Rescue Dog of the High Pass – Chapter 13: Caesar’s Feat
By Jim Kjelgaard
(Read Chapter 12 here)
There was a wind, but it was not the roaring blast that so frequently snarled through St. Bernard Pass and it had not tumbled the snow about enough to cover the ski trail left by Father Benjamin and Jean Greb. It was a safe path, for two men had already traveled it in safety. Rather than having to choose carefully a slow and uncertain way, the four could now move swiftly.
Followed only by Caesar, who found the going easy on a path packed by so many skis, Franz stayed just far enough behind Anton Martek to avoid running up on the toboggan the giant pulled. Father Benjamin led the way, followed by Father Mark. There were ropes and shovels on the toboggan.
Franz tried to swallow his heart that insisted on beating in his throat, rather than in his chest. An avalanche was as unpredictable as the chatter of a jay. For all his vast experience in the mountains, Jean Greb had not known this one was coming until it overwhelmed both himself and Professor Luttman. No one could ever be sure.
Franz tried to reassure himself by thinking of the three men ahead of him. All were not only men of the mountains in general, but of St. Bernard Pass in particular. There was no situation that could arise in the Pass which they had not met before and with which they would not know how to cope, Franz told himself. They were very sure of finding Professor Luttman.
But in his own heart, Franz knew how very wrong he could be.
An avalanche was a freakish thing. When tons, and millions of tons, of snow thundered down a slope, it was somewhat comparable to a treacherous river. There were currents that surged toward the top and those that bored toward the bottom. Even though Jean Greb had been cast out on top, Professor Luttman might be lying at the bottom. For all their ability to work miracles, the men of St. Bernard Hospice would never reach him alive if he were. They would never even find him.
Franz tried to banish such gloomy forebodings from his mind and might have succeeded had not one thought persisted. If Father Benjamin believed there was a good chance of finding Professor Luttman, he would have made Jean Greb as comfortable as possible and tried to find him. And in the refectory, while Jean lay unconscious, Father Benjamin himself had said that there was no hope.
Franz thrust a hand behind him and felt a little relieved when Caesar came up to sniff it. He was by no means sure that Caesar could find Professor Luttman, but he was positive that they stood a far better chance with the big mastiff than they ever would without him. He tried to picture in his imagination all the places where the avalanche might have occurred — and gasped with dismay when they finally found it!
The prevailing west wind funneled through a broad gulley. On the east, the gulley was bounded by a gentle slope. But on the west, the slope rose sheer for almost half its height before giving way to an easy rise. The wind had plastered snow against the steep portion. More snow, either wind-borne or falling, had gathered upon it to a depth of twenty feet or more.
It was a much greater burden than the slope should have held. With almost a perpendicular wall, and not a single tree or bush to hold it back, a whisper might set it off and send snow roaring into the gulley. It was a death trap that any experienced mountaineer would recognize at a glance.
Jean Greb, seeing the peril, had chosen to climb above the steep portion on the west slope, rather than veer to the east. It was a choice any mountaineer might have made. But something, possibly the light ski tread of Jean Greb and Professor Luttman, had started the snow on the steep wall rolling. This, in turn, had set off an avalanche on the gentle slope and all of it had poured into the gulley.
In the center of the gulley, snow lay a hundred feet deep. On the north end, where the cleavage between the snow that had rolled and that which had not rolled was almost as sharp as though some colossus had cut it with a knife, there was a near-perpendicular drop that varied between sixty and ninety feet in height. The tremendous force of the avalanche had packed the snow to icy hardness.
Father Benjamin halted, waved his arm and said, “I found your friend here, Franz. He was trying to dig into the snow.”
Franz stared with unbelieving eyes at the faint scars in the immense pile of snow. They could have been made only by a ski pole, but a ski pole was the only tool Jean had. Franz knew suddenly that Father Benjamin had been entirely right in bringing Jean to the Hospice. A hundred men with a hundred shovels could not move that mass of snow in a hundred years. It was better to save the man who could be saved than to let him senselessly risk his life for the man who could not.
“You found him here?” Anton Martek asked.
Father Benjamin answered, “This is where the avalanche cast him up. Since he and his companion were traveling very close together, he is sure that his friend cannot be far from this place.”
Anton said, “I know of nothing we may do except dig here.”
“Nor I,” said Father Mark.
Father Benjamin said, “If I had a better idea, I would surely make it known. Let us dig, and let us have faith as we do so.”
The boy seized a shovel and began to dig, along with Anton and the two priests. He shook his head in disbelief for, even though he used all his strength, his shovel took only a tiny bite of the hard-packed snow. Despite the cold wind that snapped up the gulley like an angry wolf, beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead….
Franz thought that an hour might have passed when, while the other three continued to dig, he had to stop and rest. For the first time, it occurred to him to look about for Caesar.
The big dog was at the north end of the avalanche, peering over the perpendicular wall. He trotted anxiously back and forth, then leaned over to rest his front paws on a ledge. Suddenly Franz remembered when Caesar had found Emil Gottschalk buried in the snow.
Anton Martek and the two priests remained too busy to notice the boy’s departure when he made his way to Caesar’s side. The great mastiff wagged his tail furiously and stared down the wall of snow.
“Is he there?” Franz whispered. “Is he there, Caesar?”
The dog took three paces forward and three back. He whined, leaned over again to rest his front paws on the ledge, then withdrew to his master’s side. Franz studied the awful wall that suddenly seemed a thousand feet high, and where a mistake in judgment or a misstep meant possible death and certain injury.
But Caesar would not stop staring down it, and only three feet below was the ledge where he had rested his paws. Franz stepped down, widened the ledge with his shovel and reached behind him to help the dog down. He sought the next ledge that he might dig out with his shovel.
They were halfway down the wall when the boy heard a thunderous, “Franz! Franz! Come back!”
He recognized Father Benjamin’s voice but he dared not look back, for even a fairy could not have found more standing room on the thin ledge where the boy and his dog stood. Franz reached down with his shovel to scoop out the next ledge.
After what seemed an eternity, they were at the bottom of the wall.
Caesar ran forward and began to dig in the snow. Scraping beside him, presently Franz found the limp arm of a man.
Cold as the arm was, he could still feel the pulse that beat within it.
(Continue on to Chapter 14, the conclusion of the book, here)
In this chapter, Franz works hard shoveling as he and the rest of the search party dig for the missing man. It seems like an impossible task, but eventually they find him. Tell us about some seemingly impossible tasks that you’ve done. Maybe it’s learning to ride a bike. Finally getting an A+ on a math test or learning all the words to a song. 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
- Anton Martek — Franz’ boss at the Hospice
- 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 with 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
- Paul Maurat — Head of the kitchen at the hospice
- 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.
This video is a change of pace for our videos in this series. This time we look as how some “impossible” photography is created. http://youtu.be/mc0vhSseGk4