Read CHAPTER XII - ROLLO A COURIER of Rollo in Switzerland , free online book, by Jacob Abbott, on

Rollo came in one morning to the hotel at Meyringen, after having been taking a walk on the banks of a mighty torrent that flows through the valley, and found his uncle George studying the guide book and map, with an appearance of perplexity.  Mr. George was seated at a table on a balcony, which opened from the dining room of the inn.  This balcony was very large, and rooms opened from it in various directions.  There were several tables here, with seats around them, where those who chose to do so could take their breakfast or their dinner in the open air, and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls at the same time.  Mr. George was seated at one of these tables, with his map and his guide book before him.

“Well, uncle George,” said Rollo, “are you planning our journey?”

“Yes,” said Mr. George; “and I am very much perplexed.”

“Why, what is the difficulty?” asked Rollo.

“There is no possibility of getting out of this valley,” said Mr. George, “except by going all the way back to Thun, ­and that I am not willing to do.”

“Is there no possible way?” asked Rollo.

“No,” said Mr. George, “unless we go over the Brunig Pass on foot.”

“Well,” said Rollo, “let us do that.”

“We might possibly do that,” continued Mr. George, still looking intently at his map.  “We should have to go over the Brunig to Lungern on foot, with a horse for our baggage.  Then we should have to take a car from Lungern down the valleys to the shore of Lake Lucerne, and there get a boat, for six or eight miles, on the lake to the town.”

“Well,” said Rollo, joyfully, “I should like that.”

Rollo liked the idea of making the journey in the way that his uncle George had described, on account of the numerous changes which would be necessary in it, in respect to the modes of conveyance.  It was for this very reason that his uncle did not like it.

“Yes, uncle George,” said Rollo, again.  “That will be an excellent way to go to Lucerne.  Don’t you think it will?”

“No,” said Mr. George.  “It will be so much trouble.  We shall have three different arrangements to make for conveyance, in one day.”

“No matter for that, uncle George,” said Rollo.  “I will do all that.  Let me be the courier, uncle George, and I’ll take you from here to Lucerne without your having the least trouble.  I will make all the arrangements, so that you shall have nothing to do.  You may read, if you choose, the whole of the way.”

“How will you find out what to do?” asked Mr. George.

“O, I’ll study the guide book carefully,” replied Rollo; “and, besides, I’ll inquire of the landlord here.”

“Well,” said Mr. George, hesitatingly, “I have a great mind to try it.”

“Only you must pay me,” said Rollo.  “I can’t be courier without being paid.”

“How much must I pay?” asked Mr. George.

“Why, about a quarter of a dollar,” replied Rollo.

“It is worth more than that,” said Mr. George.  “I will give you half a dollar if you make all the arrangements and get me safe to Lucerne without my having any care or trouble.  But then if you get into difficulty in any case, and have to appeal to me, you lose your whole pay.  If you carry me through, I give you half a dollar.  If you don’t really carry me through, you have nothing.”

Rollo agreed to these conditions, and Mr. George proceeded to shut up the map and the guide book, and to put them in his hands.

“I will sit down here now,” said Rollo, “and study the map and the guide book until I have learned all I can from them, and then I will go and talk with the landlord.”

Mr. George did not make any reply to this remark, but taking out a small portfolio, containing writing materials, from his pocket, he set himself at work writing some letters; having, apparently, dismissed the whole subject of the mode of crossing the Brunig entirely from his mind.

Rollo took his seat at a table on the balcony in a corner opposite to the place where his uncle was writing, and spread out the map before him.  His seat commanded a very extended and magnificent view.  In the foreground were the green fields, the gardens, and the orchards of the lower valley.  Beyond, green pasturages were seen extending over the lower declivities of the mountains, with hamlets perched here and there upon the shelving rocks, and winding and zigzag roads ascending from one elevation to another, while here and there prodigious cataracts and cascades were to be seen, falling down hundreds of feet, over perpendicular precipices, or issuing from frightful chasms.  Rollo stopped occasionally to gaze upon these scenes; and sometimes he would pause to put a spy glass to his eye, in order to watch the progress of the parties of travellers that were to be seen, from time to time, coming down along a winding path which descended the face of the mountain about two or three miles distant, across the valley.  With the exception of these brief interruptions, Rollo continued very steadily at his work; and in about half an hour he shut up the map, and put it in its case, saying, in a tone of great apparent satisfaction, ­

“There!  I understand it now perfectly.”

He was in hopes that his uncle would have asked him some questions about the route, in order that he might show how fully he had made himself acquainted with it; but Mr. George said nothing, and so Rollo went away to find the landlord.

That night, just before bed time, Mr. George asked Rollo what time he was going to set out the next morning.

“Immediately after breakfast,” said Rollo.

“Are we going to ride or walk?” asked Mr. George.

“We are going to walk over the pass,” said Rollo.  “The road is too steep and rocky for horses.  But then we are going to have a horse to carry the trunk.”

“Can you put our trunk on a horse?” asked Mr. George.

“Yes,” replied Rollo, “the guide says he can.”

“Very well,” said Mr. George, “and just as soon as we get through breakfast I am going to walk on, and leave you to pack the trunk on the horse, and come along when you are ready.”

“Well,” said Rollo, “you can do that.”

“Because, you see,” continued Mr. George, “you will probably have various difficulties and delays in getting packed and ready, and I don’t want to have any thing to do with it.  I wish to have my mind entirely free, so as to enjoy the walk and the scenery without any care or responsibility whatever.”

Sometimes, when fathers or uncles employ boys to do any work, or to assume any charge, they stand by and help them all the time, so that the real labor and responsibility do not come on the boy after all.  He gets paid for the work, and he imagines that he does it ­his father or his uncle allowing him to imagine so, for the sake of pleasing him.  But there was no such child’s play as this between Mr. George and Rollo.  When Rollo proposed to undertake any duty, Mr. George always considered well, in the first instance, whether it was a duty that he was really competent to perform.  If it was not, he would not allow him to undertake it.  If it was, he left him to bear the whole burden and responsibility of it, entirely alone.

Rollo understood this perfectly well, and he liked such a mode of management.  He was, accordingly, not at all surprised to hear his uncle George propose to leave him to make all the arrangements of the journey alone.

“You see,” said Mr. George, “when I hire a courier I expect him to take all the care of the journey entirely off my mind, and leave me to myself, so that I can have a real good time.”

“Yes,” said Rollo, “that is right.”

And here, perhaps, I ought to explain that what is called a courier, in the vocabulary of tourists in Europe, is a travelling servant, who, when he is employed by any party, takes the whole charge of their affairs, and makes all necessary arrangements, so that they can travel without any care or concern.  He engages the conveyances and guides, selects the inns, pays the bills, takes charge of the baggage, and does every thing, in short, that is necessary to secure the comfort and safety of the party on their journey, and to protect them from every species of trouble and annoyance.  He has himself often before travelled over the countries through which he is to conduct his party, so that he is perfectly familiar with them in every part, and he knows all the languages that it is necessary to speak in them.  Thus when once under the charge of such a guide, a gentleman journeying in Europe, even if he has his whole family with him, need have no care or concern, but may be as quiet and as much at his ease, all the time, as if he were riding about his own native town in his private carriage.

The next morning, after breakfast, Mr. George rose from the table, and prepared to set out on his journey.  He put the belt of his knapsack over his shoulder, and took his alpenstock in his hand.

“Good by, Rollo,” said he.  “I will walk on, taking the road to the Brunig, and you can come when you get ready.  You will overtake me in the course of half an hour, or an hour.”

Rollo accompanied Mr. George to the door, and then wishing him a pleasant walk, bade him good by.

In a few minutes the guide came around the corner of the house, from the inn yard, leading the horse.  He stopped to water the horse at a fountain in the street, and then led him to the door.  In the mean time the porter of the inn had brought down the trunk, and then the guide proceeded to fasten it upon the saddle of the horse, by means of two strong straps.  The saddle was what is called a pack saddle, and was made expressly to receive such burdens.

After having placed the trunk and secured it firmly, the guide put on the umbrella, and Mr. George’s and Rollo’s greatcoats, and also Rollo’s knapsack.  These things made quite a pile on the horse’s back.  The burden was increased, too, by several things belonging to the guide himself, which he put on over all the rest, such as a great-coat and a little bag of provisions.

At length, when all was ready, Rollo bade the innkeeper good by, and set out on his journey.  The guide went first, driving the horse before him, and Rollo followed, with his alpenstock in his hand.

They soon passed out of the village, and then travelled along a very pleasant road, which skirted the foot of the mountain range, ­all the time gradually ascending.  Rollo looked out well before him, whenever he came to a straight part of the road, in hopes of seeing his uncle; but Mr. George was nowhere in view.

Presently he came to a place where there was a gate, and a branch path, turning off from the main road, directly towards the mountain.  Here Rollo, quite to his relief and gratification, found his uncle.  Mr. George was sitting on a stone by the side of the road, reading.

He shut his book when he saw Rollo and the guide, and put it away in his knapsack.  At the same time he rose from his seat, saying, ­

“Well, Rollo, which is the way?”

“I don’t know,” said Rollo.

The guide, however, settled the question by taking hold of the horse’s bridle, and leading him off into the side path.  The two travellers followed him.

The path led through a very romantic and beautiful scene of fields, gardens, and groves, among the trees of which were here and there seen glimpses of magnificent precipices and mountains rising very near, a little beyond them.  After following this path a few steps, two girls came running out from a cottage.  One of them had a board under her arm.  The other had nothing.  They both glanced at the travellers, as they passed, and then ran forward along the road before them.

“What do you suppose those girls are going to do?” asked Rollo.

“I can’t conceive,” replied Mr. George.  “Some thing for us to pay for, I’ll engage.”

“And shall you pay them?” asked Rollo.

“No,” said Mr. George. “I shall not pay them.  I shall leave all such business to my courier.”

The purpose with which the two girls had come out was soon made to appear; for after running along before the party of travellers for about a quarter of a mile, they came to a place where two shallow but rather broad brooks flowed across the pathway.  When Rollo and Mr. George came up to the place they found that the girls had placed boards over these streams of water for bridges.  One of the boards was the one which the girl had brought along with her, under her arm.  The other girl, it seems, kept her board under the bushes near the place, because it was too heavy to carry back and forth to the house.  It was their custom to watch for travellers coming along the path, and then to run on before them and lay these bridges over the brooks, ­expecting, of course, to be paid for it.  Rollo gave them each a small piece of money, and then he and Mr. George went on.

Soon the road began to ascend the side of the mountain in long zigzags and windings.  These windings presented new views of the valley below at every turn, each successive picture being more extended and grand than the preceding.

At length, after ascending some thousands of feet, the party came to a resting-place, consisting of a seat in a sort of bower, which had been built for the accommodation of travellers, at a turn of the road where there was an uncommonly magnificent view.  Here they stopped to rest, while the guide, leading the horse to a spring at the road side, in order that he might have a drink, sat down himself on a flat stone beside him.

“How far is it that we have got to walk?” asked Mr. George.

Rollo looked at his watch, and then said, “We have got to walk about three hours more.”

“And what shall we come to then?” asked Mr. George.

“We shall come down on the other side of the mountain,” said Rollo, “to a little village called Lungern, where there is a good road; and there I am going to hire a carriage, and a man to drive us to the lake.  It is a beautiful country that we are going through, and the road leads along the shores of mountain lakes.  The first lake is up very high among the mountains.  The next is a great deal lower down, and we have to go down a long way by a zigzag road, till we get to it.  Then we go along the shore of this second lake, through several towns, and at last we come to the landing on the Lake of Lucerne.  There I shall hire a boat.”

“What kind of a boat?” asked Mr. George.

“I don’t know,” said Rollo.

“How do you know that there will be any boat there?” asked Mr. George.

“Because the guide book says there will,” replied Rollo.  “They always have boats there to take people that come along this road to Lucerne.”

“Why do they not go all the way by land?” asked Mr. George.

“Because,” said Rollo, “the whole country there is so full of mountains that there is no place for a road.”

Just at this time the guide got up from his seat, and seemed ready to set out upon his journey; and so Mr. George and Rollo rose and went on.

After ascending about an hour more, through a series of very wild and romantic glens, with cottages and curious-looking chalets scattered here and there along the borders of them, wherever the ground was smooth and green enough for cattle to feed, our travellers came, at length, to the summit of the pass, where, in a very pleasant and sheltered spot, surrounded with forest trees, there stood a little inn.  On arriving at this place the guide proceeded to take off the load from the horse and to place it upon a sort of frame, such as is used in those countries for burdens which are to be carried on the back of a man.

“What is he going to do?” asked Mr. George.

“He is going to carry the baggage the rest of the way himself,” said Rollo.  “You see it is so steep and rocky from here down to Lungern that it is dreadful hard work to get a horse down and up again; especially up.  So the guide leaves the horse here, and is going to carry the baggage down himself on his back.  That rack that he is fastening the trunk upon goes on his back.  Those straps in front of it come over his shoulders.”

“It seems to me,” said Mr. George, “that that is a monstrous heavy load to put on a man’s back, to go down a place which is so steep and rocky that a horse could not get along over it.  But then I suppose my courier knows what he is about.”

So Mr. George, with an air and manner which seemed to say, It is none of my concern, walked up a flight of steps which led to a sort of elevated porch or platform before the door of the inn.

For a moment Rollo himself was a little disconcerted, not knowing whether it would be safe for a man to go down a steep declivity with such a burden on his back; but when he reflected that this was the arrangement that the guide himself had proposed, and that the guide had, doubtless, done the same thing a hundred times before, he ceased to feel any uneasiness, and following Mr. George up the steps, he took a seat by his side, at a little table, which was placed there for the accommodation of travellers stopping at the inn to rest.

Rollo and his uncle spent half an hour at this hotel.  For refreshment they had some very excellent and rich Alpine milk, which they drank from very tall and curiously-shaped tumblers.  They also amused themselves in looking at some specimens of carved work, such as models of Swiss cottages ­and figures of shepherds, and milkmaids with loads of utensils on their backs ­and groups of huntsmen, with dogs leaping up around them ­and chamois, or goats, climbing about among the rocks and mountains.  Rollo had bought a pretty good supply of such sculptures before; but there was one specimen here that struck his fancy so much that he could not resist the temptation of adding it to his collection, especially as Mr. George approved of his making the purchase.  It was a model of what is called a chalet, which is a sort of hut that the shepherds occupy in the upper pasturages, in the summer, where they go to tend the cows, and to make butter and cheese.  The little chalet was made in such a manner that the roof would lift up like a lid, and let you see all there was within.  There was a row of cows, with little calves by them, in stalls on one side of the chalet, and on the other side tables and benches, with pans of milk and tubs upon them, and a churn, and a cheese press, and other such like things.  There was a bed, too, for the shepherd, in a sort of a garret above, just big enough to hold it.

In about half an hour the guide seemed ready to proceed, and the whole party set out again on their journey.  The guide went before, with the trunk and all the other baggage piled up on the rack behind him.  He had a stout staff in his hand, which he used to prevent himself from falling, in going down the steep and rocky places.  Some of these places were very steep and rocky indeed ­so much so that going down them was a work of climbing rather than walking, and Rollo himself was sometimes almost afraid.  What made these places the more frightful was, that the path in descending them was often exceedingly narrow, and was bordered, on one side, by a perpendicular wall of rock, and by an unfathomable abyss of rocks and roaring cataracts on the other.  To behold the skill and dexterity with which the guide let himself down, from rock to rock, in this dreadful defile, loaded as he was, excited both in Mr. George and Rollo a continual sentiment of wonder.

At length the steepest part of the descent was accomplished, and then the road led, for a mile, through a green and pretty valley, with lofty rocks and mountains on either hand, and chalets and pretty cottages at various distances along the roadside.  At one place, in a very romantic and delightful spot, they came to a small chapel.  It had been built there to commemorate some remarkable event, and to afford a resting-place for travellers.  The door of this chapel was fastened, but Rollo could look in through a window and see the altar, and the crucifix, and the tall candles, within.  He and Mr. George sat down, too, on the stone step of the chapel for a little while, to rest, and to enjoy the view.  While they were there another traveller came by, ascending from Lungern, and he stopped to rest there too.  He was lame, and seemed to be poor.  He had a pack on his back.  Mr. George talked with this man in French while they sat together on the steps of the chapel, and when he went away Mr. George gave him a little money.

After leaving the chapel the travellers continued their descent, the valley opening before them more and more as they proceeded, until, at length, the village of Lungern came in sight, far below them, at the head of a little lake.

“There!” said Rollo, as soon as the village came in sight.  “That is Lungern.  That is the place where the carriage road begins.”

“I am glad of that,” said Mr. George.  “A ride in a carriage will be very pleasant after all this scrambling over the mountains ­that is, provided you get a good carriage.”

When, at length, the party reached the inn, the guide set down his load on a bench at the door of it, and, smiling, seemed quite pleased to be rid of the heavy burden.

“Are we going to take dinner here?” said Mr. George to Rollo.

“No, sir,” said Rollo.  “At least, I don’t know.  We’ll see.”

The landlord of the inn met the travellers at the door, and conducted them up a flight of stone stairs, and thence into a room where several tables were set, and different parties of travellers were taking refreshments.  The landlord, after showing them into this room, went down stairs again to attend to other travellers.  Mr. George and Rollo walked into the room.  After looking about the room a moment, however, Rollo said he must go down and see about a carriage.

“Wait here a few minutes, uncle George,” said he, “while I go and engage a carriage, and then I will come back.”

So saying, Rollo went away, and Mr. George took his seat by a window.

Presently the waiter came to Mr. George, and asked him, in French, if he wished for any refreshment.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. George.  “I will wait till the boy comes back, and then we’ll see.”

In a short time Rollo came back.

“The carriage will be ready in twenty minutes,” said he.

“Very well,” said Mr. George.  “And the waiter wants to know whether we are going to have any thing to eat.”

“Yes,” said Rollo, “we are going to have a luncheon.”

Rollo then went to the waiter, and said, in French, “Bread, butter, coffee, and strawberries, for two.”  “Very well, sir,” said the waiter, and he immediately went away to prepare what Rollo had ordered.

In due time the refreshment was ready, and Mr. George and Rollo sat down to the table, with great appetites.  Every thing was very nice.  The strawberries, in particular, though very small in size, as the Alpine strawberries always are, were very abundant in quantity, and delicious in flavor.  There was also plenty of rich cream to eat them with.  When, at length, the travellers had finished eating their luncheon, the landlord came to say that the carriage was ready.  So Rollo paid the bill, and then he and Mr. George went down to the door.  Here they found a very pretty chaise, with a seat in front for the driver, all ready for them.  The trunk and all the other baggage were strapped securely on behind.  Mr. George and Rollo got in.  The top of the chaise was down, so that the view was unobstructed on every side.

“Well,” said Rollo, “do you think it is a good carriage?”

“A most excellent one,” said Mr. George.  “We shall have a delightful ride, I am sure.”

Mr. George was not disappointed in his anticipations of a delightful ride.  The day was very pleasant, and the scenery of the country through which they had to pass was as romantic and beautiful as could be imagined.  The road descended rapidly, from valley to valley, sometimes by sharp zigzags, and sometimes by long and graceful meanderings, presenting at every turn some new and charming view.  There were green valleys, and shady dells, and foaming cascades, and dense forests, and glassy lakes, and towering above the whole, on either side, were vast mountain slopes, covered with forests, and ranges of precipitous rocks, their summits shooting upward, in pinnacles, to the very clouds.

After journeying on in this manner for some hours the carriage arrived at an inn on the shores of the Lake of Lucerne.  There was a landing there, and a number of boats, drawn up near a little pier.

“Yes,” exclaimed Rollo, when he saw the boats, “this is the place.  The name of it is Alpnach.  We are to go the rest of the way by water.”

“That will be very pleasant,” said Mr. George, as he got out of the carriage.  “I shall like a row on the lake very much.  I will go directly down to the landing, and you can come when you get ready.”

So Mr. George walked on down to the pier, leaving Rollo to perform his duties as a courier, according to his own discretion.

Rollo first paid the driver of the carriage what was due to him, according to the agreement that he had made with the Lungern landlord, and then explained to the Alpnach landlord, in as good French as he could command, that he wanted a boat, to take him and the gentleman who was travelling with him to Lucerne, and asked what the price would be.  The landlord named the regular price, and Rollo engaged the boat.  The landlord then sent for a boatman.  In a few minutes the boatman was seen coming.  He was followed by two rather pretty-looking peasant girls, each bringing an oar on her shoulder.  These two girls were the boatman’s daughters.  They were going with their father in the boat, to help him row.

The boatman took up the trunk, and the girls the other parcels of baggage, and so carried the whole, together with the oars, down to the boat.  Rollo followed them, and the whole party immediately embarked.  It was a bright and sunny day, though there were some dark and heavy clouds in the western sky.  The water of the lake was very smooth, and it reflected the mountains and the skies in a very beautiful manner.  Mr. George and Rollo took their seats in the boat, under an awning that was spread over a frame in the central portion of it.  This awning sheltered them from the sun, while it did not intercept their view.  The man and the girls took each of them an oar, standing up, however, to row, and pushing the oar before them, instead of pulling it, according to our fashion. Thus they commenced the voyage.

Every thing went on very pleasantly for an hour, only, as the boatman and his daughters could speak no language but German, Mr. George and Rollo could have no conversation with them.  But they could talk with each other, and they had a very pleasant time.  At length, however, the clouds which had appeared in the western sky rose higher and higher, and grew blacker and blacker, and, finally, low, rumbling peals of thunder began to be heard.  The boatman talked with his daughters, pointing to the clouds, and then said something to Mr. George in German; but neither Mr. George nor Rollo could understand it.  They soon found, however, that the boat was turned towards the shore.  They were very glad of this, for Rollo said that he had read in the guide book that the Swiss lakes were subject to very violent tempests, such as it would be quite dangerous to encounter far from the shore.  Rollo said, moreover, that the boatmen were very vigilant in watching for the approach of these storms, and that they would always at once make the best of their way to the land whenever they saw one coming on.

In this instance the wind began to blow, and the rain to fall, before the boat reached the shore.  Rollo and Mr. George were sheltered by the awning, but the boatman and the two girls got very wet.  They, however, continued to work hard at the oars, and at length they reached the shore.  The place where they landed was in a cove formed by a point of land, where there was a little inn near the water.  As soon as the boat reached the shore Mr. George and Rollo leaped out of it, and spreading their umbrella they ran up to the inn.

They waited here nearly an hour.  They sat on a piazza in front of the inn, listening to the sound of the thunder and of the wind, and watching the drops of rain falling on the water.  At length the wind subsided, the rain gradually ceased, and the sun came out bright and beaming as ever.  The party then got into the boat, and the boatman pushed off from the shore; and in an hour more they all landed safely on the quay at Lucerne, very near to a magnificent hotel.

Our two travellers were soon comfortably seated at a table in the dining room of the hotel before an excellent dinner, which Rollo had ordered.  Mr. George told Rollo, as they took their seats at the table, that he had performed his duty as a courier in a very satisfactory manner, and had fully earned his pay.