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0100_005E VII. Alpenrosen and Goat's-Milk Henry van Dyke

Section V.

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The peasant women of Lienz have one very striking feature in their dress--a black felt hat with a broad, stiff brim and a high crown, smaller at the top than at the base. It looks a little like the traditional head-gear of the Pilgrim Fathers, exaggerated. There is a solemnity about it which is fatal to feminine beauty.

I went by the post-waggon, with two slow horses and ten passengers, fifteen miles up the Iselthal, to Windisch-Matrei, a village whose early history is lost in the mist of antiquity, and whose streets are pervaded with odours which must have originated at the same time with the village. One wishes that they also might have shared the fate of its early history. But it is not fair to expect too much of a small place, and Windisch-Matrei has certainly a beautiful situation and a good inn. There I took my guide--a wiry and companionable little man, whose occupation in the lower world was that of a maker and merchant of hats--and set out for the Pragerhutte, a shelter on the side of the Gross-Venediger.

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The path led under the walls of the old Castle of Weissenstein, and then in steep curves up the cliff which blocks the head of the valley, and along a cut in the face of the rock, into the steep, narrow Tauernthal, which divides the Glockner group from the Venediger. How entirely different it was from the region of the Dolomites! There the variety of colour was endless and the change incessant; here it was all green grass and trees and black rocks, with glimpses of snow. There the highest mountains were in sight constantly; here they could only be seen from certain points in the valley. There the streams played but a small part in the landscape; here they were prominent, the main river raging and foaming through the gorge below, while a score of waterfalls leaped from the cliffs on either side and dashed down to join it.

The peasants, men, women and children, were cutting the grass in the perpendicular fields; the woodmen were trimming and felling the trees in the fir-forests; the cattle-tenders were driving their cows along the stony path, or herding them far up on the hillsides. It was a lonely scene, and yet a busy one; and all along the road was written the history of the perils and hardships of the life which now seemed so peaceful and picturesque under the summer sunlight.

These heavy crosses, each covered with a narrow, pointed roof and decorated with a rude picture, standing beside the path, or on the bridge, or near the mill--what do they mean? They mark the place where a human life has been lost, or where some poor peasant has been delivered from a great peril, and has set up a memorial of his gratitude.

Stop, traveller, as you pass by, and look at the pictures. They have little more of art than a child's drawing on a slate; but they will teach you what it means to earn a living in these mountains. They tell of the danger that lurks on the steep slopes of grass, where the mowers have to go down with ropes around their waists, and in the beds of the streams where the floods sweep through in the spring, and in the forests where the great trees fall and crush men like flies, and on the icy bridges where a slip is fatal, and on the high passes where the winter snowstorm blinds the eyes and benumbs the limbs of the traveller, and under the cliffs from which avalanches slide and rocks roll. They show you men and women falling from waggons, and swept away by waters, and overwhelmed in land-slips. In the corner of the picture you may see a peasant with the black cross above his head--that means death. Or perhaps it is deliverance that the tablet commemorates--and then you will see the miller kneeling beside his mill with a flood rushing down upon it, or a peasant kneeling in his harvest-field under an inky-black cloud, or a landlord beside his inn in flames, or a mother praying beside her sick children; and above appears an angel, or a saint, or the Virgin with her Child.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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