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Charles Dickens > No Thoroughfare > Chapter III

No Thoroughfare

Chapter III


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Did you ever doubt--"

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

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

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

"By what I have been told from infancy."

"Ah! I know of myself that way."

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

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

"Does it not satisfy you?"

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

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

"Yes. Very nearly."

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

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

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

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

"Not I. I sleep too soundly."

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

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

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

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

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

"Adieu! At four."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"First tell me; you are not ill?"

"Ill? No."

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

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

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

"Burnt out."

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

"Do so."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing of the kind."

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

"Nothing of the sort."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vendale took the cup, and did so.

"How do you find it?"

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

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

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

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

"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? 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

"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."


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

"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

"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

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

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

"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

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

"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

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

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.

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