair nearer the fire, crossing his legs
and stroking his beard as he looked up at the dingy ceiling, “that
Willum often thought about and spoke of. It was the name of a
gentleman, a clerk in the Customs, I believe, who saved his life one
day when he fell into the river just below the bridge.”
“Mr. Lawrence,” said the old woman, promptly.
“Ah! Mr. Lawrence; yes, that's the name,” continued the Captain.
“Willum was very grateful to him, and bid me try to find him out and
tell him so. Is he alive?”
“Dead,” said Mrs. Roby, shaking her head sadly.
The seaman appeared much concerned on hearing this. For some time he
did not speak, and then said that he had been greatly interested in
that gentleman through Willum's account of him.
“Had he left any children?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Roby told him; “one son, who had been educated as a
doctor, and had become a sort of a city missionary, and was as pleasant
a young gentleman as she ever knew.”
“So, then, you know him?” said the Captain.
“Know him! I should think so. Why, this is the district where he
visits, and a kind friend he is to the poor, though he IS bashful a
bit, an' seems to shrink from pushin' himself where he's not wanted.”
“Not the less a friend to the poor on that account,” thought Captain
Wopper; but he said nothing, and Mrs. Roby went on:—
“You see, his father before him did a great deal for the poor in a
quiet way here, as I have reason to know, this district lying near his
office, and handy, as it were. Long after the time when he saved
Willum's life, he married a sweet young creeter, who helped him in
visitin' the poor, but she caught fever among 'em and died, when their
only son George was about ten year old. George had been goin' about
with his mother on her visits, and seemed very fond of her and of the
people, dear child; and after she died, he used to continue coming with
his father. Then he went to school and college and became a young
doctor, and only last year he came back to us, so changed for the
better that none of us would have known him but for his kindly voice
and fine manly-looking manner. His shyness, too, has stuck to him a
little, but it does not seem to hinder him now as it once did. Ah!”
continued Mrs. Roby, in a sympathetic tone, “it's a great misfortune to
She looked pensively at the little fire and shook her tall cap at
it, as if it or the defiant tea-kettle were answerable for something in
reference to shyness.
“Yes, it's a great misfortune to be shy,” she repeated. “Were you
ever troubled with that complaint, Captain Wopper?”
The Captain's moustache curled at the corners as he stroked his
beard, and said that really, on consideration, he was free to confess
that he never had been convicted of that sin.
Mrs. Roby bestowed on him a look of admiration, and continued,
“Well, as I have said—”
She was interrupted at this point by the entrance of an active
little girl, with the dirtiest face and sweetest expression imaginable,
with garments excessively ragged, blue eyes that sparkled as they
looked at you, a mouth that seemed made for kissing, if only it had
been clean, and golden hair that would have fallen in clustering curls
on her neck, if it had not been allowed to twist itself into something
like a yellow door-mat which rendered a bonnet unnecessary.
Bestowing a glance of surprise on the seaman, but without uttering a
word, she went smartly to a corner and drew into the middle of the room
a round table with one leg and three feet, whose accommodating top
having been previously flat against the wall, fell down horizontal and
fixed itself with a snap. On this the earnest little woman, quickly and
neatly, spread a fairish linen cloth, and proceeded to arrange thereon
a small tea-pot and cup and saucer, with other materials, for an early
“Two cups, Netta, my dear,” said Mrs. Roby.
“Yes, grannie,” replied Netta, in a soft quick, little voice.
“Your grandchild?” asked the Captain.
“No; a neighbour's child, who is very kind to me. She calls me
grannie, because I like it. But, as I was saying,” continued Mrs. Roby,
“young Dr. Lawrence came back last year and began to visit us in the
old way, intending to continue, he said, until he got a situation of
some sort in the colonies, I believe; but I do hope he'll not be
obliged to leave us, for he has bin a great blessin' to this
neighbourhood, only he gets little pay for his work, I fear, and
appears to have little of his own to live on, poor young man.—Now,
Captain Wopper, you'll stop and have a cup of tea with me. I take it
early, you see,—in truth, I make a sort of dinner of it,—and we can
have a talk about William over it. I'm proud to have a friend of his at
my table, sir, I do assure you, though it IS a poor one.”
Captain Wopper accepted the invitation heartily, and thought, though
he said nothing, that it was indeed a poor table, seeing that the only
food on it besides the very weak tea in the wonderfully small pot,
consisted of one small loaf of bread.
“Netta,” exclaimed Mrs. Roby, with a look of surprise, “there's no
butter! Go, fetch it, dear.”
Mrs. Roby was, or thought herself, a remarkably deep character. She
spoke to Netta openly, but, in secret, bestowed a meaning glance on
her, and slipped a small coin into her hand. The dirty, sweet-faced
damsel replied by a remarkably knowing wink—all of which by-play, with
the reason for it, was as clear to Captain Wopper as if it had been
elaborately explained to him. But the Captain was a discreet man. He
became deeply absorbed in daguerreotypes and sauce-pan lids above the
fireplace, to the exclusion of all else.
“You've forgotten the bag, ma'am,” said the Captain, drawing his
chair nearer the table.
“So I have; dear me, what is it?” cried Mrs. Roby, taking it up.
“Gold!” said the Captain.
“Gold?” exclaimed the old nurse.
“Ay, nuggets,” said the seaman, opening it and emptying its contents
on the table.
As the old nurse gazed on the yellow heap her black eyes glittered
with pleasure, as though they had derived additional lustre from the
precious metal, and she drew them towards her with a trembling, almost
greedy, motion, at sight of which Captain Wopper's countenance became
“And did Willie send this to me, dear boy?”
“He did, ma'am, hoping that it would be of use in the way of making
your home more comfortable, and enabling you to keep a better table.”
He glanced uneasily round the poor room and at the small loaf as he
spoke, and the old woman observed the glance.
“It is very kind of him, very kind,” continued Mrs Roby. “What may
it be worth, now?”
“Forty pounds, more or less,” answered the Captain.
Again the old woman's eyes sparkled greedily, and again the seaman's
“Surely, ma'am,” said the Captain, gravely, “things must be uncommon
dear in London, for you tell me that Willum has sent you a deal of
money in time past, but you don't seem to be much the better for it.”
“Captain Wopper,” said Mrs. Roby, putting her hand lightly on the
Captain's arm as it lay on the table, and looking earnestly into his
face, “if you had not been an old and valued friend of my dear Willie
—which I learn that you are from his letter—I would have said your
remark was a rude one; but, being what you are, I don't mind telling
you that I save up every penny I can scrape together for little Netta
White, the girl that has just gone out to fetch the butter. Although
she's not well cared for,—owing to her mother, who's a washerwoman,
bein' overburdened with work and a drunken husband,—she's one of the
dearest creeters I ever did see. Bless you, sir, you'd be amazed if you
knew all the kind and thoughtful things that untrained and uncared for
child does, and never thinks she's doing anything more than other
people. It's all along of her mother's spirit, which is as good as
gold. Some months ago Little Netta happened to be up here when I was at
tea, and, seeing the difficulty I had to move about with my old
rheumatic limbs, she said she'd come and set out my tea and breakfast
for me; and she's done it, sir, from that time to this, expecting
nothing fur it, and thinking I'm too poor to give her anything. But
she's mistaken,” continued Mrs. Roby, with a triumphant twinkle in her
black eyes, “she doesn't know that I've made a confidant of her brother
Gillie, and give him a sixpence now and then to give to his mother
without telling where he got it, and she doesn't know that I'm saving
up to be able to leave something to her when I'm called home—it can't
be long, now; it can't be long.”
“Old 'ooman,” cried Captain Wopper, whose face had brightened
wonderfully during this explanation, “give us your flip—your hand. I
honour your heart, ma'am, and I've no respect whatever for your brain!”
“I'm not sure that that's a compliment,” said Mrs. Roby, with a
Captain Wopper assured her with much solemnity that it might or
might not be a compliment, but it was a fact. “Why, look here,” said
he, “you go and starve yourself, and deny yourself all sorts of little
comforts—what then? Why, you'll die long before your time, which is
very like taking the law into your own hands, ma'am, and then you won't
leave to Netta nearly as much as you might if you had taken care of
yourself and lived longer, and saved up after a reasonable fashion.
It's sheer madness. Why, ma'am, you're starving NOW, but I'll put a
stop to that. Don't you mind, now, whether I'm rude or not. You can't
expect anything else from an old gold-digger, who has lived for years
where there were no women except such as appeared to be made of
mahogany, with nothing to cover 'em but a coating of dirt and a blue
skirt. Besides, Willum told me at parting to look after you and see
that you wanted for nothing, which I promised faithfully to do. You've
some regard for Willum's wishes, ma'am?—you wouldn't have me break my
promises to Willum, would you?”
The Captain said this with immense rapidity and vigour, and finished
it with such a blow of his heavy fist on the little table that the cups
and plates danced, and the lid of the little tea-pot leaped up as if
its heart were about to come out of its mouth. Mrs. Roby was so taken
by surprise that she could not speak for a few seconds, and before she
had recovered sufficiently to do so, Little Netta came in with the
“Now, ma'am,” resumed the Captain, when the girl had retired,
“here's where it is. With your leave I'll reveal my plans to you, and
ask your advice. When I was about to leave Californy, Willum told me
first of all to go and find YOU out, and give you that letter and bag
of nuggets, which I've done. `Then,' says he, `Wopper, you go and find
out my brother Jim's widow, and give 'em my love an' dooty, and this
letter, and this bag of nuggets,'—said letter and bag, ma'am, bein'
now in my chest aboard ship. `So,' says I, `Willum, I will—trust me.'
`I do,' says he; `and, Wopper,' says he, `keep your weather eye open,
my boy, w'en you go to see 'em, because I've my suspicions, from what
my poor brother said on his deathbed, when he was wandering in his
mind, that his widow is extravagant. I don't know,' Willum goes on to
say, `what the son may be, but there's that cousin, Emma Gray, that
lives in the house with 'em, SHE'S all right. SHE'S corresponded with
me, off an' on, since ever she could write, and my brother bein'
something lazy, poor fellar, through havin' too much to do I fancy, got
to throw all the letter-writin' on her shoulders. You take special note
of HER, Wopper, and if it should seem to you that they don't treat her
well, you let me know.' `Willum,' says I, `I will—trust me.' `Well,
then,' says Willum, `there's one other individooal I want you to ferret
out, that's the gentleman—he must be an old gentleman now—that saved
my life when I was a lad, Mr. Lawrence by name. You try to find HIM out
and if you can do him a good turn, do it.' `Willum,' says I, `I'll do
it—trust me.' `I do,' says he, `and when may I expect you back in
Californy, Wopper?' `Willum,' says I, `that depends.' `True,' says he,
`it does. Give us you're flipper, old boy, we may never meet again in
these terrestrial diggings. Good luck to you. Don't forget my last will
an' testimony as now expressed.' `Willum,' says I, `I won't.' So,
ma'am, I left Californy with a sacred trust, so to speak, crossed the
sea, and here I am.”
At this point Captain Wopper, having warmed in his subject, took in
at one bite as much of the small loaf as would have been rather a heavy
dinner for Mrs. Roby, and emptied at one gulp a full cup of her tea,
after which he stroked his beard, smiled benignantly at his hostess,
became suddenly earnest again, and went on—chewing as he spoke.
“Now, ma'am, I've three questions to ask: in the first place, as
it's not possible now to do a good turn to old Mr. Lawrence, I must do
it to his son. Can you tell me where he lives?”
Mrs. Roby told him that it was in a street not far from where they
sat, in a rather poor lodging.
“Secondly, ma'am, can you tell me where Willum's sister-in-law
lives,—Mrs. Stout, ALIAS Stoutley?”
“No, Captain Wopper, but I daresay Mr. Lawrence can. He knows 'most
everythink, and has a London Directory.”
“Good. Now, in the third place, where am I to find a lodging?”
Mrs. Roby replied that there were plenty to be found in London of
“You haven't a spare room here, have you?” said the Captain, looking
Mrs. Roby shook her head and said that she had not; and, besides,
that if she had, it would be impossible for her to keep a lodger, as
she had no servant, and could not attend on him herself.
“Mrs. Roby,” said the Captain, “a gold-digging seaman don't want no
servant, nor no attendance. What's up aloft?”
By pointing to a small trap-door in the ceiling, he rendered the
“It's a garret, I believe,” replied Mrs. Roby, smiling; “but having
no ladder, I've never been up.”
“You've no objection to my taking a look, have you?” asked the
“None in the world,” replied the old woman. Without more ado the
seaman rose, mounted on a chair, pushed open the trap-door, thrust his
head and shoulders through, and looked round. Apparently the inspection
was not deemed sufficiently close, for, to the old woman's alarm and
inexpressible surprise, he seized the edges of the hole with his strong
hands, raised himself up, and finally disappeared in the regions above!
The alarm of the old woman was somewhat increased by the sound of her
visitor's heavy tread on the boards overhead as he stumbled about.
Presently his head appeared looking down through the trap. In any
aspect, Captain Wopper's shaggy head was an impressive one; but viewed
in an upside-down position, with the blood running into it, it was
“I say, old lady,” he shouted, as if his position recalled the
action and induced the tones of a boatswain, “it'll do. A capital
berth, with two portholes and a bunk.”
The Captain's head disappeared, and immediately his legs took its
place, suggesting the outrageous idea that he had thrown a somersault.
Next moment his huge body slid down, and he stood on the floor much
flushed and covered with dust.
“Now, old girl, is it to be?” he said, sitting down at the table.
“Will you take me as a lodger, for better and for worse? I'll fit up
the berth on the main-deck, and be my own servant as well as your's.
Say the word.”
“I can refuse nothing to Willie's friend,” said old Mrs. Roby, “but
“Done, it's a bargain,” interrupted the Captain, rising abruptly.
“Now, I'll go visit young Mr. Lawrence and Mrs. Stoutley, and to-morrow I'll bring my kit, take possession of my berth, and you and I
shall sail in company, I hope, and be messmates for some time to come.”
Chapter III. DIFFICULTIES AMONG THE
In one of the many mansions of the “west end” of London, a lady
reclined one morning on a sofa wishing that it were afternoon. She was
a middle-aged, handsome, sickly lady. If it had been afternoon she
would have wished that it were evening, and if it had been evening she
would have wished for the morning; for Mrs. Stoutley was one of those
languid invalids whose enjoyment appears to be altogether in the future
or the past, and who seem to have no particular duties connected with
the present except sighing and wishing. It may be that this unfortunate
condition of mind had something to do with Mrs. Stoutley's feeble state
of health. If she had been a little more thoughtful about others, and
less mindful of herself, she might, perhaps, have sighed and wished
less, and enjoyed herself more. At all events her doctor seemed to
entertain some such opinion, for, sitting in an easy chair beside her,
and looking earnestly at her handsome, worn-out countenance, he said,
somewhat abruptly, being a blunt doctor.
“You must go abroad, madam, and try to get your mind, as well as
your body, well shaken up.”
“Why, doctor,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, with a faint smile; “you talk
of me as if I were a bottle of physic or flat ginger-beer.”
“You are little better, silly woman,” thought the doctor, but his
innate sense of propriety induced him only to say, with a smile, “Well,
there is at least this much resemblance between you and a bottle of
flat ginger-beer, namely, that both require to be made to effervesce a
little. It will never do to let your spirits down as you have been
doing. We must brighten up, my dear madam—not Brighton up, by the way,
we've had enough of Brighton and Bath, and such places. We must get
away to the Continent this summer—to the Pyrenees, or Switzerland,
where we can breathe the fresh mountain air, and ramble on glaciers,
and have a thorough change.”
Mrs. Stoutley looked gently, almost pitifully at the doctor while he
spoke, as if she thought him a well-meaning and impulsive, but rather
“Impossible, my dear doctor,” she said; “you know I could not stand
the fatigues of such a journey.”
“Well, then,” replied the doctor, abruptly, “you must stop at home
“Oh! what a shocking naughty man you are to talk so.”
Mrs. Stoutley said this, however, with an easy good-natured air,
which showed plainly that she did not believe her illness likely to
have such a serious termination.
“I will be still more naughty and shocking,” continued the doctor,
resolutely, but with a twinkle in his eyes, “for I shall prescribe not
only a dose of mountain air, but a dose of mountain exercise, to be
taken—and the patient to be well shaken while taken—every morning
throughout the summer and autumn. Moreover, after you return to
England, you must continue the exercise during the winter; and, in
addition to that, must have an object at the end of your walks and
drives—not shopping, observe, that is not a sufficiently out-of-door
object; nor visiting your friends, which is open to the same
Mrs. Stoutley smiled again at this, and said that really, if
visiting and shopping were forbidden, there seemed to be nothing left
but museums and picture-galleries.
To this the doctor retorted that although she might do worse than
visit museums and picture-galleries, he would prefer that she should
visit the diamond and gold fields of the city.
“Did you ever hear of the diamond and gold fields of London, Miss
Gray?” he said, turning to a plain yet pretty girl, who had been
listening in silence to the foregoing conversation.
“Never,” answered Miss Gray, with a look of surprise.
Now, Miss Gray's look of surprise induces us to state in passing
that this young lady—niece, also poor relation and companion, to Mrs.
Stoutley—possessed three distinct aspects. When grave, she was plain,
—not ugly, observe; a girl of nineteen, with a clear healthy complexion
and nut-brown hair, cannot in any circumstances be ugly; no, she was
merely plain when grave. When she smiled she was decidedly pretty, and
when she laughed she was captivating—absolutely irresistible! She
seldom laughed, occasionally smiled, and was generally grave. There was
something quite incomprehensible about her, for she was not an
unusually good girl, and by no means a dashing girl, neither was she an
intensely modest girl—and yet, plain Emma Gray had perhaps driven more
young men into a condition of drivelling imbecility than any
acknowledged beauty of the metropolis.
Observe, we say “perhaps,” because we lay claim to no superhuman
knowledge in regard to such matters.
“They are rather extensive fields,” continued the doctor, “scattered
here and there about the metropolis, but lying chiefly in the city and
on the banks of the Thames. They comprise many picture-galleries, too,
and museums; the latter containing wonderful specimens of old bones and
fossil remains, filth, and miscellaneous abominations, in which the
gold and diamonds are imbedded—sometimes buried,—and the former being
hung with subjects—chiefly interiors—incomparably superior, in
respect of graphic power, to the works of Hogarth.”
“Oh! I know what you mean,” said Miss Gray, with a little smile.
“Your wits are sharper than mine, Emma,” said Mrs. Stoutley, with a
sigh and a placid look. “What DO you refer to, Doctor Tough?”
“I refer to those districts, madam, chiefly inhabited by the poor,
where there are innumerable diamonds and gold nuggets, some of which
are being polished, and a good many are glittering brightly, though not
yet fixed in their proper setting, while by far the greater number of
them are down in the earth, and useless in the meantime, and apt to be
lost for want of adventurous diggers. They are splendid fields those of
London, and digging is healthful occupation—though it might not seem
so at first sight. Did you ever visit the poor, Mrs. Stoutley?”
With a slight elevation of her eyebrows, and the application of a
scent-bottle to her delicate nose, as if the question had suggested bad
smells, the lady said that—Well, yes, she had once visited a poor old
gardener who had been a faithful creature in the family of a former
friend, but that her recollection of that visit did not tend to induce
a wish for its repetition.
“H'm!” coughed the doctor, “well, the taste of physic is usually bad
at first, but one soon gets used to it, and the after effects, as you
know, are exceedingly beneficial. I hope that when you visit the London
diggings you may find the truth of this; but it will be time enough to
speak of that subject when you return from rambling on the glaciers of
Switzerland, where, by the way, the dirt, rubbish, and wrack, called
moraines, which lie at the foot of the glaciers, will serve to remind
you of the gold-fields to which I have referred, for much of what
composes those moraines was once solid rock in a fixed position on the
heights, or glittering ice which reflected the sun's dazzling rays on
surrounding high life, though it lies low in the earth now. To a lady
of your intelligence, madam, I need not expound my parable. There are
many avalanches, great and small, in English society as well as among
the Swiss mountains; and, whether by gradual subsidence or a tremendous
rush, we must all find our places in the moraine at last.”
“Really, doctor,” said Mrs. Stoutley, with a light laugh, “you seem
to have already wandered much among these moral moraines, and to have
acquired some of their ruggedness. How CAN you talk of such dismal
things to a patient? But are you really in earnest about my going
“Indeed I am,” replied the doctor, firmly, “and I advise you to
begin your preparations at once, for you must set out on your travels
in less than a month. I lay the responsibility of seeing my orders
carried into effect on your shoulders, Miss Gray.”
So saying, the doctor rose and took his leave. Mrs. Stoutley and her
niece immediately began to discuss the subject of Switzerland—the one
languidly, the other with animation. It was plain enough that, although
the invalid protested to the doctor her inability to travel, she really
had no objection, perhaps felt some desire, to go abroad, for when Miss
Gray mentioned the fact that there was a difficulty in the shape of
insufficient funds, she replied with more warmth than usual—
“Now, Emma, what is the use of always bringing up that ridiculous
“No doubt, auntie,” the maiden replied, “it is a little ridiculous
to run short of ready money, considering the style in which we live;
but it would be still more ridiculous, you know, to go to Switzerland
without the means of paying our expenses while there.”
“What's that you say about expenses, cousin?” exclaimed a tall
handsome stripling who entered at the moment, and seated himself on the
sofa at his mother's feet.
“Oh, bother the expense!” he exclaimed, when the difficulty had been
explained to him, “it can't cost so much to spend a few months in
Switzerland,—besides, we can do it cheap, you know. Didn't Mr.
What's-his-name, our man of business, say that there was a considerable
balance at the banker's, and that if the What-d'ee- call-'em mines paid
a reasonable dividend, we should easily get over our difficulties?”
“He said something of that sort, I believe,” replied Mrs. Stoutley,
with a sigh.
“I rather think, cousin Lewis,” said Emma, endeavouring to repress a
smile, “that he said there was an inconsiderable balance at the
bankers, and that UNLESS the Gorong mine paid a reasonable dividend, we
shouldn't easily get over our difficulties.”
Both Lewis and his mother laughed at the quiet way in which this was
said, but, while both admitted that Emma's view of the matter might
perhaps be correct, Lewis held that there was no good reason for
supposing there would be any difficulty in the meantime in obtaining
from their “man-of-business” the paltry sum that was required for a
short tour on the Continent. Indeed Mrs. Stoutley regarded this man-of-business as a mere sponge, who required only to be squeezed in order to
the production of what was desired, and the man-of-business himself
found it no easy matter to convince her that she held erroneous views
on this subject, and that at her present rate of progress, she would,
to use the doctor's glacial simile, very soon topple from the pinnacle
of fashion, on which she sat, and fall with the crash of a social
avalanche into the moraine of ruin.
“What a wise little woman you are, cousin Emma,” said Lewis, gaily.
“You ought to have been bred to the law, or trained an accountant.
However, we won't be guided by your advice just now, first, because the
doctor has ORDERED mother abroad for her health, which is our chief
consideration; and, second, because I wish of all things to see
Switzerland, and climb Mont Blanc. Besides, we are not so poor as you
think, and I hope to add a little to our general funds in a day or two.
By the way, can you lend me ten pounds just now, mother?”
“Why do you want it?” asked Mrs. Stoutley, sternly, as if she meant
to refuse, but at the same time opening her purse.
“Don't ask me just now. I will repay you tomorrow, with interest and
shall then explain.”
With an easy, languid smile, the carelessly amiable invalid handed
her last ten-pound note to her hopeful son, who had just transferred it
to his pocketbook, when a footman entered and presented a scrap of
dirty paper, informing his lady that the person who sent up the “card"
desired to see her.
“What is this?” said Mrs. Stoutley, holding the paper gingerly with
the tips of her fingers, “Wip—Wap—Wopper! What is Wopper? Is the
person a man or a woman?”
The footman, who, although well-bred, found it difficult to restrain
a smile, intimated that the person was a man, and added, that he said
he had come from California, and wanted to see Mrs. Stoutley very
On hearing this, the lady's manner changed at once, and, with more
animation than she had yet exhibited, she desired that he should be
With his large wide-awake in one hand, and a canvas bag in the
other, Captain Wopper entered the drawing-room, and looked around him
with a beaming and rather bashful smile.
“Mrs. Stoutley, I believe,” he said, advancing, “and Miss Emma Gray,
I suppose,” he added, turning with a beaming glance towards the young
Mrs. Stoutley admitted that he was right, and expressed some
surprise that he, a perfect stranger, should be so well acquainted with
“I am indeed a stranger personally, ma'am,” said Captain Wopper,
smoothing the hair down on his rugged brow, “but I may be said to know
you pretty well, seeing that I have for many years been the friend and
messmate of your late husband's brother in Californy.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Mrs. Stoutley, with increasing animation, as she
rose and held out her hand; “any friend of my brother-in-law is
heartily welcome. Be seated, Mr. Wopper, and let me hear about him. He
was very kind to my dear husband during his last illness—very kind. I
shall never forget him.”
“No doubt he was,” said the Captain, accepting the chair which Emma
Gray handed to him, with looks of great interest. “Thank 'ee, Miss.
Willum Stout—excuse my familiarity, ma'am, I always called him Willum,
because we was like brothers—more than brothers, I may say, an' very
friendly. Yes, Willum Stout WAS kind to his brother in his last days.
It would have bin shame to him if he hadn't for your husband, ma'am,
was kind to Willum, an' he often said to me, over the camp-fires in the
bush, that he'd never forget HIS kindness. But it's over now,”
continued the seaman in a sad tone, “an' poor Willum is left alone.”
“Is my uncle VERY poor?” asked Lewis, who had been paying more
attention to the appearance of their rugged visitor than to what he had
“Ay, VERY poor,” replied the seaman, “as regards near relations,
leastwise such as he has seen and known in former days, but he an't
poor as regards gold. He's got lots of that. He and I worked not far
from each other for years, an' he used to hit upon good claims somehow,
and shovelled up the nuggets like stones.”
“Indeed! I wish he'd send a few of them this way,” exclaimed Lewis,
with a careless laugh.
“No doubt he might do so, young man, if he knew you were in need of
'em, but your father gave him to understand that his family was rich.”
“Rich!” exclaimed Lewis, with a smile, in which there was a touch of
contempt. “Well, yes, we were rich enough once, but when my father was
away these wretched mines became—”
“Lewie!” exclaimed his mother, hastily, “what nonsense you do talk!
Really, one would think from your account that we were paupers.”
“Well, mother, so we are—paupers to this extent at least, that we
can't afford to take a run to Switzerland, though ordered to do so for
your health, because we lack funds.”
Lewis said this half petulantly, for he had been a “spoilt child,”
and might probably have been by that time a ruined young man, but for
the mercy of his Creator, who had blessed him with an amiable
disposition. He was one of those youths, in short, of whom people say
that they can't be spoiled, though fond and foolish parents do their
best to spoil them.
“You mis-state the case, naughty boy,” said Mrs. Stoutley, annoyed
at being thus forced to touch on her private affairs before a stranger.
“No doubt our ready cash is what our man-of-business calls `locked up,'
but that, you know, is only a matter of temporary inconvenience, and
cannot last long.”
As Mrs. Stoutley paused and hesitated, their visitor placed on the
table a canvas bag, which, up to this point he had rested on one knee.
“This bag,” he said, “of nuggets, is a gift from Willum. He desired
me to deliver it to you, Miss Gray, as a SMALL acknowledgment of your
kindness in writin' so often to him. He'd have bought you a silk gown,
or a noo bonnet, so he said, but wasn't sure as to your taste in such
matters, and thought you'd accept the nuggets and buy it for yourself.
Leastwise, that's somethin' like the speech Willum tried to tell me to
deliver, but he warn't good at speech-makin' no more than I at
remembrin', and hoped you'd take the will for the deed.”
With a flush of surprise and pleasure, Emma Gray accepted both the
will and the deed, with many expressions of gratitude, and said, that
as she did not require either a silk dress or a bonnet just then, she
would invest her little fortune; she would lend it at high interest, to
a lady under temporary inconvenience, who was ordered by her doctor to
Switzerland for the benefit of her health. To this Mrs. Stoutley
protested very earnestly that the lady in question would not accept the
loan on any consideration; that it must not be diverted from its
destined use, but be honestly expended on silk-dresses and new bonnets.
To which Emma replied, that the destiny of the gift, with interest (she
was very particular on that head), should be fulfilled in good time,
but that meanwhile it must be lent out.
In the midst of a cross-fire of this kind the bag was opened, and
its contents poured on the table, to the immense admiration of all the
company, none of whom had, until that day, beheld gold in its native
“How much may it be worth, Mr. Wopper?” asked Lewis, weighing one of
the largest lumps.
“About two hundred pound, I should say, more or less,” replied the
“Indeed!” exclaimed the youth in surprise—an exclamation which was
echoed by his mother and cousin in modified tones.
While they sat thus toying with the lumps of gold, the conversation
reverted to the sender of it, and the Captain told such entertaining
anecdotes of bush life, in all of which “Uncle Willum” had been an
actor, that the afternoon arrived before Mrs. Stoutley had time to wish
for it. They also talked of the last illness of the deceased father of
the family; and when it came out that Captain (they had found out by
that time that their visitor had been a skipper, and, by courtesy, a
captain), had assisted “Willum” in nursing Mr. Stoutley, and had
followed him to the grave, Mrs. Stoutley's gratitude was such that she
insisted on her visitor staying to dinner.
“Thank 'ee, ma'am,” he said, “I've dined. I always dines at one
o'clock if I can manage it.”
“But we don't dine till eight,” said the lady, “so it will just suit
for your supper.”
“Do come,” said Emma Gray, “we shall be quite alone, and shall have
a great spinning of yarns over Uncle William and the gold-fields.”
“Well, I don't mind if I do,” said the Captain, “but before supper I
must go to the docks for my kit and settle my lodgings.”
“I am going to the Strand, and shall be happy to give you a lift,”
The Captain accepted the offer, and as they drove along, he and his
young friend became very intimate, insomuch that Lewis, who was
lighthearted, open, and reckless, let him into his confidence, and
spoke quite freely about his mother's difficulties. It is only justice
to add that the Captain did not encourage him in this. When, however,
the youth spoke of himself, he not only encouraged him, but drew him
out. Among other things, he drew out of him the fact that he was in the
habit of gambling, and that he fully expected—if his usual luck
attended him—to assist in adding to the fund which was to take the
The Captain looked at the handsome stripling for a few seconds in
“You don't mean to tell me,” he said slowly, “that you gamble?”
“Indeed I do,” replied Lewis, with a bland smile, and something of a
twinkle in his eye.
“For money?” asked the Captain.
“For money,” assented the youth; “what have you to say against it?”
“Why, I've to say that it's mean.”
“That's strong language,” said Lewis, flushing.
“It an't strong enough by a long way,” returned the Captain, with
indignation, “it's more than mean, it's contemptible; it's despicable.”
The flush on Lewis's face deepened, and he looked at his companion
with the air of one who meditates knocking another down. Perhaps the
massive size and strength of the Captain induced him to change his
mind. It may be that there occurred to him the difficulty—if not
impossibility—of knocking down a man who was down already, and the
want of space in a cab for such violent play of muscle. At all events
he did nothing, but looked “daggers.”
“Look 'ee here, my lad,” continued the Captain, laying his huge hand
on his companion's knee, and gazing earnestly into his face, “I don't
mean for to hurt your feelin's by sayin' that YOU are mean, or
contemptible, or despicable, for I don't suppose you've thought much
about the matter at all, and are just following in the wake of older
men who ought to know better; but I say that the THING—gambling for
money—is the meanest thing a man can do, short of stealing. What does
it amount to? Simply this—I want another man's money, and the other
man wants mine. We daren't try open robbery, we would be ashamed of
that; we're both too lazy to labour for money, and labour doesn't bring
it in fast enough, therefore we'll go PLAY for it. I'll ask him to
submit to be robbed by me on condition that I submit to be robbed by
him; and which is to be the robbed, and which the robber, shall depend
on the accidental turn of a dice, or something equally trifling—”
“But I don't gamble by means of dice,” interrupted Lewis, “I play,
and bet, on billiards, which is a game of skill, requiring much
practice, judgment, and thought.”
“That makes no odds, my lad,” continued the Captain. “There is no
connection whatever between the rolling of a ball and the taking away
of a man's money, any more than there is between the turning of a dice
and the taking of a man's money. Both are dishonourable subterfuges.
They are mere blinds put up to cover the great and mean fact, which is,
that I want to get possession of my neighbour's cash.”
“But, Captain,” retorted Lewis, with a smile—for he had now entered
into the spirit of the argument—“you ignore the fact that while I try
to win from my friend, I am quite willing that my friend should try to
win from me.”
“Ignore it? no!” cried Captain Wopper. “Putt it in this way. Isn't
it wrong for me to have a longing desire and itching fingers to lay
hold of YOUR cash?”
“Well, put in that simple form,” said Lewis, with a laugh, “it
“And isn't it equally wrong for you to have a hungering and
thirsting after MY cash?”
“Of course that follows,” assented Lewis.
“Well, then,” pursued the Captain, “can any agreement between you
and me, as to the guessing of black or white or the turning of dice or
anything else, make a right out of two wrongs?”
“Still,” said Lewis, a little puzzled, “there is fallacy somewhere
in your argument. I cannot see that gambling is wrong.”
“Mark me, my lad,” returned the Captain, impressively, “it is no
sufficient reason for the doing of a thing that you CANNOT SEE it to be
wrong. You are not entitled to do anything unless you SEE it to be
right. But there are other questions connected with gambling which
renders it doubly mean—the question, for instance, whether a man is
entitled to risk the loss of money which he calls his own, but which
belongs to his wife and children as much as to himself. The mean
positions, too, in which a gambler places himself, are numerous. One of
these is, when a rich man wins the hard-earned and much-needed gains of
a poor one.”
“But one is not supposed to know anything about the affairs of those
from whom one wins,” objected Lewis.
“All the more reason,” replied Captain Wopper, “why a man should
never gamble, lest, unwittingly, he should become the cause of great
suffering—it might be, of death.”
Still Lewis “could not see” the wrong of gambling, and the
discussion was cut short by the sudden stopping of the cab at a door in
the Strand, over which hung a lamp, on which the Captain observed the
“Well, ta-ta, old fellow,” said Lewis, gaily, as he parted from his
new friend, “we'll finish the argument another day. Meanwhile, don't
forget the hour—eight, sharp.”
Chapter IV. SHOWS HOW THE CAPTAIN
CAME TO AN ANCHOR, AND CONCEIVED A DEEP DESIGN.
When Captain Wopper parted from his young friend, he proceeded along
the Strand in an unusually grave mood, shaking his head to such a
degree, as he reflected on the precocious wickedness of the rising
generation, that a very ragged and pert specimen of that generation,
observing his condition, gravely informed him that there was an
hospital for incurables in London, which took in patients with palsy
and St. Wituses' dance werry cheap.
This recalled him from the depths of sorrowful meditation, and
induced him to hail a cab, in which he drove to the docks, claimed his
chest—a solid, seamanlike structure, reminding one of the wooden
walls of Old England—and returned with it to the head of the lane
leading to Grubb's Court. Dismissing the cab, he looked round for a
porter, but as no porter appeared, the Captain, having been accustomed
through life to help himself, and being, as we have said, remarkably
strong, shouldered the nautical chest, and bore it to the top of Mrs.
Here he encountered, and almost tumbled over, Gillie White, who
saluted him with—
“Hallo! ship aho-o-oy! starboard hard! breakers ahead! Why, Capp'n,
you've all but run into me!”
“Why don't you show a light then,” retorted the Captain, “or blow
your steam-whistle, in such a dark hole? What's that you've got in your
“The baby,” replied Gillie.
“What baby?” demanded the Captain.
“OUR baby, of course,” returned the imp, in a tone that implied the
non-existence of any other baby worth mentioning. “I brought it up to
show it to the sick 'ooman next door but one to Mrs. Roby's cabin.
She's very sick, she is, an' took a great longing to see our baby, cos
she thinks it's like what her son was w'en HE was a baby. If he ever
was, he don't look much like one now, for he's six-feet nothin' in his
socks, an' drinks like a fish, if he don't do nothin' wuss. Good-night
Capp'n. Baby'll ketch cold if I keep on jawin' here. Mind your weather
eye, and port your helm when you reach the landin'. If you'll take the
advice of a young salt, you'll clew up your mainsail an' dowse some of
your top-hamper—ah! I thought so!”
This last remark, delivered with a broad grin of delight, had
reference to the fact that the Captain had run the corner of his chest
against the low roof of the passage with a degree of violence that
shook the whole tenement.
Holding his breath in hopeful anticipation, and reckless of the
baby's “ketching cold,” the small boy listened for more. Nor was he
disappointed. In his progress along the passage Captain Wopper, despite
careful steering, ran violently foul of several angles and beams, each
of which mishaps sent a quiver through the old house, and a thrill to
the heart of Gillie White. In his earnest desire to steer clear of the
sick woman's door, the luckless Captain came into collision with the
opposite wall, and anxiety on this point causing him to forget the step
on which he had “struck” once before, he struck it again, and was
precipitated, chest and all, against Mrs. Roby's door, which,
fortunately for itself, burst open, and let the avalanche of chest and
man descend upon Mrs. Roby's floor.
Knowing that the climax was now reached, the imp descended the stair
filled with a sort of serene ecstasy, while Captain Wopper gathered
himself up and sat down on his nautical portmanteau.
“I tell 'ee what it is, old 'ooman,” said he, stroking his beard,
“the channel into this port is about the wust I ever had the ill-luck
to navigate. I hope I didn't frighten 'ee?”
“Oh, dear no!” replied Mrs. Roby, with a smile.
To say truth, the old woman seemed less alarmed than might have been
expected. Probably the noise of the Captain's approach, and previous
experience, had prepared her for some startling visitation, for she was
quite calm, and a humorous twinkle in her eyes seemed to indicate the
presence of a spirit somewhat resembling that which actuated Gillie
“Well, that's all right,” said the Captain, rising and pushing up
the trap-door that led to his private berth in the new lodging; “and
now, old lady, havin' come to an anchor, I must get this chest sent
aloft as fast as I can, seein' that I've to clean myself an' rig out
for a dinner at eight o'clock at the west end.”
“Dear me,” said Mrs. Roby, in surprise, “you must have got among
people of quality.”
“It won't be easy to hoist it up,” said the Captain, ignoring the
remark, and eyeing the chest and trap-door in the roof alternately.
Just then a heavy step was heard in the passage; and a young man of
large and powerful frame, with a gentle as well as gentlemanly
demeanour, appeared at the door.
“Come in—come in,” said Mrs. Roby, with a bright look, “this is
only my new lodger, a friend of dear Wil—”
“Why, bless you, old 'ooman,” interrupted Captain Wopper, “HE knows
me well enough. I went to him this morning and got Mrs. Stoutley's
address. Come in, Dr. Lawrence. I may claim to act the host here now in
a small way, perhaps, and bid visitors welcome—eh! Mrs. Roby?”
“Surely, surely,” replied the old woman.
“Thank you both for the welcome,” said the visitor with a pleasant
smile, as he shook hands with Mrs. Roby. “I thought I recognised your
voice, Captain Wopper, as you passed Mrs. Leven's door, and came out to
see how you and my old friend here get on together.”
“Is she any better to-night, sir?” asked Mrs. Roby, anxiously.
Lawrence shook his head sadly and said she was no better, and that
he feared she had little chance of getting better while her dissipated
son dwelt under the same roof with her. “It is breaking her heart,” he
added, “and, besides that, the nature of her disease is such that
recovery is impossible unless she is fed on the most generous diet.
This of course she cannot have, because she has no means of her own.
Her son gambles away nearly all his small salary, and she refuses to go
to an hospital lest her absence should be the removal of the last
restraining link between him and destruction. It is a very sad case—
Captain Wopper was struck with this reference to gambling coming so
soon after his recent conversation on that subject, and asked if there
were no charitable societies or charitable people in London who would
help in a case so miserable.
Yes, there were plenty of charitable institutions, Lawrence told
him, but he feared that this woman had no special claim on any of them,
and her refusal to go to an hospital would tell against her. There were
also, he said, plenty of charitable people, but all of those he
happened to be acquainted with had been appealed to by him so often
that he felt ashamed to try them again. He had already given away as
much of his own slender means as he could well spare, so that he saw no
way out of the difficulty; but he had faith in Providential supervision
of human affairs, and he believed that a way would yet be opened up.
“You're right, sir—right,” said Captain Wopper, with emphasis,
while he looked earnestly into the face of the young doctor. “This
world wasn't made to be kicked about like a foot-ball by chance, or
circumstances, or anything of the sort. Look 'ee here, sir; it has bin
putt into my heart to feel charitable leanings, and a good bit o' cash
has bin putt into my pocket, so that, bein' a lone sort o' man, I don't
have much use for it. That's on the one hand. On the other hand, here
are you, sir, the son of a friend o' my chum Willum Stout, with great
need of aid from charitable people, an' here we two are met together
—both ready for action. Now, I call that a Providential arrangement, so
please putt me down as one of your charitable friends. It's little I
can boast of in that way as yet but it's not too late to begin. I've
long arrears to pull up, so I'll give you that to begin with. It'll
help to relieve Mrs. Leven in the meantime.”
As he spoke, the Captain drew a black pocketbook from his breast
pocket and, taking a piece of paper therefrom, placed it in the
“This is a fifty-pound note!” said Lawrence, in surprise.
“Well, what then?” returned the Captain. “You didn't expect a
thousand- pound note, did you?”
“Not quite that,” replied Lawrence, laughing, “but I thought that
perhaps you had made a mistake.”
“Ah! you judged from appearances, young man. Don't you git into the
way of doin' that, else you'll be for ever sailin' on the wrong tack.
Take my advice, an' never look as if you thought a man gave you more
than he could afford. Nobody never does that.”
“Far be it from me,” returned Lawrence, “to throw cold water on
generous impulses. I accept your gift with thanks, and will gladly put
you on my list. If you should find hereafter that I pump you rather
hard, please to remember that you gave me encouragement to do so.”
“Pump away, sir. When you've pumped dry, I'll tell you!”
“Well,” said Lawrence, rising, “I'll go at once and bring your
liberality into play; and, since you have done me so good a turn,
remember that you may command my services, if they can ever be of any
use to you.”
The Captain cast a glance at the trap-door and the chest.
“Well,” said he, “I can scarcely ask you to do it professionally,
but if you'd lend a hand to get this Noah's ark o' mine on to the upper
“Come along,” cried Lawrence, jumping up with a laugh, and seizing
one end of the “ark.”
Captain Wopper grasped the other end, and, between them, with much
puffing, pushing, and squeezing, they thrust the box through the trap
to the upper regions, whither the Captain followed it by means of the
same gymnastic feat that he performed on his first ascent. Thrusting
his head down, he invited the doctor to “come aloft,” which the doctor
did in the same undignified fashion, for his gentle manner and spirit
had not debarred him from the practice and enjoyment of manly
“It's a snug berth, you see,” said the Captain, stumbling among the
dusty lumber, and knocking his head against the beams, “wants cleaning
up, tho', and puttin' to rights a bit, but I'll soon manage that; and
when I git the dirt and cobwebs cleared away, glass putt in the port-holes, and a whitewash on the roof and walls, it'll be a cabin fit for
an admiral. See what a splendid view of the river! Just suited to a
“Capital!” cried Lawrence, going down on his knees to obtain the
view referred to. “Rather low in the roof, however, don't you think?”
“Low? not at all!” exclaimed the Captain. “It's nothin' to what I've
been used to on the coastin' trade off Californy. Why, I've had to live
in cabins so small that a tall man couldn't keep his back straight when
he was sittin' on the lockers; but we didn't SIT much in 'em; we was
chiefly used to go into 'em to lie down. This is a palace to such
The doctor expressed satisfaction at finding that his new
“charitable contributor” took such enlarged views of a pigeon-hole,
and, promising to pay him another visit when the “cabin” should have
been put to rights, said good-bye, and went to relieve the wants of the
As the captain accompanied him along the passage, they heard the
voice and step of poor Mrs. Leven's dissipated son, as he came
stumbling and singing up the stair.
He was a stout good-looking youth, and cast a half impudent half
supercilious look at Captain Wopper on approaching. He also bestowed a
nod of careless recognition on Dr. Lawrence.
Thinking it better to be out of the way, the Captain said good-bye
again to his friend, and returned to the cabin, where he expressed to
Mrs. Roby the opinion that, “that young feller Leven was goin' to the
dogs at railway speed.”
Thereafter he went “aloft,” and, as he expressed it, “rigged himself
out,” in a spruce blue coat with brass buttons; blue vest and trousers
to match; a white dicky with a collar attached and imitation carbuncle
studs down the front. To these he added a black silk neckerchief tied
in a true sailor's knot but with the ends separated and carefully
tucked away under his vest to prevent their interfering with the
effulgence of the carbuncle studs; a pair of light shoes with a
superabundance of new tie; a green silk handkerchief, to be carried in
his hat, for the purpose of mopping his forehead when warm, and a red
silk ditto to be carried in his pocket for the benefit of his nose. In
addition to the studs, Captain Wopper wore, as ornaments, a solid gold
ring, the rude workmanship of which induced the belief that he must
have made it himself, and a large gold watch, with a gold chain in the
form of a cable, and a rough gold nugget attached to it in place of a
seal or key. We class the watch among simple ornaments because,
although it went—very demonstratively too, with a loud self- asserting
tick—its going was irregular and uncertain. Sometimes it went too slow
without apparent cause. At other times it went too fast without
provocation. Frequently it struck altogether, and only consented to
resume work after a good deal of gentle and persuasive threatening to
wind it the wrong way. It had chronic internal complaints, too, which
produced sundry ominous clicks and sounds at certain periods of the
day. These passed off, however, towards evening. Occasionally such
sounds rushed as it were into a sudden whirr and series of convulsions,
ending in a dead stop, which was an unmistakeable intimation to the
Captain that something vital had given way; that the watch had gone
into open mutiny, and nothing short of a visit to the watchmaker could
restore it to life and duty.
“I'm off now,” said the Captain, descending when he was fully
“rigged.” “What about the door-key, mother?—you've no objection to my
calling you mother, have you?”
“None whatever, Captain,” replied Mrs. Roby, with a pleasant smile,
“an old friend of William may call me whatever he pleases—short,” she
added after momentary pause, “of swearin'.”
“Trust me, I'll stop short of that. You see, old lady, I never
know'd a mother, and I should like to try to feel what it's like to
have one. It's true I'm not just a lad, but you are old enough to be my
mother for all that, so I'll make the experiment. But what about the
key of the door, mother? I can't expect you to let me in, you know.”
“Just lock it, and take the key away with you,” said Mrs. Roby.
“But what if a fire should break out?” said the Captain, with a look
“I'm not afraid of fire. We've got a splendid brigade and plenty of
fire-escapes, and a good kick from a fireman would open my door without
“Mother, you're a trump! I'll lock you in and leave you with an easy
He stopped abruptly, and Mrs. Roby asked what was the matter.
“Well, it's what I said about an easy mind that threw me all aback,”
replied the Captain, “for to tell 'ee the truth, I haven't got an easy
“Not done anything wicked, I hope?” said Mrs. Roby, anxiously.
“No, no; nothin' o' that sort; but there IS somethin' lyin' heavy on
my mind, and I don't see why I shouldn't make a confidant o' you, bein'
my mother, d'ee see; and, besides, it consarns Willum.”
The old woman looked eagerly at her lodger as he knitted his brows
in perplexity and smoothed down his forelock.
“Here's where it is,” he continued, drawing his chair closer to that
of Mrs. Roby; “when Willum made me his exikooter, so to speak, he said
to me, `Wopper,' says he, `I'm not one o' them fellers that holds on to
his cash till he dies with it in his pocket. I've got neither wife nor
chick, as you know, an' so, wot I means to do is to give the bulk of it
to them that I love while I'm alive—d'ee see?' `I do, Willum,' says I.
`Well then,' says he, `besides them little matters that I axed you to
do for me, I want you to take partikler notice of two people. One is
the man as saved my life w'en I was a youngster, or, if he's dead, take
notice of his child'n. The other is that sweet young creeter, Emma
Gray, who has done the correspondence with me so long for my poor
brother. You keep a sharp look-out an' find out how these two are off
for money. If Emma's rich, of course it's no use to give her what she
don't need, and I'll give the most of what I've had the good fortune to
dig up here to old Mr. Lawrence, or his family, for my brother's widow,
bein' rich, don't need it. If both Emma and Lawrence are rich, why
then, just let me know, and I'll try to hit on some other plan to make
away with it, for you know well enough I couldn't use it all upon
myself without going into wicked extravagance, and my dear old Mrs.
Roby wouldn't know what to do with so much cash if I sent it to her.
Now, you promise to do this for me?' says he. `Willum,' says I, `I
“Now, mother,” continued the Captain, “what troubles me is this,
that instead o' findin' Miss Emma rich, and Mr. Lawrence poor, or WICE
WERSA, or findin' 'em both rich, I finds 'em both poor. That's where my
Mrs. Roby offered a prompt solution of this difficulty by suggesting
that William should divide the money between them.
“That would do all well enough,” returned the Captain, “if there
were no under-currents drivin' the ship out of her true course. But you
see, mother, I find that the late Mr. Stoutley's family is also poor—
at least in difficulties—although they live in great style, and SEEM
to be rich; and from what I heard the other day, I know that the son is
given to gamblin', and the mother seems to be extravagant, and both of
'em are ready enough to sponge on Miss Emma, who is quite willin'—far
too willin'—to be sponged upon, so that whatever Willum gave to her
would be just thrown away. Now the question is,” continued the Captain,
looking seriously at the kettle with the defiant spout, “what am I to
advise Willum to do?”
“Advise him,” replied Mrs. Roby, promptly, “to give ALL the money to
Dr. Lawrence, and get Dr. Lawrence to marry Miss Gray, and so they'll
both get the whole of it.”
A beaming smile crossed the Captain's visage.
“Not a bad notion, mother; but what if Dr. Lawrence, after gettin'
the money, didn't want to marry Miss Gray?”
“Get him to marry her first and give the money afterwards,” returned
“Ay, that might do,” replied the Captain, nodding slowly, “only it
may be that a man without means may hesitate about marryin' a girl
without means, especially if he didn't want HER, and she didn't want
HIM. I don't quite see how to get over all these difficulties.”
“There's only one way of getting over them,” said Mrs. Roby, “and
that is, by bringin' the young people together, and givin' 'em a chance
to fall in love.”
“True, true, mother, but, so far as I know, Dr. Lawrence don't know
the family. We couldn't,” said the Captain, looking round the room,
dubiously, “ask 'em to take a quiet cup of tea here with us—eh? You
might ask Dr. Lawrence, as your medical man, and I might ask Miss Emma,
as an old friend of her uncle, quite in an off-hand way, you know, as
if by chance. They'd never see through the dodge, and would fall in
love at once, perhaps—eh?”
Captain Wopper said all this in a dubious tone, looking at the
defiant kettle the while, as if propitiating its favourable reception
of the idea, but it continued defiant, and hissed uncompromisingly,
while its mistress laughed outright.
“You're not much of a match-maker, I see,” she said, on recovering
composure. “No, Captain, it wouldn't do to ask 'em here to tea.”
“Well, well,” said the Captain, rising, “we'll let match-makin'
alone for the present. It's like tryin' to beat to wind'ard against a
cyclone. The best way is to square the yards, furl the sails, and scud
under bare poles till it's over. It's blowin' too hard just now for me
to make headway, so I'll wear ship and scud.”
In pursuance of this resolve, Captain Wopper put on his wide-awake,
locked up his mother, and went off to dine at the “west end.”
Chapter V. IN WHICH SEVERAL IMPORTANT
MATTERS ARE ARRANGED, AND GILLIE WHITE UNDERGOES SOME REMARKABLE AND
HITHERTO UNKNOWN EXPERIENCES.
It is not necessary to inflict on the reader Mrs. Stoutley's dinner
in detail; suffice it to say, that Captain Wopper conducted himself, on
the whole, much more creditably than his hostess had anticipated, and
made himself so entertaining, especially to Lewis, that that young
gentleman invited bun to accompany the family to Switzerland, much to
the amusement of his cousin Emma and the horror of his mother, who,
although she enjoyed a private visit of the Captain, did not relish the
thought of his becoming a travelling companion of the family. She
pretended not to hear the invitation given, but when Lewis, knowing
full well the state of her mind, pressed the invitation, she shook her
head at him covertly and frowned. This by-play her son pretended not to
see, and continued his entreaties, the Captain not having replied.
“Now, do come with us, Captain Wopper,” he said; “it will be such
fun, and we should all enjoy you SO much—wouldn't we, Emma?” (“Yes,
indeed,” from Emma); “and it would just be suited to your tastes and
habits, for the fine, fresh air of the mountains bears a wonderful
resemblance to that of the sea. You've been accustomed no doubt to
climb up the shrouds to the crosstrees; well, in Switzerland, you may
climb up the hills to any sort of trees you like, and get shrouded in
mist, or tumble over a precipice and get put into your shroud
“Really, Lewie, you ought to be ashamed of making such bad puns,”
interrupted his mother. “Doubtless it would be very agreeable to have
Captain Wopper with us, but I am quite sure it would be anything but
pleasant for him to travel through such a wild country with such a wild
goose as you for a companion.”
“You have modestly forgotten yourself and Emma,” said Lewis; “but
come, let the Captain answer for himself. You know, mother, it has been
your wish, if not your intention, to get a companion for me on this
trip—a fellow older than myself—a sort of travelling tutor, who could
teach me something of the geology and botany of the country as we went
along. Well, the Captain is older than me, I think, which is one of the
requisites, and he could teach me astronomy, no doubt, and show me how
to box the compass; in return for which, I could show him how to box an
adversary's nose, as practised by the best authorities of the ring. As
to geology and botany, I know a little of these sciences already, and
could impart my knowledge to the Captain, which would have the effect
of fixing it more firmly in my own memory; and every one knows that it
is of far greater importance to lay a good, solid groundwork of
education, than to build a showy, superficial structure, on a bad
foundation. Come, then, Captain, you see your advantages. This is the
last time of asking. If you don't speak now, henceforth and for ever
hold your tongue.”
“Well, my lad,” said the Captain, with much gravity, “I've turned
the thing over in my mind, and since Mrs. Stoutley is so good as to say
it would be agreeable to her, I think I'll accept your invitation!”
“Bravo! Captain, you're a true blue; come, have another glass of
wine on the strength of it.”
“No wine, thank 'ee,” said the Captain, placing his hand over his
glass, “I've had my beer; and I make it a rule never to mix my liquor.
Excuse me, ma'am,” he continued, addressing his hostess, “your son made
mention of a tooter—a travellin' tooter; may I ask if you've provided
yourself with one yet!”
“Not yet,” answered Mrs. Stoutley, feeling, but not looking, a
little surprised at the question, “I have no young friend at present
quite suited for the position, and at short notice it is not easy to
find a youth of talent willing to go, and on whom one can depend. Can
you recommend one?”
Mrs. Stoutley accompanied the question with a smile, for she put it
in jest. She was, therefore, not a little surprised when the Captain
said promptly that he could—that he knew a young man—a doctor—who
was just the very ticket (these were his exact words), a regular
clipper, with everything about him trim, taut, and ship-shape, who
would suit every member of the family to a tee!
A hearty laugh from every member of the family greeted the Captain's
enthusiastic recommendation, and Emma exclaimed that he must be a most
charming youth, while Lewis pulled out pencil and note-book to take
down his name and address.
“You are a most valuable friend at this crisis in our affairs,” said
Lewis, “I'll make mother write to him immediately.”
“But have a care,” said the Captain, “that you never mention who it
was that recommended him. I'm not sure that he would regard it as a
compliment. You must promise me that.”
“I promise,” said Lewis, “and whatever I promise mother will fulfil,
so make your mind easy on that head. Now, mother, I shouldn't wonder if
Captain Wopper could provide you with that other little inexpensive
luxury you mentioned this morning. D'you think you could recommend a
“What's a page, lad?”
“What! have you never heard of a page—a page in buttons?” asked
Lewis in surprise.
“Never,” replied the Captain, shaking his head.
“Why, a page is a small boy, usually clad in blue tights, to make
him look as like a spider as possible, with three rows of brass buttons
up the front of his jacket—two of the rows being merely ornamental,
and going over his shoulders. He usually wears a man's hat for the sake
of congruity, and is invariably as full of mischief as an egg is of
meat. Can you find such an article?”
“Ha!” exclaimed the Captain. “What is he used for?”
“Chiefly for ornament, doing messages, being in the way when not
wanted, and out of the way when required.”
“Yes,” said the Captain, meditatively, “I've got my eye—”
“Your weather eye?” asked Lewis.
“Yes, my WEATHER eye, on a lad who'll fit you.”
“To a tee?” inquired Emma, archly.
“To a tee, miss,” assented the Captain, with a bland smile.
Lewis again pulled out his note-book to enter the name and address,
but the Captain assured him that he would manage this case himself; and
it was finally settled—for Lewis carried everything his own way, as a
matter of course—that Dr. George Lawrence was to be written to next
day, and Captain Wopper was to provide a page.
“And you'll have to get him and yourself ready as fast as possible,”
said the youth in conclusion, “for we shall set off as soon as my
mother's trunks are packed.”
Next morning, while Captain Wopper was seated conversing with his
old landlady at the breakfast-table—the morning meal having been just
concluded—he heard the voice of Gillie White in the court. Going to
the end of the passage, he ordered that imp to “come aloft.”
Gillie appeared in a few seconds, nodded patronisingly to old Mrs.
Roby, hoped she was salubrious, and demanded to know what was up.
“My lad,” said the Captain—and as he spoke, the urchin assumed an
awful look of mock solemnity.
“I want to know if you think you could behave yourself if you was to
“Ah!” said Gillie, with the air of a cross-examining advocate, “the
keewestion is not w'ether I could behave myself if I wos to try, but,
w'ether I THINK I could. Well, ahem! that depends. I think I could,
now, if there was offered a very strong indoocement.”
“Just so, my lad,” returned the Captain, nodding, “that's exactly
what I mean to offer. What d'ee say to a noo suit of blue tights, with
three rows brass buttons; a situation in a respectable family; a fair
wage; as much as you can eat and drink; and a trip to Switzerland to
While the Captain spoke, the small boy's eyes opened wider and
wider, and his month followed suit, until he stood the very picture of
“You DON'T mean it?” he exclaimed.
“Indeed I do, my lad.”
“Then I'M your man,” returned the small boy emphatically, “putt me
down for that sitooation; send for a lawyer, draw up the articles, I'LL
sign 'em right OFF, and—”
“Gillie, my boy,” interrupted the Captain, “one o' the very first
things you have to do in larnin' to behave yourself is to clap a
stopper on your tongue—it's far too long.”
“All right, Capp'n,” answered the imp, “I'll go to Guy's Hospital
d'rectly and 'ave three-fourths of it ampitated.”
“Do,” said the Captain, somewhat sternly, “an' ask 'em to attach a
brake to the bit that's left.
“Now, lad,” he continued, “you've got a very dirty face.”
Gillie nodded, with his lips tightly compressed to check utterance.
“And a very ragged head of hair,” he added.
Again Gillie nodded.
The Captain pointed to a basin of water which stood on a chair in a
corner of the room, beside which lay a lump of yellow soap, a comb, and
a rough jack-towel.
“There,” said he, “go to work.”
Gillie went to work with a will, and scrubbed himself to such an
extent, that his skin must undoubtedly have been thinner after the
operation. The washing, however, was easy compared with the combing.
The boy's mop was such a tangled web, that the comb at first refused to
pass through it; and when, encouraged by the Captain, the urchin did at
last succeed in rending its masses apart various inextricable bunches
came away bodily, and sundry teeth of the comb were left behind. At
last, however, it was reduced to something like order, to the immense
satisfaction of Mrs. Roby and the Captain.
“Now,” said the latter, “did you ever have a Turkish bath?”
“Well, then, come with me and have one. Have you got a cap?”
“Hm—never mind, come along; you're not cleaned up yet by a long
way; but we'll manage it in course of time.”
As the Captain and his small PROTEGE passed along the streets, the
former took occasion to explain that a Turkish bath was a species of
mild torture, in which a man was stewed alive, and baked in an oven,
and par-boiled, and scrubbed, and pinched, and thumped (sometimes black
and blue), and lathered with soap till he couldn't see, and heated up
to seven thousand and ten, Fahrenheit and soused with half- boiling
water, and shot at with cold water—or shot into it, as the case might
be—and rolled in a sheet like a mummy, and stretched out a like corpse
to cool. “Most men,” he said, “felt gaspy in Turkish baths, and weak
ones were alarmed lest they should get suffocated beyond recovery; but
strong men rather enjoy themselves in 'em than otherwise.”
“Hah!” exclaimed the imp, “may I wentur' to ax, Capp'n, wot's the
effect on BOYS?”
To this the Captain replied that he didn't exactly know, never
having heard of boys taking Turkish baths. Whereupon Gillie suggested,
that if possible he might have himself cleaned in an ordinary bath.
“Impossible, my lad,” said the Captain, decidedly. “No or'nary bath
would clean you under a week, unless black soap and scrubbin' brushes
“But don't be alarmed, Gillie,” he added, looking down with a
twinkle in his eyes, “I'll go into the bath along with you. We'll sink
or swim together, my boy, and I'll see that you're not overdone. I'm
rather fond of them myself, d'ee see, so I can recommend 'em from
Somewhat reassured by this, though still a little uneasy in his
mind, the imp followed his patron to the baths.
It would have been a sight worth seeing, the entrance of these two
into the temple of soap-and-water. To see Gillie's well-made, but very
meagre and dirty little limbs unrobed; to see him decked out with the
scrimpest possible little kilt, such as would, perhaps, have suited the
fancy of a Fiji islander; to see his gaze of undisguised admiration on
beholding his companion's towering and massive frame in the same
unwonted costume, if we may so style it; to see the intensifying of his
astonishment when ushered into the FIRST room, at beholding six or
seven naked, and apparently dead men, laid round the walls, as if ready
for dissection; to see the monkey-like leap, accompanied by a squeal,
with which he sprang from a hot stone-bench, having sat down thereon
before it had been covered with a cloth for his reception; to see the
rapid return of his self-possession in these unusual circumstances, and
the ready manner in which he submitted himself to the various
operations, as if he had been accustomed to Turkish baths from a period
long prior to infancy; to see his horror on being introduced to the
hottest room, and his furtive glance at the door, as though he
meditated a rush into the open air, but was restrained by a sense of
personal dignity; to see the ruling passion strong as ever in this (he
firmly believed) his nearest approach to death, when, observing that
the man next to him (who, as it were, turned the corner from him) had
raised himself for a moment to arrange his pillow, he (Gillie) tipped
up the corner of the man's sheet, which hung close to his face in such
a manner that he (the man), on lying down again, placed his bare
shoulder on the hot stone, and sprang up with a yell that startled into
life the whole of the half-sleeping establishment with the exception of
the youth on the opposite bench, who, having noticed the act, was
thrown into convulsions of laughter, much to the alarm of Gillie, who
had thought he was asleep and feared that he might “tell;”—to see him
laid down like a little pink-roll to be kneaded, and to hear him
remark, in a calm voice, to the stalwart attendant that he might go in
and win and needn't be afraid of hurting him; to observe his delight
when put under the warm “douche,” his gasping shriek when unexpectedly
assailed with the “cold- shower,” and his placid air of supreme
felicity when wrapped up like a ghost in a white sheet, and left to dry
in the cooling-room—to see and hear all this, we say, would have amply
repaid a special journey to London from any reasonable distance. The
event, however, being a thing of the past and language being unequal to
the description, we are compelled to leave it all to the reader's
Chapter VI. A LESSON TAUGHT AND
Two days after the events narrated in the last chapter, rather late
in the evening, Dr. George Lawrence called at “the cabin” in Grubb's
Court, and found the Captain taking what he called a quiet pipe.
“I have been visiting poor Mrs. Leven,” he said to Mrs. Roby,
sitting down beside her, “and I fear she is a good deal worse to-night.
That kind little woman, Netta White, has agreed to sit by her. I'm
sorry that I shall be obliged to leave her at such a critical stage of
her illness, but I am obliged to go abroad for some time.”
“Goin' abroad, sir!” exclaimed Mrs. Roby in surprise, for the
Captain had not yet told her that Lawrence was to be of the party,
although he had mentioned about himself and Gillie White.
“Yes, I'm going with Mrs. Stoutley's family for some weeks to
Captain Wopper felt that his share in the arrangements was in danger
of being found out. He therefore boldly took the lead.
“Ah! I know all about that, sir.”
“Indeed?” said Lawrence.
“Yes, I dined the other day with Mrs. Stoutley; she asked ME also to
be of the party, and I'm going.”
Lawrence again exclaimed, “Indeed!” with increasing surprise, and
added, “Well, now, that IS a strange coincidence.”
“Well, d'ee know,” said the Captain, in an argumentative tone, “it
don't seem to me much of a coincidence. You know she had to git some
one to go with her son, and why not you, sir, as well as any of the
other young sawbones in London? If she hadn't got you she'd have got
another, and that would have been a coincidence to HIM, d'ee see? Then,
as to me, it wasn't unnatural that she should take a fancy to the man
that nussed her dyin' husband, an' was chum to her brother-in- law; so,
you see, that's how it came about and I'm very glad to find, sir, that
we are to sail in company for a short time.”
Lawrence returned this compliment heartily, and was about to make
some further remark, when little Netta White rushed into the room with
a frightened look and pale cheeks, exclaiming, “Oh, Dr. Lawrence, sir,
she's VERY ill. I think she's dying.”
Without waiting for a reply, the child ran out of the room followed
by Lawrence and Mrs. Roby, who was assisted by the Captain—for she
walked with great difficulty even when aided by her crutches. In a few
seconds they stood beside Mrs. Leven's bed. It was a lowly bed, with
scant and threadbare coverings, and she who lay on it was of a lowly
spirit—one who for many years had laid her head on the bosom of Jesus,
and had found Him, through a long course of poverty and mental
distress, “a very present help in trouble.”
“I fear that I'm very ill,” she said, faintly.
“No doubt you feel rather low just now,” said the doctor, “but that
is very much owing to your having lived so long on insufficient diet. I
will give you something, however, which will soon pull you up a bit.
Come, cheer up. Don't let your spirits get so low.”
“Yes,” she murmured, “I AM brought very low, but the Lord will lift
me up. He is my strength and my Redeemer.”
She clasped her hands with difficulty, and shut her eyes.
A silence followed, during which Captain Wopper drew Lawrence into
“D'you think she is near her end, doctor?”
“She looks very like it,” replied the doctor. “There is a
possibility that she might recover if the right medicine could be
found, namely, ease of mind; but her dissipated son has robbed her of
that, and is the only one who can give it back to her—if indeed he has
the power left now. She is dying of what is unprofessionally styled a
broken heart. It is unfortunate that her son is not with her at
“Does no one know where to find him?” asked the Captain.
“I fear not,” replied the doctor.
“Please, sir, I think I know,” said a subdued voice behind them.
It was that of Gillie White, who had drawn near very silently, being
overawed by the sad scene in the sick-room.
“Do you, my lad? then get along as fast as you can and show me the
way,” said the Captain, buttoning up his pilot-coat. “I'll bring him
here before long, doctor, if he's to be found.”
In a few minutes the Captain and Gillie were at the head of the
lane, where the former hailed a passing cab, bade the boy jump in, and
“Now, my lad, give the address,” said the Captain.
“The Strand,” said the boy, promptly.
“What number, sir?” asked the cabman, looking at the Captain.
“Right on till I stop you,” said Gillie, with the air of a
commander- in-chief—whom in some faint manner he now resembled, for he
was in livery, being clothed in blue tights and brass buttons.
In a short time Gillie gave the order to pull up, and they got out
in front of a brilliantly-lighted and open door with a lamp above it,
on which was written the word Billiards. The Captain observed that it
was the same door as that at which he had parted from Lewis Stoutley
some days before.
Dismissing the cab and entering, they quickly found themselves in a
large and well-lighted billiard-room, which was crowded with men of all
ages and aspects, some of whom played, others looked on and betted, a
good many drank brandy and water, and nearly all smoked. It was a
bright scene of dissipation, where many young men, deceiving themselves
with the idea that they went merely to practise or to enjoy a noble
game of skill, were taking their first steps on the road to ruin.
The Captain, closely attended by Gillie, moved slowly through the
room, looking anxiously for Fred Leven. For some time they failed to
find him. At last a loud curse, uttered in the midst of a knot of on-lookers, attracted their attention. It was followed by a general laugh,
as a young man, whose dishevelled hair and flushed face showed that he
had been drinking hard, burst from among them and staggered towards the
“Never mind, Fred,” shouted a voice that seemed familiar to the
Captain, “you'll win it back from me next time.”
Ere the youth had passed, the Captain stepped forward and laid his
hand on his arm.
Fred uttered a savage growl, and drew back his clenched hand as if
to strike, but Captain Wopper's size and calm look of decision induced
him to hold his hand.
“What d'you mean by interrupting me?” he demanded, sternly.
“My lad,” said the Captain, in a low, solemn voice, “your mother is
dying, come with me. You've no time to lose.”
The youth's face turned ashy pale, and he passed his hand hastily
across his brow.
“What's wrong?” exclaimed Lewis Stoutley, who had recognised the
Captain, and come forward at the moment.
“Did he lose his money to YOU?” asked the Captain, abruptly.
“Well, yes, he did,” retorted Lewis, with a look of offended
“Come along, then, my lad. I want YOU too. It's a case of life an'
death. Ask no questions, but come along.”
The Captain said this with such an air of authority, that Lewis felt
constrained to obey. Fred Leven seemed to follow like one in a dream.
They all got into a cab, and were driven back to Grubb's Court.
As they ascended the stair, the Captain whispered to Lewis, “Keep in
the background, my lad. Do nothing but look and listen.”
Another moment and they were in the passage, where Lawrence stopped
“You're almost too late, sir,” he said to Fred, sternly. “If you had
fed and clothed your mother better in time past, she might have got
over this. Fortunately for her, poor soul, some people, who don't
gamble away their own and their parents' means, have given her the help
that you have refused. Go in, sir, and try to speak words of comfort to
He went in, and fell on his knees beside the bed.
“Mother!” he said.
Fain would he have said more, but no word could he utter. His tongue
seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth. Mrs. Leven opened her eyes
on hearing the single word, and her cheek flushed slightly as she
seized one of his hands, kissed it and held it to her breast. Then she
looked earnestly, and oh! so anxiously, into his face, and said in a
“Fred, dear, are you s—”
She stopped abruptly.
“Yes, yes,” cried her son, passionately; “yes, mother, I'm sober
NOW! Oh mother, dearest, darling mother, I am guilty, guilty; I have
sinned. Oh forgive, forgive me! Listen, listen! I am in earnest now, my
mother. Think of me as I used to be long ago. Don't shut your eyes.
Look at me, mother, look at Fred.”
The poor woman looked at him with tears of gladness in her eyes.
“God bless you, Fred!” she murmured. “It is long, long, since you
spoke like that. But I knew you would. I have always expected that you
would. Praise the Lord!”
Fred tried to speak, and again found that he could not, but the
fountain of his soul was opened. He laid his face on his mother's hand
and sobbed bitterly.
Those who witnessed this scene stood as if spellbound. As far as
sound or motion went these two might have been in the room alone.
Presently the sound of sobbing ceased, and Fred, raising his head,
began gently to stroke the hand he held in his. Sometime in his wild
career, he knew not when or where, he had heard it said that this
slight action had often a wonderful power to soothe the sick. He
continued it for some time. Then the doctor advanced and gazed into the
“She sleeps,” he said, in a low tone.
“May I stay beside her?” whispered Fred.
Lawrence nodded assent, and then motioning to the others to
withdraw, followed them into Mrs. Roby's room, where he told them that
her sleeping was a good sign, and that they must do their best to
prevent her being disturbed.
“It won't be necessary for any one to watch. Her son will prove her
best attendant just now; but it may be as well that some one should sit
up in this room, and look in now and then to see that the candle
doesn't burn out, and that all is right. I will go now, and will make
this my first visit in the morning.”
“Captain Wopper,” said Lewis Stoutley, in a subdued voice, when
Lawrence had left, “I won this ten-pound note to-night from Fred. I—I
robbed him of it. Will you give it to him in the morning?”
“Yes, my lad, I will,” said the Captain.
“And will you let me sit up and watch here tonight?”
“No, my lad, I won't. I mean to do that myself.”
“But do let me stay an hour or so with you, in case anything is
wanted,” pleaded Lewis.
“Well, you may.”
They sat down together by the fireside, Mrs. Roby having lain down
on her bed with her clothes on, but they spoke never a word; and as
they sat there, the young man's busy brain arrayed before him many and
many a scene of death, and sickness, and suffering, and sorrow, and
madness, and despair, which, he knew well from hearsay (and he now
believed it), had been the terrible result of gambling and drink.
When the hour was past, the Captain rose and said, “Now, Lewis,
you'll go, and I'll take a look at the next room.”
He put off his shoes and went on tiptoe. Lewis followed, and took a
peep before parting.
Fred had drawn three chairs to the bedside and lain down on them,
with his shoulders resting on the edge of the bed, so that he could
continue to stroke his mother's hand without disturbing her. He had
continued doing so until his head had slowly drooped upon the pillow;
and there they now lay, the dissipated son and the humble Christian
mother, sleeping quietly together.
Chapter VII. THE GREAT WHITE
We are in Switzerland now; in the “land of the mountain and the
flood”—the land also of perennial ice and snow. The solemn presence of
the Great White Mountain is beginning to be felt. Its pure summit was
first seen from Geneva; its shadow is now beginning to steal over us.
We are on the road to Chamouni, not yet over the frontier, in a
carriage and four. Mrs. Stoutley, being a lady of unbounded wealth,
always travels post in a carriage and four when she can manage to do
so, having an unconquerable antipathy to railroads and steamers. She
could not well travel in any other fashion here, railways not having
yet penetrated the mountain regions in this direction, and a mode of
ascending roaring mountain torrents in steamboats not having yet been
discovered. She might, however, travel with two horses, but she prefers
four. Captain Wopper, who sits opposite Emma Gray, wonders in a quiet
speculative way whether “the Mines” will produce a dividend sufficient
to pay the expenses of this journey. He is quite disinterested in the
thought, it being understood that the Captain pays his own expenses.
But we wander from our text, which is—the Great White Mountain. We
are driving now under its shadow with Mrs. Stoutley's party, which, in
addition to the Captain and Miss Gray, already mentioned, includes
young Dr. George Lawrence and Lewis, who are on horseback; also Mrs.
Stoutley's maid (Mrs. Stoutley never travels without a maid), Susan
Quick, who sits beside the Captain; and Gillie White, ALIAS the Spider
and the Imp, who sits beside the driver, making earnest but futile
efforts to draw him into a conversation in English, of which language
the driver knows next to nothing.
But to return: Mrs. Stoutley and party are now in the very heart of
scenery the most magnificent; they have penetrated to a great fountain-head of European waters; they are surrounded by the cliffs, the gorges,
the moraines, and are not far from the snow-slopes and ice- fields, the
couloirs, the seracs, the crevasses, and the ice- precipices and
pinnacles of a great glacial world; but not one of the party betrays
the smallest amount of interest, or expresses the faintest emotion of
surprise, owing to the melancholy fact that all is shrouded in an
impenetrable veil of mist through which a thick fine rain percolates as
if the mountain monarch himself were bewailing their misfortunes.
“Isn't it provoking?” murmured Mrs. Stoutley drawing her shawl
“Very,” replied Emma.
“Disgusting!” exclaimed Lewis, who rode at the side of the carriage
next his cousin.
“It might be worse,” said Lawrence, with a grim smile.
“Impossible,” retorted Lewis.
“Come, Captain, have you no remark to make by way of inspiring a
little hope?” asked Mrs. Stoutley.
“Why, never havin' cruised in this region before,” answered the
Captain, “my remarks can't be of much value. Hows'ever, there IS one
idea that may be said to afford consolation, namely, that this sort o'
thing can't last. I've sailed pretty nigh in all parts of the globe,
an' I've invariably found that bad weather has its limits—that after
rain we may look for sunshine, and after storm, calm.”
“How cheering!” said Lewis, as the rain trickled from the point of
his prominent nose.
At that moment Gillie White, happening to cast his eyes upward,
beheld a vision which drew from him an exclamation of wild surprise.
They all looked quickly in the same direction, and there, through a
rent in the watery veil, they beheld a little spot of blue sky, rising
into which was a mountain-top so pure, so faint so high and
inexpressibly far off, yet so brilliant in a glow of sunshine, that it
seemed as if heaven had been opened, and one of the hills of Paradise
revealed. It was the first near view that the travellers had obtained
of these mountains of everlasting ice. With the exception of the
exclamations “Wonderful!” “Most glorious!” they found no words for a
time to express their feelings, and seemed glad to escape the necessity
of doing so by listening to the remarks of their driver, as he went
into an elaborate explanation of the name and locality of the
particular part of Mont Blanc that had been thus disclosed.
The rent in the mist closed almost as quickly as it had opened,
utterly concealing the beautiful vision; but the impression it had
made, being a first and a very deep one, could never more be removed.
The travellers lived now in the faith of what they had seen. Scepticism
was no longer possible, and in this improved frame of mind they dashed
into the village of Chamouni—one of the haunts of those whose war-cry
is “Excelsior!”—and drove to the best hotel.
Their arrival in the village was an unexpected point of interest to
many would-be mountaineers, who lounged about the place with
macintoshes and umbrellas, growling at the weather. Any event out of
the common forms a subject of interest to men who wait and have nothing
to do. As the party passed them, growlers gazed and speculated as to
who the new-comers might be. Some thought Miss Gray pretty; some
thought otherwise—to agree on any point on such a day being, of
course, impossible. Others “guessed” that the young fellows must be
uncommonly fond of riding to “get on the outside of a horse” in such
weather; some remarked that the “elderly female” seemed “used up,” or
“BLASEE,” and all agreed—yes, they DID agree on this point—that the
thing in blue tights and buttons beside the driver was the most
impudent-looking monkey the world had ever produced!
The natives of the place also had their opinions, and expressed them
to each other; especially the bronzed, stalwart sedate-looking men who
hung about in knots near the centre of the village, and seemed to
estimate the probability of the stout young Englishmen on horseback
being likely to require their services often—for these, said the
driver, were the celebrated guides of Chamouni; men of bone and muscle,
and endurance and courage; the leaders of those daring spirits who
consider—and justly so—the ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc, or
Monte Rosa, or the Matterhorn, a feat; the men who perform this feat it
may be, two or three times a week—as often as you choose to call them
to it, in fact—and think nothing of it; the men whose profession it is
to risk their lives every summer from day to day for a few francs; who
have become so inured to danger that they have grown quite familiar
with it, insomuch that some of the reckless blades among them treat it
now and then with contempt, and pay the penalty of such conduct with
Sinking into a couch in her private sitting-room, Mrs. Stoutley
resigned herself to Susan's care, and, while she was having her boots
taken off, said with a sigh:—
“Well, here we are at last. What do you think of Chamouni, Susan?”
“Rather a wet place, ma'am; ain't it?”
With a languid smile, Mrs. Stoutley admitted that it was, but added,
by way of encouragement that it was not always so. To which Susan
replied that she was glad to hear it, so she was, as nothink depressed
her spirits so much as wet and clouds, and gloom.
Susan was a pretty girl of sixteen, tall, as well as very sedate and
womanly, for her age. Having been born in one of the midland counties,
of poor, though remarkably honest, parents, who had received no
education themselves, and therefore held it to be quite unnecessary to
bestow anything so useless on their daughter, she was, until very
recently, as ignorant of all beyond the circle of her father's
homestead as the daughter of the man in the moon—supposing no
compulsory education-act to be in operation in the orb of night. Having
passed through them, she now knew of the existence of France and
Switzerland, but she was quite in the dark as to the position of these
two countries with respect to the rest of the world, and would probably
have regarded them as one and the same if their boundary-line had not
been somewhat deeply impressed upon her by the ungallant manner in
which the Customs officials examined the contents of her modest little
portmanteau in search, as Gillie gave her to understand, of tobacco.
Mrs. Stoutley had particularly small feet, a circumstance which
might have induced her, more than other ladies, to wear easy boots; but
owing to some unaccountable perversity of mental constitution, she
deemed this a good reason for having her boots made unusually tight.
The removal of these, therefore, afforded great relief, and the
administration of a cup of tea produced a cheering reaction of spirits,
under the influence of which she partially forgot herself, and resolved
to devote a few minutes to the instruction of her interestingly
“Yes,” she said, arranging herself comfortably, and sipping her tea,
while Susan busied herself putting away her lady's “things,” and
otherwise tidying the room, “it does not always rain here; there is a
little sunshine sometimes. By the way, where is Miss Gray?”
“In the bedroom, ma'am, unpacking the trunks.”
“Ah, well, as I was saying, they have a little sunshine sometimes,
for you know, Susan, people MUST live, and grass or grain cannot grow
without sunshine, so it has been arranged that there should be enough
here for these purposes, but no more than enough, because Switzerland
has to maintain its character as one of the great refrigerators of
“One of the what, ma'am?”
“Refrigerators,” explained Mrs. Stoutley; “a refrigerator, Susan, is
a freezer; and it is the special mission of Switzerland to freeze
nearly all the water that falls on its mountains, and retain it there
in the form of ice and snow until it is wanted for the use of man.
Isn't that a grand idea?”
The lecturer's explanation had conveyed to Susan's mind the idea of
the Switzers going with long strings of carts to the top of Mont Blanc
for supplies of ice to meet the European demand, and she admitted that
it WAS a grand idea, and asked if the ice and snow lasted long into the
“Long into it!” exclaimed her teacher. “Why, you foolish thing, its
lasts all through it.”
“Oh indeed, ma'am!” said Susan, who entertained strong doubts in her
heart as to the correctness of Mrs. Stoutley's information on this
“Yes,” continued that lady, with more animation than she had
experienced for many months past, so invigorating was the change of
moral atmosphere induced by this little breeze of instruction; “yes,
the ice and snow cover the hills and higher valleys for dozens and
dozens of miles round here in all directions, not a few inches deep,
such as we sometimes see in England, but with thousands and millions of
tons of it, so that the ice in the valleys is hundreds of feet thick,
and never melts away altogether, but remains there from year to year
—has been there, I suppose, since the world began, and will continue, I
fancy, until the world comes to an end.”
Mrs. Stoutley warmed up here, to such an extent that she absolutely
flushed, and Susan, who had heretofore regarded her mistress merely as
a weakish woman, now set her down, mentally, as a barefaced story-teller.
“Surely, ma'am,” she said, with diffidence, “ice and snow like that
doesn't fill ALL the valleys, else we should see it, and find it
difficult to travel through 'em; shouldn't we, ma'am?”
“Silly girl!” exclaimed her preceptress, “I did not say it filled
ALL the valleys, but the HIGHER valleys—valleys such as, in England
and Scotland, would be clothed with pasturage and waving grain, and
dotted with cattle and sheep and smiling cottages.”
Mrs. Stoutley had by this time risen to a heroic frame, and spoke
poetically, which accounts for her ascribing risible powers to
“And thus you see, Susan,” she continued, “Switzerland is, as it
were, a great ice-tank, or a series of ice-tanks, in which the ice of
ages is accumulated and saved up, so that the melting of a little of it
—the mere dribbling of it, so to speak—is sufficient to cause the
continuous flow of innumerable streams and of great rivers, such as the
Rhone, and the Rhine, and the Var.”
The lecture received unexpected and appropriate illustration here by
the sudden lifting of the mists, which had hitherto blotted out the
“Oh, aunt!” exclaimed Emma, running in at the moment, “just look at
the hills. How exquisite! How much grander than if we had seen them
quite clear from the first!”
Emma was strictly correct, for it is well known that the grandeur of
Alpine scenery is greatly enhanced by the wild and weird movements of
the gauze-like drapery with which it is almost always partially
As the trio stood gazing in silent wonder and admiration from their
window, which, they had been informed, commanded a view of the summit
of Mont Blanc, the mist had risen like a curtain partially rolled up.
All above the curtain-foot presented the dismal grey, to which they had
been too long accustomed, but below, and, as it were, far behind this
curtain, the mountain-world was seen rising upwards.
So close were they to the foot of the Great White Monarch, that it
seemed to tower like a giant-wall before them; but this wall was varied
and beautiful as well as grand. Already the curtain had risen high
enough to disclose hoary cliffs and precipices, with steep grassy
slopes between, and crowned with fringes of dark pines; which latter,
although goodly trees, looked like mere shrubs in their vast setting.
Rills were seen running like snowy veins among the slopes, and losing
themselves in the masses of DEBRIS at the mountain-foot. As they gazed,
the curtain rose higher, disclosing new and more rugged features, on
which shone a strange, unearthly light—the result of shadow from the
mist and sunshine behind it—while a gleam of stronger light tipped the
curtain's under-edge in one direction. Still higher it rose! Susan
exclaimed that the mountain was rising into heaven; and Emma and Mrs.
Stoutley, whose reading had evidently failed to impress them with a
just conception of mountain-scenery, stood with clasped hands in silent
expectancy and admiration. The gleam of stronger light above referred
to, widened, and Susan almost shrieked with ecstasy when the curtain
seemed to rend, and the gleam resolved itself into the great Glacier
des Bossons, which, rolling over the mountain-brow like a very world of
ice, thrust its mighty tongue down into the valley.
From that moment Susan's disbelief in her lady's knowledge changed
into faith, and deepened into profound veneration.
It was, however, only a slight glimpse that had been thus afforded
of the ice-world by which they were surrounded. The great ice-fountain
of those regions, commencing at the summit of Mont Blanc, flings its
ample waves over mountain and vale in all directions, forming a throne
on which perpetual winter reigns, and this glacier des Bossons, which
filled the breasts of our travellers with such feelings of awe, was but
one of the numerous rivers which flow from the fountain down the gorges
and higher valleys of the Alps, until they reach those regions where
summer heat asserts itself, and checks their further progress in the
form of ice by melting them.
“Is it possible,” said Emma, as she gazed at the rugged and riven
mass of solid ice before her, “that a glacier really FLOWS?”
“So learned men tell us, and so we must believe,” said Mrs.
“Flows, ma'am?” exclaimed Susan, in surprise.
“Yes, so it is said,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, with a smile.
“But we can see, ma'am, by lookin' at it, that it DON'T flow; can't
we, ma'am?” said Susan.
“True, Susan, it does not seem to move; nevertheless scientific men
tell us that it does, and sometimes we are bound to believe against the
evidence of our senses.”
Susan looked steadily at the glacier for some time; and then,
although she modestly held her tongue, scientific men fell considerably
in her esteem.
While the ladies were thus discussing the glacier and enlightening
their maid, Lewis, Lawrence, and the Captain, taking advantage of the
improved state of the weather, had gone out for a stroll, partly with a
view, as Lewis said, to freshen up their appetites for dinner—
although, to say truth, the appetites of all three were of such a
nature as to require no freshening up. They walked smartly along the
road which leads up the valley, pausing, ever and anon, to look back in
admiration at the wonderful glimpses of scenery disclosed by the
lifting mists. Gradually these cleared away altogether, and the
mountain summits stood out well defined against the clear sky. And
then, for the first time, came a feeling of disappointment.
“Why, Lawrence,” said Lewis, “didn't they tell us that we could see
the top of Mont Blanc from Chamouni?”
“They certainly did,” replied Lawrence, “but I can't see it.”
“There are two or three splendid-looking peaks,” said Lewis,
pointing up the valley, “but surely that's not the direction of the top
we look for.”
“No, my lad, it ain't the right point o' the compass by a long way,”
said the Captain; “but yonder goes a strange sail a-head, let's
“Heave a-head then, Captain,” said Lewis, “and clap on stun's'ls and
sky-scrapers, for the strange sail is making for that cottage on the
hill, and will get into port before we overhaul her if we don't look
The “strange sail” was a woman. She soon turned into the cottage
referred to, but our travellers followed her up, arranging, as they
drew near, that Lawrence, being the best French scholar of the three
(the Captain knowing nothing whatever of the language), should address
She turned out to be a very comely young woman, the wife, as she
explained, of one of the Chamouni guides, named Antoine Grennon. Her
daughter, a pretty blue-eyed girl of six or so, was busy arranging a
casket of flowers, and the grandmother of the family was engaged in
that mysterious mallet-stone-scrubbing-brush-and-cold-water system,
whereby the washerwomen of the Alps convert the linen of tourists into
shreds and patches in the shortest possible space of time.
After some complimentary remarks, Lawrence asked if it were possible
to see the summit of Mont Blanc from where they stood.
Certainly it was; the guide's pretty wife could point it out and
attempted to do so, but was for a long time unsuccessful, owing to the
interference of preconceived notions—each of our travellers having set
his heart upon beholding a majestic peak of rugged rock, mingled,
perhaps, with ice-blocks and snow.
“Most extraordinary,” exclaimed the puzzled Captain, “I've squinted
often enough at well-known peaks when on the look-out for landmarks
from the sea, an' never failed to make 'em out. Let me see,” he added,
getting behind the woman so as to look straight along her outstretched
arm, “no, I can't see it. My eyes must be giving way.”
“Surely,” said Lawrence, “you don't mean that little piece of smooth
snow rising just behind the crest of yonder mountain like a bit of
“Oui, monsieur”—that was precisely what she meant; THAT was the
summit of Mont Blanc.
And so, our three travellers—like many hundreds of travellers who
had gone before them, and like many, doubtless, who shall follow—were
grievously disappointed with their first view of Mont Blanc! They
lived, however to change their minds, to discover that the village of
Chamouni lies too close to the toe of the Great White Mountain to
permit of his being seen to advantage. One may truly see a small scrap
of the veritable top from Chamouni, but one cannot obtain an idea of
what it is that he sees. As well might a beetle walk close up to the
heel of a man, and attempt from that position to form a correct
estimate of his size; as well might one plant himself two inches
distant from a large painting and expect to do it justice! No, in order
to understand Mont Blanc, to “realise” it, to appreciate it adequately,
it requires that we should stand well back, and get up on one of the
surrounding heights, and make the discovery that as WE rise HE rises,
and looks vaster and more tremendous the further off we go and the
higher up we rise, until, with foot planted on the crest of one of the
neighbouring giants, we still look up, as well as down, and learn—with
a feeling of deeper reverence, it may be, for the Maker of the
“everlasting hills”—that the grand monarch with the hoary head does in
reality tower supreme above them all.
Chapter VIII. INTRODUCES THE READER
TO VARIOUS PERSONAGES, AND TOUCHES ON GLACIERS.
At this time our travellers, having only just been introduced to the
mountain, had a great deal to hear and see before they understood him.
They returned to the hotel with the feeling of disappointment still
upon them, but with excellent appetites for dinner.
In the SALLE A MANGER they met with a miscellaneous assortment of
tourists. These, of whom there were above thirty, varied not only as to
size and feature, but as to country and experience. There were veteran
Alpine men—steady, quiet, bronzed-looking fellows, some of them—who
looked as if they had often “attacked” and conquered the most dangerous
summits, and meant to do so again. There were men, and women too, from
England, America, Germany, France, and Russia. Some had been at
Chamouni before, and wore the self-possessed air of knowledge; others
had obviously never been there before, and were excited. Many were full
of interest and expectation, a few, chiefly very young men, wore a
BLASE, half-pitiful, half-patronising air, as though to say, “that's
right, good people, amuse yourselves with your day-dreams while you
may. WE have tried a few weeks of this sort of thing, and have done a
summit or two; in imagination we have also been up Mont Blanc and Monte
Rosa, and the Matterhorn, and a few of the Hymalaya peaks, and most of
the mountains in the moon, and several of the fixed stars, and—haw
—are now rather boa-r-d with it all than otherwise!” There were men who
had done much and who said little, and men who had done little and who
spoke much. There were “ice-men” who had a desire to impart their
knowledge, and would-be ice-men who were glad to listen. Easy-going men
and women there were, who flung the cares of life behind them, and
“went in,” as they said, for enjoyment; and who, with abounding animal
spirits, a dash of religious sentiment, much irrepressible humour and
fun, were really pleasant objects to look at, and entertaining
companions to travel with. Earnest men and women there were, too, who
gathered plants and insects, and made pencil-sketches and water-colour
drawings during their rambles among mountains and valleys, and not a
few of whom chronicled faithfully their experiences from day to day.
There was a Polish Count, a tall, handsome, middle-aged, care-worn,
anxious-looking man, who came there, apparently in search of health,
and who was cared for and taken care of by a dark-eyed little daughter.
This daughter was so beautiful, that it ought to have made the Count
well—so thought most of the young men—simply to look at her! There
was a youthful British Lord, who had come to “do” Mont Blanc and a few
other peaks. He was under charge of a young man of considerable
experience in mountaineering, whose chief delight seemed to be the
leading of his charge to well- known summits by any other and more
difficult tracks than the obvious and right ones, insomuch that Lewis
Stoutley, who had a tendency to imprudent remark, said in his hearing
that he had heard of men who, in order to gain the roof of a house,
preferred to go up by the waterspout rather than the staircase. There
was an artist, whom Lewis—being, as already observed, given to
insolence—styled the mad artist because he was enthusiastic in his
art, galvanic in his actions, and had large, wild eyes, with long hair,
and a broad-brimmed conical hat. Besides these, there was a Russian
Professor, who had come there for purposes of scientific investigation,
and a couple of German students, and a Scotch man of letters, whose aim
was general observation, and several others, whose end was simply
seeing the world.
In the arrangements of the table, Captain Wopper found himself
between Emma Gray and the Polish Count, whose name was Horetzki.
Directly opposite to him sat Mrs. Stoutley, having her son Lewis on her
right, and Dr. Lawrence on her left. Beside the Count sat his lovely
little daughter Nita, and just opposite to her was the mad artist. This
arrangement was maintained throughout the sojourn of the various
parties during their stay at Chamouni. They did, indeed, shift their
position as regarded the table, according to the arrival or departure
of travellers, but not in regard to each other.
Now it is an interesting, but by no means surprising fact, that
Cupid planted himself in the midst of this party, and, with his fat
little legs, in imminent danger of capsizing the dishes, began to draw
his bow and let fly his arrows right and left. Being an airy sprite,
though fat, and not at any time particularly visible, a careless
observer might have missed seeing him; but to any one with moderate
powers of observation, he was there, straddling across a dish of salad
as plain as the salt-cellar before Captain Wopper's nose. His deadly
shafts, too, were visibly quivering in the breasts of Lewis Stoutley,
George Lawrence, and the mad artist. Particularly obvious were these
shafts in the case of the last, who was addicted to gazing somewhat
presumptuously on “lovely woman” in general, from what he styled an
artistic point of view—never from any other point of view; of course
Whether or not Cupid had discharged his artillery at the young
ladies, we cannot say, for they betrayed no evidence of having been
wounded. In their case, he must either have missed his aim, or driven
his shafts home with such vigour, that they were buried out of sight
altogether in their tender hearts. It is probable that not one member
of that miscellaneous company gave a thought at that time to the
wounded men, except the wounded men themselves, so absorbing is the
love of food! The wounded were, however, sharp-set in all respects.
They at once descried each other's condition, and, instead of
manifesting sympathy with each other, were, strange to say, filled with
intense jealousy. This at least is true of the younger men. Lawrence,
being somewhat older, was more secretive and self-possessed.
At first Captain Wopper, having declined a dish of cauliflower
because it was presented ALONE, and having afterwards accepted a mutton
chop ALONE, with feelings of poignant regret that he had let the
cauliflower go by, was too busy to observe what the heathen-mythological youngster was doing. Indeed, at most times, the said
youngster might have discharged a whole quiver of arrows into the
Captain's eyes without his being aware of the attack; but, at the
present time, the Captain, as the reader is aware, was up to the eyes
in a plot in which Cupid's aid was necessary; he had, as it were,
invoked the fat child's presence. When, therefore, he had got over the
regrets about the cauliflower, and had swallowed the mutton-chop, he
began to look about him—to note the converse that passed between the
young men, and the frequent glances they cast at the young women.
It was not the first time that the Captain had, so to speak, kept
his weather-eye open in regard to the affection which he had made up
his mind must now have been awakened in the breasts of George Lawrence
and Emma Gray; but hitherto his hopes, although sanguine, had not
received encouragement. Though polite and respectful to each other,
they were by no means tender; altogether, they acted quite differently
from what the Captain felt that he would have done in similar
circumstances. A suspicion had even crossed the poor seaman's mind that
Emma was in love with her handsome and rattling cousin Lewis; but
anxiety on this head was somewhat allayed by other and conflicting
circumstances, such as occasional remarks by Lewis, to the effect that
Emma was a goose, or a pert little monkey, or that she knew nothing
beyond house-keeping and crochet, and similar compliments. Now,
however, in a certain animated conversation between Lawrence and Emma,
the designing seaman thought he saw the budding of his deep-laid plans,
and fondly hoped ere long to behold the bud developed into the flower
of matrimony. Under this conviction he secretly hugged himself, but in
the salon, that evening, he opened his arms and released himself on
beholding the apparently fickle Lawrence deeply engaged in converse
with the Count Horetzki, to whose pretty daughter, however, he
addressed the most of his remarks.
The Captain, being a blunt honest, straightforward man, could not
understand this state of matters, and fell into a fit of abstracted
perplexity on the sofa beside Mrs. Stoutley, who listened listlessly to
the Russian Professor as he attempted to explain to her and Emma the
nature of a glacier.
“Well, I don't understand it at all,” said Mrs. Stoutley, at the end
of one of the Professor's most lucid expositions.
We may remark, in passing, that the Professor, like many of his
countrymen, was a good linguist and spoke English well.
“Not understand it!” he exclaimed, with a slight elevation of his
eyebrows. “My dear madam, it is most plain, but I fear my want of good
English does render me not quite intelligible.”
“Your English is excellent,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, with a smile,
“but I fear that my brain is not a sufficiently clear one on such
matters, for I confess that I cannot understand it. Can you, Captain
“Certainly not, ma'am,” answered the Captain, thinking of the fickle
Lawrence; “it takes the wind out of my sails entirely.”
“Indeed!” said the Professor. “Well, do permit me to try again. You
understand that all the mountain-tops and elevated plateaus, for many
miles around here, are covered with ice and snow.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the Captain, awaking to the fact that his answer was
not relevant; “may I ax what is the particular pint that puzzles you,
Emma laughed aloud at this, and coughed a little to conceal the
fact. She was rather easily taken by surprise with passing touches of
the ludicrous, and had not yet acquired the habit of effectually
suppressing little explosions of undertoned mirth.
“The thing that puzzles me,” said Mrs. Stoutley, “is, that glaciers
should FLOW, as I am told they do, and yet that they should be as hard
and brittle as glass.”
“Ah, well, yes, just so, h'm!” said the Captain, looking very wise;
“that is exactly the pint that I want to know myself; for no man who
looks at the great tongue of that glacier day Bossung—”
“Des Bossons,” said the Professor, with a bland smile.
“Day Bossong,” repeated the Captain, “can deny that it is marked
with all the lines, and waves, an eddies of a rollin' river, an' yet as
little can they deny that it seems as hard-and-fast as the rock of
The Professor nodded approvingly.
“You are right, Captain Whipper—”
“Wopper,” said the Captain, with a grave nod.
“Wopper,” repeated the Professor, “the glacier des Bossons, like all
the other glaciers, seems to remain immovable, though in reality it
flows—ever flows—downward; but its motion is so slow, that it is not
perceptible to the naked eye. Similarly, the hour-hand of a watch is to
appearance motionless. Do you want proof? Mark it just now; look again
in quarter of an hour, and you see that it has moved. You are
convinced. It is so with the glacier. Mark him to-day, go back to-morrow—the mark has changed. Some glaciers flow at the rate of two and
three feet in the twenty-four hours.”
“Yes, but HOW do they flow, being so brittle?” demanded Mrs.
“Ay, that's the pint, Professor,” said the Captain, nodding, “HOW do
they flow, bein' made of hard and brittle ice?”
“Why, by rolling higgledy-piggledy over itself of course,” said
Lewis, flippantly, as he came up and sat down on the end of the sofa,
being out of humour with himself and everybody in consequence of having
utterly failed to gain the attention of Nita Horetzki, although he had
made unusually earnest efforts to join in conversation with her father.
Owing to somewhat similar feelings, the artist had flung himself into a
chair, and sat glaring at the black fireplace with a degree of
concentration that ought to have lighted the firewood therein.
“The cause of a glacier flowing,” said the Professor, “has long been
a disputed point. Some men of science have held that it is the pressure
of ice and snow behind it which causes it to flow. They do not think
that it flows like water, but say it is forced from behind, and crushed
through gorges and down valleys, as it were, unwillingly. They say
that, if left alone, as they now are, without additions, from this time
forward, glaciers would no longer move; they would rest, and slowly
melt away; that their motion is due to the fact that there are miles
and miles of snow-fields, thousands of feet deep, on the mountain-tops
and in the gorges, to which fresh snows are added every winter, so that
the weight of what is behind, slipping off the slopes and falling from
the cliffs, crushes down and forward that which is below; thus glaciers
cannot choose but advance.”
“Ay, ay,” said the Captain, “no doubt no doubt that may be so; but
why is it that, bein' as brittle as glass, a glacier don't come
rumblin' and clatterin' down the valleys in small hard bits, like ten
thousand millions of smashed-up chandeliers?”
“Ay, there's the rub,” exclaimed Lewis; “what say you to that?”
“Ha!” exclaimed the Professor, again smiling blandly, “there you
have touched what once was, and, to some philosophers it seems, still
is, the great difficulty. By some great men it has been held that
glacier ice is always in a partially soft, viscid, or semi-fluid
condition, somewhat like pitch, so that, although APPARENTLY a solid,
brittle, and rigid body, it flows sluggishly in reality. Other
philosophers have denied this theory, insisting that the ice of
glaciers is NOT like pitch, but like glass, and that it cannot be
squeezed without being broken, nor drawn without being cracked. These
philosophers have discovered that when ice is subjected to great
pressure it melts, and that, when the pressure is removed, the part so
melted immediately freezes again—hence the name regelation, or
re-freezing, is given to the process. Thus a glacier, they say, is in
many places being continually melted and continually and
instantaneously re-frozen, so that it is made to pass through narrow
gorges, and to open out again when the enormous pressure has been
removed. But this theory of regelation, although unquestionably true,
and although it exercises SOME influence on glacier motion, does not,
in my opinion, alone account for it. The opinion which seems to be most
in favour among learned men—and that which I myself hold firmly—is,
the theory of the Scottish Professor Forbes, namely, that a glacier is
a semi-fluid body, it is largely impregnated throughout its extent with
water, its particles move round and past each other—in other words, it
flows in precisely the same manner as water, the only difference being
that it is not quite so fluid; it is sluggish in its flow, but it
certainly models itself to the ground over which it is forced by its
own gravity, and it is only rent or broken into fragments when it is
compelled to turn sharp angles, or to pass over steep convex slopes.
Forbes, by his careful measurements and investigations, proved
incontestably that in some glaciers the central portion travelled down
its valley at double or treble the rate of its sides, without the
continuity of the mass being broken. In small masses, indeed, glacier-ice is to all appearance rigid, but on a large scale it is
“Has the theory of regelation been put to the proof?” asked Lewis,
with a degree of interest in glaciers which he had never before felt.
“It has,” answered the Professor. “An experimentalist once cut a bar
of solid ice, like to a bar of soap in form and size, from a glacier.
To this an iron weight of several pounds was suspended by means of a
very fine wire, which was tied round the bar. The pressure of the wire
melted the ice under it; as the water escaped it instantly re-froze
above the wire; thus the wire went on cutting its way through the bar,
and the water went on freezing, until at last the weight fell to the
ground, and left the bar as solid and entire as if it had never been
“Well, now,” said Captain Wopper, bringing his hand down on his
thigh with a slap that did more to arouse Mrs. Stoutley out of her
languor than the Professor's lecture on glacier ice, “I've sailed round
the world, I have, an' seen many a strange sight, and what I've got to
say is that I'll believe that when I SEE it.”
“You shall see it soon then, I hope,” said the Professor, more
blandly than ever, “for I intend to verify this experiment along with
several others. I go to the Mer de Glace, perhaps as far as the Jardin,
to- morrow. Will you come?”
“What may the Jardang be?” asked the Captain.
“Hallo! monkey, what's wrong?” said Lewis to Emma, referring to one
of the undertoned safety-valves before mentioned.
“Nothing,” replied Emma, pursing her little lips till they resembled
“The Jardin, or garden,” said the Professor, “is a little spot of
exquisite beauty in the midst of the glaciers, where a knoll of green
grass and flowers peeps up in the surrounding sterility. It is one of
the regular excursions from Chamouni.”
“Can ladies go?” asked Lewis.
“Young and active ladies can,” said the Professor, with his blandest
possible smile, as he bowed to Emma.
“Then, we'll all go together,” cried Lewis, with energy.
“Not all,” said Mrs. Stoutley, with a sigh, “I am neither young nor
“Nonsense, mother, you're quite young yet, you know, and as active
as a kitten when you've a mind to be. Come, we'll have a couple of
porters and a chair to have you carried when you knock up.”
Notwithstanding the glowing prospects of ease and felicity thus
opened up to her, Mrs. Stoutley resolutely refused to go on this
excursion, but she generously allowed Emma to go if so disposed. Emma,
being disposed, it was finally arranged that, on the following day,
she, the Captain, Lewis, and Lawrence, with Gillie White as her page,
should proceed up the sides of Mont Blanc with the man of science, and
over the Mer de Glace to the Jardin.
Chapter IX. A SOLID STREAM.
There is a river of ice in Switzerland, which, taking its rise on
the hoary summit of Mont Blanc, flows through a sinuous
mountain-channel, and terminates its grand career by liquefaction in
the vale of Chamouni. A mighty river it is in all respects, and a
wonderful one—full of interest and mystery and apparent
contradiction. It has a grand volume and sweep, varying from one to
four miles in width, and is about twelve miles long, with a depth of
many hundreds of feet. It is motionless to the eye, yet it descends
into the plain continually. It is hard and unyielding in its nature,
yet it flows as really and steadily, if not with as lithe a motion, as
a liquid river. It is NOT a half solid mass like mud, which might roll
slowly down an incline; it is solid, clear, transparent, brittle ice,
which refuses to bend, and cracks sharply under a strain; nevertheless,
it has its waves and rapids, cross-currents, eddies, and cascades,
which, seen from a moderate distance, display all the grace and beauty
of flowing water—as if a grand river in all its varied parts, calm
and turbulent, had been actually and suddenly arrested in its course
and frozen to the bottom.
It is being melted perpetually too. The fierce sun of summer sends
millions of tiny streamlets down into its interior, which collect,
augment, cut channels for themselves through the ice, and finally gush
into the plain from its lower end in the form of a muddy river. Even in
winter this process goes on, yet the ice-river never melts entirely
away, but holds on its cold, stately, solemn course from year to year
—has done so for unknown ages, and will probably do so to the end of
time. It is picturesque in its surroundings, majestic in its motion,
tremendous in its action, awful in its sterility, and, altogether, one
of the most impressive and sublime works of God.
This gigantic glacier, or stream of ice, springing, as it does, from
the giant-mountain of Europe, is appropriately hemmed in, and its
mighty force restrained, by a group of Titans, whose sharp aiguilles,
or needle-like peaks, shoot upward to a height little short of their
rounded and white-headed superior, and from whose wild gorges and riven
sides tributary ice-rivers flow, and avalanches thunder incessantly.
Leaving its cradle on the top of Mont Blanc, the great river sweeps
round the Aiguille du Geant; and, after receiving its first name of
Glacier du Geant from that mighty obelisk of rock, which rises 13,156
feet above the sea, it passes onward to welcome two grand tributaries,
the Glacier de Lechaud, from the rugged heights of the Grandes
Jorasses, and the Glacier du Talefre from the breast of the Aiguille du
Talefre and the surrounding heights. Thus augmented, the river is named
the Mer de Glace, or sea of ice, and continues its downward course; but
here it encounters what may be styled “the narrows,” between the crags
at the base of the Aiguille Charmoz and Aiguille du Moine, through
which it steadily forces its way, though compressed to much less than
half its width by the process. In one place the Glacier du Geant is
above eleven hundred yards wide; that of the Lechaud is above eight
hundred; that of Talefre above six hundred—the total, when joined, two
thousand five hundred yards; and this enormous mass of solid ice is
forced through a narrow neck of the valley, which is, in round numbers,
only NINE HUNDRED yards wide! Of course the ice-river must gain in
depth what it loses in breadth in this gorge, through which it travels
at the rate of twenty inches a day. Thereafter, it tumbles ruggedly to
its termination in the vale of Chamouni, under the name of the Glacier
The explanation of the causes of the rise and flow of this ice-river
we will leave to the genial and enthusiastic Professor, who glories in
dilating on such matters to Captain Wopper, who never tires of the
Huge, however, though this glacier of the Mer de Glace be, it is
only one of a series of similar glaciers which constitute the outlets
to that vast reservoir of ice formed by the wide range of Mont Blanc,
where the snows of successive winters are stored, packed, solidified,
and rendered, as it were, self-regulating in their supplies of water to
the plains. And the Mont Blanc range itself is but a portion of the
great glacial world of Switzerland, the area occupied by which is
computed at 900 square miles. Two-thirds of these send their waters to
the sea through the channel of the Rhine. The most extensive of these
glaciers is the Aletsch glacier, which is fifteen miles in length. It
is said that above six hundred distinct glaciers have been reckoned in
This, good reader, is but a brief reference to the wonders of the
glacial world. It is but a scratching of the surface. There is a very
mine of interesting, curious, and astonishing facts below the surface.
Nature is prodigal of her information to those who question her
closely, correctly, and perseveringly. Even to those who observe her
carelessly, she is not altogether dumb. She is generous; and the God of
Nature has caused it to be written for our instruction that, “His works
are wonderful, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.”
We may not, however, prolong our remarks on the subject of
ice-rivers at this time. Our travellers at Chamouni are getting ready
to start, and it is our duty at present to follow them.
Chapter X. THE FIRST EXCURSION.
“A Splendid morning!” exclaimed Dr. George Lawrence, as he entered
the SALLE A MANGER with an obviously new alpenstock in his hand.
“Jolly!” replied Lewis Stoutley, who was stooping at the moment to
button one of his gaiters.
Lewis was addicted to slang, not by any means an uncommon
characteristic of youth!
“The man,” he said, with some bitterness, “who invented big buttons
and little button-holes should have had his nose skewered with a
button-hook. He was an ass!”
In order to relieve his feelings and accomplish his ends, Lewis
summarily enlarged the holes with his penknife.
“And ROUND buttons, too,” he said, indignantly; “what on earth was
the use of making round buttons when flat ones had been invented? A big
hole and a flat button will hold against anything—even against Scotch
whins and heather. There, now, that abominable job is done.”
“You are fond of strong language, Lewie,” said Lawrence, as he
examined the spike at the end of his alpenstock.
“I am. It relieves my feelings.”
“But don't you think it weakens your influence on occasions when
nothing but strong language will serve? You rob yourself of the power,
you know, to increase the force of it.”
“Oh bother! don't moralise, man, but let's have your opinion of the
weather, which is an all-important subject just now.”
“I have already given my opinion as to that,” said Lawrence, “but
here comes one who will give us an opinion of value.—He is in capital
“Good morning, Antoine.”
Their guide for the day, Antoine Grennon, a fine stalwart specimen
of his class, returned the salutation, and added that it was a very
“Capital, isn't it?” cried Lewis, cheerfully, for he had got over
the irritation caused by the buttons. “Couldn't be better; could it?”
The guide did not admit that the weather could not be better.
“You look doubtful, Antoine,” said Lawrence. “Don't you think the
day will keep up?”
“Keep up!” exclaimed Lewis; “why, the sky is perfectly clear. Of
course it will. I never saw a finer day, even in England. Why do you
doubt it, Antoine?”
The guide pointed to a small cloud that hung over the brow of one of
the higher peaks.
“Appearances are sometimes deceitful in this country,” he said. “I
don't doubt the fineness of the day at present, but—”
He was interrupted here by the sudden and noisy entrance of Captain
Wopper and the Professor, followed by the mad artist, whose name, by
the way, was Slingsby.
“No, no,” said the Captain to the Professor, with whom he had
already become very intimate, “it won't do to part company. If the
Jardang is too far for the ladies, we will steer for the Mairdyglass,
an' cross over to the what's-'is-name—”
“Chapeau,” said the Professor.
“Ah! the shappo,” continued the Captain, “and so down by the glacier
“The what?” asked Lewis, with a half-suppressed smile.
“The glacier dez boys, youngster,” repeated the Captain, stoutly.
“Oh, I see; you mean the Glacier des Bois?” said Lewis, suppressing
the smile no longer.
“What I mean, young man,” said the Captain, sternly, “is best known
to myself. You and other College-bred coxcombs may call it day bwa, if
you like, but I have overhauled the chart, and there it's spelt d-e-s,
which sounds dez, and b-o-i-s, which seafarin' men pronounce boys, so
don't go for to cross my hawse again, but rather join me in tryin' to
indooce the Professor to putt off his trip to the Jardang, an' sail in
company with us for the day.”
“I will join you heartily in that,” said Lewis, turning to the man
of science, who stood regarding the Captain with an amiable smile, as a
huge Newfoundland dog might regard a large mastiff; “but why is our
proposed excursion to the Jardin to be altered?”
“Because,” said the Professor, “your amiable sister—I beg pardon,
cousin—with that irresistible power of suasion which seems inherent in
her nature, has prevailed on Mademoiselle Horetzki to join the party,
and Mademoiselle is too delicate—sylph-like—to endure the fatigues of
so long an excursion over the ice. Our worthy guide suggests that it
would afford more pleasure to the ladies—and of course, therefore, to
the gentlemen—if you were to make your first expedition only to the
Montanvert which is but a two hours' climb from Chamouni, picnic there,
cross the Mer de Glace, which is narrow at that point, and descend
again to Chamouni by the side of the Glacier des Bois, where you can
behold the great moraines, and also the source of the river Arveiron.
This would be a pleasant and not too fatiguing round, and I, who might
perhaps be an encumbrance to you, will prosecute my inquiries at the
“Impossible,” exclaimed Lewis, “the Captain is right when he
observes that we must not part company. As my mother says, we are a
giddy crew, and will be the better of a little scientific ballast to
keep us from capsizing into a crevasse. Do come, my dear sir, if it
were only out of charity, to keep us in order.”
To this entreaty Lawrence and the artist added their persuasions,
which were further backed by the eloquence of Emma Gray and Nita
Horetzki, who entered at the moment radiant with the flush of life's
dawning day, and irresistible in picturesque mountain attire, the chief
characteristics of which consisted in an extensive looping up of
drapery, and an ostentatious display of those staffs called
alpenstocks, five feet long, tipped with chamois horn, which are an
indispensable requisite in Alpine work.
“Oh! you MUSS go,” said Nita, in silvery tones and disjointed
English. “If you go not, monsieur, I go not!”
“That of course decides the question, Mademoiselle,” said the
gallant Professor, with one of his blandest smiles, “I shall accompany
you with pleasure. But I have one little request to make. My time at
Chamouni is short; will you permit me, on arriving at the Mer de Glace,
to prosecute my inquiries? I am here to ask questions of Nature, and
must do so with perseverance and patience. Will you allow me to devote
more of my attention to HER than to yourself?”
“I'm! well—what you say, Mademoiselle Gray?” demanded Nita, with an
arch look at her companion. “Is the Professor's request reasonable?”
To this Emma replied that as Nature was, upon the whole, a more
important lady than either of them, she thought it WAS reasonable;
whereupon the Professor agreed to postpone his visit to the Jardin, and
devote his day to fixing stakes and making observations on the Mer de
Glace, with a view to ascertaining the diurnal rate of speed at which
the glacier flowed.
“You spoke of putting certain questions to Nature, Professor,” said
Lawrence, when the party were slowly toiling up the mountain-side.
“Have they not already been put to her, and satisfactorily answered
some time ago?”
“They have been put,” replied the Professor, “by such learned men as
Saussure, Agassiz, Rendu, Charpentier, and by your own countryman
Forbes, and others, and undoubtedly their questions have received
distinct answers, insomuch that our knowledge of the nature and action
of glacial ice is now very considerable. But, my dear sir, learned men
have not been agreed as to what Nature's replies mean, nor have they
exhausted the subject; besides, no true man of science is quite
satisfied with merely hearing the reports of others, he is not content
until he has met and conversed with Nature face to face. I wish,
therefore, to have a personal interview with her in these Alps, or
rather,” continued the Professor, in a more earnest tone, “I do wish to
see the works of my Maker with my own eyes, and to hear His voice with
the ears of my own understanding.”
“Your object, then, is to verify, not to discover?” said Lawrence.
“It is both. Primarily to verify; but the man of science always goes
forth with the happy consciousness that the mine in which he proposes
to dig is rich in gems, and that, while seeking for one sort, he may
light upon another unexpectedly.”
“When Captain Wopper turned up yonder gem, he lit on one which, if
not of the purest water, is unquestionably a brilliant specimen of the
class to which it belongs,” said Lewis, coming up at that moment, and
pointing to a projection in the somewhat steep part of the path up
which they were winding.
The gem referred to was no other than our friend Gillie White. That
hilarious youth, although regenerated outwardly as regards blue cloth
and buttons, had not by any means changed his spirit since fortune
began to smile on him. Finding that his mistress, being engaged with
her dark-eyed friend, did not require his services, and observing that
his patron, Captain Wopper, held intercourse with the guide—in broken
English, because he, the guide, also spoke broken English—that
Lawrence and the Professor seemed capable of entertaining each other,
that Lewis and the artist, although dreadfully jealous of each other,
were fain to hold social intercourse, the ladies being inseparable, and
that he, Gillie, was therefore left to entertain himself he set about
amusing himself to the best of his power by keeping well in rear of the
party and scrambling up dangerous precipices, throwing stones at little
birds, charging shrubs and stabbing the earth with Emma's alpenstock,
immolating snails, rolling rocks down precipitous parts of the hill,
and otherwise exhibiting a tendency to sport with Nature—all of which
he did to music whistled by himself, and in happy forgetfulness of
everything save the business in hand. He was engaged in some apparently
difficult piece of fancy work, involving large boulders, when Lewis
drew attention to him.
“What can the imp be up to?” he said.
“Most likely worrying some poor reptile to death,” said the artist,
removing his conical wideawake and fanning himself therewith. (Mr.
Slingsby was very warm, his slender frame not being equal to his
“I think he is trying to break your alpenstock, Emma,” observed
There seemed to be truth in this, for Gillie, having fixed the staff
as a lever, was pulling at it with all his might. The projection of
rock on which he stood, and which overhung the zigzag road, was
partially concealed by bushes, so that the precise intention of his
efforts could not be discovered.
At that moment Antoine, the guide, turned to see what detained the
party, and instantly uttered a loud shout of alarm as he ran back to
The warning or remonstrance came too late. Gillie had loosened an
enormous rock which had been on the point of falling, and with a throb
of exultation, which found vent in a suppressed squeal, he hurled a
mass, something about the size and weight of a cart of coals, down the
But the current of Gillie's feelings was rudely changed when a
shriek from the ladies, and something between a roar and a yell from
the gentlemen, told that they had observed a man with a mule, who, in
ascending from the valley, had reached a spot which lay in the direct
line of the miniature avalanche; and when the muleteer, also observing
the missile, added a hideous howl to the chorus, the poor urchin shrank
back appalled. The rock struck the track directly behind the mule with
a force which, had it been expended only six inches more to the right,
would have driven that creature's hind legs into the earth as if they
had been tenpenny nails; it then bounded clear over the next turning of
the track, crashed madly through several bushes, overturned five or six
trees, knocked into atoms a sister rock which had taken the same leap
some ages before, and finally, leaving behind it a grand tail of dust
and DEBRIS, rolled to its rest upon the plain.
At the first symptom of the danger, Captain Wopper had rushed
towards the culprit.
“Rascal!” he growled between his teeth, as he seized Gillie by the
nape of the neck, lifted him almost off his legs, and shook him, “d'ee
see what you've done?”
He thrust the urchin partially over the precipice, and pointed to
the man and the mule.
“Please, I HAVEN'T done it,” pleaded Gillie.
“But you did your best to—you—you small—there!”
He finished off the sentence with an open-handed whack that aroused
the echoes of Mont Blanc, and cast the culprit adrift.
“Now, look 'ee, lad,” said the Captain, with impressive solemnity,
“if you ever go to chuck stones like that over the precipices of this
here mountain again, I'll chuck you over after 'em. D'ee hear?”
“Yes, Cappen,” grumbled Gillie, rubbing himself, “but if you do,
it's murder. No jury of Englishmen would think of recommendin' you to
mercy in the succumstances. You'd be sure to swing—an' I—I could wish
you a better fate.”
The Captain did not wait to hear the boy's good wishes, but hastened
to rejoin his friends, while Gillie followed in rear, commenting
audibly on the recent incident.
“Well, well,” he said, thrusting both hands deep into bush trouser-pockets, according to custom when in a moralising frame of mind, “who'd
a thought it, Gillie White, that you'd 'ave bin brought all the way
from London to the Halps to make such a close shave o' committin'
man-to say nothin' of mule-slaughter, and to git whacked by your best
friend? Oh! Cappen, Cappen, I couldn't 'ave believed it of you if I
'adn't felt it. But, I say, Gillie, WASN'T it a big 'un? Ha! ha! The
Cappen threatened to chuck me over the precipice, but I've chucked over
a wopper that beats HIM all to sticks. Hallo! I say that's worthy of
PUNCH. P'r'aps I'll be a contributor to it w'en I gets back from
Zwizzerland, if I ever does get back, vich is by no means certain.
Susan, my girl, I'll 'ave summat to enliven you with this evenin'.”
We need scarcely say that this last remark had reference to Mrs.
Stoutley's maid, with whom the boy had become a great favourite. Indeed
the regard was mutual, though there was this difference about it, that
Susan, being two years older than Gillie, and tall as well as womanly
for her age, looked upon the boy as a precocious little oddity, whereas
Gillie, esteeming himself a man—“all but”—regarded Susan with the
powerful feelings of a first affection.
From this, and what has been already said, it will be apparent to
our fair readers that Cupid had accompanied Mrs. Stoutley's party to
Chamouni, with the intention apparently of amusing himself as well as
interfering with Captain Wopper's matrimonial designs.
The road to the Montanvert is a broad and easy bridle-path, which,
after leaving the valley, traverses a pine-forest in its ascent and
becomes in places somewhat steep. Here and there a zigzag is found
necessary, and in several places there are tracks of avalanches. About
half-way up there is a spring named the Caillet which was shaded by
trees in days of yore, but the avalanches have swept these away. Beside
the spring of pure water there was a spring of “fire-water,” in a hut
where so-called “refreshments” might also be obtained. As none of our
party deemed it necessary to stimulate powers, which, at that time of
the day, were fresh and vigorous, they passed this point of temptation
Other temptations, however, were not so easily resisted. The
Professor was stopped by rocky stratifications, the ladies were stopped
by flowers and views, the younger gentlemen were of course stopped by
the ladies, and the mad artist was stopped by everything. Poor Mr.
Slingsby, who had been asked to join the party, in virtue of his being
a friend of the Count, and, therefore, of Nita, was so torn by the
conflict resulting from his desire to cultivate Nita, and cut out Lewis
and Lawrence, and his desire to prosecute his beloved art, that he
became madder than usual. “Splendid foregrounds” met him at every turn;
“lovely middle-distances” chained him in everywhere; “enchanting
backgrounds” beset him on all sides; gorgeous colours dazzled him above
and below; and Nita's black eyes pierced him continually through and
through. It was terrible! He was constantly getting into positions of
danger—going out on ledges to obtain particular views, rolling his
large eyes, pulling off his hat and tossing back his long hair, so as
to drink in more thoroughly the beauties around him, and clambering up
precipices to fetch down bunches of wild flowers when Nita chanced to
express the most distant allusion to, or admiration of, them.
“He will leave his bones in one crevasse!” growled Antoine, on
seeing him rush to a point of vantage, and, for the fiftieth time,
squat down to make a rapid sketch of some “exquisite bit” that had
taken his fancy.
“'Tis of no use,” he said, on returning to his friends, “I cannot
sketch. The beauties around me are too much for me.”
He glanced timidly at Nita, who looked at him boldly, laughed, and
advised him to shut his eyes, so as not to be distracted with such
“Impossible; I cannot choose but look. See,” he said, pointing
backward to their track, “see what a lovely effect of tender blue and
yellow through yonder opening—”
“D'you mean Gillie?” asked Lewis, with a quiet grin, as that
reckless youth suddenly presented his blue coat and yellow buttons in
the very opening referred to.
The laugh called forth by this was checked by the voice of Captain
Wopper, who was far in advance shouting to them to come on.
A few minutes more, and the whole party stood on the Montanvert
beside the small inn which has been erected there for the use of summer
tourists, and from which point the great glacier broke for the first
time in all its grandeur, on their view.
Well might Emma and Nita stand entranced for some time, unable to
find utterance to their feelings, save in the one word—wonderful! Even
Slingsby's mercurial spirit was awed into silence, for, straight before
them, the white and frozen billows of the Mer de Glace stretched for
miles away up into the gorges of the giant hills until lost in and
mingled with the clouds of heaven.
Chapter XI. THE PURSUIT OF SCIENCE
After the first burst of enthusiasm and interest had abated, the
attention of the party became engrossed in the proceedings of the
Professor, who, with his assistants, began at once to adjust his
theodolite, and fix stakes in the ice. While he was thus engaged,
Captain Wopper regarded the Mer de Glace with a gaze of fixedness so
intense as to draw on him the attention and arouse the curiosity of his
“D'you see anything curious, Captain?” asked Emma, who chanced to
stand beside him.
“Coorious—eh?” repeated the Captain slowly, without altering his
gaze or adding to his reply.
“Monsieur le Capitaine is lost in consternation,” said Nita, with a
“I think, Miss Horetzki,” said Lewis, “that you probably mean
“How you knows w'at I mean?” demanded Nita, quickly.
“Ha! a very proper and pertinent question,” observed Slingsby, in an
audible though under tone.
“I nevair do put PERTINENT questions, sir,” said Nita, turning her
black eyes sharply, though with something of a twinkle in them, on the
Poor Slingsby began to explain, but Nita cut him short by turning to
Lewis and again demanding, “How you knows w'at I mean?”
“The uniform propriety of your thoughts, Mademoiselle,” replied
Lewis, with a continental bow, and an air of pretended respect,
“induces me to suppose that your words misinterpret them.”
Nita's knowledge of English was such that this remark gave her only
a hazy idea of the youth's meaning; she accepted it, however, as an
apologetic explanation, and ordered him to awaken the Captain and find
out from him what it was that so riveted his attention.
“You hear my orders,” said Lewis, laying his hand with a slap on the
Captain's shoulder. “What are you staring at?”
“Move!” murmured the Captain, returning as it were to consciousness
with a long deep sigh, “it don't move an inch.”
“WHAT does not move?” said Lawrence, who had been assisting to
adjust the theodolite, and came forward at the moment.
“The ice, to be sure,” answered the Captain. “I say, Professor, do
'ee mean to tell me that the whole of that there Mairdy-glass is
“I do,” answered the Professor, pausing for a minute in his
arrangements, and looking over his spectacles at the Captain with an
“Then,” returned the Captain, with emphasis, “I think you'll find
that you're mistaken.”
“Ha! Captain Weeper—”
“Wopper,” said the Captain.
“Wopper,” repeated the Professor, “you are not the first who has
expressed disbelief in what he cannot see, and you will assuredly not
be the last; but if you will wait I will convince you.”
“Very good,” replied the Captain, “I'm open to conviction.”
“Which means,” said Lewis, “that you have nailed your colours to the
mast, and mean to die rather than give in.”
“No doubt,” said the Captain, paying no attention to the last
remark, “I see, AND believe, that at some time or other the ice here
must have been in a flowin' state. I'm too well aware o' the shape of
waves an' eddies, cross-currents and ripples, to doubt or deny that but
any man with half an eye can see that it's anchored hard and fast NOW.
I've looked at it without flinchin' for good ten minutes, and not the
smallest sign of motion can I detect.”
“So might you say of the hour-hand of a watch,” observed Lawrence.
“Not at all,” retorted the Captain, becoming argumentative. “I look
at the hour-hand of a watch for ten minutes and don't see it move, but
I DO see that it has in reality passed over a very small but
appreciable space in that time.”
“Just so,” said the Professor, “I will ere long show you the same
thing in regard to the ice.”
“I'll bet you ten thousand pounds you don't,” returned the Captain,
with an assured nod.
“Colours nailed!” said Lewis; “but I say, Captain,” he added,
remonstratively, “I thought you were a sworn enemy to gambling. Isn't
“It is, young man,” answered the Captain, “but I always bet ten
thousand pounds sterling, which I never mean to pay if I lose, nor to
accept if I win—and that is NOT gambling. Put that in your pipe and
smoke it; and if you'll take my advice, you'll go look after your
friend Slingsby, who is gambolling up yonder in another fashion that
will soon bring him to grief if he's not stopped.”
All eyes were turned towards the mad artist, who, finding that his
advances to Mademoiselle Nita were not well received, had for the time
forsaken her, and returned to his first (and professional) love. In
wooing her, he had clambered to an almost inaccessible cliff from which
he hoped to obtain a very sketchable view of the Mer de Glace, and,
when Captain Wopper drew attention to him, was making frantic efforts
to swing himself by the branch of a tree to a projecting rock, which
was so slightly attached to its parent cliff that his weight would in
all probability have hurled it and himself down the precipice.
The remonstrative shouts of his friends, however, induced him to
desist, and he sat down to work in a less perilous position.
Meanwhile the Professor, having completed his preliminary
preparations, ordered his assistants to go and “fix the stakes in the
It had been arranged that while the scientific experiments were in
progress, the young ladies should ramble about the neighbourhood in
search of flowers and plants, under the care of Lewis, until two
o'clock, at which hour all were to assemble at the Montanvert hotel for
luncheon, Captain Wopper and Lawrence resolving to remain and assist,
or at least observe, the Professor. The former, indeed, bearing in mind
his great and ruling wish even in the midst of scientific doubt and
inquiries, had suggested that the latter should also accompany the
ladies, the country being somewhat rugged, and the ladies—especially
Miss Emma—not being very sure-footed; but Lawrence, to his
disappointment, had declined, saying that the ladies had a sufficient
protector in the gallant Lewis, and that Miss Emma was unquestionably
the surest-footed of the whole party.
Lawrence therefore remained, and, at the Professor's request,
accompanied the party who were to fix the stakes on the ice.
As this operation was attended with considerable difficulty and some
danger, we will describe the process.
Finding that the spot which he had first chosen for his observations
was not a very good one, the Professor changed his position to a point
farther down on the steep sloping rocks that form the left bank of the
Glacier des Bois. Here the theodolite was fixed. This instrument as
even our young readers may probably know, is a small telescope attached
to a stand with three long legs, and having spirit-levels, by means of
which it can be fixed in a position, if we may say so, of exact
flatness with reference to the centre of the earth. Within the
telescope are two crossed hairs of a spider's-web, so fine as to be
scarcely visible to the naked eye, and so arranged that their crossing-point is exactly in the centre of the tube. By means of pivots and
screws the telescope can be moved up or down, right or left, without in
the smallest degree altering the flatness or position of its stand. On
looking through the telescope the delicate threads can be distinctly
seen, and the point where they cross can be brought to bear on any
Having fixed the instrument on the rocks quite clear of the ice, the
Professor determined the direction of a supposed line perpendicular to
the axis of the glacier. He then sought for a conspicuous and well-defined object on the opposite side of the valley, as near as possible
to that direction. In this he was greatly helped by Captain Wopper,
who, having been long accustomed to look-out with precision at sea,
found it not very difficult to apply his powers on land.
“There's a good land-mark, Professor,” he said, pointing towards a
sharply-cut rock, “as like the Dook of Wellington's nose as two peas.”
“I see it,” said the Professor, whose solid and masculine
countenance was just the smallest possible degree flushed by the strong
under- current of enthusiasm with which he prosecuted his experiments.
“You couldn't have a better object than the pint o' that,” observed
the Captain, whose enthusiasm was quite as great as, and his excitement
much greater than, that of the Professor.
Having carefully directed the telescope to the extreme point of the
“Dook's” nose, the Professor now ordered one of his assistants to go on
the glacier with a stake. Lawrence descended with him, and thus planted
his foot on glacier-ice for the first time, as Lewis afterwards
remarked, in the pursuit scientific knowledge.
While they were clambering slowly down among the loose boulders and
DEBRIS which had been left by the glacier in previous years, the
Professor carefully sketched the Duke of Wellington's nose with the
rocks, etc., immediately around it, in his notebook, so that it might
be easily recognised again on returning to the spot on a future day.
The assistant who had been sent out with the first stake proved to
be rather stupid, so that it was fortunate he had been accompanied by
Lawrence, and by the guide, Antoine Grennon, who stirred up his
perceptions. By rough signalling he was made to stand near the place
where the first stake was to be driven in. The telescope was then
lowered, and the man was made, by signals, to move about and plant his
stake here and there in an upright position until the point of
intersection of the spider's threads fell exactly on the bottom of the
stake. A pre-arranged signal was then made, and at that point an auger
hole was bored deep into the ice and the stake driven home.
“So much for number one,” said Captain Wopper, with a look of
“They won't fix the other ones so easily,” observed the Professor,
re- examining the stake through the telescope with great care.
He was right in this. The first stake had been planted not far from
the shore, but now Lawrence and his party had to proceed in a straight
line over the glacier, which, at this steep portion of its descent into
the Vale of Chamouni, was rent, dislocated, and tortured, to such an
extent that it was covered with huge blocks and pinnacles of ice, and
seamed with yawning crevasses. To clamber over some of the ice- ridges
was almost impossible, and, in order to avoid pinnacles and crevasses,
which were quite impassable, frequent DETOURS had to be made. If the
object of the ice-party had merely been to cross the glacier, the
difficulties would not have been great; but the necessity of always
returning to the straight line pointed out by the inexorable
theodolite, led them into positions of considerable difficulty. To the
inexperienced Lawrence they also appeared to be positions of great
danger, much to the amusement of Antoine, who, accustomed as he was to
the fearful ice-slopes and abysses of the higher regions, looked upon
this work as mere child's play.
“You'll come to have a different notion of crevasses, sir,” he said,
with a quiet smile, “after you've bin among the seracs of the Grand
Mulet, and up some of the couloirs of Monte Rosa.”
“I doubt it not, Antoine,” said Lawrence, gazing with feelings of
awe into a terrible split in the ice, whose beautiful light-blue sides
deepened into intense blackness as they were lost to vision in an
abyss, out of which arose the deep-toned gurgling of sub-glacial
streams; “but you must not forget that this is quite new to me, and my
feet are not yet aware of the precise grip with which they must hold on
to so slippery a foundation.”
It was in truth no discredit to Lawrence that he felt a tendency to
shrink from edges of chasms which appeared ready to break off, or
walked with caution on ice-slopes which led to unfathomable holes, for
the said slopes, although not steep, were undoubtedly slippery.
After much clambering, a ridge was at length gained, on which the
second stake was set up, and then the party proceeded onwards to fix
the third; but now the difficulties proved to be greater than before. A
huge block of ice was fixed upon as that which would suit their
purpose, but it stood like a peninsula in the very midst of a crevasse,
and connected with the main body of ice by a neck which looked as sharp
as a knife on its upper edge, so that none but tight- rope or
slack-wire dancers could have proceeded along it; and even such
performers would have found the edge too brittle to sustain them.
“You'll have to show, Monsieur, some of your mountaineer skill
here?” said the man who carried the stakes to Antoine.
He spoke in French, which Lawrence understood perfectly. We render
it as nearly as possible into the counterpart English.
Antoine at once stepped forward with his Alpine axe, and, swinging
it vigorously over his head, cut a deep notch on the sloping side of
the neck of ice. Beyond it he cut a second notch. No man—not even a
monkey—could have stood on the glassy slope which descended into the
abyss at their side; but Antoine, putting one foot in the first notch,
and the other in the second, stood as secure as if he had been on a
flat rock. Again he swung his axe, and planted his foot in a third
notch, swinging his axe the instant it was fixed for the purpose of
cutting the fourth. Thus, cut by cut and step by step, he passed over
to the block of ice aimed at. It was but a short neck. A few notches
were sufficient, yet without an axe to cut these notches, the place had
been absolutely impassable. It was by no means a “dangerous” place,
according to the ideas of Alpine mountaineers, nevertheless a slip, or
the loss of balance, would have been followed by contain death. Antoine
knew this, and, like a wise guide, took proper precautions.
“Stay, sir,” he said, as Lawrence was screwing up his courage to
follow him, “I will show you another piece of Alpine practice.”
He returned as he spoke, and, unwinding a coil of rope which he
carried, fastened one end thereof round his waist. Allowing a few feet
of interval, he then fastened the rope round Lawrence's waist, and the
assistants with the stakes—of whom there were two besides the man
already referred to—also attached themselves to the rope in like
manner. By this means they all passed over with comparative security,
because if any one of them had chanced to slip, the others would have
fixed the points of their axes and alpenstocks in the ice and held on
until their overbalanced comrade should have been restored to his
On gaining the block, however, it was found that the line
communicating with the theodolite on the one hand, and the Dook's nose
on the other, just missed it. The Professor's signals continued to
indicate “more to the left,” (HIS left, that is) until the stake-driver stood on the extreme edge of the crevasse, and his comrades held
on tight by the rope to prevent him from falling over. Still the
professor indicated “more to the left!”
As “more to the left” implied the planting of the stake in
atmospheric air, they were fain to search for a suitable spot farther
This they found, after some scrambling, on a serrated ridge whose
edge was just wide and strong enough to sustain them. Here the exact
line was marked, but while the hole was being bored, an ominous crack
was heard ascending as if from the heart of the glacier.
“What was that?” said Lawrence, turning to the guide with a quick
“Only a split in the ice somewhere. It's a common sound enough, as
you might expect in a mass that is constantly moving,” replied Antoine,
looking gravely round him, “but I can't help thinking that this lump of
ice, with crevasses on each side, is not the best of all spots for
fixing a stake. It isn't solid enough.”
As he spoke, another crash was heard, not quite so loud as the last
and at the same moment the whole mass on which the party stood slid
forward a few inches. It seemed as if it were about to tumble into the
very jaws of the crevasse. With the natural instinct of self-preservation strong upon him, Lawrence darted across the narrow ridge
to the firm ice in rear, dispensing entirely with that extreme caution
which had marked his first passage over it. Indeed the tight-rope and
slack-wire dancers formerly referred to could not have performed the
feat with greater lightness, rapidity, and precision. The stake-drivers followed him with almost similar alacrity. Even the guide
retraced his steps without further delay than was necessary to permit
of his picking up the stakes which their proper custodians had left
behind in their alarm—for they were not guides, merely young and
“For shame, lads,” said Antoine, laughing and shaking his head,
“you'll be but bad specimens of the men of Chamouni if you don't learn
more coolness on the ice.”
One would have thought that coolness on the ice was an almost
unavoidable consequence of the surrounding conditions, yet Lawrence
seemed to contradict the idea, for his face appeared unusually warm as
he laughed and said:—
“The shame lies with me, Antoine, for I set them the example, and
all history goes to prove that even brave men are swept away under the
influence of a panic which the act of one cowardly man may produce.”
As Lawrence spoke in French, the porters understood and appreciated
his defence of them, but Antoine would by no means encourage the
“It is not cowardly, sir,” he said, “to spring quickly out of a
danger that one don't understand the nature of, but the young men of
Chamouni have, or ought to have, a good understanding of the nature of
ice, and the danger should be great indeed that would necessitate the
leaving of their tools behind them.”
A roar like that of a bull of Bashan, or a boatswain, here
interrupted the conversation.
“Don't plant your post the-r-r-re,” shouted Captain Wopper from the
banks of the ice-river, “the Professor says the ice ain't firm enough.
Heave ahead—to where its ha-a-ard an' fa-a-ast.”
“Ay, ay, sir,” shouted Lawrence, with nautical brevity, in reply.
The next stake was accordingly fixed on a part of the ice which was
obviously incapable of what might be called a local slip, and which
must, if it moved at all, do so in accordance with the movements of the
Thus one by one the stakes were planted in a perfectly straight
line, so that when Captain Wopper was requested by the Professor to
look through the telescope—which he did with a seaman's readiness and
precision—he observed that all the stakes together appeared to form
but one stake, the bottom of which was touched on one side of the Mer
de Glace by the centre-point of the crossed threads, and, on the other,
by the extreme point of the “Dook” of Wellington's nose. The last stake
had been fixed not many yards distant from the opposite bank of the
“Now,” said the Professor, with a deep sigh of satisfaction when all
this was accomplished and noted, “we will go have our luncheon and
return hither to-morrow to observe the result of our experiments. But
first we must fix the exact position of our theodolite, for unless it
occupies to a hair's-breadth to-morrow the same position which it
occupies to-day, the result will be quite inconclusive.”
So saying, the man of science took a little line and plummet from
his pocket, which he hung under the theodolite, and the spot where the
plummet touched the ground was carefully marked by a small stake driven
quite down to its head.
Thereafter an attempt was made to gather together the scattered
party, but this was difficult. Owing to various causes several members
of it had become oblivious of time. Emma had forgotten time in the
pursuit of wild-flowers, of which she was excessively fond, partly
because she had learned to press and classify and write their proper
names under them, but chiefly because they were intrinsically lovely,
and usually grew in the midst of beautiful scenery. Nita had forgotten
it in the pursuit of Emma, of whom she had become suddenly and
passionately fond, partly because she possessed a loving nature, but
chiefly because Emma was her counterpart. Lewis had forgotten it in
pursuit of Nita, of whom he had become extremely fond, partly because
she was pretty and pert, but chiefly because he—he—well, we cannot
say precisely why, seeing that he did not inform us, and did not
himself appear clearly to know. Slingsby had forgotten it in the ardent
effort to reproduce on paper and with pencil, a scene so magnificent
that a brush dipped in the rainbow and applied by Claude or Turner
would have utterly failed to do it justice; and last, as well as least,
Gillie White had forgotten it in the pursuit of general knowledge, in
which pursuit he had used his alpenstock effectively in opening up
everything, stabbing, knocking down, uprooting, overturning, and
generally shattering everything that was capable of being in any degree
affected by the physical powers and forces at his command. There can be
no doubt whatever that if Gillie White had been big and strong enough,
Mont Blanc itself would have succumbed that day to his inquiring mind,
and the greatest ice-reservoir of Europe would have been levelled with
the plain. As it was, he merely levelled himself, after reaching the
point of exhaustion, and went to sleep on the sunny side of a rock,
where he was nearly roasted alive before being aroused by the shouts of
At last, however, the party assembled at the Montanvert, where, amid
interjectional accounts of the various incidents and adventures of the
forenoon, strength was recruited for the subsequent operations of the
day. These, however, were only matters of amusement. The Professor,
remarking jocosely that he now cast science to the dogs and cats (which
latter he pronounced cawts), sent his instruments back to Chamouni,
and, with the zest of a big boy let loose from school, crossed the Mer
de Glace to the Chapeau.
This feat was by no means so difficult as that which had been
accomplished by Lawrence. It will be remembered that the spot selected
for measurement had been at the steep and rugged part of the ice-river
styled the Glacier des Bois, below the Montanvert. The ordinary
crossing-place lay considerably higher up, just opposite to the inn.
The track had been marked out over the easiest and flattest part of the
ice, and levelled here and there where necessary for the special
benefit of tourists. Still man—even when doing his worst in the way of
making rough places plain, and robbing nature of some of her romance
—could not do much to damage the grandeur of that impressive spot. His
axe only chipped a little of the surface and made the footing secure.
It could not mar the beauty of the picturesque surroundings, or dim the
sun's glitter on the ice-pinnacles, or taint the purity of these
delicate blue depths into which Emma and Nita gazed for the first time
with admiration and surprise while they listened to the mysterious
murmurings of sub-glacial waters with mingled feelings of curiosity and
Full of interest they traversed the grand unfathomable river of ice,
—the product of the compressed snows of innumerable winters,—and,
reaching the other side in less than an hour, descended the Chapeau
through the terminal moraine.
Those who have not seen it can form but a faint conception of the
stupendous mass of DEBRIS which is cut, torn, wrenched, carried, swept,
hurled, rolled, crushed, and ground down by a glacier from the
mountain-heights into the plain below. The terminal moraine of the Mer
de Glace is a whole valley whose floor and sides are not only quite,
but deeply, covered with rocks of every shape and size, from a pebble
the size of a pea, to a boulder as large as a cottage, all strewn,
piled, and heaped together in a wild confusion that is eminently
suggestive of the mighty force which cast them there.
“To me there do seem something dreadful as well as grand in it,”
said Nita, as she sat down on a boulder beside Emma, near the lower end
of the chaotic valley.
“It is, indeed, terrible,” answered Emma, “and fills me with wonder
when I think that frozen water possesses power so stupendous.”
“And yet the same element,” said the Professor, “which, when frozen,
thus rends the mountains with force irresistible, when melted flows
through the land in gentle fertilising streams. In both forms its power
is most wonderful.”
“Like that of Him who created it,” said Emma, in a low tone.
The party stood on the margin of a little pond or lakelet that had
collected in the midst of the DEBRIS, and which, by reflecting the
clear sky and their figures, with several large boulders on its margin,
gave point and a measure of softness to the otherwise confused and
rugged scene. While they stood and sat rapt in silent contemplation of
the tongue of the Mer de Glace, at whose tip was the blue ice-cave
whence issued the Arveiron, a lordly eagle rose from a neighbouring
cliff and soared grandly over their heads, while a bright gleam of the
sinking sun shot over the white shoulders of Mont Blanc and lit up the
higher end of the valley, throwing the lower part into deeper shade by
“There is a warning to us,” said Lewis, whose chief interest in the
scene lay in the reflection of it that gleamed from Nita Horetzki's
“Which is the warning,” asked Slingsby, “the gleam of sunshine or
“Both, for while the sun is going to bed behind the snow, the eagle
is doubtless going home to her eyrie, and Antoine tells me that it is
full three miles from this spot to our hotel in Chamouni.”
It did not take them long to traverse that space, and ere long, like
the eagle and the sun, the whole party had retired to rest—the younger
members, doubtless, to dreamless slumber; the Professor and the
Captain, probably, to visions of theodolites and ice.
Although, however, these worthies must needs await the coming day to
have their scientific hopes realised, it would be cruel to keep our
patient reader in suspense. We may therefore note here that when, on
the following day, the theodolite was re-fixed, and the man of science
and his amateur friend had applied their respective eyes to the
telescope, they were assured beyond a doubt that the stakes HAD MOVED,
some more and some less, while the “Dook's nose,” of course, remained
hard and fast as the rock of which it was composed. The stakes had
descended from about one to three feet during the twenty-four hours—
those near the edge having moved least and those near the centre of the
ice-river's flow having moved farthest.
Of course there was a great deal of observing with the theodolite,
and careful measuring as well as scrambling on the ice, similar to that
of the previous day; but the end of the whole was that the glacier was
ascertained to have flowed, definitely and observably down its channel,
there could be no doubt whatever about that; the thing had been clearly
proved, therefore the Professor was triumphant and the Captain, being a
reasonable man, was convinced.
Chapter XII. IN WHICH GILLIE IS
SAGACIOUS, AN EXCURSION IS UNDERTAKEN, WONDROUS SIGHTS ARE SEEN, AND
AVALANCHES OF MORE KINDS THAN ONE ARE ENCOUNTERED.
“Susan,” said Gillie, one morning, entering the private apartment of
Mrs. Stoutley's maid with the confidence of a privileged friend,
flinging himself languidly into a chair and stretching out his little
legs with the air of a rather used-up, though by no means discontented,
man, “Susan, this is a coorious world—wery coorious—the most
coorious I may say that I ever come across.”
“I won't speak a word to you, Gillie,” said Susan, firmly, “unless
you throw that cigar out of the window.”
“Ah, Susan, you would not rob me of my mornin' weed, would you?”
remonstrated Gillie, puffing a long cloud of smoke from his lips as he
took from between them the end of a cigar that had been thrown away by
some one the night before.
“Yes, I would, child, you are too young to smoke.”
“Child!” repeated Gillie, in a tone of reproach, “too young! Why,
Susan, there's only two years between you an' me—that ain't much, you
know, at OUR time of life.”
“Well, what then? I don't smoke,” said Susan.
“True,” returned Gillie, with an approving nod, “and, to say truth,
I'm pleased to find that you don't. It's a nasty habit in women.”
“It's an equally nasty habit in boys. Now, do as I bid you
“When a man is told by the girl he loves to do anythink, he is bound
to do it—even if it wor the sheddin' of his blood. Susan, your word is
He turned and tossed the cigar-end out of the window. Susan
laughingly stooped, kissed the urchin's forehead, and called him a good
“Now,” said she, “what do you mean by sayin' that this is a curious
world? Do you refer to this part of it, or to the whole of it?”
“Well, for the matter of that,” replied Gillie, crossing his legs,
and folding his hands over his knee, as he looked gravely up in Susan's
pretty face, “I means the whole of it, THIS part included, and the
people in it likewise. Don't suppose that I go for to exclude myself.
We're all coorious, every one on us.”
“What! me too?”
“You? w'y, you are the cooriousest of us all, Susan, seeing that
you're only a lady's-maid when you're pretty enough to have been a lady
—a dutchess, in fact, or somethin' o' that sort.”
“You are an impudent little thing,” retorted Susan, with a laugh;
“but tell me, what do you find so curious about the people up-stairs?”
“Why, for one thing, they seem all to have falled in love.”
“That's not very curious is it?” said Susan, quietly; “it's common
“Ah, some kinds of it, yes,” returned Gillie, with the air of a
philosopher, “but at Chamouni the disease appears to have become
viroolent an' pecoolier. There's the Capp'n, HE'S falled in love wi'
the Professor, an' it seems to me that the attachment is mootooal. Then
Mister Lewis has falled in love with Madmysell Nita Hooray-tskie
(that's a sneezer, ain't it), an' the mad artist, as Mister Lewis call
him, has falled in love with her too, poor feller, an' Miss Nita has
falled in love with Miss Emma, an Miss Emma, besides reciprocatin' that
passion, has falled in love with the flowers and the scenery—gone in
for it wholesale, so to speak—and Dr. Lawrence, HE seems to have
falled in love with everybody all round; anyhow everybody has falled in
love with HIM, for he's continually goin' about doin' little good turns
wherever he gits the chance, without seemin' to intend it, or shovin'
hisself to the front. In fact I do think he DON'T intend it, but only
can't help it; just the way he used to be to my old mother and the rest
of us in Grubb's Court. And I say, Susan,” here Gillie looked very
mysterious, and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Miss Emma has falled
in love with HIM.”
“Nonsense, child! how is it possible that YOU can tell that?” said
The boy nodded his head with a look of preternatural wisdom, and put
his forefinger to the side of his nose.
“Ah,” said he, “yes, I can't explain HOW it is that I knows it, but
I DO know it. Bless you, Susan, I can see through a four-inch plank in
thick weather without the aid of a gimlet hole. You may believe it or
not, but I know that Miss Emma has falled in love with Dr. Lawrence,
but whether Dr. Lawrence has failed in love with Miss Emma is more than
I can tell. That plank is at least a six-inch one, an' too much for my
wision. But have a care, Susan, don't mention wot I've said to a single
soul—livin' or dead. Miss Emma is a modest young woman, she is, an'
would rather eat her fingers off, rings and all, than let her feelin's
be known. I see that 'cause she fights shy o' Dr. Lawrence, rather too
shy of 'im, I fear, for secrecy. Why he doesn't make up to HER is a
puzzle that I don't understand, for she'd make a good wife, would Miss
Emma, an' Dr. Lawrence may live to repent of it, if he don't go in and
Susan looked with mingled surprise and indignation at the precocious
little creature who sat before her giving vent to his opinions as
coolly as if he were a middle-aged man. After contemplating him for a
few moments in silence, she expressed her belief that he was a
conceited little imp, to venture to speak of his young mistress in that
“I wouldn't do it to any one but yourself, Susan,” he said, in no
wise abashed, “an' I hope you appreciate my confidence.”
“Don't talk such nonsense, child, but go on with what you were
speaking about,” rejoined Susan, with a smile, to conceal which she
bent down her head as she plied her needle briskly on one of Emma's
“Well, where was I?” continued Gillie, “ah, yes. Then, Lord
what's-'is- name, HE'S falled in love with the mountain-tops, an' is
for ever tryin' to get at 'em, in which he would succeed, for he's a
plucky young feller, if it worn't for that snob—who's got charge of
'im—Mister Lumbard—whose pecooliarity lies in preferrin' every wrong
road to the right one. As I heard Mr. Lewis say the other day, w'en I
chanced to be passin' the keyhole of the sallymanjay, `he'd raither go
up to the roof of a 'ouse by the waterspout than the staircase,' just
for the sake of boastin' of it.”
“And is Mr. Lumbard in love with any one?” asked Susan.
“Of course he is,” answered Gillie, “he's in love with hisself. He's
always talkin' of hisself, an' praisin' hisself, an' boastin' of
hisself an' what he's done and agoin' to do. He's plucky enough, no
doubt, and if there wor a lightnin'-conductor runnin' to top of Mount
Blang, I do b'lieve he'd try to—to—lead his Lordship up THAT; but
he's too fond of talkin' an' swaggerin' about with his big axe, an'
wearin' a coil of rope on his shoulder when he ain't goin' nowhere.
Bah! I don't like him. What do you think, Susan, I met him on the road
the other evenin' w'en takin' a stroll by myself down near the Glassyer
day Bossong, an' I says to him, quite in a friendly way, `bong joor,'
says I, which is French, you know, an' what the natives here says when
they're in good humour an' want to say `good-day,' `all serene,' `how
are you off for soap?' an' suchlike purlitenesses. Well, would you
believe it, he went past without takin' no notice of me whatsumdever.”
“How VERY impolite,” said Susan, “and what did you do?”
“Do,” cried Gillie, drawing himself up, “why, I cocked my nose in
the air and walked on without disdainin' to say another word—treated
'im with suvrin contempt. But enough of HIM—an' more than enough.
Well, to continue, then there's Missis Stoutley, she's falled in love
“Yes, with wittles. The Count Hur—what's-'is-name, who's always
doin' the purlite when he's not mopin', says it's the mountain hair as
is agreein' with her, but I think its the hair-soup. Anyhow she's more
friendly with her wittles here than she ever was in England. After
comin' in from that excursion where them two stout fellers carried her
up the mountains, an' all but capsized her and themselves, incloodin'
the chair, down a precipice, while passin' a string o' mules on a track
no broader than the brim of Mister Slingsby's wide-awake, she took to
her wittles with a sort of lovin' awidity that an't describable. The
way she shovelled in the soup, an' stowed away the mutton chops, an'
pitched into the pease and taters, to say nothing of cauliflower and
cutlets, was a caution to the billions. It made my mouth water to look
at her, an' my eyes too—only that may have had somethin' to do with
the keyhole, for them 'otels of Chamouni are oncommon draughty. Yes,”
continued Gillie, slowly, as if he were musing, “she's failed in love
with wittles, an' it's by no means a misplaced affection. It would be
well for the Count if he could fall in the same direction. Did you ever
look steadily at the Count, Susan?”
“I can't say I ever did; at least not more so than at other people.
“Because, if you ever do look at him steadily, you'll see care a-sittin' wery heavy on his long yeller face. There's somethin' the
matter with that Count, either in 'is head or 'is stummick, I ain't
sure which; but, whichever it is, it has descended to his darter, for
that gal's face is too anxious by half for such a young and pretty one.
I have quite a sympathy, a sort o' feller-feelin', for that Count. He
seems to me the wictim of a secret sorrow.”
Susan looked at her small admirer with surprise, and then burst into
a hearty laugh.
“You're a queer boy, Gillie.”
To an unsophisticated country girl like Susan Quick, the London
street- boy must indeed have seemed a remarkable being. He was not
indeed an absolute “Arab,” being the son of an honest hardworking
mother, but being also the son of a drunken, ill-doing father, he had,
in the course of an extensive experience of bringing his paternal
parent home from gin-palaces and low theatres, imbibed a good deal of
the superficial part of the “waif” character, and, but for the powerful
and benign influence of his mother, might have long ago entered the
ranks of our criminal population. As it was, he had acquired a
knowledge of “the world” of London—its thoughts, feelings, and manners
—which rendered him in Susan's eyes a perfect miracle of intelligence;
and she listened to his drolleries and precocious wisdom with
open-mouthed admiration. Of course the urchin was quite aware of this,
and plumed himself not a little on his powers of attraction.
“Yes,” continued Gillie, without remarking on Susan's observation
that he was a “queer boy,” for he esteemed that a compliment “the Count
is the only man among 'em who hasn't falled in love with nothink or
nobody. But tell me, Susan, is YOUR fair buzzum free from the—the
tender—you know what?”
“Oh! yes,” laughed the maid, “quite free.”
“Ah!” said Gillie, with a sigh of satisfaction, “then there's hope
“Of course there is plenty of hope,” said Susan, laughing still more
heartily as she looked at the thing in blue and buttons which thus
“But now, tell me, where are they talking of going to-day?”
“To the Jardang,” replied Gillie. “It was putt off to please the
young ladies t'other day, and now it's putt on to please the Professor.
It seems to me that the Professor has got well to wind'ard of 'em all—
as the Cappen would say; he can twirl the whole bilin' of 'em round his
little finger with his outlandish talk, which I believe is more than
half nonsense. Hows'ever, he's goin' to take 'em all to the Jardang, to
lunch there, an' make some more obserwations and measurements of the
ice. Why he takes so much trouble about sitch a trifle, beats MY
understandin'. If the ice is six feet, or six hundred feet thick, what
then? If it moves, or if it don't move, wot's the odds, so long as yer
'appy? If it WON'T move, w'y don't they send for a company of London
bobbies and make 'em tell it to `move on,' it couldn't refuse, you
know, for nothin' can resist that. Hows'ever, they are all goin' to
foller the lead of the Professor again to-day—them that was with 'em
last time—not the Count though, for I heard him say (much to the
distress apperiently of his darter) that he was goin' on business to
Marteeny, over the Tait Nwar, though what that is I don't know—a
mountain, I suppose. They're all keen for goin' OVER things in this
country, an' some of 'em goes UNDER altogether in the doin' of it. If I
ain't mistaken, that pleasant fate awaits Lord what's-'is-name an' Mr.
Lumbard, for I heard the Cappen sayin', just afore I come to see you,
that he was goin' to take his Lordship to the main truck of Mount Blang
by way of the signal halliards, in preference to the regular road.”
“Are the young ladies going?” asked Susan.
“Of course they are, from w'ich it follers that Mr. Lewis an' the
mad artist are goin' too.”
“And Mrs. Stoutley?” asked Susan.
“NO; it's much too far and difficult for her.”
“Gillie, Gillie!” shouted a stentorian voice at this point in the
“Ay, ay, Cappen,” yelled Gillie, in reply. Rising and thrusting his
hands into his pockets, he sauntered leisurely from the room,
recommending the Captain, in an undertone, to save his wind for the
Not long afterwards, the same parties that had accompanied the
Professor to the Montanvert were toiling up the Mer de Glace, at a
considerable distance above the scene of their former exploits, on
their way to the Jardin.
The day was all that could be desired. There were a few clouds, but
these were light and feathery; clear blue predominated all over the
sky. Over the masses of the Jorasses and the peaks of the Geant, the
Aiguille du Dru, the slopes of Mont Mallet, the pinnacles of Charmoz,
and the rounded white summit of Mont Blanc—everywhere—the heavens
were serene and beautiful.
The Jardin, towards which they ascended, lies like an island in the
midst of the Glacier du Talefre. It is a favourite expedition of
travellers, being a verdant gem on a field of white—a true oasis in
the desert of ice and snow—and within a five hours' walk of Chamouni.
Their route lay partly on the moraines and partly over the surface
of the glacier. On their previous visit to the Mer de Glace, those of
the party to whom the sight was new imagined that they had seen all the
wonders of the glacier world. They were soon undeceived. While at the
Montanvert on their first excursion, they could turn their eyes from
the sea of ice to the tree-clad slopes behind them, and at the Chapeau
could gaze on a splendid stretch of the Vale of Chamouni to refresh
their eyes when wearied with the rugged cataract of the Glacier des
Bois; but as they advanced slowly up into the icy solitudes, all traces
of the softer world were lost to view. Only ice and snow lay around
them. Ice under foot, ice on the cliffs, ice in the mountain valleys,
ice in the higher gorges, and snow on the summits,—except where these
latter were so sharp and steep that snow could not find a lodgment.
There was nothing in all the field of vision to remind them of the
vegetable world from which they had passed as if by magic. As Lewis
remarked, they seemed to have been suddenly transported to within the
Arctic circle, and got lost among the ice-mountains of Spitzbergen or
“It is magnificent!” exclaimed Nita Horetzki with enthusiasm, as she
paused on the summit of an ice-ridge, up the slippery sides of which
she had been assisted by Antoine Grennon, who still held her little
hand in his.
Ah, thoughtless man! he little knew what daggers of envy were
lacerating the heart of the mad artist who would have given all that he
possessed—colour-box and camp-stool included—to have been allowed to
hold that little hand even for a few seconds! Indeed he had, in a fit
of desperation, offered to aid her by taking the other hand when
half-way up that very slope, but had slipped at the moment of making
the offer and rolled to the bottom. Lewis, seeing the fate of his
rival, wisely refrained from putting himself in a false position by
offering any assistance, excusing his apparent want of gallantry by
remarking that if he were doomed to slip into a crevasse he should
prefer not to drag another along with him. Antoine, therefore, had the
little hand all to himself.
The Professor, being a somewhat experienced ice-man, assisted Emma
in all cases of difficulty. As for the Captain, Gillie, and Lawrence,
they had quite enough to do to look after themselves.
“How different from what I had expected,” said Emma, resting a hand
on the shoulder of Nita; “it is a very landscape of ice.”
Emma's simile was not far-fetched. They had reached a part of the
glacier where the slope and the configuration of the valley had caused
severe strains on the ice in various directions, so that there were not
only transverse crevasses but longitudinal cracks, which unitedly had
cut up the ice into blocks of all shapes and sizes. These, as their
position shifted, had become isolated, more or less,—and being
partially melted by the sun, had assumed all sorts of fantastic shapes.
There were ice-bridges, ice-caves, and ice obelisks and spires, some of
which latter towered to a height of fifty feet or more; there were also
forms suggestive of cottages and trees, with here and there real
rivulets rippling down their icy beds, or leaping over pale blue
ledges, or gliding into blue-green lakes, or plunging into black-blue
chasms. The sun-light playing among these silvery realms—glinting over
edges and peaks, blazing on broad masses, shimmering through
semi-transparent cliffs, and casting soft grey shadows everywhere—was
inexpressibly beautiful, while the whole, looming through a thin golden
haze, seemed to be of gigantic proportions.
It seemed as if the region of ice around them must at one time have
been in tremendous convulsions, but the Professor assured them that
this was not the case, that the formation of crevasses and those
confused heaps of ice called SERACS was a slow and prolonged process.
“Doubtless,” he said, “you have here and there the wild rush of
avalanches, and suchlike convulsions, but the rupture of the great body
of the ice is gradual. A crevasse is an almost invisible crack at
first. It yawns slowly and takes a long time to open out to the
dimensions and confusion which you see around.”
“What are those curious things?” asked Nita, pointing to some forms
“They look like giant mushrooms,” said Captain Wopper.
“They are ice-tables,” answered Antoine.
“Blocks of stone on the top of cones of ice,” said the Professor.
“Come, we will go near and examine one.”
The object in question was well suited to cause surprise, for it was
found to be an enormous flat mass of rock, many tons in weight, perched
on a pillar of ice and bearing some resemblance to a table with a
“Now,” said Captain Wopper emphatically, “that IS a puzzler. How did
it ever get up there?”
“I have read of such tables,” said Lawrence.
“They are the result of the sun's action, I believe.”
“Oh, it's all very well, Lawrence,” said Lewis, with a touch of
sarcasm, “to talk in a vague way about the sun's action, but it's quite
plain, even to an unphilosophical mind like mine, that the sun can't
lift a block of stone some tons in weight and clap it on the top of a
pillar of ice about ten feet high.”
“Nevertheless the sun has done it,” returned Lawrence. “Am I not
The man of science, who had listened with a bland smile on his broad
countenance, admitted that Lawrence was right.
“At first,” he said, “that big stone fell from the cliffs higher up
the valley, and it has now been carried down thus far by the ice.
During its progress the sun has been shining day by day and melting the
surface of the ice all round, with the exception of that part which was
covered by the rock. Thus the general level of the ice has been lowered
and the protected portion left prominent with its protector on the top.
The sides of the block of ice on which the rock has rested have also
melted slowly, reducing it to the stalk or pillar which you now see. In
time it will melt so much that the rock will slide off, fall on another
part of the ice, which it will protect from the sun as before until
another stem shall support it, and thus it will go on until it tumbles
into a crevasse, reaches the under part of the glacier, perhaps there
gets rolled and rounded into a boulder, and finally is discharged, many
years hence, it may be, into the terminal moraine; or, perchance, it
may get stranded on the sides of the valley among the DEBRIS or rubbish
which we call the lateral moraine.”
As the party advanced, new, and, if possible; still more striking
objects met the eye, while mysterious sounds struck the ear. Low
grumbling noises and gurglings were heard underfoot, as if great
boulders were dropping into buried lakes from the roofs of sub-glacial
caverns, while, on the surface, the glacier was strewn here and there
with DEBRIS which had fallen from steep parts of the mountains that
rose beside them into the clouds. Sudden rushing sounds—as if of
short-lived squalls, in the midst of which were crashes like the
thunder of distant artillery—began now to attract attention, and a
feeling of awe crept into the hearts of those of the party who were
strangers to the ice-world. Sounds of unseen avalanches, muffled more
or less according to distance, were mingled with what may be called the
shots of the boulders, which fell almost every five minutes from the
Aiguille Verte and other mountains, and there was something deeply
impressive in the solemn echoes that followed each deep-toned growl,
and were repeated until they died out in soft murmurs.
As the party crossed an ice-plain, whose surface was thickly strewn
with the wreck of mountains, a sense of insecurity crept into the
feelings of more than one member of it but not a word was said until a
sudden and tremendous crash, followed by a continuous roar, was heard
close at hand.
“An avalanche!” shouted Slingsby, pointing upwards, and turning back
with the evident intention to fly.
It did indeed seem the wisest thing that man or woman could do in
the circumstances, for, high up among the wild cliffs, huge masses of
rock, mingled with ice, dirt, water, and snow, were seen rushing down a
“couloir,” or steep gully, straight towards them.
“Rest tranquil where you are,” said the guide, laying his hand on
the artist's arm; “the couloir takes a bend, you see, near the bottom.
There is no danger.”
Thus assured, the whole of the party stood still and gazed upward.
Owing to the great height from which the descending mass was
pouring, the inexperienced were deceived as to the dimensions of the
avalanche. It seemed at first as if the boulders were too small to
account for the sounds created, but in a few seconds their real
proportions became more apparent, especially when the whole rush came
straight towards the spot on which the travellers stood with such an
aspect of being fraught with inevitable destruction, that all of them
except the guide shrank involuntarily backwards. At this crisis the
chaotic mass was driven with terrible violence against the cliffs to
the left of the couloir, and bounding, we might almost say fiercely, to
the right, rushed out upon the frozen plain about two hundred yards in
advance of the spot on which they stood.
“Is there not danger in being so close to such places?” asked Lewis,
glancing uneasily at Nita, whose flashing eyes and heightened colour
told eloquently of the excitement which the sight had aroused in her
“Not much,” answered the Professor, “no doubt we cannot be said to
be in a place of absolute safety, nevertheless the danger is not great,
because we can generally observe the avalanches in time to get out of
the way of spent shots; and, besides, if we run under the lea of such
boulders as THAT, we are quite safe, unless it were to be hit by one
pretty nearly as large as itself.” He pointed as he spoke to a mass of
granite about the size of an omnibus, which lay just in front of them.
“But I see,” he added, laughing, “that Antoine thinks this is not a
suitable place for the delivery of lectures; we must hasten forward.”
Soon they surmounted the steeps of the Glacier du Talefre, and
reached the object of their desire, the Jardin.
It is well named. A wonderful spot of earth and rock which rises out
of the midst of a great basin of half-formed ice, the lower part being
covered with green sward and spangled with flowers, while the summit of
the rock forms a splendid out-look from which to view the surrounding
Here, seated on the soft grass—the green of which was absolutely
delicious to the eyes after the long walk over the glaring ice—the
jovial Professor, with a sandwich in one hand and a flask of VIN
ORDINAIRE in the other, descanted on the world of ice. He had a willing
audience, for they were all too busy with food to use their tongues in
speech, except in making an occasional brief demand or comment.
“Glorious!” exclaimed the Professor.
“Which, the view or the victuals?” asked Lewis. “Both,” cried the
Professor, helping himself to another half-dozen sandwiches.
“Thank you—no more at present,” said Nita to the disappointed
Slingsby, who placed the rejected limb of a fowl on his own plate with
a deep sigh.
“Professor,” said Nita, half-turning her back on the afflicted
artist, “how, when, and where be all this ice formed?”
“A comprehensive question!” cried the Professor. “Thank you—yes, a
wing and a leg; also, if you can spare it, a piece of the—ah! so, you
are right. The whole fowl is best. I can then help myself. Miss Gray,
shall I assist you to a—no? Well, as I was about to remark, in reply
to your comprehensive question, Mademoiselle, this basin, in which our
Jardin lies, may be styled a mighty collector of the material which
forms that great tributary of the Mer de Glace, named the Glacier du
Talefre. This material is called neve.”
“An' what's nevy?” asked Captain Wopper, as well as a full mouth
would allow him.
“Neve,” replied the Professor, “is snow altered by partial melting,
and freezing, and compression—snow in the process of being squeezed
into ice. You must know that there is a line on all high mountains
which is called the snow-line. Above this line, the snow that falls
each year NEVER disappears; below it the snow, and ice too, undergoes
the melting process continually. The portion below the snow-line is
always being diminished; that above it is always augmenting; thus the
loss of the one is counterbalanced by the gain of the other; and thus
the continuity of glaciers is maintained. That part of a glacier which
lies above the snow-line is styled neve; it is the fountain-head and
source of supply to the glacier proper, which is the part that lies
below the snow-line. Sometimes, for a series of years, perhaps, the
supply from above is greater than the diminution below, the result
being that the snout of a glacier advances into its valley, ploughs up
the land, and sometimes overturns the cottages. [See Note 1.] On the
other hand the reverse process goes on, it may be for years, and a
glacier recedes somewhat, leaving a whole valley of DEBRIS, or terminal
moraine, which is sometimes, after centuries perhaps, clothed with
vegetation and dotted with cottages.”
“This basin, or collector of neve, on whose beautiful oasis I have
the felicity to lunch in such charming society (the jovial Professor
bowed to the ladies), is, according to your talented Professor Forbes
(he bowed to Lawrence), about four thousand two hundred yards wide, and
all the ice it contains is, farther down, squeezed through a gorge not
more than seven hundred yards wide, thus forming that grand ice-cascade of the Talefre which you have seen on the way hither. It is a
splendid, as well as interesting amphitheatre, for it is bounded, as
you see, on one side by the Grandes Jorasses, on the other by Mont
Mallet, while elsewhere you have the vast plateau whence the Glacier du
Geant is fed; the Aiguille du Geant, the Aiguille Noire, the Montagnes
Mandites, and Mont Blanc. Another wing, if you please—ah, finished? No
matter, pass the loaf. It will do as well.”
The Professor devoted himself for some minutes in silence to the
loaf, which was much shorn of its proportions on leaving his hand. Like
many great men, he was a great eater. The fires of intellect that
burned within him seemed to require a more than ordinary supply of
fuel. He slept, too, like an infant Hercules, and, as a natural
consequence, toiled like a giant when awake.
Little Gillie White regarded him with feelings of undisguised awe,
astonishment and delight, and was often sorely perplexed within himself
as to whether he or Captain Wopper was the greater man. Both were
colossal in size and energetic in body, and both were free and easy in
manners, as well as good-humoured. No doubt, as Gillie argued with
himself (and sometimes with Susan), the Professor was uncommon larned
an' deep, but then the Captain had a humorous vein, which fully
counterbalanced that in Gillie's estimation.
The philosophic urchin was deeply engaged in debating this point
with himself, and gazing open-mouthed at the Professor, when there
suddenly occurred an avalanche so peculiar and destructive that it
threw the whole party into the utmost consternation. While removing a
pile of plates, Gillie, in his abstraction, tripped on a stone, tumbled
over the artist, crushed that gentleman's head into Nita's lap, and,
descending head foremost, plates and all, into the midst of the feast,
scattered very moraine of crockery and bottles all round. It was an
appalling smash, and when the Captain seized Gillie by the back of his
trousers with one hand and lifted him tenderly out of the midst of the
DEBRIS, the limp way in which he hung suggested the idea that a broken
bottle must have penetrated his vitals and finished him.
It was not so, however. Gillie's sagacity told him that he would
probably be wounded if he were to move. He wisely, therefore, remained
quite passive, and allowed himself to be lifted out of danger.
“Nobody hurt, I 'ope,” he said, on being set on his legs; “it was a
“Awk'ard? you blue spider,” cried the Captain; “you deserve to be
keel- hauled, or pitched into a crevasse. Look alive now, an' clear up
the mess you've made.”
Fortunately the feast was about concluded when this CONTRETEMPS
occurred, so that no serious loss was sustained. Some of the gentlemen
lighted their pipes and cigars, to solace themselves before commencing
the return journey. The ladies went off to saunter and to botanise, and
Slingsby attempted to sketch the scenery.
And here again, as on the previous excursion, Captain Wopper
received a chill in regard to his matrimonial hopes. When the ladies
rose, Lewis managed to engage Nita in an interesting conversation on
what he styled the flora of central Europe, and led her away. Emma was
thus left without her companion. Now, thought the Captain, there's your
chance, Dr. Lawrence, go in and win! But Lawrence did not avail himself
of the chance. He suffered Emma to follow her friend, and remained
behind talking with the Professor on the vexed subject of the cause of
“Most extraor'nary,” thought the Captain, somewhat nettled, as well
as disappointed. “What can the youngster mean? She's as sweet a gal as
a fellow would wish to see, an' yet he don't pay no more attention to
her than if she was an old bumboat 'ooman. Very odd. Can't make it out
Captain Wopper was not the first, and will CERTAINLY not be the
last, to experience difficulty in accounting for the conduct of young
men and maidens in this world of cross-currents and queer fancies.
Note 1. Such is actually true at the present time of the Gorner
glacier, which has for a long time been advancing, and, during the last
sixty years or so, has overturned between forty and fifty chalets.
Chapter XIII. SHOWS WHAT DANGERS MAY
BE ENCOUNTERED IN THE PURSUIT OF ART AND SCIENCE.
Who has not experienced the almost unqualified pleasure of a walk,
on a bright beautiful morning, before breakfast? How amply it repays
one for the self-denying misery of getting up! We say misery advisedly,
for it is an undoubted, though short-lived, agony, that of arousing
one's inert, contented, and peaceful frame into a state of activity.
There is a moment in the daily life of man—of some men, at least—
when heroism of a very high stamp is displayed; that moment when, the
appointed hour of morning having arrived, he thrusts one lethargic toe
from under the warm bed-clothes into the relatively cold atmosphere of
his chamber. If the toe is drawn back, the man is nobody. If it is
thrust further out, and followed up by the unwilling body, the man is a
hero! The agony, however, like that of tooth-drawing, is soon over, and
the delightful commendations of an approving conscience are superadded
to the pleasures of an early morning walk.
Such pleasures were enjoyed one morning by Emma Gray and Nita
Horetzki and Lewis Stoutley, when, at an early hour, they issued from
their hotel, and walked away briskly up the Vale of Chamouni.
“I say, Emma, isn't it a charming, delicious, and outrageously
delightful day!” exclaimed Lewis.
Although the young man addressed himself to his cousin, who walked
on his left, he glanced at Nita, who walked on his right, and thus,
with a sense of justice peculiarly his own, divided his attentions
equally between them.
“You are unusually enthusiastic, cousin,” said Emma, with a laugh.
“I thought you said last night that weather never affected you?”
“True, but there is more than weather here, there is scenery, and—
“Sunshine?” repeated Nita, lifting her large orbs to his face with a
look of surprise, for although the sun may be said to have risen as
regards the world at large, it had not yet surmounted the range of Mont
Blanc, or risen to the inhabitants of Chamouni. “I not see it; where is
“There!” exclaimed Lewis, mentally, as he gazed straight down into
her wondering orbs, and then added aloud, as he swept his arm aloft
with a mock-heroic air, “behold it gleaming on the mountain-ridges.”
There is no doubt that the enthusiasm of Lewis as to the weather,
scenery, and sunshine would have been much reduced, perhaps quenched
altogether, if Nita had not been there, for the youth was steeped in
that exquisite condition termed first love,—the very torments incident
to which are moderated joys,—but it must not be supposed that he
conducted himself with the maudlin sentimentality not unfrequently
allied to that condition. Although a mischievous and, we are bound to
admit, a reckless youth, he was masculine in his temperament, and
capable of being deeply, though not easily, stirred into enthusiasm. It
was quite in accordance with this nature that his jesting tone and
manner suddenly vanished as his gaze became riveted on the ridge to
which he had carelessly directed attention. Even Nita was for a moment
forgotten in the sight that met his eyes, for the trees and bushes
which crowned the ridge were to all appearance composed of solid fire!
“Did you ever see anything like that before Emma?” he asked,
“Never; I have seen sunrises and sunsets in many parts of our own
land, but nothing at all like that; what CAN be the cause of it?”
There was good reason for the wonder thus called forth, for the
light was not on the trees but BEHIND them. The sun had not quite
risen, but was very near the summit of the ridge, so that these trees
and bushes were pictured, as it were, against the brightest part of the
glowing sky. In such circumstances we are taught by ordinary experience
that objects will be unusually dark, but these trees were incomparably
brighter than the glowing sky itself. It was not that their mere edges
were tipped with fire, but their entire substance, even to the central
core of the pine-stems, was to all appearance made of pure light, as if
each tree and shrub had been made of steel raised to a condition of
intense white heat. No shining of the sun through or upon trees can
convey the slightest idea of the sight. It was something absolutely new
to our travellers, and roused their astonishment as well as wonder to
the highest pitch.
“Oh!” exclaimed Nita, clasping her hands with a force peculiar to
her demonstrative nature, “how wonderful! How I do wish the Professor
was here to tell us how and what it be.”
That evening the Professor, who had observed the phenomenon more
than once, told them all he knew about it. There were differences of
opinion, he said, as to the cause, for men of physical science, not
less than doctors, were prone to differ. For himself, he had only noted
the facts and knew not the cause. The luminous trees appeared only at
that part of the ridge where the sun was JUST GOING to rise—elsewhere
the trees were projected as dark objects, in the usual way, against the
bright sky. Not only were the trees thus apparently self- luminous, but
when birds chanced to be flying amongst them, they had the appearance
of sparks of molten silver flitting to and fro. See Note 1.
“But you have not yet told me, ladies,” said Lewis, as they resumed
their walk, “what has induced you to indulge in so early a ramble to-day?”
“Can you not imagine,” said Nita, “that it is the love of Nature?”
“Undoubtedly I can; but as this is the first time since we came that
you have chosen to display a love for Nature before breakfast, I may be
forgiven for supposing there is another and no doubt secondary cause.”
“You are right,” said Emma; “were you not present last night when we
discussed our plans for to-day?”
“No, he was in the verandah,” interposed Nita, with an arch smile,
“indulging that savage and unintellectual taste you call smoking.”
“Ah, Mademoiselle, be not too severe. It may not, indeed, be styled
an intellectual pursuit, but neither, surely, can it be called savage,
seeing that it softens and ameliorates the rugged spirit of man.”
“It is savage,” returned Nita, “because you do not encourage ladies
to join you in it.”
“Pardon me, Mademoiselle,” cried Lewis, pulling out his cigar-case,
“nothing would gratify me more than your acceptance of—”
“Insult me not, Monsieur,” said Nita, with a toss of her pretty
little head, “but reply to your cousin's question.”
“Ah, to be sure, well—let me see, what was it? Was I present when
the plans for the day were arranged? Yes I was, but I missed the first
part of the conversation, having been, as Mademoiselle Horetzki truly
observes, occupied with that—a—”
“Savage habit,” interposed Nita.
“Savage habit,” said Lewis, “the savage element of which I am
willing to do away with at a moment's notice when desired. I merely
heard that the professor had fixed to go on the glacier for the purpose
of measuring it, as though it were a badly clad giant, and he a
scientific tailor who had undertaken to make a top-coat for it. I also
heard that you two had decided on a walk before breakfast, and, not
caring to do tailoring on the ice, I begged leave to join you—
therefore I am here.”
“Ah, you prefer woman's society and safety to manly exercise and
danger!” said Nita.
Although Lewis was, as we have said, by no means an effeminate
youth, he was at that age when the male creature shrinks from the
slightest imputation of a lack of manliness. He coloured, therefore, as
he laughingly replied that in his humble opinion his present walk
involved the manly exercise of moral courage in withstanding shafts of
sarcasm, which were far more dangerous in his eyes than hidden
crevasses or flying boulders.
“But you both forget,” interposed Emma, “that I have not yet
explained the object of our morning walk.”
“True, cousin, let us have it.”
“Well,” continued Emma, “when you were engages in your `savage'
indulgence, a difficulty stood in the way of the Professor's plans,
inasmuch as our guide Antoine had asked and obtained leave to absent
himself a couple of days for the purpose of taking his wife and child
over the country to pay a short visit to a relative in some valley, the
name of which I forget. Antoine had said that he would be quite willing
to give up his leave of absence if a messenger were sent to inform his
wife of his change of plan, and to ask a certain Baptist Le Croix, who
lives close beside her, to be her guide. As we two did not mean to join
the ice-party, we at once offered to be the messengers. Hence our
present expedition at so early an hour. After seeing Madame Antoine
Grennon and having breakfast we mean to spend the day in sketching.”
“May I join you in this after-portion of the day's work?” asked
Lewis. “I may not, indeed, claim to use the pencil with the facility of
our friend Slingsby, but I am not altogether destitute of a little
native talent in that way. I will promise to give you both as many
cigars as you choose, and will submit my sketches to Mademoiselle's
criticism, which will be incurring extreme danger.”
“Well, you may come,” said Nita, with a condescending nod, “but pray
fulfil the first part of your promise, give me the cigars.”
Lewis drew them out with alacrity, and laughingly asked, “how many?”
“All of them; the case also.”
In some surprise the youth put the cigar-case into her hand, and she
immediately flung it into a neighbouring pool.
“Ah, how cruel,” said Lewis, putting on a most forlorn look, while
Emma gave vent to one of her subdued little explosions of laughter.
“What! is our society not enough for Monsieur?” asked Nita, in
“MORE than enough,” replied Lewis, with affected enthusiasm.
“Then you can be happy without your cigars,” returned Nita.
“Perfectly happy,” replied Lewis, taking a small case from his
pocket, from which he extracted a neat little meerschaum pipe, and
began to fill it with tobacco.
Again Emma had occasion to open the safety-valve of another little
explosive laugh; but before anything further could be said, they came
in sight of Antoine Grennon's cottage.
It was prettily situated beneath a clump of pines. A small stream,
spanned by a rustic bridge, danced past it. Under the shadow of the
bridge they saw Madame engaged in washing linen. She had a washing-tub, of course, but instead of putting the linen into this she put
herself in it, after having made an island of it by placing it a few
inches deep in the stream. Thus she could kneel and get at the water
conveniently without wetting her knees or skirts. On a sloping slab of
wood she manipulated the linen with such instrumentality as cold water,
soap, a wooden mallet and a hard brush. Beside her, in a miniature tub,
her little daughter conducted a miniature washing.
The three travellers, looking over the bridge, could witness the
operation without being themselves observed.
“It is a lively process,” remarked Lewis, as Madame seized a mass of
linen with great vigour, and caused it to fall on the sloping plank
with a sounding slap.
Madame was an exceedingly handsome and well-made woman, turned
thirty, and much inclined to EMBONPOINT. Her daughter was turned three,
and still more inclined to the same condition. Their rounded,
well-shaped, and muscular arms, acted very much in the same way, only
Madame's vigour was a good deal more intense and persistent—too much
so, perhaps, for the fabrics with which she had to deal; but if the
said fabrics possessed the smallest degree of consciousness, they could
not have had the heart to complain of rough treatment from such neat
though strong hands, while being smiled upon by such a pretty, though
“It is dreadfully rough treatment,” said Emma, whose domestic-economical spirit was rather shocked.
“Terrible!” exclaimed Nita, as Madame gripped another article of
apparel and beat it with her mallet as though it had been the skull of
her bitterest enemy, while soap-suds and water spurted from it as if
they had been that enemy's brains.
“And she washes, I believe, for our hotel,” said Emma, with a
slightly troubled expression. Perhaps a thought of her work-box and
buttons flashed across her mind at the moment.
“You are right,” said Lewis, with a pleased smile.
“I heard Antoine say to Gillie, the other day, that his wife washed
a large portion of the hotel linen. No doubt some of ours is amongst
it. Indeed I am sure of it,” he added, with a look of quiet gravity, as
Madame Grennon seized another article, swished it through the water,
caused it to resound on the plank, and scrubbed it powerfully with
soap; “that-a-what's-'is-name, belongs to me. I know it by the cut of
its collar. Formerly, I used to know it chiefly by its fair and fragile
texture. I shall know it hereafter as an amazing illustration of the
truth of the proverb, that no one knows what he can stand till he is
tried. The blows which she is at present delivering to it with her
mallet, are fast driving all preconceived notions in regard to linen
out of my head. Scrubbing it, as she does now, with a hard brush,
against the asperities of the rough plank, and then twisting it up like
a roly-poly prior to swishing it through the water a second time, would
once have induced me to doubt the strength of delicate mother-of-pearl
buttons and fine white thread. I shall doubt no longer.”
As he said so, Madame Grennon chanced to look up, and caught sight
of the strangers. She rose at once, and, forsaking her tub, advanced to
meet them, the curly-haired daughter following close at her heels, for,
wherever her mother went she followed, and whatever her mother did she
The object of the visit was soon explained, and the good woman led
the visitors into her hut where Baptist Le Croix chanced to be at the
There was something very striking in the appearance of this man. He
was a tall fine-looking fellow, a little past the prime of life, but
with a frame whose great muscular power was in no degree abated. His
face was grave, good-natured, and deeply sunburnt; but there was a
peculiarly anxious look about the eyes, and a restless motion in them,
as if he were constantly searching for something which he could not
He willingly undertook to conduct his friend's wife and child to the
residence of their relative.
On leaving the hut to return to Chamouni, Madame Grennon accompanied
her visitors a short way, and Nita took occasion, while expressing
admiration of Baptist's appearance, to comment on his curiously anxious
“Ah! Mademoiselle,” said Madame, with a half sad look, “the poor man
is taken up with a strange notion—some people call it a delusion—
that gold is to be found somewhere here in the mountains.”
“Gold?” cried Nita, with such energy that her companions looked at
her in surprise.
“Why, Nita,” exclaimed Emma, “your looks are almost as troubled and
anxious as those of Le Croix himself.”
“How strange!” said Nita, musing and paying no attention to Emma's
remark. “Why does he think so?”
“Indeed, Mademoiselle, I cannot tell; but he seems quite sure of it,
and spends nearly all his time in the mountains searching for gold, and
hunting the chamois.”
They parted here, and for a time Lewis tried to rally Nita about
what he styled her sympathy with the chamois-hunter, but Nita did not
retort with her wonted sprightliness; the flow of her spirits was
obviously checked, and did not return during their walk back to the
While this little incident was enacting in the valley, events of a
far different nature were taking place among the mountains, into the
solitudes of which the Professor, accompanied by Captain Wopper,
Lawrence, Slingsby, and Gillie, and led by Antoine, had penetrated for
the purpose of ascertaining the motion of a huge precipice of ice.
“You are not a nervous man, I think,” said the Professor to Antoine
as they plodded over the ice together.
“No, Monsieur, not very,” answered the guide, with a smile and a sly
glance out of the corners of his eyes. Captain Wopper laughed aloud at
the question, and Gillie grinned. Gillie's countenance was frequently
the residence of a broad grin. Nature had furnished him with a keen
sense of the ludicrous, and a remarkably open countenance. Human beings
are said to be blind to their own peculiarities.
If Gillie had been an exception to this rule and if he could have,
by some magical power, been enabled to stand aside and look at his own
spider-like little frame, as others saw it, clad in blue tights and
buttons, it is highly probable that he would have expired in laughing
“I ask the question,” continued the Professor, “because I mean to
request your assistance in taking measurements in a somewhat dangerous
place, namely, the ice-precipice of the Tacul.”
“It is well, Monsieur,” returned the guide, with another smile, “I
am a little used to dangerous places.”
Gillie pulled his small hands out of the trouser-pockets in which he
usually carried them, and rubbed them by way of expressing his gleeful
feelings. Had the sentiment which predominated in his little mind been
audibly expressed, it would probably have found vent in some such
phrase as, “won't there be fun, neither—oh dear no, not by no means.”
To him the height of happiness was the practice of mischief. Danger in
his estimation meant an extremely delicious form of mischief.
“Is the place picturesque as well as dangerous?” asked Slingsby,
with a wild look in his large eyes as he walked nearer to the
“It is; you will find many aspects of ice-formation well worthy of
It is due to the artist to say that his wildness that morning was
not the result only of despair at the obvious indifference with which
Nita regarded him. It was the combination of that wretched condition
with a heroic resolve to forsake the coy maiden and return to his first
love—his beloved art—that excited him; and the idea of renewing his
devotion to her in dangerous circumstances was rather congenial to his
savage state of mind. It may be here remarked that Mr. Slingsby,
besides being an enthusiastic painter, was an original genius in a
variety of ways. Among other qualities he possessed an inventive mind,
and, besides having had an ice-axe made after a pattern of his own,—
which was entirely new and nearly useless,—he had designed a new style
of belt with a powerful rope having a hook attached to it, with which
he proposed, and actually managed, to clamber up and down difficult
places, and thus attain points of vantage for sketching. Several times
had he been rescued by guides from positions of extreme peril, but his
daring and altogether unteachable spirit had thrown him again and again
into new conditions of danger. He was armed with his formidable belt
and rope on the present excursion, and his aspect was such that his
friends felt rather uneasy about him, and would not have been surprised
if he had put the belt round his neck instead of his waist, and
attempted to hang himself.
“Do you expect to complete your measurements to-day?” asked
Lawrence, who accompanied the Professor as his assistant.
“Oh no. That were impossible. I can merely fix my stakes to-day and
leave them. To-morrow or next day I will return to observe the result.”
The eastern side of the Glacier du Geant, near the Tacul, at which
they soon arrived, showed an almost perpendicular precipice about 140
feet high. As they collected in a group in front of that mighty pale-blue wall, the danger to which the Professor had alluded became
apparent, even to the most inexperienced eye among them. High on the
summit of the precipice, where its edge cut sharply against the blue
sky, could be seen the black boulders and DEBRIS of the lateral moraine
of the glacier. The day was unusually warm, and the ice melted so
rapidly that parts of this moraine were being sent down in frequent
avalanches. The rustle of DEBRIS was almost incessant, and, ever and
anon, the rustle rose into a roar as great boulders bounded over the
edge, and, after dashing portions of the ice-cliffs into atoms, went
smoking down into the chaos below. It was just beyond this chaos that
the party stood.
“Now, Antoine,” said the Professor, “I want you to go to the foot of
that precipice and fix a stake in the ice there.”
“Well, Monsieur, it shall be done,” returned the guide, divesting
himself of his knapsack and shouldering his axe and a stake.
“Meanwhile,” continued the Professor, “I will watch the falling
DEBRIS to warn you of danger in time, and the direction in which you
must run to avoid it. My friend Lawrence, with the aid of Captain
Wopper, will fix the theodolite on yonder rocky knoll to our left.”
“Nothin' for you an' me to do,” said Gillie to the artist; “p'r'aps
we'd better go and draw—eh?”
Slingsby looked at the blue spider before him with an amused smile,
and agreed that his suggestion was not a bad one, so they went off
While Antoine was proceeding to the foot of the ice-cliffs on his
dangerous mission, the Professor observed that the first direction of a
falling stone's bound was no sure index of its subsequent motion, as it
was sent hither and thither by the obstructions with which it met. He
therefore recalled the guide.
“It won't do, Antoine, the danger is too great.”
“But, Monsieur, if it is necessary—”
“But it is not necessary that YOU should risk your life in the
pursuit of knowledge. Besides, I must have a stake fixed half-way up
the face of that precipice.”
“Ah, Monsieur,” said Antoine, with an incredulous smile, “that is
To this the Professor made no reply, but ordered his guide to make a
detour and ascend to the upper edge of the ice-precipice for the
purpose of dislodging the larger and more dangerous blocks of stone
there, and, after that, to plant a stake on the summit.
This operation was not quickly performed. Antoine had to make a long
detour to get on the glacier, and when he did reach the moraine on the
top, he found that many of the most dangerous blocks lay beyond the
reach of his axe. However, he sent the smaller DEBRIS in copious
showers down the precipice, and by cleverly rolling some comparatively
small boulders down upon those larger ones which lay out of reach, he
succeeded in dislodging many of them. This accomplished, he proceeded
to fix the stake on the upper surface of the glacier.
While he was thus occupied, the Professor assisted Lawrence in
fixing the theodolite, and then, leaving him, went to a neighbouring
heap of DEBRIS followed by the Captain, whom he stationed there.
“I want you,” he said, “to keep a good look-out and warn me as to
which way I must run to avoid falling rocks. Antoine has dislodged many
of them, but some he cannot reach. These enemies must be watched.”
So saying, the Professor placed a stake and an auger against his
breast, buttoned his coat over them, and shouldered his axe.
“You don't mean to say that you're agoing to go under that cliff?”
exclaimed the Captain, in great surprise, laying his hand on the
Professor's arm and detaining him.
“My friend,” returned the man of science, “do not detain me. Time is
precious just now. You have placed yourself under my orders for the
day, and, being a seaman, must understand the value of prompt
obedience. Do as I bid you.”
He turned and went off at a swinging pace towards the foot of the
ice- cliff, while the Captain, in a state of anxiety, amounting almost
to consternation, sat down on a boulder, took off his hat, wiped his
heated brow, pronounced the Professor as mad as a March hare, and
prepared to discharge his duties as “the look-out.”
Although cool as a cucumber in all circumstances at sea, where he
knew every danger and how to meet or avoid it, the worthy Captain now
almost lost self-control and became intensely agitated and anxious,
insomuch that he gave frequent and hurried false alarms, which he no
less hurriedly attempted to correct, sometimes in nautical terms, much
to the confusion of the Professor.
“Hallo! hi! look out—starboard—sta-a-arboard!” he shouted wildly,
on beholding a rock about the size of a chest of drawers spring from
the heights above and rush downward, with a smoke of ice-dust and
DEBRIS following, “quick! there! no! PORT! Port! I say it's—”
Before he could finish the sentence, the mass had fallen a long way
to the right of the Professor, and lay quiet on the ice not far from
where the Captain stood.
In spite of the interruptions thus caused, the lower stake was fixed
in a few minutes. The Professor then swung his axe vigorously, and
began to cut an oblique stair-case in the ice up the sheer face of the
In some respects the danger to the bold adventurer was now not so
great because, being, as it were, flat against the ice-cliffs, falling
rocks were more likely, by striking some projection, to bound beyond
him. Still there was the danger of deflected shots, and when, by
cutting a succession of notches in which to place one foot at a time,
he had ascended to the height of an average three-storey house, the
danger of losing his balance or slipping a foot became very great
indeed. But the man of science persevered in doing what he conceived to
be his duty with as much coolness as if he were the leader of a forlorn
hope. Following the example of experienced ice-men on steep places, he
took good care to make the notches or steps slope a little inwards,
never lifted his foot from one step until the next was ready, and never
swung his axe until his balance was perfectly secured. Having gained a
height of about thirty feet, he pierced a hole with his auger, fastened
a stake in it, and descended amid a heavy cannonade of boulders and a
smart fire of smaller DEBRIS.
During the whole proceeding Lawrence directed his friend as to the
placing of the stake, and watched with surprise as well as anxiety,
while Captain Wopper kept on shouting unintelligible words of warning
in a state of extreme agitation. The guide returned just in time to see
this part of the work completed, and to remonstrate gravely with the
Professor on his reckless conduct.
“`All's well that ends well,' Antoine, as a great poet says,”
replied the Professor, with one of his most genial smiles. “We must run
some risk in the pursuit of scientific investigation. Now then,
Lawrence, I hope you have got the three stakes in the same line—let me
Applying his eye to the theodolite, he found that the stakes were in
an exactly perpendicular line, one above another. He then carefully
marked the spot occupied by the instrument and thus completed his
labours for that time.
We may add here in passing that next day he returned to the same
place, and found that in twenty-four hours the bottom stake had moved
downwards a little more than two inches, the middle stake had descended
a little more than three, and the upper stake exactly six inches. Thus
he was enabled to corroborate the fact which had been ascertained by
other men of science before him, that glacier-motion is more rapid at
the top than at the bottom, where the friction against its bed tends to
hinder its advance, and that the rate of flow increases gradually from
the bottom upwards.
While these points of interest were being established, our artist
was not less earnestly engaged in prosecuting his own peculiar work, to
the intense interest of Gillie, who, although he had seen and admired
many a picture in the London shop-windows, had never before witnessed
the actual process by which such things are created.
Wandering away on the glacier among some fantastically formed and
towering blocks or obelisks of ice, Mr. Slingsby expressed to Gillie
his admiration of their picturesque shapes and delicate blue colour, in
language which his small companion did not clearly understand, but
which he highly approved of notwithstanding.
“I think this one is worth painting,” cried Slingsby, pausing and
throwing himself into an observant attitude before a natural arch, from
the roof of which depended some large icicles; “it is extremely
“I think,” said Gillie, with earnest gravity, “that yonder's one as
is more picturesker.”
He had carefully watched the artist's various observant attitudes,
and now threw himself into one of these as he pointed to a sloping
obelisk, the size of an average church-steeple, which bore some
resemblance to the leaning-tower of Pisa.
“You are right, boy; that is a better mass. Come, let us go paint
While walking towards it, Gillie asked how such wild masses came to
“I am told by the Professor,” said Slingsby, “that when the ice
cracks across, and afterwards lengthwise, the square blocks thus formed
get detached as they descend the valley, and assume these fantastic
“Ah! jis so. They descends the walley, does they?”
“So it is said.”
Gillie made no reply, though he said in his heart, “you won't git me
to swaller THAT, by no manner of means.” His unbelief was, however,
rebuked by the leaning-tower of Pisa giving a terrible rend at that
moment, and slowly bending forward. It was an alarming as well as grand
sight, for they were pretty near to it. Some smaller blocks of ice that
lay below prevented the tower from being broken in its fall. These were
crushed to powder by it, and then, as if they formed a convenient
carriage for it, the mighty mass slid slowly down the slope for a few
feet. It was checked for a moment by another block, which, however,
gave way before the great pressure, fell aside and let it pass. The
slope was slight at the spot so that the obelisk moved slowly, and once
or twice seemed on the point of stopping, but as if it had become
endowed with life, it made a sudden thrust, squeezed two or three
obstacles flat, turned others aside, and thus wound its way among its
fellows with a low groaning sound like some sluggish monster of the
antediluvian world. Reaching a steeper part of the glacier, on the
ridge of which it hung for a moment, as if unwilling to exert itself,
it seemed to awake to the reality of its position. Making a lively
rush, that seemed tremendously inconsistent with its weight, it shot
over the edge of a yawning crevasse, burst with a thunderclap on the
opposite ice-cliff, and went roaring into the dark bowels of the
glacier, whence the echoes of its tumbling masses, subdued by distance,
came up like the mutterings of evil spirits.
Gillie viewed this wondrous spectacle with an awe-stricken heart,
and then vented his feelings in a prolonged yell of ecstasy.
“Ain't it splendid, sir?” he cried, turning his glowing eyes on
“Majestic!” exclaimed the artist, whose enthusiasm was equal to that
of his companion, though not quite so demonstrative.
“Raither spoiled your drawin', though, ain't it, sir?”
“Yonder is something quite as good, if not better,” said Slingsby.
He pointed, as he spoke, to a part of the crevasse higher up on the
glacier, where a projecting cave of snow overhung the abyss. From the
under-surface of this a number of gigantic icicles hung, the lower
points of the longer ones almost lost in the blue depths. A good
position from which to sketch it, however, was not easily reached, and
it was only by getting close to the edge of the crevasse that the
persevering artist at length attained his object. Here he sat down on
his top-coat, folded several times to guard him from the cold ice,
spread out his colour-box and sketching-block, and otherwise made
himself comfortable, while Gillie sat down beside him on his own cap,
for want of a better protector.
Had these two enthusiasts known the nature of their position, they
would have retired from it precipitately with horror, for, ignorant of
almost everything connected with glaciers, they had walked right off
the solid ice and seated themselves on a comparatively thin projecting
ledge of snow which overhung the crevasse. Thus they remained for some
time enjoying themselves, with death, as it were, waiting for them
underneath! What rendered their position more critical was the great
heat of the day, which, whatever might be the strength of the
sustaining ledge, was reducing its bulk continually.
After having sketched for some time, the artist thought it advisable
to see as far down into the crevasse as possible, in order to put in
the point of the longest icicle. The better to do this, he unwound his
rope from his waist and flung it on the ice by his side, while he lay
down on his breast and looked over the edge. Still he did not perceive
the danger of his position, and went on sketching diligently in this
Now it was a melancholy fact that Master Gillie's interest in art or
science was short-lived, though keen. He soon tired of watching his
companion, and began to look about him with a view to mischief. Not
seeing anything specially suggestive, he thought of aiding the
operations of nature by expediting the descent of some neighbouring
boulders from their positions on ice-blocks. He intimated his intention
to Slingsby, but the artist was too much engrossed to give heed to him.
Just as he was rising, Gillie's eye fell on the rope, and a happy
thought struck him. To carry striking thoughts into immediate execution
was a marked feature of the boy's character. He observed that one end
of the rope was attached to Mr. Slingsby's belt. Taking up the hook at
the other end, he went with it towards a large boulder, drawing the
rope after him with extreme care, for fear of arousing his companion by
a tug. He found that, when fully stretched, it was just long enough to
pass round the rock. Quickly fastening it, therefore, by means of the
hook, he walked quietly away.
He did not exhibit much excitement while doing this. It was, after
all, but a trifling jest in his esteem, as the only result to be hoped
for would be the giving of a surprise by the little tug which might
perhaps be experienced by the artist on rising.
Thereafter, Gillie sent innumerable ice-blocks to premature
destruction, and enjoyed the work immensely for a time, but, having
exploratory tendencies, he soon wandered about among obelisks and
caverns until he found himself underneath the ice-cliff on which his
friend was seated. Then, as he looked up at the overhanging ledge from
which gigantic icicles were hanging, a shock of alarm thrilled his
little breast. This was increased by the falling of one of the icicles,
which went like a blue javelin into the crevasse beside him. Gillie
thought of shouting to warn Mr. Slingsby of his danger, but before he
could do so he was startled by an appalling yell. At the same moment
part of the ice overhead gave way, and he beheld the artist descending.
He was stopped with a sudden jerk, as the rope tightened, and remained
suspended in the air, while his coat and colour-box accompanied icicles
and snow-blocks into the abyss below. A second later and the struggling
artist's head appeared to fall off, but it was only his hat.
Gillie had by this time recovered himself so far as to be able to
add his piercing shrieks for help to the cries of the artist, and well
was it that day for Mr. Slingsby that Gillie had, since the years of
infancy, practised his lungs to some purpose in terrifying cats and
defying “Bobbies” in the streets of London.
“Oh, sir! sir!—I say—hi!” he cried, panting and glaring up.
“Eh? what? Hah!” gasped Slingsby, panting and glaring down.
“Don't kick like that sir; pray don't,” cried Gillie in agonised
tones, “you'll start the boulder wot yer fast to, if you don't keep
“Oh!” groaned the artist and instantly hung limp and motionless, in
which condition he remained while Gillie ran towards the place where he
had left the rest of the party, jumping and slipping and falling and
yelling over the ice like a maniac in blue and buttons!
“D'ee hear that?” exclaimed Captain Wopper with a startled look, as
he and his companions busied themselves packing up their instruments.
Antoine Grennon heard it but made no reply. He was familiar with
cries of alarm. Turning abruptly he dashed off at full speed in the
direction whence the cries came. The Captain and Professor instantly
followed; Lawrence overtook and passed them. In a few minutes they met
the terrified boy, who, instead of waiting for them and wasting time by
telling what was wrong, turned sharp round, gave one wild wave of his
hand, and ran straight back to the ledge from which poor Slingsby hung.
Stout willing arms were soon pulling cautiously on the rope, and in a
few minutes more the artist lay upon the safe ice, almost speechless
from terror, and with a deadly pallor on his brow.
Strange to say the indomitable artist had held on tight to his
sketch- book, possibly because it was almost as dear to him as life,
but more probably because of that feeling which induces a drowning man
to clutch at a straw.
Note 1. We ourselves had the satisfaction of witnessing this
wonderful and beautiful phenomenon before having read or heard of it,
while on a trip from Chamouni to Martigny over the Tete Noire.
Chapter XIV. THE GRAND ASCENT BEGUN.
Mrs. Stoutley, reposing at full length on a sofa in the salon one
evening, observed to the Count Horetzki that she really could not
understand it at all; that it seemed to her a tempting of Providence to
risk one's life for nothing, and that upon the whole she thought these
excursions on glaciers were very useless and foolish.
The salon was full of people grouped in little knots, fighting the
battles of the day o'er again, playing backgammon and chess, or poring
over maps and guide-books.
“It does indeed seem foolish,” answered the Count whose native
politeness induced him always to agree with ladies when possible, “and
as far as any practical purpose is served I should think it useless.
Nevertheless it seems to afford amusement to many people, and
amusement, in some form or other, would appear to be almost necessary
to our happy existence.”
“True,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, languidly, “but people ought to
content themselves with quiet and safe amusements. How ridiculous it is
to find pleasure in climbing ice-precipices, and leaping over
crevasses, and sitting under shower-baths of boulder-stones. I'm sure
that I could not find pleasure in such pranks even if I were to make
the effort. How much better to seek and find enjoyment in wandering
with a book through shady forests and gathering wild-flowers! Don't you
agree with me, Count?”
The Count's usually grave and anxious visage relaxed into a smile as
he protested that he agreed with her entirely. “At the same time,” he
added, “there does appear to be some sort of aspiring tendency in the
young and strong, to attempt the repression of which would seem to be
useless, even if desirable. Do you know, Madame, while on a voyage some
years ago I saw a boy who used to dive off the fore-yard-arm into the
sea, and who went regularly every morning before breakfast to the
main-mast-head and sat on that button-like piece of wood called the
“How very reckless,” said Mrs. Stoutley, “and how shamefully
regardless of the feelings of his mother, for of course if he had a
mother, and if she were a woman of right feeling, she must have been
“I am afraid, Madame, that you would have esteemed her a lady of
wrong feeling, for she applauded her boy, and used to say that if he
only took care to acquire as much moral as he had physical courage, so
as to become as brave and bold a soldier of the Cross as he was sure to
be of the Crown, he would resemble his own father, who was the best and
bravest man that ever lived.”
“How strange!” murmured Mrs. Stoutley, “such inconsistencies! But
there does seem to be a considerable number of masculine women in the
world, who encourage what we call muscular Christianity.”
“Yes, there are indeed strange inconsistencies around us,” returned
the Count. “You have, however, mistaken the character of this
particular mother, for she was the reverse of masculine, being
delicate, and tender-hearted, and refined, and ladylike, while her boy
was bold as a lion—yet obedient and gentle to her as a lamb. He
afterwards became a soldier, and on the occasion of a wild storm on the
east coast of England he swam off to a wreck with a rope, when no man
in the place could be got to do it for love or money, and was the means
of rescuing four women and six men, in accomplishing which, however, he
lost his life.”
“Oh, how shocking! how VERY sad!” said Mrs. Stoutley, startled into
animation by the suddenness of the revelation, “and how different it
might have been if the youth had been trained to gentler amusements. He
might have been alive now.”
“Yes,” returned the Count, “and the four women and six men might
have been dead! But here come two friends who are better able to give
an opinion on the point than I am.”
“What may the pint be?” asked Captain Wopper, with a genial smile,
as if he were ready to tackle anything from a pint of beer to a “pint"
of the compass. “Only state your case, Mrs. Stoutley, an' the Professor
here, he'll act the judge, an' I'll be the jury.”
“The jury is too small,” said Lewis, coming up at that moment.
“Small, young man!” repeated the Captain, with feigned surprise, as
he drew himself up to his full height and squared his broad shoulders.
“Not physically, but numerically,” retorted Lewis, with a laugh
—“ho! Emma, Miss Horetzki, Lawrence, Slingsby,” he called to the
quartette, who sat chatting in a bay window, “you are hereby summoned
to act on a jury. Come along and have yourselves impaled—I mean to say
impannelled. A most important case, just going on for trial.”
“What is the nature of the case?” asked Lawrence, as they all came
forward and sat down in a semicircle before Mrs. Stoutley.
“It han't got no natur—it's unnateral altogether,” said the
Captain, who had just heard it briefly stated by the Count.
“Hallo! are you appointed public prosecutor?” demanded Lewis.
“Yes, I am,” retorted the Captain, “I've appinted myself public
persecuter, Lord Advocate, Lord High Commissioner to the Woolsack, an'
any other legal an' illegal character ye choose to name. So you clap a
stopper on yer muzzle, youngster, while I state the case. Here is Mrs.
Stoutley, my lords, ladies, and gentlemen, who says that climbin', an'
gaugin', and glaciers is foolish and useless. That's two counts which
the Count here (nothin' personal meant) says the prisoner was guilty
of. We'll go in an' win on the last count, for if these things ain't
useless, d'ee see, they can't be foolish. Well, the question is,
`Guilty or not guilty?'“
“Guilty!” replied Mrs. Stoutley, with an amused smile.
“Hear! hear!” from Slingsby.
“Silence in the Court!” from Lewis.
“I'm afraid,” said the Professor, “that our forms of legal procedure
are somewhat irregular.”
“Never mind that, Professor,” said the Captain, “you go ahead an'
prove the prisoner wrong. Take the wind out of her sails if 'ee can.”
The Professor smiled blandly, and began in jest; but his
enthusiastic spirit and love of abstract truth soon made him argue in
“Oh, that's all very well,” said Mrs. Stoutley, interrupting him,
“but what possible use can there be in knowing the rate of speed at
which a glacier flows? What does it matter whether it flows six, or
sixty, or six hundred feet in a day?”
“Matter!” cried Lewis, before the Professor could reply, “why, it
matters very much indeed. I can prove it. Our excellent guide Antoine
told me of a man who fell into a crevasse high up on the Glacier des
Bossons, and was of course lost; but about forty years afterwards the
part of the glacier into which he fell had descended into the valley,
and the body of the man was found—at least portions of it were found
here and there. This, as you are all aware, is a well-known fact. Bear
in mind, in connection with this, that all glaciers do not travel at
the same rate, nor all parts of a glacier at an equal rate. Now,
suppose that you were to lose a gold watch or a diamond ring in a
crevasse, the value of which might be incalculable in consequence of
being a gift from some beloved one, would it not be a matter of the
last importance to know exactly the rate at which the said crevasse
travelled, so that you or your grandchildren might return at the
precise time and claim the property?”
“Don't talk nonsense, Lewie,” said his mother.
“No doubt,” said the Professor, laughing, “my young friend's
illustration is to the point, and I fear that I cannot give you
anything more definite to prove the value of glacial measurements and
observations. I must rest my proof on the abstract truth that ALL
knowledge is desirable, and ought to be sought after for its own sake,
as being the means whereby we shall come better to know the good and
wise Creator, `whom to know,' as His own Word says, `is life eternal'
But I can give you distinct proof, in a somewhat analogous case, of
good resulting from knowledge which was eagerly pursued and acquired
without the searcher having the slightest idea as to the use to which
his knowledge would be ultimately put. You have doubtless heard of
Captain Maury, of the United States Navy?”
“Oh yes,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, “he who writes that charming book,
the Physical Geography of the Sea, or some such title. My son is a
great admirer of that work. I tried to read it to please him, but I
must confess that I could not go far into it. It seemed to me an
endless and useless search after currents of wind and water.”
“I see you must have missed the very illustrations which I am about
to cite, for they are given in his book—one of the most interesting I
ever read, and not the less interesting that its author distinguishes a
connection between the Creator's Word and His works. You know that
Captain Maury's investigations of currents of wind and water were
conducted wisely, and on a vast scale. Nautical men of many nations
sent in their `logs' to him, and he patiently collected and collated
all the facts observed in all parts of the ocean.”
“Yes, and quite useless knowledge, it appears to me,” said Mrs.
“Well, we shall see,” returned the Professor. “There was once a
terrible storm on the Atlantic, and a vessel with troops on board was
so disabled as to be left at last a helpless log upon the sea. She was
passed by other vessels, but these could render no assistance, owing to
the raging storm. They, however, took note of the latitude and
longitude of the wreck, and reported her on arriving at New York. A
rescue-ship was at once ordered to search for her, but, before sailing,
Captain Maury was applied to for instructions how they should proceed.
The man of science was seated in his study, had probably scarce
observed the storm, and knew nothing about the wreck save her position,
as observed at a certain date. Why, therefore, we might ask; apply to
him? Just because he sat at the fountain-head of such knowledge as was
needed. He had long studied, and well knew, the currents of the ocean,
their direction and their rate of progress at specified times and
particular places. He prepared a chart and marked a spot at, or near
which, the wreck, he said, would probably be found. The wreck WAS found
—not indeed by the rescue-ship, but by another vessel, AT THE VERY SPOT
INDICATED—and the surviving crew and troops were saved. So, in like
manner, the study of truth regarding currents of air has led us to
knowledge which enables mariners to escape the Atlantic Sargasso-sea—”
“Ha! the Doldrums,” growled Captain Wopper, as if he had a special
and bitter hatred of that sea. “Yes, the Doldrums, or Sargasso-sea,
where ships used to be detained by long, vexatious calms, and islands
of floating sea-weed, but which now we escape, because studious men
have pointed out, that by sailing to one side of that sea you can get
into favourable breezes, avoid the calm regions, and thus save much
“Now, Madame,” said Captain Wopper, “are you convinced?”
“Not quite,” replied Mrs. Stoutley, with a baffled look; “but, I
suppose, on the strength of this, and similar reasons, you intend to
ascend Mont Blanc to-morrow?”
“We do,” said the Professor. “I intend to go for the purpose of
attempting to fix a thermometer on the summit, in order to ascertain,
if possible, the winter temperature.”
“And pray, for what purpose?” said Mrs. Stoutley with a touch of
sarcasm, “does Dr. Lawrence intend to go?”
“For the purpose of seeing the magnificent view, and of testing the
lungs and muscles, which are now, I think, sufficiently trained to
enable me to make the ascent with ease,” replied the doctor, promptly.
“I go to assist the Professor,” said Captain Wopper.
“And I,” said Lewis, “intend to go for fun; so you see, mother, as
our reasons are all good, you had better go to bed, for it's getting
Mrs. Stoutley accepted the suggestion, delivered a yawn into her
pocket-handkerchief, and retired, as she remarked, to ascend Mont Blanc
in dreams, and thus have all the pleasure without the bodily fatigue.
We are on the sides of the mountain monarch now, slowly wending our
way through the sable fringe of pines that ornaments the skirt of his
white mantle. We tramp along very slowly, for Antoine Grennon is in
front and won't allow us to go faster. To the impatient and youthful
spirits of Lawrence and Lewis, the pace appears ridiculously slow, and
the latter does not hesitate to make audible reference in his best
French to the progress of snails, but Antoine is deaf to such
references. One might fancy that he did not understand bad French, but
for the momentary twinkle in his earnest eyes. But nothing will induce
him to mend his pace, for well does he know that the ascent of Mont
Blanc is no trifle; that even trained lungs and muscles are pretty
severely taxed before the fifteen thousand seven hundred and eighty
feet of perpendicular height above the sea-level is placed below the
soles of the feet. He knows, also, from long experience, that he who
would climb a mountain well, and use his strength to advantage, must
begin with a slow, leisurely pace, as if he were merely out for a
saunter, yet must progress with steady, persevering regularity. He
knows, too, that young blood is prone to breast a mountain with head
erect and spanking action, and to descend with woeful countenance and
limp limbs. It must be restrained, and Antoine does his duty.
The ascent of Mont Blanc cannot be accomplished in one day. It is
therefore necessary to sleep at a place named the Grands Mulets, from
which a fresh start is made for the summit at the earliest hours of
morning on the second day. Towards this resting-place our travellers
now directed their steps.
The party consisted of the Professor, Captain Wopper, Lewis,
Lawrence, and Slingsby, headed by their trusty guide, besides three
porters with knapsacks containing food, wine, etc. One of these latter
was the chamois-hunter, Baptist Le Croix. He brought up the rear of the
party, and all proceeded in single file, each, like the North American
Indian, treading in his predecessor's footsteps.
Passing from the dark fringe of pines they emerged upon a more open
country where the royal robe was wrought with larch and hazel,
bilberry, and varied underwood, and speckled with rhododendrons and
other flowers on a ground of rich brown, green, and grey. Steadily
upwards, over the Glacier des Bossons, they went, with airy cloudlets
floating around them, with the summit at which they aimed, the Dome du
Gouter, and the Aiguille du Gouter in front, luring them on, and other
giant Aiguilles around watching them. Several hours of steady climbing
brought them to the Pierre l'Echelle, where they were furnished with
woollen leggings to protect their legs from the snow. Here also they
procured a ladder and began the tedious work of traversing the
glaciers. Hitherto their route had lain chiefly on solid ground—over
grassy slopes and along rocky paths. It was now to be confined almost
entirely to the ice, which they found to be cut up in all directions
with fissures, so that great caution was needed in crossing crevasses
and creeping round slippery ridges, and progress was for some time very
Coming to one of the crevasses which was too wide to leap, the
ladder was put in requisition. The iron spikes with which one end of it
was shod were driven firmly into the ice at one side of the chasm and
the other end rested on the opposite side.
Antoine crossed first and then held out his hand to the Professor,
who followed, but the man of science was an expert ice-man, and in
another moment stood at the guide's side without having required
assistance. Not so Captain Wopper.
“I'm not exactly a feather,” he said, looking with a doubtful
expression at the frail bridge.
“It bore me well enough, Captain,” said the Professor with a smile.
“That's just what it didn't,” replied the Captain, “it seemed to me
to bend too much under you; besides, although I'm bound to admit that
you're a good lump of a man, Professor, I suspect there's a couple of
stones more on me than on you. If it was only a rope, now, such as I've
bin used to, I'd go at it at once, but—”
“It is quite strong enough,” said the guide confidently.
“Well, here goes,” returned the mariner, “but if it gives way,
Antoine, I'll have you hanged for murder.”
Uttering this threat he crossed in safety, the others followed, and
the party advanced over a part of the glacier which was rugged with
mounds, towers, obelisks, and pyramids of ice. For some time nothing
serious interrupted their progress until they came to another wide
crevasse, when it was found, to the guide's indignation, that the
ladder had been purposely left behind by the porter to whom it had been
intrusted, he being under the impression that it would not be further
“Blockhead!” cried the Professor, whose enthusiastic spirit was
easily roused to indignation, “it was your duty to carry it till
ordered to lay it down. You were hired to act, sir, not to think.
Obedience is the highest virtue of a servant! Shall we send him back
for it?” he said, turning to Antoine with a flushed countenance.
“Not now, Monsieur,” answered the guide, “it would create needless
delay. We shall try to work round the crevasse.”
This they did by following its edge until they found a part where
crossing was possible, though attended with considerable danger in
consequence of the wedge-like and crumbling nature of the ice.
Hoping that such a difficulty would not occur again they pushed on,
but had not gone far when another, and still more impassable, fissure
“How provoking, couldn't we jump it?” said Lewis, looking
inquiringly into the dark-blue depths.
“Pr'aps YOU might, youngster, with your half fledged spider-legs,”
said the Captain, “but you'll not catch fourteen-stun-six goin' over
THAT with its own free will. What's to be done now, Antoine?”
The guide, after looking at the crevasse for a few minutes, said
that the next thing to be done was to look for a snow-bridge, which he
had no doubt would be found somewhere. In search of this he scattered
the whole party, and in a few minutes a loud shout from the
chamois-hunter told that he had been successful. The members of the
party at once converged towards him, but found that the success was
only partial. He had indeed found a part of the crevasse, which, during
some of the wild storms so frequent on the mountain, had been bridged
over by a snow-wreath, but the central part of the bridge had given
way, and it was thus divided by a gap of about a foot wide. This would
have been but a small and insignificant step to take had the substance
been solid, but although the ice on one side was strong the opposite
edge was comparatively soft snow, and not much more than a foot thick.
The chamois-hunter, being the lightest of the party, was called to the
front and ordered to test the strength of the frail bridge, if bridge
it could be called.
“Why, he might as well try to step on a bit of sea-foam,” said the
Captain in surprise.
Lawrence, Lewis, and Slingsby, having as yet had no experience of
such places, expressed, or held a similar opinion, but the Professor
bade them wait and see.
Baptist, throwing off his pack, and fastening a rope round his
waist, which his comrades held, advanced to the extreme edge of the
ice, and with his long-handled axe, gently patted the snow on the
opposite side. The surface yielded, and it seemed as if even that small
weight would break the lump OFF, but the operation consolidated the
mass in a few minutes, by reason of what the Professor termed
“regelation.” He then stepped tenderly on it, crossed over, and drew
the rope after him. Antoine followed next, and in a few minutes the
whole party was safe on the other side.
“Dr. Lawrence,” said Slingsby, in a low grave tone, as they walked
along after this, “if we ever see Chamouni again I shall be surprised.”
“Indeed?” returned Lawrence, with a short laugh, “I don't take quite
so gloomy a view of our case. Don't you think that the free and easy,
quiet look of our guide and porters indicates that such work looks more
dangerous than it really is?”
“I don't know that,” said the artist, shaking his head, “when men
get thoroughly accustomed to danger they become foolhardy, and don't
realise it. I think it sheer madness to cross such places.”
Lewis, who overheard the conversation, could scarce refrain from a
burst of laughter.
“Upon my word, Slingsby,” said he, “such observations come strangely
from the lips of a man, who only a day or two ago was caught sketching
on a snow-wreath over the edge of a crevasse.”
“Ah, but I didn't know it,” retorted the other, “and even if I HAD
known it, the ledge of snow was immensely stronger than that on which
we have just stood.”
At this point the conversation was interrupted by the guide stopping
and saying that it was now necessary to tie the party together.
They had reached those higher parts of the glacier where snow
frequently falls and covers, to some extent the narrower crevasses,
thus, by concealing them, rendering them extremely dangerous traps. It
therefore became necessary to attach the various members of the party
together by means of a rope, which, passing round their waists, with a
few feet between each, enabled them to rescue any one who should chance
to break through.
Thus, in a string, they advanced, and had scarcely proceeded a
hundred yards when a surprised “hallo!” from Captain Wopper arrested
them. He had sunk up to the knees in snow. A “hallo!” of alarm
instantly succeeded. He was waist deep. A stentorian yell followed:
“Ho! hallo! hi!—avast! Hold on there abaft! My legs are waublin' in
His great weight had indeed nearly plunged him into a hidden
crevasse, over which those who preceded him had passed in safety. If
the Captain had stood alone that crevasse would certainly have been his
grave, but his friends held him tight, and in a few seconds he was
dragged out of danger.
“Well, well,” he said, wiping some large drops of perspiration from
his brow, as he stood on the other side of the chasm, “land-lubbers
talk about seafarin' men havin' nothin' but a plank between them an'
death, but to my thinkin' the rottenest plank that ever was launched is
absolute safety compared to `a snow-wreath.'“
“Ah! Captain,” said the Professor, laughing, “you think so just now
because you're not used to it. In a few weeks you'll hold a different
“May be so,” replied the Captain quietly, “but it don't feel so—
heave ahead, my hearties!”
Thus encouraged the party proceeded with caution, the guide sounding
the snow at each step with his long axe-handle as he moved in advance.
Slowly they mounted higher and higher, occasionally meeting with,
but always overcoming, difficulties, until towards evening they reached
the little log cabin on the Grands Mulets, not sorry to find in it a
sufficient though humble resting-place for the night.
Here they proceeded to make themselves comfortable. Some firewood
had been carried up by the porters, with which a fire was kindled, wet
garments were hung up to dry, and hot coffee was prepared, while the
sun sank in a gorgeous world of amber and crimson fire.
One by one the stars came out and gradually twinkled into
brilliancy, until at last the glorious host of heaven shone in the
deepening sky with an intensity of lustre that cannot be described,
contrasting strangely with the pallid ghostly aspect of the surrounding
snow- fields. These were the only trace of earth that now remained to
greet the eyes of our travellers when they looked forth from the door
of the little hut. Besides being calm and beautiful, the night was
intensely cold. There is this peculiarity, on Alpine mountain tops,
that when the sun's last rays desert them the temperature falls
abruptly, there being little or nothing of earth or rock to conserve
the heat poured out during the day. The mountaineers, therefore, soon
after night closed in, found it necessary to shut the door of their
cabin, where they roused up the fire, quaffed their steaming coffee,
and smoked their pipes, in joyful anticipation of the coming day.
Chapter XV. THE GRAND ASCENT
CONTINUED AND COMPLETED.
Need we say that the younger of our adventurers—for such they may
truly be styled—felt a tendency to “spin yarns,” as Captain Wopper
expressed it, till a late hour that night, as they sat round the fire
at the Grands Mulets?
During this enjoyable period, Lawrence and Lewis made themselves
better acquainted with Baptist Le Croix, the chamois-hunter, whose
quiet, gentle, and unobtrusive manner was very attractive to them. Many
an anecdote did he relate of adventures among the Alpine peaks and
passes while pursuing the chamois, or guiding travellers on their way,
and it is probable that he might have roamed in spirit among his
beloved haunts—eagerly followed in spirit by the young men—if he had
not been called to order by the guide, who, remembering the hard work
that lay before them on the morrow, suggested repose. The profound
silence that soon reigned in the hut was broken only by an occasional
long-drawn sigh. Even Captain Wopper was quiet, having been so
powerfully influenced by fresh mountain air and exercise as to have
forgotten or foregone his ordinary and inveterate snore.
There is something peculiarly disagreeable in being awakened, when
one is very tired and sleepy, about two minutes after one has dropped
into a profound refreshing slumber; and the annoyance is severely
aggravated when it is caused by the wanton act of one of whom we had
expected better things.
So, in a hazy way, thought Lewis Stoutley when he felt a hand laid
on his shoulder, and heard the voice of Antoine Grennon.
“Monsieur! Monsieur!” said the guide.
“G-t—long. D-n borer me,” murmured Lewis, in tones so sleepy that
the dash of crossness was barely perceptible.
“It is time to rise, sir,” persisted Antoine.
“'mposs'ble—'v jus' b'n two min'ts sl-e—”
A profound sigh formed an eloquent peroration to the sentence.
A loud laugh from his companions, who were already up and getting
ready, did more than the guide's powers of suasion to arouse the heavy
sleeper. He started to a sitting posture, stared with imbecile surprise
at the candle which dimly lighted the cabin, and yawned vociferously.
“What a sleeper you are, Lewie!” said Lawrence, with a laugh, as, on
his knees before the fire, he busied himself in preparing coffee for
“And such a growler, too, when any one touches you,” observed
Slingsby, buttoning on his leggings.
“Sleeper! growler!” groaned Lewis, “you've only given me five
minutes in which to sleep or growl.”
“Ah, the happy obliviousness of youth!” said the Professor,
assisting one of the porters to strap up the scientific instruments,
“you have been asleep four hours at least. It is now past one. We must
start in less than an hour, so bestir yourself—and pray, Dr. Lawrence,
make haste with that coffee.”
The doctor was by no means slow in his operations, but the
difficulties in his way delayed him. At such a height, and in such a
frozen region, the only mode of procuring water was to place a panful
of snow on the fire; and, no matter how full the pan might be stuffed
with it, this snow, when melted, was reduced to only a very small
quantity of water; more snow had, therefore, to be added and melted, so
that much time was spent before the boiling point was reached.
Patience, however, was at last rewarded with a steaming draught, which,
with bread and ham, did more than fire towards warming their chill
Outside, the scene was still exquisitely calm and beautiful. The
stars appeared to have gathered fresh brilliancy and to have increased
in number during the night. Those of them near the horizon, as the
Professor pointed out, twinkled energetically, as if they had just
risen, and, like Lewis, were sleepy, while those in the zenith shone
with steady lustre, as if particularly wide awake to the doings of the
presumptuous men who were climbing so much nearer than usual to their
habitation in the sky. One star in particular gleamed with a sheen that
was pre-eminently glorious—now it was ruby red, now metallic blue,
anon emerald green. Of course, no sunlight would tinge the horizon for
several hours, but the bright moon, which had just risen, rolled floods
of silver over the snowy wastes, rendering unnecessary the lantern
which had been provided to illumine their upward path.
The party, having been tied together with a rope as on the previous
day, set forth in line over the snow, each following the other, and
soon they were doing battle with the deep crevasses. The nature of the
ice varied, of course, with the form of the mountain, sometimes
presenting rugged and difficult places, in which, as the Captain put
it, they got among breakers and had to steer with caution, at other
times presenting comparatively level plains of snow over which all was
“plain sailing,” but the movement was upwards—ever upwards—and, as
the day advanced, felt so prolonged that, at last, as Slingsby said,
the climbing motion grew into a confirmed habit. Meanwhile the old
world sank steadily below them, and, seen from such an elevation in the
pale moonlight, lost much of its familiar look.
Even sounds appeared gradually to die out of that mysterious region,
for when they chanced to pause for a moment to recover breath, or to
gaze downward, each appeared unwilling to break the excessive
stillness, and all seemed to listen intently, as it were, to the
soundlessness around—hearing nought, however, save the beating of
their own pulsations. In such a spot, if unaccompanied by guide or
friend, one might perhaps realise, more than in other parts of earth,
the significance of the phrase, “Alone with God.”
As dawn approached, Lewis, who had taken care to have himself placed
next to Baptist Le Croix, renewed his converse in reference to chamois-hunting, and made arrangements to accompany the hunter on one of his
“Is that your sole occupation?” he asked, as the party entered upon
a somewhat level snow-field.
“That and assisting travellers,” answered Baptist.
“By the way,” said Lewis, in a careless tone, “they tell me that
gold is to be found in some parts of these mountains. Is that true?”
If the youth's back had not been towards the hunter, who walked
behind him, he might have seen that this question was received with a
startled look, and that a strange gleam shot from the man's eyes. The
question was repeated before he answered it.
“Yes,” said he, in a low voice, “they say it is to be found—but I
have never found it.”
“Have you sought much for it?”
“I have sought for it.”
The answer was not given promptly, and Lewis found, with some
surprise, that the subject appeared to be distasteful to the hunter. He
therefore dropped it and walked on in silence.
Walking at the time was comparatively easy, for a sharp frost had
hardened the surface of the snow, and the gem-like lights of heaven
enabled them to traverse valleys of ice, clamber up snow-slopes and
cross crevasses without danger, except in one or two places, where the
natural snow-bridges were frail and the chasms unusually wide.
At one of these crevasses they were brought to a complete
standstill. It was too wide to be leaped, and no bridge was to be
found. The movements of a glacier cause the continual shifting of its
parts, so that, although rugged or smooth spots are always sure to be
found at the same parts of the glacier each year, there is,
nevertheless, annual variety in minute detail. Hence the most expert
guides are sometimes puzzled as to routes.
The crevasse in question was a new one, and it was Antoine's first
ascent of Mont Blanc for that year, so that he had to explore for a
passage just as if he had never been there before. The party turned to
the left and marched along the edge of the chasm some distance, but no
bridge could be found. The ice became more broken up, smaller crevasses
intersected the large one, and at last a place was reached where the
chaos of dislocation rendered further advance impossible.
“Lost your bearin's, Antoine?” asked Captain Wopper.
“No; I have only got into difficulties,” replied the guide, with a
“Just so—breakers ahead. Well, I suppose you'll 'bout ship an' run
along the coast till we find a channel.”
This was precisely what Antoine meant to do, and did, but it was not
until more than an hour had been lost that a safe bridge was found.
When they had crossed, the configuration of the ice forced them to
adopt a route which they would willingly have avoided. A steep incline
of snow rose on their right, on the heights above which loose ice-grags were poised as if on the point of falling. Indeed, two or three
tracks were passed, down which, probably at no distant period, some of
these avalanches had shot. It was nervous work passing under them. Even
Antoine looked up at them with a grave, inquiring glance, and hastened
his pace as much as was consistent with comfort and dignity.
Soon after this the sun began to rise, and the upper portions of the
snow were irradiated with pink splendour, but to our travellers he had
not yet risen, owing to the intervening peaks of the Aiguille du Midi.
In the brightening light they emerged upon a plain named the Petit
Plateau, which forms a reservoir for the avalanches of the Dome du
Goute. Above them rose the mountain-crest in three grand masses,
divided from each other by rents, which exposed that peculiar
stratified form of the glacier caused by the annual bedding of the
snow. From the heights, innumerable avalanches had descended, strewing
the spot where they stood with huge blocks of ice and masses of rock.
Threading their way through these impediments was a matter not only
of time, but of difficulty, for in some parts the spaces between the
boulders and blocks were hollow, and covered with thin crusts of snow,
which gave way the instant a foot was set on them, plunging up to their
waists the unfortunates who trod there, with a shock which usually
called forth shouts of astonishment not unmingled with consternation.
“Here, then, we draw near to the grand summit,” said the Professor,
pointing to the snow-cliffs on the right, “whence originates the ice-fountain that supplies such mighty ice-rivers as the Glacier des
Bossons and the Mer de Glace.”
“Oui, Monsieur,” replied Antoine, smiling, “we DRAW near, but we are
not yet near.”
“We are nearer to the summit however, than we are to the plain,”
retorted the Professor.
“Truly, yes,” assented the guide.
“I should think no one could doubt that,” observed Slingsby, looking
“It looks quite near now,” said Lewis.
“Not so near, however, as you think, and as you shall find,”
rejoined the guide, as they resumed their upward march.
This was indeed true. Nothing is more deceptive to an inexperienced
eye than the apparent distance of a high mountain-top. When you imagine
that the plain below is miles and miles away, and the peak above close
at hand, you find, perhaps, on consulting your watch, that the plain
cannot be very far distant, and that the greater part of your work
still lies before you. It requires no small amount of resolution to
bear up against the depression of spirit caused by frequent mistakes in
Owing to the increasing height and power of the sun, the snow beyond
the Petit Plateau soon became soft, and the steepness of the ascent
increasing, their advance became slower, and their work much more
laborious. A pleasant break was, however, at hand, for, on reaching the
Grand Plateau, they were cheered by the sun's rays beaming directly on
them, and by the information that they had at length reached their
It may not be a very romantic, but it is an interesting fact, that
the joys connected with intellectual and material food are intimately
blended. Man, without intellectual food, becomes a “lower animal.” What
intellectual man is without material food, even for part of a day, let
those testify who have had the misfortune to go on a pic-nic, and
discover that an essential element of diet had been forgotten. It is
not merely that food is necessary to maintain our strength; were that
so, a five minutes' pause, or ten at the outside, would suffice, in
Captain Wopper's phraseology, to take in cargo, or coal the human
engine; but we “REJOICE in food,” and we believe that none enjoy it so
much as those whose intellectual appetite is strong. If any doubters of
these truths had witnessed the Professor and his friends at breakfast
that morning on the Grand Plateau, they must have infallibly been
“What a gourmand he is!” whispered Lewis to the Captain, in
reference to the man of science, “and such a genial outflow of wit to
correspond with his amazing indraught of wittles.”
The Captain's teeth were at the moment fixed with almost tigerish
ferocity in a chicken drumstick, but the humour and the amazing novelty
—to say nothing of the truth—of Lewis's remark made him remove the
drumstick, and give vent to a roar of laughter that shook the very
summit of Mont Blanc—at all events the Professor said it did, and he
was a man who weighed his words and considered well his sentiments.
“Do not imagine that I exaggerate,” he said, as distinctly as was
compatible with a very large mouthful of ham and bread, “sound is a
motion of vibration, not of translation. That delightfully sonorous
laugh emitted by Captain Wopper (pass the wine, Slingsby—thanks) was
an impulse or push delivered by his organs of respiration to the
particles of air in immediate contact with his magnificent beard. The
impulse thus given to the air was re-delivered or passed on, not as I
pass the mutton to Dr. Lawrence (whose plate is almost empty), but by
each particle of air passing the impulse to its neighbour; thus
creating an aerial wave, or multitude of waves, which rolled away into
space. Those of the waves which rolled in the direction of Mont Blanc
communicated their vibrations to the more solid atoms of the mountain,
these passed the motion on to each other, of course with slight—
inconceivably slight—but actual force, and thus the tremor passed
entirely through the mountain, out on the other side, greatly
diminished in power no doubt, and right on throughout space.—Hand me
the bread, Lewis, and don't sit grinning there like a Cheshire cat with
tic-douloureux in its tail.”
At this Slingsby laughed and shook the mountain again, besides
overturning a bottle of water, and upsetting the gravity of Antoine
Grennon, who chanced to be looking at him; for the artist's mouth,
being large, and also queerly shaped, appeared to the guide somewhat
ludicrous. Sympathy, like waves of sound, is easily transmitted. Thus,
on the Captain making to Antoine the very simple remark that the
“mootong was mannyfeek,” there was a general roar that ought to have
brought Mont Blanc down about their ears. But it didn't—it only shook
him. Laughter and sympathy combined improve digestion and strengthen
appetite. Thus the Professor's brilliant coruscations, and the
appreciative condition of his audience, created an enjoyment of that
morning's meal which was remembered with pleasure long after the event,
and induced an excessive consumption of food, which called forth the
remonstrances of the guide, who had to remind his uproarious flock that
a portion must be reserved for the descent. To the propriety of this
Lewis not only assented, but said that he meant to continue the ascent,
and rose for that purpose, whereupon the Doctor said that he dissented
entirely from the notion that bad puns increased the hilarity of a
party, and the Captain, giving an impulse to the atmosphere with his
respiratory organs, produced the sound “Avast!” and advised them to
clap a stopper in their potato-traps.
Even at these sallies they all laughed—proving, among other things,
that mountain air and exercise, combined with intellectual and physical
food, are conducive to easy-going good humour.
It is not impossible that the tremors to which Mont Blanc had been
subjected that morning had put him a little out of humour, for our
mountaineers had scarcely recommenced their upward toil when he
shrouded his summit in a few fleecy clouds. The guide shook his head at
“I fear the weather won't hold,” he said.
“Won't hold!” exclaimed the Captain, “why, it's holdin' now as hard
as it can grip.”
“True,” observed the Professor; “but weather in these regions is apt
to change its mood rather suddenly.”
“Yet there seems to me no sign of an unfavourable change,” said
Lawrence, looking up at the blue and almost cloudless sky.
“Fleecy clouds are fleeting at times,” returned the Professor,
pointing to the summit which again showed its cap of clear dazzling
white, “but at other times they are indicative of conditions that tend
to storm. However, we must push on and hope for the best.”
They did push on accordingly, and all, except the guide, had no
difficulty in “hoping.” As they passed over the Plateau the sun poured
floods of light on the snow, from the little crystals of which it shone
with prismatic colours, as though the place had been strewn with
diamonds. The spirit of levity was put to flight by this splendid
spectacle, and the feelings of the travellers were deepened to
solemnity when the guide pointed to a yawning crevasse into which, he
said, three guides were hurled by an avalanche in the year 1820. He
also related how, on one occasion, a party of eleven tourists perished,
not far from where they then stood, during a terrible storm, and how an
English lady and her guide were, at another time, lost in a
By this time all except the chief among the surrounding heights were
beginning to look insignificant by comparison, and the country assumed
a sort of rugged flatness in consequence of being looked down upon from
such an elevation. Passing the Grand Plateau they reached a steep
incline, which rose towards a tremendous ice-precipice. From the upper
edge of this there hung gigantic icicles. Up the incline they went
slowly, for the crust of the snow broke down at every step, and the
Captain, being heavy, began to show symptoms of excessive heat and
labouring breath, but he grew comparatively cool on coming to a snow-bridge which had to be passed in order to get over a crevasse.
“It'll never bear my weight,” he said, looking doubtfully at the
frail bridge, and at the blue gulf, which appeared to be a bottomless
Antoine, however, thought it might prove strong enough. He patted
the snow gently, as on previous occasions of a similar kind, and
advanced with caution, while his followers fixed their heels in the
snow, and held tight to the rope to save him if he should break
through. He passed in safety, and the others followed, but new
difficulties awaited them on the other side. Just beyond this bridge
they came to a slope from which the snow had been completely swept,
leaving the surface of hard ice exposed. It was so steep that walking
on it was impossible. Antoine, therefore, proceeded to cut steps along
its face. Two swings of his ponderous mountain-axe were sufficient to
cut each step in the brittle ice, and in a few minutes the whole party
were on the slope, every man having a coil of the rope round his waist,
while, with the spike of his alpenstock driven firmly into the ice, he
steadied himself before taking each successive step.
There would have been no difficulty in crossing such a slope if its
base had terminated in snow, but as it went straight down to the brow
of an ice-precipice, and then abruptly terminated in a cornice, from
which the giant icicles, before mentioned, hung down into an
unfathomable abyss, each man knew that a false step, a slip, or the
loss of balance, might result in the instant destruction of the whole
party. They moved therefore very slowly, keeping their eyes steadily
fixed on their feet.
The mercurial temperament of Mr. Slingsby was severely tried at this
point. His desire to look up and revel in the beauties of nature around
him proved too strong a temptation. While gazing with feelings of awe
at the terrible edge or cornice below he became, for the first time,
fully alive to his situation,—the smallness of the step of ice on
which he stood, the exceeding steepness of the glassy slope below, the
dread abyss beyond! He shut his eyes; a giddy feeling came over him—a
rush of horror.
“Take care, Monsieur!” was uttered in a quick, deep tone, behind
It was the warning voice of Le Croix, who observed his condition.
The warning came too late. Slingsby wavered, threw up his arms,
slipped, and fell with an appalling shriek.
Le Croix, however, was prepared. In an instant he had fixed his
staff and heels firmly, and had leaned well back to resist the pull.
The porter in front was not less prompt; the stout rope stood the
strain; and in another moment the artist was restored to his position,
panting, pale, and humbled.
A few minutes sufficed to restore his confidence sufficiently to
admit of his proceeding, and, with many warnings to be more cautious,
the advance was continued.
Up to this point the weather had favoured them, but now Mont Blanc
seemed as if inclined to resent the free and easy way in which these
men of mingled muscle and science had attacked his crown. He drew
several ominous clouds around him, and shook out a flood of hoary locks
from his white head, which, caught up by a blast, created apparently
for the purpose, were whirled aloft in wild confusion, and swooped down
upon the mountaineers with bitter emphasis, in the form of snow-drift,
as if they had come direct from Captain Wopper's favourite place of
reference,—Nova Zembla. Coats, which had hitherto been carried on the
arm or thrown open, were put on and buttoned, and heads were bent to
meet the blast and repel the snow-drift. Little was said, save a
murmured doubt by Antoine as to the possibility of gaining the summit,
even although they were now so near it, for the day was far spent by
that time, and the rugged nature of the route over they had passed,
precluded the possibility of a rapid return to the hut at the Grands
Mulets. They pushed steadily on, however, for the Professor was anxious
to bury his thermometer in the snow at the top; the guide was anxious
to maintain his credit for perseverance; and the others were anxious to
be able to say they had reached the highest height in Europe.
In any weather the ascent of Mont Blanc requires somewhat more than
the average share of physical vigour and perseverance; in bad weather
it demands unusual strength and resolution. When, therefore, a severe
storm of wind arose, most of the party began to show symptoms of
distress. The labour of ascending, being coupled with that of forcing
way against the blast, was very exhausting to the muscles, while the
extreme cold reduced the physical energy and cooled the most sanguine
spirit. Antoine alone seemed to be proof against all influences, but
the responsibility lying on him clouded his usually open countenance
with a careworn expression. Prudence counselled immediate return.
Ambition, as they were now so near the top, urged prolonged effort. The
guide expressed his anxieties, but meeting with no response, followed
the dictates of his feelings, and pushed on.
Like pillars of living snow they toiled patiently upwards. Breath
became too precious to waste in words. They advanced in silence. The
wind howled around them, and the snow circled in mad evolutions, as if
the demon of wintry storms dwelt there, and meant to defend his citadel
to the “bitter end.” There are two rocks near the summit, which crop
through the ice like rugged jewels in the monarch's diadem. The lower
is named the Petits Mulets, the upper the Derniers Roches. On reaching
the latter of these they paused a few moments to rest. A feeling of
certainty that the end would be gained now began to prevail, but the
guide was a little alarmed, and the Professor horrified, on looking at
their companions' faces, to observe that they were pinched, haggard,
and old-looking, as if they all had aged somewhat during the last few
hours! Captain Wopper's rubicund visage was pale, and his nose blue;
the face of Lewis was white all over, and drawn, as if he were
suffering pain; Dr. Lawrence's countenance was yellow, and Slingsby's
was green. The Professor himself was as bad as his comrades, and the
porters were no better.
“We shan't be beaten now,” said the man of science, with a ghastly
“Go 'head! nev'r s'die s'l'ng's th'r's shot 'n th' locker!” replied
the Captain, in the tone of a man who would rather avoid speaking, if
“What a face you've got, Stoutley!” said the artist.
“You're another!” replied Lewis, with a horrible grin.
“Allons!” exclaimed the guide, bending once more against the storm.
Once, for a few minutes, the wind ceased and the clouds lifted.
Captain Wopper uttered a cheer, and rushed forward in advance of the
guide, took off his hat and threw it into the air. They had reached the
round summit without being aware of it. They stood 15,781 feet above
the sea-level! No envious peak rose above their heads. The whole world
lay below them, bathed, too, in bright sunshine, for the storm, which
had so suddenly swooped upon them, was confined, like an elemental
body-guard, to the head of the mountain-king. But, clear though it was
at the moment, they were too high in the air to see anything quite
distinctly, yet this hazy aspect had a charm of its own, for it
increased the feeling and idea of vastness in connection with
surrounding space. Around, and now beneath, stood the mountain nobility
of the land, looking, however, somewhat reduced in size and majesty, as
seen from the royal presence.
Scarcely had the mountaineers assembled and glanced at the wondrous
panorama, when the envious clouds swooped down again and mingled with
the snow-drift which once more rose to meet them.
“We must be quick, Monsieur,” said Antoine, taking a shovel from one
of the porters, while Le Croix grasped another. “Where shall we dig?”
The Professor fixed on a spot, and, while the grave of the
thermometer was being dug, a plaid was set up on a couple of
alpenstocks, in the shelter of which the others consumed the bread and
wine that had been saved from breakfast. It did them little good,
however; the cold was too intense. The Captain's beard was already
fringed with icicles, and the whiskers of those who had them were
covered with hoar-frost, while the breath issued from their mouths like
steam. Before the thermometer was buried all had risen, and were
endeavouring to recover heat by rubbing their hands, beating their arms
across their breasts, and stamping violently.
“Come,” said the Professor, quickly, when the work was done, “we
must start at once.”
“Oui, Monsieur,” assented the guide, and, without more words, the
whole party began to descend the mountain at a run.
There was cause for haste. Not only did the storm increase in
violence, but evening drew on apace, and all of them were more or less
exhausted by prolonged muscular exertion and exposure to severe cold.
Suddenly, having gone a considerable way down the mountain, they
emerged from fog and snow-drift into blazing sunshine! The strife of
elements was confined entirely to the summit. The inferior ice-slopes
and the valleys far below were bathed in the golden glories of a
magnificent sunset and, before they reached the huts at the Grands
Mulets, they had passed from a condition of excessive cold to one of
extreme heat, insomuch that the Captain and Professor were compelled to
walk with their coats slung over their shoulders, while perspiration
streamed from their bare brows.
That night the party slept again at the Grands Mulets, and next day
they reached Chamouni, fagged, no doubt, and bearing marks of
mountaineering in the shape of sun-burnt cheeks and peeled noses, but
hearty, nevertheless, and not a little elated with their success in
having scaled the mighty sides and the hoary summit of Mont Blanc.
Chapter XVI. TELLS HOW LEWIS
Seated one morning on an easy chair in Susan Quick's apartment and
swinging his little blue legs to and fro in a careless, negligent
manner, Gillie White announced it as his opinion that Mister Lewis had
gone, or was fast going, mad.
“Why do you think so?” asked Susan, with a smile, looking up for a
moment from some portion of Lewis's nether integuments, which Mont
Blanc had riven almost to shreds.
“W'y do I think so?” repeated Gillie; “w'y, cos he's not content
with havin' busted his boots an' his clo'se, an' all but busted
hisself, in goin' to the top o' Mont Blang an' Monty Rosa, an' all the
other Monty- thingumbobs about but he's agoin' off to day with that
queer fish Laycrwa to hunt some where up above the clouds—in among the
stars, I fancy—for shamwas.”
“Indeed!” said Susan, with a neat little laugh.
“Yes, indeed. He's mountain-mad—mad as a Swiss March hare, if not
madder—By the way, Susan, wot d'ee think o' the French?”
Gillie propounded this question with the air of a philosopher.
“D'you mean French people?”
“No; I means the French lingo, as my friend Cappen Wopper calls it.”
“Well, I can't say that I have thought much about it yet. Missis
keeps me so busy that I haven't time.”
“Ah!” said Gillie, “you're wastin' of precious opportoonities,
Susan. I've bin a-studdyin' of that lingo myself, now, for three weeks
—off and on.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Susan, with an amused glance, “and what do YOU
think of it?”
“Think of it! I think it's the most outrageous stuff as ever was.
The man who first inwented it must 'ave 'ad p'ralersis o' the brain,
besides a bad cold in 'is 'ead, for most o' the enns an' gees come
tumblin' through the nose, but only git half out after all, as if the
speaker was afraid to let 'em go, lest he shouldn't git hold of 'em
again. There's that there mountain, now. They can't call it Mont Blang,
with a good strong out-an'-out bang, like a Briton would do, but they
catches hold o' the gee when it's got about as far as the bridge o' the
nose, half throttles it and shoves it right back, so that you can
scarce hear it at all. An' the best joke is, there ain't no gee in the
word at all!”
“No?” said Susan, in surprise.
“No,” repeated Gillie. “I've bin studdyin' the spellin' o' the words
in shop-winders an' posters, an', would you b'lieve it, they end the
word Blang with a C.”
“You don't say so!”
“Yes I do; an' how d'ee think they spell the name o' that feller
“I'm sure I don't know,” answered Susan.
“They spells it,” returned Gillie, with a solemn look,
“L-e-c-r-o-i-x. Now, if I had spelt it that way, I'd have pronounced it
Laycroiks. Wouldn't you?”
“Well, yes, I think I should,” said Susan.
“It seems to me,” continued Gillie, “that they goes on the plan of
spellin' one way an' purnouncin' another—always takin' care to choose
the most difficult way, an' the most unnatt'ral, so that a feller has
no chance to come near it except by corkin' up one nostril tight, an'
borin' a small extra hole in the other about half-way up. If you was to
mix a sneeze with what you said, an' paid little or no attention to the
sense, p'raps it would be French—but I ain't sure. I only wish you
heard Cappen Wopper hoistin' French out of hisself as if he was a
wessel short-handed, an' every word was a heavy bale. He's werry shy
about it, is the Cappen, an' wouldn't for the world say a word if he
thought any one was near; but when he thinks he's alone with Antoine
—that's our guide, you know—he sometimes lets fly a broadside o'
French that well-nigh takes my breath away.”
The urchin broke into a laugh here at the memory of the Captain's
efforts to master what he styled a furrin' tongue, but Susan checked
him by saying slily, “How could you know, Gillie, if the Captain was
ALONE with Antoine?”
“Oh, don't you know,” replied Gillie, trying to recover his gravity,
“the Cappen he's wery fond o' me, and I like to gratify his feelin's by
keepin' near him. Sometimes I keep so near—under the shadow of his
huge calf d'ee see—that he don't observe me on lookin' round; an',
thinkin' he's all alone, lets fly his French broadsides in a way that
a'most sends Antoine on his beam-ends. But Antoine is tough, he is. He
gin'rally says, `I not un'r'stan' English ver' well,' shakes his head
an' grins, but the Cappen never listens to his answers, bein' too busy
loadin' and primin' for another broadside.”
The man to whom he referred cut short the conversation at this point
by shouting down the stair:—
“Hallo! Gillie, you powder-monkey, where are my shoes?”
“Here they are, Cappen, all ready; fit to do dooty as a
lookin'-glass to shave yerself,” cried the “powder-monkey,” leaping up
and leaving the room abruptly.
Gillie's opinion in regard to the madness of Lewis was shared by
several of his friends above stairs. Doctor Lawrence, especially, felt
much anxiety about him, having overheard one or two conversations held
by the guides on the subject of the young Englishman's recklessness.
“Really, Lewis,” said the Doctor, on one occasion, “you MUST listen
to a lecture from me, because you are in a measure under my charge.”
“I'm all attention, sir,” said Lewis meekly, as he sat down on the
edge of his bed and folded his hands in his lap.
“Well then, to begin,” said the Doctor, with a half-serious smile,
“I won't trouble you with my own opinion, to which you attach no
“Pardon me, Lawrence, I attach great weight to it—or, rather, it
has so much weight that I can scarcely bear it.”
“Just so, and therefore you shan't have it. But you must admit that
the opinion of a good guide is worth something. Now, I heard Antoine
Grennon the other day laying down some unquestionable principles to the
“What! lecturing the Professor?” interrupted Lewis, “how very
“He said,” continued the Doctor, “that the dangers connected with
the ascent of these Swiss mountains are REAL, and, unless properly
provided against, may become terrible, if not fatal. He instanced your
own tendency to go roving about among the glaciers ALONE. With a
comrade or a guide attached to you by a rope there is no danger worth
speaking of, but it must be as clear to you as it is to me that it when
out on the mountains alone, you step on a snow-covered crevasse and
break through, your instant death is inevitable.”
“Yes, but,” objected Lewis, with that unwilling ness to be convinced
which is one of the chief characteristics of youth, “I always walk,
when ALONE on the glaciers, with the utmost caution, sounding the snow
in front of me with the long handle of my axe at every step as I go.”
“If the guides do not find this always a sufficient protection for
themselves, by what amazing power of self-sufficiency do you persuade
yourself that it is sufficient for YOU?” demanded Lawrence.
“Your question suffices, Doctor,” said Lewis, laughing; “go on with
your lecture, I'm all attention and, and humility.”
“Not my lecture,” retorted Lawrence, “the guide's. He was very
strong, I assure you, on the subject of men going on the high glaciers
WITHOUT A ROPE, or, which comes to the same thing, ALONE, and he was
not less severe on those who are so foolhardy, or so ignorant, as to
cross steep slopes of ice on new-fallen snow. Nothing is easier, the
new snow affording such good foothold, as you told us the other day
when describing your adventures under the cliffs of Monte Rosa, and yet
nothing is more dangerous, says Antoine, for if the snow were to slip,
as it is very apt to do, you would be smothered in it, or swept into a
crevasse by it. Lives are lost in the Alps EVERY YEAR, I am told, owing
to indifference to these two points. The guides say—and their opinions
are corroborated by men of science and Alpine experience—that it is
dangerous to meddle with any slope exceeding 30 degrees for several
days after a heavy fall, and yet it is certain that slopes exceeding
this angle are traversed annually by travellers who are ignorant, or
reckless, or both. Did you not say that the slope which you crossed the
other day was a steeper angle than this, and the snow on it not more
than twenty-four hours' old?”
“Guilty!” exclaimed Lewis, with a sigh.
“I condemn you, then,” said Lawrence, with a smile, “to a
continuation of this lecture, and, be assured, the punishment is much
lighter than you deserve. Listen:—There are three unavoidable dangers
in Alpine climbing—”
“Please don't be long on each head,” pleaded Lewis, throwing himself
back in his bed, while his friend placed the point of each finger of
his right hand on a corresponding point of the left, and crossed his
“I won't. I shall be brief—brief as your life is likely to be if
you don't attend to me. The three dangers are, as I have said,
unavoidable; but two of them may be guarded against; the other cannot.
First, there is danger from FALLING ROCKS. This danger may be styled
positive. It hangs over the head like the sword of Damocles. There is
no avoiding it except by not climbing at all, for boulders and ice-blocks are perched here, and there, and everywhere, and no one can tell
the moment when they shall fall. Secondly, there is danger from
crevasses—the danger of tumbling into one when crossing a bridge of
snow, and the danger of breaking through a crust of snow which conceals
one. This may be called a negative danger. It is reduced to almost
nothing if you are tied to your comrade by a rope, and if the leader
sounds with his staff as he walks along; but it changes from a negative
to a positive danger to the man who is so mad as to go out ALONE.
Thirdly, there is danger from new snow on steep slopes, which is
positive if you step on it when recently fallen, and when the slope is
very steep; but is negative when you allow sufficient time for it to
harden. While, however, it is certain that many deaths occur from these
three dangers being neglected, it is equally true that the largest
number of accidents which occur in the Alps arise chiefly from
momentary indiscretions, from false steps, the result of carelessness
or self-confidence, and from men attempting to do what is beyond their
powers. Men who are too old for such fatigue, and men who, though
young, are not sufficiently strong, usually come to grief. I close my
lecture with a quotation from the writings of a celebrated mountaineer
—`In all cases the man rather than the mountain is at fault.'“
“There is truth in what you say,” observed Lewis, rising, with a
“Nay, but,” returned his friend, seriously, “your mother, who is
made very anxious by your reckless expeditions, begged me to impress
these truths on you. Will you promise me, like a good fellow, to
“I promise,” said Lewis, becoming serious in his turn, and taking
his friend's hand; “but you must not expect sudden perfection to be
exemplified in me.—Come, let's go have a talk with Le Croix about his
projected expedition after the chamois.”
Up in the mountains now,—above some of the clouds undoubtedly,
almost 'mong the stars, as Gillie put it,—Lewis wanders in company
with Baptist Le Croix, half-forgetful of his promise to Lawrence. Below
them lies a world of hills and valleys; above towers a fairy- land of
ice, cliff, and cloud. No human habitation is near. The only
indications of man's existence are so faint, and so far off in the
plains below, that houses are barely visible, and villages look like
toys. A sea of cloud floats beneath them, and it is only through gaps
in this sea that the terrestrial world is seen. Piercing through it are
the more prominent of the Alpine peaks—the dark tremendous obelisk of
the Matterhorn towering in one direction, the not less tremendous and
far grander head of Mont Blanc looming in another. The sun shines
brightly over all, piercing and rendering semi-transparent some of the
clouds, gilding the edges and deepening the shadows of others.
“Do you see anything, Le Croix?” asked Lewis, as he reclined on a
narrow ledge of rock recovering breath after a fatiguing climb, while
his comrade peered intently through a telescope into the recesses of a
dark mountain gorge that lay a little below them.
For some moments the hunter made no reply. Presently he closed the
glass, and, with an air of satisfaction, said, “Chamois!”
“Where?” asked Lewis, rising eagerly and taking the glass.
Le Croix carefully pointed out the spot but no effort on the part of
the inexperienced youth could bring anything resembling the light and
graceful form of a chamois into the field of vision.
“Never mind, Le Croix,” he said, quickly returning the glass and
picking up his rifle; “come along, let's have at them.”
“Softly,” returned the hunter; “we must get well to leeward of them
before we can venture to approach.”
“Lead where you will; you'll find me a quiet and unquestioning
The hunter at once turned, and, descending the mountain by a
precipice which was so steep that they had in some places to drop from
ledge to ledge, at last gained a position where the light air, that
floated but scarce moved the clouds, came direct from the spot where
the chamois lay. He then turned and made straight towards them. As they
advanced the ground became more rugged and precipitous, so that their
progress was unavoidably slow, and rendered more so by the necessity
that lay on them of approaching their game without noise.
When they had reached a spot where a sheer precipice appeared to
render further progress impossible, the hunter stopped and said in a
low tone, “Look, they are too far off; a bullet could not reach them.”
Lewis craned his neck over the cliff, and saw the chamois grazing
quietly on a small patch of green that lay among brown rocks below.
“What's to be done?” he asked anxiously. “Couldn't we try a long
“Useless. Your eyes are inexperienced. The distance is greater than
“What, then, shall we do?”
Le Croix did not answer. He appeared to be revolving some plan in
his mind. Turning at last to his companion, he said,—
“I counsel that you remain here. It is a place near to which they
must pass if driven by some one from below. I will descend.”
“But how descend?” asked Lewis. “I see no path by which even a goat
could get down.”
“Leave that to me,” replied the hunter. “Keep perfectly still till
you see them within range. Have your rifle ready; do not fire in haste;
there will be time for a slow and sure aim. Most bad hunters owe their
ill-luck to haste.”
With this advice Le Croix crept quietly round a projecting rock,
and, dropping apparently over the precipice, disappeared.
Solitude is suggestive. As long as his companion was with him, Lewis
felt careless and easy in mind, but now that he was left alone in one
of the wildest and grandest scenes he had yet beheld, he became
solemnised, and could not help feeling, that without his guide he would
be very helpless in such a place. Being alone in the mountains was not
indeed new to him. As we have already said, he had acquired the
character of being much too reckless in wandering about by himself; but
there was a vast difference between going alone over ground which he
had traversed several times with guides in the immediate neighbourhood
of Chamouni, and being left in a region to which he had been conducted
by paths so intricate, tortuous, and difficult, that the mere effort to
trace back in memory even the last few miles of the route confused him.
There was a mysterious stillness, too, about everything around him;
and the fogs, which floated in heavy masses above and below, gave a
character of changeful wildness to the scenery.
“What a place to get lost in and benighted!” he thought. Then his
mind, with that curious capacity for sudden flight, which is one of the
chief characteristics of thought, leaped down the precipices, up which
he had toiled so slowly, sped away over hill and dale, and landed him
in Chamouni at the feet of Nita Horetzki. Once there, he had no desire
to move. He kept looking steadily in her pretty face, speculated as to
the nature of the charm that rendered it so sweet, wondered what was
the cause of the lines of care that at times rippled her smooth white
brow, longed to become the sharer of her grief, and her comforter, and
pondered the improbability of his ever being in a position to call her
Nita—darling Nita—sweetest Nita—exquisite Nita! He was still engaged
in creating adjectives at Chamouni when he was brought suddenly back to
the Alpine heights by the sound of a shot. It was repeated in a hundred
echoes by the surrounding cliffs, as he seized his rifle and gazed over
A puff of smoke, hanging like a cloudlet, guided his eyes. Not far
in front of it he saw the fawn-like form of a chamois stretched in
death upon the ground, while two others were seen bounding with amazing
precision and elasticity over the rocks towards him.
He turned at once to an opening among the rocks at his right, for,
even to his unpractised eye, it was obviously impossible that anything
without wings could approach him in front or at his left.
Coolness and promptitude were characteristics of the youth; so that
he sat crouching with the rifle, resting in the palm of his left hand,
over one knee, as motionless as if he had been chiselled from the rock
against which he leaned; but his natural coolness of deportment could
not prevent, though it concealed, a throbbing of anxiety lest the game
should pass out of reach, or behind rocks, which would prevent his
seeing it. For an instant he half-rose, intending to rush to some more
commanding elevation, but remembering the parting advice of Le Croix,
he sank down again and remained steady.
Scarcely had he done so when the clatter of bounding hoofs was
heard. He knew well that the open space, across which he now felt sure
the chamois must pass, was only broad enough to afford the briefest
possible time for an aim. He raised the rifle more than half-way to the
shoulder. Another instant and a chamois appeared like an arrow shooting
athwart the hill-side before him. He fired, and missed! The bullet,
however, which had been destined for the heart of the first animal, was
caught in the brain of that which followed. It sprang high into the
air, and, rolling over several times, lay stretched at full length on
We need not pause to describe the rejoicing of the young sportsman
over his first chamois, or to detail Lecroix's complimentary
Having deposited their game in a place of safety, the hunter
suggested that, as there was no chance of their seeing any more in that
locality, it would be well to devote the remainder of the day to
exploring the higher slopes of a neighbouring glacier, for, familiar as
he was with all the grander features of the region, there were some of
the minuter details, he said, with which he was unacquainted.
Lewis was a little surprised at the proposal, but, being quite
satisfied with his success, and not unwilling to join in anything that
smacked of exploration, he readily assented; and, ere long, the two
aspiring spirits were high above the spot where the chamois had fallen,
and struggling with the difficulties of couloir and crevasse.
Before quitting the lower ground, they had deposited their game and
rifles in a cave well known to Le Croix, in which they intended to pass
the night, and they now advanced armed only with their long- handled
Alpine hatchets, without which implements it is impossible to travel
Being both of them strong in wind and limb, they did not pause often
to rest, though Lewis occasionally called a momentary halt to enjoy the
magnificent prospect. During one of these pauses a dark object was seen
moving over the ice far below them.
Le Croix pointed to it, and said that it approached them.
“What is it—a crow?” asked Lewis.
“More like a man; but it is neither,” returned the hunter, adjusting
his telescope; “yes, it is, as I fancied, a chamois.”
“Then it cannot have seen us,” said Lewis, “else it would not
“Nay, it approaches because it has seen us. It mistakes us for
relatives. Let us sit down to deceive it a little.”
They crouched beside a piece of ice, and the chamois advanced, until
its pretty form became recognisable by the naked eye. Its motions,
however, were irregular. It was evidently timid. Sometimes it came on
at full gallop, then paused to look, and uttered a loud piping sound,
advancing a few paces with caution, and pausing to gaze again. Le Croix
replied with an imitative whistle to its call. It immediately bounded
forward with pleasure, but soon again hesitated, and stopped. At last
it seemed to become aware of its mistake, for, turning at a tangent, it
scoured away over the ice like wind swooping down from the
mountain-summits, bounded over the crevasses like an india-rubber ball,
and was quickly out of sight.
While gazing with profound interest at this graceful creature, the
explorers were not at first aware that a dark mass of inky cloud was
rapidly bearing down on them, and that one of those wild storms which
sweep frequently over the high Alps seemed to be gathering.
“We must make haste, if we would gain the shelter of our cave,” said
Le Croix, rising.
As he spoke, a low rumbling sound was heard behind them. They turned
just in time to see a small avalanche of rocks hopping down the cliffs
towards them. It was so far off, and looked such an innocent rolling of
pebbles, that Lewis regarded it as an insignificant phenomenon. His
companion formed a better estimate of its character, but being at least
five hundred yards to one side of the couloir or snow-slope, down which
it rushed, he judged that they were safe. He was mistaken. Some of the
largest stones flew past quite near them, several striking the glacier
as they passed, and sending clouds of ice-dust over them, and one, as
large as a hogshead, bounding, with awful force, straight over their
They turned instantly to hasten from so dangerous a spot, but were
arrested by another and much louder rumbling sound.
“Quick, fly, Monsieur!” exclaimed Le Croix, setting his young
companion the example.
Truly there was cause for haste. A sub-glacial lake among the
heights above had burst its icy barriers, and, down the same couloir
from which the smaller avalanche had sprung, a very ocean of boulders,
mud, ice, and DEBRIS came crashing and roaring with a noise like the
loudest thunder, with this difference, that there was no intermission
of the roar for full quarter of an hour; only, at frequent intervals, a
series of pre-eminent peals were heard, when boulders, from six to ten
feet in diameter, met with obstacles, and dashed them aside, or broke
themselves into atoms.
Our hunters fled for their lives, and barely gained the shelter of a
giant boulder, when the skirts of the hideous torrent roared past
leaped over an ice-cliff, and was swallowed up by the insatiable
crevasses of the glacier below. For several minutes after they had
reached, and stood panting in, a position of safety, they listened to
the thunderous roar of Alpine artillery, until it died slowly away—as
if unwillingly—in the light pattering of pebbles.
Gratitude to the Almighty for deliverance from a great danger was
the strongest feeling in the heart of the chamois-hunter. Profound
astonishment and joy at having witnessed such an amazing sight,
quickened the pulse of Lewis.
“That was a narrow escape, Le Croix?”
“It was. I never see such a sight without a shudder, because I lost
a brother in such an avalanche. It was on the slopes of the Jungfrau.
He was literally broken to fragments by it.”
Lewis expressed sympathy, and his feelings were somewhat solemnised
by the graphic recital of the details of the sad incident with which
the hunter entertained him, as they descended the mountain rapidly.
In order to escape an impending storm, which was evidently brewing
in the clouds above, Lewis suggested that they should diverge from the
route by which they had ascended, and attempt a short cut by a steeper
part of the mountains.
Le Croix looked round and pondered. “I don't like diverging into
unknown parts when in a hurry, and with the day far spent,” he said.
“One never knows when a sheer precipice will shut up the way in places
The youth, however, was confident, and the man of experience was too
amiable and yielding. There was also urgent reason for haste. It was
therefore decided that the steeper slopes should be attempted.
They began with a glissade. A very steep snow-slope happened to be
close at hand. It stretched uninterruptedly down several hundred feet
to one of the terraces, into which the precipitous mountainside at that
place was cut.
“Will you try?” asked Le Croix, looking doubtfully at his companion.
“Of course I will,” replied Lewis, shortly. “Where you choose to go
I will follow.”
“Have you ever done such work before?”
“Yes, often, though never on quite so steep or long a slope.”
Le Croix was apparently satisfied. He sat down on the summit of the
slope, fixed the spiked end of his axe in the snow, resting heavily on
the handle, in order to check his descent, and hitched himself forward.
“Keep steady and don't roll over,” he cried, as he shot away. The
snow rose and trailed like a white tail behind him. His speed increased
almost to that of an avalanche, and in a few seconds he was at the
Lewis seated himself in precisely the same manner, but overbalanced
himself when halfway down, swung round, lost self-command, let slip his
axe, and finally went head over heels, with legs and arms flying
Le Croix, half-expecting something of the kind, was prepared. He had
re-ascended the slope a short way, and received the human avalanche on
his right shoulder, was knocked down violently as a matter of course,
and the two went spinning in a heap together to the bottom.
“Not hurt, I hope?” cried Lewis, jumping up and looking at his
comrade with some anxiety.
“No, Monsieur,” replied Le Croix, quietly, as he shook the snow from
his garments—“And you?”
“Oh! I'm all right. That was a splendid beginning. We shall get down
to our cave in no time at this rate.”
The hunter shook his head. “It is not all glissading,” he said, as
they continued the descent by clambering down the face of a precipice.
Some thousands of feet below them lay the tortuous surface of a
glacier, on which they hoped to be able to walk towards their intended
night-bivouac, but the cliffs leading to this grew steeper as they
proceeded. Some hours' work was before them ere the glacier could be
reached, and the day was already drawing towards its close. A feeling
of anxiety kept them both silent as they pushed on with the utmost
possible speed, save when it was necessary for one to direct the other
as to his foothold.
On gaining each successive ledge of the terraced hill-side, they
walked along it in the hope of reaching better ground, or another snow-slope; but each ledge ended in a precipice, so that there was no
resource left but to scramble down to the ledge below to find a similar
disappointment. The slopes also increased, rather than decreased, in
steepness, yet so gradually, that the mountaineers at last went
dropping from point to point down the sheer cliffs without fully
realising the danger of their position. At a certain point they came to
the head of a slope so steep, that the snow had been unable to lie on
it, and it was impossible to glissade on the pure ice. It was quite
possible, however, to cut foot-holes down. Le Croix had with him a
stout Manilla rope of about three hundred feet in length. With this
tied round his waist, and Lewis, firmly planted, holding on to it, he
commenced the staircase. Two blows sufficed for each step, yet two
hours were consumed before the work was finished. Re-ascending, he tied
the rope round Lewis, and thus enabled him to descend with a degree of
confidence which he could not have felt if unattached. Le Croix himself
descended without this moral support, but, being as sure- footed as a
chamois, it mattered little.
Pretty well exhausted by their exertions, they now found themselves
at the summit of a precipice so perpendicular and unbroken, that a
single glance sufficed to convince them of the utter impossibility of
further descent in that quarter. The ledge on which they stood was not
more than three feet broad. Below them the glacier appeared in the
fading light to be as far off as ever. Above, the cliffs frowned like
inaccessible battlements. They were indeed like flies clinging to a
wall, and, to add to their difficulties, the storm which had threatened
now began in earnest.
A cloud as black as pitch hung in front of them. Suddenly, from its
heart, there gushed a blinding flash of lightning, followed, almost
without interval, by a crash of thunder. The echoes took up the sounds,
hurling them back and forward among the cliffs as if cyclopean mountain
spirits were playing tennis with boulders. Rain also descended in
torrents, and for some time the whole scene became as dark as if
overspread with the wing of night.
Crouching under a slight projection of rock, the explorers remained
until the first fury of the squall was over. Fortunately, it was as
short-lived as violent, but its effects were disagreeable, for
cataracts now poured on them as they hurried along the top of the
precipice vainly looking for a way of escape. At last, on coming to one
of those checks which had so often met them that day, Le Croix turned
“There is no help for it, Monsieur, we must spend the night here.”
“Here!” exclaimed Lewis, glancing at the cliffs above and the gulf
“It is not a pleasant resting-place,” replied the hunter, with a sad
smile, “but we cannot go on. It will be quite dark in half an hour,
when an effort to advance would insure our destruction. The little
light that remains must be spent in seeking out a place to lie on.”
The two men, who were thrown thus together in such perilous
circumstances, were possessed of more than average courage, yet it
would be false to say that fear found no place in their breasts. On the
contrary, each confessed to the other the following day that his heart
had sunk within him as he thought of the tremendous cliffs against
which they were stuck, with descent and ascent equally impossible, a
narrow ledge on the precipice-edge for their bed, and a long, wild
night before them. Cowardice does not consist in simple fear. It
consists in the fear of trifles; in unreasonable fear, and in such fear
as incapacitates a man for action. The situation of our explorers was
not one of slight danger. They had the best of reason for anxiety,
because they knew not whether escape, even in daylight, were possible.
As to incapacity for action, the best proof that fear had not brought
them to that condition lay in the fact, that they set about
preparations for spending the night with a degree of vigour amounting
almost to cheerfulness.
After the most careful survey, only one spot was found wider than
the rest of the ledge, and it was not more than four feet wide, the
difference being caused by a slight hollow under the rock, which thus
might overhang them—one of them at least—and form a sensation of
canopy. At its best, a bed only four feet wide is esteemed narrow
enough for one, and quite inadequate for two, but when it is considered
that the bed now selected was of hard granite, rather round- backed
than flat, with a sheer precipice descending a thousand feet, more or
less, on one side of it, and a slope in that direction, there will be
no difficulty in conceiving something of the state of mind in which
Lewis Stoutley and Baptist Le Croix lay down to repose till morning in
wet garments, with the thermometer somewhere between thirty- two and
To prevent their rolling off the ledge when asleep, they built on
the edge of the cliff a wall of the largest loose stones they could
find. It was but an imaginary protection at best, for the slightest
push sent some of the stones toppling over, and it necessarily
curtailed the available space. No provisions, save one small piece of
bread, had been brought, as they had intended returning to their cave
to feast luxuriously. Having eaten the bread, they prepared to lie
It was agreed that only one at a time should sleep; the other was to
remain awake, to prevent the sleeper from inadvertently moving. It was
also arranged, that he whose turn it was to sleep should lie on the
inner side. But here arose a difference. Le Croix insisted that Lewis
should have the first sleep. Lewis, on the other hand, declared that he
was not sleepy; that the attempt to sleep would only waste the time of
both, and that therefore Le Croix should have the first.
The contention was pretty sharp for a time, but the obstinacy of the
Englishman prevailed. The hunter gave in, and at once lay down straight
out with his face to the cliff, and as close to it as he could squeeze.
Lewis immediately lay down outside of him, and, throwing one arm over
his Lecroix's broad chest gave him a half- jocular hug that a bear
might have enjoyed, and told him to go to sleep. In doing this he
dislodged a stone from the outer wall, which went clattering down into
the dark gulf.
Almost immediately the deep, regular breathing of the wearied hunter
told that he was already in the land of Nod.
It was a strange, romantic position; and Lewis rejoiced, in the
midst of his anxieties, as he lay there wakefully guarding the chamois-hunter while he slept. It appeared to Lewis that his companion felt the
need of a guardian, for he grasped with both hands the arm which he had
thrown round him.
How greatly he wished that his friends at Chamouni could have even a
faint conception of his position that night! What would Lawrence have
thought of it? And the Captain,—how would HE have conducted himself in
the circumstances? His mother, Emma, the Count, Antoine, Gillie, Susan
—every one had a share in his thoughts, as he lay wakeful and watching
on the giddy ledge—and Nita, as a great under-current like the
sub-glacial rivers, kept flowing continually, and twining herself
through all. Mingled with these thoughts was the sound of avalanches,
which ever and anon broke in upon the still night with a muttering like
distant thunder, or with a startling roar as masses of ice tottered
over the brinks of the cascades, or boulders loosened by the recent
rain lost their hold and involved a host of smaller fry in their fall.
Twining and tying these thoughts together into a wild entanglement
quite in keeping with the place, the youth never for one moment lost
the sense of an ever present and imminent danger—he scarce knew what
—and the necessity for watchfulness. This feeling culminated when he
beheld Nita Horetzki suddenly appear standing close above him on a most
dangerous-looking ledge of rock!
Uttering a loud cry of alarm he sought to start up, and in so doing
sent three-quarters of the protecting wall down the precipice with an
appalling rush and rumble. Unquestionably he would have followed it if
he had not been held by the wrist as if by a vice!
“Hallo! take care, Monsieur,” cried Le Croix, in a quick anxious
tone, still holding tightly to his companion's arm.
“Why! what? Le Croix—I saw—I—I—saw—Well, well—I do really
believe I have been—I'm ashamed to say—”
“Yes, Monsieur, you've been asleep,” said the hunter, with a quiet
laugh, gently letting go his hold of the arm as he became fully
persuaded that Lewis was by that time quite awake and able to take care
“Have you been asleep too?” asked Lewis.
“Truly, no!” replied the hunter, rising with care, “but you have had
full three hours of it, so it's my turn now.”
“You don't say so!” exclaimed Lewis.
“Indeed I do; and now, please, get next the cliff and let me lie
outside, so that I may rest with an easy mind.”
Lewis opposed him no longer. He rose, and they both stood up to
stamp their feet and belabour their chests for some time—the cold at
such a height being intense, while their wet garments and want of
covering rendered them peculiarly unfitted to withstand it. The effort
was not very successful. The darkness of the night, the narrowness of
their ledge, and the sleepiness of their spirits rendering extreme
At last the languid blood began to flow; a moderate degree of warmth
was restored, and, lying down again side by side in the new position,
the hunter and the student sought and found repose.
Chapter XVII. DANGER AND DEATH ON
Daylight—blessed daylight! How often longed for by the sick and
weary! How imperfectly appreciated by those whose chief thoughts and
experiences of night are fitly expressed by the couplet:—
“Bed, bed, delicious bed,
Haven of rest for the weary head.”
Daylight came at last, to the intense relief of poor Lewis, who had
become restless as the interminable night wore on, and the cold seemed
to penetrate to his very marrow. Although unable to sleep, however, he
lay perfectly still, being anxious not to interrupt the rest of his
companion. But Le Croix, like the other, did not sleep soundly; he
awoke several times, and, towards morning, began to dream and mutter
At first Lewis paid no attention to this, but at length, becoming
weary of his own thoughts, he set himself with a half-amused feeling to
listen. The amusement gave place to surprise and to a touch of sadness
when he found that the word `gold' frequently dropped from the
“Can it be,” he thought, “that this poor fellow is really what they
say, a half-crazed gold-hunter? I hope not. It seems nonsensical. I
never heard of there being gold in these mountains. Yet it may be so,
and too much longing after gold is said to turn people crazy. I
shouldn't wonder if it did.”
Thoughts are proverbial wanderers, and of a wayward spirit, and not
easy of restraint. They are often very honest too, and refuse to
flatter. As the youth lay on his back gazing dreamily from that giddy
height on the first faint tinge of light that suffused the eastern sky,
his thoughts rambled on in the same channel.
“Strange, that a chamois-hunter should become a gold-hunter. How
much more respectable the former occupation, and yet how many
gold-hunters there are in the world! Gamblers are gold-hunters; and I
was a gambler once! Aha! Mr. Lewis, the cap once fitted you! Fitted,
did I say? It fits still. Have I not been playing billiards every night
nearly since I came here, despite Captain Wopper's warnings and the
lesson I got from poor Leven? Poor Leven indeed! it's little gold that
he has, and I robbed him. However, I paid him back, that's one comfort,
and my stakes now are mere trifles—just enough to give interest to the
game. Yet, shame on you, Lewie; can't you take interest in a game for
its own sake? The smallest coin staked involves the spirit of gambling.
You shouldn't do it, my boy, you know that well enough, if you'd only
let your conscience speak out. And Nita seems not to like it too—ah,
Nita! She's as good as gold—as good! ten million times better than the
finest gold. I wonder why that queer careworn look comes over her angel
face when she hears me say that I've been having a game of billiards? I
might whisper some flattering things to myself in reference to this,
were it not that she seems just as much put out when any one else talks
about it. Ah, Nita!”
It is unnecessary to follow the youth's thoughts further, for,
having got upon Nita, they immediately ceased their wayward wandering
practices and remained fixed on that theme.
Soon afterwards, the light being sufficient the mountaineers rose
and continued their descent which was accomplished after much toil and
trouble, and they proceeded at a quick pace over the glacier towards
the place where the chamois had been left the previous day.
“Why are you so fond of gold, Le Croix?” said Lewis, abruptly, and
in a half-jesting tone, as they walked along.
The hunter's countenance flushed deeply, and he turned with a look
of severity towards his companion.
“Who said that I was fond of it?”
“A very good friend of mine,” replied Lewis, with a light laugh.
“He can be no friend of mine,” returned the hunter, with contracted
“I'm not so sure of that,” said the other; “at least if you count
YOURSELF a friend. You whispered so much about gold in your dreams this
morning that I came to the conclusion you were rather fond of it.”
The expression of the hunter changed completely. There seemed to be
a struggle between indignation and sorrow in his breast as he stopped,
and, facing his companion, said, with vehemence—
“Monsieur, I do not count MYSELF a friend. I have ever found SELF to
be my greatest enemy. The good God knows how hard I have fought against
self for years, and how often—oh, how often—I have been beaten down
and overcome. God help me. It is a weary struggle.”
Lecroix's countenance and tones changed as rapidly as the
cloud-forms on his own mountain peaks. His last words were uttered with
the deepest pathos, and his now pale face was turned upward, as if he
sought for hope from a source higher than the “everlasting hills.”
Lewis was amazed at the sudden burst of feeling in one who was
unusually quiet and sedate, and stood looking at him in silence.
“Young man,” resumed the hunter, in a calmer tone, laying his large
brown hand impressively on the youth's shoulder, “you have heard
aright. I have loved gold too much. If I had resisted the temptation at
the first I might have escaped, but I SHALL yet be saved, ay, despite
of self, for there is a Saviour! For years I have sought for gold among
these mountains. They tell me it is to be found there, but I have never
found it. To-day I intended to have visited yonder yellow cliffs high
up on the shoulder of the pass. Do you see them?”
He pointed eagerly, and a strange gleam was in his blue eyes as he
went on to say rapidly, and without waiting for an answer—
“I have not yet been up there. It looks a likely place—a very
likely place—but your words have turned me from my purpose. The evil
spirit is gone for to-day—perhaps for ever. Come,” he added, in a tone
of firm determination, “we will cross this crevasse and hasten down to
He wrenched himself round while he spoke, as if the hand of some
invisible spirit had been holding him, and hurried quickly towards a
wide crevasse which crossed their path at that place.
“Had we not better tie ourselves together before attempting it?”
suggested Lewis, hastening after him.
Le Croix did not answer, but quickened his pace to a run.
“Not there!” exclaimed Lewis, in sudden alarm. “It is almost too
wide for a leap, and the snow on the other side overhangs. Stop! for
God's sake—not there!”
He rushed forward, but was too late. Le Croix was already on the
brink of the chasm; next moment, with a tremendous bound, he cleared
it, and alighted on the snow beyond. His weight snapped off the mass,
his arms were thrown wildly aloft, and, with a shout, rather than a
cry, he fell headlong into the dark abyss!
Horror-stricken, unable to move or cry out Lewis stood on the edge.
From far down in the blue depths of the crevasse there arose a terrible
sound, as if of a heavy blow. It was followed by the familiar rattling
of masses of falling ice, which seemed to die away in the profound
heart of the glacier.
The “weary struggle” had come to an end at last. The chamois-hunter
had found a tomb, like too many, alas! of his bold-hearted countrymen,
among those great fields of ice, over which he had so often sped with
sure foot and cool head in days gone by.
Lewis was as thoroughly convinced that his late comrade was dead, as
if he had seen his mangled corpse before him, but with a sort of
passionate unbelief he refused to admit the fact. He stood perfectly
motionless, as if transfixed and frozen, in the act of bending over the
crevasse. He listened intently and long for a sound which yet he knew
could never come. An oppressive, sickening silence reigned around him,
which he suddenly broke with a great and terrible cry, as, recovering
from his stupor, he hurried wildly to and fro, seeking for some slope
by which he might descend to the rescue of his friend.
Vainly he sought. Both walls of the crevasse were sheer precipices
of clear ice. At one spot, indeed, he found a short slope, and, madly
seizing his axe, he cut foot-holds down it, descending, quite
regardless of danger, until the slope became too perpendicular to admit
of farther progress. Struck then with alarm for himself, he returned
cautiously to the top, while beads of cold perspiration stood on his
pale brow. A few minutes more, and he became sufficiently calm to
realise the fact that poor Le Croix was indeed beyond all hope. As the
truth was forced into his heart he covered his face with his hands and
It was long ere the passionate burst of feeling subsided. Lewis was
very impressionable, and his young heart recoiled in agony from such a
shock. Although the hunter had been to him nothing but a pleasant
guide, he now felt as if he had lost a friend. When his mind was
capable of connected thought he dwelt on the unfortunate man's kindly,
modest, and bold disposition, and especially on the incidents of the
previous night, when they two had lain side by side like brothers on
their hard couch.
At last he rose, and, with a feeling of dead weight crushing his
spirit began to think of continuing his descent. He felt that, although
there was no hope of rescuing life, still no time should be lost in
rousing the guides of Chamouni and recovering, if possible, the
Other thoughts now came upon him with a rush. He was still high up
among the great cliffs, and alone! The vale of Chamouni was still far
distant, and he was bewildered as to his route, for, in whatever
direction he turned, nothing met his eye save wildly-riven glaciers or
jagged cliffs and peaks. He stood in the midst of a scene of savage
grandeur, which corresponded somewhat with his feelings.
His knowledge of ice-craft, if we may use the expression, was by
that time considerable, but he felt that it was not sufficient for the
work that lay before him; besides, what knowledge he possessed could
not make up for the want of a companion and a rope, while, to add to
his distress, weakness, resulting partly from hunger, began to tell on
Perhaps it was well that such thoughts interfered with those that
unmanned him, for they served to rouse his spirit and nerve him to
exertion. Feeling that his life, under God, depended on the wisdom,
vigour, and promptitude of his actions during the next few hours, he
raised his eyes upward for a moment, and, perhaps for the first time in
his life, asked help and guidance of his Creator, with the feeling
strong upon him that help and guidance were sorely needed.
Almost at the commencement of his descent an event occurred which
taught him the necessity of extreme caution. This was the slipping of
his axe. He had left the fatal crevasse only a few hundred yards behind
him, when he came to a fracture in the ice that rendered it impossible
to advance in that direction any longer; he therefore turned aside, but
was met by a snow slope which terminated in another yawning crevasse.
While standing on the top of this, endeavouring to make up his mind as
to the best route to be followed, he chanced to swing his axe
carelessly and let it fall. Instantly it turned over the edge, and shot
like an arrow down the slope. He was ice-man enough to know that the
loss of his axe in such circumstances was equivalent to the signing of
his death-warrant and his face flushed with the gush of feeling that
resulted from the accident. Fortunately, the head of the weapon caught
on a lamp of ice just at the edge of the crevasse, and the handle hung
over it. Something akin to desperation now took possession of the
youth. The slope WAS far too steep to slide down. Not having his axe,
it was impossible to cut the necessary steps. In any case it was
excessively dangerous, for, although the snow was not new, it lay on
such an incline that the least weight on it might set it in motion, in
which case inevitable death would have been the result. The case was
too critical to admit of delay or thought. At all hazards the axe must
be recovered. He therefore lay down with his face to the slope, and
began to kick foot-holds with the toe of his boots. It was exceedingly
slow and laborious work, for he dared not to kick with all his force,
lest he should lose his balance, and, indeed, he only retained it by
thrusting both arms firmly into the upper holes and fixing one foot
deep in a lower hole, while with the other he cautiously kicked each
new step in succession. At last, after toiling steadily thus for two
hours, he regained his axe.
The grip with which he seized the handle, and the tender feeling
with which he afterwards laid it on his shoulder, created in him a new
idea as to the strange affection with which man can be brought to
regard inanimate objects, and the fervency with which he condemned his
former flippancy, and vowed never more to go out on the high Alps
alone, formed a striking commentary on the adage, “Experience teaches
For some time after this Lewis advanced with both speed and caution.
At each point of vantage that he reached he made a rapid and careful
survey of all the ground before him, decided on the exact route which
he should take, as far as the eye could range, and then refused every
temptation to deviate from it save when insurmountable obstacles
presented themselves in the shape of unbridged crevasses or sheer ice-precipices. Such obstacles were painfully numerous, but by indomitable
perseverance, and sometimes by a desperate venture, he overcame them.
Once he got involved in a succession of crevasses which ran into
each other, so that he found himself at last walking on the edge of a
wedge of ice not a foot broad, with unfathomable abysses on either
side. The wedge terminated at last in a thin edge with a deep crevasse
beyond. He was about to retrace his steps—for the tenth time in that
place—when it struck him that if he could only reach the other side
of the crevasse on his right, he might gain a level patch of ice that
appeared to communicate with the sounder part of the glacier beyond. He
paused and drew his breath. It was not much of a leap. In ordinary
circumstances he could have bounded over it like a chamois, but he was
weak now from hunger and fatigue; besides which, the wedge on which he
stood was rotten, and might yield to his bound, while the opposite edge
seemed insecure and might fail him, like the mass that had proved fatal
to Le Croix.
He felt the venture to be desperate, but the way before him was yet
very long, and the day was declining. Screwing up his courage he sprang
over, and a powerful shudder shook his frame when he alighted safe on
the other side.
Farther down the glacier he came to a level stretch, and began to
walk with greater speed, neglecting for a little the precaution of
driving the end of his axe-handle into the snow in front at each step.
The result was, that he stepped suddenly on the snow that concealed a
narrow crevasse. It sank at once, sending something like a galvanic
shock through his frame. The shock effected what his tired muscles
might have failed to accomplish. It caused him to fling himself
backward with cat-like agility, and thus he escaped narrowly. It is
needless to say that thereafter he proceeded with a degree of care and
caution that might have done credit even to a trained mountaineer.
At last Lewis found it necessary to quit the glacier and scale the
mountains by way of a pass which led into the gorge from which he hoped
to reach the vale of Chamouni. He was in great perplexity here, for,
the aspect of the country being unfamiliar to his eye, he feared that
he must have lost his way. Nothing but decision, however, and prompt
action could serve him now. To have vacillated or retraced part of his
steps, would have involved his spending a second night among the icy
solitudes without shelter; and this he felt, fatigued and fasting as he
was, would have been quite beyond his powers of endurance. He therefore
crossed the bergschrund, or crevasse between the glacier and the
cliffs, on a snow-bridge, faced the mountain-side once more, and,
toiling upwards, reached the summit of the pass a little before sunset.
Fortunately the weather continued fine, and the country below appeared
much less rugged than that over which he had passed, but he had not yet
got clear of difficulties. Just below him lay the longest ice-slope, or
couloir, he had hitherto encountered. The snow had been completely
swept off its surface, and it bore evidence of being the channel down
which rushed the boulders and obelisks of ice that strewed the plain
below. To reach that plain by any other route would have involved a
circuit of unknown extent. The risk was great but the danger of delay
was greater. He swung the heavy axe round his head, and began at once
the tedious process of cutting steps. Being an apt scholar, he had
profited well from the lessons taught by Le Croix and others. Quick,
yet measured and firm, was each stroke. A forced calmness rested on his
face, for, while the ice- blocks above, apparently nodding to their
fall, warned him to make haste, the fear of slipping a foot, or losing
balance, compelled him to be very cautious. In such a case, a rope
round the waist and a friend above would have been of inestimable
When about two-thirds of the way down, the exhausted youth was
forced to stop for a few seconds to rest. Just then several pieces of
ice, the size of a man's head, rushed down the couloir and dashed close
past him. They served to show the usual direction of an avalanche.
Fearing they were the prelude to something worse, he quickly cut his
way to the side of the couloir. He was not a moment too soon. Glancing
up in alarm, he saw the foundations of one of the largest ice-masses
give way. The top bent over slowly at first, then fell forward with a
crash and broke into smaller fragments, which dashed like lightning
down the slope, leaping from side to side, and carrying huge rocks and
masses of DEBRIS to the plain with horrible din.
Poor Lewis felt his spirit and his body shrink. He had, however,
chosen his position well. Nothing save a cloud of dust and snow reached
him, but the part of the slope down which he had passed was swept clean
as with the besom of destruction. It was an awful ordeal for one so
young and inexperienced, for the risk had to be encountered again. “The
sooner the better,” thought he, and immediately swayed aloft his axe
again, lifting, as he did so, his heart to his Maker for the second
time that day. A few minutes more, and he stood at the foot of the
Without a moment's pause he hurried on, and finally reached the
lower slopes of the mountains. Here, to his inexpressible joy and
thankfulness, he fell in with a sheep-track, and, following it up, was
soon on the high-road of the valley. But it was not till far on in the
night that he reached Chamouni, scarce able to drag himself along.
He went straight to the Bureau of Guides, where a profound sensation
was created by the sad tidings which he brought. Antoine Grennon
happened to be there, and to him Lewis told his sad tale, at the same
time eagerly suggesting that an immediate search should be made for the
body, and offering to go back at once to guide them to the scene of the
accident. Antoine looked earnestly in the youth's face.
“Ah, Monsieur,” he said, shaking his head, “you are not fit to guide
any one to-night. Besides, I know the place well. If poor Le Croix has
fallen into that crevasse, he is now past all human aid.”
“But why not start at once?” said Lewis, anxiously, “if there is but
the merest vestige of a chance—”
“There is no chance, Monsieur, if your description is correct;
besides, no man could find the spot in a dark night. But rest assured
that we will not fail to do our duty to our comrade. A party will start
off within an hour, proceed as far as is possible during the night,
and, at the first gleam of day, we will push up the mountains. We need
no one to guide us, but you need rest. Go, in the morning you may be
able to follow us.”
We need scarcely say that the search was unavailing. The body of the
unfortunate hunter was never recovered. In all probability it still
lies entombed in the ice of the great glacier.
Chapter XVIII. A MYSTERY CLEARED UP.
“Is Nita unwell, Emma?” asked Lewis early one morning, not long
after the sad event narrated in the last chapter.
“I think not. She is merely depressed, as we all are, by the
melancholy death of poor Le Croix.”
“I can well believe it,” returned Lewis. “Nevertheless, it seems to
me that her careworn expression and deep despondency cannot be
accounted for by that event.”
“You know that her father left last week very suddenly,” said Emma.
“Perhaps there may be domestic affairs that weigh heavily on her. I
know not, for she never refers to her family or kindred. The only time
I ventured to do so she appeared unhappy, and quickly changed the
The cousins were sauntering near their hotel and observed Dr.
Lawrence hurry from the front door.
“Hallo! Lawrence,” called out Lewis.
“Ah! the very man I want,” exclaimed the Doctor, hastening to join
them, “do you know that Miss Horetzki is ill?”
“How strange that we should just this moment have referred to her
looking ill! Not seriously ill, I trust,” said Emma, with a troubled
look in her sympathetic eyes.
“I hope not, but her case puzzles me more than any that I have yet
met with. I fancy it may be the result of an overstrained nervous
system, but there appears no present cause for that. She evidently
possesses a vigorous constitution, and every one here is kind to her
—her father particularly so. Even if she were in love, which she
doesn't seem to be (a faint twinkle in the Doctor's eye here), that
would not account for her condition.”
“I can't help thinking,” observed Lewis, with a troubled look, “that
her father is somehow the cause of her careworn looks. No doubt he is
very kind to her in public, but may there not be a very different state
of things behind the scenes?”
“I think not. The Count's temper is gentle, and his sentiments are
good. If he were irascible there might be something behind the scenes,
for when restraint is removed and temper gets headway, good principles
may check but cannot always prevent unkindness. Now, Emma, I have
sought you and Lewis to ask for counsel. I do not say that Nita is
seriously ill, but she is ill enough to cause those who love her—as I
know you do—some anxiety. It is very evident to me, from what she
says, that she eagerly desires her father to be with her, and yet when
I suggest that he should be sent for, she nervously declines to
entertain the proposal. If this strange state of mind is allowed to go
on, it will aggravate the feverish attack from which she now suffers. I
wish, therefore, to send for the Count without letting her know. Do you
think this a wise step?”
“Undoubtedly; but why ask such a question of me?” said Emma, with a
look of surprise.
“First, because you are Nita's friend—not perhaps, a friend of long
standing, but, if I mistake not, a very loving one; and, secondly, as
well as chiefly, because I want you to find out from her where her
father is at present, and let me know.”
“There is something disagreeably underhand in such a proceeding,”
“You know that a doctor is, or ought to be, considered a sort of
pope,” returned Lawrence. “I absolve you from all guilt by assuring you
that there is urgent need for pursuing the course I suggest.”
“Well, I will at all events do what I can to help you,” said Emma.
“Shall I find her in her own room?”
“Yes, in bed, attended, with Mrs. Stoutley's permission, by Susan
Quick. Get rid of the maid before entering on the subject.”
In a few minutes Emma returned to the Doctor, who still walked up
and down in earnest conversation with Lewis. She had succeeded, she
said, in persuading Nita to let her father be sent for, and the place
to which he had gone for a few days was Saxon, in the Rhone valley. The
Count's address had also been obtained, but Nita had stipulated that
the messenger should on no account disturb her father by entering the
house, but should send for him and wait outside.
“Strange prohibition!” exclaimed Lawrence. “However, we must send
off a messenger without delay.”
“Stay,” said Lewis, detaining his friend; “there seems to be
delicacy as well as mystery connected with this matter, you must
therefore allow me to be the messenger.”
Lawrence had no objection to the proposal, and in less than an hour
Lewis, guided by Antoine Grennon, was on the road to Martigny by way of
the celebrated pass of the Tete-Noire.
The guide was one of Nature's gentlemen. Although low in the social
scale, and trained in a rugged school, he possessed that innate
refinement of sentiment and feeling—a gift of God sometimes
transmitted through a gentle mother—which makes a true gentleman.
Among men of the upper ranks this refinement of soul may be
counterfeited by the superficial polish of manners; among those who
stand lower in the social scale it cannot be counterfeited at all, but
still less can it be concealed. As broadcloth can neither make nor mar
a true gentleman, so fustian cannot hide one. If Antoine Grennon had
been bred “at Court,” and arrayed in sumptuous apparel, he could not
have been more considerate than he was of the feelings and wishes of
others, or more gentle, yet manly, in his demeanour.
If, on an excursion, you wished to proceed in a certain direction,
Antoine never suggested that you should go in another, unless there
were insurmountable difficulties in the way. If you chanced to grow
weary, you could not have asked Antoine to carry your top-coat, because
he would have observed your condition and anticipated your wishes. If
you had been inclined to talk he would have chatted away by the hour on
every subject that came within the range of his knowledge, and if you
had taken him beyond his depth, he would have listened by the hour with
profound respect, obviously pleased, and attempting to understand you.
Yet he would not have “bored” you. He possessed great tact. He would
have allowed you to lead the conversation, and when you ceased to do so
he would have stopped. He never looked sulky or displeased. He never
said unkind things, though he often said and did kind ones, and, with
all that, was as independent in his opinions as the whistling wind
among his native glaciers. In fact he was a prince among guides, and a
pre-eminently unselfish man.
Heigho! if all the world—you and I, reader, included—bore a
stronger resemblance to Antoine Grennon, we should have happy times of
it. Well, well, don't let us sigh despairingly because of our inability
to come up to the mark. It is some comfort that there are not a few
such men about us to look up to as exemplars. We know several such,
both men and women, among our own friends. Let's be thankful for them.
It does us good to think of them!
From what we have said, the reader will not be surprised to hear
that, after the first words of morning salutation, Lewis Stoutley
walked smartly along the high road leading up the valley of Chamouni in
perfect silence, with Antoine trudging like a mute by his side.
Lewis was too busy with his thoughts to speak at first. Nita's
illness, and the mystery connected somehow with the Count, afforded
food not only for meditation, but anxiety, and it was not until the
town lay far behind them that he looked at his guide, and said:—
“The route over the Tete-Noire is very grand, I am told?”
“Very grand, Monsieur—magnificent!”
“You are well acquainted with it, doubtless?”
“Yes; I have passed over it hundreds of times. Does Monsieur intend
to make a divergence to the Col de Balme?”
“No; I have urgent business on hand, and must push on to catch the
railway. Would the divergence you speak of take up much time? Is the
Col de Balme worth going out of one's way to see?”
“It is well worthy of a visit,” said the guide, replying to the last
query first, “as you can there have a completely uninterrupted view—
one of the very finest views of Mont Blanc, and all its surroundings.
The time required for the divergence is little more than two hours;
with Monsieur's walking powers perhaps not so much; besides, there is
plenty of time, as we shall reach Martigny much too soon for the
“In that case we shall make the detour,” said Lewis. “Are the roads
“No; quite easy. It is well that Monsieur dispensed with a mule, as
we shall be more independent; and a mule is not so quick in its
progress as an active man.”
While they chatted thus, walking at a quick pace up the valley,
Antoine, observing that his young charge was now in a conversational
frame of mind, commented on the magnificent scenery, and drew attention
to points of interest as they came into view.
Their route at first lay in the low ground by the banks of the river
Arve, which rushed along, wild and muddy, as if rejoicing in its escape
from the superincumbent glaciers that gave it birth. The great peaks of
the Mont Blanc range hemmed them in on the right, the slopes of the
Brevent on the left. Passing the village of Argentiere with rapid
strides, and pausing but a few moments to look at the vast glacier of
the same name which pours into the valley the ice-floods gendered among
the heights around the Aiguille Verte and the Aiguille du Chardonnet,
which rise respectively to a height of above 13,400 and 12,500 feet
they reached the point where the Tete-Noire route diverged to the left
at that time, in the form of a mere bridle-path, and pushed forward
towards the Col, or pass.
On the way, Antoine pointed out heaps of slabs of black slate.
These, he said, were collected by the peasants, who, in spring, covered
their snow-clad fields with them; the sun, heating the slabs, caused
the snow beneath to melt rapidly; and thus, by a very simple touch of
art, they managed to wrest from Nature several weeks that would
otherwise have been lost!
As they rose into the higher grounds, heaps and rude pillars of
stone were observed. These were the landmarks which guided travellers
through that region when it was clad in its wintry robe of deep snow,
and all paths obliterated.
At last they stood on the Col de Balme. There was a solitary inn
there, but Antoine turned aside from it and led his companion a mile or
so to one side, to a white stone, which marked the boundary between
Switzerland and France.
It is vain to attempt in words a description of scenes of grandeur.
Ink, at the best, is impotent in such matters; even paint fails to give
an adequate idea. We can do no more than run over a list of names. From
this commanding point of view Mont Blanc is visible in all his majesty
—vast, boundless, solemn, incomprehensible—with his Aiguilles de Tour,
d'Argentiere, Verte, du Dru, de Charmoz, du Midi, etc., around him; his
white head in the clouds, his glacial drapery rolling into the vale of
Chamouni, his rocks and his pine-clad slopes toned down by distance
into fine shadows. On the other side of the vale rise the steeps of the
Aiguilles Rouges and the Brevent. To the north towers the Croix de Fer,
and to the north-east is seen the entire chain of the Bernese Alps,
rising like a mighty white leviathan, with a bristling back of
Splendid though the view was, however, Lewis did not for a moment
forget his mission. Allowing himself only a few minutes to drink it in,
he hastened back to the Tete-Noire path, and soon found himself
traversing a widely different scene. On the Col he had, as it were,
stood aloof, and looked abroad on a vast and glorious region; now, he
was involved in its rocky, ridgy, woody details. Here and there long
vistas opened up to view, but, for the most part, his vision was
circumscribed by towering cliffs and deep ravines. Sometimes he was
down in the bottom of mountain valleys, at other times walking on
ledges so high on the precipice-faces, that cottages in the vales below
seemed little bigger than sheep. Now the country was wooded and soft;
anon it was barren and rocky, but never tame or uninteresting.
At one place, where the narrow gorge was strewn with huge boulders,
Antoine pointed out a spot where two Swiss youths had been overwhelmed
by an avalanche. It had come down from the red gorges of the Aiguilles
Rouges, at a spot where the vale, or pass, was comparatively wide.
Perhaps its width had induced the hapless lads to believe themselves
quite safe from anything descending on the other side of the valley. If
so, they were mistaken; the dreadful rush of rock and wrack swept the
entire plain, and buried them in the ruin.
Towards evening the travellers reached Martigny in good time for the
train, which speedily conveyed them to Saxon.
This town is the only one in Switzerland—the only one, indeed, in
Europe with the exception of Monaco—which possesses that great blight
on civilisation, a public gambling-table. That the blight is an
unusually terrible one may be assumed from the fact that every
civilised European nation has found it absolutely necessary to put such
places down with a strong hand.
At the time Lewis Stoutley visited the town, however, it was not so
singular in its infamy as it now is. He was ignorant of everything
about the place save its name. Going straight to the first hotel that
presented itself, he inquired for the Count Horetzki. The Count he was
told, did not reside there; perhaps he was at the Casino.
To the Casino Lewis went at once. It was an elegant Swiss building,
the promenade of which was crowded with visitors. The strains of music
fell sweetly on the youth's ear as he approached.
Leaving Antoine outside, he entered, and repeated his inquiries for
They did not know the Count, was the reply, but if Monsieur would
enter the rooms perhaps he might find him.
Lewis, remembering the expressed desire of Nita, hesitated, but as
no one seemed inclined to attend to his inquiries, beyond a civil reply
that nothing was known about the Count he entered, not a little
surprised at the difficulty thrown in his way.
The appearance of the salon into which he was ushered at once
explained the difficulty, and at the same time sent a sudden gleam of
light into his mind. Crowds of ladies and gentlemen—some eager, some
anxious, others flippant or dogged, and a good many quite calm and cool
—surrounded the brilliantly-lighted gaming tables. Every one seemed to
mind only his own business, and each man's business may be said to have
been the fleecing of his neighbour to the utmost of his power—not by
means of skill or wisdom, but by means of mere chance, and through the
medium of professional gamblers and rouge-et-noir.
With a strange fluttering at his heart, for he remembered his own
weakness, Lewis hurried forward and glanced quickly at the players.
Almost the first face he saw was that of the Count. But what a changed
countenance! Instead of the usual placid smile, and good-humoured
though sad expression about the eyes, there was a terrible look of
intense fixed anxiety, with deep-knotted lines on his brow, and a
horribly drawn look about the mouth.
“Make your play, gentlemen,” said the presiding genius of the
tables, as he spun round the board on the action of which so much
The Count had already laid his stake on the table, and clutched his
rake with such violence as almost to snap the handle.
Other players had also placed their stakes, some with cool
calculating precision, a few with nervous uncertainty, many with
apparent indifference. With the exception of the Count and a lady near
him, however, there was little of what might indicate very strong
feeling on any countenance. One young and pretty girl, after placing
her little pile of silver, stood awaiting the result with calm
indifference—possibly assumed. Whatever might be the thoughts or
feelings of the players, there was nothing but business-like gravity
stamped on the countenances of the four men who presided over the
revolving board, each with neatly-arranged rows of silver five-franc
pieces in front of him, and a wooden rake lying ready to hand. Each
player also had a rake, with which he or she pushed the coins staked
upon a certain space of the table, or on one of the dividing lines,
which gave at least a varied, if not a better, chance.
The process of play was short and sharp. For a few seconds the board
spun, the players continuing to place, or increase, or modify the
arrangement of the stakes up to nearly the last moment. As the board
revolved more slowly a pea fell into a hole—red or black—and upon
this the fate of each hung. A notable event, truly, on which untold
millions of money have changed hands, innumerable lives have been
sacrificed, and unspeakable misery and crime produced in days gone by!
The decision of the pea—if we may so express it—was quietly
stated, and to an ignorant spectator it seemed as if the guardians of
the table raked all the stakes into their own maws. But here and there,
like white rocks in a dark sea, several little piles were left
untouched. To the owners of these a number of silver pieces were tossed
—tossed so deftly that we might almost say it rained silver on those
regions of the table. No wizard of legerdemain ever equalled the
sleight of hand with which these men pitched, reckoned, manipulated,
and raked in silver pieces!
The Count's pile remained untouched, and a bright flush suffused his
hitherto pale cheeks while the silver rain was falling on his square,
but to the surprise of Lewis, he did not rake it towards him as did the
others. He left the increased amount on exactly the same spot, merely
drawing it gently together with his rake. As he did so the knotted
haggard look returned to his once again bloodless brow and face. Not
less precise and silent were his companions. The board again spun
round; the inexorable pea fell; the raking and raining were repeated,
and again the Count's stake lay glittering before him. His eyes
glittered even more brightly than the silver. Lewis concluded that he
must have been brought down to desperate poverty, and meant to recover
himself by desperate means, for he left the whole stake again on the
This time the pea fell into black. The colour was symbolic of the
Count's feelings, for next moment the silver heap was raked from before
him, along with other heaps, as if nothing unusual had happened; and,
in truth, nothing had. Wholesale ruin and robbery was the daily
For a few seconds the Count gazed at the blank space before him with
an expression of stony unbelief; then springing suddenly to his feet,
he spurned his chair from him and rushed from the room. So quick was
the movement, that he had reached the door and passed out before Lewis
could stop him.
Springing after him with a feeling of great alarm, the youth dashed
across the entrance-hall, but turned in the wrong direction. Being put
right by a porter, he leaped through the doorway and looked for
Antoine, who, he knew, must have seen the Count pass, but Antoine was
As he quickly questioned one who stood near, he thought he saw a man
running among the adjacent shrubbery. He could not be sure, the night
being dark, but he promptly ran after him. On dashing round a turn in
the gravel-walk, he found two men engaged in what appeared to be a
deadly struggle. Suddenly the place was illumined by a red flash, a
loud report followed, and one of the two fell.
“Ah! Monsieur,” exclaimed Antoine, as Lewis came forward, “aid me
here; he is not hurt, I think.”
“Hurt! Do you mean that he tried to shoot himself?”
“He had not time to try, but I'm quite sure that he meant to,” said
Antoine; “so I ran after him and caught his hand. The pistol exploded
in the struggle.”
As the guide spoke, the Count rose slowly. The star-light was faint,
but it sufficed to show that the stony look of despair was gone, and
that the gentle expression, natural to him, had returned. He was deadly
pale, and bowed his head as one overwhelmed with shame.
“Oh pardon, Monsieur!” exclaimed poor Antoine, as he thought of the
roughness with which he had been compelled to treat him. “I did not
mean to throw you.”
“You did not throw me, friend. I tripped and fell,” replied the
Count, in a low, husky voice. “Mr. Stoutley,” he added, turning to
Lewis, “by what mischance you came here I know not but I trust that you
were not—were not—present. I mean—do you know the cause of my
He stopped abruptly.
“My dear sir,” said Lewis, in a low, kind voice, at the same time
grasping the Count's hand, and leading him aside, “I was in the rooms;
I saw you there; but believe me when I assure you, that no feeling but
that of sympathy can touch the heart of one who has been involved in
the meshes of the same net.”
The Count's manner changed instantly. He returned the grasp of the
young man, and looked eagerly in his face, as he repeated—
“HAS been involved! How, then, did you escape?”
“I'm not sure that I HAVE escaped,” answered Lewis, sadly.
“Not sure! Oh, young man, MAKE sure. Give no rest to your soul till
you are quite sure. It is a dreadful net—terrible! When once wrapped
tightly round one there is no escape—no escape. In this it resembles
its sister passion—the love of strong drink.”
The Count spoke with such deep pathos, and in tones so utterly
hopeless, that Lewis's ready sympathies were touched, and he would have
given anything to be able to comfort his friend, but never before
having been called upon to act as a comforter, he felt sorely
“Call it not a passion,” he said. “The love of gaming, as of drink,
is a disease; and a disease may be cured—has been cured, even when
The Count shook his head.
“You speak in ignorance, Mr. Stoutley. You know nothing of the
struggles I have made. It is impossible.”
“With God ALL things are possible,” replied Lewis, quoting, almost
to his own surprise, a text of Scripture. “But forgive my delay,” he
added; “I came here on purpose to look for you. Your daughter Nita is
ill—not seriously ill, I believe,” he said, on observing the Count's
startled look, “but ill enough to warrant your being sent for.”
“I know—I know,” cried the Count, with a troubled look, as he
passed his hand across his brow. “I might have expected it. She cannot
sustain the misery I have brought on her. Oh! why was I prevented from
freeing her from such a father. Is she very ill? Did she send for me?
Did she tell you what I am?”
The excited manner and wild aspect of the gambler, more than the
words, told of a mind almost, if not altogether, unhinged. Observing
this with some anxiety, Lewis tried to soothe him. While leading him to
an hotel, he explained the nature of Nita's attack as well as he could,
and said that she had not only refrained from saying anything about her
father, but that she seemed excessively unwilling to reveal the name of
the place to which he had gone, or to send for him.
“No one knows anything unfavourable about Count Horetzki,” said
Lewis, in a gentle tone, “save his fellow-sinner, who now assures him
of his sincere regard. As for Antoine Grennon, he is a wise, and can be
a silent, man. No brother could be more tender of the feelings of
others than he. Come, you will consent to be my guest to-night. You are
unwell; I shall be your amateur physician. My treatment and a night of
rest will put you all right, and to-morrow, by break of day, we will
hie back to Chamouni over the Tete-Noire.”
Chapter XIX. MOUNTAINEERING IN
A week passed away, during which Nita was confined to bed, and the
Count waited on her with the most tender solicitude. As their meals
were sent to their rooms, it was not necessary for the latter to appear
in the SALLE-A-MANGER or the SALON. He kept himself carefully out of
sight, and intelligence of the invalid's progress was carried to their
friends by Susan Quick, who was allowed to remain as sick- nurse, and
who rejoiced in filling that office to one so amiable and uncomplaining
Of course, Lewis was almost irresistibly tempted to talk with Susan
about her charge, but he felt the impropriety of such a proceeding, and
refrained. Not so Gillie White. That sapient blue spider, sitting in
his wonted chair, resplendent with brass buttons and brazen impudence,
availed himself of every opportunity to perform an operation which he
styled “pumping;” but Susan, although ready enough to converse freely
on things in general, was judicious in regard to things particular.
Whatever might have passed in the sick-room, the pumping only brought
up such facts as that the Count was a splendid nurse as well as a
loving father, and that he and his daughter were tenderly attached to
“Well, Susan,” observed Gillie, with an approving nod, “I'm glad to
hear wot you say, for it's my b'lief that tender attachments is the
right sort o' thing. I've got one or two myself.”
“Indeed!” said Susan, “who for, I wonder?”
“W'y, for one,” replied the spider, “I've had a wery tender
attachment to my mother ever since that blessed time w'en I was
attached to her buzzum in the rampagin' hunger of infancy. Then I've
got another attachment—not quite so old, but wery strong, oh uncommon
powerful—for a young lady named Susan Quick. D'you happen to know
“Oh, Gillie, you're a sad boy,” said Susan.
“Well, I make a pint never to contradict a 'ooman, believin' it to
be dangerous,” returned Gillie, “but I can't say that I FEEL sad. I'm
raither jolly than otherwise.”
A summons from the sick-room cut short the conversation.
During the week in question it had rained a good deal, compelling
the visitors at Chamouni to pass the time in-doors with books,
billiards, draughts, and chess. Towards the end of the week Lewis met
the Count and discovered that he was absolutely destitute of funds—did
not, in fact possess enough to defray the hotel expenses.
“Mother,” said Lewis, during a private audience in her bed-chamber
the same evening, “I want twenty pounds from you.”
“Certainly, my boy; but why do you come to me? You know that Dr.
Lawrence has charge of and manages my money. How I wish there were no
such thing as money, and no need for it!”
Mrs. Stoutley finished her remark with her usual languid smile and
pathetic sigh, but if her physician, Dr. Tough, had been there, he
would probably have noted that mountain-air had robbed the smile of
half its languor, and the sigh of nearly all its pathos. There was
something like seriousness, too, in the good lady's eye. She had been
impressed more than she chose to admit by the sudden death of Le Croix,
whom she had frequently seen, and whose stalwart frame and grave
countenance she had greatly admired. Besides this, one or two accidents
had occurred since her arrival in the Swiss valley; for there never
passes a season without the occurrence of accidents more or less
serious in the Alps. On one occasion the news had been brought that a
young lady, recently married, whose good looks had been the subject of
remark more than once, was killed by falling rocks before her husband's
eyes. On another occasion the spirits of the tourists were clouded by
the report that a guide had fallen into a crevasse, and, though not
killed, was much injured. Mrs. Stoutley chanced to meet the
rescue-party returning slowly to the village, with the poor shattered
frame of the fine young fellow on a stretcher. It is one thing to read
of such events in the newspapers. It is another and a very different
thing to be near or to witness them—to be in the actual presence of
physical and mental agony. Antoine Grennon, too, had made a favourable
impression on Mrs. Stoutley; and when, in passing one day his extremely
humble cottage, she was invited by Antoine's exceedingly pretty wife to
enter and partake of bread and milk largely impregnated with cream,
which was handed to her by Antoine's excessively sweet blue-eyed
daughter, the lady who had hitherto spent her life among the bright
ice-pinnacles of society, was forced to admit to Emma Gray that Dr.
Tough was right when he said there were some beautiful and precious
stones to be found among the moraines of social life.
“I know that Lawrence keeps the purse,” said Lewis, “but I want your
special permission to take this money, because I intend to give it
“Twenty pounds is a pretty large gift, Lewis,” said his mother,
raising her eyebrows. “Who is it that has touched the springs of your
liberality? Not the family of poor Le Croix?”
“No; Le Croix happily leaves no family. He was an unmarried man. I
must not tell you, just yet, mother. Trust me, it shall be well
bestowed; besides, I ask it as a loan. It shall be refunded.”
“Don't talk of refunding money to your mother, foolish boy. Go; you
may have it.”
Lewis kissed his mother's cheek and thanked her. He quickly found
the Count, but experienced considerable difficulty in persuading him to
accept the money. However, by delicacy of management and by assuming,
as a matter of course, that it was a loan, to be repaid when
convenient, he prevailed. The Count made an entry of the loan in his
notebook, with Lewis's London address, and they parted with a kindly
shake of the hand, little imagining that they had seen each other on
earth for the last time.
On the Monday following, a superb day opened on the vale of
Chamouni, such a day as, through the medium of sight and scent, is
calculated to gladden the heart of man and beast. That the beasts
enjoyed it was manifest from the pleasant sounds that they sent,
gushing, like a hymn of thanksgiving—and who shall say it was not!
—into the bright blue sky.
Birds carolled on the shrubs and in the air; cats ventured abroad
with hair erect and backs curved, to exchange greetings with each other
in wary defiance of dogs; kittens sprawled in the sunshine, and made
frantic efforts to achieve the impossible feat of catching their own
shadows, varying the pastime with more successful, though arduous,
attempts at their own tails; dogs bounded and danced, chiefly on their
hind legs, round their loved companion man (including woman); juvenile
dogs chased, tumbled over, barked at, and gnawed each other with
amiable fury, wagging their various tails with a vigour that suggested
a desire to shake them off; tourist men and boys moved about with a
decision that indicated the having of particular business on hand;
tourist women and girls were busily engaged with baskets and botanical
boxes, or flitted hither and thither in climbing costume with obtrusive
alpenstocks, as though a general attack on Mont Blanc and all his
satellite aiguilles were meditated.
Among these were our friends the Professor, Captain Wopper, Emma
Gray, Slingsby, Lewis, and Lawrence, under the guidance of Antoine
Strange to say they were all a little dull, notwithstanding the
beauty of the weather, and the pleasant anticipation of a day on the
hills—not a hard, toilsome day, with some awful Alpine summit as its
aim, but what Lewis termed a jolly day, a picnicky day, to be extended
into night, and to include any place, or to be cut short or extended
according to whim.
The Professor was dull, because, having to leave, this was to be his
last excursion; Captain Wopper was dull, because his cherished
matrimonial hopes were being gradually dissipated. He could not
perceive that Lawrence was falling in love with Emma, or Emma with
Lawrence. The utmost exertion of sly diplomacy of which he was capable,
short of straightforward advice, had failed to accomplish anything
towards the desirable end. Emma was dull, because her friend Nita,
although recovering, was still far from well. Slingsby was dull for the
same reason, and also because he felt his passion to be hopeless. Lewis
was dull because he knew Nita's circumstances to be so very sad; and
Lawrence was dull because—well, we are not quite sure why HE was dull.
He was rather a self-contained fellow, and couldn't be easily
understood. Of the whole party, Antoine alone was NOT dull. Nothing
could put him in that condition, but, seeing that the others were so,
he was grave, quiet attentive.
Some of the excursionists had left at a much earlier hour. Four
strapping youths, with guides, had set out for the summit of Mont
Blanc; a mingled party of ladies, gentlemen, guides, and mules, were on
the point of starting to visit the Mer de Glace; a delicate student,
unable for long excursions, was preparing to visit with his sister, the
Glacier des Bossons. Others were going, or had gone, to the source of
the Arveiron, and to the Brevent, while the British peer, having
previously been conducted by a new and needlessly difficult path to the
top of Monte Rosa, was led off by his persecutor to attempt, by an
impossible route, to scale the Matterhorn—to reach the main-truck, as
Captain Wopper put it, by going down the stern-post along the keel,
over the bobstay, up the flyin' jib, across the foretopmast-stay, and
up the maintop-gallant halyards. This at least was Lewis Stoutley's
report of the Captain's remark. We cannot answer for its correctness.
But nothing can withstand the sweet influences of fresh mountain-air
and sunshine. In a short time “dull care” was put to flight and when
our party—Emma being on a mule—reached the neighbouring heights, past
and future were largely forgotten in the enjoyment of the present.
Besides being sunny and bright, the day was rather cool, so that,
after dismissing the mule, and taking to the glaciers and ice-slope,
the air was found to be eminently suitable for walking.
“It's a bad look-out,” murmured Captain Wopper, when he observed
that Dr. Lawrence turned deliberately to converse with the Professor,
leaving Lewis to assist Emma to alight, even although he, the Captain,
had, by means of laboured contrivance and vast sagacity, brought the
Doctor and the mule into close juxtaposition at the right time.
However, the Captain's temperament was sanguine. He soon forgot his
troubles in observing the curious position assumed by Slingsby on the
first steep slope of rocky ground they had to descend, for descents as
well as ascents were frequent at first.
The artist walked on all-fours, but with his back to the hill
instead of his face, his feet thus being in advance.
“What sort of an outside-in fashion is that, Slingsby?” asked the
Captain, when they had reached the bottom.
“It's a way I have of relieving my knees,” said Slingsby; “try it.”
“Thank 'ee; no,” returned the Captain. “It don't suit my pecooliar
build; it would throw too much of my weight amidships.”
“You've no idea,” said Slingsby, “what a comfort it is to a man
whose knees suffer in descending. I'd rather go up twenty mountains
than descend one. This plan answers only on steep places, and is but a
temporary relief. Still that is something at the end of a long day.”
The artist exemplified his plan at the next slope. The Captain tried
it, but, as he expressed it, broke in two at the waist and rolled down
the slope, to the unspeakable delight of his friends.
“I fear you will find this rather severe?” said the Professor to
Emma, during a pause in a steep ascent.
“Oh no; I am remarkably strong,” replied Emma, smiling. “I was in
Switzerland two years ago, and am quite accustomed to mountaineering.”
“Yes,” remarked Lawrence, “and Miss Gray on that occasion, I am
told, ascended to the top of the Dent du Midi, which you know is
between ten and eleven thousand feet high; and she also, during the
same season, walked from Champery to Sixt which is a good day's
journey, so we need have no anxiety on her account.”
Although the Doctor smiled as he spoke, he also glanced at Emma with
a look of admiration. Captain Wopper noted the glance and was
comforted. At luncheon, however, the Doctor seated himself so that the
Professor's bulky person came between him and Emma. The Captain noted
that also, and was depressed. What between elation and depression,
mingled with fatigue and victuals, the Captain ultimately became
“What are yonder curious things?” asked Emma, pointing to so me
gigantic objects which looked at a distance like rude pillars carved by
“These,” said the Professor, “are Nature's handiwork. You will
observe that on each pillar rests a rugged capital. The capital is the
cause of the pillar. It is a hard rock which originally rested on a
softer bed of friable stone. The weather has worn away the soft bed,
except where it has been protected by the hard stone, and thus a
natural pillar has arisen—just like the ice-pillars, which are
protected from the sun in the same way; only the latter are more
Further on, the Professor drew the attention of his friends to the
beautiful blue colour of the holes which their alpenstocks made in the
snow. “Once,” said he, “while walking on the heights of Monte Rosa, I
observed this effect with great interest, and, while engaged in the
investigation of the cause, got a surprise which was not altogether
agreeable. Some of the paths there are on very narrow ridges, and the
snow on these ridges often overhangs them. I chanced to be walking in
advance of my guide at the time to which I refer, and amused myself as
I went along by driving my alpenstock deep into the snow, when
suddenly, to my amazement I sent the end of the staff right through the
snow, and, on withdrawing it, looked down into space! I had actually
walked over the ridge altogether, and was standing above an abyss some
thousands of feet deep!”
“Horrible!” exclaimed Emma. “You jumped off pretty quickly, I dare
“Nay, I walked off with extreme caution; but I confess to having
felt a sort of cold shudder with which my frame had not been acquainted
While they were thus conversing, a cloud passed overhead and sent
down a slight shower of snow. To most of the party this was a matter of
indifference, but the man of science soon changed their feelings by
drawing attention to the form of the flakes. He carried a magnifying
glass with him, which enabled him to show their wonders more
distinctly. It was like a shower of frozen flowers of the most delicate
and exquisite kind. Each flake was a flower with six leaves. Some of
the leaves threw out lateral spines or points, like ferns, some were
rounded, others arrowy, reticulated, and serrated; but, although varied
in many respects, there was no variation in the number of leaves.
“What amazin' beauty in a snowflake,” exclaimed the Captain, “many a
one I've seen without knowin' how splendid it was.”
“The works of God are indeed wonderful,” said the Professor, “but
they must be `sought out'—examined with care—to be fully understood
“Yet there are certain philosophers,” observed Lewis, “who hold that
the evidence of design here and elsewhere does not at all prove the
existence of God. They say that the crystals of these snow-flakes are
drawn together and arrange themselves by means of natural forces.”
“They say truly,” replied the Professor, “but they seem to me to
stop short in their reasoning. They appear to ignore the fact that this
elemental original force of which they speak must have had a Creator.
However far they may go back into mysterious and incomprehensible
elements, which they choose to call `blind forces,' they do not escape
the fact that matter cannot have created itself; that behind their
utmost conceptions there must still be One non-created, eternal, living
Being who created all, who upholds all, and whom we call God.”
Descending again from the heights in order to cross a valley and
gain the opposite mountain, our ramblers quitted the glacier, and,
about noon, found themselves close to a lovely pine-clad knoll, the
shaded slopes of which commanded an unusually fine view of rocky cliff
and fringing wood, with a background of glacier and snow-flecked
Halting, accidentally in a row, before this spot they looked at it
with interest. Suddenly the Professor stepped in front of the others,
and, pointing to the knoll, said, with twinkling eyes—
“What does it suggest? Come, dux (to Slingsby, who happened to stand
at the head of the line), tell me, sir, what does it suggest?”
“I know, sir!” exclaimed the Captain, who stood at the dunce's
extremity of the line, holding out his fist with true schoolboy
“It suggests,” said the artist, rolling his eyes, “`a thing of
“Next!” interrupted the Professor, pointing to Lawrence.
“I know, sir,” shouted the Captain.
“Hold your tongue, sir!”
“Ay, ay, sir.”
“It is suggestive,” said Lawrence, “of an oasis in the desert.”
“Very poor, sir,” said the Professor, severely. “Next.”
“It suggests a cool shade on a hot day,” said Emma.
“Better, but not right. Next.”
“Please, sir, I'd rather not answer,” said Lewis, putting his
forefinger in his mouth.
“You must, sir.”
“I know, sir,” interrupted Captain Wopper, shaking his fist eagerly.
“Silence, you booby!—Well, boy, what does it suggest to YOU?”
“Please, sir,” answered Lewis, “it suggests the mole on your
“Sir,” cried the Professor, sternly, “remind me to give you a severe
“Well, booby, what have YOU got to say to it?”
“Wittles!” shouted the Captain.
“Right,” cried the Professor, “only it would have been better
expressed had you said—Luncheon. Go up, sir; put yourself at the head
of the class, and lead it to a scene of glorious festivity.”
Thus instructed, the Captain put himself at the head of the line.
“Now, then, Captain,” said Lewis, “let's have a true-blue nautical
word of command—hoist yer main tops'l sky-scrapers abaft the cleat
o'-the-spanker-boom, heave-the-main-deck-overboard-and-let-go-the-painter—or something o' that soft.”
“Hold on to the painter, you mean,” said Slingsby.
“You're both wrong,” cried the Captain, “my orders are those of the
immortal Nelson—`Close action, my lads—England expects every man to'
With a wild cheer, and waving his hat, the seaman rushed up the side
of the knoll, followed by his obedient and willing crew.
In order to render the feast more complete, several members of the
party had brought small private supplies to supplement the cold mutton,
ham, bread, and light claret which Antoine and two porters had carried
in their knapsacks. Captain Wopper had brought a supply of variously
coloured abominations known in England by the name of comfits, in
Scotland as sweeties. These, mixed with snow and water, he styled
“iced-lemonade.” Emma tried the mixture and declared it excellent,
which caused someone to remark that the expression of her face
contradicted her tongue. Lewis produced a small flask full of a rich
dark port-winey liquid, which he said he had brought because it had
formerly been one of the most delightful beverages of his childish
years. It was tasted with interest and rejected with horror, being
liquorice water! Emma produced a bottle of milk, in the consumption of
which she was ably assisted by the Professor, who declared that his
natural spirits required no artificial stimulants. The Professor
himself had not been forgetful of the general good. He had brought with
him a complex copper implement, which his friends had supposed was a
new species of theodolite, but which turned out to be a scientific
coffee-pot, in the development of which and its purposes, as the man of
science carefully explained, there was called into play some of the
principles involved in the sciences of hydraulics and pneumatics, to
which list Lewis added, in an under-tone, those of aquatics, ecstatics,
and rheumatics. The machine was perfect, but the Professor's natural
turn for practical mechanics not being equal to his knowledge of other
branches of science, he failed properly to adjust a screw. This
resulted in an explosion of the pot which blew its lid, as Lewis
expressed it, into the north of Italy, and its contents into the fire.
A second effort, using the remains of the scientific pot as an ordinary
kettle, was more successful.
“You see, my friends,” said the Professor, apologetically, “it is
one of the prerogatives of science that her progress cannot be
hindered. Her resources and appliances are inexhaustible. When one
style of experiment fails we turn at once to another and obtain our
result, as I now prove to you by handing this cup of coffee to Miss
Gray. You had better not sweeten it, Mademoiselle. It is quite
unnecessary to make the very trite observation that in your case no
sugar is required. Yes, the progress of science is slow, but it is
sure. Everything must fall before it in time.”
“Ah, just so—`one down, another come on,'—that's your motto, ain't
it?” said Captain Wopper, who invariably, during the meal, delivered
his remarks from a cavern filled with a compound of mutton, bread, and
ham. “But I say, Professor, are you spliced?”
“Spliced?” echoed the man of science.
“Ay; married, I mean.”
“Yes, I am wed,” he replied, with enthusiasm. “I have a beautiful
wife in Russia, and she is good as beautiful.”
“In Roosia—eh! Well, it's a longish way off, but I'd advise you, as
a friend, not to let her know that you pay such wallopin' compliments
to young English ladies. It might disagree with her, d'ye see?”
At this point the conversation and festivities were interrupted by
Slingsby, who, having gone off to sketch, had seated himself on a mound
within sight of his friends, in a position so doubled up and ridiculous
as to call forth the remark from Lawrence, that few traits of character
were more admirable and interesting than those which illustrated the
utter disregard of personal appearance in true and enthusiastic
devotees of art. To which Captain Wopper added that “he was a rum lot
an' no mistake.”
The devotee was seen by the revellers to start once or twice and
clap his hands to various pockets, as though he had forgotten his
india- rubber or pen-knife. Then he was observed to drop his
sketching-book and hastily slap all his pockets, as if he had forgotten
fifty pieces of india-rubber and innumerable pen-knives. Finally, he
sprang up and slapped himself all over wildly, yelling at the same time
as if he had been a maniac.
He had inadvertently selected an ant-hill as his seat, that was all;
but that was sufficient to check his devotion to art, and necessitate
his retirement to a rocky defile, where he devoted himself to the study
of “the nude” in his own person, and whence he returned looking
imbecile and hot.
Such CONTRETEMPS, however, do not materially affect the health or
spirits of the young and strong. Ere long Slingsby was following his
companions with his wonted enthusiasm and devotee-like admiration of
Nature in all her varying aspects.
His enthusiasm was, however, diverted from the study of vegetable
and mineral, if we may so put it, to that of animal nature, for one of
the porters, who had a tendency to go poking his staff into holes and
crannies of the rocks, suddenly touched a marmot. He dropped his pack
and began at once to dig up earth and stones as fast as possible,
assisted by his comrades; but the little creature was too sagacious for
them. They came to its bed at last, and found that, while they had been
busy at one end of the hole, the marmot had quietly walked out at the
other, and made off.
Having pushed over the valley, and once more ascended to the regions
of perpetual ice, the ramblers determined to “attack”—as the phrase
goes among Alpine climbers—a neighbouring summit. It was not a very
high one, and Emma declared that she was not only quite able, but very
anxious, to attempt it. The attempt was, therefore, made, and, after a
couple of hours of pretty laborious work, accomplished. They found
themselves on a pinnacle which overlooked a large portion of the ice-world around Mont Blanc. While standing there, one or two avalanches
were observed, and the Professor pointed out that avalanches were not
all of one character. Some, he said, were composed of rock, mud, and
water; others entirely of ice; many of them were composed of these
elements mixed, and others were entirely of snow.
“True, Monsieur,” observed the guide, “and the last kind is
sometimes very fatal. There was one from which my wife and child had a
narrow escape. They were visiting at the time a near relation who dwelt
in a village in a valley not far distant from this spot. Behind the
village there is a steep slope covered with pines; behind that the
mountain rises still more steeply. The little forest stands between
that village and destruction. But for it, avalanches would soon sweep
the village away; but wood is not always a sure protector. Sometimes,
when frost renders the snow crisp and dry, the trees fail to check its
descent. It was so on the last night of my wife's visit. A brother was
about to set off with her from the door of our relative's house, when
the snow began to descend through the trees like water. It was like dry
flour. There was not much noise, merely a hissing sound, but it came
down in a deluge, filled all the houses, and suffocated nearly all the
people in them. My brother-in-law saw it in time. He put his horse to
full speed, and brought my dear wife and child away in safety, but his
own father, mother, and sister were lost. We tried to reach their house
the next day, but could advance through the soft snow only by taking
two planks with us, and placing one before the other as we went along.”
Soon after the ramblers had begun their return journey, they came to
a slope which they thought might be descended by sliding or
“glissading.” It was the first time that Emma had seen such work, and
she felt much inclined to try it, but was dissuaded by Antoine, who led
her round by an easier way. At the foot of the slope they came to a
couloir, or sloping gorge, so steep that snow could not lie on it. Its
surface was, therefore, hard ice. Although passable, Antoine deemed it
prudent not to cross, the more so that he observed some ominous
obelisks of ice impending at the top of the slope.
“Why not cross and let Emma see how we manage by cutting steps in
the ice?” said Lewis.
He received a conclusive though unexpected answer from one of the
obelisks above-mentioned, which fell at the moment, broke into
fragments, and swept the couloir from top to bottom with incredible
It is wonderful what a deal of experience is required to make
foolish people wise! Winthin the next ten minutes this warning was
forgotten, and Lewis led his cousin into a danger which almost cost the
lives of three of the party.
Chapter XX. RECORDS A SERIOUS EVENT.
Our ramblers had now reached a place where a great expanse of rock
surface was exposed, and the temptation to dilate on the action of
glaciers proved too strong for the Professor. He therefore led those
who were willing to follow to a suitable spot and pointed out the
striations, flutings, and polishings of the granite, which showed that
in former ages the glacier had passed there, although at that time it
was far below in the valley. The polishings, he said, were caused by
the ice slowly grinding over the surface of the rock, and the flutings
and groovings were caused, not by the ice itself, but by stones which
were embedded in its under surface, and which cut the solid granite as
if with chisels.
Meanwhile, Lewis and Emma, having taken the opportunity to search
for plants, had wandered on a little in advance, and had come to
another steep slope, which was, however, covered with snow at its upper
part. Below, where it became steeper, there was no snow, only pure ice,
which extended downwards to an immense distance, broken only here and
there by a few rocks that cropped through its surface. It terminated in
a rocky gorge, which was strewn thickly with DEBRIS from above.
“Let us cross this,” said Emma, with a look of glee, for she
possessed an adventurous spirit.
“We'd better not,” answered Lewis. “The slope is very steep.”
“True, O cautious cousin,” retorted Emma, with a laugh, “but it is
covered here with snow that is soft and probably knee-deep. Go on it,
sir, and try.”
Thus commanded, Lewis obeyed, and found that the snow was indeed
knee- deep, and that there was no possibility of their either slipping
or falling, unless one were unusually careless, and even in that case
the soft snow would have checked anything like an involuntary glissade.
“Let me go first,” said Lewis.
“Nay, I will go first,” returned Emma, “you will follow and pick me
up if I should fall.”
So saying, she stepped lightly into the snow and advanced, while her
companion stood looking at her with a half-amused, half-anxious smile.
She had not made six steps, and Lewis was on the point of following,
when he observed that there was a crack across the snow just above
where he stood, and the whole mass began to slide. For a moment he was
transfixed with horror. The next he had sprung to his cousin's side and
seized her arm, shouting—
“Emma! Emma! come back. Quick! It moves.” But poor Emma could not
obey. She would as soon have expected the mountain itself to give way
as the huge mass of snow on which she stood. At first its motion was
slow, and Lewis struggled wildly to extricate her, but in vain, for the
snow avalanche gathered speed as it advanced, and in its motion not
only sank them to their waists, but turned them helplessly round, thus
placing Lewis farthest from the firm land. He shouted now with all the
power of his lungs for help, while Emma screamed from terror.
Lawrence chanced to be nearest to them. He saw at a glance what had
occurred, and dashed down the hill-side at headlong speed. A wave was
driving in front of the couple, who were now embedded nearly to their
armpits, while streams of snow were hissing all round them, and the
mass was beginning to rush. One look sufficed to show Lawrence that
rescue from the side was impossible, but, with that swift power of
perception which is aroused in some natures by the urgent call to act,
he observed that some yards lower down—near the place where the ice-slope began—there was a rock near to the side in the track of the
avalanche, which it divided. Leaping down to this, he sprang into the
sliding flood a little above it, and, with a powerful effort, caught
the rock and drew himself upon it. Next moment Emma was borne past out
of reach of his hand. Lawrence rushed deep into the snow and held out
his alpenstock. Emma caught it. He felt himself turned irresistibly
round, and a sick feeling of despair chilled his life-blood. At the
same moment a powerful hand grasped his collar.
“Hold on, Monsieur,” cried Antoine, in a deep, yet encouraging
voice, “I've got you safe.”
As he spoke, Emma shrieked, “I cannot hold on!”
No wonder! She had not only to resist the rushing snow, but to
sustain the drag of Lewis, who, as we have said, had been carried
beyond his cousin, and whose only chance now lay in his retaining hold
of her arm. Ere the words had quite left her lips, Lewis was seen
deliberately to let go his hold and throw up his arm—it seemed as if
Next moment Emma was dragged on the rock, where she and her
companions stood gazing in horror as their companion was swept upon the
ice-slope and carried down headlong. The snow was by this time whirled
onward in a sort of mist or spray, in the midst of which Lewis was seen
to strike a rock with his shoulder and swing violently round, while
parts of his clothing were plainly rent from his body, but the painful
sight did not last long. A few seconds more and he was hurled,
apparently a lifeless form, among the DEBRIS and rocks far below.
Death, in such a case, might have been expected to be instantaneous,
but the very element that caused the poor youth's fall, helped to save
him. During the struggle for life while clinging to Emma's arm, the
check, brief though it was, sufficed to allow most of the snow to pass
down before him, so that he finally fell on a comparatively soft bed;
but it was clear that he had been terribly injured, and, what made
matters worse, he had fallen into a deep gorge surrounded by
precipices, which seemed to some of the party to render it quite
impossible to reach him.
“What is to be done?” exclaimed Lawrence, with intense anxiety. “He
must be got at immediately. Delay of treatment in his case, even for a
short time, may prove fatal.”
“I know it, Monsieur,” said Antoine, who had been quietly but
quickly uncoiling his rope. “One of the porters and I will descend by
the precipices. They are too steep for any but well-accustomed hands
and feet. You, Monsieur, understand pretty well the use of the axe and
rope. Cut your way down the ice-slope with Jacques. He is a steady man,
and may be trusted. Run, Rollo (to the third porter), and fetch aid
from Gaspard's chalet. It is the nearest. I need not say make haste.”
These orders were delivered in a low, rapid voice. The men proceeded
at once to obey them. At the same time Antoine and his comrade swung
themselves down the cliffs, and were instantly lost to view. The young
porter, whom he had named Rollo, was already going down the mountain at
a smart run, and Jacques was on the ice-slope wielding his axe with
ceaseless energy and effect, while Lawrence held the rope to which he
was attached, and descended the rude and giddy staircase behind him.
It was a terrible time for those who were left above in a state of
inaction and deep anxiety, but there was no help for it. They had to
content themselves with watching the rescue, and praying for success.
It was not long before the guide and porter reached the spot where
poor Lewis lay. He was not insensible, but a deadly pallor overspread
his scarred face, and the position in which he lay betokened utter
helplessness. He could scarcely speak, but whispered that he fancied he
was not so much hurt as might have been expected, and expressed wonder
at their having been so long in reaching him.
The guide spoke to him with the tenderness of a woman. He knew well
how severely the poor youth was injured, and handled him very
delicately while making such preliminary arrangements as were in his
power. A few drops of brandy and water were administered, the poor
limbs were arranged in a position of greater comfort, and the torn rags
of clothing wrapped round him.
Soon they were joined by Lawrence, who merely whispered a few kind
words, and proceeded at once to examine him. His chief anxiety was as
to the amount of skin that had been destroyed. The examination revealed
a terrible and bloody spectacle; over which we will draw a veil; yet
there was reason to believe that the amount of skin torn off and
abraded was not sufficient to cause death. Lawrence was comforted also
by finding that no bones appeared to have been broken.
Nothing could be done in the way of attempting a removal until the
return of Rollo with a litter. Fortunately this was not long of being
brought, for the young porter was active and willing, and Gaspard had
promptly accompanied him with men and materials for the rescue.
But it was a sad, slow, and painful process, to bear the poor
youth's frame from that savage gorge, and convey him on a litter,
carried by four men, over glaciers and down rugged mountain sides, even
although done by tender hearts and strong hands. Everything that
ingenuity could contrive was done to relieve the sufferer, and when at
last, after weary hours, they reached the high-road of the valley, a
carriage was found waiting. A messenger had been sent in advance to
fetch it, and Mrs. Stoutley was in it.
There was something quite touching in the quiet, firm air of self-restraint with which she met the procession, and afterwards tended her
poor boy; it was so unlike her old character!
The sun was setting in a field of golden glory when they carried
Lewis into the hotel at Chamouni, and laid him on his bed—a mere wreck
of his former self.
Chapter XXI. DOWN IN THE MORAINE AT
As the reader may suppose, the terrible accident to Lewis Stoutley
put an end to further merry-making among our friends at Chamouni. Mrs.
Stoutley would have left for England at once if that had been possible,
but Lewis could not be moved for several weeks. At first indeed, fears
were entertained for his life, but his constitution being good, and not
having been damaged by dissipation, he rallied sooner than might have
been expected, although it was evident from the beginning that complete
restoration could not be looked for until many months, perhaps years,
had passed away.
We need scarcely say, that the rapid improvement of his health was
largely due to the tender watchful care of his mother.
Since visiting Switzerland, that excellent lady's spirit had
undergone a considerable change. Without going minutely into
particulars, we may say that the startling events which had occurred
had been made the means of opening her spiritual eyes. It had occurred
to her—she scarce knew how or why—that her Creator had a claim on her
for more consideration than she had been in the habit, heretofore, of
testifying by a few formalities on Sundays; that there must be some
higher end and aim in life than the mere obtaining and maintaining of
health, and the pursuit of pleasure; and that as there was a Saviour,
whom she professed on Sundays to follow, there must be something real
from which she had to be saved, as well as something real that had to
be done. Sin, she knew, of course, was the evil from which everybody
had to be saved; but, being a good-natured and easy-going woman, she
really did not feel much troubled by sin. Little weaknesses she had, no
doubt, but not half so many as other people she knew of. As to anything
seriously worthy the name of sin, she did not believe she had any at
all. It had never, until now, occurred to her that the treating of her
best Friend, during a lifetime, with cool and systematic indifference,
or with mere protestations, on Sundays, of adoration, was probably as
great a sin as she could commit.
Her thoughts on these points she did not at first mention to any
one, but she received great help and enlightenment, as well as comfort,
from the quiet sensible talk of Dr. Lawrence, as he sat day after day,
and hour after hour, at the bedside of his friend, endeavouring to
cheer his spirits as well as to relieve his physical pain—for Lawrence
was well fitted to do both.
He was not by any means what is styled a sermoniser. He made no
apparent effort to turn conversation into religious channels. Indeed we
believe that when men talk with the unrestrained freedom of true
friendship, conversation needs no directing. It will naturally flow
along all channels, and into all the zigzags and crevices of human
thought—religion included. Lewis was in great pain and serious danger.
Lawrence was a man full of the Holy Spirit and love to Jesus. Out of
the fullness of his heart his mouth spoke when his friend appeared to
desire such converse; but he never bored him with ANY subject—for it
is possible to be a profane, as well as a religious, bore!
As soon as Lewis could turn his mind to anything, after his being
brought back to the hotel, he asked earnestly after Nita Horetzki.
“She has left,” said Mrs. Stoutley.
“Left! D'you mean gone from Chamouni, mother?” exclaimed Lewis, with
a start and a look of anxiety which he did not care to conceal.
“Yes, they went yesterday. Nita had recovered sufficiently to
travel, and the medical man who has been attending her urged her
removal without delay. She and her father seemed both very sorry to
leave us, and left kind messages for you. The Count wanted much to see
you, but we would not allow it.”
“Kind messages for me,” repeated Lewis, in a tone of bitterness,
“what sort of messages?”
“Well, really, I cannot exactly remember,” returned Mrs. Stoutley,
with a slight smile, “the kind of messages that amiable people might be
expected to leave in the circumstances, you know—regret that they
should have to leave us in such a sad condition, and sincere hope that
you might soon recover, etc. Yes, by the way, Nita also, just at
parting, expressed a hope—an earnest hope—that we might meet again.
Poor dear thing, she is an extremely affectionate girl, and quite broke
down when saying good-bye.”
“D'you know where they have gone to, mother?”
“No. They mean to move about from place to place, I believe.”
“Nita said nothing about writing to you, did she?”
“Did they leave any address—a POSTE RESTANTE—anywhere, or any clew
whatever as to their whereabouts?”
So then, during the weary days of suffering that he knew full well
lay before him, poor Lewis had no consolatory thought in regard to Nita
save in her expressed “earnest hope” that they might meet again. It was
not much, but it was better than nothing. Being an ingenious as well as
daring architect, Lewis built amazing structures on that slight
foundation—structures which charmed his mental eyes to look upon, and
which, we verily believe, tended to facilitate his recovery—so potent
is the power of true love!
“Captain Wopper,” said Mrs. Stoutley one morning, towards the end of
their stay in Switzerland, Lewis having been pronounced sufficiently
restored to travel homeward by easy stages, “I have sent for you to ask
you to do me a favour—to give me your advice—your—”
Here, to the Captain's amazement, not to say consternation, Mrs.
Stoutley's voice trembled, and she burst into tears. If she had
suddenly caught him by the nose, pulled his rugged face down and kissed
it, he could not have been more taken aback.
“My dear madam,” he stammered, sitting down inadvertently on Mrs.
Stoutley's bonnet—for it was to the good lady's private dressing- room
that he had been summoned by Gillie White—“hold on! don't now, please!
What ever have I done to—”
“You've done nothing, my dear Captain,” said Mrs. Stoutley,
endeavouring to check her tears. “There, I'm very foolish, but I can't
help it. Indeed I can't.”
In proof of the truth of this assertion she broke down again, and
the Captain, moving uneasily on his chair, ground the bonnet almost to
powder—it was a straw one.
“You have been a kind friend, Captain Wopper,” said Mrs. Stoutley,
drying her eyes, “a very kind friend.”
“I'm glad you think so, ma'am; I've meant to be—anyhow.”
“You have, you have,” cried Mrs. Stoutley, earnestly, as she looked
through her tears into the seaman's rugged countenance, “and that is my
reason for venturing to ask you now to trouble yourself with—with—”
There was an alarming symptom here of a recurrence of “squally
weather,” which caused the Captain to give the bonnet an “extra turn,”
but she recovered herself and went on—
“With my affairs. I would not have thought of troubling you, but
with poor Lewie so ill, and Dr. Lawrence being so young, and probably
inexperienced in the ways of life, and Emma so innocent and helpless,
and—in short I'm—hee!—that is to say—ho dear! I AM so silly, but I
can't—indeed I can't—hoo-o-o!”
It blew a regular gale now, and a very rain of straw DEBRIS fell
through the cane-bottomed chair on which the Captain sat, as he vainly
essayed to sooth his friend by earnest, pathetic, and even tender
adjurations to “clap a stopper upon that,” to “hold hard,” to “belay",
to “shut down the dead-lights of her peepers,” and such-like expressive
At length, amid many sobs, the poor lady revealed the overwhelming
fact that she was a beggar; that she had actually come down to her last
franc; that her man of business had flatly declined to advance her
another sovereign, informing her that the Gorong mine had declared “no
dividend;” that the wreck of her shattered fortune had been swallowed
up by the expenses of their ill-advised trip to Switzerland, and that
she had not even funds enough to pay their travelling expenses home; in
short that she was a miserable boulder, at the lowest level of the
To all this Captain Wopper listened in perfect silence, with a blank
expression on his face that revealed nothing of the state of feeling
“Oh! Captain Wopper,” exclaimed the poor lady anxiously, “surely—
surely YOU won't forsake me! I know that I have no claim on you beyond
friendship, but you have always given us to understand that you were
well off, and I merely wish to BORROW a small sum. Just enough, and no
more. Perhaps I may not be able to repay you just immediately, but I
hope soon; and even if it came to the worst, there is the furniture in
Euston Square, and the carriage and horses.”
Poor Mrs. Stoutley! She was not aware that her man of business had
already had these resources appraised, and that they no more belonged
to her at that moment than if they had been part of the personal estate
of the celebrated man in the moon.
Still the Captain gazed at her in stolid silence.
“Even my personal wardrobe,” proceeded Mrs. Stoutley, beginning
again to weep, “I will gladly dis—”
“Avast! Madam,” cried the Captain, suddenly, thrusting his right
hand into his breeches-pocket, and endeavouring to drag something
therefrom with a series of wrenches that would have been terribly
trying to the bonnet, had its ruin not been already complete, “don't
talk to me of repayment. Ain't I your—your—husband's brother's buzzum
friend—Willum's old chum an' messmate? See here.”
He jerked the chair (without rising) close to a table which stood at
his elbow, and placed thereon a large canvas bag, much soiled, and tied
round the neck with a piece of rope-yarn, which smelt of tar even at a
distance. This was the Captain's purse. He carried it always in his
right trouser-pocket, and it contained his gold. As for such trifling
metal as silver, he carried that loose, mixed with coppers, bits of
tobacco, broken pipes, and a clasp-knife, in the other pocket. He was
very fond of his purse. In California he had been wont to carry nuggets
in it, that simple species of exchange being the chief currency of the
country at the time he was there. Some of the Californian DEBRIS had
stuck to it when he had filled it, at a place of exchange in London,
with Napoleons. Emptying its glittering contents upon the table, he
spread it out.
“There, madam,” he said, with a hearty smile, “you're welcome to all
I've got about me just at this moment, and you shall have more when
that's done. Don't say `not so much,' cause it ain't much, fifty pound,
more or less, barrin' the nuggets, which I'll keep, as I dessay they
would only worry you, and there's plenty more shot in the locker where
that come from; an' don't talk about payin' back or thankin' me. You've
no occasion to thank me. It's only a loan, an' I'll hold Willum, your
brother-in-law, responsible. You wouldn't decline to take it from
Willum, would you?”
“Indeed no; William Stout has always been so kind to us—kinder than
I have deserved.”
“Well, then, I'll write to Willum. I'll say to him, `Willum, my boy,
here's your brother's widdy bin caught in a squall, had her sails blown
to ribbons, bin throw'd on her beam-ends, and every stick torn out of
her. You've got more cash, Willum, than you knows what to do with, so,
hand over, send me a power of attorney (is that the thing?) or an
affydavy—whatever lawyer's dockiments is required—an' I'll stand by
and do the needful.' An' Willum 'll write back, with that power an'
brevity for which he is celebrated,—`Wopper, my lad, all right; fire
away. Anything short o' ten thousand, more or less. Do yer w'ust. Yours
There was no resisting such arguments. Mrs. Stoutley smiled through
her tears as she accepted the money. Captain Wopper rose, crammed the
empty canvas bag into his pocket, and hastily retired, with portions of
the bonnet attached to him.
“Susan,” said Mrs. Stoutley, on the maid answering her summons, “we
shall start for London tomorrow, or the day after, so, pray, set about
packing up without delay.”
“Very well, ma'am,” replied Susan, whose eyes were riveted with an
expression of surprised curiosity on the cane-bottomed chair.
“It is my bonnet Susan,” said the lady, looking in the same
direction with a sad smile. “Captain Wopper sat down on it by mistake.
You had better remove it.”
To remove it was a feat which even Susan, with all her ready wit and
neatness of hand, could not have accomplished without the aid of brush
and shovel. She, therefore, carried it off chair and all, to the
regions below, where she and Gillie went into convulsions over it.
“Oh! Susan,” exclaimed the blue spider, “wot would I not have given
to have seed him a-doin' of it! Only think! The ribbons, flowers, and
straw in one uniwarsal mush! WOT a grindin' there must ave bin! I
heer'd the Purfesser the other day talkin' of wot he calls glacier-haction—how they flutes the rocks an' grinds in a most musical way
over the boulders with crushin' wiolence; but wot's glacier haction to
Susan admitted that it was nothing; and they both returned at
intervals in the packing, during the remainder of that day, to have
another look at the bonnet-debris, and enjoy a fresh explosion over it.
Chapter XXII. MYSTERIOUS PROCEEDINGS
OF THE CAPTAIN AND GILLIE.
We are back again in London—in Mrs. Roby's little cabin at the top
of the old tenement in Grubb's Court.
Captain Wopper is there, of course. So is Mrs. Roby. Gillie White is
there also, and Susan Quick. The Captain is at home. The two latter are
on a visit—a social tea-party. Little Netta White, having deposited
Baby White in the mud at the lowest corner of the Court for greater
security, is waiting upon them—a temporary handmaiden, relieving, by
means of variety, the cares of permanent nursehood. Mrs. White is up to
the elbows in soap-suds, taking at least ocular and vocal charge of the
babe in the mud, and her husband is—“drunk, as usual?” No—there is a
change there. Good of some kind has been somewhere at work. Either
knowingly or unwittingly some one has been “overcoming evil with good,”
for Mrs. White's husband is down at the docks toiling hard to earn a
few pence wherewith to increase the family funds. And who can tell what
a terrible yet hopeful war is going on within that care-worn, sin-worn
man? To toil hard with shattered health is burden enough. What must it
be when, along with the outward toil, there is a constant fight with a
raging watchful devil within? But the man has given that devil some
desperate falls of late. Oh, how often and how long he has fought with
him, and been overcome, cast down, and his armoury of resolutions
scattered to the winds! But he has been to see some one, or some one
has been to see him, who has advised him to try another kind of armour
—not his own. He knows the power of a “new affection” now. Despair was
his portion not long ago. He is now animated by Hope, for the long
uncared-for name of Jesus is now growing sweet to his ear. But the
change has taken place recently, and he looks very weary as he toils
“Well, mother,” said Captain Wopper, “now that I've given you a
full, true, an' partikler account of Switzerland, what d'ee think of
“It is a strange place—very, but I don't approve of people risking
their lives and breaking their limbs for the mere pleasure of getting
to the top of a mountain of ice.”
“But we can't do anything in life without riskin' our lives an'
breakin' our limbs more or less,” said the Captain.
“An' think o' the interests of science,” said Gillie, quoting the
Mrs. Roby shook her tall cap and remained unconvinced. To have
expected the old nurse to take an enlightened view on that point would
have been as unreasonable as to have looked for just views in Gillie
White on the subject of conic sections.
“Why, mother, a man may break a leg or an arm in going down stairs,”
said the Captain, pursuing the subject; “by the way, that reminds me to
ask for Fred Leven. Didn't I hear that HE broke his arm coming up his
own stair? Is it true?”
“True enough,” replied Mrs. Roby.
“Was he the worse of liquor at the time?”
“No. It was dark, and he was carrying a heavy box of something or
other for his mother. Fred is a reformed man. I think the sight of your
poor father, Gillie, has had something to do with it, and that night
when his mother nearly died. At all events he never touches drink now,
and he has got a good situation in one of the warehouses at the docks.”
“That's well,” returned the Captain, with satisfaction. “I had hopes
of that young feller from the night you mention. Now, mother, I'm off.
Gillie and I have some business to transact up the water. Very
particular business—eh, lad?”
“Oh! wery partickler,” said Gillie, responding to his patron's
glance with a powerful wink.
Expressing a hope that Susan would keep Mrs. Roby company till he
returned, the Captain left the room with his usual heavy roll, and the
spider followed with imitative swagger.
Captain Wopper was fond of mystery. Although he had, to some extent
made a confidant of the boy for whom he had taken so strong a fancy, he
nevertheless usually maintained a dignified distance of demeanour
towards him, and a certain amount of reticence, which, as a stern
disciplinarian, he deemed to be essential. This, however, did not
prevent him from indulging in occasional, not to say frequent,
unbendings of disposition, which he condescended to exhibit by way of
encouragement to his small PROTEGE; but these unbendings and
confidences were always more or less shrouded in mystery. Many of them,
indeed, consisted of nothing more intelligible than nods, grins, and
“That'll be rather a nice cottage when it's launched,” said the
Captain, pointing to a building in process of erection, which stood so
close to the edge of the Thames that its being launched seemed as much
a literal allusion as a metaphor.
“Raither bobbish,” assented the spider.
“Clean run fore and aft with bluff bows, like a good sea-boat,” said
the Captain. “Come, let's have a look at it.”
Asking permission to enter of a workman who granted the same with,
what appeared to Gillie, an unnecessarily broad grin, the Captain led
the way up a spiral staircase. It bore such a strong resemblance to the
familiar one of Grubb's Court that Gillie's eyes enlarged with
surprise, and he looked involuntarily back for his soapy mother and the
babe in the mud. There were, however, strong points of dissimilarity,
inasmuch as there was no mud or filth of any kind near the new building
except lime; and the stair, instead of leading like that of the Tower
of Babel an interminable distance upwards, ended abruptly at the second
floor. Here, however, there was a passage exactly similar to the
passage leading to Mrs. Roby's cabin, save that it was well lighted,
and at the end thereof was an almost exact counterpart of the cabin
itself. There was the same low roof, the same little fireplace, with
the space above for ornaments, and the same couple of little windows
looking out upon a stretch of the noble river, from which you might
have fished. There was the same colour of paint on the walls, which bad
been so managed as to represent the dinginess of antiquity. There was
also, to all appearance, Mrs. Roby's own identical bed, with its chintz
curtains. Here, however, resemblance ended, for there was none of the
Grubb's Court dirt. The craft on the river were not so large or
numerous, the reach being above the bridges. If you had fished you not
have hooked rats or dead cats, and if you had put your head out and
looked round, you would have encountered altogether a clean, airy, and
respectable neighbourhood, populous enough to be quite cheery, with
occasional gardens instead of mud-banks, and without interminable rows
of tall chimney-pots excluding the light of heaven.
Gillie, not yet having been quite cured of his objectionable
qualities, at once apostrophised his eye and Elizabeth Martin.
“As like as two peas, barrin' the dirt!”
The Captain evidently enjoyed the lad's astonishment.
“A ship-shape sort o' craft, ain't it? It wouldn't be a bad joke to
Gillie, who was rather perplexed, but too much a man of the world to
disclose much of his state of mind, said that it wouldn't be a bad move
for any feller who had got the blunt. “How much would it cost now?”
“A thousand pounds, more or less,” said the Captain, with discreet
allowance for latitude.
“Ha! a goodish lump, no doubt.”
“I've half a mind to buy it,” continued the Captain, looking round
with a satisfied smile. “It would be an amoosin' sort o' thing, now, to
bring old Mrs. Roby here. The air would be fresher for her old lungs,
Gillie nodded, but was otherwise reticent.
“The stair, too, wouldn't be too high to get her down now and again,
and a boat could be handy to shove her into without much exertion. For
the matter of that,” said the Captain, looking out, “we might have a
slide made, like a Swiss couloir, you know, and she could glissade
comfortably into the boat out o' the winder. Then, there's a beam to
hang her ship an' Chinee lanterns from, an' a place over the fireplace
to stick her knick-knacks. What d'ee think, my lad?”
Gillie, who had begun to allow a ray of light to enter his mind,
gave, as his answer, an emphatic nod and a broad grin.
The Captain replied with a nod and a wink, whereupon the other
retired behind his patron, for the purpose of giving himself a quiet
hug of delight, in which act, however, he was caught; the Captain being
one who always, according to his own showing, kept his weather-eye
“W'y, what's the matter with you, boy?”
“Pains in the stummick is aggrawatin' sometimes,” answered Gillie.
“You haven't got 'em, have you?”
“Well, I can't exactly go for to say as I has,” answered Gillie,
with another grin.
“Now, look 'ee here, youngster,” said the Captain, suddenly seizing
the spider by his collar and trousers, and swinging him as though about
to hurl him through the window into the river, “if you go an' let your
tongue wag in regard to this matter, out you go, right through the
He set the spider quietly on his legs again, who replied, with
“Mum's the word, Cappen.”
Gillie had been shorn of his blue tights and brass buttons, poor
Mrs. Stoutley having found it absolutely necessary, on her return home,
to dismiss all her servants, dispose of all her belongings, and retire
into the privacy of a poor lodging in a back street. Thus the spider
had come to be suddenly thrown on the world again, but Captain Wopper
had retained him, he said, as a mixture of errand-boy, cabin-boy, and
powder-monkey, in which capacity he dwelt with his mother during the
night and revolved like a satellite round the Captain during the day. A
suit of much more appropriate pepper-and-salt had replaced the blue
tights and buttons. Altogether, his TOUT-ENSEMBLE was what the Captain
styled “more ship-shape.”
We have said that Mrs. Stoutley and her family had made a descent in
life. As poor Lewis remarked, with a sad smile, they had quitted the
gay and glittering heights, and gone, like a magnificent avalanche,
down into the moraine. Social, not less than physical, avalanches
multiply their parts and widen their course during descent. The
Stoutleys did not fall alone. A green-grocer, a shoemaker, and a baker,
who had long been trembling, like human boulders, on the precipice of
bankruptcy, went tumbling down along with them, and found rest in a
lower part of the moraine than they had previously occupied.
“It's a sad business,” said Lewis to Dr. Lawrence one morning; “and
if you continue to attend me, you must do so without the most distant
prospect of a fee.”
“My dear fellow,” returned Lawrence, “have you no such thing as
gratitude in your composition?”
“Not much, and, if I had ever so much, it would be poor pay.”
“Poor, indeed, if regarded as one's only source of livelihood,”
rejoined Lawrence, “but it is ample remuneration from a friend, whether
rich or poor, and, happily, capable of being mixed with œ.s.d. without
deterioration. In the present case, I shall be more than rejoiced to
take the fee unmixed, but, whether fee'd or not fee'd, I insist on
continuing attendance on a case which I have a right to consider
peculiarly my own.”
“It would have been a bad case, indeed, but for you,” returned
Lewis, a flush for a moment suffusing his pale cheek as he took bis
friend's hand and squeezed it. “I am thoroughly convinced, Lawrence,
that God's blessing on your skill and unwearied care of me at the time
of the accident is the cause of my being alive to thank you to-day. But
sit down, my dear fellow, and pray postpone your professional inquiries
for a little, as I have something on my mind which I wish to ask you
Lawrence shook his head. “Business first, pleasure afterwards,” he
said; “professional duties must not be postponed.”
“Now,” said Lewis when he had finished, “are you satisfied? Do you
admit that even an unprofessional man might have seen at a glance that
I am much better, and that your present draft on my gratitude is a mere
“I admit nothing,” retorted the other; “but now, what have you got
to say to me?”
“I am going to make a confidant of you. Are you to be trusted?”
“Perhaps; I dare not say yes unconditionally, because I'm rather
sociable and communicative, and apt to talk in my sleep.”
“That will do. Your answer is sufficiently modest. I will venture.
You know Captain Wopper, I mean, you are well acquainted with his
character; well, that kind and eccentric man has made a proposal to my
dear mother, which we do not like to accept, and which at the same time
we do not quite see our way to refuse. My mother, when in great
distress in Switzerland, was forced to borrow a small sum of money from
him, and thought it right to justify her doing so by letting him know
—what everybody, alas! may know now—that we were ruined. With that
ready kindness which is his chief characteristic he at once complied.
Since our return home he has, with great delicacy but much
determination, insisted that we shall accept from him a regular weekly
allowance until we have had time to correspond with our uncle Stout in
California. `You mustn't starve,' he said to my mother—I give you his
own words—`and you'd be sure to starve if you was to try to wegitate
for six months or so on atmospheric air. It'll take that time before
you could get a letter from Willum, an' though your son Lewis could an'
would, work like a nigger to keep your pot bilin' if he was well an'
hearty, it's as plain as the nose on your own face, ma'am, that he
can't work while he's as thin as a fathom of pump-water an' as weak as
a babby. Now, you know-at least I can tell 'ee—that my old chum Willum
is as rich as a East Injin nabob. You wouldn't believe, madam, what
fortins some gold-diggers have made. W'y, I've seed men light their
pipes with fi'-pun' notes for a mere brag out there. I've made a
goodish lump o' money myself too,—a'most more than I know what to do
with, an' as to Willum, I may say he's actooally rollin' in gold. He's
also chockfull of regard for you and yours, ma'am. That bein' so, he's
sure to send you somethin' to tide you over yer difficulties, an' he's
also sure to send somethin' to Lewis to help him start fair when he
gits well, and he's surest of all to send somethin' to Miss Emma for
all the kind letters she's writ to him doorin' the last five or six
years. Well, then, I'm Willum's buzzum friend, and, knowin' exactly
what he'll say an' do in the circumstances, what more nat'ral an'
proper than that Willum's chum should anticipate Willum's wishes, and
advance the money—some of it at least—say three thousand pounds to
start with.' Now, Lawrence,” continued Lewis, “what should we do?
Should we accept this offer? The good fellow has evidently made a great
deal of money at the gold- fields, and no doubt speaks truly when he
says he can afford to advance that sum. And we know our uncle William's
character well enough, though we have never seen him, to be quite sure
that he will assist my dear mother until I am able to support her. What
“Accept the offer at once,” said Lawrence. “From what I have seen of
the Captain, I am convinced that he is a warm friend and a genuine man.
No doubt he can well afford to do what he proposes, and his opinion of
William Stout's character is just, for, from what I know of him through
Mrs. Roby, who knew him when he was a lad, when his life was saved by
my father, he must have a kind heart.”
“I have no doubt of it, Lawrence, and a grateful heart too, if I may
judge from a few words that fell from Captain Wopper about your father
“Indeed! what did he say about us?”
“I have no right to repeat observations dropped inadvertently,” said
Lewis, with a laugh.
“Nor to raise curiosity which you don't mean to satisfy,” retorted
his friend; “however, my advice is, that you accept the Captain's
offer, and trust to your uncle's generosity.”
Chapter XXIII. THE CAPTAIN SURPRISES
HIS FRIENDS IN VARIOUS WAYS, AND IS HIMSELF BAFFLED.
Time and Tide passed on—as they are proverbially said to do—
without waiting for any one. Some people in the great city, aware of
this cavalier style of proceeding on the part of Time and Tide, took
advantage of both, and scaled the pinnacled heights of society. Others,
neglecting their opportunities, or misusing them, produced a series of
avalanches more or less noteworthy, and added a few more boulders to
the vast accumulations in the great social moraine.
Several of the actors in this tale were among those who, having
learnt a few sharp lessons in the avalanche school, began to note and
avail themselves of Time and Tide—notably, Mrs. Stoutley and her son
and niece. A decided change had come over the spirit of Mrs. Stoutley's
dream of life. She had at last visited the great London moraine,
especially that part of it called Grubb's Court, and had already dug up
a few nuggets and diamonds, one of which latter she brought to her
humble home in the back street, with the design of polishing it into a
good servant-maid. Its name was Netta White. Mrs. Stoutley had formerly
been a spendthrift; now she was become covetous. She coveted the male
diamond belonging to the same part of the moraine—once named the
Spider, ALIAS the Imp—but Captain Wopper had dug up that one for
himself and would not part with it. Gradually the good lady conceived
and carried out the idea of digging out and rescuing a number of
diamonds, considerably lower in the scale than the Netta type, training
them for service, and taking pains to get them into good situations. It
was hard work no doubt, but Mrs. Stoutley persevered, and was well
repaid—for the Master of such labourers esteems them “worthy of their
hire.” Emma assisted in the work most heartily. It was by no means new
to her. She might have directed if she had chosen, but she preferred to
Lewis recovered rapidly—so rapidly that he was soon able to resume
his medical studies and prosecute them with vigour. No bad effects of
the accident remained, yet he was an altered man—not altered in
appearance or in character, but in spirit. He was still off-hand in
manner, handsome in face and figure, hearty in society, but earnest and
grave—very grave—in private. He pored over his books, and strove,
successfully too, to master the difficulties of the healing art; but do
what he would, and fight against it as he might, he was constantly
distracted by a pretty face with bright sparkling eyes and a strangely
sad expression coming between him and the page. He made continual
inquiries after the owner of the sparkling eyes in every direction
without success, and at last got into the habit when walking, of
looking earnestly at people as if he expected to meet with some one.
“If I had got into this state,” he sometimes said to himself, “because
of being merely in love with a pretty face, I should consider myself a
silly nincompoop; but it is such a terrible thing for so sweet and
young a creature to be chained to a man who must in the nature of
things, land her in beggary and break her heart.” Thus he deceived
himself as to his main motive. Poor Lewis!
One morning Captain Wopper got up a little earlier than usual, and
began a series of performances which Mrs. Roby had long ago styled
“rampadgin” round his garret.
The reader may have discovered by this time that the Captain was no
ordinary man. Whatever he did in connection with himself was done with
almost superhuman energy and noise. Since the commencement of his
residence in the garret he had unwittingly subjected the nerves of poor
Mrs. Roby to such a variety of shocks, that the mere fact of her reason
remaining on its throne was an unquestionable proof of a more than
usually powerful constitution. It could not well be otherwise. The
Captain's limbs resembled the limbs of oaks in regard to size and
toughness. His spirits were far above “proof.” His organs were
cathedral organs compared with the mere barrel-organs of ordinary men.
On the other hand, the “cabin” in Grubb's Court was but a flimsy
tenement; its plank floorings were thin, and its beams and rafters slim
and somewhat loose owing to age, so that when the captain snored, which
he did regularly and continuously, it was as if a mastiff had got
inside a double bass and were growling hideously.
But Mrs. Roby had now got pretty well accustomed to her lodger's
ways. Her nerves had become strung to the ordeal, and she even came to
like the galvanic battery in which she dwelt, because of its being
worked by the intimate friend of her dear William; such is the power of
love—we might almost say, in this case, of reflected love! The good
old lady had even become so acute in her perceptions, that, without
seeing the “rampadger,” she knew precisely the part of his daily
programme with which he happened to be engaged. Of course the snoring
told its own tale with brazen-tongued clamour, and the whole tenement
trembled all night long from top to bottom. Nothing but the regardless
nature of the surrounding population prevented the Captain from being
indicted as a nuisance; but there were other sounds that were not so
On the morning in question, Mrs. Roby, lying placidly in her neat
white little bed, and gazing with a sweet contented face through one of
her cabin windows at the bright blue sky, heard a sound as though a
compound animal—hog and whale—had aroused itself and rolled over on
its other side. A low whistling followed. Mrs. Roby knew that the
Captain was pleasantly engaged with his thoughts—planning out the
proceedings of the day. Suddenly the whistling ceased and was followed
by a sonorous “how-ho!” terminating in a gasp worthy of an express
locomotive. The Captain had stretched himself and Mrs. Roby smiled at
her own thoughts, as well she might for they embraced the idea that a
twentieth part of the force employed in that stretch would have rent in
twain every tendon, muscle, sinew, and filament in her, Mrs. Roby's,
body. Next, there descended on the floor overhead a sixteen- stone
cannon ball, which caused—not the neighbours, but the boards and
rafters to complain. The Captain was up! and succeeding sounds proved
that he had had another stretch, for there was a bump in the middle of
it which showed that, forgetting his stature, the careless man had hit
the ceiling with his head. That was evidently a matter of no
From this point the boards and rafters continued to make unceasing
complaint, now creaking uneasily as if under great provocation, anon
groaning or yelling as though under insufferable torment. From the
ceiling of Mrs. Roby's room numerous small bits of plaster, unable to
stand it longer, fell and powdered Mrs. Roby's floor. The curtains of
her little bed saved her face. There was a slushing and swishing and
gasping and blowing now, which might have done credit to a school of
porpoises. The Captain was washing. Something between the flapping of a
main top-sail in a shifting squall and the currying of a hippopotamus
indicated that the Captain was drying himself. The process was
interrupted by an unusual, though not quite unknown, crash and a howl;
he had overturned the wash-hand basin, and a double thump, followed by
heavy dabs, told that the Captain was on his knees swabbing it up.
Next instant the Captain's head, with beard and hair in a
tremendously rubbed-up condition, appeared upside down at the hatchway.
“Hallo! old girl, has she sprung a leak anywhere?”
“Nowhere,” replied Mrs. Roby, with a quiet smile. She felt the
question to be unnecessary. “She,” that is, the roof above her, never
did leak in such circumstances. If the Thames had suddenly flooded the
garret, the Captain's energy was sufficient to have swabbed it up in
time to prevent a drop reaching “the lower deck.”
Soon after this catastrophe there was a prolonged silence. The
Captain was reading. Mrs. Roby shut her eyes and joined him in spirit.
Thereafter the Captain's feet appeared at the trap where his head had
been, and he descended with a final and tremendous crash to the floor.
“See here, mother,” he cried, with a look of delight, holding up a
very soiled and crumpled letter, “that's from Willum.”
“From William,” exclaimed the old woman, eagerly; “why, when did you
get it? the postman can't have been here this morning.”
“Of course he hasn't; I got it last night from the limb-o'-the-law
that looks after my little matters. I came in late, and you were
asleep, so I kep' it to whet yer appetite for breakfast. Now listen,
you must take it first; I'll get you breakfast afterwards.”
The Captain had by this time got into the way of giving the old
woman her breakfast in bed every morning.
“Go on,” said the old woman, nodding.
The Captain spread out the letter on his knee with great care, and
“My Dear Wopper, Got yer letter all right.
“My blissin' to the poor widdy. Help her? ov coorse I'll help
her. You did right in advancin' the money, though you fell
short, by a long way, when you advanced so little. Hows'ever,
no matter. I gave you my last will an' testimony w'en we
parted. Here's a noo un. Inside o' this, if I don't forget it
before I've done, you'll find a cheque for thirteen thousand
pounds sterling. Give three to the widdy, with my respects;
give four to dear Emma Gray, with my best love and blissin';
give two to Mister Lewis, with my compliments; an' give four
young Lawrence, with my benediction, for his father's sake. As
for the old 'ooman Roby, you don't need to give nothin' to
She and I understand each other. I'LL look after her myself.
I'll make her my residooary legatee, an' wotever else is
needful; but, in the meantime, you may as well see that she's
got all that she wants. Build her a noo house too. I'm told
that Grubb's Court ain't exactly aristocratic or clean; see to
that. Wotever you advance out o' yer own pocket, I'll pay back
with interest. That's to begin with, tell 'em. There's more
comin'. There—I'm used up wi' writin' such a long screed. I'd
raither dig a twenty-futt hole in clay sile any day.—Yours to
“P.S.—You ain't comin' back soon—are you?”
“Now, mother, what d'ee think o' that?” said the Captain, folding
the letter and putting it in his pocket.
“It's a good, kind letter—just like William,” answered the old
“Well, so I'm inclined to think,” rejoined the Captain, busying
himself about breakfast while he spoke; “it provides for everybody in a
sort o' way, and encourages 'em to go on hopeful like—don't it strike
you so? Then, you see, that's four to Miss Emma, and four to Dr.
Lawrence, which would be eight, equal to four hundred a year; and that,
with the practice he's gettin' into, would make it six, or thereabouts
—not bad to begin with, eh?”
The Captain followed his remark with a sigh.
“What's the matter?” asked Mrs. Roby.
“Why, you remember, mother, before goin' abroad I set my heart on
these two gettin' spliced; but I fear it's no go. Sometimes I think
they looks fond o' one another, at other times I don't. It's a puzzler.
They're both young an' good-lookin' an' good. What more would they
“Perhaps they want money,” suggested the old woman. “You say Dr.
Lawrence's income just now is about two hundred; well, gentlefolks find
it summat difficult to keep house on that, though it's plenty for the
likes of you an' me.”
“That's true. P'r'aps the Doctor is sheerin' off for fear o'
draggin' a young creeter into poverty. It never struck me in that light
Beaming under the influence of this hopeful view of the case, the
Captain proceeded to make another move in the complicated game which he
had resolved to play out and win; but this move, which he had
considered one of the easiest of all, proved to be the most
unfortunate, or rather unmanageable.
“Now, mother,” said he, “I mean to make a proposal to 'ee, before
going out for the day, so that you may have time to think over it. This
cabin o' yours ain't just the thing, you know,—raither dirty, and too
high in the clouds by a long way, so I've bin an' seen a noo house on
the river, not unlike this one, an' I wants you to shift your berth.
What say 'ee—eh?”
To the Captain's surprise and dismay, the old woman shook her head
decidedly, and no argument which he could bring to bear had the least
effect on her. She had, in fact, got used to her humble old home, and
attached to it, and could not bear the thought of leaving it. Having
exhausted his powers of suasion in vain, he left her to think over it,
and sallied forth crestfallen. However, he consoled himself with the
hope that time and consideration would bring her to a right state of
mind. Meanwhile he would go to the parties interested, and communicate
the contents of Willum's letter.
He went first to Doctor Lawrence, who was delighted as well as
pleased at what it contained. The Captain at first read only the
clauses which affected his friends the Stoutleys, and said nothing
about that which referred to the Doctor himself.
“So you see, Doctor, I'm off to let the Stoutleys know about this
little matter, and just looked in on you in passing.”
“It was very kind of you, Captain.”
“Not at all, by no means,” returned the Captain, pulling out a large
clasp-knife, with which he proceeded carefully to pare his left thumb
nail. “By the way, Doctor,” he said carelessly, “were you ever in
Lawrence flushed, and cast a quick glance at his interrogator, who,
however, was deeply engaged with the thumb nail.
“Well, I suppose men at my time of life,” he replied, with a laugh,
“have had some—”
“Of course—of course,” interrupted the other, “but I mean that I
wonder a strapping young fellow like you, with such a good practice,
don't get married.”
The Doctor, who had recovered himself, laughed, and said that his
good practice was chiefly among the poor, and that even if he wished to
marry—or rather, if any one would have him—he would never attempt to
win a girl while he had nothing better than two hundred a year and
prospects to offer her.
“Then I suppose you WOULD marry if you had something better to
offer,” said the Captain, finishing off the nail and shutting the
clasp-knife with a snap.
Again the Doctor laughed, wondered why the Captain had touched on
such a theme, and said that he couldn't exactly say what he might or
might not do if circumstances were altered.
The Captain was baffled. However, he said that circumstances WERE
altered, and, after reading over the latter part of Willum's letter,
left Lawrence to digest it at his leisure.
We need not follow him on his mission. Suffice it to say that he
carried no small amount of relief to the minds of Mrs. Stoutley and her
household; and, thereafter, met Gillie by appointment at Charing Cross,
whence he went to Kensington to see a villa, with a view to purchasing
At night he again essayed to move Mrs. Roby's resolution, and many a
time afterwards attacked her, but always with the same result.
Although, as he said, he fought like a true-blue British seaman, and
gave her broadside after broadside as fast as he could load and fire,
he made no impression on her whatever. She had nailed her colours to
the mast and would never give in.
Chapter XXIV. IN WHICH TREMENDOUS
FORCES COME TO THE CAPTAIN'S AID.
It is probable that most people can recall occasions when
“circumstances” have done for them that which they have utterly failed
to effect for themselves.
Some time after the failure of Captain Wopper's little plots and
plans in regard to Mrs. Roby, “circumstances” favoured him—the wind
shifted round, so to speak, and blew right astern. To continue our
metaphor, it blew a tremendous gale, and the Captain's ends were gained
at last only by the sinking of the ship!
This is how it happened. One afternoon the Captain was walking
rather disconsolately down the Strand in company with his satellite—we
might almost say, his confidant. The street was very crowded, insomuch
that at one or two crossings they were obliged to stand a few minutes
before venturing over,—not that the difficulty was great, many active
men being seen to dodge among the carts, drays, vans, and busses with
marvellous ease and safety, but the Captain was cautious. He was wont
to say that he warn't used to sail in such crowded waters—there warn't
enough o' sea room for him—he'd rather lay-to, or stand—off-an'-on
for half a day than risk being run down by them shore-goin' crafts.
“Everything in life seems to go wrong at times,” muttered the
Captain, as he and the satellite lay-to at one of these crossings.
“Yes, it's coorious, ain't it, sir,” said Gillie, “an' at other
times everything seems to go right—don't it, sir?”
“True, my lad, that's a better view to take of it,” returned the
Captain, cheerfully, “come, we'll heave ahead.”
As they were “heaving” along in silence, the rattle and noise around
them being unsuited to conversation, they suddenly became aware that
the ordinary din of the Strand swelled into a furious roar. Gillie was
half way up a lamp-post in an instant! from which elevated position he
looked down on the Captain, and said—
“What sort of a ingine, my lad?”
“A fire! hooray!” shouted Gillie, with glittering eyes and flushed
countenance, “look out, Cappen, keep close 'longside o' me, under the
lee o' the lamp-post. It's not a bad buffer, though never quite a sure
one, bein' carried clean away sometimes by the wheels w'en there's a
As he spoke, the most intense excitement was manifested in the
crowded thoroughfare. Whips were flourished, cabmen shouted, horses
reared, vehicles of all kinds scattered right and left even although
there had seemed almost a “block” two seconds before. Timid foot
passengers rushed into shops, bold ones mounted steps and kerb-stones,
or stood on tip-toe, and the Captain, towering over the crowd, saw the
gleam of brass helmets as the charioteer clove his way through the
There is something powerfully exciting to most minds in the sight of
men rushing into violent action, especially when the action may
possibly involve life and death. The natural excitement aroused in the
Captain's breast was increased by the deep bass nautical roar that met
his ear. Every man in the London fire-brigade is, or used to be, a
picked man-of-war's-man, and the shouting necessary in such a
thoroughfare to make people get out of the way was not only tremendous
but unceasing. It was as though a dozen mad “bo's'ns,” capped with
brazen war-helmets, had been let loose on London society, through which
they tore at full gallop behind three powerful horses on a hissing and
smoking monster of brass and iron. A bomb shell from a twenty-five-ton
gun could scarce have cut a lane more effectually. The Captain took off
his hat and cheered in sympathy. The satellite almost dropped from the
lamp-post with excess of feeling. The crash and roar increased,
culminated, rushed past and gone in a moment.
Gillie dropped to the ground as if he had been shot, seized the
Captain's hand, and attempted to drag him along. He might as well have
tried to drag Vesuvius from its base, but the Captain was willing. A
hansom-cab chanced to be in front of them as they dashed into the road,
the driver smoking and cool as a cucumber, being used to such
incidents. He held up a finger.
“Quick, in with you, Cappen!”
Gillie got behind his patron, and in attempting to expedite his
movements with a push, almost sent him out at the other side.
“After the ingine—slap!” yelled Gillie to the face which looked
down through the conversation-hole in the roof, “double extra fare if
you look sharp.”
The cabman was evidently a sympathetic soul. He followed in the wake
of the fire-engine as well as he could; but it was a difficult process,
for, while the world at large made way for IT, nobody cared a straw for
“Ain't it fun?” said Gillie, as he settled his panting little body
on the cushion beside his friend and master.
“Not bad,” responded the Captain, who half laughed at the thought of
being so led away by excitement and a small boy.
“I'd give up all my bright prospects of advancement in life,”
continued Gillie, “to be a fireman. There's no fun goin' equal to a
“P'r'aps it don't seem quite so funny to them as is bein' burnt
out,” suggested the Captain.
“Of course it don't, but that can't be helped, you know—can it,
sir? What can't be cured must be endoored, as the proverb says. Get
along, old fellow, don't spare his ribs—double fare, you know; we'll
lose 'em if you don't.”
The latter part of the remark was shouted through the hole to the
cabman, who however, pulled up instead of complying.
“It's of no use, sir,” he said, looking down at the Captain, “I've
lost sight of 'em.”
Gillie was on the pavement in a moment.
“Never mind, Cappen, give him five bob, an' decline the change; come
along. I see 'em go past the Bridge, so ten to one it's down about the
docks somewheres—the wust place in London for a fire w'ich, of course,
means the best.”
The idea of its being so afforded such unalloyed pleasure to Gillie,
that he found it hard to restrain himself and accommodate his pace to
that of his friend.
It soon became very evident that the fire was in truth somewhere
about the docks, for not only was a dense cloud of smoke seen rising in
that direction, but fire-engines began to dash from side streets
everywhere, and to rush towards the smoke as if they were sentient
things impatient for the fray.
The cause of such unusual vigour and accumulation of power was, that
a fire anywhere about the docks is deemed pre-eminently dangerous,
owing to the great and crowded warehouses being stuffed from cellars to
roof- trees with combustibles. The docks, in regard to fire, form the
citadel of London. If the enemy gets a footing there, he must be
expelled at all hazards and at any cost.
As the Captain and his PROTEGE hurried along, they were naturally
led in the direction of their home. A vague undefined fear at the same
instant took possession of both, for they glanced gravely at each other
without speaking, and, as if by mutual consent, began to run. Gillie
had no need now to complain of his companion's pace. He had enough to
do to keep up with it. There were many runners besides themselves now,
for the fire was obviously near at hand, and the entire population of
the streets seemed to be pressing towards it. A few steps more brought
them in sight of the head of Grubb's Court. Here several fire-engines
were standing in full play surrounded by a swaying mass of human
beings. Still there was no sign of the precise locality of the fires
for the tall houses hid everything from view save the dense cloud which
overshadowed them all.
Even Captain Wopper's great strength would have been neutralised in
such a crowd if it had not now been seconded by an excitement and
anxiety that nothing could resist. He crushed his way through as if he
had been one of the steam fire-engines, Gillie holding tight to the
stout tails of his monkey jacket. Several powerful roughs came in his
way, and sought to check him. The Captain had hitherto merely used his
shoulders and his weight. To the roughs he applied a fist—right and
left—and two went down. A few seconds brought him to the cordon of
policemen. They had seen him approaching, and one placed himself in
front of the Captain with the quiet air of a man who is accustomed
NEVER to give way to physical force!
“I live down Grubb's Court, my man,” said the Captain, with an eager
respectful air, for he was of a law-abiding spirit.
The constable stepped aside, and nodded gravely. The Captain passed
the line, but Gillie was pounced upon as if he had been a mouse and the
constable a cat.
“HE belongs to me,” cried the Captain, turning back on hearing
Gillie's yell of despair.
The boy was released, and both flew down the Court, on the pavement
of which the snake-like water-hose lay spirting at its seams.
“It's in the cabin,” said the Captain, in a low deep voice, as he
dashed into the Court, where a crowd of firemen were toiling with cool,
quiet, yet tremendous energy. No crowd interrupted them here, save the
few frantic inhabitants of the Court, who were screaming advice and
doing nothing; but no attention whatever was paid to them. A foreman of
the brigade stood looking calmly upwards engaged in low- toned
conversation with a brother fireman, as if they were discussing
theories of the picturesque and beautiful with special application to
chimney-cans, clouds of smoke, and leaping tongues of fire.
Immense engine power had been brought to bear, and one of the
gigantic floating-engines of the Thames had got near enough to shower
tons of water over the buildings, still it was a matter of uncertainty
whether the fire could be confined to the Court where it had
The result of the foreman's quiet talk was that the brother-fireman
suddenly seized a nozzle from a comrade, and made a dash at the door
leading up to “the cabin.” Flames and smoke drove him back instantly.
It was at this moment that Captain Wopper came on the scene. Without
a moment's hesitation he rushed towards the same door. The foreman
seized his arm.
“It's of no use, sir, you can't do it.”
The Captain shook him off and sprang in. A few seconds and he rushed
out choking, scorched, and with his eyes starting almost out of their
“It is of no use, sir,” remonstrated the foreman, “besides, the
people have all bin got out, I'm told.”
“No, they 'aven't,” cried Mrs. White, coming up at the moment,
frantically wringing the last article of linen on which she had been
professionally engaged, “Mrs. Roby's there yet.”
“All right, sir,” said the foreman, with that quiet comforting
intonation which is peculiar to men of power, resource, and self-reliance, “come to the back. The escape will be up immediately. It
couldn't get down the Court, owin' to some masonry that was piled
there, and had to be sent round.”
Quick to understand, the Captain followed the fireman, and reached
the back of the house, on the riverside, just as the towering head of
the escape emerged from a flanking alley.
“This way. The small window on the right at the top—so.”
The ladder was barely placed when the Captain sprang upon it and ran
up as, many a time before, he had run up the shrouds of his own vessel.
A cheer from the crowd below greeted this display of activity, but it
was changed into a laugh when the Captain, finding the window shut and
bolted, want into the room head first, carrying frame and glass along
with him! Divesting himself of the uncomfortable necklace, he looked
hastily round. The smoke was pretty thick, but not sufficiently so to
prevent his seeing poor Mrs. Roby lying on the floor as if she had
fallen down suffocated.
“Cheer up, old lass,” he cried, kneeling and raising her head
“Is that you, Cappen?” said the old woman, in a weak voice.
“Come, we've no time to lose. Let me lift you; the place is all
alight. I thought you was choked.”
“Choked! oh dear, no,” replied the old woman, “but I've always heard
that in a fire you should keep your face close to the ground for air—
Ah! gently, Cappen, dear!”
While she was speaking, the Captain was getting her tucked under his
strong right arm. He could have whisked her on his shoulder in a
moment, but was afraid of her poor old bones, and treated her as if she
had been a fragile China tea-cup of great value.
Next moment he was out on the escape, and reached the ground amid
ringing cheers. He carried her at once to the nearest place of safety,
and, committing her to the care of Mrs. White, rushed back to the scene
of conflagration just as they were about to remove the escape.
“Stop!” shouted the Captain, springing on it.
“There's nobody else up, is there?” cried a fireman, as the Captain
“Come down then, directly,” roared the fireman, “the escape is
wanted elsewhere. Come down, I say, or we'll leave you.”
“You're welcome to leave me,” roared the Captain, as he stepped into
the window, “only hold your noise, an' mind your own business.”
With a mingled feeling of amusement and indignation they hurried
away with the escape. It had been urgently wanted to reach a commanding
position whence to assail the fire. The order to send it was
peremptory, so the Captain was left in his uncomfortable situation,
with the smoke increasing around him, and the fire roaring underneath.
The actions of our seaman were now curious as well as prompt. Taking
a blanket from his old friend's bed, he spread it below the chimney-piece, and in a remarkably short time pulled down, without damaging,
every object on the wall and threw it into the blanket. He then added
to the heap the Chinese lantern, the Turkish scimitar, the New Zealand
club, the Eastern shield, the ornamented dagger, the worsted work
sampler, the sou'-wester, the oiled coat, the telescope, the framed
sheet of the flags of all nations, and the small portrait of the sea-captain in his “go-to-meetin'“ clothes; also the big Bible and a very
small box, which latter contained Mrs. Roby's limited wardrobe. He tied
all up in a tight bundle. A coil of rope hung on a peg on the wall. The
bundle was fastened to the end of it and lowered to the ground, amid a
fire of remarks from the crowd, which were rather caustic and humorous
“Gillie,” shouted the Captain, “cast off the rope, lad, and look
well after the property.”
“Ay, ay, Cappen,” replied the youth, taking up a thick cart-pin, or
something of the sort, that lay near, and mounting guard.
There was another laugh, from crowd and firemen, at the nautical
brevity and promptitude of Gillie.
At every large fire in London there may be seen a few firemen
standing about in what an ignorant spectator might imagine to be easy
indifference and idleness, but these men are not idlers. They are
resting. The men who first arrive at a fire go into action with the
utmost vigour, and toil until their powers are nearly—sometimes quite
—exhausted. As time passes fresh men are continually arriving from the
more distant stations. These go into action as they come up, thus
relieving the others, who stand aloof for a time looking on, or doing
easy work, and recruiting their energies. It was these men who watched
the Captain's proceedings with much amusement while their comrades were
doing battle with the foe.
Presently the Captain reappeared at the window and lowered a huge
sea- chest. A third time he appeared with the model of a full-rigged
ship in his hand. This time he let the end of the rope down, and then
getting over the window, slid easily to the ground.
“You're uncommon careful o' your property,” exclaimed one of the
onlookers, with a broad grin.
“'Taint all MY property, lad,” replied the Captain, with a good-humoured nod, “most of it is a poor old 'ooman's belongings.”
So saying, he got a man to carry his sea-chest, himself shouldered
the bundle, Gillie was intrusted with the full-rigged model, and thus
laden they left the scene followed by another laugh and a hearty cheer.
But our bluff seaman was not content with rescuing Mrs. Roby and her
property. He afterwards proceeded to lend his effective aid to all who
desired his assistance, and did not cease his exertions until evening,
by which time the fire was happily subdued.
“She must not be moved to-night Captain,” said Dr. Lawrence, for
whom Gillie had been sent; “the place where she lies is doubtless far
from comfortable, but I have got her to sleep, and it would be a pity
to awake her. To-morrow we shall get her into more comfortable
“Could she bear movin' to-morrow, a mile or so?” asked the Captain.
“Certainly, but there is no occasion to go so far. Lodgings are to
“All right, Doctor; I've got a lodging ready for her, and will ask
you to come an' have pot-luck with us before long. Gillie, my lad, you
go hail a cab, and then come back to lend a hand wi' the cargo.”
In a few minutes the pair were whirling towards the west end of
London, and were finally landed with their “cargo” on the banks of the
Thames above the bridges, near the new building which Captain Wopper
had named, after its prototype, “the cabin.”
To fit this up after the fashion of the old place was a
comparatively short and easy work for two such handy labourers. Before
they left that night it was so like its predecessor in all respects,
except dirt, that both declared it to be the “identical same craft, in
shape and rig, even to the little bed and curtains.” Next afternoon
Mrs. Roby was brought to it by Captain Wopper, in a specially easy
carriage hired for the purpose.
The poor old woman had received more of a shock than she was willing
to admit, and did exactly as she was bid, with many a sigh, however, at
the thought of having been burnt out of the old home. She was carried
up the stair in a chair by two porters, and permitted the Captain to
draw a thick veil over her head to conceal, as he said, her blushes
from the men. He also took particular care to draw the curtains of the
bed close round her after she had been laid in it and then retired to
allow her to be disrobed by Netta, who had been obtained from Mrs.
Stoutley on loan expressly for the occasion.
Much of this care to prevent her seeing the place that day, however,
was unnecessary. The poor old creature was too much wearied by the
short journey to look at anything. After partaking of a little tea and
toast she fell into a quiet sleep, which was not broken till late on
the following morning.
Her first thought on waking was the fire. Her second, the Captain.
He was in the room, she knew, because he was whistling in his usual low
tone while moving about the fireplace preparing breakfast. She glanced
at the curtains; her own curtains certainly,—and the bed too! Much
surprised, she quietly put out her thin hand and drew the curtain
slightly aside. The Captain in his shirt sleeves, as usual, preparing
buttered toast, the fireplace, the old kettle with the defiant spout
singing away as defiantly as ever, the various photographs, pot-lids,
and other ornaments above the fireplace, the two little windows
commanding an extensive prospect of the sky from the spot where she
lay, the full-rigged ship, the Chinese lantern hanging from the beam—
everything just as it should be!
“Well, well,” thought Mrs. Roby, with a sigh of relief; “the fire
must have been a dream after all! but what a vivid one!”
She coughed. The Captain was at her side instantly.
“Slept well, old girl?”
“Very well, thank you. I've had such a queer dream, d'you know?”
“Have you? Take your breakfast, mother, before tellin' it. It's all
ready—there, fire away.”
“It WAS such a vivid one,” she resumed, when half through her third
cup, “all about a fire, and you were in it too.”
Here she proceeded to relate her dream with the most circumstantial
care. The Captain listened with patient attention till she had
finished, and then said—
“It was no dream, mother. It's said that the great fire of London
was a real blessin' to the city. The last fire in London will, I hope,
be a blessin' to you an' me. It was real enough and terrible too, but
through God's mercy you have been saved from it. I managed to save your
little odds and ends too. This is the noo `cabin,' mother, that you
wouldn't consent to come to. Something like the old one, ain't it?”
Mrs. Roby spoke never a word, but looked round the room in
bewilderment. Taking the Captain's hand she kissed it, and gazed at him
and the room until she fell asleep. Awaking again in half an hour, she
finished her breakfast, asked for the old Bible, and, declaring herself
content, fell straightway into her old ways and habits.
Chapter XXV. AN UNEXPECTED GEM
Although Lewis Stoutley found it extremely difficult to pursue his
studies with the profusely illustrated edition of medical works at his
command, he nevertheless persevered with a degree of calm, steady
resolution which might be almost styled heroic. To tear out the
illustrations was impossible, for Nita's portrait was stamped on every
page, compelling him to read the letterpress through it. Success,
however, attended his labours, for he not only carried out the regular
course, but he attached himself to the poor district of the “moraine"
which had been appropriated as their own by his mother and Emma, who
ministered to the bodies of the sick while they sought to bring their
souls to the Good Physician. This professional work he did as a sort of
amateur, being only a student under the guidance of his friend
Lawrence, whose extending practice included that district. It happened
also to be the district in which Mrs. Roby's new “cabin” was situated.
These labourers, in what Dr. Tough had styled the London gold
fields, not only did good to the people, and to themselves in the
prosecution of them, but resulted occasionally in their picking up a
nugget, or a diamond, which was quite a prize. One such was found by
Lewis about this time, which, although sadly dim and soiled when first
discovered, proved to be such a precious and sparkling gem that he
resolved to wear it himself. He and Emma one day paid a visit to the
cabin, where they found old Mrs. Roby alone, and had a long chat with
her, chiefly about the peculiarities of the Captain and his boy.
“By the way,” said Mrs. Roby to Lewis, when they rose to go, “a poor
woman was here just before you came, askin' if I knew where she could
find a doctor, for her father, she said, was very ill. The two have
come to live in a room near the foot of this stair, it seems, and they
appear to be very poor. I could not give her Dr. Lawrence's new
address, for I don't know it, so I advised her to apply to the nearest
chemist. Perhaps, Mr. Lewis, you'll go yourself and see the poor man?”
“Willingly, and I shall myself call for Lawrence on my way home and
send him, if necessary. Come, Emma. Perhaps this may be a case for the
exercise of your philanthropy.”
They soon found the place, and knocked at a low door, which was
slowly opened by a middle aged woman, meanly clad and apparently very
“Ah, sir, you're too late, he's dead,” said the woman, in reply to
“O how sad!” broke from Emma's sympathetic spirit, “I am SO sorry we
are too late. Did you find a doctor?”
“No, ma'am, I didn't, but the chemist gave me the address of one, so
I ran back to tell the poor young thing that I'd go fetch one as quick
as I could, and I found him just dying in her arms.”
“In whose arms? are not you the daughter—” said Emma.
“Me, miss! oh dear, no. I'm only a neighbour.”
“Has she any friends?” asked Lewis.
“None as I knows of. They are strangers here—only just came to the
room. There it is,” she added, stepping back and pointing to an inner
Lewis advanced and knocked, but received no answer. He knocked
again. Still no answer. He therefore ventured to lift the latch and
It was a miserable, ill-lighted room, of small size and destitute of
all furniture save a truckle bed, a heap of clean straw in a corner, on
which lay a black shawl, a deal chair, and a small table. Abject
poverty was stamped on the whole place. On the bed lay the dead man,
covered with a sheet. Beside it kneeled, or rather lay, the figure of a
woman. Her dress was a soiled and rusty black. Her hair, fallen from
its fastenings, hung dishevelled on her shoulders. Her arms clasped the
“My poor woman,” whispered Emma, as she knelt beside her, and put a
hand timidly on her shoulder.
But the woman made no answer.
“She has fainted, I think,” exclaimed Emma, rising quickly and
trying to raise the woman's head. Suddenly Lewis uttered a great cry,
lifted the woman in his arms, and gazed wildly into her face.
“Nita!” he cried, passionately clasping her to his heart and
covering the poor faded face with kisses; but Nita heard not. It seemed
as if the silver chord had already snapped. Becoming suddenly aware of
the impropriety as well as selfishness of his behaviour, Lewis hastily
bore the inanimate form to the heap of straw, pillowed the small head
on the old shawl, and began to chafe the hands while Emma aided him to
restore consciousness. They were soon successful. Nita heaved a sigh.
“Now, Emma,” said Lewis, rising, “this is YOUR place just now, I
will go and fetch something to revive her.”
He stopped for one moment at the bed in passing, and lifted the
sheet. There was no mistaking the handsome face of the Count even in
death. It was terribly thin, but the lines of sorrow and anxiety were
gone at last from the marble brow, and a look of rest pervaded the
On returning, Lewis found that Nita had thrown her arms round Emma's
neck and was sobbing violently. She looked up as he entered, and held
out her hand. “God has sent you,” she said, looking at Emma, “to save
my heart from breaking.”
Lewis again knelt beside her and put her hand to his lips, but he
had no power to utter a word. Presently, as the poor girl's eye fell on
the bed, there was a fresh outburst of grief. “Oh, how he loved me!—
and how nobly he fought!—and how gloriously he conquered!—God be
praised for that!”
She spoke, or rather sobbed, in broken sentences. To distract her
mind, if possible, even for a little, from her bereavement, Emma
ventured to ask her how she came there, when her father became so ill,
and similar questions. Little by little, in brief sentences, and with
many choking words and tears, the sad story came out.
Ever since the night when her father met with Lewis at Saxon, he had
firmly resisted the temptation to gamble. God had opened his ear to
listen to, and his heart to receive, the Saviour. Arriving in London
with the money so generously lent to them by Lewis, they took a small
lodging and sought for work. God was faithful to His promises, she
said; he had sent a measure of prosperity. Her father taught music, she
obtained needlework. All was going well when her father became suddenly
ill. Slowly but steadily he sank. The teaching had to be given up, the
hours of labour with the needle increased. This, coupled with constant
nursing, began to sap her own strength, but she had been enabled to
hold out until her father became so ill that she dared not leave him
even for a few minutes to visit the shops where she had obtained
sewing-work. Then, all source of livelihood being dried up, she had
been compelled to sell one by one the few articles of clothing and
furniture which they had begun to accumulate about them.
“Thus,” she said, in conclusion, “we were nearly reduced to a state
of destitution, but, before absolute want had been felt by us, God
mercifully took my darling father home—and—and—I shall soon join
“Say not so, darling,” said Emma, twining her arms round the poor
stricken girl. “It may be that He has much work for you to do for Jesus
HERE before He takes you home. Meanwhile, He has sent us to claim you
as our very dear friend—as our sister. You must come and stay with
mamma and me. We, too, have tasted something of that cup of adversity,
which you have drained to the very dregs, my poor Nita, but we are
comparatively well off now. Mamma will be so glad to have you. Say you
will come. Won't you, dearest?”
Nita replied by lifting her eyes with a bewildered look to the bed,
and again burst into a passion of uncontrollable sorrow.
Chapter XXVI. THE DENOUEMENT.
Being naturally a straightforward man, and not gifted with much
power in the way of plotting and scheming, Captain Wopper began in time
to discover that he had plunged his mental faculties into a
disagreeable state of confusion.
“Gillie, my lad,” he said, looking earnestly at his satellite while
they walked one afternoon along the Bayswater road in the direction of
Kensington, “it's a bad business altogether.”
Gillie, not having the smallest idea what the Captain referred to,
admitted that it was “wery bad indeed,” but suggested that “it might be
“It's such a perplexin' state o' things,” pursued the Captain, “to
be always bouncin' up an' down wi' hopes, an' fears, an'
disappointments, like a mad barometer, not knowin' rightly what's what
or who's who.”
“Uncommon perplexin',” assented Gillie. “If I was you, Cappen, I'd
heave the barometer overboard along wi' the main-deck, nail yer colours
to the mast, cram the rudder into the lee-scuppers, kick up your
flyin'-jib-boom into the new moon, an' go down stern foremost like a
“Ha!” said the Captain, with a twinkle in the corner of his
“weather- eye,” “not a bad notion.”
“Now, my lad, I'm goin' out to my villa at Kensington to dine.
There's to be company, too, an' you're to be waiter—”
“Stooard, you mean?”
“Well, yes—stooard. Now, stooard, you'll keep a good look-out, an'
clap as tight a stopper on yer tongue as may be. I've got a little plot
in hand, d'ee see, an' I want you to help me with it. Keep your eye in
a quiet way on Dr. Lawrence and Miss Gray. I've taken a fancy that
perhaps they may be in love with each other. You just let me have your
opinion on that pint after dinner, but have a care that you don't show
what you're up to, and, whatever you do, don't be cheeky.”
“All right,” said the stooard, thrusting both hands into his
trouser- pockets; “I'll do my best.”
While these two were slowly wending their way through Kensington
Gardens, Emma Gray arrived at the Captain's villa—California Cottage,
he called it—and rang the bell. The gate was opened by Netta White,
who, although not much bigger than when first introduced to the reader,
was incomparably more beautiful and smart. Mrs. Stoutley had reason to
be proud of her.
“I did not know that YOU were to be here, Netta?” said Emma, in
surprise, as she entered.
“It was a very sudden call, Miss,” said Netta, with a smile.
“Captain Wopper wrote a note to me, begging me to ask Mrs. Stoutley to
be so good as lend me to him for a day to help at his house-warming.
Here is the letter, Miss.”
Emma laughed as she glanced carelessly at the epistle, but became
suddenly grave, turned white, then red, and, snatching the letter from
the girl's hand, gazed at it intently.
“La! Miss, is anything wrong?”
“May I keep this?” asked Emma.
“Certainly, Miss, if you wish it.”
Before she could say anything more, they were interrupted by the
entrance of Dr. Lawrence. With a surprised look and smile he said—
“I have been invited to dine with our friend Captain Wopper, but did
not anticipate the pleasure of meeting Miss Gray here.”
Emma explained that she also had been invited to dine with the
Captain, along with her mother and brother, but had supposed that that
was all the party, as he, the Captain, had mentioned no one else, and
had been particular in begging her to come an hour before the time, for
the purpose of going over his new villa with him, and giving him her
private opinion of it.
“I am punctual,” she added, consulting her watch; “it is just four
“Four! Then what is the dinner hour?”
“Five,” answered Emma.
“The Captain's wits must have been wool-gathering,” rejoined
Lawrence, with a laugh. “He told me to come punctually at four.
However, I rejoice in the mistake, as it gives me the great pleasure of
assisting you to form an unprejudiced opinion of the merits of the new
villa. Shall we begin with an exploration of the garden?”
Emma had no cause to blush at such an innocent proposal,
nevertheless a richer colour than usual mantled on her modest little
face as she fell in with the Doctor's humour and stepped out into the
small piece of ground behind the house.
It was of very limited extent and, although not surrounded too
closely by other villas, was nevertheless thoroughly overlooked by
them, so that seclusion in that garden was impossible. Recognising this
fact, a former proprietor had erected at the lower end of the garden a
bower so contrived that its interior was invisible from all points
except one, and that was a side door to the garden which opened on a
little passage by which coals, milk, meat, and similar substances were
conveyed from the front to the rear of the house.
Dr. Lawrence and Emma walked round and round the garden very slowly,
conversing earnestly. Strange to say, they quite forgot the object
which had taken them there. Their talk was solely of Switzerland. As it
continued, the Doctor's voice deepened in tones and interest, and his
fair companion's cheek deepened in colour. Suddenly they turned into
the bower. As they did so, Gillie White chanced to appear at the garden
door above referred to, which stood ajar. The spider's countenance was
a speaking one. During the five minutes which it appeared in the
doorway, it, and the body belonging to it, became powerfully eloquent.
It might have conveyed to one's mind, as it were, a series of TABLEAUX
VIVANTS. Gillie's first look was as if he had been struck dumb with
amazement (that was Lawrence suddenly seizing one of Emma's hands in
both of his and looking intently into her face). Then Gillie's look of
amazement gave place to one of intense, quite touching—we might almost
say sympathetic—anxiety as he placed a hand on each knee and stooped
(that was the Doctor's right hand stealing round Emma's waist, and Emma
shrinking from him with averted face). The urchin's visage suddenly
lighted up with a blaze of triumph, and he seized his cap as if about
to cheer (that was the Doctor's superior strength prevailing, and
Emma's head, now turned the other way, laid on his shoulder). All at
once Gillie went into quiet convulsions, grinned from ear to ear,
doubled himself up, slapped his thigh inaudibly—A LA Captain Wopper
—and otherwise behaved like an outrageous, yet self-restrained, maniac
(that was—well, we have no right to say what THAT was). As a faithful
chronicler, however, we must report that one-half minute later the
stooard found Captain Wopper in the villa drawing-room, and there
stated to him that it was “hall right; that he didn't need for to
perplex hisself about Doctor Lawrence and Miss Hemma Gray, for that
they was as good as spliced already, having been seen by him, Gillie,
in the bower at the end of the garding a-blushin' and a-” Here the
spider stopped short and went into another fit of convulsions—this
Is it necessary to say that Captain Wopper sat at the foot of his
own table that day—Mrs. Stoutley being at the head—with his rugged
visage radiant and his powerful voice explosive; that he told
innumerable sea-stories without point, and laughed at them without
propriety; that, in the excess of his hilarity, he drank a mysterious
toast to the success of all sorts of engagements, present and future;
that he called Mrs. Stoutley (in joke) sister, and Emma and Lewis (also
in joke) niece and neffy; that he called Doctor Lawrence neffy, too,
with a pointedness and a sense of its being the richest possible joke,
that covered with confusion the affianced pair; and with surprise the
rest of the company; that he kicked the stooard amicably out of the
room for indulging in explosions of laughter behind his chair, and
recommending him, the Captain, to go it strong, and to clap on sail
till he should tear the mast out of 'er, or git blowed on his
beam-ends; that the stooard returned unabashed to repeat the offence
unreproved; that towards the end, the Captain began a long-winded
graphic story which served to show how his good friend and chum Willum
Stout in Callyforny had commissioned him to buy and furnish a villa for
the purpose of presenting it to a certain young lady in token of his
gratitood to her for bein' such a good and faithful correspondent to
him, Willum, while he was in furrin' parts; also, how he was
commissioned to buy and furnish another villa and present it to a
certain doctor whose father had saved him from drownin' long long ago,
he would not say HOW long ago; and how that this villa, in which they
was feedin', was one of the said villas, and that he found it quite
unnecessary to spend any more of Willum's hard-earned gains in the
purchase of the other villa, owing to circumstances which had took
place in a certain bower that very day! Is it necessary, we again ask,
to detail all this? We think not; therefore, we won't.
When reference was made to the bower, Emma could stand, or sit, it
no longer. She rose hastily and ran blushing into the garden. Captain
Wopper uttered a thunderous laugh, rose and ran after her. He found her
in the bower with her face in her hands, and sat down beside her.
“Captain Wopper,” she suddenly exclaimed, looking up and drawing a
note from her pocket, “do you know this?”
“Yes, duckie,” (the Captain was quite reckless now), “it's my last
billy-doo to Netta White. I never was good at pot-hooks and hangers.”
“And do you know THIS letter?” said Emma, holding up to the seaman's
eyes her uncle William's last letter to herself.
The Captain looked surprised, then became suddenly red and confused.
“W'y—ye-es, it's Willum's, ain't it?”
“The same pot-hooks and hangers PRECISELY!” said Emma, “are they
not? Oh!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms round the Captain's neck and
kissing him, “uncle William, how COULD you deceive us so?”
The Captain, to use his own expressions, was taken aback—fairly
brought up all standin'.
It had never occurred to his innocent mind that he should commit
himself so simply. He felt an unconquerable objection to expressions of
gratitude, and perceiving, with deep foresight that such were
impending, his first impulse was to rise and fly, but Emma's kiss made
him change his mind. He returned it in kind but not in degree, for it
caused the bower to resound as with a pistol shot.
“Oh! wot a cracker, ain't it just? you're a nice man, ain't you, to
go poachin' on other fellers—”
The Captain seized his opportunity, he broke from Emma and dashed
wildly at the spider, who incontinently fled down the conduit for
coals, cheering with the fury of a victorious Ashantee chief!
Chapter XXVII. THE LAST.
Humbly confessing to Emma Gray that he had no talent whatever for
plotting, Captain Wopper went off with a deprecatory expression of
countenance to reveal himself to Mrs. Roby. Great was his anxiety. He
entered her presence like a guilty thing. If, however, his anxiety was
great, his surprise and consternation were greater when she received
his revelation with tears, and for some time refused to be comforted!
The workings of the human mind are wonderful. Sometimes they are, as
the Captain said, bamboozling. If analysed it might have been
discovered that, apart altogether from the shock of unexpectedness and
the strain on her credulity, poor Mrs. Roby suffered—without clearly
understanding it—from a double loss. She had learned to love Captain
Wopper for his own sake, and now Captain Wopper was lost to her in
William Stout! On the other hand William, her darling, her smooth-faced chubby boy, was lost to her for ever in the hairy savage Captain
Wopper! It was perplexing as well as heart-rending. Captain Wopper was
gone, because, properly, there was no such being in existence. William
Stout was gone because he would never write to her any more, and could
never more return to her from California!
It was of no use that the Captain expressed the deepest contrition
for the deception he had practised, urging that he had done it “for the
best;” the old woman only wept the more; but when, in desperation, the
Captain hauled taut the sheets of his intellect, got well to wind'ard
of the old 'ooman an' gave her a broadside of philosophy, he was more
“Mother,” he said, earnestly, “you don't feel easy under this
breeze, 'cause why? you're entirely on the wrong tack. Ready about now,
an' see what a change it'll make. Look 'ee here. You've GAINED us both
instead of lost us both. Here am I, Willum Stout yours to command, a
trifle stouter, it may be, and hairier than I once was, not to say
older, but by a long chalk better able to love the old girl who took me
in, an' befriended me when I was a reg'lar castaway, with dirty weather
brewin', an' the rocks o' destitootion close under my lee; and who'll
never forget your kindness, no never, so long as two timbers of the old
hulk hold together. Well then, that's the view over the starboard
bulwarks. Cast your eyes over to port now. Here am I, Captain Wopper,
also yours to command, strong as a horse, as fond o' you as if you was
my own mother, an' resolved to stick by you through thick and thin to
the last. So you see, you've got us both—Willum an' me—me an' Willum,
both of us lovin' you like blazes an' lookin' arter you like dootiful
sons. A double tide of affection, so to speak, flowin' like strong
double-stout from the beer barrel out of which you originally drew me,
if I may say so. Ain't you convinced?”
Mrs. Roby WAS convinced. She gave in, and lived for many years
afterwards in the full enjoyment of the double blessing which had thus
fallen to her lot in the evening of her days.
And here, good reader, we might close our tale; but we cannot do so
without a few parting words in reference to the various friends in
whose company we have travelled so long.
Of course it is unnecessary to say, (especially to our lady readers,
who were no doubt quite aware of it from the beginning), that Lawrence
and Emma, Lewis and Nita, were, in the course of time, duly married.
The love of their respective wives for each other induced the husbands
not only to dwell in adjoining villas, but to enter into a medical co-partnery, in the prosecution of which they became professionally the
deities, and, privately, the adored of a large population of invalids
—with their more or less healthy friends—in the salubrious
neighbourhood of Kensington. To go about “doing good” was the business,
and became the second nature, of the young doctors. It was long a
matter of great surprise to not a few of their friends that though
Lawrence and Lewis neither smoked nor drank, they were uncommonly
healthy and apparently happy! Some caustic spirits asserted that they
were sure budding wings were to be found on the shoulders of the two
doctors, but we are warranted in asserting, on the best authority, that
on a strict examination, nothing of the kind was discovered. Need we
say that Emma and Nita were pattern wives? Of course not, therefore we
won't say it. Our reticence on this point will no doubt be acceptable
to those who, being themselves naughty, don't believe in or admire
“patterns,” even though these be of “heavenly things.” It is
astonishing, though, what an effect their so- called “perfection” had
in tightening the bonds of matrimony. Furthermore, they had immense
families of sons and daughters, insomuch that it became necessary to
lengthen their cords and strengthen their stakes, and “Calyforny Villa"
became a mere band-box compared to the mansions which they ultimately
Mrs. Stoutley having managed to get entirely out of HERSELF—chiefly
by means of the Bible and the London gold-fields and moraines—became
so amiable and so unlike her former self, and, withal, so healthy and
cheery, that the two great families of Stoutley and Lawrence went to
war for possession of her.
The feud at last threatened to become chronic, and was usually
carried to an excess of virulence about Christmas and New Year time. In
order, therefore, to the establishment of peace, Mrs. Stoutley agreed
to live one-half of the year with Lewis, and the other half with
Lawrence—Lewis to have the larger half as a matter of course; but she
retained her cottage in Notting Hill and her maid Netta White, with the
right to retire at any moment, when the exigencies of the gold-fields
or the moraines demanded special attention; or when the excess of
juvenile life in the mansions before mentioned became too much for her.
On these occasions of retirement which, to say truth, were not very
frequent, she was accompanied by Netta White—for Netta loved her
mistress and clave to her as Ruth to Naomi. Being a native of the
“fields,” she was an able and sympathetic guide and adviser at all
times, and nothing pleased Netta better than a visit to Grubb's Court,
for there she saw the blessed fruit of diamond and gold digging
illustrated in the person of her own reformed father and happy mother,
who had removed from their former damp rooms on the ground floor to the
more salubrious apartments among the chimney pots, which had been
erected on the site of the “cabin” after “the fire.” Directly below
them, in somewhat more pretentious apartments, shone another rescued
diamond in the person of Fred Leven. He was now the support and comfort
of his old mother as well as of a pretty little young woman who had
loved him even while he was a drunkard, and who, had it been otherwise
decreed, would have gone on loving him and mourning over him and
praying for him till he was dead. In her case, however, the mourning
had been turned into joy.
In process of time Gillie White, ALIAS the spider, became a sturdy,
square-set, active little man, and was promoted to the position of
coachman in the family of Lewis Stoutley. Susan Quick served in the
same family in the capacity of nurse for many years, and, being
naturally thrown much into the society of the young coachman, was
finally induced to cement the friendship which had begun in Switzerland
by a wedding. This wedding, Gillie often declared to Susan, with much
earnestness, was the “stunninest ewent that had ever occurred to him in
his private capacity as a man.”
There is a proverb which asserts that “it never rains but it pours.”
This proverb was verified in the experience of the various personages
of our tale, for soon after the tide of fortune had turned in their
favour, the first showers of success swelled into absolute cataracts of
prosperity. Among other things, the Gowrong mines suddenly went right.
Mrs. Stoutley's former man of business, Mr. Temple, called one day, and
informed her that her shares in that splendid undertaking had been
purchased, on her behalf, by a friend who had faith in the ultimate
success of the mines; that the friend forbade the mention of his name;
and that he, Mr. Temple, had called to pay her her dividends, and to
congratulate her on her recovery of health and fortune. Dr. Tough—who,
when his services were no longer required, owing to the absence of
illness, had continued his visits as a jovial friend—chanced to call
at the same time with Mr. Temple, and added his congratulations to
those of the man of business, observing, with enthusiasm, that the air
of the Swiss mountains, mixed in equal parts with that of the London
diamond-fields, would cure any disease under the sun. His former
patient heartily agreed with him, but said that the medicine in
question was not a mere mixture but a chemical compound, containing an
element higher than the mountains and deeper than the diamond-fields,
without which the cure would certainly not have been effected.
Need we say that Captain Wopper stuck to Mrs. Roby and the “new
cabin” to the last? Many and powerful efforts were made to induce him
to bring his “mother” to dwell in Kensington, but Mrs. Roby flatly
refused to move again under any suasion less powerful than that of a
fire. The eldest of Lewis Stoutley's boys therefore hit on a plan for
frequent and easy inter-communication. He one day suggested the idea of
a boating-club to his brothers and companions. The proposal was
received with wild enthusiasm. The club was established, and a
boathouse, with all its nautical appurtenances, was built under the
very shadow of Mrs. Roby's dwelling. A trusty “diamond” from Grubb's
Court was made boat-cleaner and repairer and guardian of the keys, and
Captain Wopper was created superintendent general director, chairman,
honorary member, and perpetual grand master of the club, in which
varied offices he continued to give unlimited satisfaction to the end
of his days.
As for Slingsby, he became an aspirant to the honours of the Royal
Academy, and even dreamt of the president's chair! Not being a madman,
he recovered from the disease of blighted hopes, and discovered that
there were other beings as well as Nita worth living for! He also
became an intimate and welcome visitor at the two Kensington mansions,
the walls of which were largely decorated with his productions. Whether
he succeeded in life to the full extent of his hopes we cannot say, but
we have good reason to believe that he did not entirely fail.
From time to time Lewis heard of his old guide Antoine Grennon from
friends who at various periods paid a visit to the glaciers of
Switzerland, and more than once, in after years, he and his family were
led by that prince of guides over the old romantic and familiar ground,
where things were not so much given to change as in other regions;
where the ice-rivers flowed with the same aspects, the same frozen
currents, eddies, and cataracts as in days gone by; where the elderly
guides were replaced by youthful guides of the same type and metal
—ready to breast the mountain slopes and scale the highest peaks at a
moment's notice; and where Antoine's cottage stood unchanged, with a
pretty and rather stout young woman usually kneeling in a tub, engaged
in the destruction of linen, and a pretty little girl, who called her
“mother,” busy with a miniature washing of her own. The only difference
being that the child called Antoine “grandfather,” and appeared to
regard a strapping youth who dwelt there as her sire, and a remarkably
stout but handsome middle aged woman as her grandmother.
Last, but not least, the Professor claims a parting word. Little,
however, is known as to the future career of the genial man of science,
one of whose chief characteristics was his reverent recognition of God
in conversing about His works. After returning to his home in the cold
north he corresponded for some years with Dr. Lawrence, and never
failed to express his warmest regard for the friends with whom he had
the good fortune to meet while in Switzerland. He was particularly
emphatic—we might almost say enthusiastic—in his expressions of
regard for Captain Wopper, expressions and sentiments which the bold
mariner heartily reciprocated, and he often stated to Mrs. Roby, over
an afternoon cup of tea, his conviction that that Roosian Professor was
out o' sight one of the best fellows he had ever met with, and that the
remembrance of him warmed his heart to furriners in general and
Roosians in particular. This remark usually had the effect of inducing
Mrs. Roby to ask some question about his, the Captain's, intercourse
with the Professor, which question invariably opened the flood-gates of
the Captain's memory, and drew from him prolonged and innumerable
“yarns” about his visit to the Continent—yarns which are too long to
be set down here, for the Captain never tired of relating, and old Mrs.
Roby never wearied of listening, to his memorable rambles on the snow-capped mountains, and his strange adventures among the—Rivers of Ice.