Very merry was the party which arrived at the roughly-built hotel of Schwarenbach which serves as a half-way house to the Altels.
Never had expedition been more enjoyed than that of Mrs. Brownlow and her three boys. They had taken a week by the sea to recruit their forces, and then began their journey in earnest, since it was too late for a return to Eton, although so early in the season that to the Swiss they were like the first swallows of the spring, and they came in for some of the wondrous glory of the spring flowers, so often missed by tourists.
In her mountain dress, all state and ceremony cast aside, Caroline rode, walked, and climbed like the jolly Mother Carey she was, to use her son’s favourite expression, and the boys, full of health and recovery, gambolled about her, feeling her companionship the very crown of their enjoyment.
Johnny, to whom all was more absolutely new than to the others, was the quietest of the three. He was a year older than Lucas, as Jock was now called to formal outsiders, while Friar John, a reversal of his cousin’s two Christian names, was a school title that sometimes passed into home use. Friar John then had reached an age open to the influences of beautiful and sublime scenery, and when the younger ones only felt the exhilaration of mountain air, and longings to get as high as possible, his soul began to expand, and fresh revelations of glory and majesty to take possession of him. He was a very different person from the rough, awkward lad of eight years back. He still had the somewhat loutish figure which, in his mother’s family, was the shell of fine-looking men, and he was shy and bashful, but Eton polish had taken away the rude gruffness, and made his manners and bearing gentlemanly. His face was honest and intelligent, and he had a thoroughly good, conscientious disposition; his character stood high, and he was the only Brownlow of them all who knew the sweets of being “sent up for good.” His aunt could almost watch expression deepening on his open face, and he was enjoying with soul and mind even more than with body. Having had the illness later and more severely than the other two, his strength had not so fully returned, and he was often glad to rest, admire, and study the subject with his aunt, to whose service he was specially devoted, while the other two climbed and explored. For even Armine had been invigorated with a sudden overflow of animal health and energy, which made him far more enterprising and less contemplative than he had ever been before.
They four had walked up the mountain after breakfast from Kandersteg, bringing their bags for a couple of nights, the boys being anxious to go up the Altels the next day, as their time was nearly over and they were to be in school in ten days’ time again. After luncheon and a good rest on the wooden bench outside the door, they began to stroll towards the Daubensee, along a path between desolate boulders, without vegetation, except a small kind of monkshood.