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Running Water by A. E. W. Mason

Part 5 out of 5

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to Dorchester and had come back lame and in spite of his lameness had
left his companions behind. Other trifles recurred to her memory. She
had found him reading "The Alps in 1864," and yes--he had tried to hide
from her the title of the book. On their first meeting he had understood
at once when she had spoken to him of the emotion which her first
mountain peak had waked in her. And before that--yes, her guide had
cried aloud to her, "You remind me of Gabriel Strood." She owed it to
him that she had turned to the Alps as to her heritage, and that she had
brought to them an instinctive knowledge. Her first feeling was one of
sheer pride in her father. Then the doubts began to thicken. He called
himself Garratt Skinner.

"Why? But why?" she cried, impulsively, and Chayne, still leaning on her
chair, pressed her arm with his hand and warned her to be silent.

"I will tell you afterward," he said, quietly, and then he suddenly drew
himself upright. The movement was abrupt like the movement of a man
thoroughly startled--more startled even than she had been by the
unexpected sight of her father's handwriting. She looked up into his
face. He was staring at the open page of Michel's book. She turned back
to it herself and saw nothing which should so trouble him. Over Gabriel
Strood's signature there were just these words written in his hand and
nothing more:

"Mont Blanc by the Brenva route. July, 1868."

Yet it was just that sentence which had so startled Hilary. Gabriel
Strood _had_ then climbed Mont Blanc from the Italian side--up from the
glacier to the top of the great rock-buttress, then along the
world-famous ice-arete, thin as a knife edge, and to right and left
precipitous as a wall, and on the far side above the ice-ridge up the
hanging glaciers and the ice-cliffs to the summit of the Corridor. From
the Italian side of the range of Mont Blanc! And the day before yesterday
Gabriel Strood had crossed with Walter Hine to Italy, bound upon some
expedition which would take five days, five days at the least.

It was to the Brenva ascent of Mont Blanc that Garratt Skinner was
leading Walter Hine! The thought flashed upon Chayne swift as an
inspiration and as convincing. Chayne was sure. The Brenva route! It
was to this climb Garratt Skinner's thoughts had perpetually recurred
during that one summer afternoon in the garden in Dorsetshire, when he
had forgotten his secrecy and spoken even with his enemy of the one
passion they had in common. Chayne worked out the dates and they fitted
in with his belief. Two days ago Garratt Skinner started to cross the
Col du Geant. He would sleep very likely in the hut on the Col, and go
down the next morning to Courmayeur and make his arrangements for the
Brenva climb. On the third day, to-day, he would set out with Walter
Hine and sleep at the gite on the rocks in the bay to the right of the
great ice-fall of the Brenva glacier. To-morrow he would ascend the
buttress, traverse the ice-ridge with Walter Hine--perhaps--yes, only
perhaps--and at that thought Chayne's heart stood still. And even if he
did, there were the hanging ice-cliffs above, and yet another day would
pass before any alarm at his absence would be felt. Surely, it would be
the Brenva route!

Garratt Skinner himself would run great risk upon this hazardous
expedition--that was true. But Chayne knew enough of the man to be
assured that he would not hesitate on that account. The very audacity of
the exploit marked it out as Gabriel Strood's. Moreover, there would be
no other party on the Brenva ridge to spy upon his actions. There was
just one fact so far as Chayne could judge to discredit his
inspiration--the inconvenient presence of a guide.

"Do you know a guide Delouvain, Michel?"

"Indeed, yes! A good name, monsieur, and borne by a man worthy of it."

"So I thought," said Chayne. "Pierre Delouvain," and Michel laughed
scornfully and waved the name away.

"Pierre! No, indeed!" he cried. "Monsieur, never engage Pierre Delouvain
for your guide. I speak solemnly. Joseph--yes, and whenever you can
secure him. I thought you spoke of him. But Pierre, he is a cousin who
lives upon Joseph's name, a worthless fellow, a drunkard. Monsieur, never
trust yourself or any one whom you hold dear with Pierre Delouvain!"

Chayne's last doubt was dispelled. Garratt Skinner had laid his plans for
the Brenva route. Somewhere on that long and difficult climb the accident
was to take place. The very choice of a guide was in itself a
confirmation of Chayne's fears. It was a piece of subtlety altogether in
keeping with Garratt Skinner. He had taken a bad and untrustworthy guide
on one of the most difficult expeditions in the range of Mont Blanc. Why,
he would be asked? And the answer was ready. He had confused Pierre
Delouvain with Joseph, his cousin, as no doubt many another man had done
before. Did not Pierre live on that very confusion? The answer was not
capable of refutation.

Chayne was in despair. Garratt Skinner had started two days before from
Chamonix, was already, now, at this moment, asleep, with his unconscious
victim at his side, high up on the rocks of the upper Brenva glacier.
There was no way to hinder him--no way unless God helped. He asked
abruptly of Michel:

"Have you climbed this season, Michel?"

Michel laughed grimly.

"Indeed, yes, to the Montanvert, monsieur. And beyond--yes, beyond, to
the Jardin."

Chayne broke in upon his bitter humor.

"I want the best guide in Chamonix. I want him at once. I must start by
daylight."

Michel glanced up in surprise. But what he saw in Chayne's face stopped
all remonstrance.

"For what ascent, monsieur?" he asked.

"The Brenva route."

"Madame will not go!"

"No, I go alone. I must go quickly. There is very much at stake. I beg
you to help me."

In answer Michel took his hat down from a peg, and while he did so Chayne
turned quickly to his wife. She had risen from her chair, but she had not
interrupted him, she had asked no questions, she had uttered no prayer.
She stood now, waiting upon him with a quiet and beautiful confidence
which deeply stirred his heart.

"Thank you, sweetheart!" he said, quietly. "You can trust. I thank you,"
and he added, gravely: "Whatever happens--you and I--there is no
altering that."

Michel opened the door.

"I will walk with you into Chamonix, and I will bring the best guides I
can find to your hotel."

They passed out, and crossed the fields quickly to Chamonix.

"Do you go to your hotel, monsieur," said Revailloud, "and leave the
choice to me. I must go about it quietly. If you were to come with me, we
should have to choose the first two guides upon the rota and that would
not do for the Brenva climb."

He left them at the door of the hotel and went off upon his errand.
Sylvia turned at once to Hilary; her face was very pale, her voice shook.

"You will tell me everything now. Something terrible has happened. No
doubt you feared it. You came to Chamonix because you feared it, and now
you know that it has happened."

"Yes," said Chayne. "I hid it from you even as you spared me your bad
news all this last year."

"Tell me now, please. If it is to be 'you and I,' as you said just now,
you will tell me."

Chayne led the way into the garden, and drawing a couple of chairs apart
from the other visitors told her all that he knew and she did not. He
explained the episode of the lighted window, solved for her the riddle of
her father's friendship for Walter Hine, and showed her the reason for
this expedition to the summit of Mont Blanc.

She uttered one low cry of horror. "Murder!" she whispered.

"To think that we are two days behind, that even now they are sleeping on
the rocks, _he_ and Walter Hine, sleeping quite peacefully and quietly.
Oh, it's horrible!" he cried, beating his hands upon his forehead in
despair, and then he broke off. He saw that Sylvia was sitting with her
hands covering her face, while every now and then a shudder shook her and
set her trembling.

"I am so sorry, Sylvia," he cried. "Oh, my dear, I had so hoped we should
be in time. I would have spared you this knowledge if I could. Who knows?
We may be still in time," and as he spoke Michel entered the garden with
one other man and came toward him.

"Henri Simond!" said Michel, presenting his companion. "You will know
that name. Simond has just come down from the Grepon, monsieur. He will
start with you at daylight."

Chayne looked at Simond. He was of no more than the middle height, but
broad of shoulder, deep of chest, and long of arm. His strength was well
known in Chamonix--as well known as his audacity.

"I am very glad that you can come, Simond," said Chayne. "You are the
very man;" and then he turned to Michel. "But we should have another
guide. I need two men."

"Yes," said Michel. "Three men are needed for that climb," and Chayne
left him to believe that it was merely for the climb that he needed
another guide. "But there is Andre Droz already at Courmayeur," he
continued. "His patron was to leave him there to-day. A telegram can be
sent to him to-morrow bidding him wait. If he has started, we shall meet
him to-morrow on the Col du Geant. And Droz, monsieur, is the man for
you. He is quick, as quick as you and Simond. The three of you together
will go well. As for to-morrow, you will need no one else. But if you do,
monsieur, I will go with you."

"There is no need, Michel," replied Chayne, gratefully, and thereupon
Sylvia plucked him by the sleeve.

"I must go with you to-morrow, Hilary," she pleaded, wistfully. "Oh, you
won't leave me here. Let me come with you as far as possible. Let me
cross to Italy. I will go quick. If I get tired, you shall not know."

"It will be a long day, Sylvia."

"It cannot be so long as the day I should pass waiting here."

She wrung her hands as she spoke. The light from a lamp fixed in the
hotel wall fell upon her upturned face. It was white, her lips trembled,
and in her eyes Chayne saw again the look of terror which he had hoped
was gone forever. "Oh, please," she whispered.

"Yes," he replied, and he turned again to Simond. "At two o'clock then.
My wife will go, so bring a mule. We can leave it at the Montanvert."

The guides tramped from the garden. Chayne led his wife toward the hotel,
slipping his arm through hers.

"You must get some sleep, Sylvia."

"Oh, Hilary," she cried. "I shall bring shame on you. We should never
have married," and her voice broke in a sob.

"Hush!" he replied. "Never say that, my dear, never think it! Sleep! You
will want your strength to-morrow."

But Sylvia slept little, and before the time she was ready with her
ice-ax in her hand. At two o'clock they came out from the hotel in the
twilight of the morning. There were two men there.

"Ah! you have come to see us off, Michel," said Chayne.

"No, monsieur, I bring my mule," said Revailloud, with a smile, and he
helped Sylvia to mount it. "To lead mules to the Montanvert--is not that
my business? Simond has a rope," he added, as he saw Chayne sling a coil
across his shoulder.

"We may need an extra one," said Chayne, and the party moved off upon
its long march. At the Montanvert hotel, on the edge of the Mer de
Glace, Sylvia descended from her mule, and at once the party went down
on to the ice.

"Au revoir!" shouted Michel from above, and he stood and watched them,
until they passed out of his sight. Sylvia turned and waved her hand to
him. But he made no answering sign. For his eyes were no longer good.

"He is very kind," said Sylvia. "He understood that there was some
trouble, and while he led the mule he sought to comfort me," and then
between a laugh and a sob she added: "You will never guess how. He
offered to give me his little book with all the signatures--the little
book which means so much to him."

It was the one thing which he had to offer her, as Sylvia understood, and
always thereafter she remembered him with a particular tenderness. He had
been a good friend to her, asking nothing and giving what he had. She saw
him often in the times which were to come, but when she thought of him,
she pictured him as on that early morning standing on the bluff of cliff
by the Montanvert with the reins of his mule thrown across his arm, and
straining his old eyes to hold his friends in view.

Later during that day amongst the seracs of the Col du Geant, Simond
uttered a shout, and a party of guides returning to Chamonix changed
their course toward him. Droz was amongst the number, and consenting
at once to the expedition which was proposed to him, he tied himself
on to the rope.

"Do you know the Brenva ascent?" Chayne asked of him.

"Yes, monsieur. I have crossed Mont Blanc once that way. I shall be very
glad to go again. We shall be the first to cross for two years. If only
the weather holds."

"Do you doubt that?" asked Chayne, anxiously. The morning had broken
clear, the day was sunny and cloudless.

"I think there may be wind to-morrow," he replied, raising his face and
judging by signs unappreciable to other than the trained eyes of a guide.
"But we will try, eh, monsieur?" he cried, recovering his spirits. "We
will try. We will be the first on the Brenva ridge for two years."

But there Chayne knew him to be wrong. There was another party somewhere
on the great ridge at this moment. "Had _it_ happened?" he asked himself.
"How was it to happen?" What kind of an accident was it to be which could
take place with a guide however worthless, and which would leave no
suspicion resting on Garratt Skinner? There would be no cutting of the
rope. Of that he felt sure. That method might do very well for a
melodrama, but actually--no! Garratt Skinner would have a better plan
than that. And indeed he had, a better plan and a simpler one, a plan
which not merely would give to any uttered suspicion the complexion of
malignancy, but must even bring Mr. Garratt Skinner honor and great
praise. But no idea of the plan occurred either to Sylvia or to Chayne as
all through that long hot day they toiled up the ice-fall of the Col du
Geant and over the passes. It was evening before they came to the
pastures, night before they reached Courmayeur.

There Chayne found full confirmation of his fears. In spite of effort to
dissuade them, Garratt Skinner, Walter Hine and Pierre Delouvain had
started yesterday for the Brenva climb. They had taken porters with them
as far as the sleeping-place upon the glacier rocks. The porters had
returned. Chayne sent for them.

"Yes," they said. "At half past two this morning, the climbing party
descended from the rocks on to the ice-fall of the glacier. They should
be at the hut at the Grands Mulets now, on the other side of the
mountain, if not already in Chamonix. Perhaps monsieur would wish for
porters to-morrow."

"No," said Chayne. "We mean to try the passage in one day"; and he turned
to his guides. "I wish to start at midnight. It is important. We shall
reach the glacier by five. Will you be ready?"

And at midnight accordingly he set out by the light of a lantern. Sylvia
stood outside the hotel and watched the flame diminish to a star, dance
for a little while, and then go out. For her, as for all women, the bad
hour had struck when there was nothing to do but to sit and watch and
wait. Perhaps her husband, after all, was wrong, she said to herself,
and repeated the phrase, hoping that repetition would carry conviction
to her heart.

But early on that morning Chayne had sure evidence that he was right. For
as he, Simond and Andre Droz were marching in single file through the
thin forest behind the chalets of La Brenva, a shepherd lad came running
down toward them. He was so excited that he could hardly tell the story
with which he was hurrying to Courmayeur. Only an hour before he had
seen, high up on the Brenva ridge, a man waving a signal of distress.
Both Simond and Droz discredited the story. The distance was too great;
the sharpest eyes could not have seen so far. But Chayne believed, and
his heart sank within him. The puppet and Garratt Skinner--what did they
matter? But he turned his eyes down toward Courmayeur. It was Sylvia upon
whom the blow would fall.

"The story cannot be true," cried Simond.

But Chayne bethought him of another day long ago, when a lad had burst
into the hotel at Zermatt and told with no more acceptance for his story
of an avalanche which he had seen fall from the very summit of the
Matterhorn. Chayne looked at his watch. It was just four o'clock.

"There has been an accident," he said. "We must hurry."

CHAPTER XXIV

THE BRENVA RIDGE

The peasant was right. He _had_ seen a man waving a signal of distress on
the slopes of Mont Blanc above the great buttress. And this is how the
signal came to be waved.

An hour before Chayne and Sylvia set out from Chamonix to cross the Col
du Geant, and while it was yet quite dark, a spark glowed suddenly on an
island of rocks set in the great white waste of the Brenva glacier. The
spark was a fire lit by Pierre Delouvain. For Garratt Skinner's party had
camped upon those rocks. The morning was cold, and one by one the
porters, Garratt Skinner, and Walter Hine, gathered about the blaze.
Overhead the stars glittered in a clear, dark sky. It was very still; no
sound was heard at all but the movement in the camp; even on the glacier
a thousand feet below, where all night long the avalanches had thundered,
in the frost of the early morning there was silence.

Garratt Skinner looked upward.

"We shall have a good day," he said; and then he looked quickly toward
Walter Hine. "How did you sleep, Wallie?"

"Very little. The avalanches kept me awake. Besides, I slipped and fell a
hundred times at the corner of the path," he said, with a shiver. "A
hundred times I felt emptiness beneath my feet."

He referred to a mishap of the day before. On the way to the gite after
the chalets and the wood are left behind, a little path leads along the
rocks of the Mont de la Brenva high above the glacier. There are one or
two awkward corners to pass where rough footsteps have been hewn in the
rock. At one of these corners Walter Hine had slipped. His side struck
the step; he would have dropped to the glacier, but Garratt Skinner had
suddenly reached out a hand and saved him.

Garratt Skinner's face changed.

"You are not afraid," he said.

"You think we can do it?" asked Hine, nervously, and Garratt
Skinner laughed.

"Ask Pierre Delouvain!" he said, and himself put the question. Pierre
laughed in his turn.

"Bah! I snap my fingers at the Brenva climb," said he. "We shall be
in Chamonix to-night"; and Garratt Skinner translated the words to
Walter Hine.

Breakfast was prepared and eaten. Walter Hine was silent through the
meal. He had not the courage to say that he was afraid; and Garratt
Skinner played upon his vanity.

"We shall be in Chamonix to-night. It will be a fine feather in your cap,
Wallie. One of the historic climbs!"

Walter Hine drew a deep breath. If only the day were over, and the party
safe on the rough path through the woods on the other side of the
mountain! But he held his tongue. Moreover, he had great faith in his
idol and master, Garratt Skinner.

"You saved my life yesterday," he said; and upon Garratt Skinner's face
there came a curious smile. He looked steadily into the blaze of the fire
and spoke almost as though he made an apology to himself.

"I saw a man falling. I saw that I could save him. I did not think. My
hand had already caught him."

He looked up with a start. In the east the day was breaking, pale and
desolate; the lower glacier glimmered into view beneath them; the
gigantic amphitheater of hills which girt them in on three sides loomed
out of the mists from aerial heights and took solidity and shape,
westward the black and rugged Peuteret ridge, eastward the cliffs of Mont
Maudit, and northward sweeping around the head of the glacier, the great
ice-wall of Mont Blanc with its ruined terraces and inaccessible cliffs.

"Time, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner, and he rose to his feet and called
to Pierre Delouvain. "There are only three of us. We shall have to go
quickly. We do not want to carry more food than we shall need. The rest
we can send back with our blankets by the porters."

Pierre Delouvain justified at once the ill words which had been spoken of
him by Michel Revailloud. He thought only of the burden which through
this long day he would have to carry on his back.

"Yes, that is right," he said. "We will take what we need for the day.
To-night we shall be in Chamonix."

And thus the party set off with no provision against that most probable
of all mishaps--the chance that sunset might find them still upon the
mountain side. Pierre Delouvain, being lazy and a worthless fellow, as
Revailloud had said, agreed. But the suggestion had been made by Garratt
Skinner. And Garratt Skinner was Gabriel Strood, who knew--none
better--the folly of such light traveling.

The rope was put on; Pierre Delouvain led the way, Walter Hine as the
weakest of the party was placed in the middle, Garratt Skinner came last;
the three men mounted by a snow-slope and a gully to the top of the rocks
which supported the upper Brenva glacier.

"That's our road, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner. He pointed to a great
buttress of rock overlain here and there with fields of snow, which
jutted out from the ice-wall of the mountain, descended steeply, bent to
the west in a curve, and then pushed far out into the glacier as some
great promontory pushes out into the sea. "Do you see a hump above the
buttress, on the crest of the ridge and a little to the right? And to the
right of the hump, a depression in the ridge? That's what they call the
Corridor. Once we are there our troubles are over."

But between the party and the buttress stretched the great ice-fall of
the upper Brenva glacier. Crevassed, broken, a wilderness of towering
seracs, it had the look of a sea in a gale whose breakers had been frozen
in the very act of over toppling.

"Come," said Pierre.

"Keep the rope stretched tight, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner; and they
descended into the furrows of that wild and frozen sea. The day's work
had begun in earnest; and almost at once they began to lose time.

Now it was a perilous strip of ice between unfathomable blue depths along
which they must pass, as bridge-builders along their girders, yet without
the bridge-builders' knowledge that at the end of the passage there was a
further way. Now it was some crevasse into which they must descend,
cutting their steps down a steep rib of ice; now it was a wall up which
the leader must be hoisted on the shoulders of his companions, and even
so as likely as not, his fingers could not reach the top, but hand holds
and foot holds must be hewn with the ax till a ladder was formed. Now it
was some crevasse gaping across their path; they must search this way and
that for a firm snow-bridge by which to overpass it. It was difficult, as
Pierre Delouvain discovered, to find a path through that tangled
labyrinth without some knowledge of the glacier. For, only at rare times,
when he stood high on a serac, could he see his way for more than a few
yards ahead. Pierre aimed straight for the foot of the buttress, working
thus due north. And he was wrong. Garratt Skinner knew it, but said not a
word. He stood upon insecure ledges and supported Delouvain upon his
shoulders, and pushed him up with his ice-ax into positions which only
involved the party in further difficulties. He took his life in his hands
and risked it, knowing the better way. Yet all the while the light
broadened, the great violet shadows crept down the slopes and huddled at
the bases of the peaks. Then the peaks took fire, and suddenly along the
dull white slopes of ice in front of them the fingers of the morning
flashed in gold. Over the eastern rocks the sun had leaped into the sky.
For a little while longer they advanced deeper into the entanglement, and
when they were about half way across they came to a stop. They were on a
tongue of ice which narrowed to a point; the point abutted against a
perpendicular ice-wall thirty feet high. Nowhere was there any break in
that wall, and at each side of the tongue the ice gaped in chasms.

"We must go back," said Pierre. "I have forgotten the way."

He had never known it. Seduced by a treble fee, he had assumed an
experience which he did not possess. Garratt Skinner looked at his watch,
and turning about led the party back for a little while. Then he turned
to his right and said:

"I think it might go in this direction," and lo! making steadily across
some difficult ground, no longer in a straight line northward to Mont
Blanc, but westward toward the cliffs of the Peuteret ridge under Garratt
Skinner's lead, they saw a broad causeway of ice open before them. The
causeway led them to steep slopes of snow, up which it was just possible
to kick steps, and then working back again to the east they reached the
foot of the great buttress on its western side just where it forms a
right angle with the face of the mountain. Garratt Skinner once more
looked at his watch. It had been half-past two when they had put on the
rope, it was now close upon half-past six. They had taken four hours to
traverse the ice-fall, and they should have taken only two and a half.
Garratt Skinner, however, expressed no anxiety. On the contrary, one
might have thought that he wished to lose time.

"There's one of the difficulties disposed of," he said, cheerily. "You
did very well, Wallie--very well. It was not altogether nice, was it? But
you won't have to go back."

Walter Hine had indeed crossed the glacier without complaint. There had
been times when he had shivered, times when his heart within him had
swelled with a longing to cry out, "Let us go back!" But he had not
dared. He had been steadied across the narrow bridge with the rope,
hauled up the ice-walls and let down again on the other side. But he had
come through. He took some pride in the exploit as he gazed back from the
top of the snow-slope across the tumult of ice to the rocks on which he
had slipped. He had come through safely, and he was encouraged to go on.

"We won't stop here, I think," said Garratt Skinner. They had already
halted upon the glacier for a second breakfast. The sun was getting hot
upon the slopes above, and small showers of snow and crusts of ice were
beginning to shoot down the gullies of the buttress at the base of which
they stood. "We will have a third breakfast when we are out of range." He
called to Delouvain who was examining the face of the rock-buttress up
which they must ascend to its crest and said: "It looks as if we should
do well to work out to the right I think."

The rocks were difficult, but their difficulty was not fully appreciated
by Walter Hine. Nor did he understand the danger. There were gullies in
which new snow lay in a thin crust over hard ice. He noticed that in
those gullies the steps were cut deep into the ice below, that Garratt
Skinner bade him not loiter, and that Pierre Delouvain in front made
himself fast and drew in the rope with a particular care when it came to
his turn to move. But he did not know that all that surface snow might
peel off in a moment, and swish down the cliffs, sweeping the party from
their feet. There were rounded rocks and slabs with no hold for hand or
foot but roughness, roughness in the surface, and here and there a
wrinkle. But the guide went first, as often as not pushed up by Garratt
Skinner, and Walter Hine, like many another inefficient man before him,
came up, like a bundle, on the rope afterward. Thus they climbed for
three hours more. Walter Hine, nursed by gradually lengthening
expeditions, was not as yet tired. Moreover the exhilaration of the air,
and excitement, helped to keep fatigue aloof. They rested just below the
crest of the ridge and took another meal.

"Eat often and little. That's the golden rule," said Garratt Skinner. "No
brandy, Wallie. Keep that in your flask!"

Pierre Delouvain, however, followed a practice not unknown amongst
Chamonix guides.

"Absinthe is good on the mountains," said he.

When they rose, the order of going was changed. Pierre Delouvain, who
had led all the morning, now went last, and Garratt Skinner led. He led
quickly and with great judgment or knowledge--Pierre Delouvain at the
end of the rope wondered whether it was judgment or knowledge--and
suddenly Walter Hine found himself standing on the crest with Garratt
Skinner, and looking down the other side upon a glacier far below, which
flows from the Mur de la Cote on the summit ridge of Mont Blanc into the
Brenva glacier.

"That's famous," cried Garratt Skinner, looking once more at his watch.
He did not say that they had lost yet another hour upon the face of the
buttress. It was now half past nine in the morning. "We are twelve
thousand feet up, Wallie," and he swung to his left, and led the party up
the ridge of the buttress.

As they went along this ridge, Wallie Hine's courage rose. It was narrow
but not steep, nor was it ice. It was either rock or snow in which steps
could be kicked. He stepped out with a greater confidence. If this were
all, the Brenva climb was a fraud, he exclaimed to himself in the vanity
of his heart. Ahead of them a tall black tower stood up, hiding what lay
beyond, and up toward this tower Garratt Skinner led quickly. He no
longer spoke to his companions, he went forward, assured and inspiring
assurance; he reached the tower, passed it and began to cut steps. His ax
rang as it fell. It was ice into which he was cutting.

This was the first warning which Walter Hine received. But he paid no
heed to it. He was intent upon setting his feet in the steps; he found
the rope awkward to handle and keep tight, his attention was absorbed in
observing his proper distance. Moreover, in front of him the stalwart
figure of Garratt Skinner blocked his vision. He went forward. The snow
on which he walked became hard ice, and instead of sloping upward ran
ahead almost in a horizontal line. Suddenly, however, it narrowed; Hine
became conscious of appalling depths on either side of him; it narrowed
with extraordinary rapidity; half a dozen paces behind him he had been
walking on a broad smooth path; now he walked on the width of the top of
a garden wall. His knees began to shake; he halted; he reached out
vainly into emptiness for some support on which his shaking hands might
clutch. And then in front of him he saw Garratt Skinner sit down and
bestride the wall. Over Garratt Skinner's head, he now saw the path by
which he needs must go. He was on the famous ice-ridge; and nothing so
formidable, so terrifying, had even entered into his dreams during his
sleep upon the rocks where he had bivouacked. It thinned to a mere sharp
edge, a line without breadth of cold blue ice, and it stretched away
through the air for a great distance until it melted suddenly into the
face of the mountain. On the left hand an almost vertical slope of ice
dropped to depths which Hine did not dare to fathom with his eyes; on
the right there was no slope at all; a wall of crumbling snow descended
from the edge straight as a weighted line. On neither side could the
point of the ax be driven in to preserve the balance. Walter Hine
uttered a whimpering cry:

"I shall fall! I shall fall!"

Garratt Skinner, astride of the ridge, looked over his shoulder.

"Sit down," he cried, sharply. But Walter Hine dared not. He stood, all
his courage gone, tottering on the narrow top of the wall, afraid to
stoop, lest his knees should fail him altogether and his feet slip from
beneath him. To bend down until his hands could rest upon the ice, and
meanwhile to keep his feet--no, he could not do it. He stood trembling,
his face distorted with fear, and his body swaying a little from side to
side. Garratt Skinner called sharply to Pierre Delouvain.

"Quick, Pierre."

There was no time for Garratt Skinner to return; but he gathered himself
together on the ridge, ready for a spring. Had Walter Hine toppled over,
and swung down the length of the rope, as at any moment he might have
done, Garratt Skinner was prepared. He would have jumped down the
opposite side of the ice-arete, though how either he or Walter Hine could
have regained the ridge he could not tell. Would any one of the party
live to return to Courmayeur and tell the tale? But Garratt Skinner knew
the risk he took, had counted it up long before ever he brought Walter
Hine to Chamonix, and thought it worth while. He did not falter now. All
through the morning, indeed, he had been taking risks, risks of which
Walter Hine did not dream; with so firm and yet so delicate a step he had
moved from crack to crack, from ice-step up to ice-step; with so obedient
a response of his muscles, he had drawn himself up over the rounded rocks
from ledge to ledge. He shouted again to Pierre Delouvain, and at the
same moment began carefully to work backward along the ice-arete. Pierre,
however, hurried; Walter Hine heard the guide's voice behind him, felt
himself steadied by his hands. He stooped slowly down, knelt upon the
wall, then bestrode it.

"Now, forward," cried Skinner, and he pulled in the rope. "Forward. We
cannot go back!"

Hine clung to the ridge; behind him Pierre Delouvain sat down and held
him about the waist. Slowly they worked themselves forward, while Garratt
Skinner gathered in the rope in front. The wall narrowed as they
advanced, became the merest edge which cut their hands as they clasped
it. Hine closed his eyes, his head whirled, he was giddy, he felt sick.
He stopped gripping the slope on both sides with his knees, clutching the
sharp edge with the palms of his hands.

"I can't go on! I can't," he cried, and he reeled like a novice on the
back of a horse.

Garratt Skinner worked back to him.

"Put your arms about my waist, Wallie! Keep your eyes shut! You
shan't fall."

Walter Hine clung to him convulsively, Pierre Delouvain steadied Hine
from behind, and thus they went slowly forward for a long while. Garratt
Skinner gripped the edge with the palms of his hands--so narrow was the
ridge--the fingers of one hand pointed down one slope, the fingers of the
other down the opposite wall. Their legs dangled.

At last Walter Hine felt Garratt Skinner loosening his clasped fingers
from about his waist. Garratt Skinner stood up, uncoiled the rope,
chipped a step or two in the ice and went boldly forward. For a yard
or two further Walter Hine straddled on, and then Garratt Skinner
cried to him:

"Look up, Wallie. It's all over."

Hine looked and saw Garratt Skinner standing upon a level space of snow
in the side of the mountain. A moment later he himself was lying in the
sun upon the level space. The famous ice-arete was behind them. Walter
Hine looked back along it and shuddered. The thin edge of ice curving
slightly downward, stretched away to the black rock-tower, in the bright
sunlight a thing most beautiful, but most menacing and terrible. He
seemed cut off by it from the world. They had a meal upon that level
space, and while Hine rested, Pierre Delouvain cast off the rope and went
ahead. He came back in a little while with a serious face.

"Will it go?" asked Garratt Skinner.

"It must," said Delouvain. "For we can never go back"; and suddenly
alarmed lest the way should be barred in front as well as behind, Walter
Hine turned and looked above him. His nerves were already shaken; at the
sight of what lay ahead of him, he uttered a cry of despair.

"It's no use," he cried. "We can never get up," and he flung himself upon
the snow and buried his face in his arms. Garratt Skinner stood over him.

"We must," he said. "Come! Look!"

Walter Hine looked up and saw his companion dangling the face of his
watch before his eyes.

"We are late. It is now twelve o'clock. We should have left this spot two
hours ago and more," he said, very gravely; and Pierre Delouvain
exclaimed excitedly:

"Certainly, monsieur, we must go on. It will not do to loiter now," and
stooping down, he dragged rather than helped Walter Hine to his feet. The
quiet gravity of Garratt Skinner and the excitement of Delouvain
frightened Walter Hine equally. Some sense of his own insufficiency broke
in at last upon him. His vanity peeled off from him, just at the moment
when it would most have been of use. He had a glimpse of what he was--a
poor, weak, inefficient thing.

Above them the slopes stretched upward to a great line of towering
ice-cliffs. Through and up those ice-cliffs a way had to be found. And at
any moment, loosened by the sun, huge blocks and pinnacles might break
from them and come thundering down. As it was, upon their right hand
where the snow-fields fell steeply in a huge ice gully, between a line of
rocks and the cliffs of Mont Maudit, the avalanches plunged and
reverberated down to the Brenva glacier. Pierre Delouvain took the lead
again, and keeping by the line of rocks the party ascended the steep
snow-slopes straight toward the wall of cliffs. But in a while the snow
thinned, and the ax was brought into play again. Through the thin crust
of snow, steps had to be cut into the ice beneath, and since there were
still many hundreds of feet to be ascended, the steps were cut wide
apart. With the sun burning upon his face, and his feet freezing in the
ice-steps, Walter Hine stood and moved, and stood again all through that
afternoon. Fatigue gained upon him, and fear did not let him go. "If only
I get off this mountain," he said to himself with heartfelt longing,
"never again!" When near to the cliffs Pierre Delouvain stopped. In front
of him the wall was plainly inaccessible. Far away to the left there was
a depression up which possibly a way might be forced.

"I think, monsieur, that must be the way," said Pierre.

"But you should _know_" said Garratt Skinner.

"It is some time since I was here. I have forgotten;" and Pierre began to
traverse the ice-slope to the left. Garratt Skinner followed without a
word. But he knew that when he had ascended Mont Blanc by the Brenva
route twenty-three years before, he had kept to the right along the rocks
to a point where that ice-wall was crevassed, and through that crevasse
had found his path. They passed quickly beneath an overhanging rib of ice
which jutted out from the wall, and reached the angle then formed at four
o'clock in the afternoon.

"Our last difficulty, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner, as he cut a
large step in which Hine might stand. "Once up that wall, our
troubles are over."

Walter Hine looked at the wall. It was not smooth ice, it was true;
blocks had broken loose from it, and had left it bulging out here,
there, and in places fissured. But it stood at an angle of 65 degrees.
It seemed impossible that any one should ascend it. He looked down the
slope up which they had climbed--it seemed equally impossible that any
one should return. Moreover, the sun was already in the West, and the
ice promontory under which they stood shut its warmth from them. Walter
Hine was in the shadow, and he shivered with cold as much as with fear.
For half an hour Pierre Delouvain tried desperately to work his way up
that ice wall, and failed.

"It is too late," he said. "We shall not get up to-night."

Garratt Skinner nodded his head.

"No, nor get down," he added, gravely. "I am sorry, Wallie. We must go
back and find a place where we can pass the night."

Walter Hine was in despair. He was tired, he was desperately cold, his
gloves were frozen, his fingers and his feet benumbed.

"Oh, let's stop here!" he cried.

"We can't," said Garratt Skinner, and he turned as he spoke and led the
way down quickly. There was need for hurry. Every now and then he stopped
to cut an intervening step, where those already cut were too far apart,
and at times to give Hine a hand while Delouvain let him down with the
help of the rope from behind.

Slowly they descended, and while they descended the sun disappeared, the
mists gathered about the precipices below, the thunder of the avalanches
was heard at rare intervals, the ice-cliffs above them glimmered faintly
and still more faintly. The dusk came. They descended in a ghostly
twilight. At times the mists would part, and below them infinite miles
away they saw the ice-fields of the Brenva glacier. The light was failing
altogether when Garratt Skinner turned to his left and began to traverse
the slopes to a small patch of rocks.

"Here!" he said, as he reached them. "We must sit here until the
morning comes."

CHAPTER XXV

A NIGHT ON AN ICE-SLOPE

At the base of the rocks there was a narrow ledge on which, huddled
together, the three men could sit side by side. Garratt Skinner began to
clear the snow from the ledge with his ice-ax; but Walter Hine sank down
at once and Pierre Delouvain, who might have shown a better spirit,
promptly followed his example.

"What is the use?" he whispered. "We shall all die to-night.... I have a
wife and family.... Let us eat what there is to eat and then die," and
drowsily repeating his words, he fell asleep. Garratt Skinner, however,
roused him, and drowsily he helped to clear the ledge. Then Walter Hine
was placed in the middle that he might get what warmth and shelter was
to be had, the rope was hitched over a spike of rock behind, so that if
any one fell asleep he might not fall off, and Delouvain and Skinner
took their places. By this time darkness had come. They sat upon the
narrow ledge with their backs to the rock and the steep snow-slopes
falling away at their feet. Far down a light or two glimmered in the
chalets of La Brenva.

Garratt Skinner emptied the _Ruecksack_ on his knees.

"Let us see what food we have," he said. "We made a mistake in not
bringing more. But Pierre was so certain that we should reach Chamonix
to-night."

"We shall die to-night," said Pierre.

"Nonsense," said Garratt Skinner. "We are not the first party which has
been caught by the night."

Their stock of food was certainly low. It consisted of a little bread, a
tin of sardines, a small pot of jam, some cold bacon, a bag of
acid-drops, a couple of cakes of chocolate, and a few biscuits.

"We must keep some for the morning," he said. "Don't fall asleep, Wallie!
You had better take off your boots and muffle your feet in the
_Ruecksack_. It will keep them warmer and save you from frost-bite. You
might as well squeeze the water out of your stockings too."

Garratt Skinner waked Hine from his drowsiness and insisted that his
advice should be followed. It would be advisable that it should be known
afterward in Courmayeur that he had taken every precaution to preserve
his companion's life. He took off his own stockings and squeezed the
water out, replaced them, and laced on his boots. For to him, too, the
night would bring some risk. Then the three men ate their supper. A very
little wine was left in the gourd which Garratt Skinner had carried on
his back, and he filled it up with snow and thrust it inside his shirt
that it might melt the sooner.

"You have your brandy flask, Wallie, but be sparing of it. Brandy will
warm you for the moment, but it leaves you more sensitive to the cold
than you were before. That's a known fact. And don't drink too much of
this snow-water. It may make you burn inside. At least so I have been
told," he added.

Hine drank and passed the bottle to Pierre, who took it with his
reiterated moan: "What's the use? We shall all die to-night. Why should a
poor guide with a wife and family be tempted to ascend mountains. I will
tell you something, monsieur," he cried suddenly across Walter Hine. "I
am not fond of the mountains. No, I am not fond of them!" and he leaned
back and fell asleep.

"Better not follow his example, Wallie. Keep awake! Slap your limbs!"

Above the three men the stars came out very clear and bright; the tiny
lights in the chalets far below disappeared one by one; the cold became
intense. At times Garratt Skinner roused his companions, and holding each
other by the arm, they rose simultaneously to their feet and stamped upon
the ledge. But every movement hurt them, and after a while Walter Hine
would not.

"Leave me alone," he said. "To move tortures me!"

Garratt Skinner had his pipe and some tobacco. He lit, shading the match
with his coat; and then he looked at his watch.

"What time is it? Is it near morning?" asked Hine, in a voice which was
very feeble.

"A little longer to wait," said Garratt Skinner, cheerfully.

The hands marked a quarter to ten.

And afterward they grew very silent, except for the noise which they made
in shivering. Their teeth chattered with the chill, they shook in fits
which lasted for minutes, Walter Hine moaned feebly. All about them the
world was bound in frost; the cold stars glittered overhead; the
mountains took their toll of pain that night. Yet there was one among
those three perched high on a narrow ledge of rock amongst the desolate
heights, who did not regret. Just for a night like this Garratt Skinner
had hoped. Walter Hine, weak of frame and with little stamina, was
exposed to the rigors of a long Alpine night, thirteen thousand feet
above the level of the sea, with hardly any food, and no hope of rescue
for yet another day and yet another night. There could be but one end to
it. Not until to-morrow would any alarm at their disappearance be
awakened either at Chamonix or at Courmayeur. It would need a second
night before help reached them--so Garratt Skinner had planned it out.
There could be but one end to it. Walter Hine would die. There was a risk
that he himself might suffer the same fate--he was not blind to it. He
had taken the risk knowingly, and with a certain indifference. It was the
best plan, since, if he escaped alive, suspicion could not fall on him.
Thus he argued, as he smoked his pipe with his back to the rock and
waited for the morning.

At one o'clock Walter Hine began to ramble. He took Garratt Skinner and
Pierre Delouvain for Captain Barstow and Archie Parminter, and complained
that it was ridiculous to sit up playing poker on so cold a night; and
while in his delirium he rambled and moaned, the morning began to break.
But with the morning came a wind from the north, whirling the snow like
smoke about the mountain-tops, and bitingly cold. Garratt Skinner with
great difficulty stood up, slowly and with pain stretched himself to his
full height, slapped his thighs, stamped with his feet, and then looked
for a long while at his victim, without remorse, and without
satisfaction. He stooped and sought to lift him. But Hine was too stiff
and numbed with the cold to be able to move. In a little while Pierre
Delouvain, who had fallen asleep, woke up. The day was upon them now,
cold and lowering.

"We must wait for the sun," said Garratt Skinner. "Until that has risen
and thawed us it will not be safe to move."

Pierre Delouvain looked about him, worked the stiffened muscles of his
limbs and groaned.

"There will be little sun to-day," he said. "We shall all die here."

Garratt Skinner sat down again and waited. The sun rose over the rocks
of Mont Maudit, but weak, and yellow as a guinea. Garratt Skinner then
tied his coat to his ice-ax, and standing out upon a rock waved it this
way and that.

"No one will see it," whimpered Pierre; and indeed Garratt Skinner would
never have waved that signal had he not thought the same.

"Perhaps--one never knows," he said. "We must take all precautions, for
the day looks bad."

The sunlight, indeed, only stayed upon the mountain-side long enough to
tantalize them with vain hopes of warmth. Gray clouds swept up low over
the crest of Mont Blanc and blotted it out. The wind moaned wildly
along the slopes. The day frowned upon them sullen and cold with a sky
full of snow.

"We will wait a little longer," said Garratt Skinner, "then we
must move."

He looked at the sky. It seemed to him now very probable that he would
lose the desperate game which he had been playing. He had staked his life
upon it. Let the snow come and the mists, he would surely lose his stake.
Nevertheless he set himself to the task of rousing Walter Hine.

"Leave me alone," moaned Walter Hine, and he struck feebly at his
companions as they lifted him on to his feet.

"Stamp your feet, Wallie," said Garratt Skinner. "You will feel better in
a few moments."

They held him up, but he repeated his cry. "Leave me alone!" and the
moment they let him go he sank down again upon the ledge. He was overcome
with drowsiness, the slightest movement tortured him.

Garratt Skinner looked up at the leaden sky.

"We must wait till help comes," he said,

Delouvain shook his head.

"It will not come to-day. We shall all die here. It was wrong, monsieur,
to try the Brenva ridge. Yes, we shall die here"; and he fell to
blubbering like a child.

"Could you go down alone?" Garratt Skinner asked.

"There is the glacier to cross, monsieur."

"I know. That is the risk. But it is cold and there is no sun. The
snow-bridges may hold."

Pierre Delouvain hesitated. Here it seemed to him was certain death. But
if he climbed down the ice-arete, the snow-slopes, and the rocks below,
if the snow-bridges held upon the glacier, there would be life for one of
the three. Pierre Delouvain had little in common with that loyal race of
Alpine guides who hold it as their most sacred tradition not to return
home without their patrons.

"Yes, it is our one hope," he said; and untying himself with awkward
fumbling fingers from the kinked rope, and coiling the spare rope about
his shoulders, he went down the slope. During the night the steps had
frozen and in many places it was necessary to recut them. He too was
stiff with the long vigil. He moved slowly, with numbed and frozen limbs.
But as his ax rose and fell, the blood began to burn in the tips of his
fingers, to flow within his veins; he went more and more firmly. For a
long way Garratt Skinner held him in sight. Then he turned back to Walter
Hine upon the ledge, and sat beside him. Garratt Skinner's strength had
stood him in good stead. He filled his pipe and lit it, and watched
beside his victim. The day wore on slowly. At times Garratt Skinner
rubbed Hine's limbs and stamped about the ledge to keep some warmth
within himself. Walter Hine grew weaker and weaker. At times he was
delirious; at times he came to his senses.

"You leave me," he whispered once. "You have been a good friend to me.
You can do no more. Just leave me here, and save yourself."

Garratt Skinner made no answer. He just looked at Hine curiously--that
was all. That was all. It was a curious thing to him that Hine should
display an unexpected manliness--almost a heroism. It could not be
pleasant even to contemplate being left alone upon these windy and
sunless heights to die. But actually to wish it!

"How did you come by so much fortitude?" he asked; and to his
astonishment, Walter Hine replied:

"I learnt it from you, old man."

"From me?"

"Yes."

Garratt Skinner gave him some of the brandy and listened to a portrait of
himself, described in broken words, which he was at some pains to
recognize. Walter Hine had been seeking to model himself upon an
imaginary Garratt Skinner, and thus, strangely enough, had arrived at an
actual heroism. Thus would Garratt Skinner have bidden his friends leave
him, only in tones less tremulous, and very likely with a laugh, turning
back, as it were, to snap his fingers as he stepped out of the world.
Thus, therefore, Walter Hine sought to bear himself.

"Curious," said Garratt Skinner with interest, but with no stronger
feeling at all. "Are you in pain, Wallie?"

"Dreadful pain."

"We must wait. Perhaps help will come!"

The day wore on, but what the time was Garratt Skinner could not tell.
His watch and Hine's had both stopped with the cold, and the dull,
clouded sky gave him no clue. The last of the food was eaten, the last
drop of the brandy drunk. It was bitterly cold. If only the snow would
hold off till morning! Garratt Skinner had only to wait. The night would
come and during the night Walter Hine would die. And even while the
thought was in his mind, he heard voices. To his amazement, to his alarm,
he heard voices! Then he laughed. He was growing light-headed.
Exhaustion, cold and hunger were telling their tale upon him. He was not
so young as he had been twenty years before. But to make sure he rose to
his knees and peered down the slope. He had been mistaken. The steep
snow-slopes stretched downward, wild and empty. Here and there black
rocks jutted from them; a long way down four black stones were spaced;
there was no living thing in that solitude. He sank back relieved. No
living thing except himself, and perhaps his companion. He looked at Hine
closely, shook him, and Hine groaned. Yes, he still lived--for a little
time he still would live. Garratt Skinner gathered in his numbed palm the
last pipeful of tobacco in his pouch and, spilling the half of it--his
hands so shook with cold, his fingers were so clumsy--he pressed it into
his pipe and lit it. Perhaps before it was all smoked out--he thought.
And then his hallucination returned to him. Again he heard voices, very
faint, and distant, in a lull of the wind.

It was weakness, of course, but he started up again, this time to his
feet, and as he stood up his head and shoulders showed clear against the
white snow behind him. He heard a shout--yes, an undoubted shout. He
stared down the slope and then he saw. The four black stones had moved,
were nearer to him--they were four men ascending. Garratt Skinner turned
swiftly toward Walter Hine, reached for his ice-ax, grasped it and raised
it, Walter Hine looked at him with staring, stupid eyes, but raised no
hand, made no movement. He, too, was conscious of an hallucination. It
seemed to him that his friend stood over him with a convulsed and
murderous face, in which rage strove with bitter disappointment, but that
he held his ax by the end with the adz-head swung back above his head to
give greater force to the blow, and that while he poised it there came a
cry from the confines of the world, and that upon that cry his friend
dropped the ax, and stooping down to him murmured: "There's help quite
close, Wallie!"

Certainly those words were spoken--that at all events was no
hallucination. Walter Hine understood it clearly. For Garratt Skinner
suddenly stripped off his coat, passed it round Hine's shoulders and
then, baring his own breast, clasped Hine to it that he might impart to
him some warmth from his own body.

Thus they were found by the rescue party; and the story of Garratt
Skinner's great self-sacrifice was long remembered in Courmayeur.

Garratt Skinner watched the men mounting and wondered who they were. He
recognized his own guide, Pierre Delouvain, but who were the others, how
did they come there on a morning so forbidding? Who was the tall man who
walked last but one? And as the party drew nearer, he saw and understood.
But he did not change from his attitude. He waited until they were close.
Then he and Hilary Chayne exchanged a look.

"You?" said Garratt Skinner.

"Yes--" Chayne paused. "Yes, Mr. Strood," he said.

And in those words all was said. Garratt Skinner knew that his plan was
not merely foiled, but also understood. He stood up and looked about him,
and even to Chayne's eyes there was a dignity in his quiet manner, his
patience under defeat. For Garratt Skinner, rogue though he was, the
mountains had their message. All through that long night, while he sat by
the side of his victim, they had been whispering it. Whether bound in
frost beneath the stars, or sparkling to the sun, or gray under a sky of
clouds, or buried deep in flakes of whirling snow, they spoke to him
always of the grandeur of their indifference. They might be traversed and
scaled, but they were unconquered always because they were indifferent.
The climber might lie in wait through the bad weather at the base of the
peak, seize upon his chance and stand upon the summit with a cry of
triumph and derision. The mountains were indifferent. As they endured
success, so they inflicted defeat--with a sublime indifference, lifting
their foreheads to the stars as though wrapt in some high communion.
Something of their patience had entered into Garratt Skinner. He did not
deny his name, he asked no question, he accepted failure and he looked
anxiously to the sky.

"It will snow, I think."

They made some tea, mixed it with wine and gave it first of all to Walter
Hine. Then they all breakfasted, and set off on their homeward journey,
letting Hine down with the rope from step to step.

Gradually Hine regained a little strength. His numbed limbs began to come
painfully to life. He began to move slowly of his own accord, supported
by his rescuers. They reached the ice-ridge. It had no terrors now for
Walter Hine.

"He had better be tied close between Pierre and myself," said Garratt
Skinner. "We came up that way."

"Between Simond and Droz," said Chayne, quietly.

"As you will," said Garratt Skinner with a shrug of the shoulders.

Along the ice-ridge the party moved slowly and safely, carrying Hine
between them. As they passed behind the great rock tower at the lower
end, the threatened snow began to fall in light flakes.

"Quickly," said Chayne. "We must reach the chalets to-night."

They raced along the snow-slopes on the crest of the buttress and turned
to the right down the gullies and the ledges on the face of the rock. In
desperate haste they descended lowering Walter Hine from man to man, they
crawled down the slabs, dropped from shelf to shelf, wound themselves
down the gullies of ice. Somehow without injury the snow-slopes at the
foot of the rocks were reached. The snow still held off; only now and
then a few flakes fell. But over the mountain the wind was rising, it
swept down in fierce swift eddies, and drew back with a roar like the sea
upon shingle.

"We must get off the glacier before night comes," cried Chayne, and led
by Simond the rescue party went down into the ice-fall. They stopped at
the first glacier pool and made Hine wash his hands and feet in the
water, to save himself from frost-bite; and thereafter for a little time
they rested. They went on again, but they were tired men, and before the
rocks were reached upon which two nights before Garratt Skinner had
bivouacked, darkness had come. Then Simond justified the praise of Michel
Revailloud. With the help of a folding lantern which Chayne had carried
in his pocket, he led the way through that bewildering labyrinth with
unerring judgment. Great seracs loomed up through the darkness, magnified
in size and distorted in shape. Simond went over and round them and under
them, steadily, and the rescue party followed. Now he disappeared over
the edge of a cliff into space, and in a few seconds his voice rang
upward cheerily.

"Follow! It is safe."

And his ice-ax rang with no less cheeriness. He led them boldly to the
brink of abysses which were merely channels in the ice, and amid towering
pinnacles which seen, close at hand, were mere blocks shoulder high. And
at last the guide at the tail of the rope heard from far away ahead
Simond's voice raised in a triumphant shout.

"The rocks! The rocks!"

With one accord they flung themselves, tired and panting, on the
sheltered level of the bivouac. Some sticks were found, a fire was
lighted, tea was once more made. Walter Hine began to take heart; and as
the flames blazed up, the six men gathered about it, crouching, kneeling,
sitting, and the rocks resounded with their laughter.

"Only a little further, Wallie!" said Garratt Skinner, still true
to his part.

They descended from the rocks, crossed a level field of ice and struck
the rock path along the slope of the Mont de la Brenva.

"Keep on the rope," said Garratt Skinner. "Hine slipped at a corner as we
came up"; and Chayne glanced quickly at him. There were one or two
awkward corners above the lower glacier where rough footsteps had been
hewn. On one of these Walter Hine had slipped, and Garratt Skinner had
saved him--had undoubtedly saved him. At the very beginning of the climb,
the object for which it was undertaken was almost fulfilled, and would
have been fulfilled but that instinct overpowered Garratt Skinner, and
since the accident was unexpected, before he had had time to think he had
reached out his hand and saved the life which he intended to destroy.

Along that path Hine was carefully brought to the chalets of La Brenva.
The peasants made him as comfortable as they could.

"He will recover," said Simond. "Oh yes, he will recover. Two of us will
stay with him."

"No need for that," replied Garratt Skinner. "Thank you very much, but
that is my duty since Hine is my friend."

"I think not," said Chayne, standing quietly in front of Garratt Skinner.
"Walter Hine will be safe enough in Simond's hands. I want you to return
with me to Courmayeur. My wife is there and anxious."

"Your wife?"

"Yes, Sylvia."

Garratt Skinner nodded his head.

"I see," he said, slowly. "Yes."

He looked round the hut. Simond was going to watch by Hine's side. He
was defeated utterly, and recognized it. Then he looked at Chayne, and
smiled grimly.

"On the whole, I am not sorry that you have married my daughter," he
said. "I will come down to Courmayeur. It will be pleasant to sleep
in a bed."

And together they walked down to Courmayeur, which they reached soon
after midnight.

CHAPTER XXVI

RUNNING WATER

In two days' time Walter Hine was sufficiently recovered to be carried
down to Courmayeur. He had been very near to death upon the Brenva ridge,
certainly the second night upon which Garratt Skinner had counted would
have ended his life; he was frostbitten; and for a long while the shock
and the exposure left him weak. But he gained strength with each day, and
Chayne had opportunities to admire the audacity and the subtle skill with
which Garratt Skinner had sought his end. For Walter Hine was loud in his
praises of his friend's self-sacrifice. Skinner had denied himself his
own share of food, had bared his breast to the wind that he might give
the warmth of his own body to keep his friend alive--these instances lost
nothing in the telling. And they were true! Chayne could not deny to
Garratt Skinner a certain criminal grandeur. He had placed Hine in no
peril which he had not shared himself; he had taken him, a man fitted in
neither experience nor health, on an expedition where inexperience or
weakness on the part of one was likely to prove fatal to all. There was,
moreover, one incident, not contemplated by Garratt Skinner in his plan,
which made his position absolutely secure. He had actually saved Walter
Hine's life on the rocky path of the Mont de la Brenva. There was no
doubt of it. He had reached out his hand and saved him. Chayne made much
of this incident to his wife.

"I was wrong you see, Sylvia," he argued. "For your father could have let
him fall, and did not. I have been unjust to him, and to you, for you
have been troubled."

But Sylvia shook her head.

"You were not wrong," she answered. "It is only because you are very kind
that you want me to believe it. But I see the truth quite clearly"; and
she smiled at him. "If you wanted me to believe, you should never have
told me of the law, a year ago in the Chalet de Lognan. My father obeyed
the law--that was all. You know it as well as I. He had no time to think;
he acted upon the instinct of the moment; he could not do otherwise. Had
there been time to think, would he have reached out his hand? We both
know that he would not. But he obeyed the law. What he knew, that he did,
obeying the law upon the moment. He could save, and knowing it he _did_
save, even against his will."

Chayne did not argue the point. Sylvia saw the truth too clearly.

"Walter Hine is getting well," he said. "Your father is still at another
hotel in Courmayeur. There's the future to be considered."

"Yes," she said, and she waited.

"I have asked your father to come over to-night after dinner,"
said Chayne.

And into their private sitting-room Garratt Skinner entered at eight
o'clock that evening. It was the first time that Sylvia had seen him
since she had learned the whole truth, and she found the occasion one of
trial. But Garratt Skinner carried it off.

There was nothing of the penitent in his manner, but on the other hand he
no longer affected the manner of a pained and loving parent. He greeted
her from the door, and congratulated her quietly and simply upon her
marriage. Then he turned to Chayne.

"You wished to speak to me? I am at your service."

"Yes," replied Chayne. "We--and I speak for Sylvia--we wish to suggest to
you that your acquaintanceship with Walter Hine should end
altogether--that it should already have ended."

"Really!" said Garratt Skinner, with an air of surprise. "Captain Chayne,
the laws of England, revolutionary as they have no doubt become to
old-fashioned people like myself, have not yet placed fathers under the
guardianship of their sons-in-law. I cannot accept your suggestion."

"We insist upon its acceptance," said Chayne, quietly.

Garratt Skinner smiled.

"Insist perhaps! But how enforce it, my friend? That's another matter."

"I think we have the means to do that," said Chayne. "We can point out to
Walter Hine, for instance, that your ascent from the Brenva Glacier was
an attempt to murder him."

"An ugly word, Captain Chayne. You would find it difficult of proof."

"The story is fairly complete," returned Chayne. "There is first of all a
telegram from Mr. Jarvice couched in curious language."

Garratt Skinner's face lost its smile of amusement.

"Indeed?" he said. He was plainly disconcerted.

"Yes." Chayne produced the telegram from his letter case, read it aloud
with his eyes upon Garratt Skinner, and replaced it. "'What are you
waiting for? Hurry up! Jarvice.' There is no need at all events to ask
Mr. Jarvice what he was waiting for, is there? He wanted to lay his hands
upon the money for which Hine's life was insured."

Garratt Skinner leaned back in his chair. His eyes never left Chayne's
face, his face grew set and stern. He had a dangerous look, the look of a
desperate man at bay.

"Then there is a certain incident to be considered which took place in
the house near Weymouth. You must at times have been puzzled by
it--perhaps a little alarmed too. Do you remember one evening when a
whistle from the shadows on the road and a yokel's shout drove you out of
Walter Hine's room, sent you creeping out of it as stealthily as you
entered--nay, did more than that, for that whistle and that shout drove
you out of Dorsetshire. Ah! I see you remember."

Garratt Skinner indeed had often enough been troubled by the recollection
of that night. The shout, the whistle ringing out so suddenly and
abruptly from the darkness and the silence had struck upon his
imagination and alarmed him by their mystery. Who was the man who had
seen? And what had he seen? Garratt Skinner had never felt quite safe
since that evening. There was some one, a stranger, going about the world
with the key to his secret, even if he had not guessed the secret.

"It was I who whistled. I who shouted."

"You!" cried Garratt Skinner. "You!"

"Yes. Sylvia was with me. You thought to do that night what you thought
to do a few days ago above the Brenva ridge. Both times together we were
able to hinder you. But once Sylvia hindered you alone. There is the
affair of the cocaine."

Chayne looked toward his wife with a look of great pride for the bravery
which she had shown. She was sitting aloof in the embrasure of the window
with her face averted and a hand pressed over her eyes and forehead.
Chayne looked back to Garratt Skinner, and there was more anger in his
face than he had ever shown.

"I will never forgive you the distress you have caused to Sylvia," he
said.

But Garratt Skinner's eyes were upon Sylvia, and in his face, too, there
was a humorous look of pride. She had courage. He remembered how she had
confronted him when Walter Hine lay sick. He said no word to her,
however, and again he turned to Chayne, who went on:

"There is also your past career to add weight to the argument,
Mr.--Strood."

Point by point Chayne set out in detail the case for the prosecution.
Garratt Skinner listened without interruption, but he knew that he was
beaten. The evidence against him was too strong. It might not be enough
legally to secure his conviction at a public trial--though even upon that
question there would be the gravest doubt--but it would be enough to
carry certitude to every ear which listened and to every eye which read.

"The game is played out," Chayne continued. "We have Walter Hine, and we
shall not let him slip back into your hands. How much of the story we
shall tell him we are not yet sure--but all if it be necessary. And, if
it be necessary, to others beside."

There was a definite threat in the last words. But Garratt Skinner had
already made up his mind. Since the game was played out, since defeat had
come, he took it without anger or excuse.

"Very well," he said. "Peace in the family circle is after all very
desirable--eh, Sylvia? I agree with the deepest regret to part from my
young friend, Walter Hine. I leave him in your hands." He was speaking
with a humorous magnanimity. But his eyes wandered back to Sylvia, who
sat some distance away in the embrasure of the window, with her face in
her hands; and his voice changed.

"Sylvia," he said, gently, "come here."

Sylvia rose and walked over to the table.

The waiting, the knowledge which had come to her during the last few
days, had told their tale. She had the look which Chayne too well
remembered, the dark shadows beneath her eyes, the languor in her walk,
the pallor in her cheeks, the distress and shame in her expression.

"Sit down," he said; and she obeyed him reluctantly, seating herself over
against him. She gazed at the table-cloth with that mutinous look upon
her face which took away from her her womanhood and gave to her the
aspect of a pretty but resentful child. Garratt Skinner for the life of
him could not but smile at her.

"Well, Sylvia, you have beaten me. You fought your fight well, and I bear
you no malice," he said, lightly. "But," and his voice became serious
again, "you sit in judgment on me."

Sylvia raised her eyes quickly.

"No!" she cried.

"I think so," he persisted. "I don't blame you. Only I should like you to
bear this in mind; that you have in your own life a reason to go gently
in your judgments of other people."

Chayne stepped forward, as though he would interfere, but Sylvia laid her
hand upon his arm and checked him.

"I don't think you understand, Hilary," she said, quickly. She turned to
her father and looked straight at him with an eager interest.

"I wonder whether we are both thinking of the same thing," she said,
curiously.

"Perhaps," replied her father. "All your life you have dreamed of
running water."

And Sylvia nodded her head.

"Yes, yes," she said, with a peculiar intentness.

"The dream is part of you, part of your life. For all you know, it may
have modified your character."

"Yes," said Sylvia.

"It is a part of you of which you could not rid yourself if you tried.
When you are asleep, this dream comes to you. It is as much a part of you
as a limb."

And again Sylvia answered: "Yes."

"Well, you are not responsible for it," and Sylvia leaned forward.

"Ah!" she said. She had been wondering whether it was to this point that
he was coming.

"You know now why you hear it, why it's part of you. You were born to the
sound of running water in that old house in Dorsetshire. Before you were
born, in the daytime and in the stillness of the night your mother heard
it week after week. Perhaps even when she was asleep the sound rippled
through her dreams. Thus you came by it. It was born in you."

"Yes," she answered, following his argument step by step very carefully,
but without a sign of the perplexity which was evident in Hilary Chayne.
Chayne stood a little aloof, looking from Sylvia's face to the face of
her father, in doubt whither the talk was leading. Sylvia, on the other
hand, recognized each sentence which her father spoke as the embodiment
of a thought with which she was herself familiar.

"Well, then, here's a definite thing, an influence most likely, a
characteristic most certainly, and not of your making! One out of how
many influences, characteristics which are part of you but not of your
making! But we can lay our finger on it. Well, it is a pleasant and a
pretty quality--this dream of yours, Sylvia--yes, a very pleasant one to
be born with. But suppose that instead of that dream you had been born
with a vice, an instinct of crime, of sin, would you have been any the
more responsible for it? If you are not responsible for the good thing,
are you responsible for the bad? An awkward question, Sylvia--awkward
enough to teach you to go warily in your judgments."

"Yes," said Sylvia. "I was amongst the fortunate. I don't deny it."

"But that's not all," and as Chayne moved restively, Garratt Skinner
waved an indulgent hand.

"I don't expect you, Captain Chayne, to take an interest in these
problems. For a military man, discipline and the penal code are the
obvious unalterable solutions. But it is possible that I may never see my
daughter again and--I am speaking to her"; and he went back to the old
vexed question.

"It's not only that you are born with qualities, definite
characteristics, definite cravings, for which you are no more responsible
than the man in the moon, and which are part of you. But there's
something else. How much of your character, how much of all your life to
come is decided for you during the first ten or fifteen years of your
life--decided for you, mind, not by you? Upon my soul, I think the whole
of it. You don't agree? Well, it's an open question. I believe that at
the age of fifteen the lines along which you will move are already drawn,
your character formed, your conduct for the future a settled thing."

To that Sylvia gave no assent. But she did not disagree. She only looked
at her father with a questioning and a troubled face. If it were so, she
asked, why had she hated from the first the circle in which her mother
and herself had moved. And the answer--or at all events _an_ answer--came
as she put the question to herself. She had lived amongst her dreams. She
was in doubt.

"Well, hear something of my boyhood, Sylvia!" cried her father, and for
the first time his voice became embittered. "I was brought up by a
respectable father. Yes, respectable," he said, with a sneer. "Everything
about us was respectable. We lived in a respectable house in a
respectable neighborhood, and twice every Sunday we went to church and
listened to a respectable clergyman. But!--Well, here's a chapter out of
the inside. I would go to bed and read in bed by a candle. Not a very
heinous offence, but contrary to the rule of the house. Sooner or later I
would hear a faint scuffling sound in the passage. That was my father
stealing secretly along to listen at my door and see what I was doing. I
covered the light of the candle with my hand, or perhaps blew it out--but
not so quickly but that he would see the streak of light beneath the
door. Then the play would begin. 'You are not reading in bed, are you?'
he would say. 'Certainly not,' I would reply. 'You are sure?' he would
insist. 'Of course, father,' I would answer. Then back he would go, but
only for a little way, and I would hear him come stealthily scuffling
back again. Perhaps the candle would be lit again already, or at all
events uncovered. Would he say anything? Oh, no! He had found out I was
lying. He felt that he had scored a point, and he would save it up. So we
would meet the next morning at breakfast, he knowing that I was a liar, I
knowing that he knew that I was a liar, and both pretending that we were
all in all to each other. A small thing, Sylvia. But crowd your life with
such small things? Spying and deceit and a game of catch-as-catch-can
played by the father and son! My letters were read--I used to know, for
roundabout questions would be put leading up to the elucidation of a
sentence which to any one but myself would be obscure! Do you think any
child could grow up straight, if his boyhood passed in that atmosphere of
trickery? I don't know. Only I think that before I was fifteen my way of
life was a sure and settled thing. It was certain that I should develop
upon the lines on which I was trained."

Garratt Skinner rose from his seat.

"There, I have done," he said. He looked at his daughter for a little
while, his eyes dwelling upon her beauty with a certain pleasure, and
even a certain wistfulness; he looked at her now much as she had been
wont to look at him in the early days of the house in Dorsetshire. It was
very plain that they were father and daughter.

"You are too good for your military man, my dear," he said, with a smile.
"Too pretty and too good. Don't you let him forget it!" And suddenly he
cried out with a burst of passion. "I wish to God you had never come near
me!" And Sylvia, hearing the cry, remembered that on the Sunday evening
when she had first come to the house in Hobart Place, her father had
shown a particular hesitation, had felt some of that remorse of which she
heard the full expression now, in welcoming her to his house and adapting
her to his ends. She raised her downcast eyes and with outstretched hands
took a step forward.

"Father!" she said. But her father was already gone. She heard his step
upon the stairs.

Chayne, however, followed her father from the room and caught him up as
he was leaving the hotel.

"I want to say," he began with some difficulty, "that, if you are pressed
at all for money--"

Garratt Skinner stopped him. He pulled some sovereigns out of one pocket
and some banknotes out of another.

"You see, I have enough to go on with. In fact--" and he looked northward
toward the mountains. Dimly they could be seen under the sickle of a new
moon. "In fact, I propose to-morrow to take your friend Simond and cross
on the high-level to Zermatt."

"But afterward?" asked Chayne.

Garratt Skinner laughed and laughed like a boy. There was a rich
anticipation of enjoyment in the sound.

"Afterward? I shall have a great time. I shall squeeze Mr. Jarvice. It's
what they call in America a cinch."

And with a cheery good-night Garratt Skinner betook himself down the
road.

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