[Continued from previous blog post: Ludwig’s Sister]
With the children and Gloria all fast asleep, Ludwig and Eva sat down with a bottle of schnapps to talk about what had gone wrong for Ludwig back in the Tyrol.
“Tell me all about vhy you left, Ludvig and zen I vill tell you vat I know,” said Eva as she poured them each a generous glass of schnapps.
Ludwig cast his mind back to that fateful day when winter was just turning to spring and he was working as a mountain guide in his beloved homeland, the Austrian Tyrol.
The two gentlemen from Vienna who had made up his party that day were very keen to tackle some challenging climbs. However, Ludwig, was well aware that the ambitions of his ‘city folk’ clients were often far greater than their abilities, and he had erred on the side of caution, starting them off with an easy scramble to assess their capabilities. Judging them to be reasonable enough climbers, they had then moved on to something a little more challenging.
Again, the two gentlemen had faired well enough, but Ludwig had harboured some reservations about the guy in the red scarf, Reinhard. Reinhard’s boots were brand new and they appeared to be a little on the large side, hampering his efforts to gain a foothold in places. Ludwig had decided he would stick to intermediate climbs for them but Reinhard and Johann had not been happy when he’d proposed this. The two friends had wanted to ‘bag’ something impressive to brag about to their friends when they returned to the city and they’d strongly urged Ludwig to reconsider.
Ludwig had been torn, on the one hand his professional assessment of the situation was that it could be dangerous to step up the game, but, on the other hand, the two gentlemen had paid him an awful lot of money to be their guide for the day and he had had high hopes of repeat business from them. That wasn’t going to happen if he didn’t give them the thrill they were looking for and so he’d made that pivotal decision to take them to ‘Die Klippe des Todes’ [‘The Cliff of Death’].
The climb had initially gone well with Reinhard and Johann surprising Ludwig with their tenacity and skill on that most formidable of cliff faces. The irony was that they had almost made the summit when disaster struck. Reinhard’s left boot had become momentarily wedged in a crevice and as he’d lifted his foot it slipped out of the boot. Without the foot to hold its weight, the boot had fallen free from the rock and plummeted down the mountainside.
Down below, the boot had whistled past Johann, missing him by a cat’s whisker, but it had distracted him enough to cause him to loose his footing and he’d been left dangling in mid air, hundreds of feet above the valley floor below.
Ludwig had remained calm and professional – his mountaincraft and physical strength were legendary amongst Tyrolean mountain guides and he’d been confident that he could pull them back from the brink of disaster. Shouting down to Johann he’d urged him to stay calm and explained that he could just about reach Reinhard. He would, he’d said, pull Reinhard over the cliff top and this manoeuvre would lift Johann a few inches up the cliff face which should allow him to gain a foothold.
The plan had worked, Johann had gained some purchase and resumed his climb. Ludwig had breathed a big sigh of relief when both men were safely at the top but as he looked around at the wide expanse of ground they had to traverse before they could even begin their descent to base, he had wondered how on earth they would manage now that Reinhard only had one boot.
And indeed Ludwig had been right to worry. Showing remarkable resilience, Reinhard had limped onward for several miles but eventually the rough ground had taken its toll and his foot was just too painful to continue. By that time, the sun was getting low in the sky and Ludwig had feared that without a stretcher he would not be able to get Reinhard off the the mountain. Reluctantly leaving the injured man and his friend in the shelter of some boulders and instructing them to stay exactly where they were, he’d gone to seek help.
The mountain rescue team had mobilised quickly. Of course Ludwig had wanted to go with them but they’d insisted he was too weary from his day in the mountains and would only slow them down. Happy that they knew from his description where they would find the two stranded climbers, they’d set off, leaving Ludwig to wait anxiously at the mountain hut that served as the mountain rescue base. The hours had passed slowly and as the light faded and the temperature dropped dramatically, Ludwig had felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach – surely they should have heard something by now? he’d thought.
Then Ludwig had heard a shout from inside the hut. It was his sister, Eva, who was manning the radio for mountain rescue that day.
His heart had been in his mouth when he’d asked Eva if the climbers were safe but the news had not been good. The mountain rescue team had radioed through – they’d reached the spot where Ludwig had left the two climbers only to find no sign of them and a thorough search of the area had proved fruitless too. Ludwig had been horrified; the temperature outside was sub-zero by that time and the two men had been wearing only light wool jackets and of course Reinhard only had one boot – they would surely not survive a night in the mountains. Ludwig’s foolishness in allowing the two men to to take on ‘Die Klippe des Todes’, knowing full well that Reinhard’s boots were inadequate, had crashed down upon him in that moment – the two men would perish on the mountain that night and the blame was squarely on his head.
Ludwig shuddered as he recalled how he’d panicked, fleeing the mountain hut in the moonlight and heading away from the Tyrol – as far away as he could get. The reality of the situation had been too hard to face – the men had talked of their wives and young families as they’d climbed and his reckless actions had made them into widows and fatherless children.
“So you see, Eva,” said Ludwig with a rueful smile, “your bruzer is ze coward and ziz is vhy I am here in Grecondale.”
Eva rose from her seat, “NO Ludwig!” she exclaimed, “Ziz is vhy I am here, if only you had not run avay, you vould know zat Johann und Reinhard are NOT dead, zey are safe und vell! Not long before ze mountain rescue team arrived vere you had left zem, old Kaspar passed by zat wery spot viz his mules. He put Reinhard on ze mule and led zem back to his hut up in ze mountains vere he fed and varmed zem before returning zem to ze willage by ze mules ze next day. I have been looking for you ezzer since to tell you!”
Ludwig couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Suddenly a weight was lifted from his shoulders, he wasn’t responsible for killing anyone! His conscience was clear!
He leapt from his seat and hugged his sister, “Eva, how can I ezzer sank you enough for coming to find me?!” he shouted euphorically.
“Ah, vell, I vould wery much like to stay in England viz ze children, zo if you could see your vay clear to letting us stay viz you zen zis vould do nicely, Ludvig,” Eva ventured. “Ja, oh ja, anyzing, Eva! Stay as long as you like!” said Ludwig.
The next morning, Ludwig awoke after the best night’s sleep he’d had since that awful day in the Tyrol. He’d never told Gloria anything about why he’d left his homeland but he explained it all to her now as they lay in bed. It was a lot to take in but Gloria was happy for Ludwig, he did have a knee-jerk tendency to run away from his responsibilities but she knew he was a good man at heart and she loved him.
© 2017, Zoe. All rights reserved.