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    Act III

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    Chapter 4
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    IN THE VALLEY

    It was about the middle of the month of February when Vendale and
    Obenreizer set forth on their expedition. The winter being a hard one,
    the time was bad for travellers. So bad was it that these two
    travellers, coming to Strasbourg, found its great inns almost empty. And
    even the few people they did encounter in that city, who had started from
    England or from Paris on business journeys towards the interior of
    Switzerland, were turning back.

    Many of the railroads in Switzerland that tourists pass easily enough
    now, were almost or quite impracticable then. Some were not begun; more
    were not completed. On such as were open, there were still large gaps of
    old road where communication in the winter season was often stopped; on
    others, there were weak points where the new work was not safe, either
    under conditions of severe frost, or of rapid thaw. The running of
    trains on this last class was not to be counted on in the worst time of
    the year, was contingent upon weather, or was wholly abandoned through
    the months considered the most dangerous.

    At Strasbourg there were more travellers' stories afloat, respecting the
    difficulties of the way further on, than there were travellers to relate
    them. Many of these tales were as wild as usual; but the more modestly
    marvellous did derive some colour from the circumstance that people were
    indisputably turning back. However, as the road to Basle was open,
    Vendale's resolution to push on was in no wise disturbed. Obenreizer's
    resolution was necessarily Vendale's, seeing that he stood at bay thus
    desperately: He must be ruined, or must destroy the evidence that Vendale
    carried about him, even if he destroyed Vendale with it.

    The state of mind of each of these two fellow-travellers towards the
    other was this. Obenreizer, encircled by impending ruin through
    Vendale's quickness of action, and seeing the circle narrowed every hour
    by Vendale's energy, hated him with the animosity of a fierce cunning
    lower animal. He had always had instinctive movements in his breast
    against him; perhaps, because of that old sore of gentleman and peasant;
    perhaps, because of the openness of his nature, perhaps, because of his
    better looks; perhaps, because of his success with Marguerite; perhaps,
    on all those grounds, the two last not the least. And now he saw in him,
    besides, the hunter who was tracking him down. Vendale, on the other
    hand, always contending generously against his first vague mistrust, now
    felt bound to contend against it more than ever: reminding himself, "He
    is Marguerite's guardian. We are on perfectly friendly terms; he is my
    companion of his own proposal, and can have no interested motive in
    sharing this undesirable journey." To which pleas in behalf of
    Obenreizer, chance added one consideration more, when they came to Basle
    after a journey of more than twice the average duration.

    They had had a late dinner, and were alone in an inn room there,
    overhanging the Rhine: at that place rapid and deep, swollen and loud.
    Vendale lounged upon a couch, and Obenreizer walked to and fro: now,
    stopping at the window, looking at the crooked reflection of the town
    lights in the dark water (and peradventure thinking, "If I could fling
    him into it!"); now, resuming his walk with his eyes upon the floor.

    "Where shall I rob him, if I can? Where shall I murder him, if I must?"
    So, as he paced the room, ran the river, ran the river, ran the river.

    The burden seemed to him, at last, to be growing so plain, that he
    stopped; thinking it as well to suggest another burden to his companion.

    "The Rhine sounds to-night," he said with a smile, "like the old
    waterfall at home. That waterfall which my mother showed to travellers
    (I told you of it once). The sound of it changed with the weather, as
    does the sound of all falling waters and flowing waters. When I was
    pupil of the watchmaker, I remembered it as sometimes saying to me for
    whole days, 'Who are you, my little wretch? Who are you, my little
    wretch?' I remembered it as saying, other times, when its sound was
    hollow, and storm was coming up the Pass: 'Boom, boom, boom. Beat him,
    beat him, beat him.' Like my mother enraged--if she was my mother."

    "If she was?" said Vendale, gradually changing his attitude to a sitting
    one. "If she was? Why do you say 'if'?"

    "What do I know?" replied the other negligently, throwing up his hands
    and letting them fall as they would. "What would you have? I am so
    obscurely born, that how can I say? I was very young, and all the rest
    of the family were men and women, and my so-called parents were old.
    Anything is possible of a case like that."

    "Did you ever doubt--"

    "I told you once, I doubt the marriage of those two," he replied,
    throwing up his hands again, as if he were throwing the unprofitable
    subject away. "But here I am in Creation. _I_ come of no fine family.
    What does it matter?"

    "At least you are Swiss," said Vendale, after following him with his eyes
    to and fro.

    "How do I know?" he retorted abruptly, and stopping to look back over his
    shoulder. "I say to you, at least you are English. How do you know?"

    "By what I have been told from infancy."

    "Ah! I know of myself that way."

    "And," added Vendale, pursuing the thought that he could not drive back,
    "by my earliest recollections."

    "I also. I know of myself that way--if that way satisfies."

    "Does it not satisfy you?"

    "It must. There is nothing like 'it must' in this little world. It
    must. Two short words those, but stronger than long proof or reasoning."

    "You and poor Wilding were born in the same year. You were nearly of an
    age," said Vendale, again thoughtfully looking after him as he resumed
    his pacing up and down.

    "Yes. Very nearly."

    Could Obenreizer be the missing man? In the unknown associations of
    things, was there a subtler meaning than he himself thought, in that
    theory so often on his lips about the smallness of the world? Had the
    Swiss letter presenting him followed so close on Mrs. Goldstraw's
    revelation concerning the infant who had been taken away to Switzerland,
    because he was that infant grown a man? In a world where so many depths
    lie unsounded, it might be. The chances, or the laws--call them
    either--that had wrought out the revival of Vendale's own acquaintance
    with Obenreizer, and had ripened it into intimacy, and had brought them
    here together this present winter night, were hardly less curious; while
    read by such a light, they were seen to cohere towards the furtherance of
    a continuous and an intelligible purpose.

    Vendale's awakened thoughts ran high while his eyes musingly followed
    Obenreizer pacing up and down the room, the river ever running to the
    tune: "Where shall I rob him, if I can? Where shall I murder him, if I
    must?" The secret of his dead friend was in no hazard from Vendale's
    lips; but just as his friend had died of its weight, so did he in his
    lighter succession feel the burden of the trust, and the obligation to
    follow any clue, however obscure. He rapidly asked himself, would he
    like this man to be the real Wilding? No. Argue down his mistrust as he
    might, he was unwilling to put such a substitute in the place of his late
    guileless, outspoken childlike partner. He rapidly asked himself, would
    he like this man to be rich? No. He had more power than enough over
    Marguerite as it was, and wealth might invest him with more. Would he
    like this man to be Marguerite's Guardian, and yet proved to stand in no
    degree of relationship towards her, however disconnected and distant? No.
    But these were not considerations to come between him and fidelity to the
    dead. Let him see to it that they passed him with no other notice than
    the knowledge that they _had_ passed him, and left him bent on the
    discharge of a solemn duty. And he did see to it, so soon that he
    followed his companion with ungrudging eyes, while he still paced the
    room; that companion, whom he supposed to be moodily reflecting on his
    own birth, and not on another man's--least of all what man's--violent
    Death.

    The road in advance from Basle to Neuchatel was better than had been
    represented. The latest weather had done it good. Drivers, both of
    horses and mules, had come in that evening after dark, and had reported
    nothing more difficult to be overcome than trials of patience, harness,
    wheels, axles, and whipcord. A bargain was soon struck for a carriage
    and horses, to take them on in the morning, and to start before daylight.

    "Do you lock your door at night when travelling?" asked Obenreizer,
    standing warming his hands by the wood fire in Vendale's chamber, before
    going to his own.

    "Not I. I sleep too soundly."

    "You are so sound a sleeper?" he retorted, with an admiring look. "What
    a blessing!"

    "Anything but a blessing to the rest of the house," rejoined Vendale, "if
    I had to be knocked up in the morning from the outside of my bedroom
    door."

    "I, too," said Obenreizer, "leave open my room. But let me advise you,
    as a Swiss who knows: always, when you travel in my country, put your
    papers--and, of course, your money--under your pillow. Always the same
    place."

    "You are not complimentary to your countrymen," laughed Vendale.

    "My countrymen," said Obenreizer, with that light touch of his friend's
    elbows by way of Good-Night and benediction, "I suppose are like the
    majority of men. And the majority of men will take what they can get.
    Adieu! At four in the morning."

    "Adieu! At four."

    Left to himself, Vendale raked the logs together, sprinkled over them the
    white wood-ashes lying on the hearth, and sat down to compose his
    thoughts. But they still ran high on their latest theme, and the running
    of the river tended to agitate rather than to quiet them. As he sat
    thinking, what little disposition he had had to sleep departed. He felt
    it hopeless to lie down yet, and sat dressed by the fire. Marguerite,
    Wilding, Obenreizer, the business he was then upon, and a thousand hopes
    and doubts that had nothing to do with it, occupied his mind at once.
    Everything seemed to have power over him but slumber. The departed
    disposition to sleep kept far away.

    He had sat for a long time thinking, on the hearth, when his candle
    burned down and its light went out. It was of little moment; there was
    light enough in the fire. He changed his attitude, and, leaning his arm
    on the chair-back, and his chin upon that hand, sat thinking still.

    But he sat between the fire and the bed, and, as the fire flickered in
    the play of air from the fast-flowing river, his enlarged shadow
    fluttered on the white wall by the bedside. His attitude gave it an air,
    half of mourning and half of bending over the bed imploring. His eyes
    were observant of it, when he became troubled by the disagreeable fancy
    that it was like Wilding's shadow, and not his own.

    A slight change of place would cause it to disappear. He made the
    change, and the apparition of his disturbed fancy vanished. He now sat
    in the shade of a little nook beside the fire, and the door of the room
    was before him.

    It had a long cumbrous iron latch. He saw the latch slowly and softly
    rise. The door opened a very little, and came to again, as though only
    the air had moved it. But he saw that the latch was out of the hasp.

    The door opened again very slowly, until it opened wide enough to admit
    some one. It afterwards remained still for a while, as though cautiously
    held open on the other side. The figure of a man then entered, with its
    face turned towards the bed, and stood quiet just within the door. Until
    it said, in a low half-whisper, at the same time taking one stop forward:
    "Vendale!"

    "What now?" he answered, springing from his seat; "who is it?"

    It was Obenreizer, and he uttered a cry of surprise as Vendale came upon
    him from that unexpected direction. "Not in bed?" he said, catching him
    by both shoulders with an instinctive tendency to a struggle. "Then
    something _is_ wrong!"

    "What do you mean?" said Vendale, releasing himself.

    "First tell me; you are not ill?"

    "Ill? No."

    "I have had a bad dream about you. How is it that I see you up and
    dressed?"

    "My good fellow, I may as well ask you how it is that I see _you_ up and
    undressed?"

    "I have told you why. I have had a bad dream about you. I tried to rest
    after it, but it was impossible. I could not make up my mind to stay
    where I was without knowing you were safe; and yet I could not make up my
    mind to come in here. I have been minutes hesitating at the door. It is
    so easy to laugh at a dream that you have not dreamed. Where is your
    candle?"

    "Burnt out."

    "I have a whole one in my room. Shall I fetch it?"

    "Do so."

    His room was very near, and he was absent for but a few seconds. Coming
    back with the candle in his hand, he kneeled down on the hearth and
    lighted it. As he blew with his breath a charred billet into flame for
    the purpose, Vendale, looking down at him, saw that his lips were white
    and not easy of control.

    "Yes!" said Obenreizer, setting the lighted candle on the table, "it was
    a bad dream. Only look at me!"

    His feet were bare; his red-flannel shirt was thrown back at the throat,
    and its sleeves were rolled above the elbows; his only other garment, a
    pair of under pantaloons or drawers, reaching to the ankles, fitted him
    close and tight. A certain lithe and savage appearance was on his
    figure, and his eyes were very bright.

    "If there had been a wrestle with a robber, as I dreamed," said
    Obenreizer, "you see, I was stripped for it."

    "And armed too," said Vendale, glancing at his girdle.

    "A traveller's dagger, that I always carry on the road," he answered
    carelessly, half drawing it from its sheath with his left hand, and
    putting it back again. "Do you carry no such thing?"

    "Nothing of the kind."

    "No pistols?" said Obenreizer, glancing at the table, and from it to the
    untouched pillow.

    "Nothing of the sort."

    "You Englishmen are so confident! You wish to sleep?"

    "I have wished to sleep this long time, but I can't do it."

    "I neither, after the bad dream. My fire has gone the way of your
    candle. May I come and sit by yours? Two o'clock! It will so soon be
    four, that it is not worth the trouble to go to bed again."

    "I shall not take the trouble to go to bed at all, now," said Vendale;
    "sit here and keep me company, and welcome."

    Going back to his room to arrange his dress, Obenreizer soon returned in
    a loose cloak and slippers, and they sat down on opposite sides of the
    hearth. In the interval Vendale had replenished the fire from the wood-
    basket in his room, and Obenreizer had put upon the table a flask and cup
    from his.

    "Common cabaret brandy, I am afraid," he said, pouring out; "bought upon
    the road, and not like yours from Cripple Corner. But yours is
    exhausted; so much the worse. A cold night, a cold time of night, a cold
    country, and a cold house. This may be better than nothing; try it."

    Vendale took the cup, and did so.

    "How do you find it?"

    "It has a coarse after-flavour," said Vendale, giving back the cup with a
    slight shudder, "and I don't like it."

    "You are right," said Obenreizer, tasting, and smacking his lips; "it
    _has_ a coarse after-flavour, and _I_ don't like it. Booh! It burns,
    though!" He had flung what remained in the cup upon the fire.

    Each of them leaned an elbow on the table, reclined his head upon his
    hand, and sat looking at the flaring logs. Obenreizer remained watchful
    and still; but Vendale, after certain nervous twitches and starts, in one
    of which he rose to his feet and looked wildly about him, fell into the
    strangest confusion of dreams. He carried his papers in a leather case
    or pocket-book, in an inner breast-pocket of his buttoned
    travelling-coat; and whatever he dreamed of, in the lethargy that got
    possession of him, something importunate in those papers called him out
    of that dream, though he could not wake from it. He was berated on the
    steppes of Russia (some shadowy person gave that name to the place) with
    Marguerite; and yet the sensation of a hand at his breast, softly feeling
    the outline of the packet-book as he lay asleep before the fire, was
    present to him. He was ship-wrecked in an open boat at sea, and having
    lost his clothes, had no other covering than an old sail; and yet a
    creeping hand, tracing outside all the other pockets of the dress he
    actually wore, for papers, and finding none answer its touch, warned him
    to rouse himself. He was in the ancient vault at Cripple Corner, to
    which was transferred the very bed substantial and present in that very
    room at Basle; and Wilding (not dead, as he had supposed, and yet he did
    not wonder much) shook him, and whispered, "Look at that man! Don't you
    see he has risen, and is turning the pillow? Why should he turn the
    pillow, if not to seek those papers that are in your breast? Awake!" And
    yet he slept, and wandered off into other dreams.

    Watchful and still, with his elbow on the table, and his head upon that
    hand, his companion at length said: "Vendale! We are called. Past
    Four!" Then, opening his eyes, he saw, turned sideways on him, the filmy
    face of Obenreizer.

    "You have been in a heavy sleep," he said. "The fatigue of constant
    travelling and the cold!"

    "I am broad awake now," cried Vendale, springing up, but with an unsteady
    footing. "Haven't you slept at all?"

    "I may have dozed, but I seem to have been patiently looking at the fire.
    Whether or no, we must wash, and breakfast, and turn out. Past four,
    Vendale; past four!"

    It was said in a tone to rouse him, for already he was half asleep again.
    In his preparation for the day, too, and at his breakfast, he was often
    virtually asleep while in mechanical action. It was not until the cold
    dark day was closing in, that he had any distincter impressions of the
    ride than jingling bells, bitter weather, slipping horses, frowning hill-
    sides, bleak woods, and a stoppage at some wayside house of
    entertainment, where they had passed through a cow-house to reach the
    travellers' room above. He had been conscious of little more, except of
    Obenreizer sitting thoughtful at his side all day, and eyeing him much.

    But when he shook off his stupor, Obenreizer was not at his side. The
    carriage was stopping to bait at another wayside house; and a line of
    long narrow carts, laden with casks of wine, and drawn by horses with a
    quantity of blue collar and head-gear, were baiting too. These came from
    the direction in which the travellers were going, and Obenreizer (not
    thoughtful now, but cheerful and alert) was talking with the foremost
    driver. As Vendale stretched his limbs, circulated his blood, and
    cleared off the lees of his lethargy, with a sharp run to and fro in the
    bracing air, the line of carts moved on: the drivers all saluting
    Obenreizer as they passed him.

    "Who are those?" asked Vendale.

    "They are our carriers--Defresnier and Company's," replied Obenreizer.
    "Those are our casks of wine." He was singing to himself, and lighting a
    cigar.

    "I have been drearily dull company to-day," said Vendale. "I don't know
    what has been the matter with me."

    "You had no sleep last night; and a kind of brain-congestion frequently
    comes, at first, of such cold," said Obenreizer. "I have seen it often.
    After all, we shall have our journey for nothing, it seems."

    "How for nothing?"

    "The House is at Milan. You know, we are a Wine House at Neuchatel, and
    a Silk House at Milan? Well, Silk happening to press of a sudden, more
    than Wine, Defresnier was summoned to Milan. Rolland, the other partner,
    has been taken ill since his departure, and the doctors will allow him to
    see no one. A letter awaits you at Neuchatel to tell you so. I have it
    from our chief carrier whom you saw me talking with. He was surprised to
    see me, and said he had that word for you if he met you. What do you do?
    Go back?"

    "Go on," said Vendale.

    "On?"

    "On? Yes. Across the Alps, and down to Milan."

    Obenreizer stopped in his smoking to look at Vendale, and then smoked
    heavily, looked up the road, looked down the road, looked down at the
    stones in the road at his feet.

    "I have a very serious matter in charge," said Vendale; "more of these
    missing forms may be turned to as bad account, or worse: I am urged to
    lose no time in helping the House to take the thief; and nothing shall
    turn me back."

    "No?" cried Obenreizer, taking out his cigar to smile, and giving his
    hand to his fellow-traveller. "Then nothing shall turn _me_ back. Ho,
    driver! Despatch. Quick there! Let us push on!"

    They travelled through the night. There had been snow, and there was a
    partial thaw, and they mostly travelled at a foot-pace, and always with
    many stoppages to breathe the splashed and floundering horses. After an
    hour's broad daylight, they drew rein at the inn-door at Neuchatel,
    having been some eight-and-twenty hours in conquering some eighty English
    miles.

    When they had hurriedly refreshed and changed, they went together to the
    house of business of Defresnier and Company. There they found the letter
    which the wine-carrier had described, enclosing the tests and comparisons
    of handwriting essential to the discovery of the Forger. Vendale's
    determination to press forward, without resting, being already taken, the
    only question to delay them was by what Pass could they cross the Alps?
    Respecting the state of the two Passes of the St. Gotthard and the
    Simplon, the guides and mule-drivers differed greatly; and both passes
    were still far enough off, to prevent the travellers from having the
    benefit of any recent experience of either. Besides which, they well
    knew that a fall of snow might altogether change the described conditions
    in a single hour, even if they were correctly stated. But, on the whole,
    the Simplon appearing to be the hopefuller route, Vendale decided to take
    it. Obenreizer bore little or no part in the discussion, and scarcely
    spoke.

    To Geneva, to Lausanne, along the level margin of the lake to Vevay, so
    into the winding valley between the spurs of the mountains, and into the
    valley of the Rhone. The sound of the carriage-wheels, as they rattled
    on, through the day, through the night, became as the wheels of a great
    clock, recording the hours. No change of weather varied the journey,
    after it had hardened into a sullen frost. In a sombre-yellow sky, they
    saw the Alpine ranges; and they saw enough of snow on nearer and much
    lower hill-tops and hill-sides, to sully, by contrast, the purity of
    lake, torrent, and waterfall, and make the villages look discoloured and
    dirty. But no snow fell, nor was there any snow-drift on the road. The
    stalking along the valley of more or less of white mist, changing on
    their hair and dress into icicles, was the only variety between them and
    the gloomy sky. And still by day, and still by night, the wheels. And
    still they rolled, in the hearing of one of them, to the burden, altered
    from the burden of the Rhine: "The time is gone for robbing him alive,
    and I must murder him."

    They came, at length, to the poor little town of Brieg, at the foot of
    the Simplon. They came there after dark, but yet could see how dwarfed
    men's works and men became with the immense mountains towering over them.
    Here they must lie for the night; and here was warmth of fire, and lamp,
    and dinner, and wine, and after-conference resounding, with guides and
    drivers. No human creature had come across the Pass for four days. The
    snow above the snow-line was too soft for wheeled carriage, and not hard
    enough for sledge. There was snow in the sky. There had been snow in
    the sky for days past, and the marvel was that it had not fallen, and the
    certainty was that it must fall. No vehicle could cross. The journey
    might be tried on mules, or it might be tried on foot; but the best
    guides must be paid danger-price in either case, and that, too, whether
    they succeeded in taking the two travellers across, or turned for safety
    and brought them back.

    In this discussion, Obenreizer bore no part whatever. He sat silently
    smoking by the fire until the room was cleared and Vendale referred to
    him.

    "Bah! I am weary of these poor devils and their trade," he said, in
    reply. "Always the same story. It is the story of their trade to-day,
    as it was the story of their trade when I was a ragged boy. What do you
    and I want? We want a knapsack each, and a mountain-staff each. We want
    no guide; we should guide him; he would not guide us. We leave our
    portmanteaus here, and we cross together. We have been on the mountains
    together before now, and I am mountain-born, and I know this
    Pass--Pass!--rather High Road!--by heart. We will leave these poor
    devils, in pity, to trade with others; but they must not delay us to make
    a pretence of earning money. Which is all they mean."

    Vendale, glad to be quit of the dispute, and to cut the knot: active,
    adventurous, bent on getting forward, and therefore very susceptible to
    the last hint: readily assented. Within two hours, they had purchased
    what they wanted for the expedition, had packed their knapsacks, and lay
    down to sleep.

    At break of day, they found half the town collected in the narrow street
    to see them depart. The people talked together in groups; the guides and
    drivers whispered apart, and looked up at the sky; no one wished them a
    good journey.

    As they began the ascent, a gleam of run shone from the otherwise
    unaltered sky, and for a moment turned the tin spires of the town to
    silver.

    "A good omen!" said Vendale (though it died out while he spoke). "Perhaps
    our example will open the Pass on this side."

    "No; we shall not be followed," returned Obenreizer, looking up at the
    sky and back at the valley. "We shall be alone up yonder."

    ON THE MOUNTAIN

    The road was fair enough for stout walkers, and the air grew lighter and
    easier to breathe as the two ascended. But the settled gloom remained as
    it had remained for days back. Nature seemed to have come to a pause.
    The sense of hearing, no less than the sense of sight, was troubled by
    having to wait so long for the change, whatever it might be, that
    impended. The silence was as palpable and heavy as the lowering
    clouds--or rather cloud, for there seemed to be but one in all the sky,
    and that one covering the whole of it.

    Although the light was thus dismally shrouded, the prospect was not
    obscured. Down in the valley of the Rhone behind them, the stream could
    be traced through all its many windings, oppressively sombre and solemn
    in its one leaden hue, a colourless waste. Far and high above them,
    glaciers and suspended avalanches overhung the spots where they must
    pass, by-and-by; deep and dark below them on their right, were awful
    precipice and roaring torrent; tremendous mountains arose in every vista.
    The gigantic landscape, uncheered by a touch of changing light or a
    solitary ray of sun, was yet terribly distinct in its ferocity. The
    hearts of two lonely men might shrink a little, if they had to win their
    way for miles and hours among a legion of silent and motionless men--mere
    men like themselves--all looking at them with fixed and frowning front.
    But how much more, when the legion is of Nature's mightiest works, and
    the frown may turn to fury in an instant!

    As they ascended, the road became gradually more rugged and difficult.
    But the spirits of Vendale rose as they mounted higher, leaving so much
    more of the road behind them conquered. Obenreizer spoke little, and
    held on with a determined purpose. Both, in respect of agility and
    endurance, were well qualified for the expedition. Whatever the born
    mountaineer read in the weather-tokens that was illegible to the other,
    he kept to himself.

    "Shall we get across to-day?" asked Vendale.

    "No," replied the other. "You see how much deeper the snow lies here
    than it lay half a league lower. The higher we mount the deeper the snow
    will lie. Walking is half wading even now. And the days are so short!
    If we get as high as the fifth Refuge, and lie to-night at the Hospice,
    we shall do well."

    "Is there no danger of the weather rising in the night," asked Vendale,
    anxiously, "and snowing us up?"

    "There is danger enough about us," said Obenreizer, with a cautious
    glance onward and upward, "to render silence our best policy. You have
    heard of the Bridge of the Ganther?"

    "I have crossed it once."

    "In the summer?"

    "Yes; in the travelling season."

    "Yes; but it is another thing at this season;" with a sneer, as though he
    were out of temper. "This is not a time of year, or a state of things,
    on an Alpine Pass, that you gentlemen holiday-travellers know much
    about."

    "You are my Guide," said Vendale, good humouredly. "I trust to you."

    "I am your Guide," said Obenreizer, "and I will guide you to your
    journey's end. There is the Bridge before us."

    They had made a turn into a desolate and dismal ravine, where the snow
    lay deep below them, deep above them, deep on every side. While
    speaking, Obenreizer stood pointing at the Bridge, and observing
    Vendale's face, with a very singular expression on his own.

    "If I, as Guide, had sent you over there, in advance, and encouraged you
    to give a shout or two, you might have brought down upon yourself tons
    and tons and tons of snow, that would not only have struck you dead, but
    buried you deep, at a blow."

    "No doubt," said Vendale.

    "No doubt. But that is not what I have to do, as Guide. So pass
    silently. Or, going as we go, our indiscretion might else crush and bury
    _me_. Let us get on!"

    There was a great accumulation of snow on the Bridge; and such enormous
    accumulations of snow overhung them from protecting masses of rock, that
    they might have been making their way through a stormy sky of white
    clouds. Using his staff skilfully, sounding as he went, and looking
    upward, with bent shoulders, as it were to resist the mere idea of a fall
    from above, Obenreizer softly led. Vendale closely followed. They were
    yet in the midst of their dangerous way, when there came a mighty rush,
    followed by a sound as of thunder. Obenreizer clapped his hand on
    Vendale's mouth and pointed to the track behind them. Its aspect had
    been wholly changed in a moment. An avalanche had swept over it, and
    plunged into the torrent at the bottom of the gulf below.

    Their appearance at the solitary Inn not far beyond this terrible Bridge,
    elicited many expressions of astonishment from the people shut up in the
    house. "We stay but to rest," said Obenreizer, shaking the snow from his
    dress at the fire. "This gentleman has very pressing occasion to get
    across; tell them, Vendale."

    "Assuredly, I have very pressing occasion. I must cross."

    "You hear, all of you. My friend has very pressing occasion to get
    across, and we want no advice and no help. I am as good a guide, my
    fellow-countrymen, as any of you. Now, give us to eat and drink."

    In exactly the same way, and in nearly the same words, when it was coming
    on dark and they had struggled through the greatly increased difficulties
    of the road, and had at last reached their destination for the night,
    Obenreizer said to the astonished people of the Hospice, gathering about
    them at the fire, while they were yet in the act of getting their wet
    shoes off, and shaking the snow from their clothes:

    "It is well to understand one another, friends all. This gentleman--"

    "--Has," said Vendale, readily taking him up with a smile, "very pressing
    occasion to get across. Must cross."

    "You hear?--has very pressing occasion to get across, must cross. We
    want no advice and no help. I am mountain-born, and act as Guide. Do
    not worry us by talking about it, but let us have supper, and wine, and
    bed."

    All through the intense cold of the night, the same awful stillness.
    Again at sunrise, no sunny tinge to gild or redden the snow. The same
    interminable waste of deathly white; the same immovable air; the same
    monotonous gloom in the sky.

    "Travellers!" a friendly voice called to them from the door, after they
    were afoot, knapsack on back and staff in hand, as yesterday; "recollect!
    There are five places of shelter, near together, on the dangerous road
    before you; and there is the wooden cross, and there is the next Hospice.
    Do not stray from the track. If the _Tourmente_ comes on, take shelter
    instantly!"

    "The trade of these poor devils!" said Obenreizer to his friend, with a
    contemptuous backward wave of his hand towards the voice. "How they
    stick to their trade! You Englishmen say we Swiss are mercenary. Truly,
    it does look like it."

    They had divided between the two knapsacks such refreshments as they had
    been able to obtain that morning, and as they deemed it prudent to take.
    Obenreizer carried the wine as his share of the burden; Vendale, the
    bread and meat and cheese, and the flask of brandy.

    They had for some time laboured upward and onward through the snow--which
    was now above their knees in the track, and of unknown depth
    elsewhere--and they were still labouring upward and onward through the
    most frightful part of that tremendous desolation, when snow begin to
    fall. At first, but a few flakes descended slowly and steadily. After a
    little while the fall grew much denser, and suddenly it began without
    apparent cause to whirl itself into spiral shapes. Instantly ensuing
    upon this last change, an icy blast came roaring at them, and every sound
    and force imprisoned until now was let loose.

    One of the dismal galleries through which the road is carried at that
    perilous point, a cave eked out by arches of great strength, was near at
    hand. They struggled into it, and the storm raged wildly. The noise of
    the wind, the noise of the water, the thundering down of displaced masses
    of rock and snow, the awful voices with which not only that gorge but
    every gorge in the whole monstrous range seemed to be suddenly endowed,
    the darkness as of night, the violent revolving of the snow which beat
    and broke it into spray and blinded them, the madness of everything
    around insatiate for destruction, the rapid substitution of furious
    violence for unnatural calm, and hosts of appalling sounds for silence:
    these were things, on the edge of a deep abyss, to chill the blood,
    though the fierce wind, made actually solid by ice and snow, had failed
    to chill it.

    Obenreizer, walking to and fro in the gallery without ceasing, signed to
    Vendale to help him unbuckle his knapsack. They could see each other,
    but could not have heard each other speak. Vendale complying, Obenreizer
    produced his bottle of wine, and poured some out, motioning Vendale to
    take that for warmth's sake, and not brandy. Vendale again complying,
    Obenreizer seemed to drink after him, and the two walked backwards and
    forwards side by side; both well knowing that to rest or sleep would be
    to die.

    The snow came driving heavily into the gallery by the upper end at which
    they would pass out of it, if they ever passed out; for greater dangers
    lay on the road behind them than before. The snow soon began to choke
    the arch. An hour more, and it lay so high as to block out half the
    returning daylight. But it froze hard now, as it fell, and could be
    clambered through or over. The violence of the mountain storm was
    gradually yielding to steady snowfall. The wind still raged at
    intervals, but not incessantly; and when it paused, the snow fell in
    heavy flakes.

    They might have been two hours in their frightful prison, when
    Obenreizer, now crunching into the mound, now creeping over it with his
    head bowed down and his body touching the top of the arch, made his way
    out. Vendale followed close upon him, but followed without clear motive
    or calculation. For the lethargy of Basle was creeping over him again,
    and mastering his senses.

    How far he had followed out of the gallery, or with what obstacles he had
    since contended, he knew not. He became roused to the knowledge that
    Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in
    the snow. He became roused to the remembrance of what his assailant
    carried in a girdle. He felt for it, drew it, struck at him, struggled
    again, struck at him again, cast him off, and stood face to face with
    him.

    "I promised to guide you to your journey's end," said Obenreizer, "and I
    have kept my promise. The journey of your life ends here. Nothing can
    prolong it. You are sleeping as you stand."

    "You are a villain. What have you done to me?"

    "You are a fool. I have drugged you. You are doubly a fool, for I
    drugged you once before upon the journey, to try you. You are trebly a
    fool, for I am the thief and forger, and in a few moments I shall take
    those proofs against the thief and forger from your insensible body."

    The entrapped man tried to throw off the lethargy, but its fatal hold
    upon him was so sure that, even while he heard those words, he stupidly
    wondered which of them had been wounded, and whose blood it was that he
    saw sprinkled on the snow.

    "What have I done to you," he asked, heavily and thickly, "that you
    should be--so base--a murderer?"

    "Done to me? You would have destroyed me, but that you have come to your
    journey's end. Your cursed activity interposed between me, and the time
    I had counted on in which I might have replaced the money. Done to me?
    You have come in my way--not once, not twice, but again and again and
    again. Did I try to shake you off in the beginning, or no? You were not
    to be shaken off. Therefore you die here."

    Vendale tried to think coherently, tried to speak coherently, tried to
    pick up the iron-shod staff he had let fall; failing to touch it, tried
    to stagger on without its aid. All in vain, all in vain! He stumbled,
    and fell heavily forward on the brink of the deep chasm.

    Stupefied, dozing, unable to stand upon his feet, a veil before his eyes,
    his sense of hearing deadened, he made such a vigorous rally that,
    supporting himself on his hands, he saw his enemy standing calmly over
    him, and heard him speak. "You call me murderer," said Obenreizer, with
    a grim laugh. "The name matters very little. But at least I have set my
    life against yours, for I am surrounded by dangers, and may never make my
    way out of this place. The _Tourmente_ is rising again. The snow is on
    the whirl. I must have the papers now. Every moment has my life in it."

    "Stop!" cried Vendale, in a terrible voice, staggering up with a last
    flash of fire breaking out of him, and clutching the thievish hands at
    his breast, in both of his. "Stop! Stand away from me! God bless my
    Marguerite! Happily she will never know how I died. Stand off from me,
    and let me look at your murderous face. Let it remind me--of
    something--left to say."

    The sight of him fighting so hard for his senses, and the doubt whether
    he might not for the instant be possessed by the strength of a dozen men,
    kept his opponent still. Wildly glaring at him, Vendale faltered out the
    broken words:

    "It shall not be--the trust--of the dead--betrayed by me--reputed
    parents--misinherited fortune--see to it!"

    As his head dropped on his breast, and he stumbled on the brink of the
    chasm as before, the thievish hands went once more, quick and busy, to
    his breast. He made a convulsive attempt to cry "No!" desperately rolled
    himself over into the gulf; and sank away from his enemy's touch, like a
    phantom in a dreadful dream.

    * * * * *

    The mountain storm raged again, and passed again. The awful mountain-
    voices died away, the moon rose, and the soft and silent snow fell.

    Two men and two large dogs came out at the door of the Hospice. The men
    looked carefully around them, and up at the sky. The dogs rolled in the
    snow, and took it into their mouths, and cast it up with their paws.

    One of the men said to the other: "We may venture now. We may find them
    in one of the five Refuges." Each fastened on his back a basket; each
    took in his hand a strong spiked pole; each girded under his arms a
    looped end of a stout rope, so that they were tied together.

    Suddenly the dogs desisted from their gambols in the snow, stood looking
    down the ascent, put their noses up, put their noses down, became greatly
    excited, and broke into a deep loud bay together.

    The two men looked in the faces of the two dogs. The two dogs looked,
    with at least equal intelligence, in the faces of the two men.

    "Au secours, then! Help! To the rescue!" cried the two men. The two
    dogs, with a glad, deep, generous bark, bounded away.

    "Two more mad ones!" said the men, stricken motionless, and looking away
    in the moonlight. "Is it possible in such weather! And one of them a
    woman!"

    Each of the dogs had the corner of a woman's dress in its mouth, and drew
    her along. She fondled their heads as she came up, and she came up
    through the snow with an accustomed tread. Not so the large man with
    her, who was spent and winded.

    "Dear guides, dear friends of travellers! I am of your country. We seek
    two gentlemen crossing the Pass, who should have reached the Hospice this
    evening."

    "They have reached it, ma'amselle."

    "Thank Heaven! O thank Heaven!"

    "But, unhappily, they have gone on again. We are setting forth to seek
    them even now. We had to wait until the _Tourmente_ passed. It has been
    fearful up here."

    "Dear guides, dear friends of travellers! Let me go with you. Let me go
    with you for the love of GOD! One of those gentlemen is to be my
    husband. I love him, O, so dearly. O so dearly! You see I am not
    faint, you see I am not tired. I am born a peasant girl. I will show
    you that I know well how to fasten myself to your ropes. I will do it
    with my own hands. I will swear to be brave and good. But let me go
    with you, let me go with you! If any mischance should have befallen him,
    my love would find him, when nothing else could. On my knees, dear
    friends of travellers! By the love your dear mothers had for your
    fathers!"

    The good rough fellows were moved. "After all," they murmured to one
    another, "she speaks but the truth. She knows the ways of the mountains.
    See how marvellously she has come here. But as to Monsieur there,
    ma'amselle?"

    "Dear Mr. Joey," said Marguerite, addressing him in his own tongue, "you
    will remain at the house, and wait for me; will you not?"

    "If I know'd which o' you two recommended it," growled Joey Ladle, eyeing
    the two men with great indignation, "I'd fight you for sixpence, and give
    you half-a-crown towards your expenses. No, Miss. I'll stick by you as
    long as there's any sticking left in me, and I'll die for you when I
    can't do better."

    The state of the moon rendering it highly important that no time should
    be lost, and the dogs showing signs of great uneasiness, the two men
    quickly took their resolution. The rope that yoked them together was
    exchanged for a longer one; the party were secured, Marguerite second,
    and the Cellarman last; and they set out for the Refuges. The actual
    distance of those places was nothing: the whole five, and the next
    Hospice to boot, being within two miles; but the ghastly way was whitened
    out and sheeted over.

    They made no miss in reaching the Gallery where the two had taken
    shelter. The second storm of wind and snow had so wildly swept over it
    since, that their tracks were gone. But the dogs went to and fro with
    their noses down, and were confident. The party stopping, however, at
    the further arch, where the second storm had been especially furious, and
    where the drift was deep, the dogs became troubled, and went about and
    about, in quest of a lost purpose.

    The great abyss being known to lie on the right, they wandered too much
    to the left, and had to regain the way with infinite labour through a
    deep field of snow. The leader of the line had stopped it, and was
    taking note of the landmarks, when one of the dogs fell to tearing up the
    snow a little before them. Advancing and stooping to look at it,
    thinking that some one might be overwhelmed there, they saw that it was
    stained, and that the stain was red.

    The other dog was now seen to look over the brink of the gulf, with his
    fore legs straightened out, lest he should fall into it, and to tremble
    in every limb. Then the dog who had found the stained snow joined him,
    and then they ran to and fro, distressed and whining. Finally, they both
    stopped on the brink together, and setting up their heads, howled
    dolefully.

    "There is some one lying below," said Marguerite.

    "I think so," said the foremost man. "Stand well inward, the two last,
    and let us look over."

    The last man kindled two torches from his basket, and handed them
    forward. The leader taking one, and Marguerite the other, they looked
    down; now shading the torches, now moving them to the right or left, now
    raising them, now depressing them, as moonlight far below contended with
    black shadows. A piercing cry from Marguerite broke a long silence.

    "My God! On a projecting point, where a wall of ice stretches forward
    over the torrent, I see a human form!"

    "Where, ma'amselle, where?"

    "See, there! On the shelf of ice below the dogs!"

    The leader, with a sickened aspect, drew inward, and they were all
    silent. But they were not all inactive, for Marguerite, with swift and
    skilful fingers, had detached both herself and him from the rope in a few
    seconds.

    "Show me the baskets. These two are the only ropes?"

    "The only ropes here, ma'amselle; but at the Hospice--"

    "If he is alive--I know it is my lover--he will be dead before you can
    return. Dear Guides! Blessed friends of travellers! Look at me. Watch
    my hands. If they falter or go wrong, make me your prisoner by force. If
    they are steady and go right, help me to save him!"

    She girded herself with a cord under the breast and arms, she formed it
    into a kind of jacket, she drew it into knots, she laid its end side by
    side with the end of the other cord, she twisted and twined the two
    together, she knotted them together, she set her foot upon the knots, she
    strained them, she held them for the two men to strain at.

    "She is inspired," they said to one another.

    "By the Almighty's mercy!" she exclaimed. "You both know that I am by
    far the lightest here. Give me the brandy and the wine, and lower me
    down to him. Then go for assistance and a stronger rope. You see that
    when it is lowered to me--look at this about me now--I can make it fast
    and safe to his body. Alive or dead, I will bring him up, or die with
    him. I love him passionately. Can I say more?"

    They turned to her companion, but he was lying senseless on the snow.

    "Lower me down to him," she said, taking two little kegs they had
    brought, and hanging them about her, "or I will dash myself to pieces! I
    am a peasant, and I know no giddiness or fear; and this is nothing to me,
    and I passionately love him. Lower me down!"

    "Ma'amselle, ma'amselle, he must be dying or dead."

    "Dying or dead, my husband's head shall lie upon my breast, or I will
    dash myself to pieces."

    They yielded, overborne. With such precautions as their skill and the
    circumstances admitted, they let her slip from the summit, guiding
    herself down the precipitous icy wall with her hand, and they lowered
    down, and lowered down, and lowered down, until the cry came up:
    "Enough!"

    "Is it really he, and is he dead?" they called down, looking over.

    The cry came up: "He is insensible; but his heart beats. It beats
    against mine."

    "How does he lie?"

    The cry came up: "Upon a ledge of ice. It has thawed beneath him, and it
    will thaw beneath me. Hasten. If we die, I am content."

    One of the two men hurried off with the dogs at such topmost speed as he
    could make; the other set up the lighted torches in the snow, and applied
    himself to recovering the Englishman. Much snow-chafing and some brandy
    got him on his legs, but delirious and quite unconscious where he was.

    The watch remained upon the brink, and his cry went down continually:
    "Courage! They will soon be here. How goes it?" And the cry came up:
    "His heart still beats against mine. I warm him in my arms. I have cast
    off the rope, for the ice melts under us, and the rope would separate me
    from him; but I am not afraid."

    The moon went down behind the mountain tops, and all the abyss lay in
    darkness. The cry went down: "How goes it?" The cry came up: "We are
    sinking lower, but his heart still beats against mine."

    At length the eager barking of the dogs, and a flare of light upon the
    snow, proclaimed that help was coming on. Twenty or thirty men, lamps,
    torches, litters, ropes, blankets, wood to kindle a great fire,
    restoratives and stimulants, came in fast. The dogs ran from one man to
    another, and from this thing to that, and ran to the edge of the abyss,
    dumbly entreating Speed, speed, speed!

    The cry went down: "Thanks to God, all is ready. How goes it?"

    The cry came up: "We are sinking still, and we are deadly cold. His
    heart no longer beats against mine. Let no one come down, to add to our
    weight. Lower the rope only."

    The fire was kindled high, a great glare of torches lighted the sides of
    the precipice, lamps were lowered, a strong rope was lowered. She could
    be seen passing it round him, and making it secure.

    The cry came up into a deathly silence: "Raise! Softly!" They could see
    her diminished figure shrink, as he was swung into the air.

    They gave no shout when some of them laid him on a litter, and others
    lowered another strong rope. The cry again came up into a deathly
    silence: "Raise! Softly!" But when they caught her at the brink, then
    they shouted, then they wept, then they gave thanks to Heaven, then they
    kissed her feet, then they kissed her dress, then the dogs caressed her,
    licked her icy hands, and with their honest faces warmed her frozen
    bosom!

    She broke from them all, and sank over him on his litter, with both her
    loving hands upon the heart that stood still.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
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