Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

An Adventure in Switzerland

"Well, Munchausen," said the Head Forester, on the eve of the Baron's departure, "have you ever been to Switzerland before?"

"Dozens of times," replied the Baron. "I know every inch of that glorious country. I will tell you a little incident which took place on my first visit there, but before beginning, as we shall not meet again for some time, I take the, opportunity of thanking you all for the kind attention with which you have always listened to, my simple narratives.

"A good many years ago, eleven of my friends and myself, accompanied by a guide named Basil Trueman, climbed the 'Jungfrau,' the ascent of which had never before been attempted. We reached the summit with some difficulty, our guide being rather hampered in his movements by his little son, whom he had brought with him. It is a custom of the Swiss guides and chamois hunters to take their little ones up on the mountains as soon as they can walk at all, in order to accustom them to climbing from their earliest years. It is by no means uncommon to see children of two and three years old, with their tiny alpenstocks and snowshoes, accompanying strangers up the mountains.

"Though little Basil was six years old this was his first climb, as he had been too sickly hitherto. It was unfortunate that the poor little fellow had had no practice, for after the first half hour he could not keep pace with us. We decided to carry him in turns, and as there were twelve of us it could easily have been managed, only they all quarrelled as to who should be the first. I made an end to the dispute by hoisting the little fellow on my shoulders, and on we went. This answered very well, and little Basil was delighted at this new way of climbing, but as we got higher the cold became intense, and at last the boy froze fast on to my shoulder, just as if he were growing there.

"The ascent was interesting, though very fatiguing. We climbed for two days and two nights, hewing steps in the smooth ice for the greater part of the way. At last we reached the summit and revelled in the enchanting view on every side. My little rider was so firmly frozen that he had to be cut from me with knives, and when we placed him on his feet, his legs were so numb that he swayed backwards and forwards on them. Then he lost his footing, slipped, and a loud cry of horror broke from thirteen throats as he rolled with the speed of a falling stone down the steep declivity. Each time he turned over, a fresh layer of snow clung to his body, and at last we only saw an immense snowball rolling down the mountain-side. With the aid of our field-glasses we followed the gigantic lump of snow, till with a final leap it fell into a terrible abyss never trodden by man!

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe


"We all stood petrified with horror, till Trueman and I called out simultaneously, 'After him!' Our companions tried to dissuade us from the daring feat of sliding down a distance of thirteen thousand feet, but we persisted in the attempt. We bound ourselves firmly together with ropes, and started to descend. I will not inflict you with the heartrending details. Suffice to say, sorely bruised but with limbs unbroken we reached the bottom in an hour, and beheld the gigantic snowball with its human kernel fixed amid the branches of a withered tree. Fortunately Trueman had his ice-axe and with infinite difficulty we succeeded in cutting down the tree. We then turned our attention to the snowball and found it frozen in as many layers as an onion. These layers we carefully removed one by one though we despaired of finding the boy alive. At last after some hours' toil, a faint cry was heard, and the child crept out of the snowy covering which had protected him during his terrible fall. The father's joy was indeed touching, and fully repaid me for my arduous exertions. Strange to relate, little Basil was quite unhurt, but when he emerged from the snow which had kept him warm, he froze quite stiff. We carried him home and on the way had one or two narrow escapes from avalanches. The child had to stop in bed a fortnight before he was completely thawed! We fed him with hot goat's milk every two hours, and thus saved his life. In his delirium he called continually on his 'noble deliverer,' as he termed me.

"It will be a great pleasure for me to see him again as a grown man, and press him to my heart. And now farewell, my dear friends and comrades, till my return from the land of snow and glaciers. May Heaven grant we all meet again!"