A. E. W. MASON
Author of The Four Feathers, etc.
I SHOWS MRS. THESIGER IN HER HOME II INTRODUCES ONE OF STROOD'S SUCCESSORS III THE FINDING OF JOHN LATTERY IV MR. JARVICE V MICHEL REVAILLOUD EXPOUNDS HIS PHILOSOPHY VI THE PAVILLON DE LOGNAN VII THE AIGUILLE D'ARGENTIERE VIII SYLVIA PARTS FROM HER MOTHER IX SYLVIA MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF HER FATHER X A LITTLE ROUND GAME OF CARDS XI SYLVIA'S FATHER MAKES A MISTAKE XII THE HOUSE OF THE RUNNING WATER XII CHAYNE RETURNS XIV AN OLD PASSION BETRAYS A NEW SECRET XV KENYON'S JOHN LATTERY XVI AS BETWEEN GENTLEMEN XVII SYLVIA TELLS MORE THAN SHE KNOWS XVIII BOTH SIDES OF THE QUESTION XIX THE SHADOW IN THE ROOM XX ON THE DOWN XXI CHAYNE COMES TO CONCLUSIONS XXII REVAILLOUD REVISITED XXIII MICHEL REVAILLOUD'S FUEHRBUCH XXIV THE BRENVA RIDGE XXV A NIGHT ON AN ICE-SLOPE XXVI RUNNING WATER
SHOWS MRS. THESIGER IN HER HOME
The Geneva express jerked itself out of the Gare de Lyons. For a few minutes the lights of outer Paris twinkled past its windows and then with a spring it reached the open night. The jolts and lurches merged into one regular purposeful throb, the shrieks of the wheels, the clatter of the coaches, into one continuous hum. And already in the upper berth of her compartment Mrs. Thesiger was asleep. The noise of a train had no unrest for her. Indeed, a sleeping compartment in a Continental express was the most permanent home which Mrs. Thesiger had possessed for a good many more years than she would have cared to acknowledge. She spent her life in hotels with her daughter for an unconsidered companion. From a winter in Vienna or in Rome she passed to a spring at Venice or at Constantinople, thence to a June in Paris, a July and August at the bathing places, a September at Aix, an autumn in Paris again. But always she came back to the sleeping-car. It was the one familiar room which was always ready for her; and though the prospect from its windows changed, it was the one room she knew which had always the same look, the same cramped space, the same furniture—the one room where, the moment she stepped into it, she was at home.
Yet on this particular journey she woke while it was yet dark. A noise slight in comparison to the clatter of the train, but distinct in character and quite near, told her at once what had disturbed her. Some one was moving stealthily in the compartment—her daughter. That was all. But Mrs. Thesiger lay quite still, and, as would happen to her at times, a sudden terror gripped her by the heart. She heard the girl beneath her, dressing very quietly, subduing the rustle of her garments, even the sound of her breathing.
"How much does she know?" Mrs. Thesiger asked of herself; and her heart sank and she dared not answer.
The rustling ceased. A sharp click was heard, and the next moment through a broad pane of glass a faint twilight crept into the carriage. The blind had been raised from one of the windows. It was two o'clock on a morning of July and the dawn was breaking. Very swiftly the daylight broadened, and against the window there came into view the profile of a girl's head and face. Seen as Mrs. Thesiger saw it, with the light still dim behind it, it was black like an ancient daguerreotype. It was also as motionless and as grave.
"How much does she know?"
The question would thrust itself into the mother's thoughts. She watched her daughter intently from the dark corner where her head lay, thinking that with the broadening of the day she might read the answer in that still face. But she read nothing even when every feature was revealed in the clear dead light, for the face which she saw was the face of one who lived much apart within itself, building amongst her own dreams as a child builds upon the sand and pays no heed to those who pass. And to none of her dreams had Mrs. Thesiger the key. Deliberately her daughter had withdrawn herself amongst them, and they had given her this return for her company. They had kept her fresh and gentle in a circle where freshness was soon lost and gentleness put aside.
Sylvia Thesiger was at this time seventeen, although her mother dressed her to look younger, and even then overdressed her like a toy. It was of a piece with the nature of the girl that, in this matter as in the rest, she made no protest. She foresaw the scene, the useless scene, which would follow upon her protest, exclamations against her ingratitude, abuse for her impertinence, and very likely a facile shower of tears at the end; and her dignity forbade her to enter upon it. She just let her mother dress her as she chose, and she withdrew just a little more into the secret chamber of her dreams. She sat now looking steadily out of the window, with her eyes uplifted and aloof, in a fashion which had become natural to her, and her mother was seized with a pang of envy at the girl's beauty. For beauty Sylvia Thesiger had, uncommon in its quality rather than in its degree. From the temples to the round point of her chin the contour of her face described a perfect oval. Her forehead was broad and low and her hair, which in color was a dark chestnut, parted in the middle, whence it rippled in two thick daring waves to the ears, a fashion which noticeably became her, and it was gathered behind into a plait which lay rather low upon the nape of her neck. Her eyes were big, of a dark gray hue and very quiet in their scrutiny; her mouth, small and provoking. It provoked, when still, with the promise of a very winning smile, and the smile itself was not so frequent but that it provoked a desire to summon it to her lips again. It had a way of hesitating, as though Sylvia were not sure whether she would smile or not; and when she had made up her mind, it dimpled her cheeks and transfigured her whole face, and revealed in her tenderness and a sense of humor. Her complexion was pale, but clear, her figure was slender and active, but without angularities, and she was of the middle height. Yet the quality which the eye first remarked in her was not so much her beauty, as a certain purity, a look almost of the Madonna, a certainty, one might say, that even in the circle in which she moved, she had kept herself unspotted from the world.
Thus she looked as she sat by the carriage window. But as the train drew near to Amberieu, the air brightened and the sunlight ministered to her beauty like a careful handmaid, touching her pale cheeks to a rosy warmth, giving a luster to her hair, and humaning her to a smile. Sylvia sat forward a little, as though to meet the sunlight, then she turned toward the carriage and saw her mother's eyes intently watching her.
"You are awake?" she said in surprise.
"Yes, child. You woke me."
"I am very sorry. I was as quiet as I could be. I could not sleep."
"Why?" Mrs. Thesiger repeated the question with insistence. "Why couldn't you sleep?"
"We are traveling to Chamonix," replied Sylvia. "I have been thinking of it all night," and though she smiled in all sincerity, Mrs. Thesiger doubted. She lay silent for a little while. Then she said, with a detachment perhaps slightly too marked:
"We left Trouville in a hurry yesterday, didn't we?"
"Yes," replied Sylvia, "I suppose we did," and she spoke as though this was the first time that she had given the matter a thought.
"Trouville was altogether too hot," said Mrs. Thesiger; and again silence followed. But Mrs. Thesiger was not content. "How much does she know?" she speculated again, and was driven on to find an answer. She raised herself upon her elbow, and while rearranging her pillow said carelessly:
"Sylvia, our last morning at Trouville you were reading a book which seemed to interest you very much."
Sylvia volunteered no information about that book.
"You brought it down to the sands. So I suppose you never noticed a strange-looking couple who passed along the deal boards just in front of us." Mrs. Thesiger laughed and her head fell back upon her pillow. But during that movement her eyes had never left her daughter's face. "A middle-aged man with stiff gray hair, a stiff, prim face, and a figure like a ramrod. Oh, there never was anything so stiff." A noticeable bitterness began to sound in her voice and increased as she went on. "There was an old woman with him as precise and old-fashioned as himself. But you didn't see them? I never saw anything so ludicrous as that couple, austere and provincial as their clothes, walking along the deal boards between the rows of smart people." Mrs. Thesiger laughed as she recalled the picture. "They must have come from the Provinces. I could imagine them living in a chateau on a hill overlooking some tiny village in—where shall we say?" She hesitated for a moment, and then with an air of audacity she shot the word from her lips—"in Provence."
The name, however, had evidently no significance for Sylvia, and Mrs. Thesiger was relieved of her fears.
"But you didn't see them," she repeated, with a laugh.
"Yes, I did," said Sylvia, and brought her mother up on her elbow again. "It struck me that the old lady must be some great lady of a past day. The man bowed to you and—"
She stopped abruptly, but her mother completed the sentence with a vindictiveness she made little effort to conceal.
"And the great lady did not, but stared in the way great ladies have. Yes, I had met the man—once—in Paris," and she lay back again upon her pillow, watching her daughter. But Sylvia showed no curiosity and no pain. It was not the first time when people passed her mother that she had seen the man bow and the woman ignore. Rather she had come to expect it. She took her book from her berth and opened it.
Mrs. Thesiger was satisfied. Sylvia clearly did not suspect that it was just the appearance of that stiff, old-fashioned couple which had driven her out of Trouville a good month before her time—her, Mrs. Thesiger of the many friends. She fell to wondering what in the world had brought M. de Camours and his mother to that watering place amongst the brilliant and the painted women. She laughed again at the odd picture they had made, and her thoughts went back over twenty years to the time when she had been the wife of M. de Camours in the chateau overlooking the village in Provence, and M. de Camours' mother had watched her with an unceasing jealousy. Much had happened since those days. Madame de Camours' watchings had not been in vain, a decree had been obtained from the Pope annulling the marriage. Much had happened. But even after twenty years the memory of that formal life in the Provencal chateau was vivid enough; and Mrs. Thesiger yawned. Then she laughed. Monsieur de Camours and his mother had always been able to make people yawn.
"So you are glad that we are going to Chamonix, Sylvia—so glad that you couldn't sleep?"
It sounded rather unaccountable to Mrs. Thesiger, but then Sylvia was to her a rather unaccountable child. She turned her face to the wall and fell asleep.
Sylvia's explanation, however, happened to be true. Chamonix meant the great range of Mont Blanc, and Sylvia Thesiger had the passion for mountains in her blood. The first appearance of their distant snows stirred her as no emotion ever had, so that she came to date her life by these appearances rather than by the calendar of months and days. The morning when from the hotel windows at Glion she had first seen the twin peaks of the Dent du Midi towering in silver high above a blue corner of the Lake of Geneva, formed one memorable date. Once, too, in the winter-time, as the Rome express stopped at three o'clock in the morning at the frontier on the Italian side of the Mont Cenis tunnel, she had carefully lifted the blind on the right-hand side of the sleeping compartment and had seen a great wall of mountains tower up in a clear frosty moonlight from great buttresses of black rock to delicate pinnacles of ice soaring infinite miles away into a cloudless sky of blue. She had come near to tears that night as she looked from the window; such a tumult of vague longings rushed suddenly in upon her and uplifted her. She was made aware of dim uncomprehended thoughts stirring in the depths of her being, and her soul was drawn upward to those glittering spires, as to enchanted magnets. Ever afterward Sylvia looked forward, through weeks, to those few moments in her mother's annual itinerary, and prayed with all her heart that the night might be clear of mist and rain.
She sat now at the window with no thought of Trouville or their hurried flight. With each throb of the carriage-wheels the train flashed nearer to Chamonix. She opened the book which lay upon her lap—the book in which she had been so interested when Monsieur de Camours and his mother passed her by. It was a volume of the "Alpine Journal," more than twenty years old, and she could not open it but some exploit of the pioneers took her eyes, some history of a first ascent of an unclimbed peak. Such a history she read now. She was engrossed in it, and yet at times a little frown of annoyance wrinkled her forehead. She gave an explanation of her annoyance; for once she exclaimed half aloud, "Oh, if only he wouldn't be so funny!" The author was indeed being very funny, and to her thinking never so funny as when the narrative should have been most engrossing. She was reading the account of the first ascent of an aiguille in the Chamonix district, held by guides to be impossible and conquered at last by a party of amateurs. In spite of its humor Sylvia Thesiger was thrilled by it. She envied the three men who had taken part in that ascent, envied them their courage, their comradeship, their bivouacs in the open air beside glowing fires, on some high shelf of rock above the snows. But most of all her imagination was touched by the leader of that expedition, the man who sometimes alone, sometimes in company, had made sixteen separate attacks upon that peak. He stared from the pages of the volume—Gabriel Strood. Something of his great reach of limb, of his activity, of his endurance, she was able to realize. Moreover he had a particular blemish which gave to him a particular interest in her eyes, for it would have deterred most men altogether from his pursuit and it greatly hampered him. And yet in spite of it, he had apparently for some seasons stood prominent in the Alpine fraternity. Gabriel Strood was afflicted with a weakness in the muscles of one thigh. Sylvia, according to her custom, began to picture him, began to talk with him.
She wondered whether he was glad to have reached that summit, or whether he was not on the whole rather sorry—sorry for having lost out of his life a great and never-flagging interest. She looked through the subsequent papers in the volume, but could find no further mention of his name. She perplexed her fancies that morning. She speculated whether having made this climb he had stopped and climbed no more; or whether he might not get out of this very train on to the platform at Chamonix. But as the train slowed down near to Annemasse, she remembered that the exploit of which she had read had taken place more than twenty years ago.
INTRODUCES ONE OF STROOD'S SUCCESSORS
But though Gabriel Strood occupied no seat in that train, one of his successors was traveling by it to Chamonix after an absence of four years. Of those four years Captain Chayne had passed the last two among the coal-stacks of Aden, with the yellow land of Arabia at his back, longing each day for this particular morning, and keeping his body lithe and strong against its coming. He left the train at Annemasse, and crossing the rails to the buffet, sat down at the table next to that which Mrs. Thesiger and her daughter already occupied.
He glanced at them, placed them in their category, and looked away, utterly uninterested. They belonged to the great class of the continental wanderers, people of whom little is known and everything suspected—people with no kinsfolk, who flit from hotel to hotel and gather about them for a season the knowing middle-aged men and the ignorant young ones, and perhaps here and there an unwary woman deceived by the more than fashionable cut of their clothes. The mother he put down as nearer forty than thirty, and engaged in a struggle against odds to look nearer twenty than thirty. The daughter's face Chayne could not see, for it was bent persistently over a book. But he thought of a big doll in a Christmas toy-shop. From her delicate bronze shoes to her large hat of mauve tulle everything that she wore was unsuitable. The frock with its elaborations of lace and ribbons might have passed on the deal boards of Trouville. Here at Annemasse her superfineness condemned her.
Chayne would have thought no more of her, but as he passed her table on his way out of the buffet his eyes happened to fall on the book which so engrossed her. There was a diagram upon the page with which he was familiar. She was reading an old volume of the "Alpine Journal." Chayne was puzzled—there was so marked a contradiction between her outward appearance and her intense absorption in such a subject as Alpine adventure. He turned at the door and looked back. Sylvia Thesiger had raised her head and was looking straight at him. Thus their eyes met, and did more than meet.
Chayne, surprised as he had been by the book which she was reading, was almost startled by the gentle and rather wistful beauty of the face which she now showed to him. He had been prepared at the best for a fresh edition of the mother's worn and feverish prettiness. What he saw was distinct in quality. It seemed to him that an actual sympathy and friendliness looked out from her dark and quiet eyes, as though by instinct she understood with what an eager exultation he set out upon his holiday. Sylvia, indeed, living as she did within herself, was inclined to hero-worship naturally; and Chayne was of the type to which, to some extent through contrast with the run of her acquaintance, she gave a high place in her thoughts. A spare, tall man, clear-eyed and clean of feature, with a sufficient depth of shoulder and wonderfully light of foot, he had claimed her eyes the moment that he entered the buffet. Covertly she had watched him, and covertly she had sympathized with the keen enjoyment which his brown face betrayed. She had no doubts in her mind as to the intention of his holiday; and as their eyes met now involuntarily, a smile began to hesitate upon her lips. Then she became aware of the buffet, and her ignorance of the man at whom she looked, and, with a sudden mortification, of her own over-elaborate appearance. Her face flushed, and she lowered it again somewhat quickly to the pages of her book. But it was as though for a second they had spoken.
Chayne, however, forgot Sylvia Thesiger. As the train moved on to Le Fayet he was thinking only of the plans which he had made, of the new expeditions which were to be undertaken, of his friend John Lattery and his guide Michel Revailloud who would be waiting for him upon the platform of Chamonix. He had seen neither of them for four years. The electric train carried the travelers up from Le Fayet. The snow-ridges and peaks came into view; the dirt-strewn Glacier des Bossons shot out a tongue of blue ice almost to the edge of the railway track, and a few minutes afterward the train stopped at the platform of Chamonix.
Chayne jumped down from his carriage and at once suffered the first of his disappointments. Michel Revailloud was on the platform to meet him, but it was a Michel Revailloud whom he hardly knew, a Michel Revailloud grown very old. Revailloud was only fifty-two years of age, but during Chayne's absence the hardships of his life had taken their toll of his vigor remorselessly. Instead of the upright, active figure which Chayne so well remembered, he saw in front of him a little man with bowed shoulders, red-rimmed eyes, and a withered face seamed with tiny wrinkles.
At this moment, however, Michel's pleasure at once more seeing his old patron gave to him at all events some look of his former alertness, and as the two men shook hands he cried:
"Monsieur, but I am glad to see you! You have been too long away from Chamonix. But you have not changed. No, you have not changed."
In his voice there was without doubt a note of wistfulness. "I would I could say as much for myself." That regret was as audible to Chayne as though it had been uttered. But he closed his ears to it. He began to talk eagerly of his plans. There were familiar peaks to be climbed again and some new expeditions to be attempted.
"I thought we might try a new route up the Aiguille sans Nom," he suggested, and Michel assented but slowly, without the old heartiness and without that light in his face which the suggestion of something new used always to kindle. But again Chayne shut his ears.
"I was very lucky to find you here," he went on cheerily. "I wrote so late that I hardly hoped for it."
Michel replied with some embarrassment:
"I do not climb with every one, monsieur. I hoped perhaps that one of my old patrons would want me. So I waited."
Chayne looked round the platform for his friend.
"And Monsieur Lattery?" he asked.
The guide's face lit up.
"Monsieur Lattery? Is he coming too? It will be the old days once more."
"Coming? He is here now. He wrote to me from Zermatt that he would be here."
Revailloud shook his head.
"He is not in Chamonix, monsieur."
Chayne experienced his second disappointment that morning, and it quite chilled him. He had come prepared to walk the heights like a god in the perfection of enjoyment for just six weeks. And here was his guide grown old; and his friend, the comrade of so many climbs, so many bivouacs above the snow-line, had failed to keep his tryst.
"Perhaps there will be a letter from him at Couttet's," said Chayne, and the two men walked through the streets to the hotel. There was no letter, but on the other hand there was a telegram. Chayne tore it open.
"Yes it's from Lattery," he said, as he glanced first at the signature. Then he read the telegram and his face grew very grave. Lattery telegraphed from Courmayeur, the Italian village just across the chain of Mont Blanc:
"Starting now by Col du Geant and Col des Nantillons."
The Col du Geant is the most frequented pass across the chain, and no doubt the easiest. Once past its great ice-fall, the glacier leads without difficulty to the Montanvert hotel and Chamonix. But the Col des Nantillons is another affair. Having passed the ice-fall, and when within two hours of the Montanvert, Lattery had turned to the left and had made for the great wall of precipitous rock which forms the western side of the valley through which the Glacier du Geant flows down, the wall from which spring the peaks of the Dent du Requin, the Aiguille du Plan, the Aiguille de Blaitiere, the Grepon and the Charmoz. Here and there the ridge sinks between the peaks, and one such depression between the Aiguille de Blaitiere and the Aiguille du Grepon is called the Col des Nantillons. To cross that pass, to descend on the other side of the great rock-wall into that bay of ice facing Chamonix, which is the Glacier des Nantillons, had been Lattery's idea.
Chayne turned to the porter.
"When did this come?"
"Three days ago."
The gravity on Chayne's face changed into a deep distress. Lattery's party would have slept out one night certainly. They would have made a long march from Courmayeur and camped on the rocks at the foot of the pass. It was likely enough that they should have been caught upon that rock-wall by night upon the second day. The rock-wall had never been ascended, and the few who had descended it bore ample testimony to its difficulties. But a third night, no! Lattery should have been in Chamonix yesterday, without a doubt. He would not indeed have food for three nights and days.
Chayne translated the telegram into French and read it out to Michel Revailloud.
"The Col des Nantillons," said Michel, with a shake of the head, and Chayne saw the fear which he felt himself looking out from his guide's eyes.
"It is possible," said Michel, "that Monsieur Lattery did not start after all."
"He would have telegraphed again."
"Yes," Michel agreed. "The weather has been fine too. There have been no fogs. Monsieur Lattery could not have lost his way."
"Hardly in a fog on the Glacier du Geant," replied Chayne.
Michel Revailloud caught at some other possibility.
"Of course, some small accident—a sprained ankle—may have detained him at the hut on the Col du Geant. Such things have happened. It will be as well to telegraph to Courmayeur."
"Why, that's true," said Chayne, and as they walked to the post-office he argued more to convince himself than Michel Revailloud. "It's very likely—some quite small accident—a sprained ankle." But the moment after he had sent the telegram, and when he and Michel stood again outside the post-office, the fear which was in him claimed utterance.
"The Col des Nantillons is a bad place, Michel, that's the truth. Had Lattery been detained in the hut he would have found means to send us word. In weather like this, that hut would be crowded every night; every day there would be some one coming from Courmayeur to Chamonix. No! I am afraid of the steep slabs of that rock-wall."
And Michael Revailloud said slowly:
"I, too, monsieur. It is a bad place, the Col des Nantillons; it is not a quick way or a good way to anywhere, and it is very dangerous. And yet I am not sure. Monsieur Lattery was very safe on rocks. Ice, that is another thing. But he would be on rock."
It was evident that Michel was in doubt, but it seemed that Chayne could not force himself to share it.
"You had better get quietly together what guides you can, Michel," he said. "By the time a rescue party is made up the answer will have come from Courmayeur."
Chayne walked slowly back to the hotel. All those eager anticipations which had so shortened his journey this morning, which during the last two years had so often raised before his eyes through the shimmering heat of the Red Sea cool visions of ice-peaks and sharp spires of rock, had crumbled and left him desolate. Anticipations of disaster had taken their place. He waited in the garden of the hotel at a spot whence he could command the door and the little street leading down to it. But for an hour no messenger came from the post-office. Then, remembering that a long sad work might be before him, he went into the hotel and breakfasted. It was twelve o'clock and the room was full. He was shown a place amongst the other newcomers at one of the long tables, and he did not notice that Sylvia Thesiger sat beside him. He heard her timid request for the salt, and passed it to her; but he did not speak, he did not turn; and when he pushed back his chair and left the room, he had no idea who had sat beside him, nor did he see the shadow of disappointment on her face. It was not until later in the afternoon when at last the blue envelope was brought to him. He tore it open and read the answer of the hotel proprietor at Courmayeur:
"Lattery left four days ago with one guide for Col du Geant."
He was standing by the door of the hotel, and looking up he saw Michel Revailloud and a small band of guides, all of whom carried ice-axes and some Ruecksacks on their backs, and ropes, come tramping down the street toward him.
Michel Revailloud came close to his side and spoke with excitement.
"He has been seen, monsieur. It must have been Monsieur Lattery with his one guide. There were two of them," and Chayne interrupted him quickly.
"Yes, there were two," he said, glancing at his telegram. "Where were they seen?"
"High up, monsieur, on the rocks of the Blaitiere. Here, Jules"; and in obedience to Michel's summons, a young brown-bearded guide stepped out from the rest. He lifted his hat and told his story:
"It was on the Mer de Glace, monsieur, the day before yesterday. I was bringing a party back from the Jardin, and just by the Moulin I saw two men very high up on the cliffs of the Blaitiere. I was astonished, for I had never seen any one upon those cliffs before. But I was quite sure. None of my party could see them, it is true, but I saw them clearly. They were perhaps two hundred feet below the ridge between the Blaitiere and the Grepon and to the left of the Col."
"What time was this?"
"Four o'clock in the afternoon."
"Yes," said Chayne. The story was borne out by the telegram. Leaving Courmayeur early, Lattery and his guide would have slept the night on the rocks at the foot of the Blaitiere, they would have climbed all the next day and at four o'clock had reached within two hundred feet of the ridge, within two hundred feet of safety. Somewhere within those last two hundred feet the fatal slip had been made; or perhaps a stone had fallen.
"For how long did you watch them?" asked Chayne.
"For a few minutes only. My party was anxious to get back to Chamonix. But they seemed in no difficulty, monsieur. They were going well."
Chayne shook his head at the hopeful words and handed his telegram to Michel Revailloud.
"The day before yesterday they were on the rocks of the Blaitiere," he said. "I think we had better go up to the Mer de Glace and look for them at the foot of the cliffs."
"Monsieur, I have eight guides here and two will follow in the evening when they come home. We will send three of them, as a precaution, up the Mer de Glace. But I do not think they will find Monsieur Lattery there."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I believe Monsieur Lattery has made the first passage of the Col des Nantillons from the east," he said, with a peculiar solemnity. "I think we must look for them on the western side of the pass, in the crevasses of the Glacier des Nantillons."
"Surely not," cried Chayne. True, the Glacier des Nantillons in places was steep. True, there were the seracs—those great slabs and pinnacles of ice set up on end and tottering, high above, where the glacier curved over a brow of rock and broke—one of them might have fallen. But Lattery and he had so often ascended and descended that glacier on the way to the Charmoz and the Grepon and the Plan. He could not believe his friend had come to harm that way.
Michel, however, clung to his opinion.
"The worst part of the climb was over," he argued. "The very worst pitch, monsieur, is at the very beginning when you leave the glacier, and then it is very bad again half way up when you descend into a gully; but Monsieur Lattery was very safe on rock, and having got so high, I think he would have climbed the last rocks with his guide."
Michel spoke with so much certainty that even in the face of his telegram, in the face of the story which Jules had told, hope sprang up within Chayne's heart.
"Then he may be still up there on some ledge. He would surely not have slipped on the Glacier des Nantillons."
That hope, however, was not shared by Michel Revailloud.
"There is very little snow this year," he said. "The glaciers are uncovered as I have never seen them in all my life. Everywhere it is ice, ice, ice. Monsieur Lattery had only one guide with him and he was not so sure on ice. I am afraid, monsieur, that he slipped out of his steps on the Glacier des Nantillons."
"And dragged his guide with him?" exclaimed Chayne. His heart rather than his judgment protested against the argument. It seemed to him disloyal to believe it. A man should not slip from his steps on the Glacier des Nantillons. He turned toward the door.
"Very well," he said. "Send three guides up the Mer de Glace. We will go up to the Glacier des Nantillons."
He went up to his room, fetched his ice-ax and a new club-rope with the twist of red in its strands, and came down again. The rumor of an accident had spread. A throng of tourists stood about the door and surrounded the group of guides, plying them with questions. One or two asked Chayne as he came out on what peak the accident had happened. He did not reply. He turned to Michel Revailloud and forgetful for the moment that he was in Chamonix, he uttered the word so familiar in the High Alps, so welcome in its sound.
"Vorwaerts, Michel," he said, and the word was the Open Sesame to a chamber which he would gladly have kept locked. There was work to do now; there would be time afterward to remember—too long a time. But in spite of himself his recollections rushed tumultuously upon him. Up to these last four years, on some day in each July his friend and he had been wont to foregather at some village in the Alps, Lattery coming from a Government Office in Whitehall, Chayne now from some garrison town in England, now from Malta or from Alexandria, and sometimes from a still farther dependency. Usually they had climbed together for six weeks, although there were red-letter years when the six weeks were extended to eight, six weeks during which they lived for the most part on the high level of the glaciers, sleeping in huts, or mountain inns, or beneath the stars, and coming down only for a few hours now and then into the valley towns. Vorwaerts! The months of their comradeship seemed to him epitomized in the word. The joy and inspiration of many a hard climb came back, made bitter with regret for things very pleasant and now done with forever. Nights on some high ledge, sheltered with rocks and set in the pale glimmer of snow-fields, with a fire of brushwood lighting up the faces of well-loved comrades; half hours passed in rock chimneys wedged overhead by a boulder, or in snow-gullies beneath a bulge of ice, when one man struggled above, out of sight, and the rest of the party crouched below with what security it might waiting for the cheery cry, "Es geht. Vorwaerts!"; the last scramble to the summit of a virgin peak; the swift glissade down the final snow-slopes in the dusk of the evening with the lights of the village twinkling below; his memories tramped by him fast and always in the heart of them his friend's face shone before his eyes. Chayne stood for a moment dazed and bewildered. There rose up in his mind that first helpless question of distress, "Why?" and while he stood, his face puzzled and greatly troubled, there fell upon his ears from close at hand a simple message of sympathy uttered in a whisper gentle but distinct:
"I am very sorry."
Chayne looked up. It was the overdressed girl of the Annemasse buffet, the girl who had seemed to understand then, who seemed to understand now. He raised his hat to her with a sense of gratitude. Then he followed the guides and went up among the trees toward the Glacier des Nantillons.
THE FINDING OF JOHN LATTERY
The rescue party marched upward between the trees with the measured pace of experience. Strength which would be needed above the snow-line was not to be wasted on the lower slopes. But on the other hand no halts were made; steadily the file of men turned to the right and to the left and the zigzags of the forest path multiplied behind them. The zigzags increased in length, the trees became sparse; the rescue party came out upon the great plateau at the foot of the peaks called the Plan des Aiguilles, and stopped at the mountain inn built upon its brow, just over Chamonix. The evening had come, below them the mists were creeping along the hillsides and blotting the valley out.
"We will stop here," said Michel Revailloud, as he stepped on to the little platform of earth in front of the door. "If we start again at midnight, we shall be on the glacier at daybreak. We cannot search the Glacier des Nantillons in the dark."
Chayne agreed reluctantly. He would have liked to push on if only to lull thought by the monotony of their march. Moreover during these last two hours, some faint rushlight of hope had been kindled in his mind which made all delay irksome. He himself would not believe that his friend John Lattery, with all his skill, his experience, had slipped from his ice-steps like any tyro; Michel, on the other hand, would not believe that he had fallen from the upper rocks of the Blaitiere on the far side of the Col. From these two disbeliefs his hope had sprung. It was possible that either Lattery or his guide lay disabled, but alive and tended, as well as might be, by his companion on some insecure ledge of that rock-cliff. A falling stone, a slip checked by the rope might have left either hurt but still living. It was true that for two nights and a day the two men must have already hung upon their ledge, that a third night was to follow. Still such endurance had been known in the annals of the Alps, and Lattery was a hard strong man.
A girl came from the chalet and told him that his dinner was ready. Chayne forced himself to eat and stepped out again on to the platform. A door opened and closed behind him. Michel Revailloud came from the guides' quarters at the end of the chalet and stood beside him in the darkness, saying nothing since sympathy taught him to be silent, and when he moved moving with great gentleness.
"I am glad, Michel, that we waited here since we had to wait," said Chayne.
"This chalet is new to you, monsieur. It has been built while you were away."
"Yes. And therefore it has no associations, and no memories. Its bare whitewashed walls have no stories to tell me of cheery nights on the eve of a new climb when he and I sat together for a while and talked eagerly of the prospects of to-morrow."
The words ceased. Chayne leaned his elbows on the wooden rail. The mists in the valley below had been swept away; overhead the stars shone out of an ebony sky very bright as on some clear winter night of frost, and of all that gigantic amphitheater of mountains which circled behind them from right to left there was hardly a hint. Perhaps here some extra cube of darkness showed where a pinnacle soared, or there a vague whiteness glimmered where a high glacier hung against the cliff, but for the rest the darkness hid the mountains. A cold wind blew out of the East and Chayne shivered.
"You are cold, monsieur?" said Michel. "It is your first night."
"No, I am not cold," Chayne replied, in a low and quiet voice. "But I am thinking it will be deadly cold up there in the darkness on the rocks of the Blaitiere."
Michel answered him in the same quiet voice. On that broad open plateau both men spoke indeed as though they were in a sick chamber.
"While you were away, monsieur, three men without food sat through a night on a steep ice-sheltered ice-slope behind us, high up on the Aiguille du Plan, as high up as the rocks of the Blaitiere. And not one of them came to any harm."
"I know. I read of it," said Chayne, but he gathered little comfort from the argument.
Michel fumbled in his pocket and drew out a pipe. "You do not smoke any more?" he asked. "It is a good thing to smoke."
"I had forgotten," said Chayne.
He filled his pipe and then took a fuse from his match-box.
"No, don't waste it," cried Michel quickly before he could strike it. "I remember your fuses, monsieur."
Michel struck a sulphur match and held it as it spluttered, and frizzled, in the hollow of his great hands. The flame burnt up. He held it first to Chayne's pipe-bowl and then to his own; and for a moment his face was lit with the red glow. Its age thus revealed, and framed in the darkness, shocked Chayne, even at this moment, more than it had done on the platform at Chamonix. Not merely were its deep lines shown up, but all the old humor and alertness had gone. The face had grown mask-like and spiritless. Then the match went out.
Chayne leaned upon the rail and looked downward. A long way below him, in the clear darkness of the valley the lights of Chamonix shone bright and very small. Chayne had never seen them before so straight beneath him. As he looked he began to notice them; as he noticed them, more and more they took a definite shape. He rose upright, and pointing downward with one hand he said in a whisper, a whisper of awe—
"Do you see, Michel? Do you see?"
The great main thoroughfare ran in a straight line eastward through the town, and, across it, intersecting it at the little square where the guides gather of an evening, lay the other broad straight road from the church across the river. Along those two roads the lights burned most brightly, and thus there had emerged before Chayne's eyes a great golden cross. It grew clearer and clearer as he looked; he looked away and then back again, and now it leapt to view, he could not hide it from his sight, a great cross of light lying upon the dark bosom of the valley.
"Do you see, Michel?"
"Yes." The answer came back very steadily. "But so it was last night and last year. Those three men on the Plan had it before their eyes all night. It is no sign of disaster." For a moment he was silent, and then he added timidly: "If you look for a sign, monsieur, there is a better one."
Chayne turned toward Michel in the darkness rather quickly.
"As we set out from the hotel," Michel continued, "there was a young girl upon the steps with a very sweet and gentle face. She spoke to you, monsieur. No doubt she told you that her prayers would be with you to-night."
"No, Michel," Chayne replied, and though the darkness hid his face, Michel knew that he smiled. "She did not promise me her prayers. She simply said: 'I am sorry.'"
Michel Revailloud was silent for a little while, and when he spoke again, he spoke very wistfully. One might almost have said that there was a note of envy in his voice.
"Well, that is still something, monsieur. You are very lonely to-night, is it not so? You came back here after many years, eager with hopes and plans and not thinking at all of disappointments. And the disappointments have come, and the hopes are all fallen. Is not that so, too? Well, it is something, monsieur—I, who am lonely too, and an old man besides, so that I cannot mend my loneliness, I tell you—it is something that there is a young girl down there with a sweet and gentle face who is sorry for you, who perhaps is looking up from among those lights to where we stand in the darkness at this moment."
But it seemed that Chayne did not hear, or, if he heard, that he paid no heed. And Michel, knocking the tobacco from his pipe, said:
"You will do well to sleep. We may have a long day before us"; and he walked away to the guides' quarters.
But Chayne could not sleep; hope and doubt fought too strongly within him, wrestling for the life of his friend. At twelve o'clock Michel knocked upon his door. Chayne got up from his bed at once, drew on his boots, and breakfasted. At half past the rescue party set out, following a rough path through a wilderness of boulders by the light of a lantern. It was still dark when they came to the edge of the glacier, and they sat down and waited. In a little while the sky broke in the East, a twilight dimly revealed the hills, Michel blew out the lantern, the blurred figures of the guides took shape and outline, and silently the morning dawned upon the world.
The guides moved on to the glacier and spread over it, ascending as they searched.
"You see, monsieur, there is very little snow this year," said Michel, chipping steps so that he and Chayne might round the corner of a wide crevasse.
"Yes, but it does not follow that he slipped," said Chayne, hotly, for he was beginning to resent that explanation as an imputation against his friend.
Slowly the party moved upward over the great slope of ice into the recess, looking for steps abruptly ending above a crevasse or for signs of an avalanche. They came level with the lower end of a long rib of rock which crops out from the ice and lengthwise bisects the glacier. Here the search ended for a while. The rib of rocks is the natural path, and the guides climbed it quickly. They came to the upper glacier and spread out once more, roped in couples. They were now well within the great amphitheater. On their left the cliffs of the Charmoz overlapped them, on the right the rocks of the Blaitiere. For an hour they advanced, cutting steps since the glacier was steep, and then from the center of the glacier a cry rang out. Chayne at the end of the line upon the right looked across. A little way in front of the two men who had shouted something dark lay upon the ice. Chayne, who was with Michel Revailloud, called to him and began hurriedly to scratch steps diagonally toward the object.
"Take care, monsieur," cried Michel.
Chayne paid no heed. Coming up from behind on the left-hand side, he passed his guide and took the lead. He could tell now what the dark object was, for every now and then a breath of wind caught it and whirled it about the ice. It was a hat. He raised his ax to slice a step and a gust of wind, stronger than the others, lifted the hat, sent it rolling and skipping down the glacier, lifted it again and gently dropped it at his feet. He stooped down and picked it up. It was a soft broad-brimmed hat of dark gray felt. In the crown there was the name of an English maker. There was something more too. There were two initials—J.L.
Chayne turned to Michel Revailloud.
"You were right, Michel," he said, solemnly. "My friend has made the first passage of the Col des Nantillons from the East."
The party moved forward again, watching with redoubled vigilance for some spot in the glacier, some spot above a crevasse, to which ice-steps descended and from which they did not lead down. And three hundred yards beyond a second cry rang out. A guide was standing on the lower edge of a great crevasse with a hand upheld above his head. The searchers converged quickly upon him. Chayne hurried forward, plying the pick of his ax as never in his life had he plied it. Had the guide come upon the actual place where the accident took place, he asked himself? But before he reached the spot, his pace slackened, and he stood still. He had no longer any doubt. His friend and his friend's guide were not lying upon any ledge of the rocks of the Aiguille de Blaitiere; they were not waiting for any succor.
On the glacier, a broad track, littered with blocks of ice, stretched upward in a straight line from the upper lip of the crevasse to the great ice-fall on the sky-line where the huge slabs and pinnacles of ice, twisted into monstrous shapes, like a sea suddenly frozen when a tempest was at its height, stood marshaled in serried rows. They stood waiting upon the sun. One of them, melted at the base, had crashed down the slope, bursting into huge fragments as it fell, and cleaving a groove even in that hard glacier.
Chayne went forward and stopped at the guide's side on the lower edge of the crevasse. Beyond the chasm the ice rose in a blue straight wall for some three feet, and the upper edge was all crushed and battered; and then the track of the falling serac ended. It had poured into the crevasse.
The guide pointed to the left of the track.
"Do you see, monsieur? Those steps which come downward across the glacier and stop exactly where the track meets them? They do not go on, on the other side of the track, monsieur."
Chayne saw clearly enough. The two men had been descending the glacier in the afternoon, the avalanche had fallen and swept them down. He dropped upon his knees and peered into the crevasse. The walls of the chasm descended smooth and precipitous, changing in gradual shades and color from pale transparent green to the darkest blue, until all color was lost in darkness. He bent his head and shouted into the depths:
And only his voice came back to him, cavernous and hollow. He shouted again, and then he heard Michel Revailloud saying solemnly behind him:
"Yes, they are here."
Suddenly Chayne turned round, moved by a fierce throb of anger.
"It's not true, you see," he cried. "He didn't slip out of his steps and drag his guide down with him. You were wrong, Michel."
Michel was standing with his hat in his hand.
"Yes, monsieur, I was quite wrong," he said, gently. He turned to a big and strong man:
"Francois, will you put on the rope and go down?"
They knotted the rope securely about Francois' waist and he took his ice-ax in his hand, sat down on the edge of the crevasse with his legs dangling, turned over upon his face and said:
"When I pull the rope, haul in gently."
They lowered him carefully down for sixty feet, and at that depth the rope slackened. Francois had reached the bottom of the crevasse. For a few moments they watched the rope move this way and that, and then there came a definite pull.
"He has found them," said Michel.
Some of the guides lined out with the rope in their hands. Chayne took his position in the front, at the head of the line and nearest to the crevasse. The pull upon the rope was repeated, and slowly the men began to haul it in. It did not occur to Chayne that the weight upon the rope was heavy. One question filled his mind, to the exclusion of all else. Had Francois found his friend? What news would he bring of them when he came again up to the light? Francois' voice was heard now, faintly, calling from the depths. But what he said could not be heard. The line of men hauled in the rope more and more quickly and then suddenly stopped and drew it in very gently. For they could now hear what Francois said. It was but one word, persistently repeated:
And so gently they drew him up toward the mouth of the crevasse. Chayne was standing too far back to see down beyond the edge, but he could hear Francois' ax clattering against the ice-walls, and the grating of his boots. Michel, who was kneeling at the edge of the chasm, held up his hand, and the men upon the rope ceased to haul. In a minute or two he lowered it.
"Gently," he said, "gently," gazing downward with a queer absorption. Chayne began to hear Francois' labored breathing and then suddenly at the edge of the crevasse he saw appear the hair of a man's head.
"Up with him," cried a guide; there was a quick strong pull upon the rope and out of the chasm, above the white level of the glacier, there appeared a face—not Francois' face—but the face of a dead man. Suddenly it rose into the colorless light, pallid and wax-like, with open, sightless eyes and a dropped jaw, and one horrid splash of color on the left forehead, where blood had frozen. It was the face of Chayne's friend, John Lattery; and in a way most grotesque and horrible it bobbed and nodded at him, as though the neck was broken and the man yet lived. When Francois just below cried, "Gently! Gently," it seemed that the dead man's mouth was speaking.
Chayne uttered a cry; then a deathly sickness overcame him. He dropped the rope, staggered a little way off like a drunken man and sat down upon the ice with his head between his hands.
Some while later a man came to him and said:
"We are ready, monsieur."
Chayne returned to the crevasse. Lattery's guide had been raised from the crevasse. Both bodies had been wrapped in sacks and cords had been fixed about their legs. The rescue party dragged the bodies down the glacier to the path, and placing them upon doors taken from a chalet, carried them down to Chamonix. On the way down Francois talked for a while to Michel Revailloud, who in his turn fell back to where at the end of the procession Chayne walked alone.
"Monsieur," he said, and Chayne looked at him with dull eyes like a man dazed.
"There is something which Francois noticed, which he wished me to tell you. Francois is a good lad. He wishes you to know that your friend died at once—there was no sign of a movement. He lay in the bottom of the crevasse in some snow which was quite smooth. The guide—he had kicked a little with his feet in the snow—but your friend had died at once."
"Thank you," said Chayne, without the least emotion in his voice. But he walked with uneven steps. At times he staggered like one overdone and very tired. But once or twice he said, as though he were dimly aware that he had his friend's reputation to defend:
"You see he didn't slip on the ice, Michel. You were quite wrong. It was the avalanche. It was no fault of his."
"I was wrong," said Michel, and he took Chayne by the arm lest he should fall; and these two men came long after the others into Chamonix.
The news of Lattery's death was telegraphed to England on the same evening. It appeared the next morning under a conspicuous head-line in the daily newspapers, and Mr. Sidney Jarvice read the item in the Pullman car as he traveled from Brighton to his office in London. He removed his big cigar from his fat red lips, and became absorbed in thought. The train rushed past Hassocks and Three Bridges and East Croydon. Mr. Jarvice never once looked at his newspaper again. The big cigar of which the costliness was proclaimed by the gold band about its middle had long since gone out, and for him the train came quite unexpectedly to a stop at the ticket platform on Battersea Bridge.
Mr. Jarvice was a florid person in his looks and in his dress. It was in accordance with his floridness that he always retained the gold band about his cigar while he smoked it. He was a man of middle age, with thick, black hair, a red, broad face, little bright, black eyes, a black mustache and rather prominent teeth. He was short and stout, and drew attention to his figure by wearing light-colored trousers adorned with a striking check. From Victoria Station he drove at once to his office in Jermyn Street. A young and wizened-looking clerk was already at work in the outer room.
"I will see no one this morning, Maunders," said Mr. Jarvice as he pressed through.
"Very well, sir. There are a good number of letters," replied the clerk.
"They must wait," said Mr. Jarvice, and entering his private room he shut the door. He did not touch the letters upon his table, but he went straight to his bureau, and unlocking a drawer, took from it a copy of the Code Napoleon. He studied the document carefully, locked it up again and looked at his watch. It was getting on toward one o'clock. He rang the bell for his clerk.
"Maunders," he said, "I once asked you to make some inquiries about a young man called Walter Hine."
"Do you remember what his habits were? Where he lunched, for instance?"
Maunders reflected for a moment.
"It's a little while ago, sir, since I made the inquiries. As far as I remember, he did not lunch regularly anywhere. But he went to the American Bar of the Criterion restaurant most days for a morning drink about one."
"Oh, he did? You made his acquaintance, of course?"
"Well, you might find him this morning, give him some lunch, and bring him round to see me at three. See that he is sober."
At three o'clock accordingly Mr. Walter Hine was shown into the inner room of Mr. Jarvice. Jarvice bent his bright eyes upon his visitor. He saw a young man with very fair hair, a narrow forehead, watery blue eyes and a weak, dissipated face. Walter Hine was dressed in a cheap suit of tweed much the worse for wear, and he entered the room with the sullen timidity of the very shy. Moreover, he was a little unsteady as he walked, as though he had not yet recovered from last night's intoxication.
Mr. Jarvice noted these points with his quick glance, but whether they pleased him or not there was no hint upon his face.
"Will you sit down?" he said, suavely, pointing to a chair. "Maunders, you can go."
Walter Hine turned quickly, as though he would have preferred Maunders to stay, but he let him go. Mr. Jarvice shut the door carefully, and, walking across the room, stood over his visitor with his hands in his pockets, and renewed his scrutiny. Walter Hine grew uncomfortable, and blurted out with a cockney twang—
"Maunders told me that if I came to see you it might be to my advantage."
"I think it will," replied Mr. Jarvice. "Have you seen this morning's paper?"
"On'y the 'Sportsman'."
"Then you have probably not noticed that your cousin, John Lattery, has been killed in the Alps." He handed his newspaper to Hine, who glanced at it indifferently.
"Well, how does that affect me?" he asked.
"It leaves you the only heir to your uncle, Mr. Joseph Hine, wine-grower at Macon, who, I believe, is a millionaire. Joseph Hine is domiciled in France, and must by French law leave a certain portion of his property to his relations, in other words, to you. I have taken some trouble to go into the matter, Mr. Hine, and I find that your share must at the very least amount to two hundred thousand pounds."
"I know all about that," Hine interrupted. "But as the old brute won't acknowledge me and may live another twenty years, it's not much use to me now."
"Well," said Mr. Jarvice, smiling suavely, "my young friend, that is where I come in."
Walter Hine looked up in surprise. Suspicion followed quickly upon the surprise.
"Oh, on purely business terms, of course," said Jarvice. He took a seat and resumed gaily. "Now I am by profession—what would you guess? I am a money-lender. Luckily for many people I have money, and I lend it—I lend it upon very easy terms. I make no secret of my calling, Mr. Hine. On the contrary, I glory in it. It gives me an opportunity of doing a great deal of good in a quiet way. If I were to show you my books you would realize that many famous estates are only kept going through my assistance; and thus many a farm laborer owes his daily bread to me and never knows his debt. Why should I conceal it?"
Mr. Jarvice turned toward his visitor with his hands outspread. Then his voice dropped.
"There is only one thing I hide, and that, Mr. Hine, is the easiness of the terms on which I advance my loans. I must hide that. I should have all my profession against me were it known. But you shall know it, Mr. Hine." He leaned forward and patted his young friend upon the knee with an air of great benevolence. "Come, to business! Your circumstances are not, I think, in a very flourishing condition."
"I should think not," said Walter Hine, sullenly. "I have a hundred and fifty a year, paid weekly. Three quid a week don't give a fellow much chance of a flutter."
"Three pounds a week. Ridiculous!" cried Mr. Jarvice, lifting up his hands. "I am shocked, really shocked. But we will alter all that. Oh yes, we will soon alter that."
He sprang up briskly, and unlocking once more the drawer in which he kept his copy of the Code Napoleon, he took out this time a slip of paper. He seated himself again, drawing up his chair to the table.
"Will you tell me, Mr. Hine, whether these particulars are correct? We must be business-like, you know. Oh yes," he said, gaily wagging his head and cocking his bright little eyes at his visitor. And he began to read aloud, or rather paraphrase, the paper which he held:
"Your father inherited the same fortune as your uncle, Joseph Hine, but lost almost the entire amount in speculation. In middle life he married your mother, who was—forgive me if I wound the delicacy of your feelings, Mr. Hine—not quite his equal in social position. The happy couple then took up their residence in Arcade Street, Croydon, where you were born on March 6, twenty-three years ago."
"Yes," said Walter Hine.
"In Croydon you passed your boyhood. You were sent to the public school there. But the rigorous discipline of school life did not suit your independent character." Thus did Mr. Jarvice gracefully paraphrase the single word "expelled" which was written on his slip of paper. "Ah, Mr. Hine," he cried, smiling indulgently at the sullen, bemused weakling who sat before him, stale with his last night's drink. "You and Shelley! Rebels, sir, rebels both! Well, well! After you left school, at the age of sixteen, you pursued your studies in a desultory fashion at home. Your father died the following year. Your mother two years later. You have since lived in Russell Street, Bloomsbury, on the income which remained from your father's patrimony. Three pounds a week—to be sure, here it is—paid weekly by trustees appointed by your mother. And you have adopted none of the liberal professions. There we have it, I think."
"You seem to have taken a lot of trouble to find out my history," said Walter Hine, suspiciously.
"Business, sir, business," said Mr. Jarvice. It was on the tip of his tongue to add, "The early bird, you know," but he was discreet enough to hold the words back. "Now let me look to the future, which opens out in a brighter prospect. It is altogether absurd, Mr. Hine, that a young gentleman who will eventually inherit a quarter of a million should have to scrape through meanwhile on three pounds a week. I put it on a higher ground. It is bad for the State, Mr. Hine, and you and I, like good citizens of this great empire, must consider the State. When this great fortune comes into your hands you should already have learned how to dispose of it."
"Oh, I could dispose of it all right," interrupted Mr. Hine with a chuckle. "Don't you worry your head about that."
Mr. Jarvice laughed heartily at the joke. Walter Hine could not but think that he had made a very witty remark. He began to thaw into something like confidence. He sat more easily on his chair.
"You will have your little joke, Mr. Hine. You could dispose of it! Very good indeed! I must really tell that to my dear wife. But business, business!" He checked his laughter with a determined effort, and lowered his voice to a confidential pitch. "I propose to allow you two thousand pounds a year, paid quarterly in advance. Five hundred pounds each quarter. Forty pounds a week, Mr. Hine, which with your three will make a nice comfortable living wage! Ha! Ha!"
"Two thousand a year!" gasped Mr. Hine, leaning back in his chair. "It ain't possible. Two thou—here, what am I to do for it?"
"Nothing, except to spend it like a gentleman," said Mr. Jarvice, beaming upon his visitor. It did not seem to occur to either man that Mr. Jarvice had set to his loan the one condition which Mr. Walter Hine never could fulfil. Walter Hine was troubled with doubts of quite another kind.
"But you come in somewhere," he said, bluntly. "On'y I'm hanged if I see where."
"Of course I come in, my young friend," replied Jarvice, frankly. "I or my executors. For we may have to wait a long time. I propose that you execute in my favor a post-obit on your uncle's life, giving me—well, we may have to wait a long time. Twenty years you suggested. Your uncle is seventy-three, but a hale man, living in a healthy climate. We will say four thousand pounds for every two thousand which I lend you. Those are easy terms, Mr. Hine. I don't make you take cigars and sherry! No! I think such practices almost reflect discredit on my calling. Two thousand a year! Five hundred a quarter! Forty pounds a week! Forty-three with your little income! Well, what do you say?"
Mr. Hine sat dazzled with the prospect of wealth, immediate wealth, actually within his reach now. But he had lived amongst people who never did anything for nothing, who spoke only a friendship when they proposed to borrow money, and at the back of his mind suspicion and incredulity were still at work. Somehow Jarvice would be getting the better of him. In his dull way he began to reason matters out.
"But suppose I died before my uncle, then you would get nothing," he objected.
"Ah, to be sure! I had not forgotten that point," said Mr. Jarvice. "It is a contingency, of course, not very probable, but still we do right to consider it." He leaned back in his chair, and once again he fixed his eyes upon his visitor in a long and silent scrutiny. When he spoke again, it was in a quieter voice than he had used. One might almost have said that the real business of the interview was only just beginning.
"There is a way which will save me from loss. You can insure your life as against your uncle's, for a round sum—say for a hundred thousand pounds. You will make over the policy to me. I shall pay the premiums, and so if anything were to happen to you I should be recouped."
He never once removed his eyes from Hine's face. He sat with his elbows on the arms of his chair and his hands folded beneath his chin, quite still, but with a queer look of alertness upon his whole person.
"Yes, I see," said Mr. Hine, as he turned the proposal over in his mind.
"Do you agree?" asked Jarvice.
"Yes," said Walter Hine.
"Very well," said Jarvice, all his old briskness returning. "The sooner the arrangement is pushed through, the better for you, eh? You will begin to touch the dibs." He laughed and Walter Hine chuckled. "As to the insurance, you will have to get the company's doctor's certificate, and I should think it would be wise to go steady for a day or two, what? You have been going the pace a bit, haven't you? You had better see your solicitor to-day. As soon as the post-obit and the insurance policy are in this office, Mr. Hine, your first quarter's income is paid into your bank. I will have an agreement drawn, binding me on my side to pay you two thousand a year until your uncle's death."
Mr. Jarvice rose as if the interview was ended. He moved some papers on his table, and added carelessly—"You have a good solicitor, I suppose?"
"I haven't a solicitor at all," said Walter Hine, as he, too, rose.
"Oh, haven't you?" said Mr. Jarvice, with all the appearance of surprise. "Well, shall I give you an introduction to one?" He sat down, wrote a note, placed it in an envelope, which he left unfastened, and addressed it. Then he handed the envelope to his client.
"Messrs. Jones and Stiles, Lincoln's Inn Fields," he said. "But ask for Mr. Driver. Tell him the whole proposal frankly, and ask his advice."
"Driver?" said Hine, fingering the envelope. "Hadn't I ought to see one of the partners?"
Mr. Jarvice smiled.
"You have a business head, Mr. Hine, that's very clear. I'll let you into a secret. Mr. Driver is rather like yourself—something of a rebel, Mr. Hine. He came into disagreement with that very arbitrary body the Incorporated Law Society, so,—well his name does not figure in the firm. But he is Jones and Stiles. Tell him everything! If he advises you against my proposal, I shall even say take his advice. Good-morning." Mr. Jarvice went to the door and opened it.
"Well, this is the spider's web, you know," he said, with the good-humored laugh of one who could afford to despise the slanders of the ill-affected. "Not such a very uncomfortable place, eh?" and he bowed Mr. Fly out of his office.
He stood at the door and waited until the outer office closed. Then he went to his telephone and rang up a particular number.
"Are you Jones and Stiles?" he asked. "Thank you! Will you ask Mr. Driver to come to the telephone"; and with Mr. Driver he talked genially for the space of five minutes.
Then, and not till then, with a smile of satisfaction, Mr. Jarvice turned to the unopened letters which had come to him by the morning post.
MICHEL REVAILLOUD EXPOUNDS HIS PHILOSOPHY
That summer was long remembered in Chamonix. July passed with a procession of cloudless days; valley and peak basked in sunlight. August came, and on a hot starlit night in the first week of that month Chayne sat opposite to Michel Revailloud in the balcony of a cafe which overhangs the Arve. Below him the river tumbling swiftly amidst the boulders flashed in the darkness like white fire. He sat facing the street. Chamonix was crowded and gay with lights. In the little square just out of sight upon the right, some traveling musicians were singing, and up and down the street the visitors thronged noisily. Women in light-colored evening frocks, with lace shawls thrown about their shoulders and their hair; men in attendance upon them, clerks from Paris and Geneva upon their holidays; and every now and then a climber with his guide, come late from the mountains, would cross the bridge quickly and stride toward his hotel. Chayne watched the procession in silence quite aloof from its light-heartedness and gaiety. Michel Revailloud drained his glass of beer, and, as he replaced it on the table, said wistfully:
"So this is the last night, monsieur. It is always sad, the last night."
"It is not exactly as we planned it," replied Chayne, and his eyes moved from the throng before him in the direction of the churchyard, where a few days before his friend had been laid amongst the other Englishmen who had fallen in the Alps. "I do not think that I shall ever come back to Chamonix," he said, in a quiet and heart-broken voice.
Michel gravely nodded his head.
"There are no friendships," said he, "like those made amongst the snows. But this, monsieur, I say: Your friend is not greatly to be pitied. He was young, had known no suffering, no ill-health, and he died at once. He did not even kick the snow for a little while."
"No doubt that's true," said Chayne, submitting to the commonplace, rather than drawing from it any comfort. He called to the waiter. "Since it is the last night, Michel," he said, with a smile, "we will drink another bottle of beer."
He leaned back in his chair and once more grew silent, watching the thronged street and the twinkling lights. In the little square one of the musicians with a very clear sweet voice was singing a plaintive song, and above the hum of the crowd, the melody, haunting in its wistfulness, floated to Chayne's ears, and troubled him with many memories.
Michel leaned forward upon the table and answered not merely with sympathy but with the air of one speaking out of full knowledge, and speaking moreover in a voice of warning.
"True, monsieur. The happiest memories can be very bitter—if one has no one to share them. All is in that, monsieur. If," and he repeated his phrase—"If one has no one to share them." Then the technical side of Chayne's proposal took hold of him.
"The Col Dolent? You will have to start early from the Chalet de Lognan, monsieur. You will sleep there, of course, to-morrow. You will have to start at midnight—perhaps even before. There is very little snow this year. The great bergschrund will be very difficult. In any season it is always difficult to cross that bergschrund on to the steep ice-slope beyond. It is so badly bridged with snow. This season it will be as bad as can be. The ice-slope up to the Col will also take a long time. So start very early."
As Michel spoke, as he anticipated the difficulties and set his thoughts to overcome them, his eyes lit up, his whole face grew younger.
"I wish you were coming with me Michel," he said, and at once the animation died out of Michel's face. He became once more a sad, dispirited man.
"Alas, monsieur," he said, "I have crossed my last Col. I have ascended my last mountain."
"You, Michel?" cried Chayne.
"Yes, monsieur, I," replied Michel, quietly. "I have grown old. My eyes hurt me on the mountains, and my feet burn. I am no longer fit for anything except to lead mules up to the Montanvert and conduct parties on the Mer de Glace."
Chayne stared at Michel Revailloud. He thought of what the guide's life had been, of its interest, its energy, its achievement. More than one of those aiguilles towering upon his left hand, into the sky, had been first conquered by Michel Revailloud. And how he had enjoyed it all! What resource he had shown, what cheerfulness. Remorse gradually seized upon Chayne as he looked across the little iron table at his guide.
"Yes, it is a little sad," continued Revailloud. "But I think that toward the end, life is always a little sad, if"—and the note of warning once more was audible—"if one has no well-loved companion to share one's memories."
The very resignation of Michel's voice brought Chayne to a yet deeper compunction. The wistful melody still throbbed high and sank, and soared again above the murmurs of the passers-by and floated away upon the clear hot starlit night. Chayne wondered with what words it spoke to his old guide. He looked at the tired sad face on which a smile of friendliness now played, and his heart ached. He felt some shame that his own troubles had so engrossed him. After all, Lattery was not greatly to be pitied. That was true. He himself too was young. There would come other summers, other friends. The real irreparable trouble sat there before him on the other side of the iron table, the trouble of an old age to be lived out in loneliness.
"You never married, Michel?" he said.
"No. There was a time, long ago, when I would have liked to," the guide answered, simply. "But I think now it was as well that I did not get my way. She was very extravagant. She would have needed much money, and guides are poor people, monsieur—not like your professional cricketers," he said, with a laugh. And then he turned toward the massive wall of mountains. Here and there a slim rock spire, the Dru or the Charmoz, pointed a finger to the stars, here and there an ice-field glimmered like a white mist held in a fold of the hills. But to Michel Revailloud, the whole vast range was spread out as on a raised map, buttress and peak, and dome of snow from the Aiguille d'Argentiere in the east to the summit of Mont Blanc in the west. In his thoughts he turned from mountain to mountain and found each one, majestic and beautiful, dear as a living friend, and hallowed with recollections. He remembered days when they had called, and not in vain, for courage and endurance, days of blinding snow-storms and bitter winds which had caught him half-way up some ice-glazed precipice of rock or on some long steep ice-slope crusted dangerously with thin snow into which the ax must cut deep hour after hour, however frozen the fingers, or tired the limbs. He recalled the thrill of joy with which, after many vain attempts, he, the first of men, had stepped on to the small topmost pinnacle of this or that new peak. He recalled the days of travel, the long glacier walks on the high level from Chamonix to Zermatt, and from Zermatt again to the Oberland; the still clear mornings and the pink flush upon some high white cone which told that somewhere the sun had risen; and the unknown ridges where expected difficulties suddenly vanished at the climber's approach, and others where an easy scramble suddenly turned into the most difficult of climbs. Michel raised his glass in the air. "Here is good-by to you—the long good-by," he said, and his voice broke. And abruptly he turned to Chayne with his eyes full of tears and began to speak in a quick passionate whisper, while the veins stood out upon his forehead and his face quivered.
"Monsieur, I told you your friend was not greatly to be pitied. I tell you now something more. The guide we brought down with him from the Glacier des Nantillons a fortnight back—all this fortnight I have been envying him—yes, yes, even though he kicked the snow with his feet for a little before he died. It is better to do so than to lead mules up to the Montanvert."
"I am sorry," said Chayne.
The words sounded, as he spoke them, lame enough and trivial in the face of Michel's passionate lament. But they had an astonishing effect upon the guide. The flow of words stopped at once, he looked at his young patron almost whimsically and a little smile played about his mouth.
"'I am sorry,'" he repeated. "Those were the words the young lady spoke to you on the steps of the hotel. You have spoken with her, monsieur, and thanked her for them?"
"No," said Chayne, and there was much indifference in his voice.
Women had, as yet, not played a great part in Chayne's life. Easy to please, but difficult to stir, he had in the main just talked with them by the way and gone on forgetfully: and when any one had turned and walked a little of his road beside him, she had brought to him no thought that here might be a companion for all the way. His indifference roused Michel to repeat, and this time unmistakably, the warning he had twice uttered.
He leaned across the table, fixing his eyes very earnestly on his patron's face. "Take care, monsieur," he said. "You are lonely to-night—very lonely. Then take good care that your old age is not one lonely night like this repeated and repeated through many years! Take good care that when you in your turn come to the end, and say good-by too"—he waved his hand toward the mountains—"you have some one to share your memories. See, monsieur!" and very wistfully he began to plead, "I go home to-night, I go out of Chamonix, I cross a field or two, I come to Les Praz-Conduits and my cottage. I push open the door. It is all dark within. I light my own lamp and I sit there a little by myself. Take an old man's wisdom, monsieur! When it is all over and you go home, take care that there is a lighted lamp in the room and the room not empty. Have some one to share your memories when life is nothing but memories." He rose as he ended, and held out his hand. As Chayne took it, the guide spoke again, and his voice shook:
"Monsieur, you have been a good patron to me," he said, with a quiet and most dignified simplicity, "and I make you what return I can. I have spoken to you out of my heart, for you will not return to Chamonix and after to-night we shall not meet again."
"Thank you," said Chayne, and he added: "We have had many good days together, Michel."
"We have, monsieur."
"I climbed my first mountain with you."
"The Aiguille du Midi. I remember it well."
Both were silent after that, and for the same reason. Neither could trust his voice. Michel Revailloud picked up his hat, turned abruptly away and walked out of the cafe into the throng of people. Chayne resumed his seat and sat there, silent and thoughtful, until the street began to empty and the musicians in the square ceased from their songs.
Meanwhile Michel Revailloud walked slowly down the street, stopping to speak with any one he knew however slightly, that he might defer his entrance into the dark and empty cottage at Les Praz-Conduits. He drew near to the hotel where Chayne was staying and saw under the lamp above the door a guide whom he knew talking with a young girl. The young girl raised her head. It was she who had said, "I am sorry." As Michel came within the circle of light she recognized him. She spoke quickly to the guide and he turned at once and called "Michel," and when Revailloud approached, he presented him to Sylvia Thesiger. "He has made many first ascents in the range of Mont Blanc, mademoiselle."
Sylvia held out her hand with a smile of admiration.
"I know," she said. "I have read of them."
"Really?" cried Michel. "You have read of them—you, mademoiselle?"
There was as much pleasure as wonder in his tone. After all, flattery from the lips of a woman young and beautiful was not to be despised, he thought, the more especially when the flattery was so very well deserved. Life had perhaps one or two compensations to offer him in his old age.
"Yes, indeed. I am very glad to meet you, Michel. I have known your name a long while and envied you for living in the days when these mountains were unknown."
Revailloud forgot the mules to the Montanvert and the tourists on the Mer de Glace. He warmed into cheerfulness. This young girl looked at him with so frank an envy.
"Yes, those were great days, mademoiselle," he said, with a thrill of pride in his voice. "But if we love the mountains, the first ascent or the hundredth—there is just the same joy when you feel the rough rock beneath your fingers or the snow crisp under your feet. Perhaps mademoiselle herself will some time—"
At once Sylvia interrupted him with an eager happiness—
"Yes, to-morrow," she said.
"Oho! It is your first mountain, mademoiselle?"
"And Jean here is your guide. Jean and his brother, I suppose?" Michel laid his hand affectionately on the guide's shoulder. "You could not do better, mademoiselle."
He looked at her thoughtfully for a little while. She was fresh—fresh as the smell of the earth in spring after a fall of rain. Her eyes, the alertness of her face, the eager tones of her voice, were irresistible to him, an old tired man. How much more irresistible then to a younger man. Her buoyancy would lift such an one clear above his melancholy, though it were deep as the sea. He himself, Michel Revailloud, felt twice the fellow he had been when he sat in the balcony above the Arve.
"And what mountain is it to be, mademoiselle?" he asked.
The girl took a step from the door of the hotel and looked upward. To the south, but quite close, the long thin ridge of the Aiguille des Charmoz towered jagged and black against the starlit sky. On one pinnacle of that ridge a slab of stone was poised like the top of a round table on the slant. It was at that particular pinnacle that Sylvia looked.
"L'Aiguille des Charmoz," said Michel, doubtfully, and Sylvia swung round to him and argued against his doubt.
"But I have trained myself," she said. "I have been up the Brevent and Flegere. I am strong, stronger than I look."
Michel Revailloud smiled.
"Mademoiselle, I do not doubt you. A young lady who has enthusiasm is very hard to tire. It is not because of the difficulty of that rock-climb that I thought to suggest—the Aiguille d'Argentiere."
Sylvia turned with some hesitation to the younger guide.
"You too spoke of that mountain," she said.
Michel pressed his advantage.
"And wisely, mademoiselle. If you will let me advise you, you will sleep to-morrow night at the Pavillon de Lognan and the next day climb the Aiguille d'Argentiere."
Sylvia looked regretfully up to the ridge of the Charmoz which during this last fortnight had greatly attracted her. She turned her eyes from the mountain to Revailloud and let them rest quietly upon his face.
"And why do you advise the Aiguille d'Argentiere?" she asked.
Michel saw her eyes softly shining upon him in the darkness, and all the more persisted. Was not his dear patron who must needs be helped to open his eyes, since he would not open them himself, going to sleep to-morrow in the Pavillon de Lognan? The roads to the Col Dolent and the Aiguille d'Argentiere both start from that small mountain inn. But this was hardly the reason which Michel could give to the young girl who questioned him. He bethought him of another argument, a subtle one which he fancied would strongly appeal to her. Moreover, there was truth in it.
"I will tell you why, mademoiselle. It is to be your first mountain. It will be a day in your life which you will never forget. Therefore you want it to be as complete as possible—is it not so? It is a good rock-climb, the Aiguille des Charmoz—yes. But the Argentiere is more complete. There is a glacier, a rock traverse, a couloir up a rock-cliff, and at the top of that a steep ice-slope. And that is not all. You want your last step on to the summit to reveal a new world to you. On the Charmoz, it is true, there is a cleft at the very top up which you scramble between two straight walls and you pop your head out above the mountain. Yes, but you see little that is new; for before you enter the cleft you see both sides of the mountain. With the Argentiere it is different. You mount at the last, for quite a time behind the mountain with your face to the ice-slope; and then suddenly you step out upon the top and the chain of Mont Blanc will strike suddenly upon your eyes and heart. See, mademoiselle, I love these mountains with a very great pride and I would dearly like you to have that wonderful white revelation of a new strange world upon your first ascent."
Before he had ended, he knew that he had won. He heard the girl draw sharply in her breath. She was making for herself a picture of the last step from the ice-slope to summit ridge.
"Very well," she said. "It shall be the Aiguille d'Argentiere."
Michel went upon his way out of Chamonix and across the fields. They would be sure to speak, those two, to-morrow at the Pavillon de Lognan. If only there were no other party there in that small inn! Michel's hopes took a leap and reached beyond the Pavillon de Lognan. To ascend one's first mountain—yes, that was enviable and good. But one should have a companion with whom one can live over again the raptures of that day, in the after time. Well—perhaps—perhaps!
Michel pushed open the door of his cottage, and lit his lamp, without after all bethinking him that the room was dark and empty. His ice-axes stood in a corner, the polished steel of their adz-heads gleaming in the light; his Ruecksack and some coils of rope hung upon pegs; his book with the signatures and the comments of his patrons lay at his elbow on the table, a complete record of his life. But he was not thinking that they had served him for the last time. He sat down in his chair and so remained for a little while. But a smile was upon his face, and once or twice he chuckled aloud as he thought of his high diplomacy. He did not remember at all that to-morrow he would lead mules up to the Montanvert and conduct parties on the Mer de Glace.
THE PAVILLON DE LOGNAN
The Pavillon de Lognan is built high upon the southern slope of the valley of Chamonix, under the great buttresses of the Aiguille Verte. It faces the north and from the railed parapet before its door the path winds down through pastures bright with Alpine flowers to the pine woods, and the village of Les Tines in the bed of the valley. But at its eastern end a precipice drops to the great ice-fall of the Glacier d'Argentiere, and night and day from far below the roar of the glacier streams enters in at the windows and fills the rooms with the music of a river in spate.
At five o'clock on the next afternoon, Chayne was leaning upon the rail looking straight down to the ice-fall. The din of the torrent was in his ears, and it was not until a foot sounded lightly close behind him that he knew he was no longer alone. He turned round and saw to his surprise the over-dainty doll of the Annemasse buffet, the child of the casinos and the bathing beaches, Sylvia Thesiger. His surprise was very noticeable and Sylvia's face flushed. She made him a little bow and went into the chalet.
Chayne noticed a couple of fresh guides by the door of the guides' quarters. He remembered the book which he had seen her reading with so deep an interest in the buffet. And in a minute or two she came out again on to the earth platform and he saw that she was not overdressed to-day. She was simply and warmly dressed in a way which suggested business. On the other hand she had not made herself ungainly. He guessed her mountain and named it to her.
"Yes," she replied. "Please say that it will be fine to-morrow!"
"I have never seen an evening of better promise," returned Chayne, with a smile at her eagerness. The brown cliffs of the Aiguille du Chardonnet just across the glacier glowed red in the sunlight; and only a wisp of white cloud trailed like a lady's scarf here and there in the blue of the sky. The woman of the chalet came out and spoke to him.
"She wants to know when we will dine," he explained to Sylvia. "There are only you and I. We should dine early, for you will have to start early"; and he repeated the invariable cry of that year: "There is so very little snow. It may take you some time to get off the glacier on to your mountain. There is always a crevasse to cross."
"I know," said Sylvia, with a smile. "The bergschrund."
"I beg your pardon," said Chayne, and in his turn he smiled too. "Of course you know these terms. I saw you reading a copy of the 'Alpine Journal.'"
They dined together an hour later with the light of the sunset reddening the whitewashed walls of the little simple room and bathing in glory the hills without. Sylvia Thesiger could hardly eat for wonder. Her face was always to the window, her lips were always parted in a smile, her gray eyes bright with happiness.
"I have never known anything like this," she said. "It is all so strange, so very beautiful."
Her freshness and simplicity laid their charm on him, even as they had done on Michel Revailloud the night before. She was as eager as a child to get the meal done with and to go out again into the open air, before the after-glow had faded from the peaks. There was something almost pathetic in her desire to make the very most of such rare moments. Her eagerness so clearly told him that such holidays came but seldom in her life. He urged her, however, to eat, and when she had done they went out together and sat upon the bench, watching in silence the light upon the peaks change from purple to rose, the rocks grow cold, and the blue of the sky deepen as the night came.
"You too are making an ascent?" she asked.
"No," he answered. "I am crossing a pass into Italy. I am going away from Chamonix altogether."
Sylvia turned to him; her eyes were gentle with sympathy.
"Yes, I understand that," she said. "I am sorry."
"You said that once before to me, on the steps of the hotel," said Chayne. "It was kind of you. Though I said nothing, I was grateful"; and he was moved to open his heart to her, and to speak of his dead friend. The darkness gathered about them; he spoke in the curt sentences which men use who shrink from any emotional display; he interrupted himself to light his pipe. But none the less she understood the reality of his distress. He told her with a freedom of which he was not himself at the moment quite aware, of a clean, strong friendship which owed nothing to sentiment, which was never fed by protestations, which endured through long intervals, and was established by the memory of great dangers cheerily encountered and overcome. It had begun amongst the mountains, and surely, she thought, it had retained to the end something of their inspiration.
"We first met in the Tyrol, eight years ago. I had crossed a mountain with a guide—the Glockturm—and came down in the evening to the Radurschal Thal where I had heard there was an inn. The evening had turned to rain; but from a shoulder of the mountain I had been able to look right down the valley and had seen one long low building about four miles from the foot of the glacier. I walked through the pastures toward it, and found sitting outside the door in the rain the man who was to be my friend. The door was locked, and there was no one about the house, nor was there any other house within miles. My guide, however, went on. Lattery and I sat out there in the rain for a couple of hours, and then an old woman with a big umbrella held above her head came down from the upper pastures, driving some cows in front of her. She told us that no one had stayed at her inn for fourteen years. But she opened her door, lit us a great fire, and cooked us eggs and made us coffee. I remember that night as clearly as if it were yesterday. We sat in front of the fire with the bedding and the mattresses airing behind us until late into the night. The rain got worse too. There was a hole in the thatch overhead, and through it I saw the lightning slash the sky, as I lay in bed. Very few people ever came up or down that valley; and the next morning, after the storm, the chamois were close about the inn, on the grass. We went on together. That was the beginning."
He spoke simply, with a deep quietude of voice. The tobacco glowed and grew dull in the bowl of his pipe regularly; the darkness hid his face. But the tenderness, almost the amusement with which he dwelt on the little insignificant details of that first meeting showed her how very near to him it was at this moment.
"We went from the Tyrol down to Verona and baked ourselves in the sun there for a day, under the colonnades, and then came back through the St. Gotthard to Goeschenen. Do you know the Goeschenen Thal? There is a semicircle of mountains, the Winterbergen, which closes it in at the head. We climbed there together for a week, just he and I and no guides. I remember a rock-ridge there. It was barred by a pinnacle which stood up from it—'a gendarme,' as they call it. We had to leave the arete and work out along the face of the pinnacle at right angles to the mountain. There was a little ledge. You could look down between your feet quite straight to the glacier, two thousand feet below. We came to a place where the wall of the pinnacle seemed possible. Almost ten feet above us, there was a flaw in the rock which elsewhere was quite perpendicular. I was the lightest. So my friend planted himself as firmly as he could on the ledge with his hands flat against the rock face. There wasn't any handhold, you see, and I climbed out on to his back and stood upon his shoulders. I saw that the rock sloped back from the flaw or cleft in quite a practicable way. Only there was a big boulder resting on the slope within reach, and which we could hardly avoid touching. It did not look very secure. So I put out my hand and just touched it—quite, quite gently. But it was so exactly balanced that the least little vibration overset it, and I saw it begin to move, very slowly, as if it meant no harm whatever. But it was moving, nevertheless, toward me. My chest was on a level with the top of the cleft, so that I had a good view of the boulder. I couldn't do anything at all. It was much too heavy and big for my arms to stop and I couldn't move, of course, since I was standing on Jack Lattery's shoulders. There did not seem very much chance, with nothing below us except two thousand feet of vacancy. But there was just at my side a little bit of a crack in the edge of the cleft, and there was just a chance that the rock might shoot out down that cleft past me. I remember standing and watching the thing sliding down, not in a rush at all, but very smoothly, almost in a friendly sort of way, and I wondered how long it would be before it reached me. Luckily some irregularity in the slope of rock just twisted it into the crack, and it suddenly shot out into the air at my side with a whizz. It was so close to me that it cut the cloth of my sleeve. I had been so fascinated by the gentle movement of the boulder that I had forgotten altogether to tell Lattery what was happening; and when it whizzed out over his head, he was so startled that he nearly lost his balance on the little shelf and we were within an ace of following our rock down to the glacier. Those were our early days." And he laughed with a low deep ring of amusement in his voice.
"We were late that day on the mountain," he resumed, "and it was dark when we got down to a long snow-slope at its foot. It was new ground to us. We were very tired. We saw it glimmering away below us. It might end in a crevasse and a glacier for all we knew, and we debated whether we should be prudent or chance it. We chanced the crevasse. We sat down and glissaded in the dark with only the vaguest idea where we should end. Altogether we had very good times, he and I. Well, they have come to an end on the Glacier des Nantillons."
Chayne became silent; Sylvia Thesiger sat at his side and did not interrupt. In front of them the pastures slid away into darkness. Only a few small clear lights shining in the chalets told them there were other people awake in the world. Except for the reverberation of the torrent deep in the gorge at their right, no sound at all broke the deep silence. Chayne knocked the ashes from his pipe.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I have been talking to you about one whom you never knew. You were so quiet that I seemed to be merely remembering to myself."
"I was so quiet," Sylvia explained, "because I wished you to go on. I was very glad to hear you. It was all new and strange and very pleasant to me—this story of your friendship. As strange and pleasant as this cool, quiet night here, a long way from the hotels and the noise, on the edge of the snow. For I have heard little of such friendships and I have seen still less."
Chayne's thoughts were suddenly turned from his dead friend to this, the living companion at his side. There was something rather sad and pitiful in the tone of her voice, no less than in the words she used. She spoke with so much humility. He was aware with a kind of shock, that here was a woman, not a child. He turned his eyes to her, as he had turned his thoughts. He could see dimly the profile of her face. It was still as the night itself. She was looking straight in front of her into the darkness. He pondered upon her life and how she bore with it, and how she had kept herself unspoiled by its associations. Of the saving grace of her dreams he knew nothing. But the picture of her mother was vivid to his eyes, the outlawed mother, shunned instinctively by the women, noisy and shrill, and making her companions of the would-be fashionable loiterers and the half-pay officers run to seed. That she bore it ill her last words had shown him. They had thrown a stray ray of light upon a dark place which seemed a place of not much happiness.