Rescue Dog of the High Pass — Chapter 4: Night Mission
Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 4: Night Mission
By Jim Kjelgaard
(Read Chapter 3 here.)
Hermann Gottschalk stood a moment, took a faltering step and almost fell. With a mighty effort, he stayed erect and spread his feet wide, the better to brace himself.
Franz’s father leaped from his chair, hurried to the youth, passed a steadying arm around his shoulders and escorted him to the chair he had just vacated. White-faced and trembling, Hermann sat limply down and leaned forward to grasp the edge of the table. Franz’s father nodded toward his mother.
“Some wine please, Lispeth.”
Franz’s mother was already at the wine cask. She drew a cup, brought it to the table, and the elder Halle held the cup to Hermann Gottschalk’s lips. Hermann sipped, gasped mightily, took another sip, and the warming wine did its work. He relaxed his hold on the table and sank back in the chair.
“Tell us what happened,” the elder Halle said gently.
Hermann’s voice was a husky whisper. “Father and I had to see the Widow Geiser. It was a fine morning and we expected no trouble as we started out on our skis. The storm was upon us suddenly, and within minutes it was so fierce that we could no longer see where we were going. It was some time before we knew we must have gone beyond the Widow Geiser’s and—”
Franz’s father let him rest a moment and then, “Go on,” he urged.
“We turned back to Dornblatt, but again we were unable to see where we were going or guide ourselves by landmarks. Father became very tired. He fell, then fell again. Finally, he cried, ‘I can go no farther! Save yourself!’ I tried to carry him and could not. I knew I must get help.”
“What time did you leave your father?” the elder Halle asked.
“I cannot be certain, but think it might have been an hour before night fell,” Hermann answered. “I went on, though I could not be sure at any time that I was coming to Dornblatt. Then I heard a dog bark and guided myself by the sound.”
Franz’s father asked, “How long ago was that?”
“Again I cannot be sure, but I was no great distance from Dornblatt. Immediately after hearing the dog, I broke a ski. Since that made the remaining ski useless, I threw both away and plowed through the snow. It took me much longer to reach the village than it would have had the ski not broken.”
Franz pondered the information. Emil and Hermann Gottschalk could have gone to the Widow Geiser’s only to evict her, and trust Emil to wait until after all crops were harvested and stored! But that was in the past. For the present, a man was lost in the storm.
Franz thought over the affair from every angle. It was probable that Hermann and his father had gone a considerable distance past the Widow Geiser’s before they realized they were lost and turned back. On the return trip, they had set a reasonably accurate course. Hermann had left his father an estimated hour before nightfall. Soon after darkness descended, or approximately within the past forty-five minutes, a barking dog had guided him to Dornblatt.
However, probably, since leaving his father his rate of travel had been that of an exhausted youngster. He had also broken a ski, which, by his own admission, was responsible for more delay. Emil Gottschalk, Franz decided, was approximately forty-five-minutes’ skiing time from Dornblatt and the proper direction in which to seek him was toward the Widow Geiser’s.
But there were so many other possibilities that entered the picture. Just how far beyond the Widow Geiser’s were Hermann and his father when they turned back? Or were they beyond her place at all? In such a storm, with both lost and neither able to see, it would be comparatively easy to travel up the slope, and, without ever reaching the Widow Geiser’s farm, both Hermann and his father might be sincerely convinced that they were far past it. Or had they gone down the slope? Or—
The elder Halle turned to his son. “You know what we must do?”
“I know,” answered Franz.
“What route do you intend to follow?” his father asked.
“I’ll work toward the Widow Geiser’s with Caesar,” Franz told him. “I’ll try to retrace the path I think Hermann might have followed. If we do not find Mr. Gottschalk, I’ll cast back and forth with Caesar and depend on his nose.”
“A good plan,” his father said, “and, since you are the only one who has a dog that might be depended upon to find a lost man, it will be best for you to work as you see fit. I’ll rouse the villagers and we’ll search the same area, with each man assigned to his own route. Take my pistol, for when Emil is found, one shot will announce to all that the search is ended and at the same time bring help. I will carry my rifle and signal with it.”
“Loan me some skis!” Hermann pleaded. “I would search, too!”
“No,” Franz’s father said. “You are near exhaustion and, should you venture out before you’ve rested, there will be two lost in the storm. Stay here and rest in Franz’s bed.”
Franz stole a glance at his former classmate, who had always seemed such an awful snob but toward whom he could now feel only sympathy. Faced with a grave problem, Hermann had been courageous enough, and, despite the fact that some villagers would be sure to consider the entire incident a judgment of God because Emil Gottschalk would have impoverished the Widow Geiser, Franz knew that it was only a judgment of the storm.
In Dornblatt, few winters ran their course without someone getting lost — and not all were found. Franz was glad that his father had said, in Hermann’s hearing, “when Emil is found,” and not, “if he is found.”
Franz put on his ski boots and his heavy coat with the hood, and thrust his father’s immense, brass-bound, bell-mouthed pistol into his belt. Franz Halle the elder dressed in a similar fashion, slung the rifle over his shoulder, and the pair left the house together.
Comfortable in their stable beneath the house, the cattle stamped their hoofs, munched their fodder and never cared how much snow fell. Caesar sprang from his snow tunnel, shook himself, and came forward to push his nose into Franz’s mittened hand.
The two Halles took their skis from beneath the overhanging ledge, where they were stored when not in use, and harnessed them to ski boots. A ski pole in either hand, the elder Halle paused a moment before setting out to rouse the able-bodied men and boys from Dornblatt’s snow-shrouded houses.
He said, “We will come as quickly as possible,” and was gone.
Franz waited another moment. Within fifteen minutes, or twenty at the most, all Dornblatt would know of the lost man and all who were able would be in the search. But there was something else here, something more sensed than seen or felt.
His father had declared that he, Franz, was fit only for cutting wood. But it was quite evident now that the elder Halle also thought his son a capable man in the mountains. If he did not, he would never let him go off alone on a night such as this.
A pride that he had seldom felt — or seldom had reason to feel — swelled within Franz. He was no scholar and he was a complete dolt at most skills and crafts. But it was no small thing to be considered an accomplished mountaineer.
Caesar, who might easily have broken trail, was too sensible to do so when he might follow the trail already broken by Franz’s skis. He stayed just far enough behind to avoid stepping on the tail of either ski.
Franz let him remain there for now. Emil Gottschalk would surely be farther from Dornblatt than this. When the time came, and Caesar was ordered to go ahead, he’d do it.
A minute afterwards, the falling snow hid the village as completely as though it had never been and Franz and Caesar were alone in the night. The boy remained undisturbed. He had never feared the mountains or the forest and he was not afraid now.
He started southward, traveling downslope, for the wind screamed from the north and Hermann Gottschalk had been guided into Dornblatt by a dog’s bark. Even Caesar’s thunderous bark would be heard at no great distance against such a wind. But any sound would carry a long way with it. Hermann must have come in from the south.
Just how far south had he been when he heard the dog bark? Hermann himself did not know. But when he turned toward the barking dog, in addition to plowing through deep snow, he had been fighting an uphill slope and a powerful wind. Without skis, his progress must have been painfully slow. Therefore, he could have been no great distance from the village.
Franz curled the hood of his jacket around his face to keep flying snow out of his eyes. It made little difference as far as visibility was concerned, for, in the stormy night, he could see less than the length of a ski pole anyhow.
Except for those who were too old or disabled, everybody in Dornblatt must use skis or remain housebound from the time the deep snows fell until they melted. Most were past masters of ski travel, but Franz had an extra touch, an inborn feeling for snow, that set him apart. He was not afraid of becoming lost or of breaking a ski, as Hermann Gottschalk had, probably when he blundered into a tree trunk.
When Franz thought he had gone far enough south, he turned west, toward the Widow Geiser’s. Again he used his mountain lore and knowledge of snow to analyze what might have happened.
Leaving his father, Hermann probably had tried to set a straight course. Undoubtedly the powerful wind had made that impossible. While Hermann thought he was traveling due east, he had also gone slightly south. Franz set a course that would take him slightly north of west.
Now he must consider Emil Gottschalk. Even though he was lost in the storm, Emil, a lifelong resident of Dornblatt, was not one to surrender easily, and he would know what to do. Even though he was unable to stand, he would crawl to the lee of a boulder or copse of trees and let the snow cover him. His own warm breath would melt a hole and assure a supply of air. Even though such a bed was not the most comfortable one might imagine, any man buried beneath snow would never freeze to death.
Franz made a mental map of all the boulders or copses of trees on the course he was taking that Emil might seek. When he thought he was reasonably near the place where Emil lay, he began to zigzag uphill or down, depending on which was necessary to reach each of the shelters he had already marked in his own mind.
Whenever he came to such a place, he watched Caesar closely. But at no time did the dog indicate that there was anything worth his interest. Franz passed the farthest point where he had calculated he might find Emil Gottschalk.
In all this time, he did not see any of the other searchers, but that was not surprising. The area to be covered was a vast one. Also, someone might have passed fairly close in the snow-filled darkness and would not have seen or heard him.
He began to worry, but kept on for another half hour, for Emil might be farther away than he had thought possible. Finally, sure that he had passed the lost man, Franz climbed higher up the mountain and turned back toward Dornblatt.
Now he set a course south of east, trying as he did so to determine exactly how far the wind might have veered Hermann from a true course. His anxiety mounted when he found nothing.
At what Franz estimated was two hours past midnight, the snow stopped falling and the stars shone. Now there was light, and, even though it was only star-glow, it seemed dazzling when compared with the intense darkness that had been. Franz set a new course, back toward the Widow Geiser’s.
He was descending into a gulley when Caesar stopped trailing and plunged ahead. Plowing his own path with powerful shoulders, he went up the gulley to a wind-felled tree that cast a dark shadow.
On the tree’s near side, Caesar began to scrape in the snow. Franz knelt to help, removing his mittens and digging with bare hands. He felt cloth, then a ski boot.
Franz rose and fired the pistol that would bring help from the men of Dornblatt. Then he resumed a kneeling position and continued to help Caesar dig Emil Gottschalk from his snowy couch.
(Continue to Chapter 5 here)
In this chapter Franz travels through the woods at night. What do you think you would find outside your house at night? What nocturnal animals? Maybe some bugs? Or even a few monsters? Leave your answer below or email it with contact info (to get your JD Water bottle) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Look up these vocabulary words, define them and use each in a sentence.
CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK
- The Alps — A mountain range in Europe
- Caesar — An alpine mastiff (usually called a St. Bernard) owned by Franz
- Dornblatt — Not a person, but the town where this chapter takes place
- Erich Erlic — A resident of Dornblatt, known for having a good skill with his saw
- Emil Gottschalk — A rich landowner in Dornblatt
- Father Paul — The priest of Dornblatt
- Franz Halle — A school boy and owner of Caesar
- Grandpa Eissman — An old man in town that Franz helps. Eissman was an expert mountaineer.
- Hermann Gottschalk — The son of Emil and schoolmate to Franz
- Hertha Bittner — One of Franz’ schoolmates
- Jean Geiser — A missing hunter
- Jean Greb — A handicapped man helped by Franz
- Lispeth Halle — The mother of Franz
- Professor Luttman — The school teacher
- Widow Geiser — A woman who runs a farm in Dornblatt
- Willi Resnick — One of Franz’ schoolmates
Get the FREE Gutenberg.org of this book here.
Check out this video about an effort to refurbish some vintage wood skis. http://youtu.be/BbIQv13qVSU