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The Crystal Hunters: A Boy's Adventures in the Higher Alps

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Crystal Hunters, by George Manville Fenn.


  A tense tale, such as we expect of George Manville Fenn. A group ofEnglish people are in the Swiss Alps. But it is not just the beautiesof the scenery they are after, but crystals which may sometimes befound in caves near the top of the glaciers. They manage to find aguide who promises to be discreet about what they do. But someone elseis on the mountain, and he is just as interested in what they are up to,and what they find, as they are themselves.

  Of course, as we expect in a Manville Fenn novel, there are tensemoments when people fall down crevasses, when there are avalanches andice-falls, when icy rocks break off and come tumbling towards them. Butwhat about the unknown person who is making off with their hard-wonspecimens?

  There is a surprise ending. It is a good readable book, well worth theeffort of making an audio book and listening to it.





  "Steady there! Stop! Hold hard!"

  "What's the matter, Mr Dale?"

  "Matter, Saxe, my boy? Well, this. I undertook to take you back toyour father and mother some day, sound in wind and limb; but if youbegin like that, the trip's over, and we shall have to start back forEngland in less than a week--at least, I shall, with my luggageincreased by a case containing broken boy."

  There was a loud burst of hearty laughter from the manly-looking ladaddressed, as he stood, with his hands clinging and his head twistedround, to look back: for he had spread-eagled himself against a nearlyperpendicular scarp of rock which he had begun to climb, so as to reacha patch of wild rhododendrons.

  There was another personage present, in the shape of a sturdy,muscular-looking man, whose swarthy face was sheltered by a wide-brimmedsoft felt hat, very much turned up at the sides, and in whose broad bandwas stuck a tuft of the pale grey, starry-looking, downy plant known asthe Edelweiss. His jacket was of dark, exceedingly threadbare velvet;breeches of the same; and he wore gaiters and heavily nailed lace-upboots; his whole aspect having evoked the remarks, when he presentedhimself at the door of the chalet:

  "I say, Mr Dale, look here! Where is his organ and his monkey? Thischap has been asking for you--for Herr Richard Dale, of London."

  "Yes, I sent for him. It is the man I am anxious to engage for ourguide."

  For Melchior Staffeln certainly did look a good deal like one of the"musicians" who infest London streets with "kists o' whustles," as theScottish gentleman dubbed them--or much noisier but less penetratinginstruments on wheels.

  He was now standing wearing a kind of baldric across his chest, in theshape of a coil of new soft rope, from which he rarely parted, whateverthe journey he was about to make, and leaning on what, at first sight,seemed to be a stout walking-stick with a crutch handle, but a secondglance revealed as an ice-axe, with, a strong spike at one end, and ahead of sharp-edged and finely pointed steel, which Saxe said made itlook like a young pick-axe.

  This individual had wrinkled his face up so much that his eyes werenearly closed, and his shoulders were shaking as he leaned upon theice-axe, and indulged in a long, hearty, nearly silent laugh.

  "Ah! it's no laughing matter, Melchior," said the broad-shouldered,bluff, sturdy-looking Englishman. "I don't want to begin with anaccident."

  "No, no," said the guide, whose English seemed to grow clearer as theybecame more intimate. "No accidents. It is the Swiss mountain airgetting into his young blood. In another week he will bound along thematt, or dash over the green alp like a goat, and in a fortnight beready to climb a spitz like a chamois."

  "Yes, that's all very well, my man; but I prefer a steady walk. Lookhere, Saxe!"

  "I'm listening, Mr Dale," said the lad.

  "Then just get it into your brain, if you can, that we are not out on aschoolboy trip, but upon the borders of new, almost untried ground, andwe shall soon be mounting places that are either dangerous or safe asyou conduct yourself."

  "All right, Mr Dale; I'll be careful," said the lad.

  "Never fear, herr," cried the guide; "I will not take you anywheredangerous--only to places where your fellow-countrymen have well markedthe way."

  "Thank you," was the reply, in so peculiar a tone that the guide lookedat the speaker curiously.

  "Yes," continued the latter; "I'll have a chat with you presently."

  "I am ready, herr," said the man, rather distantly now. "You have seenmy book of testimonials, written by many English and German voyagers wholove the mountains!"

  "Yes," said Richard Dale quietly; "and I want this boy to know what hehas to do."

  "All right, Mr Dale," said the lad; "you may trust me."

  "That's understood, then. You must obey me without question instantly,just as I shall have to obey Melchior Staffeln. I have been out here adozen times before, and know a great deal; but he has been here all hislife, and has inherited the existence of his father and grandfather,both guides. Now, is this understood!"

  "Yes, of course, Mr Dale," said the boy, who had been impatientlythrowing stones into the middle of the little river flowing through thevalley; "but you are not going to take me for a walk every day, and makeus hold one another's hands?"

  "I'm going to make you do exactly what Melchior thinks best," said hiscompanion, firmly. "And let me tell you, young fellow, there will betimes, if you care to go with me, when we shall be very glad to holdeach other's hands: up yonder, for instance, along that shelf, where youcan see the sheep."

  He pointed toward where, high up the side of the narrow valley, a groupof white-woolled sheep could be seen browsing.

  "What, those?" said the lad. "That's nothing. I thought thesemountains and places would be ever so high."

  "Ah! I suppose so," said Dale dryly. "Why, you young ignoramus--youyoung puppy, with your eyes not yet half opened--do you know how highthose sheep are above where we stand?"

  "Those?" said the lad, who had been looking rather contemptuously ateverything he had seen since he had been on the Continent. "Perhaps acouple of hundred feet--say three."

  "Three hundred, Saxe? Why, my lad, they are a thousand feet if they arean inch."

  "Two thousand," said the guide quietly.

  "What!" cried the boy. "Then how high is that point just peeping overthe hills there, right up the valley?"

  He pointed to a dazzling snowy peak which ran up like a roughly shaped,blunted spear head glistening in the morning air.

  "Das Dusselhorn," said the guide. "Hochte spitze? Nein."

  "What is the height, Melchior?"

  "How high, herr?--how tall? Eleven thousand English feet."

  "Why it does not look much higher than Saint Paul's."

  "You must remember that you are amongst the great peaks," said Dale,"and that it takes time to educate your eyes to the size of everythingabout you."

  "But it looks as if you could get to the top in an hour," said Saxe.

  "Does it?" said Dale, smiling. "Then what do you say to this?" And hepointed up at the huge mass of rock, streaked with ravines full of snow,which formed one side of the valley in which they stood.

  "Lenstock," said the guide.

  "How long would it take us to get up to the top, Melchior?"

  "Too late to-day, herr. Start at three o'clock with lanthorn while theschnee-snow is hard. Ten hours to go up, seven to co
me down."

  Richard Dale looked at his young companion, whose forehead was wrinkled,as he stared up at the huge mass of rock from its lower green alps orpastures, up over the grey lichened stone, to where the streakings ofwhite snow began, and then higher and higher to the region ofeverlasting ice.

  "Well," he said at last, as he lowered his eyes to the guide and thestrong, resolute-looking man beside him, "I--"

  A quick change came over him, and with a laughing look he continuedquickly:

  "Not travellers' tales, eh?"

  "Travellers' tales?" said the guide slowly.

  "He means, are you deceiving him?" said Dale.

  The guide shook his head gravely.

  "The great mountains are too solemn to speak anything but truth in theirshade."

  "Well," said Saxe slowly, "then it's the mountains that deceive."

  "Wait a bit, boy, and you'll soon learn how great they are. It takestime. Now, understand this: I do not want to interfere with yourenjoyment; but if we are to carry out my plans, it must be work and notplay."

  "Why not both?" said Saxe merrily.

  "Because we must husband our strength, so as to always have a littleleft to use in an emergency. Now, then, we understand each other, do wenot?"

  "Yes, Mr Dale."

  "Then forward."

  The guide nodded his head good-humouredly; but he did not stir.

  "Well?" said the Englishman.

  "Let us understand each other," said the guide quietly. "Those who goup into the mountains must be brothers. Now your life is in danger, andI save you; next my life is in peril, and you save me. A guide issomething more than one who goes to show the way."

  "Of course," said Richard Dale, eyeing the man curiously: "that is why Ihave chosen you. Friends told me that Melchior Staffeln was a man whomI might trust."

  "I thank them," said the guide. "And the herr wishes me to be his guidefor days and weeks or months, and show him the way up the greatmountains as I have shown others?"

  "No!" said Dale sharply. "I want you to take me right in among theheights, passes and glaciers where the visitors do not go."

  The guide looked at him fixedly.

  "Why? what for?" he said. "You did not tell me this when you came up tothe chalet last night, and sent for me."

  "No. I tell you now."

  "Why do you wish to go? There may be danger."

  "I'll tell you. I want to see the mountains and study them. I wouldsearch for metals and specimens of the stones in the higher rocks."



  "Hah!" said the guide. "To see if there is gold and silver and preciousstones?"


  "If it is known you will be stopped by the magistrate of the commune."

  "Why? I do not want to rob the country."

  "But the gold--the silver."

  "Let's find them first, man; and see what the chief magistrate saysthen. Can you lead me to places where I can find these?"


  "Will you?"

  The man was silent for a few minutes. Then,--"Will the herr bestraightforward and honest to my country, and if he finds such treasuresin the mountains, will he go to the magistrates and get leave to workthem?"

  "Of that you may be sure. Will you come?"

  The man was silent and thoughtful again for a minute.

  "If the people know, we shall be watched night and day."

  "They must not know."

  "No, they must not know."

  "Then you will come?"

  "Yes," said the man, "I will come."

  "Then, once more, forward," said Dale. "Saxe, my lad, our search forNature's treasures has begun."