Rescue Dog of the High Pass — Chapter 6: Father Benjamin
Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 6: Father Benjamin
By Jim Kjelgaard
(Read Chapter 5 here)
Swinging the pack on his shoulders with an ease born of long practice, Franz turned to look down the slope he had just climbed. Bearing a similar pack, Caesar turned with him.
Only the memory of his mother’s tears when they exchanged their farewells kept Franz from shouting with joy. This was far and away the most fascinating experience of his life.
The route, as explained by Father Paul, had proven absurdly simple. Franz must go to Bourg and follow the Valley of the River Drance. After that, he couldn’t possibly get lost, for the only path he’d find must take him over St. Bernard Pass. But the way had proven anything except routine or monotonous to Franz.
Leaving the hardwoods, the forest with which he was most familiar, he had entered, and was still in, a belt of evergreens. He laughed happily.
Jean Greb, who by no means lacked imagination, had once told Franz that to see one tree was to see all trees. But that great spruce only a few yards down the path, whose wide-spreading branches allowed room for nothing else, was very like — Franz stifled the thought that the greedy spruce might be compared to greedy Emil Gottschalk, for it ill-befitted anyone to think badly of a human being who was already in enough trouble. But the spindly larch whose summer needles were just beginning to grow back was remarkably like Grandpa Eissman, with his straggling hair and stubble of beard. The fat scotch pine, that seemed to hold its middle and laugh when the wind shook it, might well be fat and jolly Aunt Maria Reissner. The knobs on the trunk of a young pine reminded Franz strongly of knobby-kneed young Hertha Bittner.
Franz turned to go on, thinking that Jean Greb was wrong and that all trees were not alike. They differed as greatly as people. Probably every person in the world had his or her counterpart in some tree.
A bustling stream snarled across the path, hurried down the slope and, as though either bent on its own destruction or in a desperate hurry to keep its rendezvous with the sea, hurled itself over a two-hundred-foot cliff. Foam churned up in the pool where it fell and the sun, shining through it, created a miniature but perfect rainbow.
Franz stopped for a long while to watch, for in such things he found deep pleasure. Then he and Caesar leaped the stream and went on.
It was noticeably colder than it had been at the lower altitudes and Franz recalled Grandpa Eissman’s explanation for Alpine temperatures. Pointing to a ledge a bit less than three thousand feet up the side of Little Sister, he had said that, when warm summer reigned in Dornblatt, autumn held sway there. Since sixty degrees was regarded as summer in Dornblatt, and thirty-two degrees, the freezing point, might reasonably be considered autumn, it followed that the temperature dropped approximately one degree for each three hundred feet of altitude.
But Franz did not feel the cold. This was partly because, sometimes in steep pitches and sometimes in gentle rises, the path he followed went steadily upward. Excited anticipation added its own warmth, so that presently he removed his coat and tied it to the pack.
In the late afternoon, they emerged from the evergreen forest into the Alpine region. This was where the cattle found rich summer pasturage, and where thrifty Swiss farmers cut much of their hay. Here were stunted pines, juniper, dwarf willows and millions of narcissuses and crocuses in full bloom. High on the side of a rocky crag, Franz spied a sprig of edelweiss and was tempted to climb up and pluck it. But the day was wasting fast and the climb up the crag might be more difficult than it appeared. Spending the night on the face of the crag would mean a cold camp indeed. It would be wiser to go on to the rest hut.
The sun was still an hour high when he reached it, a rock and log hut a little ways from the path. Franz opened the door, dropped his pack and removed Caesar’s. Then, with the mastiff padding beside him, he started into the meadow, carrying the small hatchet that was a parting gift from his father.
There was wood already in the hut. But it was not only possible but probable that some wayfarer too exhausted to cut his own wood might reach the shelter, and to find fuel at hand would surely save a life. Able-bodied travelers were obligated to gather their own.
But so many wayfarers had come this way, and so many seekers of fuel had gone out from the hut, that Franz had to travel a long distance before finding a tree, a small pine whose withered foliage proved that it was dead, so suitable for firewood.
Bracing his back against a boulder, the boy pushed the tree over with his foot rather than cut it, for the dried trunk broke easily. He chopped out the remaining splinters with his hatchet and, dragging the tree behind him, started back toward the hut.
He was still a considerable distance from it when Caesar, who had been pacing beside him, pricked up his ears and trotted forward. The dog looked fixedly in the direction of the structure. Coming near, Franz saw that he was to have a companion.
The newcomer was a tall, blond young man, wearing the garb of an Augustinian monk. Since he was in the act of divesting himself of the pouch wherein he carried food and other necessities of the road, evidently he had just arrived. He looked up, saw Franz and Caesar, and his white teeth flashed as he smiled.
“Hello, fellow travelers!” he called cheerfully. “I am Father Benjamin.”
More than a little overawed because he was to share the hut with such distinguished company, Franz said, “I am Franz Halle and this is my dog, Caesar. We are pleased to have you with us.”
Father Benjamin laughed. “I am sure the pleasure shall be mine. Hereafter, I may truthfully say that I shared a hut with Caesar. If you’ll wait a moment, Franz, I will bring my portion of the wood.”
Franz said, “This is enough for two.”
“So I am to be your guest?” Father Benjamin asked. “I am indeed honored.” He looked keenly at the boy. “Aren’t you a bit young to travel this path with only a dog as companion?”
“I must travel it,” Franz told him. “I go to the Hospice of St. Bernard, where I am to become a maronnier.”
“A maronnier, eh?” Father Benjamin asked. “And what inspired you to become such?”
“I am too stupid to be anything else,” Franz answered.
Father Benjamin’s laughter rang out, free as summer thunder and warm as a June rain. Puzzled, Franz could only stare. After a bit, the monk stopped laughing.
“I do crave your pardon!” he said. “But it is rare to receive such an honest answer to a well-intended question. Nor do I think you are stupid, young Franz Halle. Those who are never say so. Surely you are clever in some ways?”
“I can cut wood, climb mountains, get about on snow and work with Caesar,” said Franz.
Father Benjamin said gravely, “Then you are surely coming to the right place.”
Franz began taking bread, cheese and cakes from his pack. “What does maronnier mean?” he asked.
“Moor,” replied Father Benjamin. “The Moors are a warlike people from a far country. They robbed and stole, and one of the finest places to do so, since many travelers must go through it, was the Pass of St. Bernard. When our sainted Bernard first came this way, he was merely Bernard de Menthon, a youth not yet in his twenties. He and those with him found the Pass held by a group of Moorish bandits, whose chief was named Marsil. Bernard, most devout even then, held his crucifix erect and put the entire band to flight.”
“With a crucifix alone?” Franz asked incredulously.
“It is thought by some that the clubs and axes carried by Bernard and his party and wielded with telling effect on Moorish skulls, helped out,” Father Benjamin admitted, “but we like to believe that his faith and courage are what counted most. Bernard went on into Italy, where in due time he became Archbishop of Aosta. Travelers through the Pass continued to tell of Moorish bandits, so Bernard returned to rout them.”
“And did he?” Franz asked breathlessly.
“He did indeed,” answered Father Benjamin. “But other tales were also coming out of the Pass. They were stories of travelers who died in the terrible storms that rage across these heights in winter, and there were a great many such unhappy tales. Bernard determined to build a hospice, a shelter for all who needed it, at the very summit of the Pass. The Moors, led by the same Marsil whom Bernard had previously defeated, knew they could never prevail against such might. So rather than fight him again, they chose to become Christians and join Bernard. Since they could not be priests, they became lay brothers, or maronniers.”
“It is a wonderful story!” Franz gasped.
Father Benjamin said seriously, “One of the most wonderful ever told. This Pass has been in use since mankind began to travel. The Roman legions used it to invade Gaul. Hannibal took his army through it to invade Italy. Countless others have traveled through it, and countless people still do and will. We who are charged with its keeping consider it the finest privilege of all to serve at the Hospice of St. Bernard.”
“What is it like?” Franz asked.
“It is cold, my young friend,” replied Father Benjamin. “There are winter days of fifty below zero. Snow in the Pass lies forty-five feet deep. The wind blows constantly and fiercely and shifts the snow about so that the entire landscape may change from one day to the next. Sometimes there is a complete change in an hour, or even minutes. Some might think it the most miserable life imaginable, but we who serve at the Hospice know it is the finest!”
“How long will you be there?” Franz asked.
Father Benjamin told him, “Even though only men born to the mountains and skilled in mountain arts are chosen for service at the Hospice, and even though our spirits may be strong, the bodies of the strongest cannot endure the trials we must face for more than twelve years. But during those years, and quite apart from ministering to souls, all of us save lives. That is our reward.”
Franz asked, “Do you save everyone?”
“Unfortunately, no,” said Father Benjamin. “Many are still lost. But in the more than seven centuries that have passed since Bernard de Menthon erected the Hospice, an army of people who otherwise would have been victims of the snow have lived to return to their loved ones and carry on constructive work.”
“Do travelers use the Pass all winter?” Franz continued his eager questioning.
“Indeed they do,” Father Benjamin assured him. “The path is open to the next rest house, where we shall sleep tomorrow night, and travelers may safely make their own way that far. From there on to the Hospice, some five miles, is the real danger area. There is another rest house five miles down the south slope. When possible, which is when the weather is not so bad as to make it impossible, one of us visits each rest house every day. Such wayfarers as may be there are then guided to the Hospice and, of course, on down to the next rest house.”
Franz asked, “What is your greatest difficulty?”
“Choosing a safe trail,” Father Benjamin declared. “I’ve spoken of the fierce winds and shifting snows. Each time we go down to a rest house, we face an entirely different landscape, where a misstep might well mean death to us and those we guide. But come now, Franz, is it not time to stop talking and start supping?”
“Indeed it is,” Franz agreed, “and my mother prepared a great store of food. I shall be honored if you will share it.”
“And I shall be honored to share,” said Father Benjamin.
(Continue to Chapter 7 here)
In this chapter, Franz takes time to really admire the plants around him — from trees to flowers. You may not have ever thought of this before, but think about what your favorite plants are. Tell us about your favorite plants to eat, look at, and climb. 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
- * Aunt Maria Reissner — A relative of Franz
- 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 Benjamin — A traveler of great knowledge
- 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
* New this chapter.
Get the FREE Gutenberg.org of this book here.
Check out this video focusing on some common alpine flowers. http://youtu.be/es2HJPRrT1A