The Queen of Sheba
FROM GENEVA TO CHAMOUNY.
IF there is in all the world as lovely a day’s ride as that from Geneva to Chamouny, it must be the ride from Chamouny to Geneva. Lynde would not have made even this concession the next morning, as a heavy-wheeled carriage, containing three travelers and drawn by four stout Savoy horses, rolled through the Grande Place, and, amid a salvo of whip-lash and a cloud of dust, took the road to Bonneville.
“ I did not think I cared very much for Geneva,” said Miss Denham, leaning from the carriage side to look back at the little Swiss capital set so prettily on the blue edge of Lake Leman; " I did not think I cared for it at all; yet I leave it with a kind of home-leaving regret.”
“ That is because you found complete repose there, I imagine,” said Lynde. “Geneva is blessed among foreign cities in having no rich picture-galleries, or famous cathedrals, or moldy ruins covered all over with moss and history. In other places, you know, one is distracted by the things which it is one’s imperative duty to see, and by the feeling that a life-time is too short properly to see them. Coming from the great Italian cities to Geneva is like falling asleep after some prolonged mental strain. I do not object to waking up and leaving it, however. I should not mind leaving Eden, in pleasant company, on such a morning as this.”
“ The company, and I dare say the morning, are not insensible to your handsome compliment, Mr. Lynde.”
The morning was without flaw, and the company, or at least that part of it represented by Miss Ruth Denham, had more color in its cheeks than usual, and its dark eyes looked very dark and melting under their long fringes. Mrs. Denham was also of a high complexion, but, having a practical turn of mind, she was wondering whether the trunks, which rose like a monument from the footboard of the vehicle, were quite secure. It was a lumbering, comfortable concern, with red and black wheels, and a maroon body set upon complicated springs. The back seat, occupied by the Denhams, was protected by a leather hood, leaving the forward portion of the carriage open. The other seat was amicably shared between Lynde and a pile of waterproofs and woolen wraps, essentials in Switzerland, but which the ladies doubtless would have provided themselves if they had been in the tropics. On the high box in front sat the driver, speaking from time to time in low, confidential tones to the four powerful black horses, whose harnesses were lavishly hung with flaunting chamoistails and made merry with innumerable silver bells.
Copyright, 1877, by H. O. HOUGHTON & Co.
For the last two weeks Lynde had been impatieutly looking forward to this journey. The thought of having an entire day with Miss Denham, on such terms of intimacy as tacitly establish themselves between persons traveling together in the same carriage, had softened the prospect of the final parting at Chamouny; though now he did not intend they should separate there, unless she cruelly willed it. The nature of Miss Denham’s regard for him Lynde had not fathomed. She had been frank and friendly with him, as she might have been with a cousin or a person much older than herself. As he told Flemming, he had never had her a minute alone. The aunt had always accompanied them on their brief walks and excursions about Geneva; whenever she had been unable to do so, the excursion or the walk had been abandoned. Lynde saw, among other gracious things in this day’s ride, a promising opportunity for a tête-à-tête with Miss Denham. Here and there, along the winding ascents, would he tempting foot-paths, short pine-shaded cuts across the rocks, by which the carriage could be intercepted further on. These five or ten minutes’ walks, always made enchanting by some unlooked-for grove, or grotto, or cascade, were nearly certain to lure Miss Ruth to her feet. Then he would have her to himself, for Mrs. Denham seldom walked when she could avoid it. To make assurance doubly sure Lynde could almost have wished her one of those distracting headaches from which hitherto he had suffered so keenly.
For the first few miles the road lay through a succession of villas and cultivated gardens; indeed, these gardens and villas extend all the way to Chêne, where a thin ribbon of a stream, the Foron, draws the boundary line between the canton of Geneva and Savoy. At this point the scenery begins, not too aggressively, to be picturesque; you catch some neat views of the Voirons, and of the range of the Jura lying on your right. Beyond is the village of Annemasse, and the Château of Etrambière, with its quartet of towers, rises from the foot of the Petit-Salève in the bluishgray distance. You no longer see Mont Blanc, except at intervals. Here and there a knot of hamlets clings to some fir-dotted slope, or tries to hide itself away in the bosom of a ravine. All these Alpine villages bear the same resemblance. to each other as so many buttonmolds of different sizes. Each has its quaint little church of stucco, surrounded by clusters of gray and dingy-white headstones and crosses, — like a shepherd standing in the midst of his flock; each has its bedrabbled main street, with a great stone trough into which a stream of ice-cold water is forever flowing, and where comely young women of substantial ankles, with their flaxen hair braided down their backs, are forever washing linen; each has its beggar, with a goitre or a wooden leg, lying in wait for you; and each, in turn, with its purple and green and red tiled roofs, is charming to approach and delightful to get away from.
After leaving Annemasse, the road runs up the valley of the Arve and crosses a bridge over the Menoge. Then comes the village of Nangy, and then Contamines, beyond which, on a bold height, stand the two wrinkled, crumbling towers of the ancient castle of Faucigny, whence the province takes its name. It was at Nangy that a pretty incident befell our travelers. On the outskirts of the village they met fifty or sixty school children marching three abreast, the girls on one side of the road and the boys on the other. The girls — each in a coarse blue or yellow frock, with a snowy neckerchief pinned over her bosom and a pig-tail of hair hanging down her shoulders — seemed for all the world like little old women; and notone of the little men appeared to be less than a hundred and five years old. They suggested a collection of Shems and Japhets, with their wives, taken from a lot of toy Noah’s arks. As the carriage rolled between the two files, all the funny little women bobbed a simultaneous courtesy, and all the little old-fashioned men lifted their hats with the most irresistible gravity conceivable.
“Fancy such a thing happening in the United States!” said Lynde. “ If we were to meet such a crowd at home, half a dozen urchins would immediately fasten themselves to the hind axle, and some of the more playful spirits would probably favor us with a stone or two, or a snowball, according to the season.”
“There comes the curé, now, said Miss Denham. “It is some Sundayschool fête.”
As the curé, a florid, stout person, made an obeisance and passed on, fanning himself leisurely with his shovelhat, his simple round face and white feathery hair put Lynde in mind of the hapless old gentleman whom he mistook for the country parson that morning so long ago. Instantly the whole scene rose before Lynde’s vision. Perhaps the character of the landscape through which they were passing helped to make the recollection very vivid. There was not a cloud in the pale arch; yonder were the far-reaching peaks with patches of snow on them, and there stretched the same rugged, forlorn hills, covered with dwarf bashes and sentineled with phantom-like pines. An odd expression drifted across Lynde’s countenance.
“ What are you smiling at, Mr. Lynde, in that supremely selfish manner? ” inquired Mrs. Denham, looking at him from under her tilted sun-umbrella.
“ Was I smiling? It was at those droll little beggars. They bowed and courtesied in an unconcerned, wooden way, as if they were moved by some ingenious piece of Swiss clock-work. The stiff old curé, too, had an air of having been wound up and set a-going. I could almost hear the creak of his mainspring. I was smiling at that, perhaps, and thinking how strongly the scenery of some portions of our own country resembles this part of Switzerland.”
“Do you think so? I had not remarked it.”
“ This is not the least like anything in the Adirondack region, for example,” observed Miss Ruth.
“ It may be a mere fancy of mine,” returned Lynde. “ However, we have similar geological formations in the mountainous sections of New England; the same uncompromising Gothic sort of pines; the same wintry bleakness that leaves its impress even on the midsummer. A body of water tumbling through a gorge in New Hampshire must be much like a body of water tumbling through a gorge anywhere else.”
“ Undoubtedly all mountain scenery has many features in common,” Mrs. Denham said; “but if I were dropped down on the White Hills, softly from a balloon, let us say, I should know in a second I was not in Switzerland.”
“ I should like to put you to the test in one spot I am familiar with,” said Lynde.
“I should not like to be put to the test just at present,” rejoined Mrs. Denham. “ I am very simple in my tastes, and I prefer the Alps.”
“ Where in New England will you see such a picture as that? ” asked Miss Ruth, pointing to a village which lay in the heart of the valley, shut in on the right by the jagged limestone rocks of the Brezon and on the left by the grassy slopes of the Môle.
“Our rural towns lack color and architecture,” said Lynde. “ They are mostly collections of square or oblong boxes, painted white. I wish we had just one village composed exclusively of rosy tiled houses, with staircases wantonly running up on the outside, and hooded windows, and airy balconies hanging out here and there where you don’t expect them. I would almost overlook the total lack of drainage which seems to go along with these carved eaves and gables, touched in with their blues and browns and yellows. This must be Bonneville we are coming to. We change horses here.”
In a few minutes they swept through an avenue of noble trees, and stopped at the doorstep of an inn alive with passengers by the diligence just arrived from Sallanehes, on its way to Geneva.
Lynle was beginning to feel a trifle out of spirits. The journey thus far had been very pleasant, but it had not wholly fulfilled his expectations. The Denhams had occupied themselves with the scenery; they had not been much inclined to talk; and Lynde had found no opportunity to make himself especially agreeable. They had spoken several times of Flemming, in a vein of eulogy. Lynde loved Flemming; but Flemming as a topic of conversation possessed no particular advantage over landscape. Miss Denham had never looked so lovely to Lynde as she did this day; he was glad to get her again in that closely-fitting drab traveling - dress, laced up to the shapely white throat. A sense of great comfort had stolen over him the two or three times when she had sunk back in the carriage cushions and let her eyes dwell upon him contemplatively for a moment. He was beginning to hate Mrs. Denham, and he thoroughly loathed Bonneville, where a polyglot crowd of tourists came flocking into the small waiting-room just as Miss Ruth was putting up her hair and unconsciously framing for Lynde a never-to-be-forgotten picture in the little cracked innmirror.
Passengers by diligence usually dine at Bonneville, a fact which Lynde had ascertained when he selected Cluses, nine miles beyond, as the resting place for his own party. They were soon on the road again, with the black horses turned into roan, traversing the level meadow lands between the Brezon and the Môle. With each mile, now, the landscape took on new beauty and wildness. The superb mountains — some with cloudy white turrets, some thrusting out huge snow-powdered prongs, and others tapering to steely dagger-points — hemmed them in on every side.
Here they came more frequently on those sorrowful roadside cairns, surmounted by a wooden cross with an obliterated inscription and a shriveled wreath, marking the spot where some peasant or mountaineer had been crushed by a land-slide or smothered in the merciless winter drift. As the carriage approached Cluses, the road crept along the lips of precipices and was literally overhung by the dizzy walls of the Brezon. Crossing the Arve, — you are always crossing the Arve or some mad torrent on your way from Geneva to Chamouny, — the travelers entered the town of Cluses and alighted at one of those small Swiss hotels which continually astonish by their tidiness and excellence.
In spite of the intermittent breeze wandering down from the regions above the snow-line, the latter part of the ride had been intensely hot. The cool, shadowy room, with its table ready laid for dinner near the latticed window, was a welcome change to the three dusty voyagers as they were ushered into it by the German landlord, whose round head thinly thatched with whitey-brown hair gave him the appearance of having been left out over night in a hoar frost. It was a refreshment in itself to look at him, so crisp and cool, with that blinding afternoon glare lying on the heated mountain slopes.
“ I could be contented here a month,” said Mrs. Denham, throwing off her bonnet, and seating herself in the embrasure of the window.
“ The marquis allows us only three quarters of an hour,” Lynde observed. “ He says we cannot afford to lose much time if we want to reach Chamouny before sundown.”
“ Chamouny will wait for us.”
“ But the sunset won’t.”
Lynde had a better reason than that for wishing to press on. It was between there and Magland, or, rather, just beyond Magland, that he proposed to invite Miss Denham to walk. The wonderful cascade of Arpenaz, though it could be seen as well from the carriage, was to serve as pretext. Of course he would be obliged to include Mrs. Denham in his invitation, and he had sufficient faith in the inconsistency of woman not to rely too confidently on her declining. “As she never walks, she’ll come along fast enough,” was Lynde’s grim reflection.
He had by no means resolved on what he should say to Miss Ruth, if he got her alone. In the ten minutes’ walk, which would be almost equivalent to a first interview, he could not say much. He could tell her how grieved he was at the thought of the approaching separation, and tell her in such a manner as would leave her in no great doubt as to the state of his feelings. But whether he went so far as that was a problem which he intended to let chance solve for him.
Lynde was standing on the inn steps with his after-dinner cheroot, meditatively blowing circles of smoke into the air, when the carriage drove round from the stable and the Denhams appeared in the door-way. The young woman gave Lynde an ungloved hand as he assisted her to the seat. The slight pressure of her fingers and the touch of her rings were possessions which he retained until long after the carriage had passed that narrow defile near the stalactite cavern in the Balme, where a couple of tiresome fellows insist on letting off a small cannon for you, to awaken a very disobliging old Echo who refuses to repeat anything more than twice. What a magic there is in hands,—in some hands! Lynde could have held Mrs. Denham’s hand a fortnight without getting anything so tangible as that fleeting touch of Miss Ruth’s.
“ Is the grotto worth seeing? ” Mrs. Denham asked, with a speculative glance up the mountain side.
“It is an hour’s hard climb, and scarcely pays,” replied Lynde, appalled by this indication of Alpine enterprise. “ I visited it the first time I came over the road. You get a good look at the peaks of Mont Douron on the other side of the valley, and that’s all; the grotto itself is not remarkable. But I think it will be worth while to halt a moment when we come to the fall of Nant d’Arpenaz. That is really marvelous. It is said to be nearly as fine as the Staubbach. ”
As Miss Ruth leaned back in the cushions, lazily fastening the third button of her glove with a hair-pin, there was just the faintest glimmer of humor in the eyes that looked up into the young man’s face. He was being read, and he knew it; his dark intentions in regard to that waterfall were probably as legible to her as if they had been printed in great-primer type on his forehead. On two or three occasions at Geneva she had wrested his unworded thought from him with the same effortless sorcery. Lynde evaded her look, and studied a spire-like peak on his left. “I shall have an air of detected villainy now, when I ask her,” he mused. “That’s the first shade of coquetry I ever saw in her. If she accepts my invitation without the aunt, she means either to flirt with me or give me the chance to speak to her seriously. Which is it to be, Miss Ruth? I wonder if she is afraid of Mrs. Denham. Sometimes it seems to me she would be a different girl if it were not for the presence of the aunt.”
By and by, at a bend of the road after passing Magland, the waterfall became visible in the distance. The cascade of Nant d’Arpenaz is one of the highest falls in Savoy, and if it is not the most beautiful, one can still well afford, having seen that, not to see the others. ' It is not a large volume of water, except when swollen by rains, as it happened to be this day, but its plunge from the dizzy brown cliff is the gracefulest thing in the world. The curiously stratified face of the precipice is concave, and the water has a fall of several hundred feet to reach the slope, which, indeed, it seems never to reach; for before the stream has accomplished half the descent it is broken into fine spray, and flaunts loosely in the wind like a veil of the most delicate lace, or, when the sunlight drifts through it, a wondrously wrought Persian scarf. There it appears to hang, miraculously suspended in mid-air, while in fact it descends in imperceptible vapors to the slope, where it re-forms and becomes a furious little torrent that dashes across the road under a bridge and empties itself into the Arve.
The carriage-road skirts the base of the mountain and offers numberless fine views of the cascade as you approach or leave it. It was directly in front of the fall, half a mile distant, though it did not look so far, that the driver, in obedience to previous instruction from Lynde, drew up the horses and halted. At that instant the sunshine slanted across the fall and dashed it with prismatic colors.
“ It is almost too exquisite to look at,” said Mrs. Denham. “ It makes one doubt one’s own eyes.”
“I saw it once,” Lynde said, “when I thought the effect even finer. I was induced by some pleasant English people to stop over night at Magland, and we walked up here in the moonrise. You can’t imagine anything so lovely as that long strip of gossamer unfolding itself to the moonlight. There was an English artist with us, who made a sketch of the fall; but he said a prettier thing about it than his picture.”
“What was that?” inquired Miss Ruth.
“ He called it Penelope’s web, because it is always being unraveled and reknitted.”
“ That artist mistook his profession.”
“ Folks often do,” said Lynde. “ I know painters who ought to be poets, and poets who ought to be brick-layers.”
“ Why brick-layers? ”
“ Because I fancy that brick-laying makes as slight drain on the imagination as almost any pursuit in life. Speaking of poets and waterfalls, do you remember Byron’s daring simile in Manfred? He compares a certain waterfall at the foot of the Jungfrau to the tail of the pale horse ridden by Death in the Apocalypse. Mrs. Denham,” said Lynde abruptly, “ the marquis tells me there’s a delightful short cut, through the rocks here, which strikes into the road a mile further on.”
“ Let us take it then,” answered Mrs. Denham, settling herself comfortably in the cushions.
“ It is a foot-path,” explained Lynde.
“ Oh! ”
“ Our reputation as great American travelers will suffer, Mrs. Denham, if we fail to do a bit of Switzerland on foot. Rather than have that happen I would undertake the expedition alone. It would be mere martyrdom, though, without company.” As Lynde turned the handle of the carriage door and planted his foot on the first step, he ventured a glance at Miss Ruth, who was sitting there with a face as impenetrable as that of the Memphian Sphinx.
“ Certainly, if our reputation is at Stake,” exclaimed Mrs. Denham, rising with alacrity. Lynde could not help his clouded countenance. “No,” she added, slowly sinking back into the seat, “ I’ve no ambition as an explorer. I ideally have not.”
“And Miss Denham?” said Lynde, drawing a scarcely repressed breath of relief.
“ Oh, Ruth can go if she likes,” replied Mrs. Denham, “ provided it is not too far.”
“It is hardly an eighth of a mile across,” said Lynde. “ You will find us waiting for you at the opposite end of the cut, unless you drive rapidly. It is more than a mile by the road.”
“ Do you wish to go, Ruth? ”
Miss Denham hesitated an instant, and then answered by rising impulsively and giving her hand to Lynde. Evidently, her first intention had been to refuse. In a moment more she was standing beside him, and the carriage was lazily crawling up the hill with Mrs. Denham looking back through her glass at the cascade.
A dozen rude steps, partly artificial and partly formed by the strata of the limestone bank, led from the roadside up to the opening of the foot-way. For thirty or forty yards the fern - fringed path was too narrow to admit of two persons walking abreast. Miss Denham, with her skirts gathered in one hand, went first, picking her way over the small loose stones rendered slippery by the moss, and Lynde followed on in silence, hardly able to realize the success of the ruse which had come so near being a failure. His companion was equally preoccupied. Once she stopped for Lynde to detach her dress from a grasping twig, and once to pluck one of those pallid waxen flowers which sometimes daantlessly find a footing even among the snow-drifts of the higher Alps. The air was full of the resinous breath of the pines, whose boughs, meeting and interlacing overhead, formed an arabesqued roof, through the openings of which the afternoon sunshine sifted, as if through stained glass. With the slender stems of the trees rising on each side in the semi-twilight, the grove was like the transept of a cathedral. It seemed a profanation to speak in such a place. Lynde could have wandered on forever in contented silence, with that tall, pliant figure in its severely-cut drapery moving before him. As he watched the pure outline defining itself against the subdued light, he was reminded of a colored bas-relief he had seen on a certain Egyptian vase in the Museum at Naples. Presently the path widened, a brook babbled somewhere ahead among the rocks, and the grove abruptly ended. As Lynde stepped to Miss Denham’s side he heaved a deep, involuntary sigh.
“What a sigh, Mr. Lynde!” she cried, swiftly turning upon him with a surprised smile. “It was scarcely complimentary.”
“ It was not exactly a compliment; it was an unpremeditated monody on the death of this day, which has flown too soon.”
“You are very ready with your monody ; it yet lacks three or four hours of sunset, when one might probably begin to lament. I am enjoying it all too much to have a regret.”
“Do you know, I thought you were not enjoying it —• the journey, I mean? You have not spoken a hundred words since we left Geneva.”
“That was a proof of my perfect enjoyment, as you would know if you knew me better. Fine scenery always affects me like music, and, with Jessica, ‘ I am never merry when I hear sweet music.' Besides, Mr. Lynde, I was forming a plan.”
“A plan ? ”
“ A dark conspiracy” —
“ Is the spirit of Lucretia Borgia present? ”
— “ in which you are to be chief conspirator, Mr. Lynde.”
“ Miss Denham, the person is dead, either by steel or poison; it is all one to me,— I am equally familiar with both methods.”
As the girl lifted up her eyes in a halfserious, half-amused way, and gave him a look in which gentleness and a certain shadow of hauteur were oddly blended, Lynde started in spite of himself. It was the very look of the poor little Queen of Sheba.
“ With your bowl and dagger and monody,” said Miss Denham, breaking into one of her rare laughs, “ you are in full tragedy this afternoon. I am afraid my innocent plot will seem very tame to you in the face of such dreadful things.”
“ I promise beforehand to regard it as the one important matter in the world. What is it? ”
“ Nothing more than this: I want you to insist that aunt Gertrude and I ought to make the ascent of Montanvert and visit the Mer de Glace, — before uncle Denham arrives.”
“ Why, would he object? ”
“I do not think anything would induce him to trust either of us on one of those narrow mule-paths.”
“ But everybody goes up Montanvert as a matter of course. The bridle-way is perfectly safe.”
“ Uncle Denham once witnessed a painful accident on the Wetterhorn, indeed, he himself barely escaped death; and any suggestion of mountain climbing that cannot be done on wheels always meets a negative from him. I suspect my aunt will not strongly favor the proposal, but when I make it I shall depend on you to sustain me.”
“ I shall surely do so. Miss Denham. I have had this same excursion in my mind all along.”
“ I was wondering how I should get the chance to ask the favor of you, when that special Providence, which your friend Mr. Flemming pretends not to believe in, managed it for me.”
“ It wasn’t L then, but Providence, that invited you to walk? ”
“ It looks like it, Mr. Lynde.”
“But at first you were disposed to reject the providential aid.”
“ I hesitated about leaving aunt Gertrude alone.”
“ If you had refused me, there would have been no end to my disappointment. This walk, though it is sixty or seventy miles too short, is the choicest thing in the whole journey.”
“ Come, Mr. Lynde, that is an improvement on your sigh.”
“ Does it occur to you that this is the first time we have chanced to be alone together, in all these weeks? ”
“Yes,” said Miss Ruth, simply, “it is the first time.”
I am a great admirer of Mrs. Denham ” —
“ I do not see how you can help being; she is charming, and she likes you.”
“ But sometimes I have wished that — that Mr. Denham was here.”
“ Why? ” asked Miss Ruth, regarding him full in the face.
“ Because then, may be, she would have been less devoted to you.”
Miss Denham did not reply for a moment.
“My aunt is very fond of me,” she said, gravely. “ She never likes to have me absent an hour from her side.”
“ I can understand that,” said Lynde, with an innocent air.
The girl glanced at him quickly, and went on: “ She adopted me when I was only three years old; we have never been separated since. She lived in Paris all the time I was at school there, though she did not like Paris as a residence. She would make any sacrifice for me that a mother would make for a daughter. She has been mother and sister to me. I cannot overpay her devotion by any unselfishness of mine.”
As she spoke, Lynde caught a hateful glimpse of the road through the stubby pine-trees beyond. It appeared to him only two minutes ago that he was assisting Miss Denham to mount the stone steps at the other extremity of the footpath; and now he was to lose her again. She was with him alone for perhaps the last time.
“ Miss Ruth! ” said Lynde, with sudden earnestness in his voice. He had never before addressed her as Miss Ruth. She raised her eyes furtively to his face. “ Miss Ruth ” —
“ Oh, there ’s the carriage, Mr. Lynde!” exclaimed Miss Denham, releasing the arm she had accepted a few paces back, and hurrying down the path, which here narrowed again as at the entrance to the grove. “ And there is aunt Gertrude,” she added, half-turning to Lynde, with a rich bloom on her cheeks, “ looking as distressed as if we had slipped over some precipice. But we have not, have we, Mr. Lynde? ”
“No, we have n’t slipped over any precipices,” answered Lynde, with a curt laugh, “ I wish we had,” he muttered to himself. “ She has dragged me through that grove and over those stones, and, without preventing me, has not permitted me to breathe the least word of love to her. I don’t know how she did it. That girl’s the most consummate coquette I ever saw. I am a child in her hands. I believe I’m beginning to be afraid of her.”
Miss Ruth was already in the carriage, pinning the Alpine flower to the corsage of her aunt’s dress, when Lynde reached the steps. Mrs. Denham’s features expressed no very deep anxiety that he could discover. That was clearly a fiction of Miss Ruth’s. Lynde resumed his place on the front seat, and the horses started forward. He was amused and vexed at the inconsequence of his interview with Miss Denham, and did not know whether to be wholly vexed or wholly amused. He had, at least, broken the ice, and it would be easier for him to speak when another opportunity offered. She had understood, and had not repulsed him; she had merely evaded him. Perhaps he had been guilty of a mismove in attempting to take her at a disadvantage. He was too discreet to dream of proposing any more walks. A short cut was plainly not the most direct way to reach Miss Denham.
She was in livelier spirits now than she had been in at any time during the day. “ The exercise has done you good, Ruth,” remarked Mrs. Denham; “ I am sorry I did not accept Mr. Lynde’s invitation myself.” Mr. Lynde was also politely sorry, and Miss Ruth contributed her regrets with an emphasis that struck Lynde as malicious and over done.
Shortly before arriving at St. Martin, Miss Ruth broached her Montanvert project, which, as she had prophesied, was coldly received by the aunt. Lynde hastened to assure Mrs. Denham that the ascent, was neither dangerous nor difficult. Even guides were not necessary, though it was convenient to have them to lead the animals. On the way up there were excellent views of the Flégère and the Brévent. There was a capital inn at the summit, where they could lunch, and from the cliff behind the inn one could look directly down on the Mer de Glace. Then Lynde fell back upon his Murray and Baedeker. It was here that Professor Tyndall spent many weeks, at different times, investigating the theory of glacier motion; and the Englishman’s hut, which Goethe mentions in his visit to the scene in 1779, was still standing. Miss Ruth begged with both eyes; the aunt wavered, and iinally yielded. As a continuance of tine weather could not be depended on, it was agreed that they should undertake the ascent the following morning immediately after daybreak. Then the conversation drooped.
The magnificent scenery through which their route now wound began to absorb them. Here they crossed a bridge, spanning a purple chasm whose snake-like thread of water could be heard hissing among the sharp flints a hundred feet below; now they rattled through the street of a sleepy village that seemed to have no reason for being except its picturesqueness; now they were creeping up a tortuous steep gloomed by menacing crags; and now their way lingered for miles along a precipice, over the edge of which they could see the spear-like tips of the tall pines reaching up from the valley.
At the bridge between St. Martin and Sallanehes the dazzling silver peaks of Mont Blanc, rising above the green pasturage of the Forelaz, abruptly revealed themselves to the travelers, who fancied for the moment that they were close upon the mountain. It was twelve miles away in a bee-line. From this point one never loses sight of those vast cones and tapering aiguilles. A bloom as delicate as that of the ungathered peach was gradually settling on all the fairy heights.
As the travelers drew nearer to the termination of their journey, they were less and less inclined to converse. At every turn of the sinuous road fresh splendors broke upon them. By slow degrees the glaciers became visible: first those of Gria and Taconay; then the Glacier des Bossons, thrusting a crook of steel-blue ice far into the valley; and then — faintly discernible in the distance, and seemingly a hand’s breadth of snow framed by the sombre gorge — the Glacier des Bois, a frozen estuary of the Mer de Glace,
The twilight was now falling. For the last hour or more the three inmates of the carriage had scarcely spoken. They had unresistingly given themselves over to the glamour of the time and place. Along the ravines and in the lower gorges and chasms the gray dusk was gathering; high overhead the domes and pinnacles were each instant taking deeper tinges of rose and violet. It seemed as if a word loudly or carelessly uttered would break the spell of the alpglühen. It was all like a dream, and it was in his quality of spectral figure in a dream that the driver suddenly turned on the box, and, pointing over his shoulder with the handle of his whip said, —
“ Chamouny! ”
The mist was still lingering in the valleys, though the remote peaks had been kindled more than an hour by the touch of sunrise. As Lynde paced up and down the trottoir in front of the Couronne Hotel, he drew out his watch from time to time and glanced expectantly towards the hotel entrance. In the middle of the street stood a couple of guides, idly holding the bridles of three mules, two of which were furnished with side-saddles. It was nearly half an hour past the appointment, and the Denhams, who had retired at eight o’clock the night before in order to be fresh for an early start up the mountain, had made no sign. Lynde himself had set the lark an example that morning by breakfasting by candle-light. Here were thirty minutes lost. He quickened his pace up and down in front of the hotel, as if his own rapidity of movement would possibly exert some occult influence in hastening the loiterers; but another quarter of an hour dragged on without bringing them.
Lynde was impatiently consulting his watch for the twentieth time when Miss Denham’s troubled face showed itself in the door-way.
“ Is n’t it too bad, Mr. Lynde? Aunt Gertrude can’t go! ”
“ Can’t go! ” faltered Lynde.
“ She has a headache from yesterday’s ride. She got up, and dressed, but was obliged to he down again.”
“Then that’s the end of it, I suppose,” said Lynde, despondently. He beckoned to one of I he guides.
“I don’t know, " said Miss Denham, standing in an attitude of Irresolution on the upper step, with her curved eyebrows drawn together like a couple of blackbirds touching bills. “ I don’t know what to do . . . she insists on our going. I shall never forgive myself for letting her see that I was disappointed. She added my concern for her illness to my regret about the excursion, and thought me more disappointed than I really was. Then she declared she would go in spite of her headache . . . unless I went.”
The gloom which had overspread Lytide’s countenance vanished.
“ It is not one of her severest turns,” continued Miss Ruth, ceasing to be a statue on a pedestal and slowly descending the hotel steps with her waterproof trailing from her left arm, “and she is quite capable of executing her threat. What shall we do, Mr. Lynde? ”
“ I think we had better try the mountain,— for her sake,” answered Lynde.
“ We need not attempt the Mer de Glace, you know; that can be left for another day. The ascent takes only two hours, the descent half an hour less; we can easily be back in time for lunch.”
“ Then let us do that.”
Lynde selected the more amiable looking of the two mules with side-saddles, dismissed one of the guides after a brief consultation, and helped Miss Denham to mount. In attending to these preliminaries Lynde had suilicient mastery over himself not to make any indecorous betrayal of his intense satisfaction at the turn affairs had taken. Fortune had given her into his hands for five hours! She should listen this time to what he had to say, though the mountain should fall.
At a signal from Lynde the remaining guide led the way at a brisk pace through the bustling town. In front of the various hotels were noisy groups of tourists about to set forth on pilgrimages, some hound for the neighboring glaciers and cascades, and others preparing for more distant and more hardy enterprises. It was a perfect Babel of voices, — French, Scotch, German, Italian, and English; with notes of every sort of patois,— above which the strident bass of the mules soared triumphantly at intervals. There are not many busier spots than Chamouny at early morning in the height of the season.
Our friends soon left the tumult and confusion behind them, and were skirting the pleasant meadows outside of the town. Passing by the way of the English church, they crossed to the opposite bank of the Arve, and in a few minutes gained the hamlet lying at the foot of Montanvert. Then the guide took the bridle of Miss Ruth’s mule and the ascent began. The road stretches up the mountain in a succession of zigzags with sharp turns. Here and there the path is quarried out of the begrudging solid rock; in places the terrace is several yards wide and well wooded, but for the most part it is a barren shelf with a shaggy wall rising abruptly on one hand and a steep slope descending on the other. Higher up, these slopes become quite respectable precipices. A dozen turns, which were accomplished in unbroken silence, brought the party to an altitude of several hundred feet above the level.
“ I— I don’t know that I wholly like it,”said Miss Ruth, holding on to the pommel of her saddle and looking down into the valley, checkered with fields and criss-crossed with shining rivulets. “Why do the mules persist in walking on the very edge ? ”
“ That is a trick they get from carrying panniers. You are supposed to be a pannier, and the careful animal does n’t want to brush you off against the rocks. See this creature of mine; he has that hind hoof slipping over the precipice all the while. But he'll not slip; he’s as sure-footed as a chamois, and has no more taste for tumbling off the cliff than you have. These mules are wonderfully intelligent. Observe how cautiously they will put foot on a loose stone, feeling all around it.”
“ I wish they were intelligent enough to be led in the middle of the path,” said Miss Ruth, “ but I suppose the guide knows.”
“ You may trust to him; he is a person of varied accomplishments, the chief of which is he does n't understand a word of English. So you can scold, or say anything you like, without the least reserve. I picked him out. for that,” added Lynde with a bland smile. “ His comrade was a linguist.”
“ If I have anything disagreeable to say,” replied Miss Ruth, with another bland smile, “ I shall say it in French.”
The guide, who spoke four languages, including English, never changed a muscle. Lynde, just before starting, had closely examined the two guides on their lingual acquirements — and retained the wrong man.
“I trust you will have no occasion, Miss Denham, to be anything but amiable, and that you will begin by granting me a favor. Will you? ”
“ Cela dépend.”
“There you go into French! I have n’t offended you? ”
“Oh, no. What is the favor? —in English,”
“ That you will let me call you Miss Ruth, instead of Miss Denham.”
“I haven’t the slightest objection, Mr. Lynde.”
“ Thanks. And now I want you ” —
“ What, another favor? ”
“ Of course. Who ever heard of one favor? ”
“ To be sure! What is the second? ”
“I want you should be a little sorry when all this conies to an end.”
“You mean when we leave Chamouny ? ”
“I shall he sorry then,” said Miss Ruth, frankly, “ but I am not going to be sorry beforehand.”
There was something very sweet to Lynde in her candor, but there was also something that restrained him for the moment from being as explicit as he had intended. He rode on awhile without speaking, watching the girl as the mule now and then turned the sharp angle of the path and began a new ascent. This movement always brought her face to face with him a moment, — she on the grade above, and he below. Miss Ruth had grown accustomed to the novel situation, and no longer held on by the pommel of the saddle. Site sat with her hands folded in her lap, pliantly lending herself to the awkward motion of the animal. Over her usual traveling habit she had thrown the long waterproof which reached to her feet. As she sat there in a half listless attitude, she was the very picture of the Queen of Sheba seated upon Deacon Twombly’s mare. Lynde could not help seeing it; but he was schooling himself by degrees to this fortuitous resemblance. It was painful, but it was inevitable, and he would get used to it in time. “ Perhaps,” he mused, “ if I had never had that adventure with the poor insane girl, I might not have looked twice at Miss Denham when we met — and loved her. It was the poor little queen who shaped my destiny, and I ought n’t to be ungrateful.” He determined to tell the story to Miss Ruth some time when a fitting occasion offered.
It was only when the likeness flashed upon Lynde suddenly, as it had done in the grove the previous day, that it now had the power to startle him. At the present moment it did not even seriously annoy him. In an idle, pensive way he noted the coincidence of the man leading the mule. The man was Morton and the mule was Mary! Lynde smiled to himself at the reflection that Mary would probably not accept the analogy with very good grace if she knew about it. This carried him to Rivermouth; then he thought of Cinderella’s slipper, packed away in the old hair trunk in the closet, and how perfectly the slipper would fit one of those feet which a floating fold of the waterproof that instant revealed to him —and he was in Switzerland again.
“Miss Ruth,” he said, looking up quickly and urging his mule as closely behind hers as was practicable, “what are your plans to be when your uncle comes? ”
“ When my uncle comes we shall have no plans, —aunt Gertrude and I. Uncle Denham always plans for everybody.”
“ I do not imagine he will plan for me,” said Lynde, gloomily. “ I wish he would, for I shall not know wliat to do with myself.”
“ I thought you were going to St. Petersburg.”
“ I have given that up.”
“ It ’s to be Northern Germany, then? ”
“ No, I have dropped that idea, too. Will Mr. Denliam remain here any time? ”
“ Probably not long.”
“ What is to become of me after you are gone! ” exclaimed Lynde. “ When I think of Mr. Denham sweeping down on Chamouny to carry you off, I am tempted to drive this mule straight over the brink of one of these precipices! ”
The girl leaned forward, looking at the rocky wall of the Flégère through an opening in the pines, and made no reply.
“Miss Ruth,” said Lynde, “ I must speak! ”
“Do not speak,” she said, turning upon him with a half-imperious, halfappealing gesture, “ I forbid you; ” and then more gently: “we have four or five days, perhaps a week, to be together; we are true, frank friends. Let us be just that to the end.”
“Those are mercifully cruel words,” returned the young man, with a, dull pain at his heart. " It is a sweet way of saying a bitter thing. ”
“ It is a way of saving that your friendship is very dear to me. Mr. Lynde,” she replied, sitting erect in the saddle, with the brightness and the blackness deepening in her eyes. “ I wonder if I can make you understand how I prize it. My life has not been quite like that of other girls, partly because I have lived much abroad, and partly because I have been very delicate ever since my childhood; I had a serious lung trouble then, which has never left me. You would not think it, to look at me. Perhaps it is the anxiety I have given aunt Gertrude which has made her so tenacious of my affection that I have scarcely been permitted to form even those intimacies which girls form among themselves. I have never known any one— any gentleman — as intimately as I have known you. She has let me have you for my friend.”
“ But Miss Ruth ” —
“ Mr. Lynde,” she said, interrupting him, “ it was solely to your friendship that my aunt confided me to-day. I should be deceiving her if I allowed you to speak as — as you were speaking.”
Lynde saw his mistake. He should have addressed himself in the first instance to the aunt. He had been lacking in proper regard for the convenances, forgetting that Ruth’s education had been different from that of American girls. At home, if you love a girl you tell her so; over here, you go and tell her grandmother. Lynde dropped his head and remained silent, resolving to secure an interview with Mrs. Denham that night if possible. After a moment or two he raised his face. “Miss Ruth,” said he, “ if I had to choose, I would rather be your friend than any other woman’s lover.”
“ That is settled, then,” she returned, with heightened color. “We will not refer to this again;” and she brushed away a butterfly that was fluttering about her coneeitedly in its new golden corslet.
Meanwhile the guide marched bn stolidly with Ruth’s reins thrown loosely over the crook of his elbow. In his summer courses up and down the mountain, the man, with his four languages, had probably assisted dumbly at much fugitive love-making and many a conjugal passage at arms. He took slight note of the conversation between the two young folks; he was clearly more interested in a strip of black cloud that bad come within the half hour and hung itself over the Aiguille du Dru.
The foot-path and the bridle-road from Chamouny unite at the Caillet, a spring of fresh water half-way up the mountain. There the riders dismounted and rested five or six minutes at a rude hut perched like a brown bird under the cliff.
“I’ve the fancy to go on foot the rest of the distance,” Lynde remarked, as he assisted Ruth into the saddle again.
“Then I ’ll let you lead the mule, if you will,” said Ruth. “ I am not the least afraid.”
“That is an excellent idea ! Why did you not think of it sooner ? I shall expect a buonamano, like a real guide, you know.”
“ I will give it you in advance,” she said gayly, reaching forward and pretending to hold a coin between her thumb and finger.
Lynde caught her hand and retained it an instant, but did not dare to press it. He was in mortal fear of a thing which he could have crushed like a flower in his palm.
The young man drew the reins over his arm and moved forward, glancing behind him at intervals to assure himself that his charge was all right. As they approached the summit of the mountain the path took abrupter turns, and was crossed in numberless places by the channels of winter avalanches, which had mown down great pines a? if they had been blades of grass. Here and there a dry water-course stretched like a wrinkle along the scarred face of the hill.
“Look at that, Miss Ruth!” cried Lynde, checking the mule and pointing to a slope far below them.
Nature, who loves to do a gentle thing even in her most savage moods, had taken one of those empty water-courses and filled it from end to end with forget-menots. As the wind ruffled the millions of petals, this bed of flowers, only a few inches wide but nearly a quarter of a mile in length, looked like a flashing stream of heavenly blue water rushing down the mountain side.
By and by the faint kling-kling of a cow-bell sounding far up the height told the travelers that they were nearing the plateau. Occasionally they descried a herdsman’s châlet, pitched at an angle against the wind on the edge of an arête, or clinging like a wasp’s nest to some jutting cornice of rock. After making four or five short turns, the party passed through a clump of scraggy, wind-swept pines, and suddenly found themselves at the top of Montanvert.
A few paces brought them to the Pavilion, a small inn kept by the guide Couttet. Here the mules were turned over to the hostler, and Miss Ruth and Lynde took a quarter of an hour’s rest, examining the collection of crystals and moss-agates and horn-carvings which M. Couttet has for show in the apartment that serves him as salon, café, and museum. Then the two set out for the rocks overlooking the glacier.
The cliff rises precipitously two hundred and fifty feet above the frozen sea, whose windings can be followed for a distance of five miles, to the walls of the Grandes and Petites Jorasses. Surveyed from this height, the Mer de Glace presents the appearance of an immense plowed field covered by a fall of snow that has become dingy. The peculiar corrugation of the surface is scarcely discernible, and one sees nothing of the wonderful crevasses, those narrow and often fathomless partings of the ice, to look into which is like looking into a split sapphire. The first view from the cliff is disappointing, but presently the marvel of it all assails and possesses one.
“ I should like to go clown on the ice,” said Ruth, after regarding the scene for several minutes in silence.
“ We must defer that to another day,” said Lynde. " The descent of the moraine from this point is very arduous, and is seldom attempted by ladies. Besides, if we do anything we ought to cross the glacier and go home by the way of the Mauvais Pas. We will do that yet. Let us sit upon this bowlder and talk.”
“ What shall we talk about? I don’t feel like talking.”
“I’ll talk to you. I don’t know of what. . . . I will tell you a story.”
“ A story, Mr. Lynde? I like stories as if I were only six years old. But I don’t like those stories which begin with ‘ Once there was a little girl,’ who always turns out to be the little girl that is listening.”
“Mine is not of that kind,” replied Lynde, with a smile, steadying Miss Ruth by the hand as she seated herself on the bowlder; “and yet it touches on you indirectly. It all happened long ago.”
“It concerns me, and happened long ago? I am interested already. Begin!”
“ It was in the summer of 1872. I was a clerk in a bank then, at Rivermouth, and the directors had given me a vacation. I hired a crazy old horse and started on a journey through New Hampshire. I did n’t have any destination; I merely purposed to ride on and on until I got tired, and then ride home again. The weather was beautiful, and for the first three or four days I never enjoyed myself better in my life. The flowers were growing, the birds were singing, — the robins in the sunshine and the whip-poor-wills at dusk, — and the hours were not long enough for me. At night I slept in a tumble-down barn, or anywhere, like a born tramp. I had a mountain brook for a wash-basin and the west wind for a towel. Sometimes I invited myself to a meal at a farmhouse when there was n’t a tavern handy; and when there was n’t any farm-house, and I was very hungry, I lay down under a tree and read in a book of poems.”
“ Oh, that was just delightful! ” said Ruth, knitting the fingers of both hands over one knee and listening to him with a child-like abandon which Lynde found bewitching.
“ On the fourth day — there are some people crossing on the ice,” said Lynde, interrupting himself.
“ Never mind the people on the ice ! ”
“ On the fourth day I came to a wild locality among the Ragged Mountains, where there was not. a human being nor a house to be seen. I had got up before breakfast was ready that morning, and I was quite anxious to see the smoke curling up from some kitchen chimney. Here, as I mounted a hill-side, the saddle-girth broke, and I jumped off to fix it. Somehow, I don’t know precisely how, the horse gave a plunge, jerked the reins out of my hands, and started on a dead run for Rivermouth.”
“That wasn’t very pleasant,” suggested Ruth.
“Not a bit. I couldn’t catch the animal, and I had the sense not to try. I climbed to the brow of the hill and was not sorry to see a snug village lying in the valley.”
“ What village was that? ”
“ I don’t know to this day — with any certainty. I didn’t find out then, and afterwards I did n’t care to learn. Well, I shouldered my traps and started for the place to procure another horse, not being used to going under the saddle myself. I had a hard time before I got through; but that I shall not tell you about. On ray way to the village I met a young girl. This young girl is the interesting part of the business.”
“ She always is, you know.”
“ She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen — up to that time. She was dressed all in white, and looked like an angel. I expected she would spread wing and vanish before I could admire her half enough; but she did not. The moment she saw me she walked straight to the spot where I stood, and looked me squarely in the face.”
“ Was n’t that rather rude — for an angel ? ”
“ You would n’t have thought so. She did it like a young goddess with the supreme prerogative to flash herself that way on mortals by the roadside.”
“ Oh, she was a young goddess as well as an angel.”
“ After she had looked me in the eye a second,” continued Lynde, not heeding the interruption, “she said—what do you suppose she said? ”
“ How can I imagine ? ”
“ You could not, in a thousand years. Instead of saying, ‘ Good morning, sir,’ and dropping me a courtesy, she made herself very tall and said, with quite a grand air, ' I am the Queen of Sheba !' Just fancy it. Then she turned on her heel and ran up the road.”
“ Oh, that was very rude. Is this a true story, Mr. Lynde? ”
“ That is the sad part of it, Miss Ruth. This poor child had lost her reason, as I learned subsequently. She had wandered out of an asylum in the neighborhood. After a while some men came and took her back again, — on my horse, which they had captured in the road.”
“ The poor, poor girl! I am sorry for her to the heart. Your story began like a real romance; is that all of it? It is sad enough.”
“ That is all. Of course I never saw her afterwards.”
“ But you remembered her, and pitied her?”
“ For a long time, Miss Ruth.”
“I like you for that. But what has this to do with me? You said ” —
“The story touched on you indirectly? ”
“ Well, so it does; I will tell you how. This poor girl was beautiful enough in your own fashion to he your sister, and when I first saw you ” —
“Monsieur,” said the guide, respectfully lifting a forefinger to his hat as he approached, “ I think it looks like rain.”
The man had spoken in English. Ruth went crimson to the temples, and Lymle’s face assumed a comical expression of dismay.
“Looks like rain,” he repeated mechanically. “ I thought you told me you did not understand English,”
“ Monsieur is mistaken. It is Jean Macquart that does not spik English.”
“Very well,” said Lynde; “if it is going to rain we had better be moving. It would not be pleasant to get blockaded up here by a storm — or rather it would! Are the animals ready? ”
“ They are waiting at the foot of the path, monsieur.”
Lynde lost no time getting Ruth into the saddle, and the party began their descent, the guide again in charge of the girl’s mule. On the downward journey they unavoidably faced the precipices, and the road appeared to them much steeper than when they ascended.
“Is it wind or rain, do you think? ” asked Lynde, looking at a wicked black cloud that with angrily-curled white edges was lowering itself over the valley.
“ I think it is both, monsieur.”
“ How soon? ”
“ I cannot know. Within an hour, surely.”
“Perhaps we were wrong to attempt going down,” said Lynde.
“ Monsieur might be kept at Couttet’s one, two — three days. But,if monsieur wishes, I will go on and tell the friends of mademoiselle that you are detained.”
“Oh, no!” cried Ruth, filled with horror at the suggestion. “ We must return. I shall not mind the rain, if it comes.”
As she spoke, a loose handful of large drops rustled through the pine-boughs overhead, and softly dashed themselves against the rocks.
“ It has come,” said Lynde.
“ I have my waterproof,” returned the girl. “ I shall do very well. But you ” —
The sentence was cut short by a flash of lightning, followed by a heavy peal of thunder that rolled through the valley and reverberated for one or two minutes among the hills. The guide grasped the reins close up to the bits, and urged the mule forward at a brisk trot. The sky cleared, and for a moment it looked as if the storm had drifted elsewhere; but the party had not advanced twenty paces before there was a strange rustling sound in the air, and the rain came down. The guide whipped off a coarse woolen coat he wore, and threw it over the girl’s shoulders, tying it by the sleeves under her chin.
“Oh, you must not do that!” she cried, “ you will catch your death! ”
“Mademoiselle,” he replied, laughing, as he gave another knot to the sleeves, “ for thirty-eight years, man and boy, I have been rained upon and snowed upon — and voilà! ”
“ You ’re a fine fellow, my friend, if you do speak English,” cried Lynde, “ and I hope some honest girl has found it out before now.”
“ Monsieur,” returned the man, signing himself with the cross, “ she and the little, one are in heaven.”
The rain came down in torrents; it pattered like shot against the rocks; it beat the air of the valley into mist. Except the path immediately before them, and the rocky perpendicular wall now on their right and now on their left, the travelers could distinguish nothing through the blinding rain. Shortly the wind began to blow, whistling in the stiff pines as it whistles among the taut cordage of a ship in a gale. At intervals it tore along the salient zigzags and threatened to sweep the mules off their legs. The flashes of lightning now followed each other in rapid succession, and the thunder crashed incessantly through the gorges. It appeared as if the great cones and cromlechs were tumbling pell-mell from every direction into the valley.
Though the situation of the three persons on the mountain side was disagreeable to the last extent, they were exposed to only one especial danger,— that from a land-slide or a detached bowlder At every ten steps the guide glanced up the dripping steep, and listened. Even the mules were not without a prescience of this peril. The sharpest lightning did not make them wince, but at the faintest sound of a splinter of rock or a pebble rustling down the slope, their ears instantly went forward at an acute angle. The footing soon became difficult on account of the gullies formed by the rain. In spite of his anxiety concerning Ruth, Lynde could not help admiring the skill with which the sagacious animals felt their way. Each fore hoof as it touched the earth seemed endowed with the sense of fingers.
Lynde had dismounted after the rain set in and was walking beside the girl’s mule. Once, as an unusually heavy clap of thunder burst over their heads, she had impulsively stretched out her hand to him; he had taken it, and still held it, covered by a fold of the waterproof, steadying her so. He was wet to the skin, but Ruth’s double wraps had preserved her thus far from anything beyond the dampness.
“Are you cold?” he asked. Her hand was like ice.
“Not very,” she replied, in a voice rendered nearly inaudible by a peal of thunder that shook the mountain. A ball of crimson fire hung for a second in the murky sky and then shot into the valley. The guide glanced at Lynde, as much as to say, “ That struck.”
They were rapidly leaving the wind above them; its decrease was noticeable as they neared the Caillet. The rain also had lost its first fury, and was falling steadily. Here and there bright green patches of the level plain showed themselves through the broken vapors. Ruth declined to halt at the Caillet; her aunt would be distracted about her, and it was better to take advantage of the slight lull in the storm, and push on. So they stopped at the hut only long enough for Lynde to procure a glass of cognac, a part of which he induced the girl to drink. Then they resumed their uncomfortable march.
When Lynde again looked at his companion he saw that her lips were purple, and her teeth set. She confessed this time to being very cold. The rain had at length penetrated the thick wrappings and thoroughly chilled her. Lynde was in despair, and began bitterly to reproach himself for having undertaken the excursion without Mrs. Denham. Her presence could not have warded off the storm, but it would have rendered it possible for the party to postpone their descent until pleasant weather. Undoubtedly it had been his duty to leave Miss Ruth at the inn and return alone to Chamouny. He had not thought of that when the guide made his suggestion. There was now nothing to do hut to hurry.
The last part of the descent was accomplished at a gait which offered the cautious mules no chance to pick their steps. Lynile’s animal, left to its own devices, was following on behind, nibbling the freshened grass. But the road was not so rough, and the stretches protected by the trees were in good condition. In less than three quarters of an hour from the half-way hut, the party were at the foot of the mountain, where they found a close carriage which Mrs. Denham had thoughtfully sent to meet them. Benumbed with the cold and cramped by riding so long in one position, the girl was unable to stand when she was lifted from the saddle. Lynde carried her to the carriage and wrapped her in a heavy afghan that lay on the seat. They rode to the hotel without exchanging a word. Lynde was in too great trouble, and Ruth was too exhausted to speak. She leaned back with her eyes partially closed, and did not open them until the carriage stopped. Mrs. Denham stood at the hall door.
“ Mr. Lynde! Mr. Lynde! ” she said, taking the girl in her arms.
The tone of reproach in her voice cut him to the quick.
“ He was in no way to blame, aunt,” said Ruth, trying to bring a smile to her blanched face, “ it was I who would go.” She reached back her hand unperceived by Mrs. Denham and gave it to Lynde. He raised it gratefully to his lips, but as he relinquished it and turned away he experienced a sudden, inexplicable pang, — as if he had said farewell to her.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich.