Humor of Sunrise Seen from a Mountaintop

Humor of Sunrise Seen from a Mountaintop by Mark Twain is adapted from his book A Tramp Abroad [1880]:

“I wished the sun would rise in the middle of the day, when it was warm and bright and cheerful, and one wasn't sleepy.

I thought of how many happy people there were in Europe, Asia, and America, and everywhere, who were sleeping peacefully in their beds, and did not have to get up and see the Rigi sunrise.

In the sunrise—well, they say it is very fine in the sunrise.” -- Mark Twain

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The Rigi-Kulm is an imposing Alpine mass, six thousand feet high, which stands by itself, and commands a mighty prospect of blue lakes, green valleys, and snowy mountains—a compact and magnificent picture three hundred miles in circumference. The ascent is made by rail, or horseback, or on foot, as one may prefer.

I and my agent panoplied ourselves in walking-costume, one bright morning, and started. We were soon tramping leisurely up the leafy mule-path. All the circumstances were perfect—and the anticipations, too, for we should soon be enjoying, for the first time, that wonderful spectacle, an Alpine sunrise—the object of our journey.

There was (apparently) no real need for hurry, for the guide-book made the walking-distance from Waeggis to the summit only three hours and a quarter. The summit is six thousand feet above the sea, but only forty-five hundred feet above the lake.

When we had walked half an hour, we were fairly into the swing and humor of the undertaking, so we cleared for action; that is to say, we got a boy whom we met to carry our alpenstocks and satchels and overcoats and things for us; that left us free for business. I suppose we must have stopped oftener to stretch out on the grass in the shade and take a bit of a smoke than this boy was used to, for presently he asked if it had been our idea to hire him by the job, or by the year? We told him he could move along if he was in a hurry. He said he wasn't in such a very particular hurry, but he wanted to get to the top while he was young. We told him to clear out, then, and leave the things at the uppermost hotel and say we should be along presently. He said he would secure us a hotel if he could, but if they were all full he would ask them to build another one and hurry up and get the paint and plaster dry against we arrived. Still gently chaffing us, he pushed ahead, up the trail, and soon disappeared.

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Afterward we met a hot, red-faced man plunging down the mountain. He stopped, and asked how far to Waeggis. I said three hours. He looked surprised, and said: "Why, it seems as if I could toss a biscuit into the lake from here, it's so close by. Is that an inn, there?"

I said it was.

"Well," said he, "I can't stand another three hours, I've had enough today; I'll take a bed there."

I asked:

"Are we nearly to the top?"

"Nearly to the TOP? Why, bless your soul, you haven't really started, yet."

I said we would put up at the inn, too. So we turned back and ordered a hot supper, and had quite a jolly evening of it with this Englishman.

The German landlady gave us neat rooms and nice beds, and when I and my agent turned in, it was with the resolution to be up early and make the utmost of our first Alpine sunrise.

But of course we were dead tired, and slept like policemen;

so when we awoke in the morning and ran to the window it was already too late, because it was half past eleven.

We got under way about the turn of noon, and pulled out for the summit again, with a fresh and vigorous step.

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At ten minutes past six we reached the Kaltbad station, where there is a spacious hotel with great verandas which command a majestic expanse of lake and mountain scenery.

We were pretty well fagged out, now, but as we did not wish to miss the Alpine sunrise, we got through our dinner as quickly as possible and hurried off to bed.

It was unspeakably comfortable to stretch our weary limbs between the cool, damp sheets. And how we did sleep!—for there is no opiate like Alpine pedestrianism.

In the morning we both awoke and leaped out of bed at the same instant and ran and stripped aside the window-curtains;

but we suffered a bitter disappointment again: it was already half past three in the afternoon.

We dressed sullenly and in ill spirits, each accusing the other of oversleeping.

During breakfast our spirits came up a little, since we found by this guide-book that in the hotels on the summit the tourist is not left to trust to luck for his sunrise, but is roused betimes by a man who goes through the halls with a great Alpine horn, blowing blasts that would raise the dead.

And there was another consoling thing: the guide-book said that up there on the summit the guests did not wait to dress much, but seized a red bed blanket and sailed out arrayed like an Indian. This was good; this would be romantic; two hundred and fifty people grouped on the windy summit, with their hair flying and their red blankets flapping, in the solemn presence of the coming sun, would be a striking and memorable spectacle.

So it was good luck, not ill luck, that we had missed those other sunrises.

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Yes, it was the Rigi-Kulm hotel—the one that occupies the extreme summit, and whose remote little sparkle of lights we had often seen glinting high aloft among the stars from our balcony away down yonder in Lucerne.

We curled up in the clammy beds, and went to sleep. We were so sodden with fatigue that we never stirred nor turned over till the blooming blasts of the Alpine horn aroused us.

It may well be imagined that we did not lose any time. We snatched on a few odds and ends of clothing, cocooned ourselves in the proper red blankets, and plunged along the halls and out into the whistling wind bareheaded.

We saw a tall wooden scaffolding on the very peak of the summit, a hundred yards away, and made for it. We rushed up the stairs to the top of this scaffolding, and stood there, above the vast outlying world, with hair flying and ruddy blankets waving and cracking in the fierce breeze.

"Fifteen minutes too late, at last!" said Harris, in a vexed voice. "The sun is clear above the horizon."

"No matter," I said, "it is a most magnificent spectacle, and we will see it do the rest of its rising anyway."

In a moment we were deeply absorbed in the marvel before us, and dead to everything else. The great cloud-barred disk of the sun stood just above a limitless expanse of tossing white-caps—so to speak—a billowy chaos of massy mountain domes and peaks draped in imperishable snow, and flooded with an opaline glory of changing and dissolving splendors, while through rifts in a black cloud-bank above the sun, radiating lances of diamond dust shot to the zenith. The cloven valleys of the lower world swam in a tinted mist which veiled the ruggedness of their crags and ribs and ragged forests, and turned all the forbidding region into a soft and rich and sensuous paradise.

We could not speak. We could hardly breathe. We could only gaze in drunken ecstasy and drink in it. Presently Harris exclaimed:

"Why—nation, it's going DOWN!"

Perfectly true. We had missed the MORNING hornblow, and slept all day. This was stupefying.

Harris said:

"Look here, the sun isn't the spectacle—it's US—stacked up here on top of this gallows, in these idiotic blankets, and two hundred and fifty well-dressed men and women down here gawking up at us and not caring a straw whether the sun rises or sets, as long as they've got such a ridiculous spectacle as this to set down in their memorandum-books. They seem to be laughing their ribs loose, and there's one girl there that appears to be going all to pieces. I never saw such a man as you before. I think you are the very last possibility in the way of an ass."

"What have I done?" I answered, with heat.

"What have you done? You've got up at half past seven o'clock in the evening to see the sun rise, that's what you've done."

"And have you done any better, I'd like to know? I've always used to get up with the lark, till I came under the petrifying influence of your turgid intellect."

"YOU used to get up with the lark—Oh, no doubt—you'll get up with the hangman one of these days. But you ought to be ashamed to be jawing here like this, in a red blanket, on a forty-foot scaffold on top of the Alps. And no end of people down here to boot; this isn't any place for an exhibition of temper."

And so the customary quarrel went on. When the sun was fairly down, we slipped back to the hotel in the charitable gloaming, and went to bed again.

We had encountered the horn-blower on the way, and he had tried to collect compensation, not only for announcing the sunset, which we did see, but for the sunrise, which we had totally missed; but we said no, we only took our solar rations on the "European plan"—pay for what you get.

He promised to make us hear his horn in the morning, if we were alive.

He kept his word. We heard his horn and instantly got up.

It was dark and cold and wretched. As I fumbled around for the matches, knocking things down with my quaking hands,

I wished the sun would rise in the middle of the day, when it was warm and bright and cheerful, and one wasn't sleepy.

We proceeded to dress by the gloom of a couple sickly candles, but we could hardly button anything, our hands shook so.

I thought of how many happy people there were in Europe, Asia, and America, and everywhere, who were sleeping peacefully in their beds, and did not have to get up and see the Rigi sunrise.

Harris drew the window-curtain, and said:

"Oh, this is luck! We shan't have to go out at all—yonder are the mountains, in full view."

That was glad news, indeed. It made us cheerful right away. One could see the grand Alpine masses dimly outlined against the black firmament, and one or two faint stars blinking through rifts in the night. Fully clothed, and wrapped in blankets, and huddled ourselves up, by the window, with lighted pipes, and fell into chat, while we waited in exceeding comfort to see how an Alpine sunrise was going to look by candlelight.

By and by a delicate, spiritual sort of effulgence spread itself by imperceptible degrees over the loftiest altitudes of the snowy wastes—but there the effort seemed to stop. I said, presently:

"There is a hitch about this sunrise somewhere. It doesn't seem to go. What do you reckon is the matter with it?"

"I don't know. It appears to hang fire somewhere. I never saw a sunrise act like that before. Can it be that the hotel is playing anything on us?"

"Of course not. The hotel merely has a property interest in the sun, it has nothing to do with the management of it. It is a precarious kind of property, too; a succession of total eclipses would probably ruin this tavern. Now what can be the matter with this sunrise?"

Harris jumped up and said:

"I've got it! I know what's the matter with it! We've been looking at the place where the sun SET last night!"

"It is perfectly true! Why couldn't you have thought of that sooner? Now we've lost another one! And all through your blundering. It was exactly like you to light a pipe and sit down to wait for the sun to rise in the west."

"It was exactly like me to find out the mistake, too. You never would have found it out. I find out all the mistakes."

"You make them all, too, else your most valuable faculty would be wasted on you. But don't stop to quarrel, now—maybe we are not too late yet."

But we were. The sun was well up when we got to the exhibition-ground.

On our way up we met the crowd returning—men and women dressed in all sorts of queer costumes, and exhibiting all degrees of cold and wretchedness in their gaits and countenances.

A dozen still remained on the ground when we reached there, huddled together about the scaffold with their backs to the bitter wind. They had their red guide-books open at the diagram of the view, and were painfully picking out the several mountains and trying to impress their names and positions on their memories.

It was one of the saddest sights I ever saw.

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