13th June 1901: Take the Stranger’s Case

The Grimsel Pass is marked with an X. I don’t know what route precisely Belloc took so can only say perhaps it was the one I have arrowed.

Like a hobbit, Belloc had two breakfasts; the first at the hotel, where the waiters were very courteous even if they did charge the earth for his food and coffee, and then at an inn. Breakfast there comprised of brandy and, well, just that. Belloc does not say what the inn keeper was like or how much he charged.

Leaving the inn behind, Belloc began his ascent of the Grimsel Pass. In doing so, he left a ‘companion’ behind – the Aar river. A thousand feet later, he was at the top of the pass. It was another misty day. On the way down, he passed the Lake of the Dead, which sounds like it belongs in Middle-Earth. The mist lifted; hopefully, the world now seemed a little less dead.

Belloc continued his descent. Somewhere near the Rhone river, he came to a large hotel. He asked the hotelier what the cost of a meal would be.

… “Four francs,” they said.
“What!” said I, “Four francs for a meal! Come, let me eat in the kitchen, and charge me one.” But they became rude and obstinate, being used only to deal with rich people, so I cursed them, and went down the road.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome p.232

Hilaire Belloc – either making friends or being as annoying as hell towards people. Okay, they were rude, but really.

Further on he met some moree – ‘a sad Englishman reading a book’ (The Path to Rome, p.232), ‘two American women in a carriage’ (Ibid), and then a priest. If he talked to them, though, he doesn’t record doing so. Interestingly, he does mention making an effort to touch iron after seeing the priest. From whence this superstition? The good news, though, is that Belloc felt good again. ‘… I thought myself capable of pushing on to the next village’ (The Path to Rome, pp.232-33) even though he was hungry and his boot was now severely damaged.

Despite this, he did walk on. He passed through ‘a village called “Between the Waters”‘ (The Path to Rome, p.233), and then ‘another called “Ehringen”” (Ibid). Finally, faint from hunger, he stopped at an inn in Ulrichen.

There, he me ‘one of the women whom God loves’ (Ibid) – a simply, kindly soul. She fed him (not very well, it seems, but at least she appears not to have overcharged him) and then persuaded Belloc not to set out for the Gries Pass on account of bad weather. When Belloc told her what he meant to do, she was horrified and called in a man, perhaps her husband, to warn Belloc off making the attempt.

[He] told me that he knew more of the mountains than any one for miles… He said that he had crossed the Nufenen and the Gries whenever they could be crossed since he was a child, and that if I attempted it that day I should sleep that night in Paradise.

The Path to Rome, pp. 236-7

Belloc – albeit reluctantly, for he was mindful of his ever shrinking purse – listened to him. He took a room at the inn but enjoined the man to wake him at three AM the next day and guide him over the mountain. The man agreed. Belloc sent his boots to be cobbled and settled down to read.

Anything that Belloc achieved after this day in 1901 we have the woman and her husband to thank. They proved better friends than many others, even though Belloc was only a stranger to them. They were better friends because of the goodness of their hearts which led them to be concerned for the stranger whom God had put into their home. Their witness to friendship, to love even, is an inspiration.