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No Thoroughfare by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins

Part 3 out of 3

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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 hand-writing 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.

ACT IV--THE CLOCK-LOCK

The pleasant scene was Neuchatel; the pleasant month was April; the
pleasant place was a notary's office; the pleasant person in it was
the notary: a rosy, hearty, handsome old man, chief notary of
Neuchatel, known far and wide in the canton as Maitre Voigt.
Professionally and personally, the notary was a popular citizen.
His innumerable kindnesses and his innumerable oddities had for
years made him one of the recognised public characters of the
pleasant Swiss town. His long brown frock-coat and his black skull-
cap, were among the institutions of the place: and he carried a
snuff-box which, in point of size, was popularly believed to be
without a parallel in Europe.

There was another person in the notary's office, not so pleasant as
the notary. This was Obenreizer.

An oddly pastoral kind of office it was, and one that would never
have answered in England. It stood in a neat back yard, fenced off
from a pretty flower-garden. Goats browsed in the doorway, and a
cow was within half-a-dozen feet of keeping company with the clerk.
Maitre Voigt's room was a bright and varnished little room, with
panelled walls, like a toy-chamber. According to the seasons of the
year, roses, sunflowers, hollyhocks, peeped in at the windows.
Maitre Voigt's bees hummed through the office all the summer, in at
this window and out at that, taking it frequently in their day's
work, as if honey were to be made from Maitre Voigt's sweet
disposition. A large musical box on the chimney-piece often trilled
away at the Overture to Fra Diavolo, or a Selection from William
Tell, with a chirruping liveliness that had to be stopped by force
on the entrance of a client, and irrepressibly broke out again the
moment his back was turned.

"Courage, courage, my good fellow!" said Maitre Voigt, patting
Obenreizer on the knee, in a fatherly and comforting way. "You will
begin a new life to-morrow morning in my office here."

Obenreizer--dressed in mourning, and subdued in manner--lifted his
hand, with a white handkerchief in it, to the region of his heart.
"The gratitude is here," he said. "But the words to express it are
not here."

"Ta-ta-ta! Don't talk to me about gratitude!" said Maitre Voigt.
"I hate to see a man oppressed. I see you oppressed, and I hold out
my hand to you by instinct. Besides, I am not too old yet, to
remember my young days. Your father sent me my first client. (It
was on a question of half an acre of vineyard that seldom bore any
grapes.) Do I owe nothing to your father's son? I owe him a debt
of friendly obligation, and I pay it to you. That's rather neatly
expressed, I think," added Maitre Voigt, in high good humour with
himself. "Permit me to reward my own merit with a pinch of snuff!"

Obenreizer dropped his eyes to the ground, as though he were not
even worthy to see the notary take snuff.

"Do me one last favour, sir," he said, when he raised his eyes. "Do
not act on impulse. Thus far, you have only a general knowledge of
my position. Hear the case for and against me, in its details,
before you take me into your office. Let my claim on your
benevolence be recognised by your sound reason as well as by your
excellent heart. In THAT case, I may hold up my head against the
bitterest of my enemies, and build myself a new reputation on the
ruins of the character I have lost."

"As you will," said Maitre Voigt. "You speak well, my son. You
will be a fine lawyer one of these days."

"The details are not many," pursued Obenreizer. "My troubles begin
with the accidental death of my late travelling companion, my lost
dear friend Mr. Vendale."

"Mr. Vendale," repeated the notary. "Just so. I have heard and
read of the name, several times within these two months. The name
of the unfortunate English gentleman who was killed on the Simplon.
When you got that scar upon your cheek and neck."

"--From my own knife," said Obenreizer, touching what must have been
an ugly gash at the time of its infliction.

"From your own knife," assented the notary, "and in trying to save
him. Good, good, good. That was very good. Vendale. Yes. I have
several times, lately, thought it droll that I should once have had
a client of that name."

"But the world, sir," returned Obenreizer, "is SO small!"
Nevertheless he made a mental note that the notary had once had a
client of that name.

"As I was saying, sir, the death of that dear travelling comrade
begins my troubles. What follows? I save myself. I go down to
Milan. I am received with coldness by Defresnier and Company.
Shortly afterwards, I am discharged by Defresnier and Company. Why?
They give no reason why. I ask, do they assail my honour? No
answer. I ask, what is the imputation against me? No answer. I
ask, where are their proofs against me? No answer. I ask, what am
I to think? The reply is, 'M. Obenreizer is free to think what he
will. What M. Obenreizer thinks, is of no importance to Defresnier
and Company.' And that is all."

"Perfectly. That is all," asserted the notary, taking a large pinch
of snuff.

"But is that enough, sir?"

"That is not enough," said Maitre Voigt. "The House of Defresnier
are my fellow townsmen--much respected, much esteemed--but the House
of Defresnier must not silently destroy a man's character. You can
rebut assertion. But how can you rebut silence?"

"Your sense of justice, my dear patron," answered Obenreizer,
"states in a word the cruelty of the case. Does it stop there? No.
For, what follows upon that?"

"True, my poor boy," said the notary, with a comforting nod or two;
"your ward rebels upon that."

"Rebels is too soft a word," retorted Obenreizer. "My ward revolts
from me with horror. My ward defies me. My ward withdraws herself
from my authority, and takes shelter (Madame Dor with her) in the
house of that English lawyer, Mr. Bintrey, who replies to your
summons to her to submit herself to my authority, that she will not
do so."

"--And who afterwards writes," said the notary, moving his large
snuffbox to look among the papers underneath it for the letter,
"that he is coming to confer with me."

"Indeed?" replied Obenreizer, rather checked. "Well, sir. Have I
no legal rights?"

"Assuredly, my poor boy," returned the notary. "All but felons have
their legal rights."

"And who calls me felon?" said Obenreizer, fiercely.

"No one. Be calm under your wrongs. If the House of Defresnier
would call you felon, indeed, we should know how to deal with them."

While saying these words, he had handed Bintrey's very short letter
to Obenreizer, who now read it and gave it back.

"In saying," observed Obenreizer, with recovered composure, "that he
is coming to confer with you, this English lawyer means that he is
coming to deny my authority over my ward."

"You think so?"

"I am sure of it. I know him. He is obstinate and contentious.
You will tell me, my dear sir, whether my authority is unassailable,
until my ward is of age?"

"Absolutely unassailable."

"I will enforce it. I will make her submit herself to it. For,"
said Obenreizer, changing his angry tone to one of grateful
submission, "I owe it to you, sir; to you, who have so confidingly
taken an injured man under your protection, and into your
employment."

"Make your mind easy," said Maitre Voigt. "No more of this now, and
no thanks! Be here to-morrow morning, before the other clerk comes-
-between seven and eight. You will find me in this room; and I will
myself initiate you in your work. Go away! go away! I have letters
to write. I won't hear a word more."

Dismissed with this generous abruptness, and satisfied with the
favourable impression he had left on the old man's mind, Obenreizer
was at leisure to revert to the mental note he had made that Maitre
Voigt once had a client whose name was Vendale.

"I ought to know England well enough by this time;" so his
meditations ran, as he sat on a bench in the yard; "and it is not a
name I ever encountered there, except--" he looked involuntarily
over his shoulder--"as HIS name. Is the world so small that I
cannot get away from him, even now when he is dead? He confessed at
the last that he had betrayed the trust of the dead, and
misinherited a fortune. And I was to see to it. And I was to stand
off, that my face might remind him of it. Why MY face, unless it
concerned ME? I am sure of his words, for they have been in my ears
ever since. Can there be anything bearing on them, in the keeping
of this old idiot? Anything to repair my fortunes, and blacken his
memory? He dwelt upon my earliest remembrances, that night at
Basle. Why, unless he had a purpose in it?"

Maitre Voigt's two largest he-goats were butting at him to butt him
out of the place, as if for that disrespectful mention of their
master. So he got up and left the place. But he walked alone for a
long time on the border of the lake, with his head drooped in deep
thought.

Between seven and eight next morning, he presented himself again at
the office. He found the notary ready for him, at work on some
papers which had come in on the previous evening. In a few clear
words, Maitre Voigt explained the routine of the office, and the
duties Obenreizer would be expected to perform. It still wanted
five minutes to eight, when the preliminary instructions were
declared to be complete.

"I will show you over the house and the offices," said Maitre Voigt,
"but I must put away these papers first. They come from the
municipal authorities, and they must be taken special care of."

Obenreizer saw his chance, here, of finding out the repository in
which his employer's private papers were kept.

"Can't I save you the trouble, sir?" he asked. "Can't I put those
documents away under your directions?"

Maitre Voigt laughed softly to himself; closed the portfolio in
which the papers had been sent to him; handed it to Obenreizer.

"Suppose you try," he said. "All my papers of importance are kept
yonder."

He pointed to a heavy oaken door, thickly studded with nails, at the
lower end of the room. Approaching the door, with the portfolio,
Obenreizer discovered, to his astonishment, that there were no means
whatever of opening it from the outside. There was no handle, no
bolt, no key, and (climax of passive obstruction!) no keyhole.

"There is a second door to this room?" said Obenreizer, appealing to
the notary.

"No," said Maitre Voigt. "Guess again."

"There is a window?"

"Nothing of the sort. The window has been bricked up. The only way
in, is the way by that door. Do you give it up?" cried Maitre
Voigt, in high triumph. "Listen, my good fellow, and tell me if you
hear nothing inside?"

Obenreizer listened for a moment, and started back from the door.

"I know! " he exclaimed. "I heard of this when I was apprenticed
here at the watchmaker's. Perrin Brothers have finished their
famous clock-lock at last--and you have got it?"

"Bravo!" said Maitre Voigt. "The clock-lock it is! There, my son!
There you have one more of what the good people of this town call,
'Daddy Voigt's follies.' With all my heart! Let those laugh who
win. No thief can steal MY keys. No burglar can pick MY lock. No
power on earth, short of a battering-ram or a barrel of gunpowder,
can move that door, till my little sentinel inside--my worthy friend
who goes 'Tick, Tick,' as I tell him--says, 'Open!' The big door
obeys the little Tick, Tick, and the little Tick, Tick, obeys ME.
That!" cried Daddy Voigt, snapping his fingers, "for all the thieves
in Christendom!"

"May I see it in action?" asked Obenreizer. "Pardon my curiosity,
dear sir! You know that I was once a tolerable worker in the clock
trade."

"Certainly you shall see it in action," said Maitre Voigt. "What is
the time now? One minute to eight. Watch, and in one minute you
will see the door open of itself."

In one minute, smoothly and slowly and silently, as if invisible
hands had set it free, the heavy door opened inward, and disclosed a
dark chamber beyond. On three sides, shelves filled the walls, from
floor to ceiling. Arranged on the shelves, were rows upon rows of
boxes made in the pretty inlaid woodwork of Switzerland, and bearing
inscribed on their fronts (for the most part in fanciful coloured
letters) the names of the notary's clients.

Maitre Voigt lighted a taper, and led the way into the room.

"You shall see the clock," he said proudly. "I possess the greatest
curiosity in Europe. It is only a privileged few whose eyes can
look at it. I give the privilege to your good father's son--you
shall be one of the favoured few who enter the room with me. See!
here it is, on the right-hand wall at the side of the door."

"An ordinary clock," exclaimed Obenreizer. "No! Not an ordinary
clock. It has only one hand."

"Aha!" said Maitre Voigt. "Not an ordinary clock, my friend. No,
no. That one hand goes round the dial. As I put it, so it
regulates the hour at which the door shall open. See! The hand
points to eight. At eight the door opened, as you saw for
yourself."

"Does it open more than once in the four-and-twenty hours?" asked
Obenreizer.

"More than once?" repeated the notary, with great scorn. "You don't
know my good friend, Tick-Tick! He will open the door as often as I
ask him. All he wants is his directions, and he gets them here.
Look below the dial. Here is a half-circle of steel let into the
wall, and here is a hand (called the regulator) that travels round
it, just as MY hand chooses. Notice, if you please, that there are
figures to guide me on the half-circle of steel. Figure I. means:
Open once in the four-and-twenty hours. Figure II. means: Open
twice; and so on to the end. I set the regulator every morning,
after I have read my letters, and when I know what my day's work is
to be. Would you like to see me set it now? What is to-day?
Wednesday. Good! This is the day of our rifle-club; there is
little business to do; I grant a half-holiday. No work here to-day,
after three o'clock. Let us first put away this portfolio of
municipal papers. There! No need to trouble Tick-Tick to open the
door until eight tomorrow. Good! I leave the dial-hand at eight; I
put back the regulator to I.; I close the door; and closed the door
remains, past all opening by anybody, till to-morrow morning at
eight."

Obenreizer's quickness instantly saw the means by which he might
make the clock-lock betray its master's confidence, and place its
master's papers at his disposal.

"Stop, sir!" he cried, at the moment when the notary was closing the
door. "Don't I see something moving among the boxes--on the floor
there?"

(Maitre Voigt turned his back for a moment to look. In that moment,
Obenreizer's ready hand put the regulator on, from the figure "I."
to the figure "II." Unless the notary looked again at the half-
circle of steel, the door would open at eight that evening, as well
as at eight next morning, and nobody but Obenreizer would know it.)

"There is nothing!" said Maitre Voigt. Your troubles have shaken
your nerves, my son. Some shadow thrown by my taper; or some poor
little beetle, who lives among the old lawyer's secrets, running
away from the light. Hark! I hear your fellow-clerk in the office.
To work! to work! and build to-day the first step that leads to your
new fortunes!"

He good-humouredly pushed Obenreizer out before him; extinguished
the taper, with a last fond glance at his clock which passed
harmlessly over the regulator beneath; and closed the oaken door.

At three, the office was shut up. The notary and everybody in the
notary's employment, with one exception, went to see the rifle-
shooting. Obenreizer had pleaded that he was not in spirits for a
public festival. Nobody knew what had become of him. It was
believed that he had slipped away for a solitary walk.

The house and offices had been closed but a few minutes, when the
door of a shining wardrobe in the notary's shining room opened, and
Obenreizer stopped out. He walked to a window, unclosed the
shutters, satisfied himself that he could escape unseen by way of
the garden, turned back into the room, and took his place in the
notary's easy-chair. He was locked up in the house, and there were
five hours to wait before eight o'clock came.

He wore his way through the five hours: sometimes reading the books
and newspapers that lay on the table: sometimes thinking:
sometimes walking to and fro. Sunset came on. He closed the
window-shutters before he kindled a light. The candle lighted, and
the time drawing nearer and nearer, he sat, watch in hand, with his
eyes on the oaken door.

At eight, smoothly and softly and silently the door opened.

One after another, he read the names on the outer rows of boxes. No
such name as Vendale! He removed the outer row, and looked at the
row behind. These were older boxes, and shabbier boxes. The four
first that he examined, were inscribed with French and German names.
The fifth bore a name which was almost illegible. He brought it out
into the room, and examined it closely. There, covered thickly with
time-stains and dust, was the name: "Vendale."

The key hung to the box by a string. He unlocked the box, took out
four loose papers that were in it, spread them open on the table,
and began to read them. He had not so occupied a minute, when his
face fell from its expression of eagerness and avidity, to one of
haggard astonishment and disappointment. But, after a little
consideration, he copied the papers. He then replaced the papers,
replaced the box, closed the door, extinguished the candle, and
stole away.

As his murderous and thievish footfall passed out of the garden, the
steps of the notary and some one accompanying him stopped at the
front door of the house. The lamps were lighted in the little
street, and the notary had his door-key in his hand.

"Pray do not pass my house, Mr. Bintrey," he said. "Do me the
honour to come in. It is one of our town half-holidays--our Tir--
but my people will be back directly. It is droll that you should
ask your way to the Hotel of me. Let us eat and drink before you go
there."

"Thank you; not to-night," said Bintrey. "Shall I come to you at
ten to-morrow?"

"I shall be enchanted, sir, to take so early an opportunity of
redressing the wrongs of my injured client," returned the good
notary.

"Yes," retorted Bintrey; "your injured client is all very well--but-
-a word in your ear."

He whispered to the notary and walked off. When the notary's
housekeeper came home, she found him standing at his door
motionless, with the key still in his hand, and the door unopened.

OBENREIZER'S VICTORY

The scene shifts again--to the foot of the Simplon, on the Swiss
side.

In one of the dreary rooms of the dreary little inn at Brieg, Mr.
Bintrey and Maitre Voigt sat together at a professional council of
two. Mr. Bintrey was searching in his despatch-box. Maitre Voigt
was looking towards a closed door, painted brown to imitate
mahogany, and communicating with an inner room.

"Isn't it time he was here?" asked the notary, shifting his
position, and glancing at a second door at the other end of the
room, painted yellow to imitate deal.

"He IS here," answered Bintrey, after listening for a moment.

The yellow door was opened by a waiter, and Obenreizer walked in.

After greeting Maitre Voigt with a cordiality which appeared to
cause the notary no little embarrassment, Obenreizer bowed with
grave and distant politeness to Bintrey. "For what reason have I
been brought from Neuchatel to the foot of the mountain?" he
inquired, taking the seat which the English lawyer had indicated to
him.

"You shall be quite satisfied on that head before our interview is
over," returned Bintrey. "For the present, permit me to suggest
proceeding at once to business. There has been a correspondence,
Mr. Obenreizer, between you and your niece. I am here to represent
your niece."

"In other words, you, a lawyer, are here to represent an infraction
of the law."

"Admirably put!" said Bintrey. "If all the people I have to deal
with were only like you, what an easy profession mine would be! I
am here to represent an infraction of the law--that is your point of
view. I am here to make a compromise between you and your niece--
that is my point of view."

"There must be two parties to a compromise," rejoined Obenreizer.
"I decline, in this case, to be one of them. The law gives me
authority to control my niece's actions, until she comes of age.
She is not yet of age; and I claim my authority."

At this point Maitre attempted to speak. Bintrey silenced him with
a compassionate indulgence of tone and manner, as if he was
silencing a favourite child.

"No, my worthy friend, not a word. Don't excite yourself
unnecessarily; leave it to me." He turned, and addressed himself
again to Obenreizer. "I can think of nothing comparable to you, Mr.
Obenreizer, but granite--and even that wears out in course of time.
In the interests of peace and quietness--for the sake of your own
dignity--relax a little. If you will only delegate your authority
to another person whom I know of, that person may be trusted never
to lose sight of your niece, night or day!"

"You are wasting your time and mine," returned Obenreizer. "If my
niece is not rendered up to my authority within one week from this
day, I invoke the law. If you resist the law, I take her by force."

He rose to his feet as he said the last word. Maitre Voigt looked
round again towards the brown door which led into the inner room.

"Have some pity on the poor girl," pleaded Bintrey. "Remember how
lately she lost her lover by a dreadful death! Will nothing move
you?"

"Nothing."

Bintrey, in his turn, rose to his feet, and looked at Maitre Voigt.
Maitre Voigt's hand, resting on the table, began to tremble. Maitre
Voigt's eyes remained fixed, as if by irresistible fascination, on
the brown door. Obenreizer, suspiciously observing him, looked that
way too.

"There is somebody listening in there!" he exclaimed, with a sharp
backward glance at Bintrey.

"There are two people listening," answered Bintrey.

"Who are they?"

"You shall see."

With this answer, he raised his voice and spoke the next words--the
two common words which are on everybody's lips, at every hour of the
day: "Come in!"

The brown door opened. Supported on Marguerite's arm--his sun-burnt
colour gone, his right arm bandaged and clung over his breast--
Vendale stood before the murderer, a man risen from the dead.

In the moment of silence that followed, the singing of a caged bird
in the courtyard outside was the one sound stirring in the room.
Maitre Voigt touched Bintrey, and pointed to Obenreizer. "Look at
him!" said the notary, in a whisper.

The shock had paralysed every movement in the villain's body, but
the movement of the blood. His face was like the face of a corpse.
The one vestige of colour left in it was a livid purple streak which
marked the course of the scar where his victim had wounded him on
the cheek and neck. Speechless, breathless, motionless alike in eye
and limb, it seemed as if, at the sight of Vendale, the death to
which he had doomed Vendale had struck him where he stood.

"Somebody ought to speak to him," said Maitre Voigt. "Shall I?"

Even at that moment Bintrey persisted in silencing the notary, and
in keeping the lead in the proceedings to himself. Checking Maitre
Voigt by a gesture, he dismissed Marguerite and Vendale in these
words:- "The object of your appearance here is answered," he said.
"If you will withdraw for the present, it may help Mr. Obenreizer to
recover himself."

It did help him. As the two passed through the door and closed it
behind them, he drew a deep breath of relief. He looked round him
for the chair from which he had risen, and dropped into it.

"Give him time!" pleaded Maitre Voigt.

"No," said Bintrey. "I don't know what use he may make of it if I
do." He turned once more to Obenreizer, and went on. "I owe it to
myself," he said--"I don't admit, mind, that I owe it to you--to
account for my appearance in these proceedings, and to state what
has been done under my advice, and on my sole responsibility. Can
you listen to me?"

"I can listen to you."

"Recall the time when you started for Switzerland with Mr. Vendale,"
Bintrey begin. "You had not left England four-and-twenty hours
before your niece committed an act of imprudence which not even your
penetration could foresee. She followed her promised husband on his
journey, without asking anybody's advice or permission, and without
any better companion to protect her than a Cellarman in Mr.
Vendale's employment."

"Why did she follow me on the journey? and how came the Cellarman to
be the person who accompanied her?"

"She followed you on the journey," answered Bintrey, "because she
suspected there had been some serious collision between you and Mr.
Vendale, which had been kept secret from her; and because she
rightly believed you to be capable of serving your interests, or of
satisfying your enmity, at the price of a crime. As for the
Cellarman, he was one, among the other people in Mr. Vendale's
establishment, to whom she had applied (the moment your back was
turned) to know if anything had happened between their master and
you. The Cellarman alone had something to tell her. A senseless
superstition, and a common accident which had happened to his
master, in his master's cellar, had connected Mr. Vendale in this
man's mind with the idea of danger by murder. Your niece surprised
him into a confession, which aggravated tenfold the terrors that
possessed her. Aroused to a sense of the mischief he had done, the
man, of his own accord, made the one atonement in his power. 'If my
master is in danger, miss,' he said, 'it's my duty to follow him,
too; and it's more than my duty to take care of YOU.' The two set
forth together--and, for once, a superstition has had its use. It
decided your niece on taking the journey; and it led the way to
saving a man's life. Do you understand me, so far?"

"I understand you, so far."

"My first knowledge of the crime that you had committed," pursued
Bintrey, "came to me in the form of a letter from your niece. All
you need know is that her love and her courage recovered the body of
your victim, and aided the after-efforts which brought him back to
life. While he lay helpless at Brieg, under her care, she wrote to
me to come out to him. Before starting, I informed Madame Dor that
I knew Miss Obenreizer to be safe, and knew where she was. Madame
Dor informed me, in return, that a letter had come for your niece,
which she knew to be in your handwriting. I took possession of it,
and arranged for the forwarding of any other letters which might
follow. Arrived at Brieg, I found Mr. Vendale out of danger, and at
once devoted myself to hastening the day of reckoning with you.
Defresnier and Company turned you off on suspicion; acting on
information privately supplied by me. Having stripped you of your
false character, the next thing to do was to strip you of your
authority over your niece. To reach this end, I not only had no
scruple in digging the pitfall under your feet in the dark--I felt a
certain professional pleasure in fighting you with your own weapons.
By my advice the truth has been carefully concealed from you up to
this day. By my advice the trap into which you have walked was set
for you (you know why, now, as well as I do) in this place. There
was but one certain way of shaking the devilish self-control which
has hitherto made you a formidable man. That way has been tried,
and (look at me as you may) that way has succeeded. The last thing
that remains to be done," concluded Bintrey, producing two little
slips of manuscript from his despatch-box, "is to set your niece
free. You have attempted murder, and you have committed forgery and
theft. We have the evidence ready against you in both cases. If
you are convicted as a felon, you know as well as I do what becomes
of your authority over your niece. Personally, I should have
preferred taking that way out of it. But considerations are pressed
on me which I am not able to resist, and this interview must end, as
I have told you already, in a compromise. Sign those lines,
resigning all authority over Miss Obenreizer, and pledging yourself
never to be seen in England or in Switzerland again; and I will sign
an indemnity which secures you against further proceedings on our
part."

Obenreizer took the pen in silence, and signed his niece's release.
On receiving the indemnity in return, he rose, but made no movement
to leave the room. He stood looking at Maitre Voigt with a strange
smile gathering at his lips, and a strange light flashing in his
filmy eyes.

"What are you waiting for?" asked Bintrey.

Obenreizer pointed to the brown door. "Call them back," he
answered. "I have something to say in their presence before I go."

"Say it in my presence," retorted Bintrey. "I decline to call them
back."

Obenreizer turned to Maitre Voigt. "Do you remember telling me that
you once had an English client named Vendale?" he asked.

"Well," answered the notary. "And what of that?"

"Maitre Voigt, your clock-lock has betrayed you."

"What do you mean?"

"I have read the letters and certificates in your client's box. I
have taken copies of them. I have got the copies here. Is there,
or is there not, a reason for calling them back?"

For a moment the notary looked to and fro, between Obenreizer and
Bintrey, in helpless astonishment. Recovering himself, he drew his
brother-lawyer aside, and hurriedly spoke a few words close at his
ear. The face of Bintrey--after first faithfully reflecting the
astonishment on the face of Maitre Voigt--suddenly altered its
expression. He sprang, with the activity of a young man, to the
door of the inner room, entered it, remained inside for a minute,
and returned followed by Marguerite and Vendale. "Now, Mr.
Obenreizer," said Bintrey, "the last move in the game is yours.
Play it."

"Before I resign my position as that young lady's guardian," said
Obenreizer, "I have a secret to reveal in which she is interested.
In making my disclosure, I am not claiming her attention for a
narrative which she, or any other person present, is expected to
take on trust. I am possessed of written proofs, copies of
originals, the authenticity of which Maitre Voigt himself can
attest. Bear that in mind, and permit me to refer you, at starting,
to a date long past--the month of February, in the year one thousand
eight hundred and thirty-six."

"Mark the date, Mr. Vendale," said Bintrey.

"My first proof," said Obenreizer, taking a paper from his pocket-
book. "Copy of a letter, written by an English lady (married) to
her sister, a widow. The name of the person writing the letter I
shall keep suppressed until I have done. The name of the person to
whom the letter is written I am willing to reveal. It is addressed
to 'Mrs. Jane Anne Miller, of Groombridge Wells, England.'"

Vendale started, and opened his lips to speak. Bintrey instantly
stopped him, as he had stopped Maitre Voigt. "No," said the
pertinacious lawyer. "Leave it to me."

Obenreizer went on:

"It is needless to trouble you with the first half of the letter,"
he said. "I can give the substance of it in two words. The
writer's position at the time is this. She has been long living in
Switzerland with her husband--obliged to live there for the sake of
her husband's health. They are about to move to a new residence on
the Lake of Neuchatel in a week, and they will be ready to receive
Mrs. Miller as visitor in a fortnight from that time. This said,
the writer next enters into an important domestic detail. She has
been childless for years--she and her husband have now no hope of
children; they are lonely; they want an interest in life; they have
decided on adopting a child. Here the important part of the letter
begins; and here, therefore, I read it to you word for word."

He folded back the first page of the letter and read as follows.

"* * * Will you help us, my dear sister, to realise our new project?
As English people, we wish to adopt an English child. This may be
done, I believe, at the Foundling: my husband's lawyers in London
will tell you how. I leave the choice to you, with only these
conditions attached to it--that the child is to be an infant under a
year old, and is to be a boy. Will you pardon the trouble I am
giving you, for my sake; and will you bring our adopted child to us,
with your own children, when you come to Neuchatel?

"I must add a word as to my husband's wishes in this matter. He is
resolved to spare the child whom we make our own any future
mortification and loss of self-respect which might be caused by a
discovery of his true origin. He will bear my husband's name, and
he will be brought up in the belief that he is really our son. His
inheritance of what we have to leave will be secured to him--not
only according to the laws of England in such cases, but according
to the laws of Switzerland also; for we have lived so long in this
country, that there is a doubt whether we may not be considered as I
domiciled, in Switzerland. The one precaution left to take is to
prevent any after-discovery at the Foundling. Now, our name is a
very uncommon one; and if we appear on the Register of the
Institution as the persons adopting the child, there is just a
chance that something might result from it. Your name, my dear, is
the name of thousands of other people; and if you will consent to
appear on the Register, there need be no fear of any discoveries in
that quarter. We are moving, by the doctor's orders, to a part of
Switzerland in which our circumstances are quite unknown; and you,
as I understand, are about to engage a new nurse for the journey
when you come to see us. Under these circumstances, the child may
appear as my child, brought back to me under my sister's care. The
only servant we take with us from our old home is my own maid, who
can be safely trusted. As for the lawyers in England and in
Switzerland, it is their profession to keep secrets--and we may feel
quite easy in that direction. So there you have our harmless little
conspiracy! Write by return of post, my love, and tell me you will
join it." * * *

"Do you still conceal the name of the writer of that letter?" asked
Vendale.

"I keep the name of the writer till the last," answered Obenreizer,
"and I proceed to my second proof--a mere slip of paper this time,
as you see. Memorandum given to the Swiss lawyer, who drew the
documents referred to in the letter I have just read, expressed as
follows:- "Adopted from the Foundling Hospital of England, 3d March,
1836, a male infant, called, in the Institution, Walter Wilding.
Person appearing on the register, as adopting the child, Mrs. Jane
Anne Miller, widow, acting in this matter for her married sister,
domiciled in Switzerland.' Patience!" resumed Obenreizer, as
Vendale, breaking loose from Bintrey, started to his feet. "I shall
not keep the name concealed much longer. Two more little slips of
paper, and I have done. Third proof! Certificate of Doctor Ganz,
still living in practice at Neuchatel, dated July, 1838. The doctor
certifies (you shall read it for yourselves directly), first, that
he attended the adopted child in its infant maladies; second, that,
three months before the date of the certificate, the gentleman
adopting the child as his son died; third, that on the date of the
certificate, his widow and her maid, taking the adopted child with
them, left Neuchatel on their return to England. One more link now
added to this, and my chain of evidence is complete. The maid
remained with her mistress till her mistress's death, only a few
years since. The maid can swear to the identity of the adopted
infant, from his childhood to his youth--from his youth to his
manhood, as he is now. There is her address in England--and there,
Mr. Vendale, is the fourth, and final proof!"

"Why do you address yourself to ME?" said Vendale, as Obenreizer
threw the written address on the table.

Obenreizer turned on him, in a sudden frenzy of triumph.

"BECAUSE YOU ARE THE MAN! If my niece marries you, she marries a
bastard, brought up by public charity. If my niece marries you, she
marries an impostor, without name or lineage, disguised in the
character of a gentleman of rank and family."

"Bravo!" cried Bintrey. "Admirably put, Mr. Obenreizer! It only
wants one word more to complete it. She marries--thanks entirely to
your exertions--a man who inherits a handsome fortune, and a man
whose origin will make him prouder than ever of his peasant-wife.
George Vendale, as brother-executors, let us congratulate each
other! Our dear dead friend's last wish on earth is accomplished.
We have found the lost Walter Wilding. As Mr. Obenreizer said just
now--you are the man!"

The words passed by Vendale unheeded. For the moment he was
conscious of but one sensation; he heard but one voice.
Marguerite's hand was clasping his. Marguerite's voice was
whispering to him:

"I never loved you, George, as I love you now!"

THE CURTAIN FALLS

May-day. There is merry-making in Cripple Corner, the chimneys
smoke, the patriarchal dining-hall is hung with garlands, and Mrs.
Goldstraw, the respected housekeeper, is very busy. For, on this
bright morning the young master of Cripple Corner is married to its
young mistress, far away: to wit, in the little town of Brieg, in
Switzerland, lying at the foot of the Simplon Pass where she saved
his life.

The bells ring gaily in the little town of Brieg, and flags are
stretched across the street, and rifle shots are heard, and sounding
music from brass instruments. Streamer-decorated casks of wine have
been rolled out under a gay awning in the public way before the Inn,
and there will be free feasting and revelry. What with bells and
banners, draperies hanging from windows, explosion of gunpowder, and
reverberation of brass music, the little town of Brieg is all in a
flutter, like the hearts of its simple people.

It was a stormy night last night, and the mountains are covered with
snow. But the sun is bright to-day, the sweet air is fresh, the tin
spires of the little town of Brieg are burnished silver, and the
Alps are ranges of far-off white cloud in a deep blue sky.

The primitive people of the little town of Brieg have built a
greenwood arch across the street, under which the newly married pair
shall pass in triumph from the church. It is inscribed, on that
side, "HONOUR AND LOVE TO MARGUERITE VENDALE!" for the people are
proud of her to enthusiasm. This greeting of the bride under her
new name is affectionately meant as a surprise, and therefore the
arrangement has been made that she, unconscious why, shall be taken
to the church by a tortuous back way. A scheme not difficult to
carry into execution in the crooked little town of Brieg.

So, all things are in readiness, and they are to go and come on
foot. Assembled in the Inn's best chamber, festively adorned, are
the bride and bridegroom, the Neuchatel notary, the London lawyer,
Madame Dor, and a certain large mysterious Englishman, popularly
known as Monsieur Zhoe-Ladelle. And behold Madame Dor, arrayed in a
spotless pair of gloves of her own, with no hand in the air, but
both hands clasped round the neck of the bride; to embrace whom
Madame Dor has turned her broad back on the company, consistent to
the last.

"Forgive me, my beautiful," pleads Madame Dor, "for that I ever was
his she-cat!"

"She-cat, Madame Dor?

"Engaged to sit watching my so charming mouse," are the explanatory
words of Madame Dor, delivered with a penitential sob.

"Why, you were our best friend! George, dearest, tell Madame Dor.
Was she not our best friend?"

"Undoubtedly, darling. What should we have done without her?"

"You are both so generous," cries Madame Dor, accepting consolation,
and immediately relapsing. "But I commenced as a she-cat."

"Ah! But like the cat in the fairy-story, good Madame Dor," says
Vendale, saluting her cheek, "you were a true woman. And, being a
true woman, the sympathy of your heart was with true love."

"I don't wish to deprive Madame Dor of her share in the embraces
that are going on," Mr. Bintrey puts in, watch in hand, "and I don't
presume to offer any objection to your having got yourselves mixed
together, in the corner there, like the three Graces. I merely
remark that I think it's time we were moving. What are YOUR
sentiments on that subject, Mr. Ladle?"

"Clear, sir," replies Joey, with a gracious grin. "I'm clearer
altogether, sir, for having lived so many weeks upon the surface. I
never was half so long upon the surface afore, and it's done me a
power of good. At Cripple Corner, I was too much below it. Atop of
the Simpleton, I was a deal too high above it. I've found the
medium here, sir. And if ever I take it in convivial, in all the
rest of my days, I mean to do it this day, to the toast of 'Bless
'em both.'"

"I, too!" says Bintrey. "And now, Monsieur Voigt, let you and me be
two men of Marseilles, and allons, marchons, arm-in-arm!"

They go down to the door, where others are waiting for them, and
they go quietly to the church, and the happy marriage takes place.
While the ceremony is yet in progress, the notary is called out.
When it is finished, he has returned, is standing behind Vendale,
and touches him on the shoulder.

"Go to the side door, one moment, Monsieur Vendale. Alone. Leave
Madame to me."

At the side door of the church, are the same two men from the
Hospice. They are snow-stained and travel-worn. They wish him joy,
and then each lays his broad hand upon Vendale's breast, and one
says in a low voice, while the other steadfastly regards him:

"It is here, Monsieur. Your litter. The very same."

"My litter is here? Why?"

"Hush! For the sake of Madame. Your companion of that day--"

"What of him?"

The man looks at his comrade, and his comrade takes him up. Each
keeps his hand laid earnestly on Vendale's breast.

"He had been living at the first Refuge, monsieur, for some days.
The weather was now good, now bad."

"Yes?"

"He arrived at our Hospice the day before yesterday, and, having
refreshed himself with sleep on the floor before the fire, wrapped
in his cloak, was resolute to go on, before dark, to the next
Hospice. He had a great fear of that part of the way, and thought
it would be worse to-morrow."

"Yes?"

"He went on alone. He had passed the gallery when an avalanche--
like that which fell behind you near the Bridge of the Ganther--"

"Killed him?"

"We dug him out, suffocated and broken all to pieces! But,
monsieur, as to Madame. We have brought him here on the litter, to
be buried. We must ascend the street outside. Madame must not see.
It would be an accursed thing to bring the litter through the arch
across the street, until Madame has passed through. As you descend,
we who accompany the litter will set it down on the stones of the
street the second to the right, and will stand before it. But do
not let Madame turn her head towards the street the second to the
right. There is no time to lose. Madame will be alarmed by your
absence. Adieu!"

Vendale returns to his bride, and draws her hand through his
unmainied arm. A pretty procession awaits them at the main door of
the church. They take their station in it, and descend the street
amidst the ringing of the bells, the firing of the guns, the waving
of the flags, the playing of the music, the shouts, the smiles, and
tears, of the excited town. Heads are uncovered as she passes,
hands are kissed to her, all the people bless her. "Heaven's
benediction on the dear girl! See where she goes in her youth and
beauty; she who so nobly saved his life!"

Near the corner of the street the second to the right, he speaks to
her, and calls her attention to the windows on the opposite side.
The corner well passed, he says: "Do not look round, my darling,
for a reason that I have," and turns his head. Then, looking back
along the street, he sees the litter and its bearers passing up
alone under the arch, as he and she and their marriage train go down
towards the shining valley.

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