THE SUBJUGATION OF THE ALPS
Mr. Kearney Judd did not do things by halves. So much he had inherited from the icing of deals and corners who owned him as a son. His engagement to Ione March was an episode among episodes; but notwithstanding, he was sufficiently in love to be aware of the sensation Governor March's beautiful daughter would make in New York. Besides, the young man carried about with him the conviction whenever he talked to Ione that he was somehow in the presence of an incalculable force, and moreover, that this was a girl the possession of whom could not by any stretch of imagination be expressed in terms of millions of dollars.
"I tell you what, 'Storia," he said to his favourite sister one day before the tentative acceptance of his homage by Ione; "if she cared about me at all, she's the very girl to take me without a cent. But if I had the round world, with the moon thrown in, she'd give me the back of her hand if she did not cotton to me!"
But Kearney Judd's falling in love was strictly an accident. Primarily he had come to Europe in order to add the peaks of the Alps to the other scalps on his lodge-pole. It was the height of the athletic and adventurous era. Every young man of the first importance must now eschew culture and the elevation of the Bowery. While his sisters attended to such things, it was his duty to qualify as a first-class cowboy, to climb Cotopaxi, to kill twenty tigers, to cross Gobi or Shamo on a sledge drawn by yaks, or in some way or other to disprove his brain by proving his muscles.
Such were the times of derring-do which stood on tiptoe at the moment of Kearney Judd's coming to Europe in pursuit of athletic distinction of some sort. America itself was bald as an egg-shell. The last lock of its scalp had been severed. The final grizzly had yielded to the newest express rifle. The ultimate buffalo was rounded up in a reservation in Central Park, and guarded by blue-coated braves armed with the helmets and bludgeons of office, and speaking the English language with a Milesian accent. The last yacht, which had set out to discover the North Pole, had been found nipped by the ice. The last survivors had, with much good feeling, eaten each other—all except the boatswain, who for fifty years had subsisted chiefly on a diet of tobacco, and the cook, who had given his professional services on condition that he was placed strictly hors concours. The Purple East was far away, and the unspeakable Turk unspeakably dangerous. A crusade against Tammany was not in Kearney's line. There remained therefore nothing better or safer than Switzerland. So Kearney, having bought Mr. Conway's admirable set of guides to the High Alps, and acquired for much moneys (at Brentano's) the three volumes of "Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers," came over by the first Cunarder, firmly resolved to string the entire Oberland, together with the Pennine and Austrian chains, to his lodge-pole, and furthermore to complete the job within the space of one brief Alpine season.
Now it was Mr. Kearney Judd's boast that he and he only understood how to go about a thing. Whether it were the making of love or climbing of a triply asterisked mountain. (Mr. Baedeker, of Leipsic, the true potentate of travel, considers Mont Blanc worthy of being distinguished by his highest mark of admiration, which consists of three asterisks, thus: ***) And certainly he did not waste time. Sternly refusing alike the peculiar delights of London and the more esoteric refinements of the Parisian Elysee (Montmartre) — to which as the son of a distinguished American citizen (so he told his father), he easily obtained the right of entrée — Kearney travelled directly from Liverpool to Lugano, and then by more devious paths from Lugano to Grindelwald, where after a week at the Hostel of the Bear, he proceeded to engage his guides. He found that many of the best of these had been already verbally engaged for certain limited periods by former employers. These were men, for the most part Englishmen, who had cast longing eyes at certain new and impossible passes, or upon new "faces" the victory over which appeared as promising to the lay eye as the task of climbing the Monument upon one's hands and knees.
But Mr. Kearney Judd knew the power of gold and believed that, tempted by the “Sufficient Consideration," every man has his price. Accordingly he lavished broadcast such glittering promises that two of the best guides in the Oberland (which is the same thing as saying in the world) became bound to him by a stringent written contract for a period of four months, and were engaged to lead their master to the summits of an elaborate schedule of peaks—the conquest of which in one season, duly certified by the authorities in each district and reported in the Metropolitan Sunday papers over the paternal cable, would be fitted to shake with envy and hatred the soul of every "boy" left stranded on the bleak shores of little old New York.
So that Kearney found himself early in the year in possession of the highly paid services of High-Mountain Guides Peter Jossi and Christian Schlegel, to the intense disappointment of a briefless London barrister and a climbing Scotch minister of limited means — who in the most un-christian fashion wished the wholesale American enterprise all manner of evil, and expressed vigorously the sentiments of their hearts in daily letters to one another.
And for a day, or rather for an hour, after completing his bargain, Kearney was happy. He loved the importance of possession, the halo which everywhere surrounds proximate and wholesale conquest. The regular climbers had not yet arrived at Grindelwald, and the village street from the Eagle to the Bear was all his own. Every unplaced guide, every porter emulous of rising from the pack-wallet to the rope and ice-axe, eagerly desired employment in this most luxuriously equipped and comprehensively planned expedition.
The leader, attired in the most complete and uncompromising of climbing gear, held daily public conference with his lieutenants, Peter Jossi and Christian Schlegel. Kearney Judd had made no mistake. Both men were superlative at their business, and trustworthy to the death — so long as they were confined to the staple beverage of the mountains—that which sparkles in the rainbows of the torrents and drives the swirling moulins of the glaciers.
But as soon as Kearney realised that the ascent of even a second-class peak involved sacrifices and discomforts which he had not contemplated, and especially when he discovered that the aspect of a glacier was much less prepossessing when its irregularities were underfoot and its difficulties overhead, than when pounded into lumps and floating in a tall glass of whisky and soda, he began (like the monkey discovered talking, and set to earn his living) to turn over alternatives in his mind.
It was all very well to carry back certificates of the ascent of great peaks, and to be able to roll off the sonorous names — Matterhorn, Wetterhorn, Dom, Monte Viso, Lyskam, and that utmost Adamello which looks upon Venice. It would doubtless be especially pleasant at Delmonico's to patronise Mont Blanc — to nickname it "The Duffer's Walk." Better still, he would be able to approve reservedly of the Matterhorn — especially on the Italian side, "where there are no chains, and the climbing shows the stuff a man is made of, don't you know."
But even the first few trial climbs upon the Over-Ice Sea assured Mr. Kearney that there were more things in that white upper world of snow and rock scarp than had been dreamed of in his philosophy.
For instance, when a piece of slate, spinning upon its axis, whizzed down the cliffs of the Mettenberg at rather more than the speed of a rifle bullet, and neatly clipped a piece of skin the size of a shilling from his ear, the young man began to experience doubts whether Alpine mountaineering was indeed a sport for which he had been fitted by nature.
Anon, early on a succeeding morning, skirting the butt end of a glacier — cross, sleepy, following his guide automatically step by step, and thinking how many different kinds of fool he was for coming to such a cold, miserable, get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night sort of a country, Kearney was suddenly aroused by certain sharp crackling sounds above his head, and immediately found himself almost jerked off his feet by the sudden spurt forward made by Peter and Christian. Then scarcely had they gotten from underneath that threatening glacier butt, when with an astounding bewilderment of noise the whole pinnacled end of castellated blueness nodded, wavered, and finally crashed downward, sweeping the path by which they had just come with the besom of destruction, as the ice avalanche went thundering and roaring into the valley a thousand feet below. When the first red level rays of the sun, which had been sapping the upper glacier for some time, and whose warmth had assisted its abrupt parturition, struck Kearney Judd, Alpine adventurer, it was a very pale and pasty countenance which that distinguished Herr presented to the curious eyes of his guides.
Whereupon with a sudden gravity Christian looked at Peter, and Peter as soberly looked at Christian. But what they meant to convey to each other remains a secret to this day.
However, very soon a great victory smiled upon the banners of Judd. By dint of exertions almost superhuman big blonde Christian and little brown Peter dragged their Herr up the snows of the Jungfrau, and by infinite precaution and the cutting of steps like those which approach a State capitol, enabled him successfully to surmount the last dangerous ice slopes.
Upon his return to what little Peter called poetically "the kind-hearted valleys" (" my wife, Herr, she loves not the mountains; she loves instead the kind-hearted valleys"), for the first twelve hours the hero resolved never again to trust himself out of sound of cow-bell. But he was induced to change his mind as the pride of his conquest began to wash away the memories of the passage perilous, and especially when, by means of the paternal cable, some part of the press of his native city was induced to sing the ancient song of "Arms and the Man" in admiration of "the unexampled feat performed so early in the climbing season by the son of one so notable in our highest money circles as John Cyrus Judd."
"This," said one prominent organ, in whose finances the Combination had unobtrusively acquired a controlling interest, "proves incontestably that the pluck and endurance which have so long ruled Wall Street are hereditary in the second generation, and that even the very snowy thrones of the gods of silence must yield to the plucky scion of the Judd-Peters Combination."
"That'll fetch 'em," said Charlton Milholland contentedly, as he leaned back and contemplated this astonishing sentence with his head to the side as if he had reason to be proud of it; "it would be too strong for any human being except old Cyrus or his amiable son. But to them it will be balm in Gilead, and also mint julep among the flesh-pots of Egypt!"
That evening Milholland, most genial and good-natured of foreign editors, carried the matter to the N. Y. Press Club, where the turn of his phrases was highly appreciated. But before he left the Times-Herald building he saw that the full extract was cabled to Europe, where it had its due effect in inducing Mr. Kearney Judd to continue his series of triumphal marches over the effete and prostrate mountain ranges of Europe.
So on the morrow, Charlton Milholland (who at the time was sitting up in bed and casting an eye of tolerant humour over his own leaderette) had fixed Kearney's determination to attempt from the south the ascent of the noble toothed wedge of the Eiger — which is at once the Matterhorn and the Dent Blanche of the Oberland mountains.
Little brown Peter and big blonde Christian of the bowed shoulders smiled when they heard of the project and the name of the mountain. Little Peter, who was a wit, pretended to pull up his sleeves, and made the gesture of hauling a bucket up a well. But both rose to their feet with a sudden unanimous start upon learning that the assault was to be delivered by the south face, that which looks out towards the Wengern Alp and the hostelry of Johann Jossi. Little Peter even attempted a remonstrance, but he was cut short by the stern ultimatum of the son of the Napoleon of Finance.
"Can the thing be done?" asked Kearney the Dictator.
"Certainly it can be done, my Herr," began Peter, "but - " And he paused, not daring to add aloud the remainder of his thought — "but you are not the man to do it!"
"Then I will do it!" said Kearney Judd, in prompt defiance of Peter's unspoken condemnation.
For remembering the storm on the lake of Lugano, he wisely calculated that the object lesson of his danger and success would do more to soften the stony heart of Ione March than the gift of all the diamonds of the Cape.
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First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.