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Toggenburg - Book 2 by Michaela Francis

EXTRACT FOR
Toggenburg - Book 2 
(Michaela Francis)


Toggenburg 2

TOGGENBURG – BOOK TWO

Edelweiss

 

Chapter One

 

On the day that Frau Fritzl finally released Sarah from service at the Hotel Toggenburg, Sarah and Daniela climbed the mountain. The ascent had its genesis in a number of apparently unrelated coincidences. To begin with, Frau Fritzl decided that she could not, with any degree of financial justification, require Sarah’s services for a few days. However much Frau Fritzl wished to encourage the relationship between the two girls, she was, nevertheless, forced to admit that, with her workforce back to full strength following Magdalena’s full recovery and with a sadly quiet period of business looming, it simply made no sense to continue to employ Sarah. Frau Fritzl could, of course, have justified Sarah’s continued employment on the grounds that she was still enjoying the benefits of Daniela’s presence in the hotel but this was a woman of far greater sensibility than that. Perhaps she realised that Sarah and Daniela had reached an impasse in their relationship; a pause in development dictated by Sarah’s working routine. In a sense, she could kill two birds with a single stone. Sarah needed a break. It would be highly gratifying if that break included Daniela.

Toward the end of her shift, therefore, Frau Fritzl called Sarah across to the table where she was adding up the day’s earnings. “Sarah,” she began, “Now that I’ve a full staff back up and running and we’ve got nothing on for the next few days, why don’t you take a break?”

Sarah blinked. “Oh don’t you need me tomorrow?”

“I can always use you Sarah but you’ve just worked three weeks without a break and all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. Now we’ve got damn all doing for the next few days so why don’t you get off and get out somewhere? I’m sure we can manage a few days without you.”

“I’m not tired of working Frau Fritzl. I’ve been enjoying it.” Sarah looked uncertain.

“I know Sarah and I’m pleased that you’ve been working for us. I’m very grateful for your efforts. You’ve been marvellous as usual. But Sarah, you need to get out of the place for a few days. I know it gets on my nerves after a while if I can’t get off and relax somewhere.” Frau Fritzl paused. “I know,” she said, as if the thought had only just occurred to her, “Why don’t you take your young lady out hiking for a couple of days? You’ve been saying for days how you’d love to show her the mountains. Here’s your chance.”

Sarah blushed. Daniela was by now firmly entrenched as Sarah’s “young lady” in Frau Fritzl’s terminology. “I... I don’t know. I don’t know if Daniela would like that.”

Frau Fritzl put her head back and roared with laughter. “Oh Sarah! Daniela would enthusiastically embrace the idea of a day trip to Hell if you were the guide.” Frau Fritzl recovered her composure and leaned forward seriously. “I think it’s a good idea.” She said quietly. “Take her for a little trip up the mountains. I’m sure she’d love it.”

Sarah swallowed and nodded. “Well we have talked about taking a proper hike one day.”

“Well there you go. Take the girl out and show her the mountains. Show her...” Frau Fritzl paused with a tongue in her cheek. “Show her where you live.”

As Sarah finished up her duties for the evening, waiting for Daniela, the idea grew on her. She had long wanted to introduce Daniela to the high mountains she so loved and it was a perfect opportunity. She knew instinctively that Daniela would be thrilled by the experience and she longed to witness Daniela’s reaction to the true wonder of her mountains. She had only taken Daniela up the Chaserugg until now and that in a cable car. She wanted Daniela to feel a real mountain beneath her boots now however and that meant, to Sarah, the Santis and the wild wastelands of the Toggenburg’s most majestic peak. The more she thought about it, the more excited she became and her face was flushed with exuberance when Daniela came to pick her up dutifully at ten o’clock.

The other major factor influencing Sarah’s sudden endorsement of the idea was the unexpected absence of Nicole. Just that morning, Nicole had been obliged to make her apologies at the Hotel Hirschen and take her farewell of Sarah to drive away to attend upon her mother. Nicole’s mother had had an accident and broken her ankle. That, for the purposes of the narrative, is putting it simply. There were however few matters concerning Nicole’s mother that could be described as simple and it is worth taking a brief moment to take a look at the remarkable woman who had, some twenty years ago, produced such a singular daughter as the fruit of her loins. Nicole’s mother was a middle aged woman and one might have expected her accident to be the misfortune of a mundane mishap concerning, perhaps, a loose stair in her house or perchance an unfortunate slip on an uneven flagstone. It was, of course, none of the above. In fact she had sustained her injury following a bad landing whilst para-gliding!

It could be argued (and many of her more conservative neighbours would argue) that a woman of her mature years ought to have known better than to be jumping off mountains, with a parachute on her back, at her age. We are, however, talking about a woman that had inflicted a minor back injury on herself the previous year whilst bungee jumping in the nude to protest the exploitation of animals in the fur trade. Nicole’s mother was a madcap eccentric; an unrepentant rebel that the growing years of age had failed utterly to tame. She was Nicole... only more so and even Nicole was apt, on occasion, to wince at her mother’s latest lunatic escapade. Nicole’s father was devoted to his impossibly wayward wife and he had stoically endured all her misadventures through nearly thirty years of marriage with a long suffering, tranquil patience that Job himself would have admired. It was a legend in the family that he had quietly and, without fuss, proposed to her the day he had had to bail her out of jail following her public misconduct during an anti-military demonstration in Bern. Sarah knew Nicole’s mother well. She adored her.

It was true, however, that Nicole’s mother would be somewhat demanding of attention in her current disability and, with Nicole’s father away on business, it was Nicole that was obliged to jump into the breach to care for her during her incapacitation. It meant that Nicole would be absent for two or three days and it gave Sarah the opportunity to escape with Daniela without the uncomfortable questions she might face in front of Nicole.    

Frau Fritzl allowed her away early and Sarah almost snatched Daniela’s hand impulsively as she dragged her away from the hotel. “Come on let’s go for a drink at the Schwendi before you drive me home. I have an idea.” she said. Daniela looked bemused by Sarah’s sudden flushed excitement and she allowed herself to pulled away with pleasure. Sarah would say nothing until they had crossed the short distance between the Hotel and the Schwendi restaurant and Daniela bit her lip in eager anticipation. Once in the Schwendi Sarah ordered drinks for them and grasped Daniela’s hand to pull her outside to the garden. It was quite cool, although not intolerably so, and they had the garden to themselves.

 Uncharacteristically, Sarah grasped Daniela in a hug and kissed her. Daniela seemed delighted by the unexpected, impulsive gesture of affection. She laughed. “Come on Sarah! What’s eating you?”

“Danny. Have you got anything on for the next couple of days?”

“Well yes actually.”

Sarah looked deflated. “Oh! What?”

“Well I was hoping to spend them with my adorable Sarah.”

Sarah grinned. “Stop it Danny! Look if you’ve nothing on do you fancy coming for a walk?”

Daniela raised an eyebrow. “Do I presume that we are not talking about a stroll around the Schwendiseen?”

“Yes. Look Frau Fritzl’s giving me a few days off. Do you want to hike up the Santis?”

“Whew! The Santis? You mean the big one?”

“It’s the biggest we’ve got around here. Ok it’s no four thousand meter peak but it’s a serious mountain and it’s wonderful. Are you up for it?”

Daniela looked uncertain. “I don’t know Sarah. I’ve never climbed anything as serious as that before. I don’t know if I’m ready for it.”

“You’ll be fine Danny. We’ll take our time. It takes about four and a half hours for an experienced hiker to get to the summit from the Alpli but we don’t have to do it that fast. Assuming we start early enough we’ve got all day to get up. We’ll just go at your own pace I promise.”

Daniela grinned caught up in Sarah’s enthusiasm. “Ok if you think I can do it.”

“You can do it Danny. I’m sure of it. Please say you’ll come. I so want to show you the Santis.”

“You’ve sold me. Come on what’s the plan?”


 

Chapter Two

 

With Daniela’s agreement secured, Sarah grinned and grabbed a menu off the table and a pen from her uniform to take notes. “Ok it means an early start. I want to be away by seven o’clock in the morning at the latest. Is that a problem?”

Daniela shook her head vigorously. “No, no. But why so early if it only takes four and a half hours?”

“Because I don’t know how quickly we’ll go Danny. You’re not used to hiking so I have to reckon that we’ll take a good deal longer than that. Then there’s the weather. It’s predicted to be hot tomorrow so it’s best to get the hard climbing at low altitude out of the way while it’s still cool in the morning. It’ll be cooler higher up so it won’t matter so much later on. But we have to reach the summit by mid-afternoon.”

“Why?”

“Thunderstorms Danny. In hot weather the thunderstorms close in around the mountain around the late afternoon and you need to be in shelter before that. Trust me. You do not want to be peeing around on an exposed mountain side with lightning hitting the rocks around you. First adage of mountain hiking; start early; finish early. Now do you have a problem with an early start?”

Daniela shook her head once more. “No. I presume we’ll start from your side of the valley. I can drive over in the morning. Can I leave my car at your place?”

“Yes of course. Ok we’ll take the direct route up from Alpli to Tierwis. That’s easy enough and we can take a break at Tierwis.”

“How far from the summit is that?”

“Well I can make the summit in about an hour and a quarter from there but you might take a bit longer since you’ve not done it before. In any case, as long as we’re on schedule, we’ve loads of time to gain the summit.”

“What happens when we reach the summit? Do we set off back down?”

Sarah grinned happily. “No. We stay the night at the Santis hut on the summit.”

“Together?”

“Well of course together.”

Daniela clapped her hands in pleasure. “This sounds worth climbing a mountain for. It gets better all the time.”

“Behave Danny! We’ll only be staying in the Massenlage.”

“Massenlage?”

“The dormitory in the mountain hut.”

“Can we share a bunk?”

“They aren’t bunks Danny. They’re sort of wooden shelves where you might be sleeping a dozen people in a row. They look a bit like the barrack rooms in the less salubrious prison of war camps from world war two.”

“I’ll deal with it Sarah. If it’s the only chance I get to sleep with you, I’ll slum it.”

Sarah giggled and slapped Daniela’s hand affectionately. “Stop it! We’re planning a serious alpine excursion not a dirty weekend on a mountain.”

“Pretty primitive these mountain refuges are they?”

“Oh hell yes. I mean I’m used to them but I hope you won’t find them too basic.”

“Oh I think I’ll enjoy it. It will be just like being back in the Girl Guides again.”

 Sarah pulled a mock frown. “In view of your past record with Lord Baden Powell’s honourable young ladies’ healthy, outdoor movement I’m not sure I feel reassured by that.”

Daniela stuck her tongue out and grinned. “Ok we spend the night on the summit. Then what?”

“Well, if you’re up to it, I thought we could hike the next day over the Lysengrat to the Rotsteinpass, have a bite to eat in the hut there and then climb up the Altmansattel.”

“You’re talking Cantonese Sarah. I can barely pronounce those words let alone know what they refer to.”

“Ok the Lysengrat is the ridge from the Santis summit across to the Rotsteinpass, or red stone pass, which separates the Santis from the mountain Altmann. After that you have about a forty five minute climb, up a big cliff, to the ridge that leads to the Altmann summit. We’d pass the summit to the west and then drop down to the Fahlensee; a beautiful alpine lake and spend a second night there. On the last day we’ll climb back up through the Zwinglipass and drop back down to the Obertoggenburg by way of Gamplut.”

“My God Sarah! Are you sure I can handle this?”

“Yes, or I wouldn’t ask you to do it. If there’s a moment you can’t do any more then there’s loads of places we can bug out with an easy descent or by cable car. Trust me Danny. I’ve taken loads of people up around this mountain. I won’t ask you to do anything you can’t deal with.”

“So it’s a three day adventure.”

“Yes if you’re up for it.”

Daniela took a deep breath and smiled gloriously. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Take me to your mountain Sarah.”

Sarah bit her knuckle in excitement. “Good. Now we have to talk about the stuff you have to bring with you. You said you had proper mountain boots.”

“Yes, I bought them when I came to the Toggenburg. The guy in the shop ensured me that they were top quality.”

“Excellent. The boots on your feet are by far the most important item you’ll have with you. What about a rucksack?”

“Again no problem. I’ve got a brand new one I’ve never used. I bought a few things when I first came here with the vague idea that I’d like to do some hiking. Of course I didn’t know what hiking in the mountains entailed then and I found it a bit intimidating when I realised it wasn’t just a ramble in the countryside.”

“Ok then. Now since we’re taking a three day hike you’ll need clothes for three days. I’d say two pairs of jeans, two shirts or T-shirts, enough underwear for three days and at least three pairs of hiking socks. You need always at least one full change of dry clothes in case you get caught in weather. Oh yes... don’t forget to pack at least one warm pullover too. It might look warm down here in the valley but trust me it can get chilly up on the tops even in summer. Oh and pack a waterproof jacket as well if you’ve got one.” Sarah was scribbling notes for Daniela on the back of the menu.

“What about a skirt Sarah?” asked Daniela uncertainly. “I mean would that be appropriate if we were hiking in hot weather?”

“Oh sure; or a pair of shorts. I was going to take a short skirt myself because the forecast is for some seriously hot weather. You can always bring something skimpy to keep you cool just don’t forget the warm clothes in your rucksack. You can always peel off clothes when it gets warm but you can’t put clothes on you haven’t got when it cools down. Just don’t bring too much stuff though. Remember you have to carry all this on your back. Oh and another thing; if you do bring shorts or a short skirt and a sleeveless top or something make sure to pack some sun cream. Actually, come to think of it, I’d better bring that. Most people don’t use strong enough sun blocker when they go hiking in the mountains. I always carry a bottle of full strength, alpine standard blocker. It would be a good idea would be to bring a hat or a cap to keep the sun off your face as well.”

Daniela smiled. “You seem to be inordinately concerned with my complexion darling.”

Sarah shook her head seriously. “No Danny. I’m serious. The air’s thinner at high altitude and the ultra violet rays cut through much more strongly. You’ve got to protect any exposed skin. Even in winter you can burn to a crisp up in the mountains. It’s dangerous Danny. You can seriously damage your skin.”

“Ok I’ve got the message. I’ve got a cap somewhere although I’m not much of a girl for head gear. I wore a silly hat to go to the races in a couple of years ago and I looked a complete prat in it! I suppose ponceing around on a mountainside wielding a girly parasol would make me persona non grata at this year’s Alpine Club Ball wouldn’t it?”

“You might end up being the first person ever to get laughed off a mountain Danny.”

“I shall resist the temptation then. What about clothes in the mountain huts?”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry too much as long as you’ve got dry clothes to change into. Mountain huts aren’t exactly trendsetting locations for haut couture you know. You won’t even need shoes because they’ve normally got slippers you can pull on so you don’t drag half the mountainside in with you on your boots.”

“Do I need to bring a pair of pyjamas?”

“Oh yes and a hot water bottle, a woolly bed cap, your cocoa mug, a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and your Teddy Bear.”

Daniela threw a beer mat at her. “Stop making fun of me. I’m serious. What are we supposed to wear to bed in these dormitories?”

Sarah shrugged with a grin. “Oh I just usually make do with a T-shirt and a pair of knickers. If it’s likely to be really cold I might pack a track suit bottom but there’s always plenty of blankets.”

“Isn’t it a bit well... public to be flouncing around in your underwear?”

“Oh it’s acceptable dress code in a mountain hut Danny. Everybody’s used to it and people are too polite to stare.”

“I don’t believe a word of it. If you tell me that the two best looking tarts in the Toggenburg are going to strip down to their undies and nobody will look then I’ll start to believe in porcine aviation.”

Sarah giggled helplessly. “Well some people might sneak a little peep. It never bothers me though.  I mean I’m usually quite shy about undressing in public but the general atmosphere and camaraderie in the mountain huts is different. You’re all in the same boat together and it just seems silly being unduly modest. It’s not as if there’s much in the way of titillation about it. I mean the general odour of sweaty bodies and pongy hiking socks tends to take the erotic edge off things.”

“All right then I shall bow to the conventions of acceptable dress. I give you due warning though. If I start to get cold in the middle of the night I’m going to crawl in with you and cuddle up.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve often shared blankets with a friend in the massenlage. I even used to crawl in with Peter when we stayed overnight somewhere. He was always a perfect gentleman about it though blast him.” Sarah pulled a wry face, “I should have realised that something was amiss then.”

“I might have less sense of propriety than your Peter.”

Sarah wagged a finger, “I forbid you to start any hanky panky in the massenlage. Behave yourself you hear.”

Daniela poked her tongue out. “Meany! Ok what else do I need?”