Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 344
Publication Date: 1891
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A tense mystery about a group of English people who are in the Swiss Alps, looking for some particular crystals. But someone else is also on the mountain, and he is just as interested in what they are up to, and what they find, as they are themselves.
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“Steady there! Stop! Hold hard!”
“What’s the matter, Mr Dale?”
“Matter, Saxe, my boy? Well, this. I undertook to take you back to your father and mother some day, sound in wind and limb; but if you begin like that, the trip’s over, and we shall have to start back for England in less than a week—at least, I shall, with my luggage increased by a case containing broken boy.”
There was a loud burst of hearty laughter from the manly-looking lad addressed, as he stood, with his hands clinging and his head twisted round, to look back: for he had spread-eagled himself against a nearly perpendicular scarp of rock which he had begun to climb, so as to reach a patch of wild rhododendrons.
There was another personage present, in the shape of a sturdy, muscular-looking man, whose swarthy face was sheltered by a wide-brimmed soft felt hat, very much turned up at the sides, and in whose broad band was stuck a tuft of the pale grey, starry-looking, downy plant known as the Edelweiss. His jacket was of dark, exceedingly threadbare velvet; breeches of the same; and he wore gaiters and heavily nailed lace-up boots; his whole aspect having evoked the remarks, when he presented himself at the door of the chalet:
“I say, Mr Dale, look here! Where is his organ and his monkey? This chap has been asking for you—for Herr Richard Dale, of London.”
“Yes, I sent for him. It is the man I am anxious to engage for our guide.”
For Melchior Staffeln certainly did look a good deal like one of the “musicians” who infest London streets with “kists o’ whustles,” as the Scottish gentleman dubbed them—or much noisier but less penetrating instruments on wheels.
He was now standing wearing a kind of baldric across his chest, in the shape of a coil of new soft rope, from which he rarely parted, whatever the journey he was about to make, and leaning on what, at first sight, seemed to be a stout walking-stick with a crutch handle, but a second glance revealed as an ice-axe, with, a strong spike at one end, and a head of sharp-edged and finely pointed steel, which Saxe said made it look like a young pick-axe.
This individual had wrinkled his face up so much that his eyes were nearly closed, and his shoulders were shaking as he leaned upon the ice-axe, and indulged in a long, hearty, nearly silent laugh.
“Ah! it’s no laughing matter, Melchior,” said the broad-shouldered, bluff, sturdy-looking Englishman. “I don’t want to begin with an accident.”
“No, no,” said the guide, whose English seemed to grow clearer as they became more intimate. “No accidents. It is the Swiss mountain air getting into his young blood. In another week he will bound along the matt, or dash over the green alp like a goat, and in a fortnight be ready to climb a spitz like a chamois.”
“Yes, that’s all very well, my man; but I prefer a steady walk. Look here, Saxe!”
“I’m listening, Mr Dale,” said the lad.
“Then just get it into your brain, if you can, that we are not out on a schoolboy trip, but upon the borders of new, almost untried ground, and we shall soon be mounting places that are either dangerous or safe as you conduct yourself.”
“All right, Mr Dale; I’ll be careful,” said the lad.
“Never fear, herr,” cried the guide; “I will not take you anywhere dangerous—only to places where your fellow-countrymen have well marked the way.”
“Thank you,” was the reply, in so peculiar a tone that the guide looked at the speaker curiously.
“Yes,” continued the latter; “I’ll have a chat with you presently.”
“I am ready, herr,” said the man, rather distantly now. “You have seen my book of testimonials, written by many English and German voyagers who love the mountains!”
“Yes,” said Richard Dale quietly; “and I want this boy to know what he has to do.”
“All right, Mr Dale,” said the lad; “you may trust me.”
“That’s understood, then. You must obey me without question instantly, just as I shall have to obey Melchior Staffeln. I have been out here a dozen times before, and know a great deal; but he has been here all his life, and has inherited the existence of his father and grandfather, both guides. Now, is this understood!”
“Yes, of course, Mr Dale,” said the boy, who had been impatiently throwing stones into the middle of the little river flowing through the valley; “but you are not going to take me for a walk every day, and make us hold one another’s hands?”
“I’m going to make you do exactly what Melchior thinks best,” said his companion, firmly. “And let me tell you, young fellow, there will be times, if you care to go with me, when we shall be very glad to hold each other’s hands: up yonder, for instance, along that shelf, where you can see the sheep.”
He pointed toward where, high up the side of the narrow valley, a group of white-woolled sheep could be seen browsing.