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Title: Running Water
Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Running Water" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



RUNNING WATER

by

A. E. W. MASON

Author of _The Four Feathers_, etc.

1907



CONTENTS

    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'ARGENTIÈRE
 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 _FÜHRBUCH_
 XXIV  THE BRENVA RIDGE
  XXV  A NIGHT ON AN ICE-SLOPE
 XXVI  RUNNING WATER



CHAPTER I

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 Ambérieu, 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."

"Yes."

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 château 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 château 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?"

"Yes."

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.



CHAPTER II

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 Géant and Col des Nantillons."

The Col du Géant 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 Géant flows down, the wall from
which spring the peaks of the Dent du Requin, the Aiguille du Plan, the
Aiguille de Blaitière, the Grépon and the Charmoz. Here and there the
ridge sinks between the peaks, and one such depression between the
Aiguille de Blaitière and the Aiguille du Grépon 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 Géant," 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 Géant. 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 Géant."

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 _Rücksacks_ 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 Grépon 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 Blaitière," 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 séracs--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 Grépon 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.

"_Vorwärts_, 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. _Vorwärts_! 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. Vorwärts_!"; 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.



CHAPTER III

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 Blaitière 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 Blaitière. 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 Blaitière; 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 sérac 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:

"Lattery! Lattery!"

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:

"François, will you put on the rope and go down?"

They knotted the rope securely about François' 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. François 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 François found his friend? What news would he bring of them when he
came again up to the light? François' 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 François said.
It was but one word, persistently repeated:

"Gently! Gently!"

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
François' 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 François' 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 François' 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 François 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 François 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 François noticed, which he wished me to tell
you. François 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.



CHAPTER IV

MR. JARVICE


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."

"Yes, sir."

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

"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 Maçon, 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.



CHAPTER V

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 café 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.

Chayne smiled.

"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'Argentière 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 café 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?"

"Yes."

"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 Brévent and
Flégère. 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'Argentière."

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'Argentière."

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'Argentière?" 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'Argentière 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 Argentière 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 Argentière 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'Argentière."

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 _Rücksack_ 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.



CHAPTER VI

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'Argentière,
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 Göschenen. Do you know the Göschenen 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 arête 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.

"I am very glad that you are here to-night," he said. "It has been kind
of you to listen. I rather dreaded this evening."

Though what he said was true, it was half from pity that he said it. He
wished her to feel her value. And in reply she gave him yet another
glimpse into the dark place.

"Your friend," she said, "must have been much loved in Chamonix."

"Why?"

"So many guides came of their own accord to search for him."

Again Chayne's face was turned quickly toward her. Here indeed was a sign
of the people amongst whom she lived, and of their unillumined thoughts.
There must be the personal reason always, the personal reason or money.
Outside of these, there were no motives. He answered her gently:

"No; I think that was not the reason. How shall I put it to you?" He
leaned forward with his elbows upon his knees, and spoke slowly, choosing
his words. "I think these guides obeyed a law, a law not of any man's
making, and the one law last broken--the law that what you know, that you
must do, if by doing it you can save a life. I should think nine medals
out of ten given by the Humane Society are given because of the
compulsion of that law. If you can swim, sail a boat, or climb a
mountain, and the moment comes when a life can only be saved if you use
your knowledge--well, you have got to use it. That's the law. Very often,
I have no doubt, it's quite reluctantly obeyed, in most cases I think
it's obeyed by instinct, without consideration of the consequences. But
it _is_ obeyed, and the guides obeyed it when so many of them came with
me on to the Glacier des Nantillons."

He heard the girl at his side draw in a sharp breath. She shivered.

"You are cold?"

"No," she answered. "But that, too, is all strange to me. I should have
known of that law without the need to be told of it. But I shall not
forget it."

Again humility was very audible in the quiet tone of her voice. She
understood that she had been instructed. She felt she should not have
needed it. She faced her ignorance frankly.

"What one knows, that one must do," she repeated, fixing the words in her
mind, "if by doing it one can save a life. No, I shall not forget that."

She rose from the seat.

"I must go in."

"Yes," cried Chayne, starting up. "You have stayed up too long as it is.
You will be tired to-morrow."

"Not till to-morrow evening," she said, with a laugh. She looked upward
to the starlit sky. "It will be fine, I hope. Oh, it _must_ be fine.
To-morrow is my one day. I do so want it to be perfect," she exclaimed.

"I don't think you need fear."

She held out her hand to him.

"This is good-by, I suppose," she said, and she did not hide the regret
the words brought to her.

Chayne took her hand and kept it for a second or two. He ought to start
an hour and a half before her. That he knew very well. But he answered:

"No. We go the same road for a little while. When do you start?"

"At half past one."

"I too. It will be daybreak before we say good-by. I wonder whether you
will sleep at all to-night. I never do the first night."

He spoke lightly, and she answered him in the same key.

"I shall hardly know whether I sleep or wake, with the noise of that
stream rising through my window. For so far back as I can remember I
always dream of running water."

The words laid hold upon Chayne's imagination and fixed her in his
memories. He knew nothing of her really, except just this one curious
fact. She dreamed of running water. Somehow it was fitting that she
should. There was a kind of resemblance; running water was, in a way,
an image of her. She seemed in her nature to be as clear and fresh; yet
she was as elusive; and when she laughed, her laugh had a music as
light and free.

She went into the chalet. Through the window Chayne saw her strike a
match and hold it to the candle. She stood for a moment looking out at
him gravely, with the light shining upward upon her young face. Then a
smile hesitated upon her lips and slowly took possession of her cheeks
and eyes. She turned and went into her room.



CHAPTER VII

THE AIGUILLE D'ARGENTIÈRE


Chayne smoked another pipe alone and then walking to the end of the
little terrace looked down on to the glistening field of ice below. Along
that side of the chalet no light was burning. Was she listening? Was she
asleep? The pity which had been kindled within him grew as he thought
upon her. To-morrow she would be going back to a life she clearly hated.
On the whole he came to the conclusion that the world might have been
better organized. He lit his candle and went to bed, and it seemed that
not five minutes had passed before one of his guides knocked upon his
door. When he came into the living-room Sylvia Thesiger was already
breakfasting.

"Did you sleep?" he asked.

"I was too excited," she answered. "But I am not tired"; and certainly
there was no trace of fatigue in her appearance.

They started at half past one and went up behind the hut.

The stars shimmered overhead in a dark and cloudless sky. The night was
still; as yet there was no sign of dawn. The great rock cliffs of the
Chardonnet across the glacier and the towering ice-slopes of the Aiguille
Verte beneath which they passed were all hidden in darkness. They might
have been walking on some desolate plain of stones flat from horizon to
horizon. They walked in single file, Jean leading with a lighted lantern
in his hand, so that Sylvia, who followed next, might pick her way
amongst the boulders. Thus they marched for two hours along the left bank
of the glacier and then descended on to ice. They went forward partly on
moraine, partly on ice at the foot of the crags of the Aiguille Verte.
And gradually the darkness thinned. Dim masses of black rock began to
loom high overhead, and to all seeming very far away. The sky paled, the
dim masses of rock drew near about the climbers, and over the steep
walls, the light flowed into the white basin of the glacier as though
from every quarter of the sky.

Sylvia stopped and Chayne came up with her.

"Well?" he asked; and as he saw her face his thoughts were suddenly
swept back to the morning when the beauty of the ice-world was for the
first time vouchsafed to him. He seemed to recapture the fine emotion of
that moment.

Sylvia stood gazing with parted lips up that wide and level glacier to
its rock-embattled head. The majestic silence of the place astounded her.
There was no whisper of wind, no rustling of trees, no sound of any bird.
As yet too there was no crack of ice, no roar of falling stones. And as
the silence surprised her ears, so the simplicity of color smote upon her
eyes. There were no gradations. White ice filled the basin and reached
high into the recesses of the mountains, hanging in rugged glaciers upon
their flanks, and streaking the gullies with smooth narrow ribands. And
about the ice, and above it, circling it in, black walls of rock towered
high, astonishingly steep and broken at the top into pinnacles of an
exquisite beauty.

"I shall be very glad to have seen this," said Sylvia, as she stored the
picture in her mind, "more glad than I am even now. It will be a good
memory to fall back upon when things are troublesome."

"Must things be troublesome?" he asked.

"Don't let me spoil my one day," she said, with a smile.

She moved on, and Chayne, falling back, spoke for a little with his
guides. A little further on Jean stopped.

"That is our mountain, mademoiselle," he said, pointing eastward across
the glacier.

Sylvia turned in that direction.

Straight in front of her a bay of ice ran back, sloping ever upward, and
around the bay there rose a steep wall of cliffs which in the center
sharpened precipitously to an apex. The apex was not a point but a
rounded level ridge of snow which curved over on the top of the cliffs
like a billow of foam. A tiny black tower of rock stood alone on the
northern end of the snow-ridge.

"That, mademoiselle, is the Aiguille d'Argentière. We cross the
glacier here."

Jean put the rope about her waist, fixing it with the fisherman's bend,
and tied one end about his own, using the overhand knot, while his
brother tied on behind. They then turned at right angles to their former
march and crossed the glacier, keeping the twenty feet of rope which
separated each person extended. Once Jean looked back and uttered an
exclamation of surprise. For he saw Chayne and his guides following
across the glacier behind, and Chayne's road to the Col Dolent at the
head of the glacier lay straight ahead upon their former line of advance.
However he said nothing.

They crossed the bergschrund with less difficulty than they had
anticipated, and ascending a ridge of debris, by the side of the lateral
glacier which descended from the cliffs of the Aiguille d'Argentière,
they advanced into the bay under the southern wall of the Aiguille du
Chardonnet. On the top of this moraine Jean halted, and the party
breakfasted, and while they breakfasted Chayne told Sylvia something of
that mountain's history. "It is not the most difficult of peaks," said
he, "but it has associations, which some of the new rock-climbs have not.
The pioneers came here." Right behind them there was a gap, the pass
between their mountain and the Aiguille du Chardonnet. "From that pass
Moore and Whymper first tried to reach the top by following the crest of
the cliffs, but they found it impracticable. Whymper tried again, but
this time up the face of the cliffs further on to the south and just to
the left of the summit. He failed, came back again and conquered. We
follow his road."

And while they looked up the dead white of that rounded summit ridge
changed to a warm rosy color and all about that basin the topmost peaks
took fire.

"It is the sun," said he.

Sylvia looked across the valley. The great ice-triangle of the Aiguille
Verte flashed and sparkled. The slopes of the Les Droites and Mont Dolent
were hung with jewels; even the black precipices of the Tour Noir grew
warm and friendly. But at the head of the glacier a sheer unbroken wall
of rock swept round in the segment of a circle, and this remained still
dead black and the glacier at its foot dead white. At one point in the
knife-like edge of this wall there was a depression, and from the
depression a riband of ice ran, as it seemed from where they sat,
perpendicularly down to the Glacier d'Argentière.

"That is the Col Dolent," said Chayne. "Very little sunlight ever creeps
down there."

Sylvia shivered as she looked. She had never seen anything so somber, so
sinister, as that precipitous curtain of rock and its riband of ice. It
looked like a white band painted on a black wall.

"It looks very dangerous," she said, slowly.

"It needs care," said Chayne.

"Especially this year when there is so little snow," added Sylvia.

"Yes. Twelve hundred feet of ice at an angle of fifty degrees."

"And the bergschrund's just beneath."

"Yes, you must not slip on the Col Dolent," said he, quietly.

Sylvia was silent a little while. Then she said with a slight hesitation:

"And you cross that pass to-day?"

There was still more hesitation in Chayne's voice as he answered:

"Well, no! You see, this is your first mountain. And you have only
two guides."

Sylvia looked at him seriously.

"How many should I have taken for the Aiguille d'Argentière? Twelve?"

Chayne smiled feebly.

"Well, no," and his confusion increased. "Two, as a rule, are
enough--unless--"

"Unless the amateur is very clumsy," she added. "Thank you,
Captain Chayne."

"I didn't mean that," he cried. He had no idea whether she was angry or
not. She was just looking quietly and steadily into his face and waiting
for his explanation.

"Well, the truth is," he blurted out, "I wanted to go up the Aiguille
d'Argentière with you," and he saw a smile dimple her cheeks.

"I am honored," she said, and the tone of her voice showed besides that
she was very glad.

"Oh, but it wasn't only for the sake of your company," he said, and
stopped. "I don't seem to be very polite, do I?" he said, lamentably.

"Not very," she replied.

"What I mean is this," he explained. "Ever since we started this morning,
I have been recapturing my own sensations on my first ascent. Watching
you, your enjoyment, your eagerness to live fully every moment of this
day, I almost feel as if I too had come fresh to the mountains, as if the
Argentière were my first peak."

He saw the blood mount into her cheeks.

"Was that the reason why you questioned me as to what I thought and
felt?" she asked.

"Yes."

"I thought you were testing me," she said, slowly. "I thought you
were trying whether I was--worthy"; and once again humility had
framed her words and modulated their utterance. She recognized
without rancor, but in distress, that people had the right to look on
her as without the pale.

The guides packed up the _Rücksacks_, and they started once more up the
moraine. In a little while they descended on to the lateral glacier which
descending from the recesses of the Aiguille d'Argentière in front of
them flowed into the great basin behind. They roped together now in one
party and ascended the glacier diagonally, rounding a great buttress
which descends from the rock ledge and bisects the ice, and drawing close
to the steep cliffs. In a little while they crossed the bergschrund from
the glacier on to the wall of mountain, and traversing by easy rocks at
the foot of the cliffs came at last to a big steep gully filled with hard
ice which led up to the ridge just below the final peak.

"This is our way" said Jean. "We ascend by the rocks at the side."

They breakfasted again and began to ascend the rocks to the left of the
great gully, Sylvia following second behind her leading guide. The rocks
were not difficult, but they were very steep and at times loose.
Moreover, Jean climbed fast and Sylvia had much ado to keep pace with
him. But she would not call on him to slacken his pace, and she was most
anxious not to come up on the rope but to climb with her own hands and
feet. This they ascended for the better part of an hour and Jean halted
on a convenient ledge. Sylvia had time to look down. She had climbed
with her face to the wall of rock, her eyes searching quickly for her
holds, fixing her feet securely, gripping firmly with her hands,
avoiding the loose boulders. Moreover, the rope had worried her. When
she had left it at its length between herself and the guide in front of
her, it would hang about her feet, threatening to trip her, or catch as
though in active malice in any crack which happened to be handy. If she
shortened it and held it in her hands, there would come a sudden tug
from above as the leader raised himself from one ledge to another which
almost overset her.

Now, however, flushed with her exertion and glad to draw her breath
at her ease, she looked down and was astonished. So far below her
already seemed the glacier she had left, so steep the rocks up which
she had climbed.

"You are not tired?" said Chayne.

Sylvia laughed. Tired, when a dream was growing real, when she was
actually on the mountain face! She turned her face again to the rock-wall
and in a little more than an hour after leaving the foot of the gully she
stepped out on to a patch of snow on the shoulder of the mountain. She
stood in sunlight, and all the country to the east was suddenly unrolled
before her eyes. A moment before and her face was to the rock, now at her
feet the steep snow-slopes dropped to the Glacier of Saleinaz. The crags
of the Aiguille Dorées, and some green uplands gave color to the
glittering world of ice, and far away towered the white peaks of the
Grand Combin and the Weisshorn in a blue cloudless sky, and to the left
over the summit of the Grande Fourche she saw the huge embattlements of
the Oberland. She stood absorbed while the rest of the party ascended to
her side. She hardly knew indeed that they were there until Chayne
standing by her asked:

"You are not disappointed?"

She made no reply. She had no words wherewith to express the emotion
which troubled her to the depths.

They rested for a while on this level patch of snow. To their right the
ridge ran sharply up to the summit. But not by that ridge was the summit
to be reached. They turned over on to the eastern face of the mountain
and traversed in a straight line across the great snow-slope which sweeps
down in one white unbroken curtain toward the Glacier of Saleinaz. Their
order had been changed. First Jean advanced. Chayne followed and after
him came Sylvia.

The leading guide kicked a step or two in the snow. Then he used the adz
of his ax. A few steps still, and he halted.

"Ice," he said, and from that spot to the mountain top he used the pick.

The slope was at a steep angle, the ice very hard, and each step had to
be cut with care, especially on the traverse where the whole party moved
across the mountain upon the same level, and there was no friendly hand
above to give a pull upon the rope. The slope ran steeply down beneath
them, then curved over a brow and steepened yet more.

"Are the steps near enough together?" Chayne asked.

"Yes," she replied, though she had to stretch in her stride.

And upon that Jean dug his pick in the slope at his side and
turned round.

"Lean well way from the slope, mademoiselle, not toward it. There is less
chance then of slipping from the steps," he said anxiously, and there
came a look of surprise upon his face. For he saw that already of her own
thought she was standing straight in her steps, thrusting herself out
from the slope by pressing the pick of her ax against it at the level of
her waist. And more than once thereafter Jean turned about and watched
her with a growing perplexity. Chayne looked to see whether her face
showed any sign of fear. On the contrary she was looking down that great
sweep of ice with an actual exultation. And it was not ignorance which
allowed her to exult. The evident anxiety of Chayne's words, and the
silence which since had fallen upon one and all were alone enough to
assure her that here was serious work. But she had been reading deeply of
the Alps, and in all the histories of mountain exploits which she had
read, of climbs up vertical cracks in sheer walls of rocks, balancings
upon ridges sharp as a knife edge, crawlings over smooth slabs with
nowhere to rest the feet or hands, it was the ice-slope which had most
kindled her imagination. The steep, smooth, long ice-slope, white upon
the surface, grayish-green or even black where the ax had cut the step,
the place where no slip must be made. She had lain awake at nights
listening to the roar of the streets beneath her window and picturing it,
now sleeping in the sunlight, now enwreathed in mists which opened and
showed still higher heights and still lower depths, now whipped angrily
with winds which tore off the surface icicles and snow, and sent them
swirling like smoke about the shoulders of the peak. She had dreamed
herself on to it, half shrinking, half eager, and now she was actually
upon one and she felt no fear. She could not but exult.

The sunlight was hot upon this face of the mountain; yet her feet grew
cold, as she stood patiently in her steps, advancing slowly as the man
before her moved. Once as she stood, she moved her foot and scratched the
sole of her boot on the ice to level a roughness in the step, and at once
she saw Chayne and the guide in front drive the picks of their axes hard
into the slope at their side and stand tense as if expecting a jerk upon
the rope. Afterward they both looked round at her, and seeing she was
safe turned back again to their work, the guide cutting the steps, Chayne
polishing them behind him.

In a little while the guide turned his face to the slope and cut upward
instead of across. The slope was so steep that instead of cutting zigzags
across its face, he chopped pigeon holes straight up. They moved from one
to the other as on a ladder, and their knees touched the ice as they
stood upright in the steps. For a couple of hours the axes never ceased,
and then the leader made two or three extra steps at the side of the
staircase. On to one of them he moved out, Chayne went up and joined him.

"Come, mademoiselle," he said, and he drew in the rope as Sylvia
advanced. She climbed up level with them on the ladder and waited, not
knowing why they stood aside.

"Go on, mademoiselle," said the guide. She took another step or two upon
snow and uttered a cry. She had looked suddenly over the top of the
mountain on to the Aiguille Verte and the great pile of Mont Blanc, even
as Revailloud had told her that she would. The guide had stood aside that
she might be the first to step out upon the summit of the mountain. She
stood upon the narrow ridge of snow, at her feet the rock-cliffs
plastered with bulging masses of ice fell sheer to the glacier.

Her first glance was downward to the Col Dolent. Even at this hour when
the basin of the valley was filled with sunshine that one corner at the
head of the Glacier d'Argentière was still dead white, dead black. She
shivered once more as she looked at it--so grim and so menacing the
rock-wall seemed, so hard and steep the riband of ice. Then Chayne joined
her on the ridge. They sat down and ate their meal and lay for an hour
sunning themselves in the clear air.

"You could have had no better day," said Chayne.

Only a few white scarfs of cloud flitted here and there across the sky
and their shadows chased each other across the glittering slopes of ice
and snow. The triangle of the Aiguille Verte was over against her, the
beautiful ridges of Les Courtes and Les Droites to her right and beyond
them the massive domes and buttresses of the great white mountain. Sylvia
lay upon the eastern slope of the Argentière looking over the brow, not
wanting to speak, and certainly not listening to any word that was
uttered. Her soul was at peace. The long-continued tension of mind and
muscle, the excitement of that last ice-slope, both were over and had
brought their reward. She looked out upon a still and peaceful world,
wonderfully bright, wonderfully beautiful, and wonderfully colored. Here
a spire would pierce the sunlight with slabs of red rock interspersed
amongst its gray; there ice-cliffs sparkled as though strewn with jewels,
bulged out in great green knobs, showed now a grim gray, now a
transparent blue. At times a distant rumble like thunder far away told
that the ice-fields were hurling their avalanches down. Once or twice she
heard a great roar near at hand, and Chayne pointing across the valleys
would show her what seemed to be a handful of small stones whizzing down
the rocks and ice-gullies of the Aiguille Verte. But on the whole this
new world was silent, communing with the heavens. She was in the hushed
company of the mountains. Days there would be when these sunlit ridges
would be mere blurs of driving storm, when the wind would shriek about
the gullies, and dark mists swirl around the peaks. But on this morning
there was no anger on the heights.

"Yes--you could have had no better day for your first mountain,
mademoiselle," said Jean, as he stood beside her. "But this is not your
first mountain."

She turned to him.

"Yes, it is."

Her guide bowed to her.

"Then, mademoiselle, you have great gifts. For you stood upon that
ice-slope and moved along and up it, as only people of experience stand
and move. I noticed you. On the rocks, too, you had the instinct for the
hand-grip and the foothold and with which foot to take the step. And that
instinct, mademoiselle, comes as a rule only with practice." He paused
and looked at her perplexity.

"Moreover, mademoiselle, you remind me of some one," he added. "I cannot
remember who it is, or why you remind me of him. But you remind me of
some one very much." He picked up the _Rücksack_ which he had taken from
his shoulders.

It was half past eleven. Sylvia took a last look over the wide prospect
of jagged ridge, ice pinnacles and rock spires. She looked down once
more upon the slim snow peak of Mont Dolent and the grim wall of rocks
at the Col.

"I shall never forget this," she said, with shining eyes. "Never."

The fascination of the mountains was upon her. Something new had come
into her life that morning which would never fail her to the very end,
which would color all her days, however dull, which would give her
memories in which to find solace, longings wherewith to plan the future.
This she felt and some of this her friend understood.

"Yes," he said. "You understand the difference it makes to one's whole
life. Each year passes so quickly looking back and looking forward."

"Yes, I understand," she said.

"You will come back?"

But this time she did not answer at once. She stood looking thoughtfully
out over the bridge of the Argentière. It seemed to Chayne that she was
coming slowly to some great decision which would somehow affect all her
life. Then she said--and it seemed to him that she had made her decision:

"I do not know. Perhaps I never shall come back."

They turned away and went carefully down the slope. Again her leading
guide, who on the return journey went last, was perplexed by that
instinct for the mountain side which had surprised him. The technique
came to her so naturally. She turned her back to the slope, and thus
descended, she knew just the right level at which to drive in the pick of
her ax that she might lower herself to the next hole in their ice-ladder.
Finally as they came down the rocks by the great couloir to the glacier,
he cried out:

"Ah! Now, mademoiselle, I know who it is you remind me of. I have been
watching you. I know now."

She looked up.

"Who is it?"

"An English gentleman I once climbed with for a whole season many years
ago. A great climber, mademoiselle! Captain Chayne will know his name.
Gabriel Strood."

"Gabriel Strood!" she cried, and then she laughed. "I too know his name.
You are flattering me, Jean."

But Jean would not admit it.

"I am not, mademoiselle," he insisted. "I do not say you have his
skill--how should you? But there are certain movements, certain neat ways
of putting the hands and feet. Yes, mademoiselle, you remind me of him."

Sylvia thought no more of his words at the moment. They reached the
lateral glacier, descended it and crossed the Glacier d'Argentière. They
found their stone-encumbered pathway of the morning and at three o'clock
stood once more upon the platform in front of the Pavillon de Lognan.
Then she rested for a while, saying very little.

"You are tired?" he said.

"No," she replied. "But this day has made a great difference to me."

Her guides approached her and she said no more upon the point. But Chayne
had no doubt that she was referring to that decision which she had taken
on the summit of the peak. She stood up to go.

"You stay here to-night?" she said.

"Yes."

"You cross the Col Dolent to-morrow?"

"Yes."

She looked at him quickly and then away.

"You will be careful? In the shadow there?"

"Yes."

She was silent for a moment or two, looking up the glacier toward the
Aiguille d'Argentière.

"I thank you very much for coming with me," and again the humility in
her voice, as of one outside the door, touched and hurt him. "I am
very grateful," and here a smile lightened her grave face, "and I am
rather proud!"

"You came up to Lognan at a good time for me," he answered, as they shook
hands. "I shall cross the Col Dolent with a better heart to-morrow."

They shook hands, and he asked:

"Shall I see no more of you?"

"That is as you will," she replied, simply.

"I should like to. In Paris, perhaps, or wherever you are likely to be. I
am on leave now for some months."

She thought for a second or two. Then she said:

"If you will give me your address, I will write to you. I think I shall
be in England."

"I live in Sussex, on the South Downs."

She took his card, and as she turned away she pointed to the Aiguille
d'Argentière.

"I shall dream of that to-night."

"Surely not," he replied, laughing down to her over the wooden
balustrade. "You will dream of running water."

She glanced up at him in surprise that he should have remembered this
strange quality of hers. Then she turned away and went down to the pine
woods and the village of Les Tines.



CHAPTER VIII

SYLVIA PARTS FROM HER MOTHER


Meanwhile Mrs. Thesiger laughed her shrill laugh and chatted noisily in
the garden of the hotel. She picnicked on the day of Sylvia's ascent
amongst the sham ruins on the road to Sallanches with a few detached
idlers of various nationalities.

"Quite, quite charming," she cried, and she rippled with enthusiasm over
the artificial lake and the artificial rocks amongst which she seemed so
appropriate a figure; and she shrugged her pretty shoulders over the
eccentricities of her daughter, who was undoubtedly burning her
complexion to the color of brick-dust among those stupid mountains. She
came back a trifle flushed in the cool of the afternoon, and in the
evening slipped discreetly into the little Cercle at the back of the
Casino, where she played baccarat in a company which flattery could
hardly have termed doubtful. She was indeed not displeased to be rid of
her unsatisfactory daughter for a night and a couple of days.

"Sylvia won't fit in."

Thus for a long time she had been accustomed piteously to complain; and
with ever more reason. Less and less did Sylvia fit in with Mrs.
Thesiger's scheme of life. It was not that the girl resisted or
complained. Mrs. Thesiger would have understood objections and
complaints. She would not have minded them; she could have coped with
them. There would have been little scenes, with accusations of
ingratitude, of undutifulness, and Mrs. Thesiger was not averse to the
excitement of little scenes. But Sylvia never complained; she maintained
a reserve, a mystery which her mother found very uncomfortable. "She has
no sympathy," said Mrs. Thesiger. Moreover, she would grow up, and she
would grow up in beauty and in freshness. Mrs. Thesiger did her best. She
kept her dressed in a style which suited a younger girl, or rather, which
would have suited a younger girl had it been less decorative and extreme.
Again Sylvia did not complain. She followed her usual practice and shut
her mind to the things which displeased her so completely, that they
ceased to trouble her. But Mrs. Thesiger never knew that secret; and
often, when in the midst of her chatter she threw a glance at the
elaborate figure of her daughter, sitting apart with her lace skirts too
short, her heels too high, her hat too big and too fancifully trimmed,
she would see her madonna-like face turned toward her, and her dark eyes
thoughtfully dwelling upon her. At such times there would come an
uncomfortable sensation that she was being weighed and found wanting; or
a question would leap in her mind and bring with it fear, and the same
question which she had asked herself in the train on the way to Chamonix.

"You ask me about my daughter?" she once exclaimed pettishly to
Monsieur Pettigrat. "Upon my word, I really know nothing of her except
one ridiculous thing. She always dreams of running water. Now, I ask
you, what can you do with a daughter so absurd that she dreams of
running water?"

Monsieur Pettigrat was a big, broad, uncommon man; he knew that he was
uncommon, and dressed accordingly in a cloak and a brigand's hat; he saw
what others did not, and spoke in a manner suitably impressive.

"I will tell you, madame, about your daughter," he said somberly. "To me
she has a fated look."

Mrs. Thesiger was a little consoled to think that she had a daughter with
a fated look.

"I wonder if others have noticed it," she said, cheerfully.

"No," replied Monsieur Pettigrat. "No others. Only I."

"There! That's just like Sylvia," cried Mrs. Thesiger, in exasperation.
"She has a fated look and makes nothing of it."

But the secret of her discontent was just a woman's jealousy of a younger
rival. Men were beginning to turn from her toward her daughter. That
Sylvia never competed only made the sting the sharper. The grave face
with its perfect oval, which smiled so rarely, but in so winning a way,
its delicate color, its freshness, were points which she could not
forgive her daughter. She felt faded and yellow beside her, she rouged
more heavily on account of her, she looked with more apprehension at the
crow's-feet which were beginning to show about the corners of her eyes,
and the lines which were beginning to run from the nostrils to the
corners of her mouth.

Sylvia reached the hotel in time for dinner, and as she sat with her
mother, drinking her coffee in the garden afterward, Monsieur Pettigrat
planted himself before the little iron table.

He shook his head, which was what his friends called "leonine."

"Mademoiselle," he said, in his most impressive voice, "I envy you."

Sylvia looked up at him with a little smile of mischief upon her lips.

"And why, monsieur?"

He waved his arm magnificently.

"I watched you at dinner. You are of the elect, mademoiselle, for whom
the snow peaks have a message."

Sylvia's smile faded from her face.

"Perhaps so, monsieur," she said, gravely, and her mother
interposed testily:

"A message! Ridiculous! There are only two words in the message, my dear.
Cold-cream! and be sure you put it on your face before you go to bed."

Sylvia apparently did not hear her mother's comment. At all events she
disregarded it, and Monsieur Pettigrat once again shook his head at
Sylvia with a kindly magnificence.

"They have no message for me, mademoiselle," he said, with a sigh, as
though he for once regretted that he was so uncommon. "I once went up
there to see." He waved his hand generally to the chain of Mont Blanc and
drifted largely away.

Mrs. Thesiger, however, was to hear more definitely of that message two
days later. It was after dinner. She was sitting in the garden with her
daughter on a night of moonlight; behind them rose the wall of
mountains, silent and shadowed, in front were the lights of the little
town, and the clatter of its crowded streets. Between the town and the
mountains, at the side of the hotel this garden lay, a garden of grass
and trees, where the moonlight slept in white brilliant pools of light,
or dripped between the leaves of the branches. It partook alike of the
silence of the hills and the noise of the town, for a murmur of voices
was audible from this and that point, and under the shadows of the trees
could be seen the glimmer of light-colored frocks and the glow of cigars
waxing and waning. A waiter came across the garden with some letters for
Mrs. Thesiger. There were none for Sylvia and she was used to none, for
she had no girl friends, and though at times men wrote her letters she
did not answer them.

A lamp burned near at hand. Mrs. Thesiger opened her letters and read
them. She threw them on to the table when she had read them through.
But there was one which angered her, and replacing it in its envelope,
she tossed it so petulantly aside that it slid off the iron table and
fell at Sylvia's feet. Sylvia stooped and picked it up. It had fallen
face upward.

"This is from my father."

Mrs. Thesiger looked up startled. It was the first time that Sylvia had
ever spoken of him to her. A wariness come into her eyes.

"Well?" she asked.

"I want to go to him."

Sylvia spoke very simply and gently, looking straight into her mother's
face with that perplexing steadiness of gaze which told so very little of
what thoughts were busy behind it. Her mother turned her face aside. She
was rather frightened. For a while she made no reply at all, but her face
beneath its paint looked haggard and old in the white light, and she
raised her hand to her heart. When she did speak, her voice shook.

"You have never seen your father. He has never seen you. He and I parted
before you were born."

"But he writes to you."

"Yes, he writes to me," and for all that she tried, she could not
altogether keep a tone of contempt out of her voice. She added with some
cruelty: "But he never mentions you. He has never once inquired after
you, never once."

Sylvia looked very wistfully at the letter, but her purpose was
not shaken.

"Mother, I want to go to him," she persisted. Her lips trembled a little,
and with a choke of the voice, a sob half caught back, she added: "I am
most unhappy here."

The rarity of a complaint from Sylvia moved her mother strangely. There
was a forlornness, moreover, in her appealing attitude. Just for a moment
Mrs. Thesiger began to think of early days of which the memory was at
once a pain and a reproach. A certain little village underneath the great
White Horse on the Dorsetshire Downs rose with a disturbing vividness
before her eyes. She almost heard the mill stream babble by. In that
village of Sutton Poyntz she had herself been born, and to it she had
returned, caught back again for a little while by her own country and her
youth, that Sylvia might be born there too. These months had made a kind
of green oasis in her life. She had rested there in a farm-house, after a
time of much turbulence, with the music of running water night and day in
her ears, a high-walled garden of flowers and grass about her, and the
downs with the shadow-filled hollows, and brown treeless slopes rising up
from her very feet. She could not but think of that short time of peace,
and her voice softened as she answered her daughter.

"We don't keep step, Sylvia," she said, with an uneasy laugh. "I know
that. But, after all, would you be happier with your father, even if he
wants to keep you! You have all you want here--frocks, amusement,
companions. Try to be more friendly with people."

But Sylvia merely shook her head.

"I can't go on any longer like this," she said, slowly. "I can't, mother.
If my father won't have me, I must see what I can do. Of course, I can't
do much. I don't know anything. But I am too unhappy here. I cannot
endure the life we are living without a home or--respect,--" Sylvia had
not meant to use that word. But it had slipped out before she was aware.
She broke off and turned her eyes again to her mother. They were very
bright, for the moonlight glistened upon tears. But the softness had gone
from her mother's face. She had grown in a moment hard, and her voice
rang hard as she asked:

"Why do you think that your father and I parted? Come, let me hear!"

Sylvia turned her head away.

"I don't think about it," she said, gently. "I don't want to think about
it. I just think that he left you, because you did not keep step either."

"Oh, he left me? Not I him? Then why does he write to me?"

The voice was growing harder with every word.

"I suppose because he is kind"; and at that simple explanation Sylvia's
mother laughed with a bitter amusement. Sylvia sat scraping the gravel
with her slipper.

"Don't do that!" cried her mother, irritably. Then she asked suddenly a
question which startled her daughter.

"Did you meet any one last night on the mountain, at the inn?"

Sylvia's face colored, but the moonlight hid the change.

"Yes," she said.

"A man?"

"Yes."

"Who was it?"

"A Captain Chayne. He was at the hotel all last week. It was his friend
who was killed on the Glacier des Nantillons."

"Were you alone at the inn, you and he?"

"Yes."

"Did he know your father?"

Sylvia stared at her mother.

"I don't know. I suppose not. How should he?"

"It's not impossible," replied Mrs. Thesiger. Then she leaned on the
table. "It was he who put these ideas into your head about going away,
about leaving me." She made an accusation rather than put a question, and
made it angrily.

"No, mother," Sylvia replied. "He never spoke of you. The ideas have been
growing in my mind for a long time, and to-day--" She raised her head,
and turning slightly, looked up to where just behind her the ice-peaks of
the Aiguilles du Midi and de Blaitière soared into the moonlit sky.
"To-day the end came. I became certain that I must go away. I am very
sorry, mother."

"The message of the mountains!" said her mother with a sneer, and Sylvia
answered quietly:

"Yes."

"Very well," said Mrs. Thesiger. She had been deeply stung by her
daughter's words, by her wish to go, and if she delayed her consent, it
was chiefly through a hankering to punish Sylvia. But the thought came to
her that she would punish Sylvia more completely if she let her go. She
smiled cruelly as she looked at the girl's pure and gentle face. And,
after all, she herself would be free--free from Sylvia's unconscious
rivalry, free from the competition of her freshness and her youth, free
from the grave criticism of her eyes.

"Very well, you shall go to your father. But remember! You have made your
choice. You mustn't come whining back to me, because I won't have you,"
she said, brutally. "You shall go to-morrow."

She took the letter from its envelope but she did not show it to
her daughter.

"I don't use your father's name," she said. "I have not used it
since"--and again the cruel smile appeared upon her lips--"since he left
me, as you say. He is called Garratt Skinner, and he lives in a little
house in Hobart Place. Yes, you shall start for your home to-morrow."

Sylvia stood up.

"Thank you," she said. She looked wistfully at her mother, asking her
pardon with the look. But she did not approach her. She stood sadly in
front of her. Mrs. Thesiger made no advance.

"Well?" she asked, in her hard, cold voice.

"Thank you, mother," Sylvia repeated, and she walked slowly to the door
of the hotel. She looked up to the mountains. Needle spires of rock,
glistening pinnacles of ice, they stood dreaming to the moonlight and the
stars. The great step had been taken. She prayed for something of their
calm, something of their proud indifference to storm and sunshine,
solitude and company. She went up to her room and began to pack her
trunks. And as she packed, the tears gathered in her eyes and fell.

Meanwhile, her mother sat in the garden. So Sylvia wanted a home; she
could not endure the life she lived with her mother. Afar off a band
played; the streets beyond were noisy as a river; beneath the trees of
the garden here people talked quietly. Mrs. Thesiger sat with a little
vindictive smile upon her face. Her rival was going to be punished. Mrs.
Thesiger had left her husband, not he her. She read through the letter
which she had received from him this evening. It was a pressing request
for money. She was not going to send him money. She wondered how he would
appreciate the present of a daughter instead.



CHAPTER IX

SYLVIA MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF HER FATHER


Sylvia left Chamonix the next afternoon. It was a Saturday, and she
stepped out of her railway-carriage on to the platform of Victoria
Station at seven o'clock on the Sunday evening. She was tired by her long
journey, and she felt rather lonely as she waited for her trunks to be
passed by the officers of the custom-house. It was her very first visit
to London, and there was not one person to meet her. Other travelers were
being welcomed on all sides by their friends. No one in all London
expected her. She doubted if she had one single acquaintance in the whole
town. Her mother, foreseeing this very moment, had with a subtlety of
malice refrained from so much as sending a telegram to the girl's father;
and Sylvia herself, not knowing him, had kept silence too. Since he did
not expect her, she thought her better plan was to see him, or rather,
since her thoughts were frank, to let him see her. Her mirror had assured
her that her looks would be a better introduction than a telegram.

She had her boxes placed upon a cab and drove off to Hobart Place. The
sense of loneliness soon left her. She was buoyed up by excitement. The
novelty of the streets amused her. Moreover, she had invented her father,
clothed him with many qualities as with shining raiment, and set him high
among the persons of her dreams. Would he be satisfied with his daughter?
That was her fear, and with the help of the looking-glass at the side of
her hansom, she tried to remove the traces of travel from her young face.

The cab stopped at a door in a narrow wall between two houses, and she
got out. Over the wall she saw the green leaves and branches of a few
lime trees which rose from a little garden, and at the end of the garden,
in the far recess between the two side walls, the upper windows of a
little neat white house. Sylvia was charmed with it. She rang the bell,
and a servant came to the door.

"Is Mr. Skinner in?" asked Sylvia.

"Yes," she said, doubtfully, "but--"

Sylvia, however, had made her plans.

"Thank you," she said. She made a sign to the cabman, and walked on
through the doorway into a little garden of grass with a few flowers on
each side against the walls. A tiled path led through the middle of the
grass to the glass door of the house. Sylvia walked straight down,
followed by the cabman who brought her boxes in one after the other. The
servant, giving way before the composure of this strange young visitor,
opened the door of a sitting-room upon the left hand, and Sylvia,
followed by her trunks, entered and took possession.

"What name shall I say?" asked the servant in perplexity. She had had no
orders to expect a visitor. Sylvia paid the cabman and waited until she
heard the garden door close and the jingle of the cab as it was driven
away. Then, and not till then, she answered the question.

"No name. Just please tell Mr. Skinner that some one would like to see
him."

The servant stared, but went slowly away. Sylvia seated herself firmly
upon one of the boxes. In spite of her composed manner, her heart was
beating wildly. She heard a door open and the firm tread of a man along
the passage. Sylvia clung to her box. After all she was in the house, she
and her baggage. The door opened and a tall broad-shouldered man, who
seemed to fill the whole tiny room, came in and stared at her. Then he
saw her boxes, and he frowned in perplexity. As he appeared to Sylvia, he
was a man of about forty-five, with a handsome, deeply-lined aquiline
face. He had thick, dark brown hair, a mustache of a lighter brown and
eyes of the color of hers--a man rather lean but of an athletic build.
Sylvia watched him intently, but the only look upon his face was one of
absolute astonishment. He saw a young lady, quite unknown to him, perched
upon her luggage in a sitting-room of his house.

"You wanted to see me?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, getting on to her feet. She looked at him gravely. "I
am Sylvia," she said.

A smile, rather like her own smile, hesitated about his mouth.

"And--

"Who is Sylvia? What is she?
Her trunks do not proclaim her!"

he said. "Beyond that Sylvia has apparently come to stay, I am rather in
the dark."

"You are Mr. Garratt Skinner?"

"Yes."

"I am your daughter Sylvia."

"My daughter Sylvia!" he exclaimed in a daze. Then he sat down and held
his head between his hands.

"Yes, by George. I _have_ got a daughter Sylvia," he said, obviously
recollecting the fact with surprise. "But you are at Chamonix."

"I was at Chamonix yesterday."

Garratt Skinner looked sharply at Sylvia.

"Did your mother send you to me?"

"No," she answered. "But she let me go. I came of my own accord. A letter
came from you--"

"Did you see it?" interrupted her father. "Did she show it you?"

"No, but she gave me your address when I told her that I must come away."

"Did she? I think I recognize my wife in that kindly act," he said, with
a sudden bitterness. Then he looked curiously at his daughter.

"Why did you want to come away?"

"I was unhappy. For a long time I had been thinking over this. I hated it
all--the people we met, the hotels we stayed at, the life altogether.
Then at Chamonix I went up a mountain."

"Oho," said her father, sitting up alertly. "So you went up a mountain?
Which one?"

"The Aiguille d'Argentière. Do you know it, father?"

"I have heard of it," said Garratt Skinner.

"Well, somehow that made a difference. It is difficult to explain. But I
felt the difference. I felt something had happened to me which I had to
recognize--a new thing. Climbing that mountain, staying for an hour upon
its summit in the sunlight with all those great still pinnacles and
ice-slopes about me--it was just like hearing very beautiful music." She
was sitting now leaning forward with her hands clasped in front of her
and speaking with great earnestness. "All the vague longings which had
ever stirred within me, longings for something beyond, and beyond, came
back upon me in a tumult. There was a place in shadow at my feet far
below, the only place in shadow, a wall of black rock called the Col
Dolent. It seemed to me that I was living in that cold shadow. I wanted
to get up on the ridge, with the sunlight. So I came to you."

It seemed to Sylvia, that intently as she spoke, her words were and must
be elusive to another, unless that other had felt what she felt or were
moved by sympathy to feel it. Her father listened without ridicule,
without a smile. Indeed, once or twice he nodded his head to her words.
Was it comprehension, she wondered, or was it only patience?

"When I came down from that summit, I felt that what I had hated before
was no longer endurable at all. So I came to you."

Her father got up from his chair and stood for a little while looking out
of the window. He was clearly troubled by her words. He turned away with
a shrug of his shoulders.

"But--but--what can I do for you here?" he cried. "Sylvia, I am a very
poor man. Your mother, on the other hand, has some money."

"Oh, father, I shan't cost you much," she replied, eagerly. "I might
perhaps by looking after things save you money. I won't cost you much."

Garratt Skinner looked at her with a rueful smile.

"You look to me rather an expensive person to keep up," he said.

"Mother dressed me like this. It's not my choice," she said. "I let her
do as she wished. It did not seem to matter much. Really, if you will let
me stay, you will find me useful," she said, in a pathetic appeal.

"Useful?" said Garratt Skinner, suddenly. He again took stock of her, but
now with a scrutiny which caused her a vague discomfort. He seemed to be
appraising her from the color of her hair and eyes to the prettiness of
her feet, almost as though she was for sale, and he a doubtful purchaser.
She looked down on the carpet and slowly her blood colored her neck and
rose into her face. "Useful," he said, slowly. "Perhaps so, yes, perhaps
so." And upon that he changed his tone. "We will see, Sylvia. You must
stay here for the present, at all events. Luckily, there is a spare room.
I have some friends here staying to supper--just a bachelor's friends,
you know, taking pot-luck without any ceremony, very good fellows, not
polished, perhaps, but sound of heart, Sylvia my girl, sound of heart."
All his perplexity had vanished; he had taken his part; and he rattled
along with a friendly liveliness which cleared the shadows from Sylvia's
thoughts and provoked upon her face her rare and winning smile. He rang
the bell for the housemaid.

"My daughter will stay here," he said, to the servant's astonishment.
"Get the spare room ready at once. You will be hostess to-night, Sylvia,
and sit at the head of the table. I become a family man. Well, well!"

He took Sylvia up-stairs and showed her a little bright room with a big
window which looked out across the garden. He carried her boxes up
himself. "We don't run to a butler," he said. "Got everything you want?
Ring if you haven't. We have supper at eight and we shan't dress.
Only--well, you couldn't look dowdy if you tried."

Sylvia had not the slightest intention to try. She put on a little frock
of white lace, high at the throat, dressed her hair, and then having a
little time to spare she hurriedly wrote a letter. This letter she gave
to the servant and she ran down-stairs.

"You will be careful to have it posted, please!" she said, and at that
moment her father came out into the passage, so quickly that he might
have been listening for her approach.

She stopped upon the staircase, a few steps above him. The evening was
still bright, and the daylight fell upon her from a window above the
hall door.

"Shall I do?" she asked, with a smile.

The staircase was paneled with a dark polished wood, and she stood out
from that somber background, a white figure, delicate and dainty and
wholesome, from the silver buckle on her satin slipper to the white
flower she had placed in her hair. Her face, with its remarkable
gentleness, its suggestion of purity as of one unspotted by the world,
was turned to him with a confident appeal. Her clear gray eyes rested
quietly on his. Yet she saw his face change. It seemed that a spasm of
pain or revolt shook him. Upon her face there came a blank look. Why was
he displeased? But the spasm passed. He shrugged his shoulders and threw
off his doubt.

"You are very pretty," he said.

Sylvia's smile just showed about the corners of her lips and her
face cleared.

"Yes," she said, with satisfaction.

Garratt Skinner laughed.

"Oh, you know that?"

"Yes," she replied, nodding her head at him.

He led the way down the passage toward the back of the house, and
throwing open a door introduced her to his friends.

"Captain Barstow," he said, and Sylvia found herself shaking hands with a
little middle-aged man with a shiny bald head and a black square beard.
He had an eye-glass screwed into his right eye, and that whole side of
his face was distorted by the contraction of the muscles and drawn upward
toward the eye. He did not look at her directly, but with an oblique and
furtive glance he expressed his sense of the honor which the introduction
conferred on him. However, Sylvia was determined not to be disappointed.
She turned to the next of her father's guests.

"Mr. Archie Parminter."

He at all events looked her straight in the face. He was a man of
moderate height, youthful in build, but old of face, upon which there sat
always a smirk of satisfaction. He was of those whom no beauty in others,
no grace, no sweetness, could greatly impress, so filled was he with
self-complacency. He had no time to admire, since always he felt that he
was being admired, and to adjust his pose, and to speak so that his
words, carried to the right distance, occupied too much of his attention.
He seldom spoke to the person he talked with but generally to some other,
a woman for choice, whom he believed to be listening to the important
sentences he uttered. For the rest, he had grown heavy in jaw and his
face (a rather flat face in which were set a pair of sharp dark eyes)
narrowed in toward the top of his head like a pear.

He bowed suavely to Sylvia, with the air of one showing to the room how a
gentleman performed that ceremony, but took little note of her.

But Sylvia was determined not to be disappointed.

Her father took her by the elbow and turned her about.

"Mr. Hine."

Sylvia was confronted with a youth who reddened under her greeting and
awkwardly held out a damp coarse hand, a poor creature with an insipid
face, coarse hair, and manner of great discomfort. He was as tall as
Parminter, but wore his good clothes with Sunday air, and having been
introduced to Sylvia could find no word to say to her.

"Well, let us go in to supper," said her father, and he held open the
door for her to pass.

Sylvia went into the dining-room across the narrow hall, where a cold
supper was laid upon a round table. In spite of her resolve to see all
things in a rosy light, she grew conscious, in spite of herself, that she
was disappointed in her father's friends. She was perplexed, too. He was
so clearly head and shoulders above his associates, that she wondered at
their presence in his house. Yet he seemed quite content, and in a most
genial mood.

"You sit here, Sylvia, my dear," he said, pointing to a chair.
"Wallie"--this to the youth Hine--"sit beside my daughter and keep her
amused. Barstow, you on the other side; Parminter next to me."

He sat opposite Sylvia and the rest took their places, Hine sidling
timidly into his chair and tortured by the thought that he had to amuse
this delicate being at his side.

"The supper is on the table," said Garratt Skinner. "Parminter, will you
cut up this duck? Hine, what have you got in front of you? Really, this
is so exceptional an occasion that I think--" he started up suddenly, as
a man will with a new and happy idea--"I certainly think that for once in
a way we might open a bottle of champagne."

Surprise and applause greeted this brilliant idea, and Hine cried out:

"I think champagne fine, don't you, Miss Skinner?"

He collapsed at his own boldness. Parminter shrugged his shoulders to
show that champagne was an every-day affair with him.

"It's drunk a good deal at the clubs nowadays," he said.

Meanwhile Garratt Skinner had not moved. He stood looking across the
table to his daughter.

"What do you say, Sylvia? It's an extravagance. But I don't have such
luck every day. It's in your honor. Shall we? Yes, then!"

He did not wait for an answer, but opened the door of a cupboard in the
sideboard, and there, quite ready, stood half a dozen bottles of
champagne. A doubt flashed into Sylvia's mind--a doubt whether her
father's brilliant idea was really the inspiration which his manner had
suggested. Those bottles looked so obviously got in for the occasion.
But Garratt Skinner turned to her apologetically, as though he divined
her thought.

"We don't run to a wine cellar, Sylvia. We have to keep what little stock
we can afford in here."

Her doubt vanished, but in an instant it returned again, for as her
father came round the table with the bottle in his hand, she noticed that
shallow champagne glasses were ready laid at every place. Garratt Skinner
filled the glasses and returned to his place.

"Sylvia," he said, and, smiling, he drank to her. He turned to his
companions. "Congratulate me!" Then he sat down.

The champagne thawed the tongues of the company, and as they spoke
Sylvia's heart sank more and more. For in word and thought and manner her
father's guests were familiar to her. She refused to acknowledge it, but
the knowledge was forced upon her. She had thought to step out of a world
which she hated, against which her delicacy and her purity revolted, and
lo! she had stepped out merely to take a stride and step down into it
again at another place.

The obsequious attentiveness of Captain Barstow, the vanity of Mr.
Parminter and his affected voice, suggesting that he came out of the
great world to this little supper party, really without any sense of
condescension at all, and the behavior of Walter Hine, who, to give
himself courage, gulped down his champagne--it was all horribly familiar.
Her one consolation was her father. He sat opposite to her, his strong
aquiline face a fine contrast to the faces of the others; he had an ease
of manner which they did not possess; he talked with a quietude of his
own, and he had a watchful eye and a ready smile for his daughter.
Indeed, it seemed that what she felt his guests felt too. For they spoke
to him with a certain deference, almost as if they spoke to their master.
He alone apparently noticed no unsuitability in his guests. He sat at his
ease, their bosom friend.

Meanwhile, plied with champagne by Archie Parminter, who sat upon the
other side of him, "Wallie" Hine began to boast. Sylvia tried to check
him, but he was not now to be stopped. His very timidity pricked him on
to extravagance, and his boasting was that worst form of boasting--the
vaunt of the innocent weakling anxious to figure as a conqueror of women.
With a flushed face he dropped his foolish hints of Mrs. This and Lady
That, with an eye upon Sylvia to watch the impression which he made, and
a wise air which said "If only I were to tell you all."

Garratt Skinner opened a fresh bottle of champagne--the supply by now was
getting low--and came round the table with it. As he held the neck of the
bottle to the brim of Hine's glass he caught an appealing look from his
daughter. At once he lifted the bottle and left the glass unfilled. As he
passed Sylvia, she said in a low voice:

"Thank you," and he whispered back:

"You are quite right, my dear. Interest him so that he doesn't notice
that I have left his glass empty."

Sylvia set herself then to talk to Wallie Hine. But he was intent on
making her understand what great successes had been his. He _would_ talk,
and it troubled her that all listened, and listened with an air of
admiration. Even her father from his side of the table smiled
indulgently. Yet the stories, or rather the hints of stories, were
certainly untrue. For this her wanderings had taught her--the man of many
successes never talks. It seemed that there was a conspiracy to flatter
the wretched youth.

"Yes, yes. You have been a devil of a fellow among the women, Wallie,"
said Captain Barstow. But at once Garratt Skinner interfered and sharply:

"Come, come, Barstow! That's no language to use before my daughter."

Captain Barstow presented at the moment a remarkable gradation of color.
On the top was the bald head, very shiny and white, below that a face
now everywhere a deep red except where the swollen veins stood out upon
the surface of his cheeks, and those were purple, and this in its turn
was enclosed by the black square beard. He bowed at once to Garratt
Skinner's rebuke.

"I apologize. I do indeed, Miss Sylvia! But when I was in the service we
still clung to the traditions of Wellington by--by George. And it's hard
to break oneself of the habit. 'Red-hot,'" he said, with a chuckle.
"That's what they called me in the regiment. Red-hot Barstow. I'll bet
that Red-hot Barstow is still pretty well remembered among the boys at
Cheltenham."

"Swearing's bad form nowadays," said Archie Parminter, superciliously.
"They have given it up at the clubs."

Sylvia seized the moment and rose from the table. Her father sprang
forward and opened the door.

"We will join you in a few minutes," he said.

Sylvia went down the passage to the room at the back of the house in
which she had been presented by her father to his friends. She rang the
bell at once and when the servant came she said:

"I gave you a letter to post this evening. I should like to have it
back."

"I am sorry, miss, but it's posted."

"I am sorry, too," said Sylvia, quietly.

The letter had been written to Chayne, and gave him the address of this
house as the place where he might find her if he called. She had no
thought of going away. She had made her choice for good or ill and must
abide by it. That she knew. But she was no longer sure that she wished
Captain Chayne to come and find her there.



CHAPTER X

A LITTLE ROUND GAME OF CARDS


Sylvia sat down in a chair and waited. She waited impatiently, for she
knew that she had almost reached the limits of her self-command, and
needed the presence of others to keep her from breaking down. But her
native courage came to her aid, and in half an hour she heard the steps
of her father and his guests in the passage. She noticed that her father
looked anxiously toward her as he came in.

"Do you mind if we bring in our cigars?" he asked.

"Not at all," said she; and he came in, carrying in his hand a box of
cigars, which he placed in the middle of the table. Wallie Hine at
once stumbled across the room to Sylvia; he walked unsteadily, his
features were more flushed than before. She shrank a little from him.
But he had not the time to sit down beside her, for Captain Barstow
exclaimed jovially:

"I say, Garratt, I have an idea. There are five of us here. Let us have a
little round game of cards."

Sylvia started. In her heart she knew that just some such proposal as
this she had been dreading all the evening. Her sinking hopes died away
altogether.

This poor witless youth, plied with champagne; the older men who
flattered him with lies; the suggestion of champagne made as though it
were a sudden inspiration, and the six bottles standing ready in the
cupboard; and now the suggestion of a little round game of cards made in
just the same tone! Sylvia had a feeling of horror. She had kept herself
unspotted from her world, but not through ignorance. She knew it. She
knew those little round games of cards and what came of them, sometimes
merely misery and ruin, sometimes a pistol shot in the early morning. She
turned very pale, but she managed to say:

"Thank you. I don't play cards."

And then she heard a sudden movement by her father, who at the moment
when Barstow spoke had been lighting a fresh cigar. She looked up.
Garratt Skinner was staring in astonishment at Captain Barstow.

"Cards!" he cried. "In my house? On a Sunday evening?"

With each question his amazement grew, and he ended in a tone of
remonstrance.

"Come, Barstow, you know me too well to propose that. I am rather hurt. A
friendly talk, and a smoke, yes. Perhaps a small whisky and soda. I don't
say no. But cards on a Sunday evening! No indeed."

"Oh, I say, Skinner," objected Wallie Hine. "There's no harm in a
little game."

Garratt Skinner shook his head at Hine in a grave friendly way.

"Better leave cards alone, Wallie, always. You are young, you know."

Hine flushed.

"I am old enough to hold my own against any man," he cried, hotly. He
felt that Garratt Skinner had humiliated him, and before this wonderful
daughter of his in whose good favors Mr. Hine had been making such
inroads during supper. Barstow apologized for his suggestion at once, but
Hine was now quite unwilling that he should withdraw it.

"There's no harm in it," he cried. "I really think you are too
Puritanical, isn't he, Miss--Miss Sylvia?"

Hine had been endeavoring to pluck up courage to use her Christian name
all the evening. His pride that he had actually spoken it was so great
that he did not remark at all her little movement of disgust.

Garratt Skinner seemed to weaken in his resolution.

"Well, of course, Wallie," he said, "I want you to enjoy yourselves. And
if you especially want it--"

Did he notice that Sylvia closed her eyes and really shivered? She could
not tell. But he suddenly spoke in a tone of revolt:

"But card-playing on Sunday. Really no!"

"It's done nowadays at the West-End Clubs," said Archie Parminter.

"Oh, is it?" said Garratt Skinner, again grown doubtful. "Is it,
indeed? Well, if they do it in the Clubs--" And then with an
exclamation of relief--"I haven't got a pack of cards in the house.
That settles the point."

"There's a public house almost next door," replied Barstow. "If you send
out your servant, I am sure she could borrow one."

"No," said Garratt Skinner, indignantly. "Really, Barstow, your bachelor
habits have had a bad effect on you. I would not think of sending a girl
out to a public house on any consideration. It might be the very first
step downhill for her, and I should be responsible."

"Oh well, if you are so particular, I'll go myself," cried Barstow,
petulantly. He got up and walked to the door.

"I don't mind so much if you go yourself. Only please don't say you come
from this house," said Garratt Skinner, and Barstow went out from the
room. He came back in a very short time, and Sylvia noticed at once that
he held two quite new and unopened packs of cards in his hand.

"A stroke of luck," he cried. "The landlord had a couple of new packs,
for he was expecting to give a little party to-night. But a relation of
his wife died rather suddenly yesterday, and he put his guests off. A
decent-minded fellow, I think. What?"

"Yes. It's not every one who would have shown so much good feeling," said
Garratt Skinner, seriously. "One likes to know that there are men about
like that. One feels kindlier to the whole world"; and he drew up his
chair to the table.

Sylvia was puzzled. Was this story of the landlord a glib lie of Captain
Barstow's to account, with a detail which should carry conviction, for
the suspiciously new pack of cards? And if so, did her father believe in
its truth? Had the packs been waiting in Captain Barstow's coat pocket in
the hall until the fitting moment for their appearance? If so, did her
father play a part in the conspiracy? His face gave no sign. She was
terribly troubled.

"Penny points," said Garratt Skinner. "Nothing more."

"Oh come, I say," cried Hine, as he pulled out a handful of sovereigns.

"Nothing more than penny points in my house. Put that money away, Wallie.
We will use counters."

Garratt Skinner had a box of counters if he had no pack of cards.

"Penny points, a sixpenny ante and a shilling limit," he said. "Then no
harm will be done to any one. The black counters a shilling, the red
sixpence, and the white ones a penny. You have each a pound's worth," he
said as he dealt them out.

Sylvia rose from her chair.

"I think I will go to bed."

Wallie Hine turned round in his chair, holding his counters in his
hand. "Oh, don't do that, Miss Sylvia. Sit beside me, please, and
bring me luck."

"You forget, Wallie, that my daughter has just come from a long journey.
No doubt she is tired," said Garratt Skinner, with a friendly reproach in
his voice. He got up and opened the door for his daughter. After she had
passed out he followed her.

"I shall take a hand for a little while, Sylvia, to see that they keep to
the stakes. I think young Hine wants looking after, don't you? He doesn't
know any geography. Good-night, my dear. Sleep well!"

He took her by the elbow and drew her toward him. He stooped to her,
meaning to kiss her. Sylvia did not resist, but she drooped her head so
that her forehead, not her lips, was presented to his embrace. And the
kiss was never given. She remained standing, her face lowered from his,
her attitude one of resignation and despondency. She felt her father's
hand shake upon her arm, and looking up saw his eyes fixed upon her in
pity. He dropped her arm quickly, and said in a sharp voice:

"There! Go to bed, child!"

He watched her as she went up the stairs. She went up slowly and without
turning round, and she walked like one utterly tired out. Garratt
Skinner waited until he heard her door close. "She should never have
come," he said. "She should never have come." Then he went slowly back
to his friends.

Sylvia went to bed, but she did not sleep. The excitement which had
buoyed her up had passed; and her hopes had passed with it. She recalled
the high anticipations with which she had set out from Chamonix only
yesterday--yes, only yesterday. And against them in a vivid contrast she
set the actual reality, the supper party, Red-hot Barstow, Archie
Parminter, and the poor witless Wallie Hine, with his twang and his silly
boasts. She began to wonder whether there was any other world than that
which she knew, any other people than those with whom she had lived. Her
father was different--yes, but--but--Her father was too perplexing a
problem to her at this moment. Why had he so clearly pitied her just now
in the passage? Why had he checked himself from the kiss? She was too
tired to reason it out. She was conscious that she was very wretched, and
the tears gathered in her eyes; and in the darkness of her room she cried
silently, pressing the sheet to her lips lest a sob should be heard. Were
all her dreams mere empty imaginings? she asked. If so, why should they
ever have come to her? she inquired piteously; why should she have found
solace in them--why should they have become her real life? Did no one
walk the earth of all that company which went with her in her fancies?

Upon that her thoughts flew to the Alps, to the evening in the Pavillon
de Lognan, the climb upon the rocks and the glittering ice-slope, the
perfect hour upon the sunlit top of the Aiguille d'Argentière. The
memory of the mountains brought her consolation in her bad hour, as her
friend had prophesied it would. Her tears ceased to flow, she lived that
day--her one day--over again, jealous of every minute. After all that
had been real, and more perfect than any dream. Moreover, there had been
with her through the day a man honest and loyal as any of her imagined
company. She began to take heart a little; she thought of the Col Dolent
with its broad ribbon of ice set in the sheer black rocks, and always in
shadow. She thought of herself as going up some such hard, cold road in
the shadow, and remembered that on the top of the Col one came out into
sunlight and looked southward into Italy. So comforted a little, she
fell asleep.

It was some hours before she woke. It was already day, and since she had
raised her blinds before she had got into bed, the light streamed into
the room. She thought for a moment that it was the light which had waked
her. But as she lay she heard a murmur of voices, very low, and a sound
of people moving stealthily. She looked out of the window. The streets
were quite empty and silent. In the houses on the opposite side the
blinds were drawn; a gray clear light was spread over the town; the sun
had not yet risen. She looked at her watch. It was five o'clock. She
listened again, gently opening her door for an inch or so. She heard the
low voices more clearly now. Those who spoke were speaking almost in
whispers. She thought that thieves had broken in. She hurried on a few
clothes, cautiously opened her door wider, slipped through, and crept
with a beating heart down the stairs.

Half way down the stairs she looked over the rail of the banister,
turning her head toward the back part of the house whence the murmurs
came. At the end of the passage was the little room in which the round
game of cards was played the night before. The door stood open now, and
she looked right into the room.

And this is what she saw:

Wallie Hine was sitting at the table. About him the carpet was strewn
with crumpled pieces of paper. There was quite a number of them littered
around his chair. He was writing, or rather, trying to write. For Archie
Parminter leaning over the back of the chair held his hand and guided it.
Captain Barstow stood looking intently on, but of her father there was no
sign. She could not see the whole room, however. A good section of it was
concealed from her. Wallie Hine was leaning forward on the table, with
his head so low and his arms so spread that she could not see in what
book he was writing. But apparently he did not write to the satisfaction
of his companions. In spite of Parminter's care his pen spluttered.
Sylvia saw Archie look at Barstow, and she heard Barstow answer "No, that
won't do." Archie Parminter dropped Hine's hand, tore a slip of paper out
of the book, crumpled it, and threw it down with a gesture of anger on to
the carpet.

"Try again, old fellow," said Barstow, eagerly, bending down toward Hine
with a horrid smile upon his face, a smile which tried to conceal an
intense exasperation, an intense desire to strike. Again Parminter leaned
over the chair, again he took Wallie Hine's hand and guided the pen, very
carefully lifting it from the paper at the end of an initial or a word,
and spacing the letters. This time he seemed content.

"That will do, I think," he said, in a whisper.

Captain Barstow bent down and examined the writing carefully with his
short-sighted eyes.

"Yes, that's all right."

Parminter tore the leaf out, but this time he did not crumple it. He
blotted it carefully, folded it, and laid it on the mantle-shelf.

"Let us get him up," he said, and with Barstow's help they lifted Hine
out of his chair. Sylvia caught a glimpse of his face. His mouth was
loose, his eyes half shut, and the lids red; he seemed to be in a stupor.
His head rolled upon his shoulders. He swayed as his companions held him
up; his knees gave under him. He began incoherently to talk.

"Hush!" said Parminter. "You'll wake the house. You don't want that
pretty girl to see you in this state, do you, Wallie? After the
impression you made on her, too! Get his hat and coat out of the
passage, Barstow."

He propped Hine against the table, and holding him upright turned to the
door. He saw "the pretty girl" leaning over the banister and gazing with
horror-stricken eyes into the room. Sylvia drew back on the instant.
With a gesture of his hand, Archie Parminter stopped Barstow on his way
to the door.

Sylvia leaned back against the wall of the staircase, holding her
breath, and tightly pressing a hand upon her heart. Had they seen her?
Would they come out into the passage? What would happen? Would they kill
her? The questions raced through her mind. She could not have moved, she
thought, had Death stood over her. But nothing happened. She could not
now see into the room, and she heard no whisper, no footsteps creeping
stealthily along the passage toward her, no sound at all. Presently she
recovered her breath, and crept up-stairs. Once in her room, with great
care she locked the door, and sank upon her bed, shaking and trembling.
There she lay until the noise of the hall door closing very gently
roused her. She crept along the wall till she was by the side of the
window. Then she raised herself against the wall and peered out. She saw
Barstow and Parminter supporting Hine along the street, each with an arm
through his. A hansom-cab drove up, they lifted Hine into it, got in
themselves, and drove off. As the cab turned, Archie Parminter glanced
up to the windows of the house. But Sylvia was behind the curtains at
the side. He could not have seen her. Sylvia leaned her head against the
panels of the door and concentrated all her powers so that not a
movement in the house might escape her ears. She listened for the sound
of some one else moving in the room below, some one who had been left
behind. She listened for a creak of the stairs, the brushing of a coat
against the stair rail, the sound of some one going stealthily to his
room. She stood at the door, with her face strangely set for a long
while. Her mind was quite made up. If she heard her father moving from
that room, she would just wait until he was asleep, and then she would
go--anywhere. She could not go back to her mother, that she knew. She
had no one to go to; nevertheless, she would go.

But no sound reached her. Her father was not in the room below. He must
have gone to bed and left the others to themselves. The pigeon had been
plucked that night, not a doubt of it, but her father had had no hand
in the plucking. She laid herself down upon her bed, exhausted, and
again sleep came to her. And in a moment the sound of running water was
in her ears.



CHAPTER XI

SYLVIA'S FATHER MAKES A MISTAKE


Sylvia did not wake again until the maid brought in her tea and told her
that it was eight o'clock. When she went down-stairs, her father was
already in the dining-room. She scanned him closely, but his face bore no
sign whatever of a late and tempestuous night; and a great relief
enheartened her. He met her with an open smile.

"Did you sleep well, Sylvia?"

"Not very well, father," she answered, as she watched his face. "I woke
up in the early morning."

But nothing could have been more easy or natural than his comment on
her words.

"Yet you look like a good sleeper. A strange house, I suppose, Sylvia."

"Voices in the strange house," she answered.

"Voices?"

Garratt Skinner's face darkened.

"Did those fellows stay so late?" he asked with annoyance. "What time was
it when they woke you up, Sylvia?"

"A little before five."

Garratt Skinner's annoyance increased.

"That's too bad," he cried. "I left them and went to bed. But they
promised me faithfully only to stay another half-hour. I am very sorry,
Sylvia." And as she poured out the tea, he continued: "I will speak
pretty sharply to Barstow. It's altogether too bad."

Garratt Skinner breakfasted with an eye on the clock, and as soon as the
hands pointed to five minutes to nine, he rose from the table.

"I must be off--business, my dear." He came round the table to her and
gently laid a hand upon her shoulder. "It makes a great difference,
Sylvia, to have a daughter, fresh and young and pretty, sitting opposite
to me at the breakfast table--a very great difference. I shall cut work
early to-day on account of it; I'll come home and fetch you, and we'll go
out and lunch somewhere together."

He spoke with every sign of genuine feeling; and Sylvia, looking up into
his face, was moved by what he said. He smiled down at her, with her own
winning smile; he looked her in the face with her own frankness, her own
good humor.

"I have been a lonely man for a good many years, Sylvia," he said, "too
lonely. I am glad the years have come to an end"; and this time he did
what yesterday night he had checked himself from doing. He stooped down
and kissed her on the forehead. Then he went from the room, took his hat,
and letting himself out of the house closed the door behind him. He
called a passing cab, and, as he entered it, he said to the driver:

"Go to the London and County Bank in Victoria Street," and gaily waving
his hand to his daughter, who stood behind the window, he drove off.

At one o'clock he returned in the same high spirits. Sylvia had spent the
morning in removing the superfluous cherries and roses from her best hat
and making her frock at once more simple and more suitable to her years.
Garratt Skinner surveyed her with pride.

"Come on," he said. "I have kept the cab waiting."

For a poor man he seemed to Sylvia rather reckless. They drove to the
Savoy Hotel and lunched together in the open air underneath the glass
roof, with a bank of flowers upon one side of them and the windows of the
grill-room on the other. The day was very hot, the streets baked in an
arid glare of sunlight; a dry dust from the wood pavement powdered those
who passed by in the Strand. Here, however, in this cool and shaded place
the pair lunched happily together. Garratt Skinner had the tact not to
ask any questions of his daughter about her mother, or how they had fared
together. He talked easily of unimportant things, and pointed out from
time to time some person of note or some fashionable actress who happened
to pass in or out of the hotel. He could be good company when he chose,
and he chose on this morning. It was not until coffee was set before
them, and he had lighted a cigar, that he touched upon themselves, and
then not with any paternal tone, but rather as one comrade conferring
with another. There, indeed, was his great advantage with Sylvia. Her
mother had either disregarded her or treated her as a child. She could
not but be won by a father who laid bare his plans to her and asked for
her criticism as well as her assent. Her suspicions of yesterday died
away, or, at all events, slept so soundly that they could not have
troubled her less had they been dead.

"Sylvia," he said, "I think London in August, and in such an August, is
too hot. I don't want to see you grow pale, and for myself I haven't had
a holiday for a long time. You see there is not much temptation for a
lonely man to go away by himself."

For the second time that day he appealed to her on the ground of his
loneliness; and not in vain. She began even to feel remorseful that she
had left him to his loneliness so long. There rose up within her an
almost maternal feeling of pity for her father. She did not stop to think
that he had never sent for her; had never indeed shown a particle of
interest in her until they had met face to face.

"But since you are here," he continued, "well--I have been doing fairly
well in my business lately, and I thought we might take a little holiday
together, at some quiet village by the sea. You know nothing of England.
I have been thinking it all out this morning. There is no country more
beautiful or more typical than Dorsetshire. Besides, you were born there.
What do you say to three weeks or so in Dorsetshire? We will stay at an
hotel in Weymouth for a few days and look about for a house."

"Father!" exclaimed Sylvia, leaning forward with shining eyes. "It will
be splendid. Just you and I!"

"Well, not quite," he answered, slowly; and as he saw his daughter sink
back with a pucker of disappointment on her forehead, he knocked the ash
off his cigar and in his turn leaned forward over the table.

"Sylvia, I want to talk to you seriously," he said, and glanced around to
make sure that no one overheard him. "I should very much like one person
to come and stay with us."

Sylvia made no answer. Her face was grave and very still, her eyes dwelt
quietly upon him and betrayed nothing of what she thought.

"You have guessed who the one person is?"

Again Sylvia did not answer.

"Yes. It is Wallie Hine," he continued.

Her suspicions were stirring again from their sleep. She waited in fear
upon his words. She looked out, through the opening at the mouth of the
court into the glare of the Strand. The bright prospect which her vivid
fancies had pictured there a minute since, transforming the dusky street
into fields of corn and purple heather, the omnibuses into wagons drawn
by teams of great horses musical with bells, had all grown dark. A real
horror was gripping her. But she turned her eyes quietly back upon her
father's face and waited.

"His presence will spoil our holiday a little," Garratt Skinner continued
with an easy assurance. "You saw, no doubt, what Wallie Hine is, last
night--a weak, foolish youth, barely half-educated, awkward, with graces
of neither mind nor body, and in the hands of two scoundrels."

Sylvia started, and she leaned forward with a look of bewilderment plain
to see in her dark eyes.

"Yes, that's the truth, Sylvia. He has come into a little money, and he
is in the hands of two scoundrels who are leading him by the nose. My
poor girl," he cried, suddenly breaking off, "you must have found
yourself in very strange and disappointing company last night. I was very
sorry for you, and sorry for myself, too. All the evening I was saying to
myself, 'I wonder what my little girl is thinking of me.' But I couldn't
help it. I had not the time to explain. I had to sit quiet, knowing that
you must be unhappy, certain that you must be despising me for the
company I kept."

Sylvia blushed guiltily.

"Despising you? No, father," she said, in a voice of apology. "I saw how
much above the rest you were."

"Blaming me, then," interrupted Garratt Skinner, with an easy smile. He
was not at all offended. "Let us say blaming me. And it was quite natural
that you should, judging by the surface. And there was nothing but the
surface for you to judge by."

While in this way defending Sylvia against her own self-reproach, he only
succeeded in making her feel still more that she had judged hastily where
she should have held all judgment in abeyance, that she had lacked faith
where by right she should have shown most faith. But he wished to spare
her from confusion.

"I was so proud of you that I could not but suffer all the more. However,
don't let us talk of it, my dear"; and waving with a gesture of the hand
that little misunderstanding away forever, he resumed:

"Well, I am rather fond of Wallie Hine. I don't know why, perhaps because
he is so helpless, because he so much stands in need of a steady mentor
at his elbow. There is, after all, no accounting for one's likings. Logic
and reason have little to do with them. As a woman you know that. And
being rather fond of Wallie Hine, I have tried to do my best for him. It
would not have been of any use to shut my door on Barstow and Archie
Parminter. They have much too firm a hold on the poor youth. I should
have been shutting it on Wallie Hine, too. No, the only plan was to
welcome them all, to play Parminter's game of showing the youth about
town, and Barstow's game of crude flattery, and gradually, if possible,
to dissociate him from his companions, before they had fleeced him
altogether. So you were let in, my dear, for that unfortunate evening. Of
course I was quite sure that you would not attribute to me designs upon
Wallie Hine, otherwise I should have turned them all out at once."

He spoke with a laugh, putting aside, as it were, a quite incredible
suggestion. But he looked at her sharply as he laughed. Sylvia's face
grew crimson, her eyes for once wavered from his face, and she lowered
her head. Garratt Skinner, however, seemed not to notice her confusion.

"You remember," he continued, "that I tried to stop them playing cards at
the beginning. I yielded in the end, because it became perfectly clear
that if I didn't they would go away and play elsewhere, while I at all
events could keep the points down in my own house. I ought to have stayed
up, I suppose, until they went away. I blame myself there a little. But I
had no idea they would stay so late. Are you sure it was their voices you
heard and not the servants moving?"

He asked the question almost carelessly, but his eyes rather belied his
tone, for they watched her intently.

"Quite sure," she answered.

"You might have made a mistake."

"No; for I saw them."

Garratt Skinner covered his mouth with his hand. It seemed to Sylvia that
he smiled. A suspicion flashed across her mind, in spite of herself. Was
he merely testing her to see whether she would speak the truth or not?
Did he know that she had come down the stairs in the early morning? She
thrust the suspicion aside, remembering the self-reproach which suspicion
had already caused her at this very luncheon table. If it were true that
her father knew, why then Barstow or Parminter must have told him this
very morning. And if he had seen either of them this morning, all his
talk to her in this cool and quiet place was a carefully prepared
hypocrisy. No, she would not believe that.

"You saw them?" he exclaimed. "Tell me how."

She told him the whole story, how she had come down the staircase,
what she had seen, as she leaned over the balustrade, and how
Parminter had turned.

"Do you think he saw you?" asked her father.

Sylvia looked at him closely. But he seemed really anxious to know.

"I think he saw something," she answered. "Whether he knew that it was I
whom he saw, I can't tell."

Garratt Skinner sat for a little while smoking his cigar in short,
angry puffs.

"I wouldn't have had that happen for worlds," he said, with a frown. "I
have no doubt whatever that the slips of paper on which poor Hine was
trying to write were I.O.U's. Heaven knows what he lost last night."

"I know," returned Sylvia. "He lost £480 last night."

"Impossible," cried Garratt Skinner, with so much violence that the
people lunching at the tables near-by looked up at the couple with
surprise. "Oh, no! I'll not believe it, Sylvia." And as he lowered his
voice, he seemed to be making an appeal to her to go back upon her words,
so distressed was he at the thought that Wallie Hine should be jockeyed
out of so much money at his house.

"Four hundred and eighty pounds," Sylvia repeated.

Garratt Skinner caught at a comforting thought.

"Well, it's only in I.O.U's. That's one thing. I can stop the redemption
of them. You see, he has been robbed--that's the plain English of
it--robbed."

"Mr. Hine was not writing an I.O.U. He was writing a check, and Mr.
Parminter was guiding his hand as he wrote the signature."

Garratt Skinner fell back in his chair. He looked about him with a dazed
air, as though he expected the world falling to pieces around him.

"Why, that's next door to forgery!" he whispered, in a voice of horror.
"Guiding the hand of a man too drunk to write! I knew Archie Parminter
was pretty bad, but I never thought that he would sink to that. I am not
sure that he could not be laid by the heels for forgery." And then he
recovered a little from the shock. "But you can't be sure, Sylvia! This
is guesswork of yours--yes, guesswork."

"It's not," she answered. "I told you that the floor was littered with
slips of the paper on which Mr. Hine had been trying to write."

"Yes."

There came an indefinable change in Garratt Skinner's face. He leaned
forward with his mouth sternly set and his eyes very still. One might
almost have believed that for the first time during that luncheon he was
really anxious, really troubled.

"Well, this morning the carpet had been swept. The litter had gone. But
just underneath the hearth-rug one of those crumpled slips of paper lay
not quite hidden. I picked it up. It was a check."

"Have you got it? Sylvia, have you got it?" and Garratt Skinner's voice
in steady quietude matched his face.

"Yes."

Sylvia opened the little bag which she carried at her wrist and took out
the slip of paper. She unfolded it and spread it on the table before her.
The inside was pink.

"A check for £480 on the London and County Bank, Victoria Street," she
said.

Garrett Skinner looked over the table at the paper. There was Wallie
Hine's wavering, unfinished signature at the bottom right-hand corner.
Parminter had guided his hand as far as the end of the Christian name,
before he tore the check out and threw it away. The amount of the body of
the check had been filled in in Barstow's hand.

"You had better give it to me, Sylvia," he said, his fingers moving
restlessly on the table-cloth. "That check would be a very dangerous
thing if Parminter ever came to hear of it. Better give it to me."

He leaned over and took it gently from before her, and put it carefully
away in his pocket.

"Now, you see, there's more reason ever why we should get Wallie Hine
away from those two men. He is living a bad life here. Three weeks in the
country may set his thoughts in a different grove. Will you make this
sacrifice, Sylvia? Will you let me ask him? It will be a good action. You
see he doesn't know any geography."

"Very well; ask him, father."

Garrett Skinner reached over the table and patted her hand.

"Thank you, my dear! Then that's settled. I propose that you and I go
down this afternoon. Can you manage it? We might catch the four o'clock
train from Waterloo if you go home now, pack up your traps and tell the
housemaid to pack mine. I will just wind up my business and come home in
time to pick you and the luggage up."

He rose from the table, and calling a hansom, put Sylvia into it. He
watched the cab drive out into the Strand and turn the corner. Then he
went back to the table and asked for his bill. While he waited for it, he
lit a match and drawing from his pocket the crumpled check, he set fire
to it. He held it by the corner until the flame burnt his fingers. Then
he dropped it in his plate and pounded it into ashes with a fork.

"That was a bad break," he said to himself. "Left carelessly under the
edge of the hearth-rug. A very bad break."

He paid his bill, and taking his hat, sauntered out into the Strand. The
carelessness which had left the check underneath the hearth-rug was not,
however, the only bad break made in connection with this affair. At a
certain moment during luncheon Garratt Skinner had unwisely smiled and
had not quite concealed the smile with his hand. Against her every wish,
that smile forced itself upon Sylvia's recollections as she drove home.
She tried to interpret it in every pleasant sense, but it kept its true
character in her thoughts, try as she might. It remained vividly a very
hateful thing--the smile of the man who had gulled her.



CHAPTER XII

THE HOUSE OF THE RUNNING WATER


A week later, on a sunlit afternoon, Sylvia and her father drove
northward out of Weymouth between the marshes and the bay. Sylvia was
silent and looked about her with expectant eyes.

"I have been lucky, Sylvia," her father had said to her. "I have secured
for our summer holiday the very house in which you were born. It cost me
some trouble, but I was determined to get it if I could, for I had an
idea that you would be pleased. However, you are not to see it until it
is quite ready."

There was a prettiness and a delicacy in this thought which greatly
appealed to Sylvia. He had spoken it with a smile of tenderness.
Affection, surely, could alone have prompted it; and she thanked him very
gratefully. They were now upon their way to take possession. A little
white house set back under a hill and looking out across the bay from a
thick cluster of trees caught Sylvia's eye. Was that the house, she
wondered? The carriage turned inland and passed the white house, and half
a mile further on turned again eastward along the road to Wareham,
following the valley, which runs parallel to the sea. They ascended the
long steep hill which climbs to Osmington, until upon their left hand a
narrow road branched off between hawthorn hedges to the downs. The road
dipped to a little hollow and in the hollow a little village nestled. A
row of deep-thatched white cottages with leaded window-panes opened on to
a causeway of stone flags which was bordered with purple phlox and raised
above the level of the road. Farther on, the roof of a mill rose high
among trees, and an open space showed to Sylvia the black massive wheel
against the yellow wall. And then the carriage stopped at a house on the
left-hand side, and Garratt Skinner got out.

"Here we are," he said.

It was a small square house of the Georgian days, built of old brick,
duskily red. You entered it at the side and the big level windows of the
living rooms looked out upon a wide and high-walled garden whence a
little door under a brick archway in the wall gave a second entrance on
to the road. Into this garden Sylvia wandered. If she had met with but
few people who matched the delicate company of her dreams, here, at all
events, was a mansion where that company might have fitly gathered. Great
elms and beeches bent under their load of leaves to the lawn; about the
lawn, flowers made a wealth of color, and away to the right of the house
twisted stems and branches, where the green of the apples was turning to
red, stood evenly spaced in a great orchard. And the mill stream
tunneling under the road and the wall ran swiftly between green banks
through the garden and the orchard, singing as it ran. There lingered,
she thought, an ancient grace about this old garden, some flavor of
forgotten days, as in a room scented with potpourri; and she walked the
lawn in a great contentment.

The house within charmed her no less. It was a place of many corners and
quaint nooks, and of a flooring so unlevel that she could hardly pass
from one room to another without taking a step up or a step down. Sylvia
went about the house quietly and with a certain thoughtfulness. Here she
had been born and a mystery of her life was becoming clear to her. On
this summer evening the windows were set wide in every room, and thus in
every room, as she passed up and down, she heard the liquid music of
running water, here faint, like a whispered melody, there pleasant, like
laughter, but nowhere very loud, and everywhere quite audible. In one of
these rooms she had been born. In one of these rooms her mother had slept
at nights during the weeks before she was born, with that music in her
ears at the moment of sleep and at the moment of her waking. Sylvia
understood now why she had always dreamed of running water. She wondered
in which room she had been born. She tried to remember some corner of the
house, some nook in its high-walled garden; and that she could not awoke
in her a strange and almost eery feeling. She had come back to a house in
which she had lived, to a scene on which her eyes had looked, to sounds
which had murmured in her ears, and everything was as utterly new to her
and unimagined as though now for the first time she had crossed the
threshold. Yet these very surroundings to which her memory bore no
testimony had assuredly modified her life, had given to her a particular
possession, this dream of running water, and had made it a veritable
element of her nature. She could not but reflect upon this new knowledge,
and as she walked the garden in the darkness of the evening, she built
upon it, as will be seen.

As she stepped back over the threshold into the library where her father
sat, she saw that he was holding a telegram in his hand.

"Wallie Hine comes to-morrow, my dear," he said.

Sylvia looked at her father wistfully.

"It is a pity," she said, "a great pity. It would have been pleasant if
we could have been alone."

The warmth of her gladness had gone from her; she walked once more in
shadows; there was in her voice a piteous appeal for affection, for love,
of which she had had too little in her life and for which she greatly
craved. She stood by the door, her lips trembling and her dark eyes for a
wonder glistening with tears. She had always, even to those who knew her
to be a woman, something of the child in her appearance, which made a
plea from her lips most difficult to refuse. Now she seemed a child on
whom the world pressed heavily before her time for suffering had come;
she had so motherless a look. Even Garratt Skinner moved uncomfortably in
his chair; even that iron man was stirred.

"I, too, am sorry, Sylvia," he said, gently; "but we will make the best
of it. Between us"--and he laughed gaily, setting aside from him his
momentary compassion--"we will teach poor Wallie Hine a little geography,
won't we?"

Sylvia had no smile ready for a reply. But she bowed her head, and into
her face and her very attitude there came an expression of patience. She
turned and opened the door, and as she opened it, and stood with her back
toward her father, she said in a quiet and clear voice, "Very well," and
so passed up the stairs to her room.

It might, after all, merely be kindness in her father which had led him
to insist on Wallie Hine's visit. So she argued, and the more
persistently because she felt that the argument was thin. He could be
kind. He had been thoughtful for her during the past week in the small
attentions which appeal so much to women. Because he saw that she loved
flowers, he had engaged a new gardener for their stay; and he had shown,
in one particular instance, a quite surprising thoughtfulness for a class
of unhappy men with whom he could have had no concern, the convicts in
Portland prison. That instance remained for a long time vividly in her
mind, and at a later time she spoke of it with consequences of a
far-reaching kind. She thought then, as she thought now, only of the
kindness of her father's action, and for the first week of Hine's visit
that thought remained with her. She was on the alert, but nothing
occurred to arouse in her a suspicion. There were no cards, little wine
was drunk, and early hours were kept by the whole household. Indeed,
Garratt Skinner left entirely to his daughter the task of entertaining
his guest; and although once he led them both over the great down to
Dorchester and back, at a pace which tired his companions out, he
preferred, for the most part, to smoke his pipe in a hammock in the
garden with a novel at his side. The morning after that one expedition,
he limped out into the garden, rubbing the muscles of his thigh.

"You must look after Wallie, my dear," he said. "Age is beginning to find
me out. And after all, he will learn more of the tact and manners which
he wants from you than from a rough man like me," and it did not occur to
Sylvia, who was of a natural modesty of thought, that he had any other
intention of throwing them thus together than to rid himself of a guest
with whom he had little in common.

But a week later she changed her mind. She was driving Walter Hine
one morning into Weymouth, and as the dog-cart turned into the road
beside the bay, and she saw suddenly before her the sea sparkling in
the sunlight, the dark battle-ships at their firing practice, and
over against her, through a shimmering haze of heat, the crouching
mass of Portland, she drew in a breath of pleasure. It seemed to her
that her companion gave the same sign of enjoyment, and she turned to
him with some surprise. But Walter Hine was looking to the wide
beach, so black with holiday makers that it seemed at that distance a
great and busy ant-heap.

"That's what I like," he said, with a chuckle of anticipation. "Lot's o'
people. I've knocked about too long in the thick o' things, you see, Miss
Sylvia, kept it up--I have--seen it right through every night till three
o'clock in the morning, for months at a time. Oh, that's the real thing!"
he broke off. "It makes you feel good."

Sylvia laughed.

"Then if you dislike the country," she said, and perhaps rather eagerly,
"why did you come to stay with us at all?"

And suddenly Hine leered at her.

"Oh, you know!" he said, and almost he nudged her with his elbow. "I
wouldn't have come, of course, if old Garratt hadn't particularly told
me that you were agreeable." Sylvia grew hot with shame. She drew
away, flicked the horse with her whip and drove on. Had she been used,
she wondered, to lure this poor helpless youth to the sequestered
village where they stayed?--and a chill struck through her even on
that day of July. The plot had been carefully laid if that were so;
she was to be hoodwinked no less than Wallie Hine. What sinister thing
was then intended?

She tried to shake off the dread which encompassed her, pleading to
herself that she saw perils in shadows like the merest child. But
she had not yet shaken it off when Walter Hine cried out excitedly
to her to stop.

"Look!" he said, and he pointed toward an hotel upon the sea-front which
at that moment they were passing.

Sylvia looked, and saw obsequiously smirking upon the steps of the hotel,
with his hat lifted from his shiny head, her old enemy, Captain Barstow.
Fortunately she had not stopped. She drove quickly on, just acknowledging
his salute. It needed but this meeting to confirm her fears. It was not
coincidence which had brought Captain Barstow on their heels to Weymouth.
He had come with knowledge and a definite purpose.

"Oh, I say," protested Wallie Hine, "you might have stopped, Miss Sylvia,
and let me pass the time of day with old Barstow."

Sylvia stopped the trap at once.

"I am sorry," she said. "You will find your own way home. We lunch at
half past one."

Hine looked doubtfully at her and then back toward the hotel.

"I didn't mean that I wanted to leave you, Miss Sylvia," he said. "Not by
a long chalk."

"But you must leave me, Mr. Hine," she said, looking at him with serious
eyes, "if you want to pass the time of day with your 'red-hot' friend."

There was no hint of a smile about her lips. She waited for his answer.
It came accompanied with a smile which aimed at gallantry and was
merely familiar.

"Of course I stay where I am. What do _you_ think?"

Sylvia hurried over her shopping and drove homeward. She went at once to
her father, who lay in the hammock in the shade of the trees, reading a
book. She came up from behind him across the grass, and he was not aware
of her approach until she spoke.

"Father!" she said, and he started up.

"Oh, Sylvia!" he said, and just for a second there was a palpable
uneasiness in his manner. He had not merely started. He seemed also to
her to have been startled. But he recovered his composure.

"You see, my dear, I have been thinking of you," he said, and he pointed
to a man at work among the flower-beds. "I saw how you loved flowers,
how you liked to have the rooms bright with them. So I hired a new
gardener as a help. It is a great extravagance, Sylvia, but you are to
blame, not I."

He smiled, confident of her gratitude, and had it been but yesterday he
would have had it offered to him in full measure. To-day, however, all
her thoughts were poisoned by suspicion. She knew it and was distressed.
She knew how much happiness so simple a forethought would naturally have
brought to her. She did not indeed suspect any new peril in her father's
action. She barely looked toward the new gardener, and certainly
neglected to note whether he worked skilfully or no. But the fears of the
morning modified her thanks. Moreover the momentary uneasiness of her
father had not escaped her notice and she was wondering upon its cause.

"Father," she resumed, "I saw Captain Barstow in Weymouth this morning."

Though her eyes were on his face, and perhaps because her eyes were
resting there with so quiet a watchfulness, she could detect no
self-betrayal now. Garratt Skinner stared at her in pure astonishment.
Then the astonishment gave place to annoyance.

"Barstow!" he said angrily. He lay back in the hammock, looking up to the
boughs overhead, his face wrinkled and perplexed. "He has found us out
and followed us, Sylvia. I would not have had it happen for worlds. Did
he see you?"

"Yes."

"And I thought that here, at all events, we were safe from him. I wonder
how he found us out! Bribed the caretaker in Hobart Place, I suppose."

Sylvia did not accept this suggestion. She sat down upon a chair in a
disconcerting silence, and waited. Garratt Skinner crossed his arms
behind his head and deliberated.

"Barstow's a deep fellow, Sylvia," he said. "I am afraid of him."

He was looking up to the boughs overhead, but he suddenly glanced toward
her and then quietly removed one of his hands and slipped it down to the
book which was lying on his lap. Sylvia took quiet note of the movement.
The book had been lying shut upon his lap, with its back toward her.
Garratt Skinner did not alter its position; but she saw that his hand now
hid from her the title on the back. It was a big, and had the appearance
of an expensive, book. She noticed the binding--green cloth boards and
gold lettering on the back. She was not familiar with the look of it, and
it seemed to her that she might as well know--and as quickly as
possible--what the book was and the subject with which it dealt.

Meanwhile Garratt Skinner repeated:

"A deep fellow--Captain Barstow," and anxiously Garratt Skinner debated
how to cope with that deep fellow. He came at last to his conclusion.

"We can't shut our doors to him, Sylvia."

Even though she had half expected just that answer, Sylvia flinched as
she heard it uttered.

"I understand your feelings, my dear," he continued in tones of
commiseration, "for they are mine. But we must fight the Barstows with
the Barstows' weapons. It would never do for us to close our doors. He
has far too tight a hold of Wallie Hine as yet. He has only to drop a
hint to Wallie that we are trying to separate him from his true friends
and keep him to ourselves--and just think, my dear, what a horrible set
of motives a mean-minded creature like Barstow could impute to us! Let us
be candid, you and I," cried Garratt Skinner, starting up, as though
carried away by candor. "Here am I, a poor man--here are you, my
daughter, a girl with the charm and the beauty of the spring, and here's
Wallie Hine, rich, weak, and susceptible. Oh, there's a story for a
Barstow to embroider! But, Sylvia, he shall not so much as hint at the
story. For your sake, my dear, for your sake," cried Garratt Skinner,
with all the emphasis of a loving father. He wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief.

"I was carried away by my argument," he went on in a calmer voice. Sylvia
for her part had not been carried away at all, and no doubt her watchful
composure helped him to subdue as ineffective the ardor of his tones.
"Barstow has only to drop this hint to Wallie Hine, and Wallie will be
off like a rabbit at the sound of a gun. And there's our chance gone of
helping him to a better life. No, we must welcome Barstow, if he comes
here. Yes, actually welcome him, however repugnant it may be to our
feelings. That's what we must do, Sylvia. He must have no suspicion that
we are working against him. We must lull him to sleep. That is our only
way to keep Wallie Hine with us. So that, Sylvia, must be our plan of
campaign."

The luncheon bell rang as he ended his oration. He got out of the hammock
quickly, as if to prevent discussion of his plan; and the book which he
was carrying caught in the netting of the hammock and fell to the ground.
Sylvia could read the title now. She did read it, hastily, as Garratt
Skinner stooped to pick it up. It was entitled "The Alps in 1864."

She knew the book by repute and was surprised to find it in her father's
hands. She was surprised still more that he should have been at so much
pains to conceal the title from her notice. After all, what could it
matter? she wondered.

Sylvia lay deep in misery that night. Her father had failed her utterly.
All the high hopes with which she had set out from Chamonix had fallen,
all the rare qualities with which her dreams had clothed him as in
shining raiment must now be stripped from him. She was not deceived.
Parminter, Barstow, Garratt Skinner--there was one "deep fellow" in that
trio, but it was neither Barstow nor Parminter. It was her father. She
had but to set the three faces side by side in her thoughts, to remember
the differences of manner, mind and character. Garratt Skinner was the
master in the conspiracy, the other two his mere servants. It was he who
to some dark end had brought Barstow down from London. He loomed up in
her thoughts as a relentless and sinister figure, unswayed by affection,
yet with the power to counterfeit it, long-sighted for evil, sparing no
one--not even his daughter. She recalled their first meeting in the
little house in Hobart Place, she remembered the thoughtful voice with
which, as he had looked her over, he had agreed that she might be
"useful." She thought of his caresses, his smile of affection, his
comradeship, and she shuddered. Walter Hine's words had informed her
to-day to what use her father had designed her. She was his decoy.

She lay upon her bed with her hands clenched, repeating the word in
horror. His decoy! The moonlight poured through the open window, the
music of the stream filled the room. She was in the house in which she
had been born, a place mystically sacred to her thoughts; and she had
come to it to learn that she was her father's decoy in a vulgar
conspiracy to strip a weakling of his money. The stream sang beneath her
windows, the very stream of which the echo had ever been rippling through
her dreams. Always she had thought that it must have some particular
meaning for her which would be revealed in due time. She dwelt bitterly
upon her folly. There was no meaning in its light laughter.

In a while she was aware of a change. There came a grayness in the room.
The moonlight had lost its white brilliance, the night was waning. Sylvia
rose from her bed, and slowly like one very tired she began to gather
together and pack into a bag such few clothes as she could carry. She had
made up her mind to go, and to go silently before the house waked.
Whither she was to go, and what she was to do once she had gone, she
could not think. She asked herself the questions in vain, feeling very
lonely and very helpless as she moved softly about the room by the light
of her candle. Her friend might write to her and she would not receive
his letter. Still she must go. Once or twice she stopped her work, and
crouching down upon the bed allowed her tears to have their way. When she
had finished her preparations she blew out her candle, and leaning upon
the sill of the open window, gave her face to the cool night air.

There was a break in the eastern sky; already here and there a blackbird
sang in the garden boughs, and the freshness, the quietude, swept her
thoughts back to the Chalet de Lognan. With a great yearning she recalled
that evening and the story of the great friendship so quietly related to
her in the darkness, beneath the stars. The world and the people of her
dreams existed; only there was no door of entrance into that world for
her. Below her the stream sang, even as the glacier stream had sung,
though without its deep note of thunder. As she listened to it, certain
words spoken upon that evening came back to her mind and gradually began
to take on a particular application.

"What you know, that you must do, if by doing it you can save a life or
save a soul."

That was the law. "If you can save a life or save a soul." And she _did_
know. Sylvia raised herself from the window and stood in thought.

Garratt Skinner had made a great mistake that day. He had been misled by
the gentleness of her ways, the sweet aspect of her face, and by a look
of aloofness in her eyes, as though she lived in dreams. He had seen
surely that she was innocent, and since he believed that knowledge must
needs corrupt, he thought her ignorant as well. But she was not ignorant.
She had detected his trickeries. She knew of the conspiracy, she knew of
the place she filled in it herself; and furthermore she knew that as a
decoy she had been doing her work. Only yesterday, Walter Hine had been
forced to choose between Barstow and herself and he had let Barstow go.
It was a small matter, no doubt. Still there was promise in it. What if
she stayed, strengthened her hold on Walter Hine and grappled with the
three who were ranged against him?

Walter Hine was, of course, and could be, nothing to her. He was the mere
puppet, the opportunity of obedience to the law. It was of the law that
she was thinking--and of the voice of the man who had uttered it. She
knew--by using her knowledge, she could save a soul. She did not think at
this time that she might be saving a life too.

Quietly she undressed and slipped into her bed. She was comforted. A
smile had come upon her lips. She saw the face of her friend in the
darkness, very near to her. She needed sleep to equip herself for the
fight, and while thinking so she slept. The moonlight faded altogether,
and left the room dark. Beneath the window the stream went singing
through the lawn. After all, its message had been revealed to her in its
due season.



CHAPTER XIII

CHAYNE RETURNS


"Hullo," cried Captain Barstow, as he wandered round the library after
luncheon. "Here's a scatter-gun."

He took the gun from a corner where it stood against the wall, opened the
breech, shut it again, and turning to the open window lifted the stock to
his shoulder.

"I wonder whether I could hit anything nowadays," he said, taking careful
aim at a tulip in the garden. "Any cartridges, Skinner?"

"I don't know, I am sure," Garratt Skinner replied, testily. The
newspapers had only this moment been brought into the room, and he did
not wish to be disturbed. Sylvia had never noticed that double-barreled
gun before; and she wondered whether it had been brought into the room
that morning. She watched Captain Barstow bustle into the hall and back
again. Finally he pounced upon an oblong card-box which lay on the top of
a low book-case. He removed the lid and pulled out a cartridge.

"Hullo!" said he. "No. 6. The very thing! I am going to take a pot at the
starlings, Skinner. There are too many of them about for your
fruit-trees."

"Very well," said Garratt Skinner, lazily lifting his eyes from his
newspaper and looking out across the lawn. "Only take care you don't wing
my new gardener."

"No fear of that," said Barstow, and filling his pockets with cartridges
he took the gun in his hand and skipped out into the garden. In a moment
a shot was heard, and Walter Hine rose from his chair and walked to the
window. A second shot followed.

"Old Barstow can't shoot for nuts," said Hine, with a chuckle, and in his
turn he stepped out into the garden. Sylvia made no attempt to hinder
him, but she took his place at the window ready to intervene. A flight of
starlings passed straight and swift over Barstow's head. He fired both
barrels and not one of the birds fell. Hine spoke to him, and the gun at
once changed hands. At the next flight Hine fired and one of the birds
dropped. Barstow's voice was raised in jovial applause.

"That was a good egg, Wallie. A very good egg. Let me try now!" and so
alternately they shot as the birds darted overhead across the lawn.
Sylvia waited for the moment when Barstow's aim would suddenly develop a
deadly precision, but that moment did not come. If there was any betting
upon this match, Hine would not be the loser. She went quietly back to a
writing-desk and wrote her letters. She had no wish to rouse in her
father's mind a suspicion that she had guessed his design and was
setting herself to thwart it. She must work secretly, more secretly than
he did himself. Meanwhile the firing continued in the garden; and
unobserved by Sylvia, Garratt Skinner began to take in it a stealthy
interest. His chair was so placed that, without stirring, he could look
into the garden and at the same time keep an eye on Sylvia; if she moved
an elbow or raised her head, Garratt Skinner was at once reading his
paper with every appearance of concentration. On the other hand, her
back was turned toward him, so that she saw neither his keen gaze into
the garden nor the good-tempered smile of amusement with which he turned
his eyes upon his daughter.

In this way perhaps an hour passed; certainly no more. Sylvia had, in
fact, almost come to the end of her letters, when Garratt Skinner
suddenly pushed back his chair and stood up. At the noise, abrupt as a
startled cry, Sylvia turned swiftly round. She saw that her father was
gazing with a look of perplexity into the garden, and that for the moment
he had forgotten her presence. She crossed the room quickly and
noiselessly, and standing just behind his elbow, saw what he saw. The
blood flushed her throat and mounted into her cheeks, her eyes softened,
and a smile of welcome transfigured her grave face. Her friend Hilary
Chayne was standing under the archway of the garden door. He had closed
the door behind him, but he had not moved thereafter, and he was not
looking toward the house. His attention was riveted upon the
shooting-match. Sylvia gave no thought to his attitude at the moment. He
had come--that was enough. And Garratt Skinner, turning about, saw the
light in his daughter's face.

"You know him!" he cried, roughly.

"Yes."

"He has come to see you?"

"Yes."

"You should have told me," said Garratt Skinner, angrily. "I dislike
secrecies." Sylvia raised her eyes and looked her father steadily in the
face. But Garratt Skinner was not so easily abashed. He returned her look
as steadily.

"Who is he?" he continued, in a voice of authority.

"Captain Hilary Chayne."

It seemed for a moment that the name was vaguely familiar to Garratt
Skinner, and Sylvia added:

"I met him this summer in Switzerland."

"Oh, I see," said her father, and he looked with a new interest across
the garden to the door. "He is a great friend."

"My only friend," returned Sylvia, softly; and her father stepped forward
and called aloud, holding up his hand:

"Barstow! Barstow!"

Sylvia noticed then, and not till then, that the coming of her friend
was not the only change which had taken place since she had last looked
out upon the garden. The new gardener was now shooting alternately with
Walter Hine, while Captain Barstow, standing a few feet behind them,
recorded the hits in a little book. He looked up at the sound of
Garratt Skinner's voice and perceiving Chayne at once put a stop to the
match. Garratt Skinner turned again to his daughter, and spoke now
without any anger at all. There was just a hint of reproach in his
voice, but as though to lessen the reproof he laid his hand
affectionately upon her arm.

"Any friend of yours is welcome, of course, my dear. But you might have
told me that you expected him. Let us have no secrets from each other
in the future? Now bring him in, and we will see if we can give him a
cup of tea."

He rang the bell. Sylvia did not think it worth while to argue that
Chayne's coming was a surprise to her as much as to her father. She
crossed the garden toward her friend. But she walked slowly and still
more slowly. Her memories had flown back to the evening when they had
bidden each other good-by on the little platform in front of the Chalet
de Lognan. Not in this way had she then planned that they should meet
again, nor in such company. The smile had faded from her lips, the light
of gladness had gone from her eyes. Barstow and Walter Hine were moving
toward the house. It mortified her exceedingly that her friend should
find her amongst such companions. She almost wished that he had not found
her out at all. And so she welcomed him with a great restraint.

"It was kind of you to come," she said. "How did you know I was here?"

"I called at your house in London. The caretaker gave me the address," he
replied. He took her hand and, holding it, looked with the careful
scrutiny of a lover into her face.

"You have needed those memories of your one day to fall back upon," he
said, regretfully. "Already you have needed them. I am very sorry."

Sylvia did not deny the implication of the words that "troubles" had
come. She turned to him, grateful that he should so clearly have
remembered what she had said upon that day.

"Thank you," she answered, gently. "My father would like to know you. I
wrote to you that I had come to live with him."

"Yes."

"You were surprised?" she asked.

"No," he answered, quietly. "You came to some important decision on the
very top of the Aiguille d'Argentière. That I knew at the time, for I
watched you. When I got your letter, I understood what the decision was."

To leave Chamonix--to break completely with her life--it was just to that
decision she would naturally have come just on that spot during that one
sunlit hour. So much his own love of the mountains taught him. But Sylvia
was surprised at his insight; and what with that and the proof that their
day together had remained vividly in his thoughts, she caught back
something of his comradeship. As they crossed the lawn to the house her
embarrassment diminished. She drew comfort, besides, from the thought
that whatever her friend might think of Captain Barstow and Walter Hine,
her father at all events would impress him, even as she had been
impressed. Chayne would see at once that here was a man head and
shoulders above his companions, finer in quality, different in speech.

But that afternoon her humiliation was to be complete. Her father had no
fancy for the intrusion of Captain Chayne into his quiet and sequestered
house. The flush of color on his daughter's face, the leap of light into
her eyes, had warned him. He had no wish to lose his daughter. Chayne,
too, might be inconveniently watchful. Garratt Skinner desired no spy
upon his little plans. Consequently he set himself to play the host with
an offensive geniality which was calculated to disgust a man with any
taste for good manners. He spoke in a voice which Sylvia did not know, so
coarse it was in quality, so boisterous and effusive; and he paraded
Walter Hine and Captain Barstow with the pride of a man exhibiting his
dearest friends.

"You must know 'red-hot' Barstow, Captain Chayne," he cried, slapping the
little man lustily on the back. "One of the very best. You are both
brethren of the sword."

Barstow sniggered obsequiously and screwed his eye-glass into his eye.

"Delighted, I am sure. But I sheathed the sword some time ago,
Captain Chayne."

"And exchanged it for the betting book," Chayne added, quietly.

Barstow laughed nervously.

"Oh, you refer to our little match in the garden," he said. "We dragged
the gardener into it."

"So I saw," Chayne replied. "The gardener seemed to be a remarkable shot.
I think he would be a match for more than one professional."

And turning away he saw Sylvia's eyes fixed upon him, and on her face an
expression of trouble and dismay so deep that he could have bitten off
his tongue for speaking. She had been behind him while he had spoken; and
though he had spoken in a low voice, she had heard every word. She bent
her head over the tea-table and busied herself with the cups. But her
hands shook; her face burned, she was tortured with shame. She had set
herself to do battle with her father, and already in the first skirmish
she had been defeated. Chayne's indiscreet words had laid bare to her the
elaborate conspiracy. The new gardener, the gun in the corner, the
cartridges which had to be looked for, Barstow's want of skill, Hine's
superiority which had led Barstow so naturally to offer to back the
gardener against him--all was clear to her. It was the little round game
of cards all over again; and she had not possessed the wit to detect the
trick! And that was not all. Her friend had witnessed it and understood!

She heard her father presenting Walter Hine, and with almost intolerable
pain she realized that had he wished to leave Chayne no single
opportunity of misapprehension, he would have spoken just these words and
no others.

"Wallie is the grandson--and indeed the heir--of old Joseph Hine. You
know his name, no doubt. Joseph Hine's Château Marlay, what? A warm man,
Joseph Hine. I don't know a man more rich. Treats his grandson handsomely
into the bargain, eh, Wallie?"

Sylvia felt that her heart would break. That Garrett Skinner's admission
was boldly and cunningly deliberate did not occur to her. She simply
understood that here was the last necessary piece of evidence given to
Captain Chayne which would convince him that he had been this afternoon
the witness of a robbery and swindle.

She became aware that Chayne was standing beside her. She did not lift
her face, for she feared that it would betray her. She wished with all
her heart that he would just replace his cup upon the tray and go away
without a word. He could not want to stay; he could not want to return.
He had no place here. If he would go away quietly, without troubling to
take leave of her, she would be very grateful and do justice to him for
his kindness.

But though he had the mind to go, it was not without a word.

"I want you to walk with me as far as the door," he said, gently.

Sylvia rose at once. Since after all there must be words, the sooner they
were spoken the better. She followed him into the garden, making her
little prayer that they might be very few, and that he would leave her to
fight her battle and to hide her shame alone.

They crossed the lawn without a word. He held open the garden door for
her and she passed into the lane. He followed and closed the door behind
them. In the lane a hired landau was waiting. Chayne pointed to it.

"I want you to come away with me now," he said, and since she looked at
him with the air of one who does not understand, he explained, standing
quietly beside her with his eyes upon her face. And though he spoke
quietly, there was in his eyes a hunger which belied his tones, and
though he stood quietly, there was a tension in his attitude which
betrayed extreme suspense. "I want you to come away with me, I want you
never to return. I want you to marry me."

The blood rushed into her cheeks and again fled from them, leaving her
very white. Her face grew mutinous like an angry child's, but her eyes
grew hard like a resentful woman's.

"You ask me out of pity," she said, in a low voice.

"That's not true," he cried, and with so earnest a passion that she could
not but believe him. "Sylvia, I came here meaning to ask you to marry me.
I ask you something more now, that is all. I ask you to come to me a
little sooner--that is all. I want you to come with me now."

Sylvia leaned against the wall and covered her face with her hands.

"Please!" he said, making his appeal with a great simplicity. "For I love
you, Sylvia."

She gave him no answer. She kept her face still hid, and only her heaving
breast bore witness to her stress of feeling. Gently he removed her
hands, and holding them in his, urged his plea.

"Ever since that day in Switzerland, I have been thinking of you, Sylvia,
remembering your looks, your smile, and the words you spoke. I crossed
the Col Dolent the next day, and all the time I felt that there was some
great thing wanting. I said to myself, 'I miss my friend.' I was wrong,
Sylvia. I missed you. Something ached in me--has ached ever since. It was
my heart! Come with me now!"

Sylvia had not looked at him, though she made no effort to draw her hands
away, and still not looking at him, she answered in a whisper:

"I can't, I can't."

"Why?" he asked, "why? You are not happy here. You are no happier than
you were at Chamonix. And I would try so very hard to make you happy. I
can't leave you here--lonely, for you are lonely. I am lonely too; all
the more lonely because I carry about with me--you--you as you stood in
the chalet at night looking through the open window, with the
candle-light striking upward on your face, and with your reluctant smile
upon your lips--you as you lay on the top of the Aiguille d'Argentière
with the wonder of a new world in your eyes--you as you said good-by in
the sunset and went down the winding path to the forest. If you only
knew, Sylvia!"

"Yes, but I don't know," she answered, and now she looked at him. "I
suppose that, if I loved, I should know, I should understand."

Her hands lay in his, listless and unresponsive to the pressure of his.
She spoke slowly and thoughtfully, meeting his gaze with troubled eyes.

"Yet you were glad to see me when I came," he urged.

"Glad, yes! You are my friend, my one friend. I was very glad. But the
gladness passed. When you asked me to come with you across the garden, I
was wanting you to go away."

The words hurt him. They could not but hurt him. But she was so plainly
unconscious of offence, she was so plainly trying to straighten out her
own tangled position, that he could feel no anger.

"Why?" he asked; and again she frankly answered him.

"I was humbled," she replied, "and I have had so much humiliation
in my life."

The very quietude of her voice and the wistful look upon the young tired
face hurt him far more than her words had done.

"Sylvia," he cried, and he drew her toward him. "Come with me now! My
dear, there will be an end of all humiliation. We can be married, we can
go down to my home on the Sussex Downs. That old house needs a mistress,
Sylvia. It is very lonely." He drew a breath and smiled suddenly. "And I
would like so much to show you it, to show you all the corners, the
bridle-paths across the downs, the woods, and the wide view from Arundel
to Chichester spires. Sylvia, come!"

Just for a moment it seemed that she leaned toward him. He put his arm
about her and held her for a moment closer. But her head was lowered, not
lifted up to his; and then she freed herself gently from his clasp.

She faced him with a little wrinkle of thought between her brows and
spoke with an air of wisdom which went very prettily with the childlike
beauty of her face.

"You are my friend," she said, "a friend I am very grateful for, but you
are not more than that to me. I am frank. You see, I am thinking now of
reasons which would not trouble me if I loved you. Marriage with me would
do you no good, would hurt you in your career."

"No," he protested.

"But I am thinking that it would," she replied, steadily, "and I do not
believe that I should give much thought to it, if I really loved you. I
am thinking of something else, too--" and she spoke more boldly,
choosing her words with care--"of a plan which before you came I had
formed, of a task which before you came I had set myself to do. I am
still thinking of it, still feeling that I ought to go on with it. I do
not think that I should feel that if I loved. I think nothing else would
count at all except that I loved. So you are still my friend, and I
cannot go with you."

Chayne looked at her for a moment sadly, with a mist before his eyes.

"I leave you to much unhappiness," he said, "and I hate the
thought of it."

"Not quite so much now as before you came," she answered. "I am proud,
you know, that you asked me," and putting her troubles aside, she smiled
at him bravely, as though it was he who needed comforting. "Good-by! Let
me hear of you through your success."

So again they said good-by at the time of sunset. Chayne mounted into
the landau and drove back along the road to Weymouth. "So that's the
end," said Sylvia. She opened the door and passed again into the garden.
Through the window of the library she saw her father and Walter Hine,
watching, it seemed, for her appearance. It was borne in upon her
suddenly that she could not meet them or speak with them, and she ran
very quickly round the house to the front door, and escaped unaccosted
to her room.

In the library Hine turned to Garratt Skinner with one of his rare
flashes of shrewdness.

"She didn't want to meet us," he said, jealously. "Do you think she
cares for him?"

"I think," replied Garratt Skinner with a smile, "that Captain Chayne
will not trouble us with his company again."



CHAPTER XIV

AN OLD PASSION BETRAYS A NEW SECRET


Garratt Skinner, however, was wrong. He was not aware of the great
revolution which had taken place in Chayne; and he misjudged his
tenacity. Chayne, like many another man, had mapped out his life only to
find that events would happen in a succession different to that which he
had ordained. He had arranged to devote his youth and the earlier part of
his manhood entirely to his career, if the career were not brought to a
premature end in the Alps. That possibility he had always foreseen. He
took his risks with full knowledge, setting the gain against them, and
counting them worth while. If then he lived, he proposed at some
indefinite time, in the late thirties, to fall in love and marry. He had
no parents living; there was the empty house upon the Sussex Downs; and
the small estate which for generations had descended from father to son.
Marriage was thus a recognized event. Only it was thrust away into an
indefinite future. But there had come an evening which he had not
foreseen, when, sorely grieved by the loss of his great friend, he had
fallen in with a girl who gave with open hands the sympathy he needed,
and claimed, by her very reticence and humility, his sympathy in return.
A day had followed upon that evening; and thenceforth the image of Sylvia
standing upon the snow-ridge of the Aiguille d'Argentière, with a few
strips of white cloud sailing in a blue sky overhead, the massive pile of
Mont Blanc in front, freed to the sunlight which was her due, remained
fixed and riveted in his thoughts. He began in imagination to refer
matters of moment to her judgment; he began to save up little events of
interest that he might remember to tell them to her. He understood that
he had a companion, even when he was alone, a condition which he had not
anticipated even for his late thirties. And he came to the conclusion
that he had not that complete ordering of his life on which he had
counted. He was not, however, disappointed. He seized upon the good thing
which had come to him with a great deal of wonder and a very thankful
heart; and he was not disposed to let it lightly go.

Thus the vulgarity which Garratt Skinner chose to assume, the
unattractive figure of "red-hot" Barstow, and the obvious swindle which
was being perpetrated on Walter Hine, had the opposite effect to that
which Skinner expected. Chayne, instead of turning his back upon so
distasteful a company, frequented it in the resolve to take Sylvia out of
its grasp. It did not need a lover to see that she slept little of nights
and passed distressful days. She had fled from her mother's friends at
Chamonix, only to find herself helpless amongst a worse gang in her
father's house. Very well. She must be released. He had proposed to take
her away then and there. She had refused. Well, he had been blunt. He
would go about the business in the future in a more delicate way. And so
he came again and again to the little house under the hill where the
stream babbled through the garden, and every day the apples grew redder
upon the boughs.

But it was disheartening work. His position indeed became difficult, and
it needed all his tenacity to enable him to endure it. The difficulty
became very evident one afternoon early in August, and the afternoon was,
moveover, remarkable in that Garratt Skinner was betrayed into a
revelation of himself which was to bear consequences of gravity in a
future which he could not foresee. Chayne rode over upon that afternoon,
and found Garratt Skinner alone and, according to his habit, stretched at
full-length in his hammock with a cigar between his lips. He received
Captain Chayne with the utmost geniality. He had long since laid aside
his ineffectual vulgarity of manner.

"You must put up with me, Captain Chayne," he said. "My daughter is out.
However, she--I ought more properly to say, they--will be back no doubt
before long."

"They being--"

"Sylvia and Walter Hine."

Chayne nodded his head. He had known very well who "they" must be, but he
had not been able to refrain from the question. Jealousy had hold of him.
He knew nothing of Sylvia's determination to acquire a power greater than
her father's over the vain and defenceless youth. The words with which
she had hinted her plan to him had been too obscure to convey their
meaning. He was simply aware that Sylvia more and more avoided him, more
and more sought the companionship of Walter Hine; and such experience as
he had, taught him that women were as apt to be blind in their judgment
of men as men in their estimation of women.

He sought now to enlist Garratt Skinner on his side, and drawing a chair
nearer to the hammock he sat down.

"Mr. Skinner," he said, speaking upon an impulse, "you have no doubt in
your mind, I suppose, as to why I come here so often."

Garratt Skinner smiled.

"I make a guess, I admit."

"I should be very glad if your daughter would marry me," Chayne
continued, "and I want you to give me your help. I am not a poor man, Mr.
Skinner, and I should certainly be willing to recognize that in taking
her away from you I laid myself under considerable obligations."

Chayne spoke with some natural hesitation, but Garratt Skinner was not in
the least offended.

"I will not pretend to misunderstand you," he replied. "Indeed, I like
your frankness. Please take what I say in the same spirit. I cannot give
you any help, Captain Chayne."

"Why?"

Garratt Skinner raised himself upon his elbow, and fixing his eyes upon
his companion's face, said distinctly and significantly:

"Because Sylvia has her work to do here."

Chayne in his turn made no pretence to misunderstand. He was being told
clearly that Sylvia was in league with her father and Captain Barstow to
pluck Walter Hine. But he was anxious to discover how far Garratt
Skinner's cynicism would carry him.

"Will you define the work?" he asked.

"If you wish it," replied Garratt Skinner, falling back in his hammock.
"I should have thought it unnecessary myself. The work is the reclaiming
of Wallie Hine from the very undesirable company in which he has mixed.
Do you understand?"

"Quite," said Chayne. He understood very well. He had been told first the
real design--to pluck Walter Hine--and then the excuse which was to cloak
it. He understood, too, the reason why this information had been given to
him with so cynical a frankness. He, Chayne, was in the way. Declare the
swindle and persuade him that Sylvia was a party to it--what more likely
way could be discovered for getting rid of Captain Chayne? He looked at
his smiling companion, took note of his strong aquiline face, his clear
and steady eyes. He recognized a redoubtable antagonist, but he leaned
forward and said with a quiet emphasis:

"Mr. Skinner, I have, nevertheless, not lost heart."

Garratt Skinner laughed in a friendly way.

"I suppose not. It is only in the wisdom of middle age that we lose
heart. In youth we lose our hearts--a very different thing."

"I propose still to come to this house."

"As often as you will, Captain Chayne," said Garratt Skinner, gaily. "My
doors are always open to you. I am not such a fool as to give you a
romantic interest by barring you out."

Garratt Skinner had another reason for his hospitality which he kept to
himself. He was inclined to believe that a few more visits from Captain
Chayne would settle his chances without the necessity of any
interference. It was Garratt Skinner's business, as that of any other
rogue, to play with simple artifices upon the faults and vanities of men.
He had, therefore, cultivated a habit of observation; he had become
naturally attentive to trifles which others might overlook; and he was
aware that he needed to go very warily in the delicate business on which
he was now engaged. He was fighting Sylvia for the possession of Walter
Hine--that he had recognized--and Chayne for the possession of Sylvia. It
was a three-cornered contest, and he had in consequence kept his eyes
alert. He had noticed that Chayne was growing importunate, and that his
persistence was becoming troublesome to Sylvia. She gave him a less warm
welcome each time that he came to the house. She made plans to prevent
herself being left alone with him, and if by chance the plans failed she
listened rather than talked and listened almost with an air of boredom.

"Come as often as you please!" consequently said Garratt Skinner from his
hammock. "And now let us talk of something else."

He talked of nothing for a while. But it was plain that he had a subject
in his thoughts. For twice he turned to Chayne and was on the point of
speaking; but each time he thought silence the better part and lay back
again. Chayne waited and at last the subject was broached, but in a
queer, hesitating, diffident way, as though Garratt Skinner spoke rather
under a compulsion of which he disapproved.

"Tell me!" he said. "I am rather interested. A craze, an infatuation
which so masters people must be interesting even to the stay-at-homes
like myself. But I am wrong to call it a craze. From merely reading books
I think it a passion which is easily intelligible. You are wondering what
I am talking about. My daughter tells me that you are a famous climber.
The Aiguille d'Argentière, I suppose, up which you were kind enough to
accompany her, is not a very difficult mountain."

"It depends upon the day," said Chayne, "and the state of the snow."

"Yes, that is what I have gathered from the books. Every mountain may
become dangerous."

"Yes."

"Each mountain," said Garratt Skinner, thoughtfully, "may reward its
conquerors with death"; and for a little while he lay looking up to the
green branches interlaced above his head. "Thus each mountain on the
brightest day holds in its recesses mystery, and also death."

There had come a change already in the manner of the two men. They found
themselves upon neutral ground. Their faces relaxed from wariness; they
were no longer upon their guard. It seemed that an actual comradeship had
sprung up between them.

"There is a mountain called the Grépon," said Skinner. "I have seen
pictures of it--a strange and rather attractive pinnacle, with its
knife-like slabs of rock, set on end one above the other--black rock
splashed with red--and the overhanging boulder on the top. Have you
climbed it?"

"Yes."

"There is a crack, I believe--a good place to get you into training."

Chayne laughed with the enjoyment of a man who recollects a stiff
difficulty overcome.

"Yes, to the right of the Col between the Grépon and the Charmoz. There
is a step half way up--otherwise there is very little hold and the crack
is very steep."

They talked of other peaks, such as the Charmoz, where the first lines of
ascent had given place to others more recently discovered, of new
variations, new ascents and pinnacles still unclimbed; and then Garratt
Skinner said:

"I saw that a man actually crossed the Col des Nantillons early this
summer. It used to be called the Col de Blaitière. He was killed with
his guide, but after the real dangers were passed. That seems to happen
at times."

Chayne looked at Garratt Skinner in surprise.

"It is strange that you should have mentioned John Lattery's death," he
said, slowly.

"Why?" asked Garratt Skinner, turning quietly toward his companion. "I
read of it in 'The Times.'"

"Oh, yes. No doubt it was described. What I meant was this. John Lattery
was my great friend, and he was a distant kind of cousin to your friend
Walter Hine, and indeed co-heir with him to Joseph Hine's great fortune.
His death, I suppose, has doubled your friend's inheritance."

Garratt Skinner raised himself up on his elbow. The announcement was
really news to him.

"Is that so?" he asked. "It is true, then. The mountains hold death too
in their recesses--even on the clearest day--yes, they hold death too!"
And letting himself fall gently back upon his cushions, he remained for a
while with a very thoughtful look upon his face. Twice Chayne spoke to
him, and twice he did not hear. He lay absorbed. It seemed that a new and
engrossing idea had taken possession of his mind, and when he turned his
eyes again to Chayne and spoke, he appeared to be speaking with reference
to that idea rather than to any remarks of his companion.

"Did you ever ascend Mont Blanc by the Brenva route?" he asked. "There's
a thin ridge of ice--I read an account in Moore's 'Journal'--you have to
straddle across the ridge with a leg hanging down either precipice."

Chayne shook his head.

"Lattery and I meant to try it this summer. The Dent du Requin as well."

"Ah, that is one of the modern rock scrambles, isn't it? The last two or
three hundred feet are the trouble, I believe."

And so the talk went on and the comradeship grew. But Chayne noticed that
always Garratt Skinner came back to the great climbs of the earlier
mountaineers, the Brenva ascent of Mont Blanc, the Col Dolent, the two
points of the Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Verte.

"But you, too, have climbed," Chayne cried at length.

"On winter nights by my fireside," replied Garratt Skinner, with a smile.
"I have a lame leg which would hinder me."

"Nevertheless, you left Miss Sylvia and myself behind when you led us
over the hills to Dorchester."

It was Walter Hine who interrupted. He had come across the grass from
behind, and neither of the two men had noticed his approach. But the
moment when he did interrupt marked a change in their demeanor. The
comradeship which had so quickly bloomed as quickly faded. It was the
flower of an idle moment. Antagonism preceded and followed it. Thus, one
might imagine, might sentries at the outposts of opposing armies pile
their arms for half an hour and gossip of their homes or their children,
or of something dear to both of them and separate at the bugle sound.
Garratt Skinner swung himself out of his hammock.

"Where's Sylvia, Wallie?"

"She went up to her room."

Chayne waited for ten minutes, and for another ten, and still Sylvia did
not appear. She was avoiding him. She could spend the afternoon with
Walter Hine, but she must run to her room when he came upon the scene.
Jealousy flamed up in him. Every now and then a whimsical smile of
amusement showed upon Garratt Skinner's face and broadened into a grin.
Chayne was looking a fool, and was quite conscious of it. He rose
abruptly from his chair.

"I must be going," he said, over loudly, and Garratt Skinner smiled.

"I'm afraid she won't hear that," he said softly, measuring with his eyes
the distance between the group and the house. "But come again, Captain
Chayne, and sit it out."

Chayne flushed with anger. He said, "Thank you," and tried to say it
jauntily and failed. He took his leave and walked across the lawn to the
garden, trying to assume a carriage of indifference and dignity. But
every moment he expected to hear the two whom he had left laughing at his
discomfiture. Neither, however, did laugh. Walter Hine was, indeed,
indignant.

"Why did you ask him to come again?" he asked, angrily, as the garden
door closed upon Chayne.

Garratt Skinner laid his hand on Walter Hine's arm.

"Don't you worry, Wallie," he said, confidentially. "Every time Chayne
comes here he loses ten marks. Give him rope! He does not, after all,
know a great deal of geography."



CHAPTER XV

KENYON'S JOHN LATTERY


Chayne returned to London on the following day, restless and troubled.
Jealousy, he knew, was the natural lot of the lover. But that he should
have to be jealous of a Walter Hine--there was the sting. He asked the
old question over and over again, the old futile question which the
unrewarded suitor puts to himself with amazement and a despair at the
ridiculous eccentricities of human nature. "What in the world can she see
in the fellow?" However, he did not lose heart. It was not in his nature
to let go once he had clearly set his desires upon a particular goal.
Sooner or later, people and things would adjust themselves to their
proper proportions in Sylvia's eyes. Meanwhile there was something to be
done--a doubt to be set at rest, perhaps a discovery to be made.

His conversation with Garratt Skinner, the subject which Garratt Skinner
had chosen, and the knowledge with which he had spoken, had seemed to
Chayne rather curious. A man might sit by his fireside and follow with
interest, nay almost with the passion of the mountaineer, the history of
Alpine exploration and adventure. That had happened before now. And very
likely Chayne would have troubled himself no more about Garratt Skinner's
introduction of the theme but for one or two circumstances which the more
he reflected upon them became the more significant. For instance: Garratt
Skinner had spoken and had asked questions about the new ascents made,
the new passes crossed within the last twenty years, just as a man would
ask who had obtained his knowledge out of books. But of the earlier
ascents he had spoken differently, though the difference was subtle and
hard to define. He seemed to be upon more familiar ground. He left in
Chayne's mind a definite suspicion that he was speaking no longer out of
books, but from an intimate personal knowledge, the knowledge of actual
experience. The suspicion had grown up gradually, but it had strengthened
almost into a conviction.

It was to the old climbs that Garratt Skinner's conversation perpetually
recurred--the Aiguille Verte, the Grand and the Petit Dru and the
traverse between them, the Col Dolent, the Grandes Jorasses and the
Brenva route--yes, above all, the Brenva route up Mont Blanc. Moreover,
how in the world should he know that those slabs of black granite on the
top of the Grépon were veined with red--splashed with red as he described
them? Unless he had ascended them, or the Aiguille des Charmoz
opposite--how should he know? The philosophy of his guide Michel
Revailloud flashed across Chayne's mind. "One needs some one with whom to
exchange one's memories."

Had Garratt Skinner felt that need and felt it with so much compulsion
that he must satisfy it in spite of himself? Yet why should he practise
concealment at all? There certainly had been concealment. Chayne
remembered how more than once Garratt Skinner had checked himself before
at last he had yielded. It was in spite of himself that he had spoken.
And then suddenly as the train drew up at Vauxhall Station for the
tickets to be collected, Chayne started up in his seat. On the rocks of
the Argentière, beside the great gully, as they descended to the glacier,
Sylvia's guide had spoken words which came flying back into Chayne's
thoughts. She had climbed that day, though it was her first mountain, as
if knowledge of the craft had been born in her. How to stand upon an
ice-slope, how to hold her ax--she had known. On the rocks, too! Which
foot to advance, with which hand to grasp the hold--she had known.
Suppose that knowledge _had_ been born in her! Why, then those words of
her guide began to acquire significance. She had reminded him of some
one--some one whose name he could not remember--but some one with whom
years ago he had climbed. And then upon the rocks, some chance movement
of Sylvia's, some way in which she moved from ledge to ledge, had
revealed to him the name--Gabriel Strood.

Was it possible, Chayne asked? If so, what dark thing was there in the
record of Strood's life that he must change his name, disappear from the
world, and avoid the summer nights, the days of sunshine and storm on the
high rock-ledges and the ice-slope?

Chayne was minded to find an answer to that question. Sylvia was in
trouble; that house under the downs was no place for her. He himself was
afraid of what was being planned there. It might help him if he knew
something more of Garratt Skinner than he knew at present. And it seemed
to him that there was just a chance of acquiring that knowledge.

He dined at his club, and at ten o'clock walked up St. James' Street.
The street was empty. It was a hot starlit night of the first week in
August, and there came upon him a swift homesickness for the world above
the snow-line. How many of his friends were sleeping that night in
mountain huts high up on the shoulders of the mountains or in bivouacs
open to the stars with a rock-cliff at their backs and a fire of pine
wood blazing at their feet. Most likely amongst those friends was the
one he sought to-night.

"Still there's a chance that I may find him," he pleaded, and
crossing Piccadilly passed into Dover Street. Half way along the
street of milliners, he stopped before a house where a famous scholar
had his lodging.

"Is Mr. Kenyon in London?" he asked, and the man-servant replied to his
great relief:

"Yes, sir, but he is not yet at home."

"I will wait for him," said Chayne.

He was shown into the study and left there with a lighted lamp. The
room was lined with books from floor to ceiling. Chayne mounted a
ladder and took down from a high corner some volumes bound simply in
brown cloth. They were volumes of the "Alpine Journal." He had chosen
those which dated back from twenty years to a quarter of a century. He
drew a chair up beside the lamp and began eagerly to turn over the
pages. Often he stopped, for the name of which he was in search often
leaped to his eyes from the pages. Chayne read of the exploits in the
Alps of Gabriel Strood. More than one new expedition was described,
many variations of old ascents, many climbs already familiar. It was
clear that the man was of the true brotherhood. A new climb was very
well, but the old were as good to Gabriel Strood, and the climb which
he had once made he had the longing to repeat with new companions. None
of the descriptions were written by Strood himself but all by
companions whom he had led, and most of them bore testimony to an
unusual endurance, an unusual courage, as though Strood triumphed
perpetually over a difficulty which his companions did not share and of
which only vague hints were given. At last Chayne came to that very
narrative which Sylvia had been reading on her way to Chamonix--and
there the truth was bluntly told for the first time.

Chayne started up in that dim and quiet room, thrilled. He had the proof
now, under his finger--the indisputable proof. Gabriel Strood suffered
from an affection of the muscles in his right thigh, and yet managed to
out-distance all his rivals. Hine's words drummed in Chayne's ears:

"Nevertheless he left us all behind."

Garratt Skinner: Gabriel Strood. Surely, surely! He replaced the volumes
and took others down. In the first which he opened--it was the autumn
number of nineteen years ago--there was again mention of the man; and the
climb described was the ascent of Mont Blanc from the Brenva Glacier.
Chayne leaned back in his chair fairly startled by this confirmation. It
was to the Brenva route that Garratt Skinner had continually harked back.
The Aiguille Verte, the Grandes Jorasses, the Charmoz, the
Blaitière--yes, he had talked of them all, but ever he had come back,
with an eager voice and a fire in his eyes, to the ice-arête of the
Brenva route. Chayne searched on through the pages. But there was nowhere
in any volume on which he laid his hands any further record of his
exploits. Others who followed in his steps mentioned his name, but of the
man himself there was no word more. No one had climbed with him, no one
had caught a glimpse of him above the snow-line. For five or six seasons
he had flashed through the Alps. Arolla, Zermatt, the Montanvert, the
Concordia hut--all had known him for five or six seasons, and then just
under twenty years ago he had come no more.

Chayne put back the volumes in their places on the shelf, and sat down
again in the arm-chair before the empty grate. It was a strange and a
haunting story which he was gradually piecing together in his thoughts.
Men like Gabriel Strood _always_ come back to the Alps. They sleep too
restlessly at nights, they needs must come. And yet this man had stayed
away. There must have been some great impediment. He fell into another
train of thought. Sylvia was eighteen, nearly nineteen. Had Gabriel
Strood married just after that last season when he climbed from the
Brenva Glacier to the Calotte. The story was still not unraveled, and
while he perplexed his fancies over the unraveling, the door opened, and
a tall, thin man with a pointed beard stood upon the threshold. He was a
man of fifty years; his shoulders were just learning how to stoop; and
his face, fine and delicate, yet lacking nothing of strength, wore an
aspect of melancholy, as though he lived much alone--until he smiled. And
in the smile there was much companionship and love. He smiled now as he
stretched out his long, finely-molded hand.

"I am very glad to see you, Chayne," he said, in a voice remarkable for
its gentleness, "although in another way I am sorry. I am sorry because,
of course, I know why you are in England and not among the Alps."

Chayne had risen from his chair, but Kenyon laid a hand upon his shoulder
and forced him down again with a friendly pressure. "I read of Lattery's
death. I am grieved about it--for you as much as for Lattery. I know just
what that kind of loss means. It means very much," said he, letting his
deep-set eyes rest with sympathy upon the face of the younger man. Kenyon
put a whisky and soda by Chayne's elbow, and setting the tobacco jar on a
little table between them, sat down and lighted his pipe.

"You came back at once?" he asked.

"I crossed the Col Dolent and went down into Italy," replied Chayne.

"Yes, yes," said Kenyon, nodding his head. "But you will go back next
year, or the year after."

"Perhaps," said Chayne; and for a little while they smoked their pipes in
silence. Then Chayne came to the object of his visit.

"Kenyon," he asked, "have you any photographs of the people who went
climbing twenty to twenty-five years ago? I thought perhaps you might
have some groups taken in Switzerland in those days. If you have, I
should like to see them."

"Yes, I think I have," said Kenyon. He went to his writing-desk and
opening a drawer took out a number of photographs. He brought them back,
and moving the green-shaded lamp so that the light fell clear and strong
upon the little table, laid them down.

Chayne bent over them with a beating heart. Was his suspicion to be
confirmed or disproved?

One by one he took the photographs, closely examined them, and laid
them aside while Kenyon stood upright on the other side of the table.
He had turned over a dozen before he stopped. He held in his hand the
picture of a Swiss hotel, with an open space before the door. In the
open space men were gathered. They were talking in groups; some of them
leaned upon ice-axes, some carried _Rücksacks_ upon their backs, as
though upon the point of starting for the hills. As he held the
photograph a little nearer to the lamp, and bent his head a little
lower, Kenyon made a slight uneasy movement. But Chayne did not notice.
He sat very still, with his eyes fixed upon the photograph. On the
outskirts of the group stood Sylvia's father. Younger, slighter of
build, with a face unlined and a boyish grace which had long since
gone--but undoubtedly Sylvia's father.

The contours of the mountains told Chayne clearly enough in what valley
the hotel stood.

"This is Zermatt," he said, without lifting his eyes.

"Yes," replied Kenyon, quietly, "a Zermatt you are too young to know,"
and then Chayne's forefinger dropped upon the figure of Sylvia's father.

"Who is this?" he asked.

Kenyon made no answer.

"It is Gabriel Strood," Chayne continued.

There was a pause, and then Kenyon confirmed the guess.

"Yes," he said, and some hint of emotion in his voice made Chayne lift
his eyes. The light striking upward through the green shade gave to
Kenyon's face an extraordinary pallor. But it seemed to Chayne that not
all the pallor was due to the lamp.

"For six seasons," Chayne said, "Gabriel Strood came to the Alps. In his
first season he made a great name."

"He was the best climber I have ever seen," replied Kenyon.

"He had a passion for the mountains. Yet after six years he came back no
more. He disappeared. Why?"

Kenyon stood absolutely silent, absolutely still. Perhaps the trouble
deepened a little on his face; but that was all. Chayne, however, was
bent upon an answer. For Sylvia's sake alone he must have it, he must
know the father into whose clutches she had come.

"You knew Gabriel Strood. Why?"

Kenyon leaned forward and gently took the photograph out of Chayne's
hand. He mixed it with the others, not giving to it a single glance
himself, and then replaced them all in the drawer from which he had taken
them. He came back to the table and at last answered Chayne:

"John Lattery was your friend. Some of the best hours of your life were
passed in his company. You know that now. But you will know it still
more surely when you come to my age, whatever happiness may come to you
between now and then. The camp-fire, the rock-slab for your floor and
the black night about you for walls, the hours of talk, the ridge and
the ice-slope, the bad times in storm and mist, the good times in the
sunshine, the cold nights of hunger when you were caught by the
darkness, the off-days when you lounged at your ease. You won't forget
John Lattery."

Kenyon spoke very quietly but with a conviction, and, indeed, a certain
solemnity, which impressed his companion.

"No," said Chayne, gently, "I shall not forget John Lattery." But his
question was still unanswered, and by nature he was tenacious. His eyes
were still upon Kenyon's face and he added: "What then?"

"Only this," said Kenyon. "Gabriel Strood was my John Lattery," and
moving round the table he dropped his hand upon Chayne's shoulder. "You
will ask me no more questions," he said, with a smile.

"I beg your pardon," said Chayne.

He had his answer. He knew now that there was something to conceal, that
there was a definite reason why Gabriel Strood disappeared.

"Good-night," he said; and as he left the room he saw Kenyon sink down
into his arm-chair. There seemed something sad and very lonely in the
attitude of the older man. Once more Michel Revailloud's warning rose up
within his mind.

"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."

At every turn the simple philosophy of Michel Revailloud seemed to obtain
an instance and a confirmation. Was that to be his own fate too? Just for
a moment he was daunted. He closed the door noiselessly, and going down
the stairs let himself out into the street. The night was clear above his
head. How was it above the Downs of Dorsetshire, he wondered. He walked
along the street very slowly. Garratt Skinner was Gabriel Strood. There
was clearly a dark reason for the metamorphosis. It remained for Chayne
to discover that reason. But he did not ponder any more upon that problem
to-night. He was merely thinking as he walked along the street that
Michel Revailloud was a very wise man.



CHAPTER XVI

AS BETWEEN GENTLEMEN


"Between gentlemen," said Wallie Hine. "Yes, between gentlemen."

He was quoting from a letter which he held in his hand, as he sat at the
breakfast table, and, in his agitation, he had quoted aloud. Garratt
Skinner looked up from his plate and said:

"Can I help you, Wallie?"

Hine flushed red and stammered out: "No, thank you. I must run up to town
this morning--that's all."

"Sylvia will drive you into Weymouth in the dog-cart after breakfast,"
said Garratt Skinner, and he made no further reference to the journey.
But he glared at the handwriting of the letter, and then with some
perplexity at Walter Hine. "You will be back this evening, I suppose?"

"Rather," said Walter Hine, with a smile across the table at Sylvia; but
his agitation got the better of his gallantry, and as she drove him into
Weymouth, he spoke as piteously as a child appealing for protection. "I
don't want to go one little bit, Miss Sylvia. But between gentlemen. Yes,
I mustn't forget that. Between gentlemen." He clung to the phrase,
finding some comfort in its reiteration.

"You have given me your promise," said Sylvia. "There will be no
cards, no bets."

Walter Hine laughed bitterly.

"I shan't break it. I have had my lesson. By Jove, I have."

Walter Hine traveled to Waterloo and drove straight to the office of
Mr. Jarvice.

"I owe some money," he began, bleating the words out the moment he was
ushered into the inner office.

Mr. Jarvice grinned.

"This interview is concluded," he said. "There's the door."

"I owe it to a friend, Captain Barstow," Hine continued, in desperation.
"A thousand pounds. He has written for it. He says that debts of honor
between gentlemen--" But he got no further, for Mr. Jarvice broke in upon
his faltering explanations with a snarl of contempt.

"Barstow! You poor little innocent. I have something else to do with my
money than to pour it into Barstow's pockets. I know the man. Send him to
me to-morrow, and I'll talk to him--as between gentlemen."

Walter Hine flushed. He had grown accustomed to deference and flatteries
in the household of Garratt Skinner. The unceremonious scorn of Mr.
Jarvice stung his vanity, and vanity was the one strong element of his
character. He was in the mind hotly to defend Captain Barstow from Mr.
Jarvice's insinuations, but he refrained.

"Then Barstow will know that I draw my allowance from you, and not from
my grandfather," he stammered. There was the trouble for Walter Hine.
If Barstow knew, Garratt Skinner would come to know. There would be an
end to the deference and the flatteries. He would no longer be able to
pose as the favorite of the great millionaire, Joseph Hine. He would
sink in Sylvia's eyes. At the cost of any humiliation that downfall
must be avoided.

His words, however, had an immediate effect upon Mr. Jarvice, though for
quite other reasons.

"Why, that's true," said Mr. Jarvice, slowly, and in a voice suddenly
grown smooth. "Yes, yes, we don't want to mix up my name in the affair at
all. Sit down, Mr. Hine, and take a cigar. The box is at your elbow.
Young men of spirit must have some extra license allowed to them for the
sake of the promise of their riper years. I was forgetting that. No, we
don't want my name to appear at all, do we?"

Publicity had no charms for Mr. Jarvice. Indeed, on more than one
occasion he had found it quite a hindrance to the development of his
little plans. To go his own quiet way, unheralded by the press and
unacclaimed of men--that was the modest ambition of Mr. Jarvice.

"However, I don't look forward to handing over a thousand pounds to
Captain Barstow," he continued, softly. "No, indeed. Did you lose any of
your first quarter's allowance to him besides the thousand?"

Walter Hine lit his cigar and answered reluctantly:

"Yes."

"All of it?"

"Oh no, no, not all of it."

Jarvice did not press for the exact amount. He walked to the window and
stood there with his hands in his pockets and his back toward his
visitor. Walter Hine watched his shoulders in suspense and apprehension.
He would have been greatly surprised if he could have caught a glimpse at
this moment of Mr. Jarvice's face. There was no anger, no contempt,
expressed in it at all. On the contrary, a quiet smile of satisfaction
gave to it almost a merry look. Mr. Jarvice had certain plans for Walter
Hine's future--so he phrased it with a smile for the grim humor of the
phrase--and fate seemed to be helping toward their fulfilment.

"I can get you out of this scrape, no doubt," said Jarvice, turning back
to his table. "The means I must think over, but I can do it. Only there's
a condition. You need not be alarmed. A little condition which a loving
father might impose upon his only son," and Mr. Jarvice beamed paternally
as he resumed his seat.

"What is the condition?" asked Walter Hine.

"That you travel for a year, broaden your mind by visiting the great
countries and capitals of Europe, take a little trip perhaps into the
East and return a cultured gentleman well equipped to occupy the high
position which will be yours when your grandfather is in due time
translated to a better sphere."

Mr. Jarvice leaned back in his chair, and with a confident wave of his
desk ruler had the air of producing the startling metamorphosis like some
heavy but benevolent fairy. Walter Hine, however, was not attracted by
the prospect.

"But--" he began, and at once Mr. Jarvice interrupted him.

"I anticipate you," he said, with a smile. "Standing at the window there,
I foresaw your objection. But--it would be lonely. Quite true. Why should
you be lonely? And so I am going to lay my hands on some pleasant and
companionable young fellow who will go with you for his expenses. An
Oxford man, eh? Fresh from Alma Mater with a taste for pictures and
statuettes and that sort of thing! Upon my word, I envy you, Mr. Hine. If
I were young, bless me, if I wouldn't throw my bonnet over the mill, as
after a few weeks in La Ville Lumière you will be saying, and go with
you. You will taste life--yes, life."

And as he repeated the word, all the jollity died suddenly out of the
face of Mr. Jarvice. He bent his eyes somberly upon his visitor and a
queer inscrutable smile played about his lips. But Walter Hine had no
eyes for Mr. Jarvice. He was nerving himself to refuse the proposal.

"I can't go," he blurted out, with the ungracious stubbornness of a weak
mind which fears to be over-persuaded. Afraid lest he should consent, he
refused aggressively and rudely.

Mr. Jarvice repressed an exclamation of anger. "And why?" he asked,
leaning forward on his elbows and fixing his bright, sharp eyes on Walter
Hine's face.

Walter Hine shifted uncomfortably in his chair but did not answer.

"And why can't you go?" he repeated.

"I can't tell you."

"Oh, surely," said Mr. Jarvice, with a scarcely perceptible sneer. "Come
now! Between gentlemen! Well?"

Walter Hine yielded to Jarvice's insistence.

"There's a girl," he said, with a coy and odious smile.

Mr. Jarvice beat upon his desk with his fists in a savage anger. His
carefully calculated plan was to be thwarted by a girl.

"She's a dear," cried Walter Hine. Having made the admission, he let
himself go. His vanity pricked him to lyrical flights. "She's a dear,
she's a sob, she would never let me go, she's my little girl."

Such was Sylvia's reward for engaging in a struggle which she loathed for
the salvation of Walter Hine. She was jubilantly claimed by him as his
little girl in a money-lender's office. Mr. Jarvice swore aloud.

"Who is she?" he asked, sternly.

A faint sense of shame came over Walter Hine. He dimly imagined what
Sylvia would have thought and said, and what contempt her looks would
have betrayed, had she heard him thus boast of her goodwill.

"You are asking too much, Mr. Jarvice," he said.

Mr. Jarvice waved the objection aside.

"Of course I ask it as between gentlemen," he said, with an ironical
politeness.

"Well, then, as between gentlemen," returned Walter Hine, seriously. "She
is the daughter of a great friend of mine, Mr. Garratt Skinner. What's
the matter?" he cried; and there was reason for his cry.

It had been an afternoon of surprises for Mr. Jarvice, but this simple
mention of the name of Garratt Skinner was more than a surprise. Mr.
Jarvice was positively startled. He leaned back in his chair with his
mouth open and his eyes staring at Walter Hine. The high color paled in
his face and his cheeks grew mottled. It seemed that fear as well as
surprise came to him in the knowledge that Garratt Skinner was a friend
of Walter Hine.

"What is the matter?" repeated Hine.

"It's nothing," replied Mr. Jarvice, hastily. "The heat, that is all."
He crossed the room, and throwing up the window leaned for a few moments
upon the sill. Yet even when he spoke again, there was still a certain
unsteadiness in his voice. "How did you come across Mr. Garratt
Skinner?" he asked.

"Barstow introduced me. I made Barstow's acquaintance at the Criterion
Bar, and he took me to Garratt Skinner's house in Hobart Place."

"I see," said Mr. Jarvice. "It was in Garratt Skinner's house that you
lost your money, I suppose."

"Yes, but he had no hand in it," exclaimed Walter Hine. "He does not know
how much I lost. He would be angry if he did."

A faint smile flickered across Jarvice's face.

"Quite so," he agreed, and under his deft cross-examination the whole
story was unfolded. The little dinner at which Sylvia made her
appearance and at which Walter Hine was carefully primed with drink; the
little round game of cards which Garratt Skinner was so reluctant to
allow in his house on a Sunday evening, and from which, being an early
riser, he retired to bed, leaving Hine in the hands of Captain Barstow
and Archie Parminter; the quiet secluded house in the country; the new
gardener who appeared for one day and shot with so surprising an
accuracy, when Barstow backed him against Walter Hine, that Hine lost a
thousand pounds; the incidents were related to Mr. Jarvice in their
proper succession, and he interpreted them by his own experience.
Captain Barstow, who was always to the fore, counted for nothing in the
story as Jarvice understood it. He was the mere creature, the servant.
Garratt Skinner, who was always in the background, prepared the swindle
and pocketed the profits.

"You are staying at the quiet house in Dorsetshire now, I suppose. Just
you and Garratt Skinner and the pretty daughter, with occasional visits
from Barstow?"

"Yes," answered Hine. "Garratt Skinner does not care to see much
company."

Once more the smile of amusement played upon Mr. Jarvice's face.

"No, I suppose not," he said, quietly. There were certain definite
reasons of which he was aware, to account for Garratt Skinner's
reluctance to appear in a general company. He turned back from the window
and returned to his table. He had taken his part. There was no longer
either unsteadiness or anger in his voice.

"I quite understand your reluctance to leave your new friends," he said,
with the utmost friendliness. "I recognize that the tour abroad on which
I had rather set my heart must be abandoned. But I have no regrets. For I
think it possible that the very object which I had in mind when proposing
that tour may be quite as easily effected in the charming country house
of Garratt Skinner."

He spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact voice, looking benevolently at his
visitor. If the words were capable of another and a more sinister meaning
than they appeared to convey, Walter Hine did not suspect it. He took
them in their obvious sense.

"Yes, I shall gain as much culture in Garratt Skinner's house as I should
by seeing picture-galleries abroad," he said eagerly, and then Mr.
Jarvice smiled.

"I think that very likely," he said. "Meanwhile, as to Barstow and his
thousand pounds. I must think the matter over. Barstow will not press you
for a day or two. Just leave me your address--the address in
Dorsetshire."

He dipped a pen in the ink and handed it to Hine. Hine took it and drew a
sheet of paper toward him. But he did not set the pen to the paper. He
looked suddenly up at Jarvice, who stood over against him at the other
side of the table.

"Garratt Skinner's address?" he said, with one of his flashes of cunning.

"Yes, since you are staying there. I shall want to write to you."

Walter Hine still hesitated.

"You won't peach to Garratt Skinner about the allowance, eh?"

"My dear fellow!" said Mr. Jarvice. He was more hurt than offended. "To
put it on the lowest ground, what could I gain?"

Walter Hine wrote down the address, and at once the clerk appeared at the
door and handed Jarvice a card.

"I will see him," said Jarvice, and turning to Hine: "Our business is
over, I think."

Jarvice opened a second door which led from the inner office straight
down a little staircase into the street. "Good-by. You shall hear from
me," he said, and Walter Hine went out.

Jarvice closed the door and turned back to his clerk.

"That will do," he said.

There was no client waiting at all. Mr. Jarvice had an ingenious
contrivance for getting rid of his clients at the critical moment after
they had come to a decision and before they had time to change their
minds. By pressing a particular button in the leather covering of the
right arm of his chair, he moved an indicator above the desk of his clerk
in the outer office. The clerk thereupon announced a visitor, and the one
in occupation was bowed out by the private staircase. By this method
Walter Hine had been dismissed.

Jarvice had the address of Garratt Skinner. But he sat with it in front
of him upon his desk for a long time before he could bring himself to use
it. All the amiability had gone from his expression now that he was
alone. He was in a savage mood, and every now and then a violent gesture
betrayed it. But it was with himself that he was angry. He had been a
fool not to keep a closer watch on Walter Hine.

"I might have foreseen," he cried in his exasperation. "Garratt Skinner!
If I had not been an ass, I _should_ have foreseen."

For Mr. Jarvice was no stranger to Walter Hine's new friend. More than
one young buck fresh from the provinces, heir to the great factory or the
great estate, had been steered into this inner office by the careful
pilotage of Garratt Skinner. In all the army of the men who live by their
wits, there was not one to Jarvice's knowledge who was so alert as
Garratt Skinner to lay hands upon the new victim or so successful in
lulling his suspicions. He might have foreseen that Garratt Skinner would
throw his net over Walter Hine. But he had not, and the harm was done.

Mr. Jarvice took the insurance policy from his safe and shook his head
over it sadly. He had seen his way to making in his quiet fashion, and at
comparatively little cost, a tidy little sum of one hundred thousand
pounds. Now he must take a partner, so that he might not have an enemy.
Garratt Skinner with Barstow for his jackal and the pretty daughter for
his decoy was too powerful a factor to be lightly regarded. Jarvice must
share with Garratt Skinner--unless he preferred to abandon his scheme
altogether; and that Mr. Jarvice would not do.

There was no other way. Jarvice knew well that he could weaken Garratt
Skinner's influence over Walter Hine by revealing to the youth certain
episodes in the new friend's life. He might even break the
acquaintanceship altogether. But Garratt Skinner would surely discover
who had been at work. And then? Why, then, Mr. Jarvice would have upon
his heels a shrewd and watchful enemy; and in this particular business,
such an enemy Mr. Jarvice could not afford to have. Jarvice was not an
impressionable man, but his hands grew cold while he imagined Garratt
Skinner watching the development of his little scheme--the tour abroad
with the pleasant companion, the things which were to happen on the
tour--watching and waiting until the fitting moment had come, when all
was over, for him to step in and demand the price of his silence and hold
Mr. Jarvice in the hollow of his hand for all his life. No, that would
never do. Garratt Skinner must be a partner so that also he might be an
accessory.

Accordingly, Jarvice wrote his letter to Garratt Skinner, a few lines
urging him to come to London on most important business. Never was
there a letter more innocent in its appearance than that which Jarvice
wrote in his inner office on that summer afternoon. Yet even at the
last he hesitated whether he should seal it up or no. The sun went
down, shadows touched with long cool fingers the burning streets;
shadows entered into that little inner office of Mr. Jarvice. But still
he sat undecided at his desk.

The tour upon the Continent must be abandoned, and with it the journey
under canvas to the near East--a scheme so simple, so sure, so safe.
Still Garratt Skinner might confidently be left to devise another. And he
had always kept faith. To that comforting thought Mr. Jarvice clung. He
sealed up his letter in the end, and stood for a moment or two with the
darkness deepening about him. Then he rang for his clerk and bade him
post it, but the voice he used was one which the clerk did not know, so
that he pushed his head forward and peered through the shadows to make
sure that it was his master who spoke.

Two days afterward Garratt Skinner paid a long visit to Mr. Jarvice, and
that some agreement was reached between the two men shortly became
evident. For Walter Hine received a letter from Captain Barstow which
greatly relieved him.

"Garratt Skinner has written to me," wrote the 'red-hot' Captain, "that
he has discovered that the gardener, whom he engaged for a particular
job, is notorious as a poacher and a first-class shot. Under these
circumstances, my dear old fellow, the red-hot one cannot pouch your
pennies. As between gentlemen, the bet must be considered o-p-h."



CHAPTER XVII

SYLVIA TELLS MORE THAN SHE KNOWS


Hilary Chayne stayed away from Dorsetshire for ten complete days; and
though the hours crept by, dilatory as idlers at a street corner, he
obtained some poor compensation by reflecting upon his fine diplomacy. In
less than a week he would surely be missed; by the time that ten days had
passed the sensation might have become simply poignant. So for ten days
he wandered about the Downs of Sussex with an aching heart, saying the
while, "It serves her right." On the morning of the eleventh he received
a letter from the War Office, bidding him call on the following
afternoon.

"That will just do," he said. "I will go down to Weymouth to-day, and I
will return to London to-morrow." And with an unusual lightness of
spirit, which he ascribed purely to his satisfaction that he need punish
Sylvia no longer, he started off upon his long journey. He reached the
house of the Running Water by six o'clock in the evening; and at the
outset it seemed that his diplomacy had been sagacious.

He was shown into the library, and opposite to him by the window
Sylvia stood alone. She turned to him a white terror-haunted face,
gazed at him for a second like one dazed, and then with a low cry of
welcome came quickly toward him. Chayne caught her outstretched hands
and all his joy at her welcome lay dead at the sight of her distress.
"Sylvia!" he exclaimed in distress. He was hurt by it as he had never
thought to be hurt.

"I am afraid!" she said, in a trembling whisper. He drew her toward him
and she yielded. She stood close to him and very still, touching him,
leaning to him like a frightened child. "Oh, I am afraid," she repeated;
and her voice appealed piteously for sympathy and a little kindness.

In Chayne's mind there was suddenly painted a picture of the ice-slope on
the Aiguille d'Argentière. A girl had moved from step to step, across
that slope, looking down its steep glittering incline without a tremor.
It was the same girl who now leaned to him and with shaking lips and eyes
tortured with fear cried, "I am afraid." By his recollection of that day
upon the heights Chayne measured the greatness of her present trouble.

"Why, Sylvia? Why are you afraid?"

For answer she looked toward the open window. Chayne followed her glance
and this was what he saw: The level stretch of emerald lawn, the stream
running through it and catching in its brown water the red light of the
evening sun, the great beech trees casting their broad shadows, the high
garden walls with the dusky red of their bricks glowing amongst fruit
trees, and within that enclosure pacing up and down, in and out among the
shadows of the trees, Garratt Skinner and Walter Hine. Yet that sight she
must needs have seen before. Why should it terrify her beyond reason now?

"Do you see?" Sylvia said in a low troubled voice. For once distress had
mastered her and she spoke without her usual reticence. "There can be no
friendship between those two. No real friendship! You have but to see
them side by side to be sure of it. It is pretence."

Yet that too she must have known before. Why then should the pretence now
so greatly trouble her? Chayne watched the two men pacing in the garden.
Certainly he had never seen them in so intimate a comradeship. Garratt
Skinner had passed his arm through Walter Hine's and held him so, plying
him with stories, bending down his keen furrowed aquiline face toward him
as though he had no thought in the world but to make him his friend and
bind him with affection; and Walter Hine looked up and listened and
laughed, a vain, weak wisp of a creature, flattered to the skies and
defenceless as a rabbit.

"Why the pretence?" said Sylvia. "Why the linked arms? The pretence has
grown during these last days. What new thing is intended?" Her eyes were
on the garden, and as she looked it seemed that her terror grew. "My
father went away a week ago. Since he has returned the pretence has
increased. I am afraid! I am afraid!"

Garratt Skinner turned in his walk and led Walter Hine back toward the
house. Sylvia shrank from his approach as from something devilish. When
he turned again, she drew her breath like one escaped from sudden peril.

"Sylvia! Of what are you afraid?"

"I don't know!" she cried. "That's just the trouble. I don't know!" She
clenched her hands together at her breast. Chayne caught them in his and
was aware that in one shut palm she held something which she concealed.
Her clasp tightened upon it as his hands touched hers. Sylvia had more
reason for her fears than she had disclosed. Barstow came no more. There
were no more cards, no more bets; and this change taken together with
Garratt Skinner's increased friendship added to her apprehensions. She
dreaded some new plot more sinister, more terrible than that one of which
she was aware.

"If only I knew," she cried. "Oh, if only I knew!"

Archie Parminter had paid one visit to the house, had stayed for one
night; and he and Garratt Skinner and Walter Hine had sat up till
morning, talking together in the library. Sylvia waking up from a fitful
sleep, had heard their voices again and again through the dark hours; and
when the dawn was gray, she had heard them coming up to bed as on the
first night of her return; and as on that night there was one who
stumbled heavily. It was since that night that terror had distracted her.

"I have no longer any power," she said. "Something has happened to
destroy my power. I have no longer any influence. Something was done upon
that night," and she shivered as though she guessed; and she looked at
her clenched hand as though the clue lay hidden in its palm. There lay
her great trouble. She had lost her influence over Walter Hine. She had
knowledge of the under side of life--yes, but her father had a greater
knowledge still. He had used his greater knowledge. Craftily and with a
most ingenious subtlety he had destroyed her power, he had blunted her
weapons. Hine was attracted by Sylvia, fascinated by her charm, her
looks, and the gentle simplicity of her manner. Very well. On the other
side Garratt Skinner had held out a lure of greater attractions, greater
fascination; and Sylvia was powerless.

"He has changed," Sylvia went on, with her eyes fixed on Walter Hine.
"Oh, not merely toward me. He has changed physically. Can you understand?
He has grown nervous, restless, excitable, a thing of twitching limbs.
Oh, and that's not all. I will tell you. This morning it seemed to me
that the color of his eyes had changed."

Chayne stared at her. "Sylvia!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I have not lost my senses," she answered, and she resumed: "I only
noticed that there was an alteration at first. I did not see in what the
alteration lay. Then I saw. His eyes used to be light in color. This
morning they were dark. I looked carefully to make sure, and so I
understood. The pupils of his eyes were so dilated that they covered the
whole eyeball. Can you think why?" and even as she asked, she looked at
that clenched hand of hers as though the answer to that question as well
lay hidden there. "I am afraid," she said once more; and upon that Chayne
committed the worst of the many indiscretions which had signalized his
courtship.

"You are afraid? Sylvia! Then let me take you away!"

At once Sylvia drew back. Had Chayne not spoken, she would have told him
all that there was to tell. She was in the mood at this unguarded moment.
She would have told him that during these last days Walter Hine had taken
to drink once more. She would have opened that clenched fist and showed
the thing it hid, even though the thing condemned her father beyond all
hope of exculpation. But Chayne had checked her as surely as though he
had laid the palm of his hand upon her lips. He would talk of love and
flight, and of neither had she any wish to hear. She craved with a great
yearning for sympathy and a little kindness. But Chayne was not content
to offer what she needed. He would add more, and what he added marred the
whole gift for Sylvia. She shook her head, and looking at him with a sad
and gentle smile, said:

"Love is for the happy people."

"That is a hard saying, Sylvia," Chayne returned, "and not a true one."

"True to me," said Sylvia, with a deep conviction, and as he advanced to
her she raised her hand to keep him off. "No, no," she cried, and had he
listened, he might have heard a hint of exasperation in her voice. But he
would not be warned.

"You can't go on, living here, without sympathy, without love, without
even kindness. Already it is evident. You are ill, and tired. And you
think to go on all your life or all your father's life. Sylvia, let me
take you away!"

And each unwise word set him further and further from his aim. It seemed
to her that there was no help anywhere. Chayne in front of her seemed to
her almost as much her enemy as her father, who paced the lawn behind her
arm in arm with Walter Hine. She clasped her hands together with a quick
sharp movement.

"I will not let you take me away," she cried. "For I do not love you";
and her voice had lost its gentleness and grown cold and hard. Chayne
began again, but whether it was with a renewal of his plea, she did not
hear. For she broke in upon him quickly:

"Please, let me finish. I am, as you said, a little over-wrought! Just
hear me out and leave me to bear my troubles by myself. You will make it
easier for me"; she saw that the words hurt her lover. But she did not
modify them. She was in the mood to hurt. She had been betrayed by her
need of sympathy into speaking words which she would gladly have
recalled; she had been caught off her guard and almost unawares; and she
resented it. Chayne had told her that she looked ill and tired; and she
resented that too. No wonder she looked tired when she had her father
with his secret treacheries on one side and an importunate lover upon
the other! She thought for a moment or two how best to put what she had
still to stay:

"I have probably said to you," she resumed, "more than was right or
fair--I mean fair to my father. I have no doubt exaggerated things. I
want you to forget what I have said. For it led you into a mistake."

Chayne looked at her in perplexity.

"A mistake?"

"Yes," she answered. She was standing in front of him with her forehead
wrinkled and a somber, angry look in her eyes. "A mistake which I must
correct. You said that I was living here without kindness. It is not
true. My father is kind!" And as Chayne raised his eyes in a mute
protest, she insisted on the word. "Yes, kind and thoughtful--thoughtful
for others besides myself." A kind of obstinacy forced her on to enlarge
upon the topic. "I can give you an instance which will surprise you."

"There is no need," Chayne said, gently, but Sylvia was implacable.

"But there is need," she returned. "I beg you to hear me. When my father
and I were at Weymouth we drove one afternoon across the neck of the
Chesil beach to Portland."

Chayne looked at Sylvia quickly.

"Yes?" he said, and there was an indefinable change in his voice. He had
consented to listen, because she wished it. Now he listened with a keen
attention. For a strange thought had crept into his mind.

"We drove up the hill toward the plateau at the top of the island, but as
we passed through the village--Fortune's Well I think they call it--my
father stopped the carriage at a tobacconist's, and went into the shop.
He came out again with some plugs of tobacco--a good many--and got into
the carriage. You won't guess why he bought them. I didn't."

"Well?" said Chayne, and now he spoke with suspense. Suspense, too, was
visible in his quiet attitude. There was a mystery which for Sylvia's
sake he wished to unravel. Why did Gabriel Strood now call himself
Garratt Skinner? That was the mystery. But he must unravel it without
doing any hurt to Sylvia. He could not go too warily--of that he had been
sure, ever since Kenyon had refused to speak of it. There might be some
hidden thing which for Sylvia's sake must not be brought to light.
Therefore he must find out the truth without help from any one. He
wondered whether unconsciously Sylvia herself was going to give him the
clue. Was she to tell him what she did not know herself--why Gabriel
Strood was now Garratt Skinner? "Well?" he repeated.

"As we continued up the hill," she resumed, "my father cut up the tobacco
into small pieces with his pocket knife. 'Why are you doing that?' I
asked, and he laughed and said, 'Wait, you will see.' At the top of the
hill we got out of the carriage and walked across the open plateau. In
front of us, rising high above a little village, stood out a hideous
white building. My father asked if I knew what it was. I said I guessed."

"It was the prison," Chayne interrupted, quickly.

"Yes."

"You went to it?"

Upon the answer to the question depended whether or no Chayne was to
unravel his mystery, to-day.

"No," replied Sylvia, and Chayne drew a breath. Had she answered "Yes,"
the suspicion which had formed within his mind must needs be set aside,
as clearly and finally disproved. Since she answered "No," the suspicion
gathered strength. "We went, however, near to it. We went as close to it
as the quarries. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and as we came to
the corner of the wall which surrounds the quarries, my father said,
'They have stopped work now.'"

"He knew that?" asked Chayne.

"Yes. We turned into a street which runs down toward the prison. On one
side are small houses, on the other the long wall of the Government
quarries. The street was empty; only now and then--very seldom--some one
passed along it. On the top of the wall, there were sentry-boxes built at
intervals, for the warders to overlook the convicts. But these were empty
too. The wall is not high; I suppose--in fact my father said--the quarry
was deep on the other side."

"Yes," said Chayne, quietly. "And then?"

"Then we walked slowly along the street, and whenever there was no one
near, my father threw some tobacco over the wall. 'I don't suppose they
have a very enjoyable time,' he said. 'They will be glad to find the
tobacco there to-morrow.' We walked up the street and turned and came
back, and when we reached the corner he said with a laugh, 'That's all,
Sylvia. My pockets are empty.' We walked back to the carriage and drove
home again to Weymouth."

Sylvia had finished her story, and the mystery was clear to Chayne. She
had told him the secret which she did not know herself. He was sure now
why Gabriel Strood had changed his name; he knew now why Gabriel Strood
no longer climbed the Alps; and why Kenyon would answer no question as to
the disappearance of his friend.

"I have told you this," said Sylvia, "because you accused my father of
unkindness and want of thought. Would you have thought of those poor
prisoners over there in the quarries? If you had, would you have taken so
much trouble just to give them a small luxury? I think they must have
blessed the unknown man who thought for them and showed them what so many
want--a little sympathy and a little kindness."

Chayne bowed his head.

"Yes," he said, gently. "I was unjust."

Indeed even to himself he acknowledged that Garratt Skinner had shown an
unexpected kindness, although he was sure of the reason for the act. He
had no doubt that Garratt Skinner had labored in those quarries himself,
and perhaps had himself picked up in bygone days, as he stooped over his
work, tobacco thrown over the walls by some more fortunate man.

"I am glad you acknowledge that," said Sylvia, but her voice did not
relent from its hostility. She stood without further word, expecting him
to take his leave. Chayne recollected with how hopeful a spirit he had
traveled down from London. His fine diplomacy had after all availed him
little. He had gained certainly some unexpected knowledge which convinced
him still more thoroughly that the sooner he took Sylvia away from her
father and his friends the better it would be. But he was no nearer to
his desire. It might be that he was further off than ever.

"You are returning to London?" she asked.

"Yes. I have to call at the War Office to-morrow."

Sylvia had no curiosity as to that visit. She took no interest in it
whatever, he noticed with a pang.

"And then?" she asked slowly, as she crossed the hall with him to the
door. "You will go home?"

Chayne smiled rather bitterly.

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Into Sussex?"

"Yes."

She opened the door, and as he came out on to the steps she looked at him
with a thoughtful scrutiny for a few moments. But whether her thoughts
portended good or ill for him, he could not tell.

"When I was a boy," he said abruptly, "I used to see from the garden of
my house, far away in a dip of the downs, a dark high wall standing up
against the sky. I never troubled myself as to how it came to have been
built there. But I used to wonder, being a boy, whether it could be
scaled or no. One afternoon I rode my pony over to find out, and I
discovered--What do you think?--that my wall was a mere hedge just three
feet high, no more."

"Well!" said Sylvia.

"Well, I have not forgotten--that's all," he replied.

"Good-by," she said, and he learned no more from her voice than he had
done from her looks. He walked away down the lane, and having gone a few
yards he looked back. Sylvia was still standing in the doorway, watching
him with grave and thoughtful eyes. But there was no invitation to him to
return, and turning away again he walked on.

Sylvia went up-stairs to her room. She unclenched her hand at last. In
its palm there lay a little phial containing a colorless solution. But
there was a label upon the phial, and on the label was written "cocaine."
It was that which had struck at her influence over Walter Hine. It was to
introduce this drug that Archie Parminter had been brought down from
London and the West End clubs.

"It's drunk a good deal in a quiet way," Archie had said, as he made a
pretence himself to drink it.

"You leave such drugs to the aristocracy, Walter," Garratt Skinner had
chimed in. "Just a taste if you like. But go gently."

Sylvia had not been present. But she conjectured the scene, and her
conjecture was not far from the truth. But why? she asked, and again fear
took hold of her. "What was to be gained?" There were limits to Sylvia's
knowledge of the under side of life. She did not guess.

She turned to her mirror and looked at herself. Yes, she looked tired,
she looked ill. But she was not grateful for having the fact pointed out
to her. And while she still looked, she heard her father's voice calling
her. She shivered, as though her fear once more laid hold on her. Then
she locked the bottle of cocaine away in a drawer and ran lightly down
the stairs.



CHAPTER XVIII

BOTH SIDES OF THE QUESTION


Chayne's house stood high upon a slope of the Sussex Downs. Built of
stone two centuries ago, it seemed gradually to have taken on the brown
color of the hill behind it, subduing itself to the general scheme, even
as birds and animals will do; so that strangers who searched for it in
the valley discovered it by the upward swirl of smoke from its wide
chimneys. On its western side and just beneath the house, there was a
cleft in the downs through which the high road ran and in the cleft the
houses of a tiny village clustered even as at the foot of some old castle
in Picardy. On the east the great ridge with its shadow-holding hollows,
its rounded gorse-strewn slopes of grass, rolled away for ten miles and
then dipped suddenly to the banks of the River Arun. The house faced the
south, and from its high-terraced garden, a great stretch of park and
forest land was visible, where amidst the green and russet of elm and
beach, a cluster of yews set here and there gave the illusion of a black
and empty space. Beyond the forest land a lower ridge of hills rose up,
and over that ridge one saw the spires of Chichester and the level flats
of Selsea reaching to the sea.

Into this garden Chayne came on the next afternoon, and as he walked
along its paths alone he could almost fancy that his dead father paced
with the help of his stick at his side, talking, as had been his wont, of
this or that improvement needed by the farms, pointing out to him a
meadow in the hollow beneath which might soon be coming into the market,
and always ending up with the same plea.

"Isn't it time, Hilary, that you married and came home to look after it
all yourself?"

Chayne had turned a deaf ear to that plea, but it made its appeal to him
to-night. Wherever his eyes rested, he recaptured something of his
boyhood; the country-side was alive with memories. He looked south, and
remembered how the perished cities of history had acquired reality for
him by taking on the aspect of Chichester lying low there on the flats;
and how the spires of the fabled towns of his storybooks had caught the
light of the setting sun, just as did now the towers of the cathedral.
Eastward, in the dip between the shoulder of the downs, and the trees of
Arundel Park, a long black hedge stood out with a remarkable definition
against the sky--the hedge of which he had spoken to Sylvia--the great
dark wall of brambles guarding the precincts of the Sleeping Beauty. He
recalled the adventurous day when he had first ridden alone upon his pony
along the great back of the downs and had come down to it through a
sylvan country of silence and ferns and open spaces; and had discovered
it to be no more than a hedge waist-high. The dusk came upon him as he
loitered in that solitary garden; the lights shone out in cottage and
farm-house; and more closely still his memories crowded about him weaving
spells. Some one to share them with! Chayne had no need to wait for old
age before he learnt the wisdom of Michel Revailloud. For his heart
leaped now, as he dreamed of exploring once more with Sylvia at his side
the enchanted country of his boyhood; gallops in the quiet summer
mornings along that still visible track across the downs, by which the
Roman legions had marched in the old days from London straight as a die
to Chichester; winter days with the hounds; a rush on windy afternoons in
a sloop-rigged boat down the Arun to Littlehampton. Chayne's heart leaped
with a passionate longing as he dreamed, and sank as he turned again to
the blank windows of the empty house.

He dined alone, and while he dined evoked Sylvia's presence at the
table, setting her, not at the far end, but at the side and close, so
that a hand might now and then touch hers; calling up into her face her
slow hesitating smile; seeing her still gray eyes grow tender; in a word
watching the Madonna change into the woman. He went into the library
where, since the night had grown chilly, a fire was lit. It was a place
of comfort, with high bookshelves, deep-cushioned chairs, and dark
curtains. But, no less than the dining-room it needed another presence,
and lacking that lacked everything. It needed the girl with the tired
and terror-haunted face. Here, surely the fear would die out of her
soul, the eyes would lose their shadows, the feet regain the lightness
of their step.

Chayne took down his favorite books, but they failed him. Between the
pages and his eyes one face would shape itself. He looked into the fire
and sought as of old to picture in the flames some mountain on which his
hopes were set and to discover the right line for its ascent. But even
that pastime brought no solace for his discontent. The house oppressed
him. It was empty, it was silent. He drew aside the curtains and looking
down into the valley through the clear night air watched the lights in
cottage and farm with the envy born of his loneliness.

In spite of the brave words he had used, he wondered to-night whether the
three-foot hedge was not after all to prove the unassailable wall. And it
was important that he should know. For if it were so, why then he had not
called at the War Office in vain. A proposal had been made to him--that
he should join a commission for the delimitation of a distant frontier. A
year's work and an immediate departure--those were the conditions. Within
two days he must make up his mind--within ten days he must leave England.

Chayne pondered over the decision which he must make. If he had lost
Sylvia, here was the mission to accept. For it meant complete severance,
a separation not to be measured by miles alone, but by the nature of the
work, and the comrades, and even the character of the vegetation. He went
to bed in doubt, thinking that the morning might bring him counsel. It
brought him a letter from Sylvia instead.

The letter was long; it was written in haste, it was written in great
distress, so that words which were rather unkind were written down. But
the message of the letter was clear. Chayne was not to come again to the
House of the Running Water; nor to the little house in London when she
returned to it. They were not to meet again. She did not wish for it.

Chayne burnt the letter as soon as he had read it, taking no offence at
the hasty words. "I seem to have worried her more than I thought," he
said to himself with a wistful smile. "I am sorry," and again as the
sparks died out from the black ashes of the letter he repeated: "Poor
little girl. I am very sorry."

So the house would always be silent and empty.

Sylvia had written the letter in haste on the very evening of Chayne's
visit, and had hurried out to post it in fear lest she might change her
mind in the morning. But in the morning she was only aware of a great
lightness of spirit. She could now devote herself to the work of her
life; and for two long tiring days she kept Walter Hine at her side. But
now he sought to avoid her. The little energy he had ever had was gone,
he alternated between exhilaration and depression; he preferred, it
seemed, to be alone. For two days, however, Sylvia persevered, and on the
third her lightness of spirit unaccountably deserted her.

She drove with Walter Hine that morning, and something of his own
irritability seemed to have passed into her; so that he turned to her
and asked:

"What have I done? Aren't you pleased with me? Why are you angry?"

"I am not angry," she replied, turning her great gray eyes upon him. "But
if you wish to know, I miss something."

So much she owned. She missed something, and she knew very well what it
was that she missed. Even as Chayne in his Sussex home had ached to know
that the house lacked a particular presence, so it began to be with
Sylvia in Dorsetshire.

"Yet he has been absent for a longer time," she argued with herself, "and
I have not missed him. Indeed, I have been glad of his absence." And the
answer came quickly from her thoughts.

"At any time you could have called him to your side, and you knew it. Now
you have sent him away for always."

During the week the sense of loss, the feeling that everything was
unbearably incomplete, grew stronger and stronger within her. She had no
heart for the losing battle in which she was engaged. A dangerous
question began to force itself forward in her mind whenever her eyes
rested upon Walter Hine. "Was he worth while?" she asked herself: though
as yet she did not define all that the "while" connoted. The question was
most prominent in her mind on the seventh day after the letter had been
sent. She had persuaded Walter Hine to mount with her on to the down
behind the house; they came to the great White Horse, and Hine, pleading
fatigue, a plea which during these last days had been ever on his lips,
flung himself down upon the grass. For a little time Sylvia sat idly
watching the great battle ships at firing-practice in the Bay. It was an
afternoon of August; a light haze hung in the still air softening the
distant promontories; and on the waveless sparkling sea the great ships,
coal-black to the eye, circled about the targets, with now and then a
roar of thunder and a puff of smoke, like some monstrous engines of
heat--heat stifling and oppressive. By sheer contrast, Sylvia began to
dream of the cool glaciers; and the Chalet de Lognan suddenly stood
visible before her eyes. She watched the sunlight die off the red rocks
of the Chardonnet, the evening come with silent feet across the snow, and
the starlit night follow close upon its heels; night fled as she dreamed.
She saw the ice-slope on the Aiguille d'Argentière, she could almost hear
the chip-chip of the axes as the steps were cut and the perpetual hiss as
the ice-fragments streamed down the slope. Then she looked toward Walter
Hine with the speculative inquiry which had come so often into her eyes
of late. And as she looked, she saw him furtively take from a pocket a
tabloid or capsule and slip it secretly into his mouth.

"How long have you been taking cocaine?" she asked, suddenly.

Walter Hine flushed scarlet and turned to her with a shrinking look.

"I don't," he stammered.

"Yet you left a bottle of the drug where I found it."

"That was not mine," said he, still more confused. "That was Archie
Parminter's. He left it behind."

"Yes," said Sylvia, finding here a suspicion confirmed. "But he left
it for you?"

"And if I did take it," said Hine, turning irritably to her, "what can it
matter to you? I believe that what your father says is true."

"What does he say?"

"That you care for Captain Chayne, and that it's no use for any one else
to think of you."

Sylvia started.

"Oh, he says that!"

She understood now one of the methods of the new intrigue. Sylvia was in
love with Chayne; therefore Walter Hine may console himself with cocaine.
It was not Garratt Skinner who suggested it. Oh, no! But Archie Parminter
is invited for the night, takes the drug himself, or pretends to take it,
praises it, describes how the use of it has grown in the West End and
amongst the clubs, and then conveniently leaves the drug behind, and no
doubt supplies it as it is required.

Sylvia began to dilate upon its ill-effects, and suddenly broke off. A
great disgust was within her and stopped her speech. She got to her feet.
"Let us go home," she said, and she went very quickly down the hill. When
she came to the house she ran up-stairs to her room, locked the door and
flung herself upon her bed. Walter Hine, her father, their plots and
intrigues, were swept clean from her mind as of no account. Her struggle
for the mastery became unimportant in her thoughts--a folly, a waste. For
what her father had said was true; she cared for Chayne. And what she
herself had said to Chayne when first he came to the House of the Running
Water was no less true. "If I loved, I think nothing else would count at
all except that I loved."

She had judged herself aright. She knew that, as she lay prone upon
her bed, plunged in misery, while the birds called upon the boughs in
the garden and the mill stream filled the room with its leaping music.
In a few minutes a servant knocked upon the door and told her that tea
was ready in the library; but she returned no answer. And in a few
minutes more--or so it seemed, but meanwhile the dusk had come--there
came another knock and she was told that dinner had been served. But
to that message again she returned no answer. The noises of the busy
day ceased in the fields, the birds were hushed upon the branches,
quiet and darkness took and refreshed the world. Only the throbbing
music of the stream beat upon the ears, and beat with a louder
significance, since all else was still. Sylvia lay staring wide-eyed
into the darkness. To the murmur of this music, in perhaps this very
room, she had been born. "Why," she asked piteously, "why?" Of what
use was it that she must suffer?

Of all the bad hours of her life, these were the worst. For the yearning
for happiness and love throbbed and cried at her heart, louder and
louder, just as the music of the stream swelled to importance with the
coming of the night. And she learned that she had had both love and
happiness within her grasp and that she had thrown them away for a
shadow. She thought of the letter which she had written, recalling its
phrases with a sinking heart.

"No man could forgive them. I must have been mad," she said, and she
huddled herself upon her bed and wept aloud.

She ran over in her mind the conversations which she and Hilary Chayne
had exchanged, and each recollection accused her of impatience and paid a
tribute to his gentleness. On the very first day he had asked her to go
with him and her heart cried out now:

"Why didn't I go?"

He had been faithful and loyal ever since, and she had called his
faithfulness importunity and his loyalty a humiliation. She struck a
match and looked at her watch and by habit wound it up. And she drearily
wondered on how many, many nights she would have to wind it up and
speculate in ignorance what he, her lover, was doing and in what corner
of the world, before the end of her days was reached. What would become
of her? she asked. And she raised the corner of a curtain and glanced at
the bright picture of what might have been. And glancing at it, the
demand for happiness raised her in revolt.

She lit her candle and wrote another letter, of the shortest. It
contained but these few words:

"Oh, please forgive me! Come back and forgive. Oh, you must!--SYLVIA."

And having written them, Sylvia stole quietly down-stairs, let herself
out at the door and posted them.

Two nights afterward she leaned out of her window at midnight, wondering
whether by the morrow's post she would receive an answer to her message.
And while she wondered she understood that the answer would not come that
way. For suddenly in the moonlit road beneath her, she saw standing the
one who was to send it. Chayne had brought his answer himself. For a
moment she distrusted her own eyes, believing that her thoughts had
raised this phantom to delude her. But the figure in the road moved
beneath her window and she heard his voice call to her:

"Sylvia! Sylvia!"



CHAPTER XIX

THE SHADOW IN THE ROOM


Sylvia raised her hand suddenly, enjoining silence, and turned back into
the room. She had heard a door slam violently within the house; and now
from the hall voices rose. Her father and Walter Hine were coming up
early to-night from the library, and it seemed in anger. At all events
Walter Hine was angry. His voice rang up the stairway shrill and violent.

"Why do you keep it from me? I will have it, I tell you. I am not a
child," and an oath or two garnished the sentences.

Sylvia heard her father reply with the patronage which never failed to
sting the vanity of his companion, which was the surest means to provoke
a quarrel, if a quarrel he desired.

"Go to bed, Wallie! Leave such things to Archie Parminter! You are
too young."

His voice was friendly, but a little louder than he generally used, so
that Sylvia clearly distinguished every word; so clearly indeed, that had
he wished her to hear, thus he would have spoken. She heard the two men
mount the stairs, Hine still protesting with the violence which had grown
on him of late; Garratt Skinner seeking apparently to calm him, and
apparently oblivious that every word he spoke inflamed Walter Hine the
more. She had a fear there would be blows--blows struck, of course, by
Hine. She knew the reason of the quarrel. Her father was depriving Hine
of his drug. They passed up-stairs, however, and on the landing above she
heard their doors close. Then coming back to the window she made a sign
to Chayne, slipped a cloak about her shoulders and stole quietly down the
dark stairs to the door. She unlocked the door gently and went out to her
lover. Upon the threshold she hesitated, chilled by a fear as to how he
would greet her. But he turned to her and in the moonlight she saw his
face and read it. There was no anger there. She ran toward him.

"Oh, my dear," she cried, in a low, trembling voice, and his arms
enclosed her. As she felt them hold her to him, and knew indeed that it
was he, her lover, whose lips bent down to hers, there broke from her a
long sigh of such relief and such great uplifting happiness as comes but
seldom, perhaps no more than once, in the life of any man or woman. Her
voice sank to a whisper, and yet was very clear and, to the man who heard
it, sweet as never music was.

"Oh, my dear, my dear! You have come then?" and she stroked his face, and
her hands clung about his neck to make very sure.

"Were you afraid that I wouldn't come, Sylvia?" he asked, with a low,
quiet laugh.

She lifted her face into the moonlight, so that he saw at once the tears
bright in her eyes and the smile trembling upon her lips.

"No," she said, "I rather thought that you would come," and she laughed
as she spoke. Or did she sob? He could hardly tell, so near she was to
both. "Oh, but I could not be sure! I wrote with so much unkindness," and
her eyes dropped from his in shame.

"Hush!" he said, and he held her close.

"Have you forgiven me? Oh, please forgive me!"

"Long since," said he.

But Sylvia was not reassured.

"Ah, but you won't forget," she said, ruefully. "One can forgive, but one
can't forget what one forgives," and then since, even in her remorse,
hope was uppermost with her that night, she cried, "Oh, Hilary, do you
think you ever will forget what I wrote to you?"

And again Chayne laughed quietly at her fears.

"What does it matter what you wrote a week ago, since to-night we are
here, you and I--together, in the moonlight, for all the world to see
that we are lovers."

She drew him quickly aside into the shadow of the wall.

"Are you afraid we should be seen?" he asked.

"No, but afraid we may be interrupted," she replied, with a clear trill
of laughter which showed to her lover that her fears had passed.

"The whole village is asleep, Sylvia," he said in a whisper; and as he
spoke a blind was lifted in an upper story of the house, a window was
flung wide, and the light streamed out from it into the moonlit air and
spread over their heads like a great, yellow fan. Walter Hine leaned his
elbows on the sill and looked out.

Sylvia moved deeper into the shadow.

"He cannot see us," said Chayne, with a smile, and he set his arm about
her waist; and so they stood very quietly.

The house was built a few yards back from the road, and on each side of
it the high wall of the garden curved in toward it, making thus an open
graveled space in front of its windows. Sylvia and her lover stood at one
of the corners where the wall curved in; the shadow reached out beyond
their feet and lay upon the white road in a black triangle; they could
hardly be seen from any window of the house, and certainly they could not
be recognized. But on the other hand they could see. From behind Walter
Hine the light streamed out clear. The ceiling of the room was visible
and the shadow of the lamp upon it, and even the top part of the door in
the far corner.

"We will wait until he turns back into the room," Sylvia whispered; and
for a little while they stood and watched. Then she felt Chayne's arm
tighten about her and hold her still.

"Do you see?" he cried, in a low, quick voice. "Sylvia, do you see?"

"What?"

"The door. Look! Behind him! The door!" And Sylvia, looking as he bade
her, started, and barely stifled the cry which rose to her lips. For
behind Walter Hine, the door in the far corner of the room was
opening--very slowly, very stealthily, as though the hand which opened it
feared to be detected. So noiselessly had the latch been loosed that
Walter Hine did not so much as turn his head. Nor did he turn it now. He
heard nothing. He leaned from the window with his elbows on the sill, and
behind him the gap between the door and the wall grew wider and wider.
The door opened into the room and toward the window, so that the two
people in the shadow below could see nothing of the intruder. But the
secrecy of his coming had something sinister and most alarming. Sylvia
joined her hands above her lover's arm, holding her breath.

"Shout to him!" she whispered. "Cry out that there's danger."

"Not yet!" said Chayne, with his eyes fixed upon the lighted room; and
then, in spite of herself, a low and startled cry broke from Sylvia's
lips. A great shadow had been suddenly flung upon the ceiling of the
room, the shadow of a man, bloated and made monstrous by the light. The
intruder had entered the room; and with so much stealth that his
presence was only noticed by the two who watched in the road below. But
even they could not see who the intruder was, they only saw the shadow
on the ceiling.

Walter Hine, however, heard Sylvia's cry, faint though it was. He leaned
forward from the window and peered down.

"Now!" said Sylvia. "Now!"

But Chayne did not answer. He was watching with an extraordinary
suspense. He seemed not to hear. And on the ceiling the shadow moved, and
changed its shape, now dwindling, now growing larger again, now
disappearing altogether as though the intruder stooped below the level of
the lamp; and once there was flung on the white plaster the huge image of
an arm which had something in its hand. Was the arm poised above the
lamp, on the point of smashing it with the thing it held? Chayne waited,
with a cry upon his lips, expecting each moment that the room would be
plunged in darkness. But the cry was not uttered, the arm was withdrawn.
It had not been raised to smash the lamp, the thing which the hand held
was for some other purpose. And once more the shadow appeared moving and
changing as the intruder crept nearer to the window. Sylvia stood
motionless. She had thought to cry out, now she was fascinated. A spell
of terror constrained her to silence. And then, suddenly, behind Walter
Hine there stood out clearly in the light the head and shoulders of
Garratt Skinner.

"My father," said Sylvia, in relief. Her clasp upon Chayne's arm relaxed;
her terror passed from her. In the revulsion of her feelings she laughed
quietly at her past fear. Chayne looked quickly and curiously at her.
Then as quickly he looked again to the window. Both men in the room were
now lit up by the yellow light; their attitudes, their figures were very
clear but small, like marionettes upon the stage of some tiny theater.
Chayne watched them with no less suspense now that he knew who the
intruder was. Unlike Sylvia he had betrayed no surprise when he had seen
Garratt Skinner's head and shoulders rise into view behind Walter Hine;
and unlike Sylvia, he did not relax his vigilance. Suddenly Garratt
Skinner stepped forward, very quickly, very silently. With one step he
was close behind his friend; and then just as he was about to move
again--it seemed to Sylvia that he was raising his arm, perhaps to touch
his friend upon the shoulder--Chayne whistled--whistled sharply, shrilly
and with a kind of urgency which Sylvia did not understand.

Walter Hine leaned forward out of the window. That was quite natural. But
on the other hand Garratt Skinner did nothing of the kind. To Sylvia's
surprise he stepped back, and almost out of sight. Very likely he thought
that he was out of sight. But to the watchers in the road his head was
just visible. He was peering over Walter Hine's shoulder.

Again Chayne whistled and, not content with whistling, he cried out in a
feigned bucolic accent:

"I see you."

At once Garratt Skinner's head disappeared altogether.

Walter Hine peered down into the darkness whence the whistle came,
curving his hands above his forehead to shut out the light behind him;
and behind him once more the shadow appeared upon the ceiling and the
wall. A third time Chayne whistled; and Walter Hine cried out:

"What is it?"

And behind him the shadow vanished from the ceiling and the door began to
close, softly and stealthily, just as softly and stealthily as it had
been opened.

Again, Hine cried out:

"Who's there? What is it?"

And Chayne laughed aloud derisively, as though he were some yokel
practising a joke. Hine turned back into the room. The room was empty,
but the door was unlatched. He disappeared from the window, and the
watchers below saw the door slammed to, heard the sound of the slamming
and then another sound, the sound of a key turning in the lock.

It seemed almost that Chayne had been listening for that sound. For he
turned at once to Sylvia.

"We puzzled them fairly, didn't we?" he said, with a smile. But the smile
somehow seemed hardly real, and his face was very white.

"It's the moonlight," he explained. "Come!"

They walked quietly through the silent village where the thick eaves of
the cottages threw their black shadows on the white moonlit road, past
the mill and the running water, to a gate which opened on the down.
They unlatched the gate noiselessly and climbed the bare slope of
grass. Half way up Chayne turned and looked down upon the house. There
was no longer any light in any window. He turned to Sylvia and slipped
his arm through hers.

"Come close," said he, and now there was no doubt the smile was real.
"Shall we keep step, do you think?"

"If we go always like this, we might," said Sylvia, with a smile.

"At times there will be a step to be cut, no doubt," said he.

"You once said that I could stand firm while the step was being cut," she
answered. Always at the back of both their minds, evident from time to
time in some such phrase as this, was the thought of the mountain upon
which their friendship had been sealed. Friendship had become love here
in the quiet Dorsetshire village, but in both their thoughts it had
another background--ice-slope and rock-spire and the bright sun over all.



CHAPTER XX

ON THE DOWN


Sylvia led the way to a little hollow just beneath the ridge of the
downs, a sheltered spot open to the sea. On the three other sides bushes
grew about it and dry branches and leaves deeply carpeted the floor. Here
they rested and were silent. Upon Sylvia's troubled heart there had
fallen a mantle of deep peace. The strife, the fears, the torturing
questions had become dim like the small griefs of childhood. Even the
incident of the lighted window vexed her not at all.

"Hilary," she said softly, lingering on the name, since to frame it and
utter it and hear her lips speaking it greatly pleased her, "Hilary," and
her hand sought his, and finding it she was content.

It was a warm night of August. Overhead the moon sailed in a cloudless
summer sky, drowning the stars. To the right, far below, the lamps of
Weymouth curved about the shore; and in front the great bay shimmered
like a jewel. Seven miles across it the massive bluff of Portland pushed
into the sea; and even those rugged cliffs were subdued to the beauty of
the night. Beneath them the riding-lights shone steady upon the masts of
the battle ships. Sylvia looked out upon the scene with an overflowing
heart. Often she had gazed on it before, and she marveled now how quickly
she had turned aside. Her eyes were now susceptible to beauty as they had
never been. There was a glory upon land and sea, a throbbing tenderness
in the warm air of which she had not known till now. It seemed to her
that she had lived until this night in a prison. Once the doors had been
set ajar for a little while--just for a night and a day in the quiet of
the High Alps. But only now had they been opened wide. Only to-night had
she passed through and looked forth with an unhindered vision upon the
world; and she discovered it to be a place of wonders and sweet magic.

"They were true, then," she said, with a smile on her lips.

"Of what do you speak?" asked Chayne.

"My dreams," Sylvia answered, knowing that she was justified of them.
"For I have come awake into the land of my dreams, and I know it at last
to be a real land, even to the sound of running water."

For from the hollow at her feet the music of the mill stream rose to her
ears through the still night, very clear and with a murmur of laughter.
Sylvia looked down toward it. She saw it flashing like a riband of silver
in the garden of the dark quiet house. There was no breath of wind in
that garden, and all the great trees were still. She saw the intricate
pattern of their boughs traced upon the lawn in black and silver.

"In that house I was born," she said softly, "to the noise of that
stream. I am very glad to know that in that house, too, my great
happiness has come to me."

Chayne leaned forward, and sitting side by side with Sylvia, gazed down
upon it with rapture. Oh, wonderful house where Sylvia was born! How much
the world owed to it!

"It was there!" he said with awe.

"Yes," replied Sylvia. She was not without a proper opinion of herself,
and it seemed rather a wonderful house to her, too.

"Perhaps on some such night as this," he said, and at once took the words
back. "No! You were born on a sunny morning of July and the blackbirds on
the branches told the good news to the blackbirds on the lawn, and the
stream took up the message and rippled it out to the ships upon the sea.
There were no wrecks that day."

Sylvia turned to him, her face made tender by a smile, her dark eyes kind
and bright.

"Hilary!" she whispered. "Oh, Hilary!"

"Sylvia!" he replied, mimicking her tone. And Sylvia laughed with the
clear melodious note of happiness. All her old life was whirled away upon
those notes of laughter. She leaned to her lover with a sigh of
contentment, her hair softly touching his cheek; her eyes once more
dropped to the still garden and the dark square house at the down's foot.

"There you asked me to marry you, to go away with you," she said, and she
caught his hand and held it close against her breast.

"Yes, there I first asked you," he said, and some distress, forgotten in
these first perfect moments, suddenly found voice. "Sylvia, why didn't
you come with me then? Oh, my dear, if you only had!"

But Sylvia's happiness was as yet too fresh, too loud at her throbbing
heart for her to mark the jarring note.

"I did not want to then," she replied lightly, and then tightening her
clasp upon his hand. "But now I do. Oh, Hilary, I do!"

"If only you had wanted then!"

Though he spoke low, the anguish of his voice was past mistaking. Sylvia
looked at him quickly and most anxiously; and as quickly she looked away.

"Oh, no," she whispered hurriedly.

Her happiness could not be so short-lived a thing. Her heart stood still
at the thought. It could not be that she had set foot actually within the
dreamland, to be forthwith cast out again. She thought of the last week,
its aching lonely hours. She needed her lover at her side, longed for him
with a great yearning, and would not let him go.

"I'll not listen, Hilary," she said stubbornly. "I will not hear! No";
and Chayne drew her close to his side.

"There is bad news, Sylvia."

The outcry died away upon her lips. The words crushed the rebellion in
her heart, they were so familiar. It seemed to her that all her life
bad news had been brought to her by every messenger. She shivered and
was silent, looking straight out across the moonlit sea. Then in a
small trembling voice, like a child's, she pleaded, still holding her
face averted:

"Don't go away from me, Hilary! Oh, please! Don't go away from me now!"

Her voice, her words, went to Chayne's heart. He knew that pride and a
certain reticence were her natural qualities. That she should throw aside
the one, break through the other, proved to him indeed how very much she
cared, how very much she needed him.

"Sylvia," he cried, "it will only be for a little while"; and again
silence followed upon his words.

Since bad news was to be imparted, strength was needed to bear it; and
habit had long since taught Sylvia that silence was the best nurse of
strength. She did not turn her face toward her lover; but she drooped her
head and clenched her hands tightly together upon her knees, nerving
herself for the blow. The movement, slight though it was, stirred Chayne
to pity and hurt him with an intolerable pain. It betrayed so
unmistakably the long habit of suffering. She sat silent, motionless,
with the dumb patience of a wounded animal.

"Oh, Sylvia, why did you not come with me on that first day?" he cried.

"Tell me your bad news, dear," she replied, gently.

"I cannot help it," he began in broken tones. "Sylvia, you will see that
there is no escape, that I must go. An appointment was offered to me--by
the War Office. It was offered to me, pressed on me, the day after I last
came here, the day after we were together in the library. I did not know
what to do. I did not accept it. But it seemed to me that each time I
came to see you we became more and more estranged. I was given two days
to make up my mind, and within the two days, my dear, your letter came,
telling me you did not wish to see me any more."

"Oh, Hilary!" she whispered.

"I accepted the appointment at once. There were reasons why I welcomed
it. It would take me abroad!"

"Abroad!" she cried.

"Yes, I welcomed that. To be near you and not to see you--to be near you
and know that others were talking with you, any one, every one except
me--to be near you and know that you were unhappy and in trouble, and
that I could not even tell you how deeply I was sorry--I dreaded that,
Sylvia. And yet I dreaded one thing more. Here, in England, at each turn
of the street, I should think to come upon you suddenly. To pass you as a
stranger, or almost as a stranger. No! I could not do it!"

"Oh, Hilary!" she whispered, and lifting his hand she laid it against
her cheek.

"So for a week I was glad. But this morning I received your second
letter, Sylvia. It came too late, my dear. There was no time to obtain a
substitute."

Sylvia turned to him with a startled face.

"When do you go?"

"Very soon."

"When?"

The words had to be spoken.

"To-morrow morning. I catch the first train from Weymouth to Southampton.
We sail from Southampton at noon."

Habit came again to her assistance. She turned away from him so that he
might not see her face, and he went on:

"Had there been more time, I could have made arrangements. Some one else
could have gone. As it is--" He broke off suddenly, and bending toward
her cried: "Sylvia, say that I must go."

But she could not bring herself to that. She was minded to hold with both
hands the good thing which had come to her this night. She shook her
head. He sought to turn her face to his, but she looked stubbornly away.

"And when will you return?" she asked.

"In a few months, Sylvia."

"When?"

"In June." And she counted off the months upon her fingers.

"So after to-night," she said, in a low voice, "I shall not see you any
more for all these months. The winter must pass, and the spring, too. Oh,
Hilary!" and she turned to him with a quivering face and whispered
piteously: "Don't go, my dear. Don't go!"

"Say that I must go!" he insisted, and she laughed with scorn. Then the
laughter ceased and she said:

"There will be danger?"

"None," he cried.

"Yes--from sickness, and--" her voice broke in a sob--"I shall not be
near."

"I will take great care, Sylvia. Be sure of that," he answered. "Now that
I have you, I will take great care," and leaning toward her, as she sat
with her hands clasped upon her knees, he touched her hair with his lips
very tenderly.

"Oh, Hilary, what will I do? Till you come back to me! What will I do?"

"I have thought of it, Sylvia. I thought this. It might be better if, for
these months--they will not pass quickly, my dear, either for you or me.
They will be long slow months for both of us. That's the truth, my dear.
But since they must be got through, I thought it might be better if you
went back to your mother."

Sylvia shook her head.

"It would be better," he urged, with a look toward the house.

"I can't do that. Afterward, in a year's time--when we are together, I
should like very much for us both to go to her. But my mother forbade it
when I went away from Chamonix. I was not to come whining back to her,
those were her words. We parted altogether that night."

She spoke with an extreme simplicity. There was neither an appeal for
pity nor a hint of any bitterness in her voice. But the words moved
Chayne all the more on that account. He would be leaving a very lonely,
friendless girl to battle through the months of his absence by herself;
and to battle with what? He was not sure. But he had not taken so lightly
the shadow on the ceiling and the opening door.

"If only you had come with me on that first day," he cried.

"I will have to-night to look back upon, my dear," she said. "That will
be something. Oh, if I had not asked you to come back! If you had gone
away and said nothing! What would I have done then? As it is, I will know
that you are thinking of me--" and suddenly she turned to him, and held
him away from her in a spasm of fear while her eyes searched his face.
But in a moment they melted and a smile made her lips beautiful. "Oh,
yes, I can trust you," she said, and she nestled against him contentedly
like a child.

For a little while they sat thus, and then her eyes sought the garden and
the house at her feet. It seemed that the sinister plot was not, after
all, to develop in that place of quiet and old peace without her for its
witness. It seemed that she was to be kept by some fatality
close-fettered to the task, the hopeless task, which she would now gladly
have foregone. And she wondered whether, after all, she was in some way
meant to watch the plot, perhaps, after all, to hinder it.

"Hilary," she said, "you remember that evening at the Chalet de Lognan?"

"Do I remember it?"

"You explained to me a law--that those who know must use their knowledge,
if by using it they can save a soul, or save a life."

"Yes," he said, vaguely remembering that he had spoken in this strain.

"Well, I have been trying to obey that law. Do you understand? I want you
to understand. For when I have been unkind, as I have been many times, it
was, I think, because I was not obeying it with very much success. And I
should like you to believe and know that. For when you are away, you will
remember, in spite of yourself, the times when I was bitter."

Her words made clear to him many things which had perplexed him during
these last weeks. Her friendship for Walter Hine became intelligible, and
as though to leave him no shadow of doubt, she went on.

"You see, I knew the under side of things, and I seemed to see the
opportunity to use the knowledge. So I tried to save"; and whether it was
life or soul, or both, she did not say. She did not add that so far she
had tried in vain; she did not mention the bottle of cocaine, or the
dread which of late had so oppressed her. She was careful of her lover.
Since he had to go, since he needs must be absent, she would spare him
anxieties and dark thoughts which he could do nothing to dispel. But even
so, he obtained a clearer insight into the distress which she had
suffered in that house, and the bravery with which she had borne it.

"Sylvia," he said, "I had no thought, no wish, that what I said should
stay with you."

"Yet it did," she answered, "and I was thankful. I am thankful even now.
For though I would gladly give up all the struggle now, if I had you
instead; since I have not you, I am thankful for the law. It was your
voice which spoke it, it came from you. It will keep you near to me all
through the black months until you come back. Oh, Hilary!" and the brave
argument spoken to enhearten herself and him ended suddenly in a most
wistful cry. Chayne caught her to him.

"Oh, Sylvia!" and he added: "The life is not yet saved!"

"Perhaps I am given to the summer," she answered, and then, with a
whimsical change of humor, she laughed tenderly. "Oh, but I wish I
wasn't. You will write? Letters will come from you."

"As often as possible, my dear. But they won't come often."

"Let them be long, then," she whispered, "very long," and she leaned her
head against his shoulder.

"Lie close, my dear," said he. "Lie close!"

For a while longer they talked in low voices to one another, the words
which lovers know and keep fragrant in their memories. The night, warm
and clear, drew on toward morning, and the passage of the hours was
unremarked. For both of them there was a glory upon the moonlit land and
sea which made of it a new world. And into this new world both walked for
the first time--walked in their youth and hand in hand. Each for the
first time knew the double pride of loving and being loved. In spite of
their troubles they were not to be pitied, and they knew it. The gray
morning light flooded the sky and turned the moon into a pale white disk.

"Lie close, my dear," said he. "It is not time."

In the trees in the garden below the blackbirds began to bustle amongst
the leaves, and all at once their clear, sweet music thrilled upward to
the lovers in the hollow of the down.

"Lie close, my dear," he repeated.

They watched the sun leap into the heavens and flash down the Channel in
golden light.

"The night has gone," said Chayne.

"Nothing can take it from us while we live," answered Sylvia, very
softly. She raised herself from her couch of leaves.

Then from one of the cottages in the tiny village a blue coil of smoke
rose into the air.

"It is time," said Chayne, and they rose and hand in hand walked down the
slope of the hill to the house. Sylvia unlatched the door noiselessly and
went in. Chayne stepped in after her; and in the silent hall they took
farewell of one another.

"Good-by, my dear," she whispered, with the tears in her eyes and in her
voice, and she clung to him a little and so let him go. She held the door
ajar until the sound of his footsteps had died away--and after that. For
she fancied that she heard them still, since, she so deeply wished to
hear them. Then with a breaking heart she went up the stairs to her room.



CHAPTER XXI

CHAYNE COMES TO CONCLUSIONS


"Six weeks ago I said good-by to the French Commission on the borders of
a great lake in Africa. A month ago I was still walking to the rail head
through the tangle of a forest's undergrowth," said Chayne, and he looked
about the little restaurant in King Street, St. James', as though to make
sure that the words he spoke were true. The bright lights, the red
benches against the walls, the women in their delicate gowns of lace, and
the jingle of harness in the streets without, made their appeal to one
who for the best part of a year had lived within the dark walls of a
forest. June had come round again, and Sylvia sat at his side.

"You shall tell me how these months have gone with you while we dine,"
said he. "Your letters told me nothing of your troubles."

"I did not mean them to," replied Sylvia.

"I guessed that, my dear. It was like you. Yet I would rather have
known."

Only a few hours before he had stood upon the deck of the Channel packet
and had seen the bows swing westward of Dover Castle and head toward the
pier. Would Sylvia be there, he had wondered, as he watched the cluster
of atoms on the quay, and in a little while he had seen her, standing
quite alone, at the very end of the breakwater that she might catch the
first glimpse of her lover. Others had traveled with them in the carriage
to London and there had been no opportunity of speech. All that he knew
was that she had been alone now for some weeks in the little house in
Hobart Place.

"One thing I see," he said. "You are not as troubled as you were. The
look of fear--that has gone from your eyes. Sylvia, I am glad!"

"There, were times," she answered--and as she thought upon them, terror
once more leapt into her face--"times when I feared more than ever, when
I needed you very much. But they are past now, Hilary," and her hand
dropped for a moment upon his, and her eyes brightened with a smile. As
they dined she told the story of those months.

"We returned to London very suddenly after you had gone away," she began.
"We were to have stayed through September. But my father said that
business called him back, and I noticed that he was deeply troubled."

"When did you notice that?" asked Chayne, quickly. "When did you first
notice it?"

Sylvia reflected for a moment.

"The day after you had gone."

"Are you sure?" asked Chayne, with a certain intensity.

"Quite."

Chayne nodded his head.

"I did not understand the reason of the hurry. And I was perplexed--and
also a little alarmed. Everything which I did not understand frightened
me in those days." She spoke as if "those days" and all their dark events
belonged to some dim period of which no consequence could reach her now.
"Our departure had almost the look of a flight."

"Yes," said Chayne. For his part he was not surprised at their flight. He
had passed more than one wakeful night during the last few months arguing
and arguing again whether or no he should have disclosed to Sylvia the
meaning of that softly opening door and the shadow on the ceiling as he
read it. He might have been wrong; if so, he would have added to Sylvia's
burden of troubles yet another, and one more terrible than all the rest.
He might have been right; and if so, he might have enabled Sylvia to
avert a tragedy. Thus the argument had revolved in a circle and left him
always in the same doubt. Now he understood that his explanation of the
incident had been confirmed. The loud whistle from the darkness of the
road, the yokel's cry, which had driven Garratt Skinner from the room, as
noiselessly as he had entered it, had done more than that--they had
driven him from the neighborhood altogether. Some one had seen him--had
seen him standing just behind Walter Hine in the lighted room--and on the
next day he had fled!

"I was right," he said, absently, "right to keep silent." For here was
Sylvia at his side and the dreaded peril unfulfilled. "Well, you returned
to London?" he added, hastily.

"Yes. There is something of which I did not tell you, that night when we
were together on the downs. Walter Hine had begun to take cocaine."

Chayne started.

"Cocaine!" he cried.

"Yes. My father taught him to take it."

"Your father," said Chayne, slowly, trying to fit this new and astounding
fact in with the rest. "But why?"

"I think I can tell you," said Sylvia. "My father knew quite well that he
had me working against him, trying to rescue Walter Hine out of his
hands. And I was beginning to get some power. He understood that, and
destroyed it. I was no match for him. I thought that I knew something of
the under side of life. But he knew more, ever so much more, and my
knowledge was of no avail. He taught Walter Hine the craving for cocaine,
and he satisfied the craving--there was his power. He provided the drug.
I do not know--I might perhaps have fought against my father and won. But
against my father and a drug I was helpless. My father obtained it in
sufficient quantity, withheld it at times, gave it at other times, played
with him, tantalized him, gratified him. You can understand there was
only one possible result. Walter Hine became my father's slave, his dog.
I no longer counted in his thoughts at all. I was nothing."

"Yes," said Chayne.

The device was subtle, diabolically subtle. But he wondered whether it
was only to counterbalance and destroy Sylvia's influence that Garratt
Skinner had introduced cocaine to Hine's notice; whether he had not had
in view some other end, even still more sinister.

"I saw very little of Mr. Hine after our return to London," she
continued. "He did not come often to the house, but when he did come,
each time I saw that he had changed. He had grown nervous and violent of
temper. Even before we left Dorsetshire the violence had become
noticeable."

"Oh!" said Chayne, looking quickly at Sylvia. "Before you left
Dorsetshire?"

"Yes; and my father seemed to me to provoke it, though I could not guess
why. For instance--"

"Yes?" said Chayne. "Tell me!"

He spoke quietly enough, but once again there was audible a certain
intensity in his voice. There had been an occasion when Sylvia had given
to him more news of Garratt Skinner than she had herself. Was she to do
so once more? He leaned forward with his eyes on hers.

"The night when you came back to me. Do you remember, Hilary?" and a
smile lightened his face.

"I shall forget no moment of that night, sweetheart, while I live," he
whispered; and blushes swept prettily over her face, and in a sweet
confusion she smiled back at him.

"Oh, Hilary!" she said.

"Oh, Sylvia!" he mimicked; and as they laughed together, it seemed there
was a danger that the story of the months of separation would never be
completed. But Chayne brought her back to it.

"Well? On that night when I came back?"

"I saw you in the road from my window, and then motioning you to be
silent, I disappeared from the window."

"Yes, I remember," said Chayne, eagerly. He began to think that the
cocaine was after all going to fit in with the incidents of that night.

"Walter Hine and my father were going up to bed. I heard them on the
stairs. They were going earlier than usual."

"You are sure?" interrupted Chayne. "Think well!"

"Much earlier than usual, and they were quarreling. At least, Walter Hine
was quarreling; and my father was speaking to him as if he were a child.
That hurt his vanity and made him worse."

"Your father was provoking him?"

Sylvia's forehead puckered.

"I could not say that, and be sure of it. But I can say this. If my
father had wished to provoke him to a greater anger, it's in that way
that he would have done it."

"Yes. I see."

"They were speaking loudly--even my father was--more loudly than
usual--especially at that time. For when they went up-stairs, they
usually went very quietly"; and again Chayne interrupted her.

"Your father might have wanted you to hear the quarrel?" he suggested.

Sylvia turned to him curiously.

"Why should he wish that?" she asked, and considered the point. "He might
have. Only, on the other hand, they were earlier than usual. They would
not be so careful to go quietly; I was likely to be still awake."

"Exactly," said Chayne.

For in the probability that Sylvia would be still awake, would hear the
violent words of Hine, and would therefore be an available witness
afterward, Chayne found the reason both of the loudness of Garratt
Skinner's tones and his early retirement for the night.

"Did you hear what was said? Can you repeat the words?" he asked.

"Yes. My father was keeping something from Mr. Hine which he wanted. I
have no doubt it was the cocaine," and she repeated the words.

"Yes," said Chayne. "Yes," in the tone of one who is satisfied. The
incident of the lighted room and the shadow on the ceiling were clear to
him now. A quarrel of which there was a witness, a quarrel all to the
credit of Garratt Skinner since it arose from his determination to hinder
Walter Hine from poisoning himself with drugs--at least, that is how the
evidence would work out; the quarrel continued in Walter Hine's bedroom,
whither Garratt Skinner had accompanied his visitor, a struggle begun for
the possession of the drug, begun by a man half crazy for want of it, a
blow in self-defence delivered by Garratt Skinner, perhaps a fall from
the window--that is how Chayne read the story of that night, as fashioned
by the ingenuity of Garratt Skinner.

But on one point he was still perplexed. The story had not been told out
to its end that night: there had come an unexpected shout, which had
interrupted it, and indeed forever had prevented its completion on that
spot. But why had it not been completed afterward, during the next few
months, somewhere else? It had not been completed. For here was Sylvia
with all her fears allayed, continuing the story of those months.

"But violence was not the only change in Walter Hine. There were some
physical alterations which frightened me. Mr. Hine, as I say, came very
seldom to our house, though my father saw a great deal of him. Otherwise
I should have noticed them before. But early this year he came and--you
remember he was fair--well, his skin had grown dark, quite dark, his
complexion had changed altogether. And there was something else which
shocked me. His tongue was black, really black. I asked him what was the
matter? He grew restless and angry and lied to me, and then he broke down
and told me he could not sleep. He slept for a few minutes only at a
time. He really was ill--very ill."

Was this the explanation, Chayne asked himself? Having failed at the
quick process, the process of the lighted room and the open window, had
Garratt Skinner left the drug to do its work slowly and surely?

"He was so weak, so broken in appearance, that I was alarmed. My father
was not in the house. I sent for a cab and I took Mr. Hine myself to a
doctor. The doctor knew at once what was amiss. For a time Mr. Hine said
'No,' but he gave in at the last. He was in the habit of taking thirty
grains of cocaine a day."

"Thirty grains!" exclaimed Chayne.

"Yes. Of course it could not go on. Death or insanity would surely
follow. He was warned of it, and for a while he went into a home. Then he
got better, and he determined to go abroad and travel."

"Who suggested that?" asked Chayne.

"I do not know. I know only that he refused to go without my father, and
that my father consented to accompany him."

Chayne was startled.

"They are away together now?" he cried. A look of horror in his eyes
betrayed his fear. He stared at Sylvia. Had she no suspicion--she
who knew something of the under side of life? But she quietly
returned his look.

"I took precautions. I told my father what I knew--not merely that Mr.
Hine had acquired the habit of taking cocaine, but who had taught him the
habit. Yes, I did that," she said simply, answering his look of
astonishment. "It was difficult, my dear, and I would very much have
liked to have had you there to help me through with it. But since you
were not there, since I was alone, I did it alone. I thought of you,
Hilary, while I was saying what I had to say. I tried to hear your voice
speaking again outside the Chalet de Lognan. 'What you know, that you
must do.' I warned my father that if any harm came to Walter Hine from
taking the drug again, any harm at all which I traced to my father, I
would not keep silent."

Chayne leaned back in his seat.

"You said that--to Garratt Skinner, Sylvia!" and the warmth of pride and
admiration in his voice brought the color to her cheeks and compensated
her for that bad hour. "You stood up alone and braved him out! My dear,
if I had only been there! And you never wrote to me a word of it!"

"It would only have troubled you," she answered. "It would not have
helped me to know that you were troubled!"

"And he--your father?" he asked. "How did he receive it?"

Sylvia's face grew pale, and she stared at the table-cloth as though she
could not for the moment trust her voice. Then she shuddered and said in
a low and shaking voice--so vivid was still the memory of that hour:

"I thought that I should never see you again."

She said no more. From those few words, and from the manner in which she
uttered them, Chayne had to build up the terrible scene which had taken
place between Sylvia and her father in the little back room of the house
in Hobart Place. He looked round the lighted room, listened to the ripple
of light voices, and watched the play of lively faces and bright eyes.
There was an incongruity between these surroundings and the words which
he had heard which shocked him.

"My dear, I'll make it up to you," he said. "Trust me, I will! There
shall be good hours, now. I'll watch you, till I know surely without
a word from you what you are thinking and feeling and wanting. Trust
me, dearest!"

"With all my heart and the rest of my life," she answered, a smile
responding to his words, and she resumed her story:

"I extracted from my father a promise that every week he should write to
me and tell me how Mr. Hine was and where they both were. And to that--at
last--he consented. They have been away together for two months, and
every week I have heard. So I think there is no danger."

Chayne did not disagree. But, on the other hand, he did not assent.

"I suppose Mr. Hine is very rich?" he said, doubtfully.

"No," replied Sylvia. "That's another reason why--I am not afraid." She
chose the words rather carefully, unwilling to express a deliberate
charge against her father. "I used to think that he was--in the
beginning when Captain Barstow won so much from him. But when the bets
ceased and no more cards were played--I used to puzzle over why they
ceased last year. But I think I have hit upon the explanation. My
father discovered then what I only found out a few weeks ago. I wrote
to Mr. Hine's grandfather, telling him that his grandson was ill, and
asking him whether he would not send for him. I thought that would be
the best plan."

"Yes, well?"

"Well, the grandfather answered me very shortly that he did not know his
grandson, that he did not wish to know him, and that they had nothing to
do with one another in any way. It was a churlish letter. He seemed to
think that I wanted to marry Mr. Hine," and she laughed as she spoke,
"and that I was trying to find out what we should have to live upon. I
suppose that it was natural he should think so. And I am so glad that I
wrote. For he told me that although Mr. Hine must eventually have a
fortune, it would not be until he himself died and that he was a very
healthy man. So you see, there could be no advantage to any one--" and
she did not finish the sentence.

But Chayne could finish it for himself. There could be no advantage to
any one if Walter Hine died. But then why the cocaine? Why the incident
of the lighted window?

"Yes," he said, in perplexity, "I can corroborate that. It happened that
my friend John Lattery, who was killed in Switzerland, was also
connected with Joseph Hine. He also would have inherited; and I knew
from him that the old man did not recognize his heirs. But--but Walter
Hine had money--some money, at all events. And he earned none. From whom
did he get it?"

Sylvia shook her head.

"I do not know."

"Had he no other relations, no friends?"

"None who would have made him an allowance."

Chayne pondered over that question. For in the answer to it he was
convinced he would find the explanation of the mystery. If money was
given to Walter Hine, who had apparently no rich relations but his
grandfather, and certainly no rich friends, it would have been given with
some object. To discover the giver and his object--that was the problem.

"Think! Did he never speak of any one?"

Sylvia searched her memories.

"No," she said. "He never spoke of his private affairs. He always led us
to understand that he drew an allowance from his grandfather."

"But your father found that that was untrue when you were in Dorsetshire,
ten months ago. For the card-playing and the bets ceased."

"Yes," Sylvia agreed thoughtfully. Then her face brightened. "I
remember a morning when Mr. Hine was in trouble. Wait a moment! He had
a letter. We were at breakfast and the letter came from Captain
Barstow. There was some phrase in the letter which Mr. Hine repeated.
'As between gentlemen'--that was it! I remember thinking at the time
what in the world Captain Barstow could know about gentlemen; and
wondering why the phrase should trouble Mr. Hine. And that morning Mr.
Hine went to London."

"Oh, did he?" cried Chayne. "'As between gentlemen.' Had Hine been losing
money lately to Captain Barstow?"

"Yes, on the day when you first came."

"The starlings," exclaimed Chayne in some excitement. "That's it--Walter
Hine owes money to Captain Barstow which he can't pay. Barstow writes for
it--a debt of honor between gentlemen--one can imagine the letter. Hine
goes up to London. Well, what then?"

Sylvia started.

"My father went to London two days afterward."

"Are you sure?"

It seemed to Chayne that they were getting hot in their search.

"Quite sure. For I remember that after his return his manner changed.
What I thought to be the new plot was begun. The cards disappeared, the
bets ceased, Mr. Parminter was brought down with the cocaine. I remember
it all clearly. For I always associated the change with my father's
journey to London. You came one evening--do you remember? You found me
alone and afraid. My father and Walter Hine were walking arm-in-arm in
the garden. That was afterward."

"Yes, you were afraid because there was no sincerity in that friendship.
Now let me get this right!"

He remained silent for a little while, placing the events in their due
order and interpreting them, one by the other.

"This is what I make of it," he said at length. "The man in London who
supplies Walter Hine with money finds that Walter Hine is spending too
much. He therefore puts himself into communication with Garratt Skinner,
of whom he has doubtless heard from Walter Hine. Garratt Skinner travels
to London, has an interview, and a concerted plan of action is agreed
upon, which Garratt Skinner proceeds to put in action."

He spoke so gravely that Sylvia turned anxiously toward him.

"What do you infer, then?" she asked.

"That we are in very deep and troubled waters, my dear," he replied, but
he would not be more explicit. He had no doubt in his mind that the
murder of Walter Hine had been deliberately agreed upon by Garratt
Skinner and the unknown man in London. But just as Sylvia had spared him
during his months of absence, so now he was minded to spare Sylvia. Only,
in order that he might spare her, in order that he might prevent shame
and distress greater than she had known, he must needs go on with his
questioning. He must discover, if by any means he could, the identity of
the unknown man who was so concerned in the destiny of Walter Hine.

"Of your father's friends, was there one who was rich? Who came to the
house? Who were his companions?"

"Very few people came to the house. There was no one amongst them who
fits in"; and upon that she started. "I wonder--" she said, thoughtfully,
and she turned to her lover. "After my father had gone away, I found a
telegram in a drawer in one of the rooms. There was no envelope, there
was just the telegram. So I opened it. It was addressed to my father. I
remember the words, for I did not know whether there was not something
which needed attention. It ran like this: 'What are you waiting for?
Hurry up.'"

"Was it signed?" asked Chayne.

"Yes. 'Jarvice,'" replied Sylvia.

"Jarvice," Chayne repeated; and he spoke it yet again, as though in some
vague way it was familiar to him. "What was the date of the telegram?"

"It had been sent a month before I found it. So I put it back into
the drawer."

"'What are you waiting for? Hurry up. Jarvice,'" said Chayne, slowly, and
then he remembered how and when he had come across the name of Jarvice
before. His face grew very grave.

"We are in deep waters, my dear," he said.

There had been trouble in his regiment, some years before, in which the
chief figures had been a subaltern and a money-lender. Jarvice was the
name of the money-lender--an unusual name. Just such a man would be
likely to be Garratt Skinner's confederate and backer. Chayne ran over
the story in his mind again, by this new light. It certainly strengthened
the argument that the Mr. Jarvice who sent the telegram was Mr. Jarvice,
the money-lender. Thus did Chayne work it out in his thoughts:

"Jarvice, for some reason unknown, pays Walter Hine an allowance. Walter
Hine gives it out that he receives it from his grandfather, whose heir
he undoubtedly is, and being a vain person much exaggerates the amount.
He falls into Garratt Skinner's hands, who, with the help of Barstow and
others, proceeds to pluck him. Walter Hine loses more than he has and
applies to Jarvice for more. Jarvice elicits the facts, and instead of
disclosing who Garratt Skinner is, and the obvious swindle of which Hine
is the victim, takes Garratt Skinner into his confidence. What happened
at the interview between Mr. Jarvice and Garratt Skinner in London the
subsequent facts make plain. At Jarvice's instigation the plot to
swindle Walter Hine becomes a cold-blooded plan to murder him. That plan
has been twice frustrated, once by me in Dorsetshire, and a second time
by Sylvia."

So far the story worked out naturally, logically. But there remained two
questions. For what reason did Mr. Jarvice make Walter Hine an allowance?
And how would Walter Hine's death profit him? Chayne pondered over those
two questions and then the truth flashed upon him. He remembered how the
subaltern had been extracted from his difficulties. Money had been raised
by a life insurance. Again Chayne ranged his facts in order.

"Walter Hine is the heir to great wealth. But he has no money now. Mr.
Jarvice makes him an allowance, the money to be repaid with a handsome
interest on the grandfather's death. But in order to insure Jarvice
from loss, if Walter Hine should die first, Walter Hine's life is
insured for a large sum. Thus Mr. Jarvice makes his position tenable
should his conduct be called in question. Having insured Walter Hine's
life, he arranges with Garratt Skinner to murder him. The attempt
failed the first time, the slower method is then adopted by Garratt
Skinner, and as a result comes the impatient telegram: 'What are you
waiting for? Hurry up!'"

The case was thus so far clear. But anxiety remained. Was the plan
abandoned altogether, now that Sylvia had stood bravely up and warned her
father that she would not keep silent? So certainly Sylvia thought. But
then she did not know all that Chayne knew. It seemed that she had not
understood the incident of the lighted window. Nor was Chayne surprised.
For she was unaware of what was in Chayne's eyes the keystone of the
whole argument. She did not know that her father had worked as a convict
in the Portland quarries.

"So they are abroad together, your father and Walter Hine," said
Chayne, slowly.

"Yes!" replied Sylvia, with a smile. "Guess where they are now!" and she
turned to him with a tender look upon her face which he did not
understand.

"I can't guess."

"At Chamonix!"

She saw her lover flinch, his face grow white, his eyes stare in horror.
And she wondered. For her the little town, overtopped by its tumbled
glittering fields of snow and tall rock spires was a place apart. She
cherished it in her memories, keeping clear and distinct the windings of
its streets, where they narrowed, where they broadened into open spaces;
yet all the while her thoughts transformed it, and made of its mere
stones and bricks a tiny city magical with light and grace. For while she
stayed in it her happiness had dawned and she saw it always roseate with
that dawn. It seemed to her that plots and thoughts of harm could there
hardly outlive one starlit night, one sunlit day. Had she mapped out her
father's itinerary, thither and nowhere else would she have sent him.

"You are afraid?" she asked. "Hilary, why?"

Chayne did not answer her question. He was minded to spare her, even as
she had spared him. He talked of other things until the restaurant grew
empty and the waiters began to turn out the lights as a hint to these two
determined loiterers. Then in the darkness, for now there was but one
light left, and that at a little distance from their table, Chayne leaned
forward and turning to Sylvia, as they sat side by side:

"You have been happy to-night?"

"Very," she answered, and there was a thrill of joyousness in her clear,
low voice, as though her heart sang within her. Her eyes rested on his
with pride. "No man could quite understand," she said.

"Well then, why should we wait longer, Sylvia?" he said. "We have waited
long enough, my dear. We have after all no one but ourselves to please. I
should like our marriage to take place as soon as possible."

Sylvia answered him without affectation.

"I, too," she whispered.

"To-morrow then! I'll get a special license to-morrow morning, and make
the arrangements. We can go away together at once."

Sylvia smiled, and the smile deepened into a laugh.

"Where shall we go, Hilary?" she cried. "To some perfect place."

"To Chamonix," he answered. "That was where we first met. There could be
no better place. We can just go and tell your father what we have done
and then go up into the hills."

It was well done. He spoke without wakening Sylvia's suspicions. She had
never understood the episode of the lighted window; she did not know
that her father was Gabriel Strood, of whose exploits in the Alps she
had read; she believed that all danger to Walter Hine was past. Chayne
on the other hand knew that hardly at any time could Hine have stood in
greater peril. To Chamonix he must go; and to Chamonix he must take
Sylvia too. For by the time when he could reach Chamonix, he might
already be too late. There might be publicity, inquiries, and for
Garratt Skinner ruin, and worse than ruin. Would Sylvia let her lover
share the dishonor of her name? He knew very surely she would not.
Therefore he would have the marriage.

"By the way," he said, as he draped her cloak about her shoulders. "You
have that telegram from Jarvice?"

"Yes."

"That's good," he said. "It might be useful."



CHAPTER XXII

REVAILLOUD REVISITED


Never that familiar journey across France seemed to Chayne so slow. Would
he be in time? Would he arrive too late? The throb of the wheels beat out
the questions in a perpetual rhythm and gave him no answer. The words of
Jarvice's telegram were ever present in his mind, and grew more sinister,
the more he thought upon them. "What are you waiting for? Hurry up!"
Once, when the train stopped over long as it seemed to him he muttered
the words aloud and then glanced in alarm at his wife, lest perchance she
had overheard them. But she had not. She was remembering her former
journey along this very road. Then it had been night; now it was day.
Then she had been used to seek respite from her life in the shelter of
her dreams. Now the dreams were of no use, since what was real made them
by comparison so pale and thin. The blood ran strong and joyous in her
veins to-day; and looking at her, Chayne sent up his prayers that they
might not arrive in Chamonix too late. To him as to her Walter Hine was a
mere puppet, a thing without importance--so long as he lived. But he must
live. Dead, he threatened ruin and dishonor, and since from the beginning
Sylvia and he had shared--for so she would have it--had shared in the
effort to save this life, it would be well for them, he thought that they
should not fail.

The long hot day drew to an end, and at last from the platform at the end
of the electric train they saw the snow-fields lift toward the soaring
peaks, and the peaks purple with the after glow stand solitary and
beautiful against the evening sky.

"At last!" said Sylvia, with a catch in her breath, and the clasp of her
hand tightened upon her husband's arm. But Chayne was remembering certain
words once spoken to him in a garden of Dorsetshire, by a man who lay
idly in a hammock and stared up between the leaves. "On the most sunny
day, the mountains hold in their recesses mystery and death."

"You know where your father is staying?" Chayne asked.

"He wrote from the Hôtel de l'Arve," Sylvia replied.

"We will stay at Couttet's and walk over to see him this evening," said
Chayne, and after dinner they strolled across the little town. But at
the Hôtel de l'Arve they found neither Garratt Skinner nor his friend,
Walter Hine.

"Only the day before yesterday," said the proprietor, "they started for
the mountains. Always they make expeditions."

Chayne drew no satisfaction from that statement. Garratt Skinner and his
friend would make many expeditions from which both men would return in
safety. Garratt Skinner was no blunderer. And when at the last he
returned alone with some flawless story of an accident in which his
friend had lost his life, no one would believe but that here was another
mishap, and another name to be added to the Alpine death-roll.

"To what mountain have they gone?" Chayne asked.

"To no mountain to-day. They cross the Col du Géant, monsieur, to
Courmayeur. But after that I do not know."

"Oh, into Italy," said Chayne, in relief. So far there was no danger. The
Col du Géant, that great pass between France and Italy across the range
of Mont Blanc, was almost a highway. There would be too many parties
abroad amongst its ice séracs on these days of summer for any deed which
needed solitude and secrecy.

"When do you expect them back?"

"In five days, monsieur; not before." And at this reply Chayne's fears
were all renewed. For clearly the expedition was not to end with the
passage of the Col du Géant. There was to be a sequel, perhaps some
hazardous ascent, some expedition at all events which Garratt Skinner had
not thought fit to name.

"They took guides, I suppose," he said.

"One guide, monsieur, and a porter. Monsieur need not fear. For Monsieur
Skinner is of an excellence prodigious."

"My father!" exclaimed Sylvia, in surprise. "I never knew."

"What guide?" asked Chayne.

"Pierre Delouvain"; and so once again Chayne's fears were allayed. He
turned to Sylvia.

"A good name, sweetheart. I never climbed with him, but I know him
by report. A prudent man, as prudent as he is skilful. He would run
no risks."

The name gave him indeed greater comfort than even his words expressed.
Delouvain's mere presence would prevent the commission of any crime. His
great strength would not be needed to hinder it. For he would be there,
to bear witness afterward. Chayne was freed from the dread which during
the last two days had oppressed him. Perhaps after all Sylvia was right
and the plot was definitely abandoned. Chayne knew very well that Garratt
Skinner's passion for the Alps was a deep and real one. Perhaps it was
that alone which had brought him back to Chamonix. Perhaps one day in the
train, traveling northward from Italy, he had looked from the window and
seen the slopes of Monte Rosa white in the sun--white with the look of
white velvet--and all the last twenty years had fallen from him like a
cloak, and he had been drawn back as with chains to the high playground
of his youth. Chayne could very well understand that possibility, and
eased of his fears he walked away with Sylvia back to the open square in
the middle of the town. Darkness had come, and both stopped with one
accord and looked upward to the massive barrier of hills. The rock peaks
stood sharply up against the clear, dark sky, the snow-slopes glimmered
faintly like a pale mist, and incredibly far, incredibly high, underneath
a bright and dancing star, shone a dim and rounded whiteness, the
snow-cap of Mont Blanc.

"A year ago," said Sylvia, drawing a breath and bethinking her of the
black shadows which during those twelve months had lain across her path.

"Yes, a year ago we were here," said Chayne. The little square was
thronged, the hotels and houses were bright with lights, and from here
and from there music floated out upon the air, the light and lilting
melodies of the day. "Sylvia, you see the café down the street there by
the bridge?"

"Yes."

"A year ago, on just such a night as this, I sat with my guide, Michel
Revailloud. I was going to cross the Col Dolent on the morrow. He had
made his last ascent. We were not very cheerful. And he gave me as a
parting present the one scrap of philosophy his life had taught him. He
said: 'Take care that when the time comes for you to get old that you
have some one to share your memories. Take care that when you go home in
the end, there shall be some one waiting in the room and the lamp lit
against your coming.'"

Sylvia pressed against her side the hand which he had slipped
through her arm.

"But he did more than give advice," Chayne continued, "for as he went
away to his home in the little village of Les Praz-Conduits, just across
the fields, he passed Couttet's Hotel and saw you under the lamp talking
to a guide he knew. You were making your arrangements to ascend the
Charmoz. But he dissuaded you."

"Yes."

"He convinced you that your first mountain should be the Aiguille
d'Argentière. He gave you no doubt many reasons, but not the real one
which he had in his thoughts."

Sylvia looked at Chayne in surprise.

"He sent you to the Aiguille d'Argentière, because he knew that so you
and I would meet at the Pavilion de Lognan."

"But he had never spoken to me until that night," exclaimed Sylvia.

"Yet he had noticed you. When I went up to fetch down my friend Lattery,
you were standing on the hotel step. You said to me, 'I am sorry.' Michel
heard you speak, and that evening talked of you. He had the thought that
you and I were matched."

Sylvia looked back to the night before her first ascent. She pictured
to herself the old guide coming down the narrow street and out of the
darkness into the light of the lamp above the doorway. She recalled
how he had stopped at the sight of her, how cunningly he had spoken.
He had desired that her last step on to her first summit should bring
to her eyes and soul a revelation which no length of after years could
dim. That was the argument, and it was just the argument which would
prevail with her.

"So it was his doing," she cried, with a laugh, and at once grew serious,
dwelling, as lovers will, upon the small accident which had brought them
together, and might so easily never have occurred. An unknown guide
speaks to her in a doorway, and lo! for her the world is changed, dark
years come to an end, the pathway broadens to a road; she walks not
alone. Whatever the future may hold--she walks not alone. Suppose there
had been no lamp above the doorway! Suppose there had been a lamp and she
not there! Suppose the guide had passed five minutes sooner or five
minutes later!

"Oh, Hilary!" she cried, and put the thought from her.

"I was thinking," he said, "that if you were not tired we might walk
across the fields to Michel's house. He would, I think, be very happy
if we did."

A few minutes later they knocked upon Michel's door. Michel Revailloud
opened it himself and stood for a moment peering at the dim figures in
the darkness of the road.

"It is I, Michel," said Chayne, and at the sound of his voice Michel
Revailloud drew him with a cry of welcome into the house.

"So you have come back to Chamonix, monsieur! That is good"; and he
looked his "monsieur" over from head to foot and shook him warmly by the
hand. "Ah, you have come back!"

"And not alone, Michel," said Chayne.

Revailloud turned to the door and saw Sylvia standing there. She was on
the threshold and the light reached to her. Sylvia moved into the
low-roofed room. It was a big, long room, bare, and with a raftered
ceiling, and since one oil lamp lighted it, it was full of shadows. To
Chayne it had a lonely and a dreary look. He thought of his own house in
Sussex and of the evening he had passed there, thinking it just as
lonely. He felt perhaps at this moment, more than at any, the value of
the great prize which he had won. He took her hand in his, and, turning
to Michel, said simply:

"We are married, Michel. We reached Chamonix only this evening. You are
the first of our friends to know of our marriage."

Michel's face lighted up. He looked from one to the other of his visitors
and nodded his head once or twice. Then he blew his nose vigorously. "But
I let you stand!" he cried, in a voice that shook a little, and he
bustled about pushing chairs forward, and of a sudden stopped. He came
forward to Sylvia very gravely and held out his hand. She put her hand
into his great palm.

"Madame, I will not pretend to you that I am not greatly moved. This is a
great happiness to me," he said with simplicity. He made no effort to
hide either the tears which filled his eyes or the unsteadiness of his
voice. "I am very glad for the sake of Monsieur Chayne. But I know him
well. We have been good friends for many a year, madame."

"I know, Michel," she said.

"And I can say therefore with confidence I am very glad for your sake
too. I am also very glad for mine. A minute ago I was sitting here
alone--now you are both here and together. Madame, it was a kind thought
which brought you both here to me at once."

"To whom else should we come?" said Sylvia with a smile, "since it was
you, Michel, who would not let me ascend the Aiguille des Charmoz when I
wanted to."

Michel was taken aback for a moment; then his wrinkled and
weatherbeaten face grew yet more wrinkled and he broke into a low and
very pleasant laugh.

"Since my diplomacy has been so successful, madame, I will not deny it.
From the first moment when I heard you with your small and pretty voice
say on the steps of the hotel 'I am sorry' to my patron in his great
distress, and when I saw your face, too thoughtful for one so young, I
thought it would be a fine thing if you and he could come together. In
youth to be lonely--what is it? You slip on your hat and your cloak and
you go out. But when you are old, and your habits are settled, and you do
not want to go out at nights to search for company, then it is as well to
have a companion. And it is well to choose your companion in your youth,
madame, so that you may have many recollections to talk over together
when the good of life is chiefly recollection."

He made his visitors sit down, fetched out a bottle of wine and offered
them the hospitalities of his house, easily and naturally, like the true
gentleman he was. It seemed to Chayne that he looked a little older, that
he was a little more heavy in his gait, a little more troubled with his
eyes than he had been last year. But at all events to-night he had the
spirit, the good-humor of his youth. He talked of old exploits upon peaks
then unclimbed, he brought out his guide's book, in which his messieurs
had written down their names and the dates of the climbs, and the
photographs which they had sent to him.

"There are many photographs of men grown famous, madame," he said,
proudly, "with whom I had the good fortune to climb when they and I and
the Alps were all young together. But it is not only the famous who are
interesting. Look, madame! Here is your husband's friend, Monsieur
Lattery--a good climber but not always very sure on ice."

"You always will say that, Michel," protested Chayne. "I never knew a man
so obstinate."

Michel Revailloud smiled and said to Sylvia:

"I knew he would spring out on me. Never say a word against Monsieur
Lattery if you would keep friends with Monsieur Chayne. See, I give you
good advice in return for your kindness in visiting an old man.
Nevertheless," and he dropped his voice in a pretence of secrecy and
nodded emphatically: "It is true. Monsieur Lattery was not always sure on
ice. And here, madame, is the portrait of one whose name is no doubt
known to you in London--Professor Kenyon."

Sylvia, who was turning over the leaves of the guide's little book,
looked up at the photograph.

"It was taken many years ago," she said.

"Twenty or twenty-five years ago," said Michel, with a shrug of the
shoulders, "when he and I and the Alps were young."

Chayne began quickly to look through the photographs outspread upon the
table. If Kenyon's portrait was amongst Revailloud's small treasures,
there might be another which he had no wish for his wife to see, the
portrait of the man who climbed with Kenyon, who was Kenyon's "John
Lattery." There might well be the group before the Monte Rosa Hotel in
Zermatt which he himself had seen in Kenyon's rooms. Fortunately however,
or so it seemed to him, Sylvia was engrossed in Michel's little book.



CHAPTER XXIII

MICHEL REVAILLOUD'S FÜHRBUCH


The book indeed was of far more interest to her than the portrait of any
mountaineer. It had a romance, a glamour of its own. It was just a
little note-book with blue-lined pages and an old dark-red soiled
leather cover which could fit into the breast pocket and never be
noticed there. But it went back to the early days of mountaineering when
even the passes were not all discovered and many of them were still
uncrossed, when mythical peaks were still gravely allotted their
positions and approximate heights in the maps; and when the easy
expedition of the young lady of to-day was the difficult achievement of
the explorer. It was to the early part of the book to which she turned.
Here she found first ascents of which she had read with her heart in her
mouth, ascents since made famous, simply recorded in the handwriting of
the men who had accomplished them--the dates, the hours of starting and
returning, a word or two perhaps about the condition of the snow, a warm
tribute to Michel Revailloud and the signatures. The same names recurred
year after year, and often the same hand recorded year after year
attempts on one particular pinnacle, until at the last, perhaps after
fifteen or sixteen failures, weather and snow and the determination of
the climbers conspired together, and the top was reached.

"Those were the grand days," cried Sylvia. "Michel, you must be proud of
this book."

"I value it very much, madame," he said, smiling at her enthusiasm.
Michel was a human person; and to have a young girl with a lovely face
looking at him out of her great eyes in admiration, and speaking almost
in a voice of awe, was flattery of a soothing kind. "Yes, many have
offered to buy it from me at a great price--Americans and others. But I
would not part with it. It is me. And when I am inclined to grumble, as
old people will, and to complain that my bones ache too sorely, I have
only to turn over the pages of that book to understand that I have no
excuse to grumble. For I have the proof there that my life has been very
good to live. No, I would not part with that little book."

Sylvia turned over the pages slowly, naming now this mountain, now that,
and putting a question from time to time as to some point in a climb
which she remembered to have read and concerning which the narrative had
not been clear. And then a cry of surprise burst from her lips.

Chayne had just assured himself that there was no portrait of Gabriel
Strood amongst those spread out upon the table.

"What is it, madame?" asked Michel.

Sylvia did not answer, but stared in bewilderment at the open page.
Chayne saw the book which she was reading and knew that his care lest she
should come across her father's portrait was of no avail. He crossed
round behind her chair and looked over her shoulder. There on the page in
her father's handwriting was the signature: "Gabriel Strood."

Sylvia raised her face to Hilary's, and before she could put her question
he answered it quietly with a nod of the head.

"Yes, that is so," he said.

"You knew?"

"I have known for a long time," he replied.

Sylvia was lost in wonder. Yet there was no doubt in her mind. Gabriel
Strood, of whom she had made a hero, whose exploits she knew almost by
heart, had suffered from a physical disability which might well have
kept the most eager mountaineer to the level. It was because of his
mastery over his disability that she had set him so high in her esteem.
Well, there had been a day when her father had tramped across the downs
to Dorchester and had come back lame and in spite of his lameness had
left his companions behind. Other trifles recurred to her memory. She
had found him reading "The Alps in 1864," and yes--he had tried to hide
from her the title of the book. On their first meeting he had understood
at once when she had spoken to him of the emotion which her first
mountain peak had waked in her. And before that--yes, her guide had
cried aloud to her, "You remind me of Gabriel Strood." She owed it to
him that she had turned to the Alps as to her heritage, and that she had
brought to them an instinctive knowledge. Her first feeling was one of
sheer pride in her father. Then the doubts began to thicken. He called
himself Garratt Skinner.

"Why? But why?" she cried, impulsively, and Chayne, still leaning on her
chair, pressed her arm with his hand and warned her to be silent.

"I will tell you afterward," he said, quietly, and then he suddenly drew
himself upright. The movement was abrupt like the movement of a man
thoroughly startled--more startled even than she had been by the
unexpected sight of her father's handwriting. She looked up into his
face. He was staring at the open page of Michel's book. She turned back
to it herself and saw nothing which should so trouble him. Over Gabriel
Strood's signature there were just these words written in his hand and
nothing more:

"Mont Blanc by the Brenva route. July, 1868."

Yet it was just that sentence which had so startled Hilary. Gabriel
Strood _had_ then climbed Mont Blanc from the Italian side--up from the
glacier to the top of the great rock-buttress, then along the
world-famous ice-arête, thin as a knife edge, and to right and left
precipitous as a wall, and on the far side above the ice-ridge up the
hanging glaciers and the ice-cliffs to the summit of the Corridor. From
the Italian side of the range of Mont Blanc! And the day before yesterday
Gabriel Strood had crossed with Walter Hine to Italy, bound upon some
expedition which would take five days, five days at the least.

It was to the Brenva ascent of Mont Blanc that Garratt Skinner was
leading Walter Hine! The thought flashed upon Chayne swift as an
inspiration and as convincing. Chayne was sure. The Brenva route! It
was to this climb Garratt Skinner's thoughts had perpetually recurred
during that one summer afternoon in the garden in Dorsetshire, when he
had forgotten his secrecy and spoken even with his enemy of the one
passion they had in common. Chayne worked out the dates and they fitted
in with his belief. Two days ago Garratt Skinner started to cross the
Col du Géant. He would sleep very likely in the hut on the Col, and go
down the next morning to Courmayeur and make his arrangements for the
Brenva climb. On the third day, to-day, he would set out with Walter
Hine and sleep at the gîte on the rocks in the bay to the right of the
great ice-fall of the Brenva glacier. To-morrow he would ascend the
buttress, traverse the ice-ridge with Walter Hine--perhaps--yes, only
perhaps--and at that thought Chayne's heart stood still. And even if he
did, there were the hanging ice-cliffs above, and yet another day would
pass before any alarm at his absence would be felt. Surely, it would be
the Brenva route!

Garratt Skinner himself would run great risk upon this hazardous
expedition--that was true. But Chayne knew enough of the man to be
assured that he would not hesitate on that account. The very audacity of
the exploit marked it out as Gabriel Strood's. Moreover, there would be
no other party on the Brenva ridge to spy upon his actions. There was
just one fact so far as Chayne could judge to discredit his
inspiration--the inconvenient presence of a guide.

"Do you know a guide Delouvain, Michel?"

"Indeed, yes! A good name, monsieur, and borne by a man worthy of it."

"So I thought," said Chayne. "Pierre Delouvain," and Michel laughed
scornfully and waved the name away.

"Pierre! No, indeed!" he cried. "Monsieur, never engage Pierre Delouvain
for your guide. I speak solemnly. Joseph--yes, and whenever you can
secure him. I thought you spoke of him. But Pierre, he is a cousin who
lives upon Joseph's name, a worthless fellow, a drunkard. Monsieur, never
trust yourself or any one whom you hold dear with Pierre Delouvain!"

Chayne's last doubt was dispelled. Garratt Skinner had laid his plans for
the Brenva route. Somewhere on that long and difficult climb the accident
was to take place. The very choice of a guide was in itself a
confirmation of Chayne's fears. It was a piece of subtlety altogether in
keeping with Garratt Skinner. He had taken a bad and untrustworthy guide
on one of the most difficult expeditions in the range of Mont Blanc. Why,
he would be asked? And the answer was ready. He had confused Pierre
Delouvain with Joseph, his cousin, as no doubt many another man had done
before. Did not Pierre live on that very confusion? The answer was not
capable of refutation.

Chayne was in despair. Garratt Skinner had started two days before from
Chamonix, was already, now, at this moment, asleep, with his unconscious
victim at his side, high up on the rocks of the upper Brenva glacier.
There was no way to hinder him--no way unless God helped. He asked
abruptly of Michel:

"Have you climbed this season, Michel?"

Michel laughed grimly.

"Indeed, yes, to the Montanvert, monsieur. And beyond--yes, beyond, to
the Jardin."

Chayne broke in upon his bitter humor.

"I want the best guide in Chamonix. I want him at once. I must start by
daylight."

Michel glanced up in surprise. But what he saw in Chayne's face stopped
all remonstrance.

"For what ascent, monsieur?" he asked.

"The Brenva route."

"Madame will not go!"

"No, I go alone. I must go quickly. There is very much at stake. I beg
you to help me."

In answer Michel took his hat down from a peg, and while he did so Chayne
turned quickly to his wife. She had risen from her chair, but she had not
interrupted him, she had asked no questions, she had uttered no prayer.
She stood now, waiting upon him with a quiet and beautiful confidence
which deeply stirred his heart.

"Thank you, sweetheart!" he said, quietly. "You can trust. I thank you,"
and he added, gravely: "Whatever happens--you and I--there is no
altering that."

Michel opened the door.

"I will walk with you into Chamonix, and I will bring the best guides I
can find to your hotel."

They passed out, and crossed the fields quickly to Chamonix.

"Do you go to your hotel, monsieur," said Revailloud, "and leave the
choice to me. I must go about it quietly. If you were to come with me, we
should have to choose the first two guides upon the rota and that would
not do for the Brenva climb."

He left them at the door of the hotel and went off upon his errand.
Sylvia turned at once to Hilary; her face was very pale, her voice shook.

"You will tell me everything now. Something terrible has happened. No
doubt you feared it. You came to Chamonix because you feared it, and now
you know that it has happened."

"Yes," said Chayne. "I hid it from you even as you spared me your bad
news all this last year."

"Tell me now, please. If it is to be 'you and I,' as you said just now,
you will tell me."

Chayne led the way into the garden, and drawing a couple of chairs apart
from the other visitors told her all that he knew and she did not. He
explained the episode of the lighted window, solved for her the riddle of
her father's friendship for Walter Hine, and showed her the reason for
this expedition to the summit of Mont Blanc.

She uttered one low cry of horror. "Murder!" she whispered.

"To think that we are two days behind, that even now they are sleeping on
the rocks, _he_ and Walter Hine, sleeping quite peacefully and quietly.
Oh, it's horrible!" he cried, beating his hands upon his forehead in
despair, and then he broke off. He saw that Sylvia was sitting with her
hands covering her face, while every now and then a shudder shook her and
set her trembling.

"I am so sorry, Sylvia," he cried. "Oh, my dear, I had so hoped we should
be in time. I would have spared you this knowledge if I could. Who knows?
We may be still in time," and as he spoke Michel entered the garden with
one other man and came toward him.

"Henri Simond!" said Michel, presenting his companion. "You will know
that name. Simond has just come down from the Grépon, monsieur. He will
start with you at daylight."

Chayne looked at Simond. He was of no more than the middle height, but
broad of shoulder, deep of chest, and long of arm. His strength was well
known in Chamonix--as well known as his audacity.

"I am very glad that you can come, Simond," said Chayne. "You are the
very man;" and then he turned to Michel. "But we should have another
guide. I need two men."

"Yes," said Michel. "Three men are needed for that climb," and Chayne
left him to believe that it was merely for the climb that he needed
another guide. "But there is André Droz already at Courmayeur," he
continued. "His patron was to leave him there to-day. A telegram can be
sent to him to-morrow bidding him wait. If he has started, we shall meet
him to-morrow on the Col du Géant. And Droz, monsieur, is the man for
you. He is quick, as quick as you and Simond. The three of you together
will go well. As for to-morrow, you will need no one else. But if you do,
monsieur, I will go with you."

"There is no need, Michel," replied Chayne, gratefully, and thereupon
Sylvia plucked him by the sleeve.

"I must go with you to-morrow, Hilary," she pleaded, wistfully. "Oh, you
won't leave me here. Let me come with you as far as possible. Let me
cross to Italy. I will go quick. If I get tired, you shall not know."

"It will be a long day, Sylvia."

"It cannot be so long as the day I should pass waiting here."

She wrung her hands as she spoke. The light from a lamp fixed in the
hotel wall fell upon her upturned face. It was white, her lips trembled,
and in her eyes Chayne saw again the look of terror which he had hoped
was gone forever. "Oh, please," she whispered.

"Yes," he replied, and he turned again to Simond. "At two o'clock then.
My wife will go, so bring a mule. We can leave it at the Montanvert."

The guides tramped from the garden. Chayne led his wife toward the hotel,
slipping his arm through hers.

"You must get some sleep, Sylvia."

"Oh, Hilary," she cried. "I shall bring shame on you. We should never
have married," and her voice broke in a sob.

"Hush!" he replied. "Never say that, my dear, never think it! Sleep! You
will want your strength to-morrow."

But Sylvia slept little, and before the time she was ready with her
ice-ax in her hand. At two o'clock they came out from the hotel in the
twilight of the morning. There were two men there.

"Ah! you have come to see us off, Michel," said Chayne.

"No, monsieur, I bring my mule," said Revailloud, with a smile, and he
helped Sylvia to mount it. "To lead mules to the Montanvert--is not that
my business? Simond has a rope," he added, as he saw Chayne sling a coil
across his shoulder.

"We may need an extra one," said Chayne, and the party moved off upon
its long march. At the Montanvert hotel, on the edge of the Mer de
Glace, Sylvia descended from her mule, and at once the party went down
on to the ice.

"Au revoir!" shouted Michel from above, and he stood and watched them,
until they passed out of his sight. Sylvia turned and waved her hand to
him. But he made no answering sign. For his eyes were no longer good.

"He is very kind," said Sylvia. "He understood that there was some
trouble, and while he led the mule he sought to comfort me," and then
between a laugh and a sob she added: "You will never guess how. He
offered to give me his little book with all the signatures--the little
book which means so much to him."

It was the one thing which he had to offer her, as Sylvia understood, and
always thereafter she remembered him with a particular tenderness. He had
been a good friend to her, asking nothing and giving what he had. She saw
him often in the times which were to come, but when she thought of him,
she pictured him as on that early morning standing on the bluff of cliff
by the Montanvert with the reins of his mule thrown across his arm, and
straining his old eyes to hold his friends in view.

Later during that day amongst the séracs of the Col du Géant, Simond
uttered a shout, and a party of guides returning to Chamonix changed
their course toward him. Droz was amongst the number, and consenting
at once to the expedition which was proposed to him, he tied himself
on to the rope.

"Do you know the Brenva ascent?" Chayne asked of him.

"Yes, monsieur. I have crossed Mont Blanc once that way. I shall be very
glad to go again. We shall be the first to cross for two years. If only
the weather holds."

"Do you doubt that?" asked Chayne, anxiously. The morning had broken
clear, the day was sunny and cloudless.

"I think there may be wind to-morrow," he replied, raising his face and
judging by signs unappreciable to other than the trained eyes of a guide.
"But we will try, eh, monsieur?" he cried, recovering his spirits. "We
will try. We will be the first on the Brenva ridge for two years."

But there Chayne knew him to be wrong. There was another party somewhere
on the great ridge at this moment. "Had _it_ happened?" he asked himself.
"How was it to happen?" What kind of an accident was it to be which could
take place with a guide however worthless, and which would leave no
suspicion resting on Garratt Skinner? There would be no cutting of the
rope. Of that he felt sure. That method might do very well for a
melodrama, but actually--no! Garratt Skinner would have a better plan
than that. And indeed he had, a better plan and a simpler one, a plan
which not merely would give to any uttered suspicion the complexion of
malignancy, but must even bring Mr. Garratt Skinner honor and great
praise. But no idea of the plan occurred either to Sylvia or to Chayne as
all through that long hot day they toiled up the ice-fall of the Col du
Géant and over the passes. It was evening before they came to the
pastures, night before they reached Courmayeur.

There Chayne found full confirmation of his fears. In spite of effort to
dissuade them, Garratt Skinner, Walter Hine and Pierre Delouvain had
started yesterday for the Brenva climb. They had taken porters with them
as far as the sleeping-place upon the glacier rocks. The porters had
returned. Chayne sent for them.

"Yes," they said. "At half past two this morning, the climbing party
descended from the rocks on to the ice-fall of the glacier. They should
be at the hut at the Grands Mulets now, on the other side of the
mountain, if not already in Chamonix. Perhaps monsieur would wish for
porters to-morrow."

"No," said Chayne. "We mean to try the passage in one day"; and he turned
to his guides. "I wish to start at midnight. It is important. We shall
reach the glacier by five. Will you be ready?"

And at midnight accordingly he set out by the light of a lantern. Sylvia
stood outside the hotel and watched the flame diminish to a star, dance
for a little while, and then go out. For her, as for all women, the bad
hour had struck when there was nothing to do but to sit and watch and
wait. Perhaps her husband, after all, was wrong, she said to herself,
and repeated the phrase, hoping that repetition would carry conviction
to her heart.

But early on that morning Chayne had sure evidence that he was right. For
as he, Simond and André Droz were marching in single file through the
thin forest behind the chalets of La Brenva, a shepherd lad came running
down toward them. He was so excited that he could hardly tell the story
with which he was hurrying to Courmayeur. Only an hour before he had
seen, high up on the Brenva ridge, a man waving a signal of distress.
Both Simond and Droz discredited the story. The distance was too great;
the sharpest eyes could not have seen so far. But Chayne believed, and
his heart sank within him. The puppet and Garratt Skinner--what did they
matter? But he turned his eyes down toward Courmayeur. It was Sylvia upon
whom the blow would fall.

"The story cannot be true," cried Simond.

But Chayne bethought him of another day long ago, when a lad had burst
into the hotel at Zermatt and told with no more acceptance for his story
of an avalanche which he had seen fall from the very summit of the
Matterhorn. Chayne looked at his watch. It was just four o'clock.

"There has been an accident," he said. "We must hurry."



CHAPTER XXIV

THE BRENVA RIDGE


The peasant was right. He _had_ seen a man waving a signal of distress on
the slopes of Mont Blanc above the great buttress. And this is how the
signal came to be waved.

An hour before Chayne and Sylvia set out from Chamonix to cross the Col
du Géant, and while it was yet quite dark, a spark glowed suddenly on an
island of rocks set in the great white waste of the Brenva glacier. The
spark was a fire lit by Pierre Delouvain. For Garratt Skinner's party had
camped upon those rocks. The morning was cold, and one by one the
porters, Garratt Skinner, and Walter Hine, gathered about the blaze.
Overhead the stars glittered in a clear, dark sky. It was very still; no
sound was heard at all but the movement in the camp; even on the glacier
a thousand feet below, where all night long the avalanches had thundered,
in the frost of the early morning there was silence.

Garratt Skinner looked upward.

"We shall have a good day," he said; and then he looked quickly toward
Walter Hine. "How did you sleep, Wallie?"

"Very little. The avalanches kept me awake. Besides, I slipped and fell a
hundred times at the corner of the path," he said, with a shiver. "A
hundred times I felt emptiness beneath my feet."

He referred to a mishap of the day before. On the way to the gîte after
the chalets and the wood are left behind, a little path leads along the
rocks of the Mont de la Brenva high above the glacier. There are one or
two awkward corners to pass where rough footsteps have been hewn in the
rock. At one of these corners Walter Hine had slipped. His side struck
the step; he would have dropped to the glacier, but Garratt Skinner had
suddenly reached out a hand and saved him.

Garratt Skinner's face changed.

"You are not afraid," he said.

"You think we can do it?" asked Hine, nervously, and Garratt
Skinner laughed.

"Ask Pierre Delouvain!" he said, and himself put the question. Pierre
laughed in his turn.

"Bah! I snap my fingers at the Brenva climb," said he. "We shall be
in Chamonix to-night"; and Garratt Skinner translated the words to
Walter Hine.

Breakfast was prepared and eaten. Walter Hine was silent through the
meal. He had not the courage to say that he was afraid; and Garratt
Skinner played upon his vanity.

"We shall be in Chamonix to-night. It will be a fine feather in your cap,
Wallie. One of the historic climbs!"

Walter Hine drew a deep breath. If only the day were over, and the party
safe on the rough path through the woods on the other side of the
mountain! But he held his tongue. Moreover, he had great faith in his
idol and master, Garratt Skinner.

"You saved my life yesterday," he said; and upon Garratt Skinner's face
there came a curious smile. He looked steadily into the blaze of the fire
and spoke almost as though he made an apology to himself.

"I saw a man falling. I saw that I could save him. I did not think. My
hand had already caught him."

He looked up with a start. In the east the day was breaking, pale and
desolate; the lower glacier glimmered into view beneath them; the
gigantic amphitheater of hills which girt them in on three sides loomed
out of the mists from aerial heights and took solidity and shape,
westward the black and rugged Peuteret ridge, eastward the cliffs of Mont
Maudit, and northward sweeping around the head of the glacier, the great
ice-wall of Mont Blanc with its ruined terraces and inaccessible cliffs.

"Time, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner, and he rose to his feet and called
to Pierre Delouvain. "There are only three of us. We shall have to go
quickly. We do not want to carry more food than we shall need. The rest
we can send back with our blankets by the porters."

Pierre Delouvain justified at once the ill words which had been spoken of
him by Michel Revailloud. He thought only of the burden which through
this long day he would have to carry on his back.

"Yes, that is right," he said. "We will take what we need for the day.
To-night we shall be in Chamonix."

And thus the party set off with no provision against that most probable
of all mishaps--the chance that sunset might find them still upon the
mountain side. Pierre Delouvain, being lazy and a worthless fellow, as
Revailloud had said, agreed. But the suggestion had been made by Garratt
Skinner. And Garratt Skinner was Gabriel Strood, who knew--none
better--the folly of such light traveling.

The rope was put on; Pierre Delouvain led the way, Walter Hine as the
weakest of the party was placed in the middle, Garratt Skinner came last;
the three men mounted by a snow-slope and a gully to the top of the rocks
which supported the upper Brenva glacier.

"That's our road, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner. He pointed to a great
buttress of rock overlain here and there with fields of snow, which
jutted out from the ice-wall of the mountain, descended steeply, bent to
the west in a curve, and then pushed far out into the glacier as some
great promontory pushes out into the sea. "Do you see a hump above the
buttress, on the crest of the ridge and a little to the right? And to the
right of the hump, a depression in the ridge? That's what they call the
Corridor. Once we are there our troubles are over."

But between the party and the buttress stretched the great ice-fall of
the upper Brenva glacier. Crevassed, broken, a wilderness of towering
séracs, it had the look of a sea in a gale whose breakers had been frozen
in the very act of over toppling.

"Come," said Pierre.

"Keep the rope stretched tight, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner; and they
descended into the furrows of that wild and frozen sea. The day's work
had begun in earnest; and almost at once they began to lose time.

Now it was a perilous strip of ice between unfathomable blue depths along
which they must pass, as bridge-builders along their girders, yet without
the bridge-builders' knowledge that at the end of the passage there was a
further way. Now it was some crevasse into which they must descend,
cutting their steps down a steep rib of ice; now it was a wall up which
the leader must be hoisted on the shoulders of his companions, and even
so as likely as not, his fingers could not reach the top, but hand holds
and foot holds must be hewn with the ax till a ladder was formed. Now it
was some crevasse gaping across their path; they must search this way and
that for a firm snow-bridge by which to overpass it. It was difficult, as
Pierre Delouvain discovered, to find a path through that tangled
labyrinth without some knowledge of the glacier. For, only at rare times,
when he stood high on a sérac, could he see his way for more than a few
yards ahead. Pierre aimed straight for the foot of the buttress, working
thus due north. And he was wrong. Garratt Skinner knew it, but said not a
word. He stood upon insecure ledges and supported Delouvain upon his
shoulders, and pushed him up with his ice-ax into positions which only
involved the party in further difficulties. He took his life in his hands
and risked it, knowing the better way. Yet all the while the light
broadened, the great violet shadows crept down the slopes and huddled at
the bases of the peaks. Then the peaks took fire, and suddenly along the
dull white slopes of ice in front of them the fingers of the morning
flashed in gold. Over the eastern rocks the sun had leaped into the sky.
For a little while longer they advanced deeper into the entanglement, and
when they were about half way across they came to a stop. They were on a
tongue of ice which narrowed to a point; the point abutted against a
perpendicular ice-wall thirty feet high. Nowhere was there any break in
that wall, and at each side of the tongue the ice gaped in chasms.

"We must go back," said Pierre. "I have forgotten the way."

He had never known it. Seduced by a treble fee, he had assumed an
experience which he did not possess. Garratt Skinner looked at his watch,
and turning about led the party back for a little while. Then he turned
to his right and said:

"I think it might go in this direction," and lo! making steadily across
some difficult ground, no longer in a straight line northward to Mont
Blanc, but westward toward the cliffs of the Peuteret ridge under Garratt
Skinner's lead, they saw a broad causeway of ice open before them. The
causeway led them to steep slopes of snow, up which it was just possible
to kick steps, and then working back again to the east they reached the
foot of the great buttress on its western side just where it forms a
right angle with the face of the mountain. Garratt Skinner once more
looked at his watch. It had been half-past two when they had put on the
rope, it was now close upon half-past six. They had taken four hours to
traverse the ice-fall, and they should have taken only two and a half.
Garratt Skinner, however, expressed no anxiety. On the contrary, one
might have thought that he wished to lose time.

"There's one of the difficulties disposed of," he said, cheerily. "You
did very well, Wallie--very well. It was not altogether nice, was it? But
you won't have to go back."

Walter Hine had indeed crossed the glacier without complaint. There had
been times when he had shivered, times when his heart within him had
swelled with a longing to cry out, "Let us go back!" But he had not
dared. He had been steadied across the narrow bridge with the rope,
hauled up the ice-walls and let down again on the other side. But he had
come through. He took some pride in the exploit as he gazed back from the
top of the snow-slope across the tumult of ice to the rocks on which he
had slipped. He had come through safely, and he was encouraged to go on.

"We won't stop here, I think," said Garratt Skinner. They had already
halted upon the glacier for a second breakfast. The sun was getting hot
upon the slopes above, and small showers of snow and crusts of ice were
beginning to shoot down the gullies of the buttress at the base of which
they stood. "We will have a third breakfast when we are out of range." He
called to Delouvain who was examining the face of the rock-buttress up
which they must ascend to its crest and said: "It looks as if we should
do well to work out to the right I think."

The rocks were difficult, but their difficulty was not fully appreciated
by Walter Hine. Nor did he understand the danger. There were gullies in
which new snow lay in a thin crust over hard ice. He noticed that in
those gullies the steps were cut deep into the ice below, that Garratt
Skinner bade him not loiter, and that Pierre Delouvain in front made
himself fast and drew in the rope with a particular care when it came to
his turn to move. But he did not know that all that surface snow might
peel off in a moment, and swish down the cliffs, sweeping the party from
their feet. There were rounded rocks and slabs with no hold for hand or
foot but roughness, roughness in the surface, and here and there a
wrinkle. But the guide went first, as often as not pushed up by Garratt
Skinner, and Walter Hine, like many another inefficient man before him,
came up, like a bundle, on the rope afterward. Thus they climbed for
three hours more. Walter Hine, nursed by gradually lengthening
expeditions, was not as yet tired. Moreover the exhilaration of the air,
and excitement, helped to keep fatigue aloof. They rested just below the
crest of the ridge and took another meal.

"Eat often and little. That's the golden rule," said Garratt Skinner. "No
brandy, Wallie. Keep that in your flask!"

Pierre Delouvain, however, followed a practice not unknown amongst
Chamonix guides.

"Absinthe is good on the mountains," said he.

When they rose, the order of going was changed. Pierre Delouvain, who
had led all the morning, now went last, and Garratt Skinner led. He led
quickly and with great judgment or knowledge--Pierre Delouvain at the
end of the rope wondered whether it was judgment or knowledge--and
suddenly Walter Hine found himself standing on the crest with Garratt
Skinner, and looking down the other side upon a glacier far below, which
flows from the Mur de la Côte on the summit ridge of Mont Blanc into the
Brenva glacier.

"That's famous," cried Garratt Skinner, looking once more at his watch.
He did not say that they had lost yet another hour upon the face of the
buttress. It was now half past nine in the morning. "We are twelve
thousand feet up, Wallie," and he swung to his left, and led the party up
the ridge of the buttress.

As they went along this ridge, Wallie Hine's courage rose. It was narrow
but not steep, nor was it ice. It was either rock or snow in which steps
could be kicked. He stepped out with a greater confidence. If this were
all, the Brenva climb was a fraud, he exclaimed to himself in the vanity
of his heart. Ahead of them a tall black tower stood up, hiding what lay
beyond, and up toward this tower Garratt Skinner led quickly. He no
longer spoke to his companions, he went forward, assured and inspiring
assurance; he reached the tower, passed it and began to cut steps. His ax
rang as it fell. It was ice into which he was cutting.

This was the first warning which Walter Hine received. But he paid no
heed to it. He was intent upon setting his feet in the steps; he found
the rope awkward to handle and keep tight, his attention was absorbed in
observing his proper distance. Moreover, in front of him the stalwart
figure of Garratt Skinner blocked his vision. He went forward. The snow
on which he walked became hard ice, and instead of sloping upward ran
ahead almost in a horizontal line. Suddenly, however, it narrowed; Hine
became conscious of appalling depths on either side of him; it narrowed
with extraordinary rapidity; half a dozen paces behind him he had been
walking on a broad smooth path; now he walked on the width of the top of
a garden wall. His knees began to shake; he halted; he reached out
vainly into emptiness for some support on which his shaking hands might
clutch. And then in front of him he saw Garratt Skinner sit down and
bestride the wall. Over Garratt Skinner's head, he now saw the path by
which he needs must go. He was on the famous ice-ridge; and nothing so
formidable, so terrifying, had even entered into his dreams during his
sleep upon the rocks where he had bivouacked. It thinned to a mere sharp
edge, a line without breadth of cold blue ice, and it stretched away
through the air for a great distance until it melted suddenly into the
face of the mountain. On the left hand an almost vertical slope of ice
dropped to depths which Hine did not dare to fathom with his eyes; on
the right there was no slope at all; a wall of crumbling snow descended
from the edge straight as a weighted line. On neither side could the
point of the ax be driven in to preserve the balance. Walter Hine
uttered a whimpering cry:

"I shall fall! I shall fall!"

Garratt Skinner, astride of the ridge, looked over his shoulder.

"Sit down," he cried, sharply. But Walter Hine dared not. He stood, all
his courage gone, tottering on the narrow top of the wall, afraid to
stoop, lest his knees should fail him altogether and his feet slip from
beneath him. To bend down until his hands could rest upon the ice, and
meanwhile to keep his feet--no, he could not do it. He stood trembling,
his face distorted with fear, and his body swaying a little from side to
side. Garratt Skinner called sharply to Pierre Delouvain.

"Quick, Pierre."

There was no time for Garratt Skinner to return; but he gathered himself
together on the ridge, ready for a spring. Had Walter Hine toppled over,
and swung down the length of the rope, as at any moment he might have
done, Garratt Skinner was prepared. He would have jumped down the
opposite side of the ice-arête, though how either he or Walter Hine could
have regained the ridge he could not tell. Would any one of the party
live to return to Courmayeur and tell the tale? But Garratt Skinner knew
the risk he took, had counted it up long before ever he brought Walter
Hine to Chamonix, and thought it worth while. He did not falter now. All
through the morning, indeed, he had been taking risks, risks of which
Walter Hine did not dream; with so firm and yet so delicate a step he had
moved from crack to crack, from ice-step up to ice-step; with so obedient
a response of his muscles, he had drawn himself up over the rounded rocks
from ledge to ledge. He shouted again to Pierre Delouvain, and at the
same moment began carefully to work backward along the ice-arête. Pierre,
however, hurried; Walter Hine heard the guide's voice behind him, felt
himself steadied by his hands. He stooped slowly down, knelt upon the
wall, then bestrode it.

"Now, forward," cried Skinner, and he pulled in the rope. "Forward. We
cannot go back!"

Hine clung to the ridge; behind him Pierre Delouvain sat down and held
him about the waist. Slowly they worked themselves forward, while Garratt
Skinner gathered in the rope in front. The wall narrowed as they
advanced, became the merest edge which cut their hands as they clasped
it. Hine closed his eyes, his head whirled, he was giddy, he felt sick.
He stopped gripping the slope on both sides with his knees, clutching the
sharp edge with the palms of his hands.

"I can't go on! I can't," he cried, and he reeled like a novice on the
back of a horse.

Garratt Skinner worked back to him.

"Put your arms about my waist, Wallie! Keep your eyes shut! You
shan't fall."

Walter Hine clung to him convulsively, Pierre Delouvain steadied Hine
from behind, and thus they went slowly forward for a long while. Garratt
Skinner gripped the edge with the palms of his hands--so narrow was the
ridge--the fingers of one hand pointed down one slope, the fingers of the
other down the opposite wall. Their legs dangled.

At last Walter Hine felt Garratt Skinner loosening his clasped fingers
from about his waist. Garratt Skinner stood up, uncoiled the rope,
chipped a step or two in the ice and went boldly forward. For a yard
or two further Walter Hine straddled on, and then Garratt Skinner
cried to him:

"Look up, Wallie. It's all over."

Hine looked and saw Garratt Skinner standing upon a level space of snow
in the side of the mountain. A moment later he himself was lying in the
sun upon the level space. The famous ice-arête was behind them. Walter
Hine looked back along it and shuddered. The thin edge of ice curving
slightly downward, stretched away to the black rock-tower, in the bright
sunlight a thing most beautiful, but most menacing and terrible. He
seemed cut off by it from the world. They had a meal upon that level
space, and while Hine rested, Pierre Delouvain cast off the rope and went
ahead. He came back in a little while with a serious face.

"Will it go?" asked Garratt Skinner.

"It must," said Delouvain. "For we can never go back"; and suddenly
alarmed lest the way should be barred in front as well as behind, Walter
Hine turned and looked above him. His nerves were already shaken; at the
sight of what lay ahead of him, he uttered a cry of despair.

"It's no use," he cried. "We can never get up," and he flung himself upon
the snow and buried his face in his arms. Garratt Skinner stood over him.

"We must," he said. "Come! Look!"

Walter Hine looked up and saw his companion dangling the face of his
watch before his eyes.

"We are late. It is now twelve o'clock. We should have left this spot two
hours ago and more," he said, very gravely; and Pierre Delouvain
exclaimed excitedly:

"Certainly, monsieur, we must go on. It will not do to loiter now," and
stooping down, he dragged rather than helped Walter Hine to his feet. The
quiet gravity of Garratt Skinner and the excitement of Delouvain
frightened Walter Hine equally. Some sense of his own insufficiency broke
in at last upon him. His vanity peeled off from him, just at the moment
when it would most have been of use. He had a glimpse of what he was--a
poor, weak, inefficient thing.

Above them the slopes stretched upward to a great line of towering
ice-cliffs. Through and up those ice-cliffs a way had to be found. And at
any moment, loosened by the sun, huge blocks and pinnacles might break
from them and come thundering down. As it was, upon their right hand
where the snow-fields fell steeply in a huge ice gully, between a line of
rocks and the cliffs of Mont Maudit, the avalanches plunged and
reverberated down to the Brenva glacier. Pierre Delouvain took the lead
again, and keeping by the line of rocks the party ascended the steep
snow-slopes straight toward the wall of cliffs. But in a while the snow
thinned, and the ax was brought into play again. Through the thin crust
of snow, steps had to be cut into the ice beneath, and since there were
still many hundreds of feet to be ascended, the steps were cut wide
apart. With the sun burning upon his face, and his feet freezing in the
ice-steps, Walter Hine stood and moved, and stood again all through that
afternoon. Fatigue gained upon him, and fear did not let him go. "If only
I get off this mountain," he said to himself with heartfelt longing,
"never again!" When near to the cliffs Pierre Delouvain stopped. In front
of him the wall was plainly inaccessible. Far away to the left there was
a depression up which possibly a way might be forced.

"I think, monsieur, that must be the way," said Pierre.

"But you should _know_" said Garratt Skinner.

"It is some time since I was here. I have forgotten;" and Pierre began to
traverse the ice-slope to the left. Garratt Skinner followed without a
word. But he knew that when he had ascended Mont Blanc by the Brenva
route twenty-three years before, he had kept to the right along the rocks
to a point where that ice-wall was crevassed, and through that crevasse
had found his path. They passed quickly beneath an overhanging rib of ice
which jutted out from the wall, and reached the angle then formed at four
o'clock in the afternoon.

"Our last difficulty, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner, as he cut a
large step in which Hine might stand. "Once up that wall, our
troubles are over."

Walter Hine looked at the wall. It was not smooth ice, it was true;
blocks had broken loose from it, and had left it bulging out here,
there, and in places fissured. But it stood at an angle of 65 degrees.
It seemed impossible that any one should ascend it. He looked down the
slope up which they had climbed--it seemed equally impossible that any
one should return. Moreover, the sun was already in the West, and the
ice promontory under which they stood shut its warmth from them. Walter
Hine was in the shadow, and he shivered with cold as much as with fear.
For half an hour Pierre Delouvain tried desperately to work his way up
that ice wall, and failed.

"It is too late," he said. "We shall not get up to-night."

Garratt Skinner nodded his head.

"No, nor get down," he added, gravely. "I am sorry, Wallie. We must go
back and find a place where we can pass the night."

Walter Hine was in despair. He was tired, he was desperately cold, his
gloves were frozen, his fingers and his feet benumbed.

"Oh, let's stop here!" he cried.

"We can't," said Garratt Skinner, and he turned as he spoke and led the
way down quickly. There was need for hurry. Every now and then he stopped
to cut an intervening step, where those already cut were too far apart,
and at times to give Hine a hand while Delouvain let him down with the
help of the rope from behind.

Slowly they descended, and while they descended the sun disappeared, the
mists gathered about the precipices below, the thunder of the avalanches
was heard at rare intervals, the ice-cliffs above them glimmered faintly
and still more faintly. The dusk came. They descended in a ghostly
twilight. At times the mists would part, and below them infinite miles
away they saw the ice-fields of the Brenva glacier. The light was failing
altogether when Garratt Skinner turned to his left and began to traverse
the slopes to a small patch of rocks.

"Here!" he said, as he reached them. "We must sit here until the
morning comes."



CHAPTER XXV

A NIGHT ON AN ICE-SLOPE


At the base of the rocks there was a narrow ledge on which, huddled
together, the three men could sit side by side. Garratt Skinner began to
clear the snow from the ledge with his ice-ax; but Walter Hine sank down
at once and Pierre Delouvain, who might have shown a better spirit,
promptly followed his example.

"What is the use?" he whispered. "We shall all die to-night.... I have a
wife and family.... Let us eat what there is to eat and then die," and
drowsily repeating his words, he fell asleep. Garratt Skinner, however,
roused him, and drowsily he helped to clear the ledge. Then Walter Hine
was placed in the middle that he might get what warmth and shelter was
to be had, the rope was hitched over a spike of rock behind, so that if
any one fell asleep he might not fall off, and Delouvain and Skinner
took their places. By this time darkness had come. They sat upon the
narrow ledge with their backs to the rock and the steep snow-slopes
falling away at their feet. Far down a light or two glimmered in the
chalets of La Brenva.

Garratt Skinner emptied the _Rücksack_ on his knees.

"Let us see what food we have," he said. "We made a mistake in not
bringing more. But Pierre was so certain that we should reach Chamonix
to-night."

"We shall die to-night," said Pierre.

"Nonsense," said Garratt Skinner. "We are not the first party which has
been caught by the night."

Their stock of food was certainly low. It consisted of a little bread, a
tin of sardines, a small pot of jam, some cold bacon, a bag of
acid-drops, a couple of cakes of chocolate, and a few biscuits.

"We must keep some for the morning," he said. "Don't fall asleep, Wallie!
You had better take off your boots and muffle your feet in the
_Rücksack_. It will keep them warmer and save you from frost-bite. You
might as well squeeze the water out of your stockings too."

Garratt Skinner waked Hine from his drowsiness and insisted that his
advice should be followed. It would be advisable that it should be known
afterward in Courmayeur that he had taken every precaution to preserve
his companion's life. He took off his own stockings and squeezed the
water out, replaced them, and laced on his boots. For to him, too, the
night would bring some risk. Then the three men ate their supper. A very
little wine was left in the gourd which Garratt Skinner had carried on
his back, and he filled it up with snow and thrust it inside his shirt
that it might melt the sooner.

"You have your brandy flask, Wallie, but be sparing of it. Brandy will
warm you for the moment, but it leaves you more sensitive to the cold
than you were before. That's a known fact. And don't drink too much of
this snow-water. It may make you burn inside. At least so I have been
told," he added.

Hine drank and passed the bottle to Pierre, who took it with his
reiterated moan: "What's the use? We shall all die to-night. Why should a
poor guide with a wife and family be tempted to ascend mountains. I will
tell you something, monsieur," he cried suddenly across Walter Hine. "I
am not fond of the mountains. No, I am not fond of them!" and he leaned
back and fell asleep.

"Better not follow his example, Wallie. Keep awake! Slap your limbs!"

Above the three men the stars came out very clear and bright; the tiny
lights in the chalets far below disappeared one by one; the cold became
intense. At times Garratt Skinner roused his companions, and holding each
other by the arm, they rose simultaneously to their feet and stamped upon
the ledge. But every movement hurt them, and after a while Walter Hine
would not.

"Leave me alone," he said. "To move tortures me!"

Garratt Skinner had his pipe and some tobacco. He lit, shading the match
with his coat; and then he looked at his watch.

"What time is it? Is it near morning?" asked Hine, in a voice which was
very feeble.

"A little longer to wait," said Garratt Skinner, cheerfully.

The hands marked a quarter to ten.

And afterward they grew very silent, except for the noise which they made
in shivering. Their teeth chattered with the chill, they shook in fits
which lasted for minutes, Walter Hine moaned feebly. All about them the
world was bound in frost; the cold stars glittered overhead; the
mountains took their toll of pain that night. Yet there was one among
those three perched high on a narrow ledge of rock amongst the desolate
heights, who did not regret. Just for a night like this Garratt Skinner
had hoped. Walter Hine, weak of frame and with little stamina, was
exposed to the rigors of a long Alpine night, thirteen thousand feet
above the level of the sea, with hardly any food, and no hope of rescue
for yet another day and yet another night. There could be but one end to
it. Not until to-morrow would any alarm at their disappearance be
awakened either at Chamonix or at Courmayeur. It would need a second
night before help reached them--so Garratt Skinner had planned it out.
There could be but one end to it. Walter Hine would die. There was a risk
that he himself might suffer the same fate--he was not blind to it. He
had taken the risk knowingly, and with a certain indifference. It was the
best plan, since, if he escaped alive, suspicion could not fall on him.
Thus he argued, as he smoked his pipe with his back to the rock and
waited for the morning.

At one o'clock Walter Hine began to ramble. He took Garratt Skinner and
Pierre Delouvain for Captain Barstow and Archie Parminter, and complained
that it was ridiculous to sit up playing poker on so cold a night; and
while in his delirium he rambled and moaned, the morning began to break.
But with the morning came a wind from the north, whirling the snow like
smoke about the mountain-tops, and bitingly cold. Garratt Skinner with
great difficulty stood up, slowly and with pain stretched himself to his
full height, slapped his thighs, stamped with his feet, and then looked
for a long while at his victim, without remorse, and without
satisfaction. He stooped and sought to lift him. But Hine was too stiff
and numbed with the cold to be able to move. In a little while Pierre
Delouvain, who had fallen asleep, woke up. The day was upon them now,
cold and lowering.

"We must wait for the sun," said Garratt Skinner. "Until that has risen
and thawed us it will not be safe to move."

Pierre Delouvain looked about him, worked the stiffened muscles of his
limbs and groaned.

"There will be little sun to-day," he said. "We shall all die here."

Garratt Skinner sat down again and waited. The sun rose over the rocks
of Mont Maudit, but weak, and yellow as a guinea. Garratt Skinner then
tied his coat to his ice-ax, and standing out upon a rock waved it this
way and that.

"No one will see it," whimpered Pierre; and indeed Garratt Skinner would
never have waved that signal had he not thought the same.

"Perhaps--one never knows," he said. "We must take all precautions, for
the day looks bad."

The sunlight, indeed, only stayed upon the mountain-side long enough to
tantalize them with vain hopes of warmth. Gray clouds swept up low over
the crest of Mont Blanc and blotted it out. The wind moaned wildly
along the slopes. The day frowned upon them sullen and cold with a sky
full of snow.

"We will wait a little longer," said Garratt Skinner, "then we
must move."

He looked at the sky. It seemed to him now very probable that he would
lose the desperate game which he had been playing. He had staked his life
upon it. Let the snow come and the mists, he would surely lose his stake.
Nevertheless he set himself to the task of rousing Walter Hine.

"Leave me alone," moaned Walter Hine, and he struck feebly at his
companions as they lifted him on to his feet.

"Stamp your feet, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner. "You will feel better in
a few moments."

They held him up, but he repeated his cry. "Leave me alone!" and the
moment they let him go he sank down again upon the ledge. He was overcome
with drowsiness, the slightest movement tortured him.

Garratt Skinner looked up at the leaden sky.

"We must wait till help comes," he said,

Delouvain shook his head.

"It will not come to-day. We shall all die here. It was wrong, monsieur,
to try the Brenva ridge. Yes, we shall die here"; and he fell to
blubbering like a child.

"Could you go down alone?" Garratt Skinner asked.

"There is the glacier to cross, monsieur."

"I know. That is the risk. But it is cold and there is no sun. The
snow-bridges may hold."

Pierre Delouvain hesitated. Here it seemed to him was certain death. But
if he climbed down the ice-arête, the snow-slopes, and the rocks below,
if the snow-bridges held upon the glacier, there would be life for one of
the three. Pierre Delouvain had little in common with that loyal race of
Alpine guides who hold it as their most sacred tradition not to return
home without their patrons.

"Yes, it is our one hope," he said; and untying himself with awkward
fumbling fingers from the kinked rope, and coiling the spare rope about
his shoulders, he went down the slope. During the night the steps had
frozen and in many places it was necessary to recut them. He too was
stiff with the long vigil. He moved slowly, with numbed and frozen limbs.
But as his ax rose and fell, the blood began to burn in the tips of his
fingers, to flow within his veins; he went more and more firmly. For a
long way Garratt Skinner held him in sight. Then he turned back to Walter
Hine upon the ledge, and sat beside him. Garratt Skinner's strength had
stood him in good stead. He filled his pipe and lit it, and watched
beside his victim. The day wore on slowly. At times Garratt Skinner
rubbed Hine's limbs and stamped about the ledge to keep some warmth
within himself. Walter Hine grew weaker and weaker. At times he was
delirious; at times he came to his senses.

"You leave me," he whispered once. "You have been a good friend to me.
You can do no more. Just leave me here, and save yourself."

Garratt Skinner made no answer. He just looked at Hine curiously--that
was all. That was all. It was a curious thing to him that Hine should
display an unexpected manliness--almost a heroism. It could not be
pleasant even to contemplate being left alone upon these windy and
sunless heights to die. But actually to wish it!

"How did you come by so much fortitude?" he asked; and to his
astonishment, Walter Hine replied:

"I learnt it from you, old man."

"From me?"

"Yes."

Garratt Skinner gave him some of the brandy and listened to a portrait of
himself, described in broken words, which he was at some pains to
recognize. Walter Hine had been seeking to model himself upon an
imaginary Garratt Skinner, and thus, strangely enough, had arrived at an
actual heroism. Thus would Garratt Skinner have bidden his friends leave
him, only in tones less tremulous, and very likely with a laugh, turning
back, as it were, to snap his fingers as he stepped out of the world.
Thus, therefore, Walter Hine sought to bear himself.

"Curious," said Garratt Skinner with interest, but with no stronger
feeling at all. "Are you in pain, Wallie?"

"Dreadful pain."

"We must wait. Perhaps help will come!"

The day wore on, but what the time was Garratt Skinner could not tell.
His watch and Hine's had both stopped with the cold, and the dull,
clouded sky gave him no clue. The last of the food was eaten, the last
drop of the brandy drunk. It was bitterly cold. If only the snow would
hold off till morning! Garratt Skinner had only to wait. The night would
come and during the night Walter Hine would die. And even while the
thought was in his mind, he heard voices. To his amazement, to his alarm,
he heard voices! Then he laughed. He was growing light-headed.
Exhaustion, cold and hunger were telling their tale upon him. He was not
so young as he had been twenty years before. But to make sure he rose to
his knees and peered down the slope. He had been mistaken. The steep
snow-slopes stretched downward, wild and empty. Here and there black
rocks jutted from them; a long way down four black stones were spaced;
there was no living thing in that solitude. He sank back relieved. No
living thing except himself, and perhaps his companion. He looked at Hine
closely, shook him, and Hine groaned. Yes, he still lived--for a little
time he still would live. Garratt Skinner gathered in his numbed palm the
last pipeful of tobacco in his pouch and, spilling the half of it--his
hands so shook with cold, his fingers were so clumsy--he pressed it into
his pipe and lit it. Perhaps before it was all smoked out--he thought.
And then his hallucination returned to him. Again he heard voices, very
faint, and distant, in a lull of the wind.

It was weakness, of course, but he started up again, this time to his
feet, and as he stood up his head and shoulders showed clear against the
white snow behind him. He heard a shout--yes, an undoubted shout. He
stared down the slope and then he saw. The four black stones had moved,
were nearer to him--they were four men ascending. Garratt Skinner turned
swiftly toward Walter Hine, reached for his ice-ax, grasped it and raised
it, Walter Hine looked at him with staring, stupid eyes, but raised no
hand, made no movement. He, too, was conscious of an hallucination. It
seemed to him that his friend stood over him with a convulsed and
murderous face, in which rage strove with bitter disappointment, but that
he held his ax by the end with the adz-head swung back above his head to
give greater force to the blow, and that while he poised it there came a
cry from the confines of the world, and that upon that cry his friend
dropped the ax, and stooping down to him murmured: "There's help quite
close, Wallie!"

Certainly those words were spoken--that at all events was no
hallucination. Walter Hine understood it clearly. For Garratt Skinner
suddenly stripped off his coat, passed it round Hine's shoulders and
then, baring his own breast, clasped Hine to it that he might impart to
him some warmth from his own body.

Thus they were found by the rescue party; and the story of Garratt
Skinner's great self-sacrifice was long remembered in Courmayeur.

Garratt Skinner watched the men mounting and wondered who they were. He
recognized his own guide, Pierre Delouvain, but who were the others, how
did they come there on a morning so forbidding? Who was the tall man who
walked last but one? And as the party drew nearer, he saw and understood.
But he did not change from his attitude. He waited until they were close.
Then he and Hilary Chayne exchanged a look.

"You?" said Garratt Skinner.

"Yes--" Chayne paused. "Yes, Mr. Strood," he said.

And in those words all was said. Garratt Skinner knew that his plan was
not merely foiled, but also understood. He stood up and looked about him,
and even to Chayne's eyes there was a dignity in his quiet manner, his
patience under defeat. For Garratt Skinner, rogue though he was, the
mountains had their message. All through that long night, while he sat by
the side of his victim, they had been whispering it. Whether bound in
frost beneath the stars, or sparkling to the sun, or gray under a sky of
clouds, or buried deep in flakes of whirling snow, they spoke to him
always of the grandeur of their indifference. They might be traversed and
scaled, but they were unconquered always because they were indifferent.
The climber might lie in wait through the bad weather at the base of the
peak, seize upon his chance and stand upon the summit with a cry of
triumph and derision. The mountains were indifferent. As they endured
success, so they inflicted defeat--with a sublime indifference, lifting
their foreheads to the stars as though wrapt in some high communion.
Something of their patience had entered into Garratt Skinner. He did not
deny his name, he asked no question, he accepted failure and he looked
anxiously to the sky.

"It will snow, I think."

They made some tea, mixed it with wine and gave it first of all to Walter
Hine. Then they all breakfasted, and set off on their homeward journey,
letting Hine down with the rope from step to step.

Gradually Hine regained a little strength. His numbed limbs began to come
painfully to life. He began to move slowly of his own accord, supported
by his rescuers. They reached the ice-ridge. It had no terrors now for
Walter Hine.

"He had better be tied close between Pierre and myself," said Garratt
Skinner. "We came up that way."

"Between Simond and Droz," said Chayne, quietly.

"As you will," said Garratt Skinner with a shrug of the shoulders.

Along the ice-ridge the party moved slowly and safely, carrying Hine
between them. As they passed behind the great rock tower at the lower
end, the threatened snow began to fall in light flakes.

"Quickly," said Chayne. "We must reach the chalets to-night."

They raced along the snow-slopes on the crest of the buttress and turned
to the right down the gullies and the ledges on the face of the rock. In
desperate haste they descended lowering Walter Hine from man to man, they
crawled down the slabs, dropped from shelf to shelf, wound themselves
down the gullies of ice. Somehow without injury the snow-slopes at the
foot of the rocks were reached. The snow still held off; only now and
then a few flakes fell. But over the mountain the wind was rising, it
swept down in fierce swift eddies, and drew back with a roar like the sea
upon shingle.

"We must get off the glacier before night comes," cried Chayne, and led
by Simond the rescue party went down into the ice-fall. They stopped at
the first glacier pool and made Hine wash his hands and feet in the
water, to save himself from frost-bite; and thereafter for a little time
they rested. They went on again, but they were tired men, and before the
rocks were reached upon which two nights before Garratt Skinner had
bivouacked, darkness had come. Then Simond justified the praise of Michel
Revailloud. With the help of a folding lantern which Chayne had carried
in his pocket, he led the way through that bewildering labyrinth with
unerring judgment. Great séracs loomed up through the darkness, magnified
in size and distorted in shape. Simond went over and round them and under
them, steadily, and the rescue party followed. Now he disappeared over
the edge of a cliff into space, and in a few seconds his voice rang
upward cheerily.

"Follow! It is safe."

And his ice-ax rang with no less cheeriness. He led them boldly to the
brink of abysses which were merely channels in the ice, and amid towering
pinnacles which seen, close at hand, were mere blocks shoulder high. And
at last the guide at the tail of the rope heard from far away ahead
Simond's voice raised in a triumphant shout.

"The rocks! The rocks!"

With one accord they flung themselves, tired and panting, on the
sheltered level of the bivouac. Some sticks were found, a fire was
lighted, tea was once more made. Walter Hine began to take heart; and as
the flames blazed up, the six men gathered about it, crouching, kneeling,
sitting, and the rocks resounded with their laughter.

"Only a little further, Wallie!" said Garratt Skinner, still true
to his part.

They descended from the rocks, crossed a level field of ice and struck
the rock path along the slope of the Mont de la Brenva.

"Keep on the rope," said Garratt Skinner. "Hine slipped at a corner as we
came up"; and Chayne glanced quickly at him. There were one or two
awkward corners above the lower glacier where rough footsteps had been
hewn. On one of these Walter Hine had slipped, and Garratt Skinner had
saved him--had undoubtedly saved him. At the very beginning of the climb,
the object for which it was undertaken was almost fulfilled, and would
have been fulfilled but that instinct overpowered Garratt Skinner, and
since the accident was unexpected, before he had had time to think he had
reached out his hand and saved the life which he intended to destroy.

Along that path Hine was carefully brought to the chalets of La Brenva.
The peasants made him as comfortable as they could.

"He will recover," said Simond. "Oh yes, he will recover. Two of us will
stay with him."

"No need for that," replied Garratt Skinner. "Thank you very much, but
that is my duty since Hine is my friend."

"I think not," said Chayne, standing quietly in front of Garratt Skinner.
"Walter Hine will be safe enough in Simond's hands. I want you to return
with me to Courmayeur. My wife is there and anxious."

"Your wife?"

"Yes, Sylvia."

Garratt Skinner nodded his head.

"I see," he said, slowly. "Yes."

He looked round the hut. Simond was going to watch by Hine's side. He
was defeated utterly, and recognized it. Then he looked at Chayne, and
smiled grimly.

"On the whole, I am not sorry that you have married my daughter," he
said. "I will come down to Courmayeur. It will be pleasant to sleep
in a bed."

And together they walked down to Courmayeur, which they reached soon
after midnight.



CHAPTER XXVI

RUNNING WATER


In two days' time Walter Hine was sufficiently recovered to be carried
down to Courmayeur. He had been very near to death upon the Brenva ridge,
certainly the second night upon which Garratt Skinner had counted would
have ended his life; he was frostbitten; and for a long while the shock
and the exposure left him weak. But he gained strength with each day, and
Chayne had opportunities to admire the audacity and the subtle skill with
which Garratt Skinner had sought his end. For Walter Hine was loud in his
praises of his friend's self-sacrifice. Skinner had denied himself his
own share of food, had bared his breast to the wind that he might give
the warmth of his own body to keep his friend alive--these instances lost
nothing in the telling. And they were true! Chayne could not deny to
Garratt Skinner a certain criminal grandeur. He had placed Hine in no
peril which he had not shared himself; he had taken him, a man fitted in
neither experience nor health, on an expedition where inexperience or
weakness on the part of one was likely to prove fatal to all. There was,
moreover, one incident, not contemplated by Garratt Skinner in his plan,
which made his position absolutely secure. He had actually saved Walter
Hine's life on the rocky path of the Mont de la Brenva. There was no
doubt of it. He had reached out his hand and saved him. Chayne made much
of this incident to his wife.

"I was wrong you see, Sylvia," he argued. "For your father could have let
him fall, and did not. I have been unjust to him, and to you, for you
have been troubled."

But Sylvia shook her head.

"You were not wrong," she answered. "It is only because you are very kind
that you want me to believe it. But I see the truth quite clearly"; and
she smiled at him. "If you wanted me to believe, you should never have
told me of the law, a year ago in the Chalet de Lognan. My father obeyed
the law--that was all. You know it as well as I. He had no time to think;
he acted upon the instinct of the moment; he could not do otherwise. Had
there been time to think, would he have reached out his hand? We both
know that he would not. But he obeyed the law. What he knew, that he did,
obeying the law upon the moment. He could save, and knowing it he _did_
save, even against his will."

Chayne did not argue the point. Sylvia saw the truth too clearly.

"Walter Hine is getting well," he said. "Your father is still at another
hotel in Courmayeur. There's the future to be considered."

"Yes," she said, and she waited.

"I have asked your father to come over to-night after dinner,"
said Chayne.

And into their private sitting-room Garratt Skinner entered at eight
o'clock that evening. It was the first time that Sylvia had seen him
since she had learned the whole truth, and she found the occasion one of
trial. But Garratt Skinner carried it off.

There was nothing of the penitent in his manner, but on the other hand he
no longer affected the manner of a pained and loving parent. He greeted
her from the door, and congratulated her quietly and simply upon her
marriage. Then he turned to Chayne.

"You wished to speak to me? I am at your service."

"Yes," replied Chayne. "We--and I speak for Sylvia--we wish to suggest to
you that your acquaintanceship with Walter Hine should end
altogether--that it should already have ended."

"Really!" said Garratt Skinner, with an air of surprise. "Captain Chayne,
the laws of England, revolutionary as they have no doubt become to
old-fashioned people like myself, have not yet placed fathers under the
guardianship of their sons-in-law. I cannot accept your suggestion."

"We insist upon its acceptance," said Chayne, quietly.

Garratt Skinner smiled.

"Insist perhaps! But how enforce it, my friend? That's another matter."

"I think we have the means to do that," said Chayne. "We can point out to
Walter Hine, for instance, that your ascent from the Brenva Glacier was
an attempt to murder him."

"An ugly word, Captain Chayne. You would find it difficult of proof."

"The story is fairly complete," returned Chayne. "There is first of all a
telegram from Mr. Jarvice couched in curious language."

Garratt Skinner's face lost its smile of amusement.

"Indeed?" he said. He was plainly disconcerted.

"Yes." Chayne produced the telegram from his letter case, read it aloud
with his eyes upon Garratt Skinner, and replaced it. "'What are you
waiting for? Hurry up! Jarvice.' There is no need at all events to ask
Mr. Jarvice what he was waiting for, is there? He wanted to lay his hands
upon the money for which Hine's life was insured."

Garratt Skinner leaned back in his chair. His eyes never left Chayne's
face, his face grew set and stern. He had a dangerous look, the look of a
desperate man at bay.

"Then there is a certain incident to be considered which took place in
the house near Weymouth. You must at times have been puzzled by
it--perhaps a little alarmed too. Do you remember one evening when a
whistle from the shadows on the road and a yokel's shout drove you out of
Walter Hine's room, sent you creeping out of it as stealthily as you
entered--nay, did more than that, for that whistle and that shout drove
you out of Dorsetshire. Ah! I see you remember."

Garratt Skinner indeed had often enough been troubled by the recollection
of that night. The shout, the whistle ringing out so suddenly and
abruptly from the darkness and the silence had struck upon his
imagination and alarmed him by their mystery. Who was the man who had
seen? And what had he seen? Garratt Skinner had never felt quite safe
since that evening. There was some one, a stranger, going about the world
with the key to his secret, even if he had not guessed the secret.

"It was I who whistled. I who shouted."

"You!" cried Garratt Skinner. "You!"

"Yes. Sylvia was with me. You thought to do that night what you thought
to do a few days ago above the Brenva ridge. Both times together we were
able to hinder you. But once Sylvia hindered you alone. There is the
affair of the cocaine."

Chayne looked toward his wife with a look of great pride for the bravery
which she had shown. She was sitting aloof in the embrasure of the window
with her face averted and a hand pressed over her eyes and forehead.
Chayne looked back to Garratt Skinner, and there was more anger in his
face than he had ever shown.

"I will never forgive you the distress you have caused to Sylvia," he
said.

But Garratt Skinner's eyes were upon Sylvia, and in his face, too, there
was a humorous look of pride. She had courage. He remembered how she had
confronted him when Walter Hine lay sick. He said no word to her,
however, and again he turned to Chayne, who went on:

"There is also your past career to add weight to the argument,
Mr.--Strood."

Point by point Chayne set out in detail the case for the prosecution.
Garratt Skinner listened without interruption, but he knew that he was
beaten. The evidence against him was too strong. It might not be enough
legally to secure his conviction at a public trial--though even upon that
question there would be the gravest doubt--but it would be enough to
carry certitude to every ear which listened and to every eye which read.

"The game is played out," Chayne continued. "We have Walter Hine, and we
shall not let him slip back into your hands. How much of the story we
shall tell him we are not yet sure--but all if it be necessary. And, if
it be necessary, to others beside."

There was a definite threat in the last words. But Garratt Skinner had
already made up his mind. Since the game was played out, since defeat had
come, he took it without anger or excuse.

"Very well," he said. "Peace in the family circle is after all very
desirable--eh, Sylvia? I agree with the deepest regret to part from my
young friend, Walter Hine. I leave him in your hands." He was speaking
with a humorous magnanimity. But his eyes wandered back to Sylvia, who
sat some distance away in the embrasure of the window, with her face in
her hands; and his voice changed.

"Sylvia," he said, gently, "come here."

Sylvia rose and walked over to the table.

The waiting, the knowledge which had come to her during the last few
days, had told their tale. She had the look which Chayne too well
remembered, the dark shadows beneath her eyes, the languor in her walk,
the pallor in her cheeks, the distress and shame in her expression.

"Sit down," he said; and she obeyed him reluctantly, seating herself over
against him. She gazed at the table-cloth with that mutinous look upon
her face which took away from her her womanhood and gave to her the
aspect of a pretty but resentful child. Garratt Skinner for the life of
him could not but smile at her.

"Well, Sylvia, you have beaten me. You fought your fight well, and I bear
you no malice," he said, lightly. "But," and his voice became serious
again, "you sit in judgment on me."

Sylvia raised her eyes quickly.

"No!" she cried.

"I think so," he persisted. "I don't blame you. Only I should like you to
bear this in mind; that you have in your own life a reason to go gently
in your judgments of other people."

Chayne stepped forward, as though he would interfere, but Sylvia laid her
hand upon his arm and checked him.

"I don't think you understand, Hilary," she said, quickly. She turned to
her father and looked straight at him with an eager interest.

"I wonder whether we are both thinking of the same thing," she said,
curiously.

"Perhaps," replied her father. "All your life you have dreamed of
running water."

And Sylvia nodded her head.

"Yes, yes," she said, with a peculiar intentness.

"The dream is part of you, part of your life. For all you know, it may
have modified your character."

"Yes," said Sylvia.

"It is a part of you of which you could not rid yourself if you tried.
When you are asleep, this dream comes to you. It is as much a part of you
as a limb."

And again Sylvia answered: "Yes."

"Well, you are not responsible for it," and Sylvia leaned forward.

"Ah!" she said. She had been wondering whether it was to this point that
he was coming.

"You know now why you hear it, why it's part of you. You were born to the
sound of running water in that old house in Dorsetshire. Before you were
born, in the daytime and in the stillness of the night your mother heard
it week after week. Perhaps even when she was asleep the sound rippled
through her dreams. Thus you came by it. It was born in you."

"Yes," she answered, following his argument step by step very carefully,
but without a sign of the perplexity which was evident in Hilary Chayne.
Chayne stood a little aloof, looking from Sylvia's face to the face of
her father, in doubt whither the talk was leading. Sylvia, on the other
hand, recognized each sentence which her father spoke as the embodiment
of a thought with which she was herself familiar.

"Well, then, here's a definite thing, an influence most likely, a
characteristic most certainly, and not of your making! One out of how
many influences, characteristics which are part of you but not of your
making! But we can lay our finger on it. Well, it is a pleasant and a
pretty quality--this dream of yours, Sylvia--yes, a very pleasant one to
be born with. But suppose that instead of that dream you had been born
with a vice, an instinct of crime, of sin, would you have been any the
more responsible for it? If you are not responsible for the good thing,
are you responsible for the bad? An awkward question, Sylvia--awkward
enough to teach you to go warily in your judgments."

"Yes," said Sylvia. "I was amongst the fortunate. I don't deny it."

"But that's not all," and as Chayne moved restively, Garratt Skinner
waved an indulgent hand.

"I don't expect you, Captain Chayne, to take an interest in these
problems. For a military man, discipline and the penal code are the
obvious unalterable solutions. But it is possible that I may never see my
daughter again and--I am speaking to her"; and he went back to the old
vexed question.

"It's not only that you are born with qualities, definite
characteristics, definite cravings, for which you are no more responsible
than the man in the moon, and which are part of you. But there's
something else. How much of your character, how much of all your life to
come is decided for you during the first ten or fifteen years of your
life--decided for you, mind, not by you? Upon my soul, I think the whole
of it. You don't agree? Well, it's an open question. I believe that at
the age of fifteen the lines along which you will move are already drawn,
your character formed, your conduct for the future a settled thing."

To that Sylvia gave no assent. But she did not disagree. She only looked
at her father with a questioning and a troubled face. If it were so, she
asked, why had she hated from the first the circle in which her mother
and herself had moved. And the answer--or at all events _an_ answer--came
as she put the question to herself. She had lived amongst her dreams. She
was in doubt.

"Well, hear something of my boyhood, Sylvia!" cried her father, and for
the first time his voice became embittered. "I was brought up by a
respectable father. Yes, respectable," he said, with a sneer. "Everything
about us was respectable. We lived in a respectable house in a
respectable neighborhood, and twice every Sunday we went to church and
listened to a respectable clergyman. But!--Well, here's a chapter out of
the inside. I would go to bed and read in bed by a candle. Not a very
heinous offence, but contrary to the rule of the house. Sooner or later I
would hear a faint scuffling sound in the passage. That was my father
stealing secretly along to listen at my door and see what I was doing. I
covered the light of the candle with my hand, or perhaps blew it out--but
not so quickly but that he would see the streak of light beneath the
door. Then the play would begin. 'You are not reading in bed, are you?'
he would say. 'Certainly not,' I would reply. 'You are sure?' he would
insist. 'Of course, father,' I would answer. Then back he would go, but
only for a little way, and I would hear him come stealthily scuffling
back again. Perhaps the candle would be lit again already, or at all
events uncovered. Would he say anything? Oh, no! He had found out I was
lying. He felt that he had scored a point, and he would save it up. So we
would meet the next morning at breakfast, he knowing that I was a liar, I
knowing that he knew that I was a liar, and both pretending that we were
all in all to each other. A small thing, Sylvia. But crowd your life with
such small things? Spying and deceit and a game of catch-as-catch-can
played by the father and son! My letters were read--I used to know, for
roundabout questions would be put leading up to the elucidation of a
sentence which to any one but myself would be obscure! Do you think any
child could grow up straight, if his boyhood passed in that atmosphere of
trickery? I don't know. Only I think that before I was fifteen my way of
life was a sure and settled thing. It was certain that I should develop
upon the lines on which I was trained."

Garratt Skinner rose from his seat.

"There, I have done," he said. He looked at his daughter for a little
while, his eyes dwelling upon her beauty with a certain pleasure, and
even a certain wistfulness; he looked at her now much as she had been
wont to look at him in the early days of the house in Dorsetshire. It was
very plain that they were father and daughter.

"You are too good for your military man, my dear," he said, with a smile.
"Too pretty and too good. Don't you let him forget it!" And suddenly he
cried out with a burst of passion. "I wish to God you had never come near
me!" And Sylvia, hearing the cry, remembered that on the Sunday evening
when she had first come to the house in Hobart Place, her father had
shown a particular hesitation, had felt some of that remorse of which she
heard the full expression now, in welcoming her to his house and adapting
her to his ends. She raised her downcast eyes and with outstretched hands
took a step forward.

"Father!" she said. But her father was already gone. She heard his step
upon the stairs.

Chayne, however, followed her father from the room and caught him up as
he was leaving the hotel.

"I want to say," he began with some difficulty, "that, if you are pressed
at all for money--"

Garratt Skinner stopped him. He pulled some sovereigns out of one pocket
and some banknotes out of another.

"You see, I have enough to go on with. In fact--" and he looked northward
toward the mountains. Dimly they could be seen under the sickle of a new
moon. "In fact, I propose to-morrow to take your friend Simond and cross
on the high-level to Zermatt."

"But afterward?" asked Chayne.

Garratt Skinner laughed and laughed like a boy. There was a rich
anticipation of enjoyment in the sound.

"Afterward? I shall have a great time. I shall squeeze Mr. Jarvice. It's
what they call in America a cinch."

And with a cheery good-night Garratt Skinner betook himself down the
road.





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