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A Tramp Abroad

John's health has returned and the journey resumed with a rainy walk back to the Schoenbiel hut.

During the walk up we remembered with gratitude how the previous evening Edith Zweifel had led us up the hill to the Edelweiss Restaurant, which only the hearty can reach. It's perched on a cliff about 300 or 400 vertical meters above Zermatt. As impressive as the view is the number of illustrious visitors who have eaten there, among them Mark Twain. That's all the excuse I need to share one of my favorite passages from A Tramp Abroad. Twain tells a hilarious tale of the ascent of the Riffelberg above Zermatt, followed by his attempted descent by glacier. Here are the passages, though I urge you to read the tale in its entirety:

"But at last I hit it. I was aware that the movement of glaciers is an established fact, for I had read it in Baedeker; so I resolved to take passage for Zermatt on the great Gorner Glacier. ...

"I marched the Expedition down the steep and tedious mule-path and took up as good a position as I could upon the middle of the glacier - because Baedeker said the middle part travels the fastest. As a measure of economy, however, I put some of the heavier baggage on the shoreward parts, to go as slow freight.

"I waited and waited, but the glacier did not move.

Night was coming on, the darkness began to gather - still we did not budge. It occurred to me then, that there might be a time-table in Baedeker; it would be well to find out the hours of starting....

"Presently Baedeker was found again, and I hunted eagerly for the time-table. There was none. The book simply said the glacier was moving all the time. This was satisfactory, so I shut up the book and chose a good position to view the scenery as we passed along. I stood there some time enjoying the trip, but at last it occurred to me that we did not seem to be gaining any on the scenery. I said to myself, "This confounded old thing's aground again, sure," - and opened Baedeker to see if I could run across any remedy for these annoying interruptions. I soon found a sentence which threw a dazzling light upon the matter. It said, "The Gorner Glacier travels at an average rate of a little less than an inch a day." I have seldom felt so outraged.

I have seldom had my confidence so wantonly betrayed.

I made a small calculation: One inch a day, say thirty feet a year; estimated distance to Zermatt, three and one-eighteenth miles. Time required to go by glacier, A LITTLE OVER FIVE HUNDRED YEARS! I said to myself, "I can WALK it quicker - and before I will patronize such a fraud as this, I will do it."

"When I revealed to Harris the fact that the passenger part of this glacier - the central part - the lightning-express part, so to speak -was not due in Zermatt till the summer of 2378, and that the baggage, coming along the slow edge, would not arrive until some generations later, he burst out with:

"That is European management, all over! An inch a day - think of that! Five hundred years to go a trifle over three miles! But I am not a bit surprised. It's a Catholic glacier. You can tell by the look of it. And the management."

I said, no, I believed nothing but the extreme end of it was in a Catholic canton.

"Well, then, it's a government glacier," said Harris.

"It's all the same. Over here the government runs everything - so everything's slow; slow, and ill-managed. But with us, everything's done by private enterprise - and then there ain't much lolling around, you can depend on it.

I wish Tom Scott could get his hands on this torpid old slab once - you'd see it take a different gait from this."

I said I was sure he would increase the speed, if there was trade enough to justify it.

"He'd MAKE trade," said Harris. "That's the difference between governments and individuals. Governments don't care, individuals do. Tom Scott would take all the trade; in two years Gorner stock would go to two hundred, and inside of two more you would see all the other glaciers under the hammer for taxes." After a reflective pause, Harris added, "A little less than an inch a day; a little less than an INCH, mind you. Well, I'm losing my reverence for glaciers."

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