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clouds visible. The whole sky was a coppery, undemarcated mass. The peaks of the high eastern horizon cut cold, jagged daggers out of a background streaked with black, snow-bearing pencil marks; the shaggy heads of Pelvoux were veiled in a vague menace.
The major shivered, and rose, with a suggestion of rheumatic limbs, from the clinging embrace of his frozen throne. Flowers. catalogued between his grasping fingers, he walked stiffly towards the low-set, rambling hotel, a scant stone's-throw away, in the rolling solitude of the green and white plateau. His forehead corrugated suddenly.
"My lord!" he muttered to himself. "I hope Henry-"
His paternal anxiety was destined to interruption, for just then the inn-keeper emerged from the front door, gesticulating even more wildly than was his wont.
"Monsieur le Majeur!" he shrilled worriedly. "Téléphone! Important!"
He need not have added the last word. For the major, who had ever been somewhat piqued at his host's insistence in responding with almost perfect English to the quite imperfect French addressed to him, knew from the unconscious lapse into accent that the matter must be of some moment. Dropping thoughts of letter-writing and mountain climbing from his head (and the carefully selected flowers from his fingers!) he strode in to the telephone. The Frenchman followed with helpless eyes the discarded blossoms, as they fluttered away before the rising wind; then, with a deprecating shrug and grimace, pursued his guest.
Ten minutes later, the ordinarily tranquil stable-yard was a scene of bustling confusion. As the besmocked chore-boy buckled the last strap that bound together horse and dog-cart, the major stepped hurriedly from the kitchen door. His anxious host was still at his heels. The major looked even bulkier than he had a few moments before, the fleecy warmth of his trench-coat reinforced from within by an additional sweater and scarf. He slung his khaki medical pack underneath the seat of the twowheeled cart. It lurched on its springs as he mounted the step. The mare, under the boy's curbing hand, trembled in anticipation as she felt the sudden pressure on the shafts. Cold drops of rain
-which had been snow-flakes a hundred feet higher-slithered down her sleek flanks. The major picked up the reins, and, still standing, turned to give parting instructions to his landlord.
"M'sheer, vous direz à M'sheer Henry-"
The Frenchman helpfully broke in on this accent-mangling attempt, with a veritable chef-d'oeuvre of understanding:
"Oui, m'sieur. I have to tell Meestaire Henri when he shall descend, that he should follow you to La Grave par bicyclette, because you maybe shall have need of him-n'est-ce pas?"
The major was about to respond to this provoking interruption, when the mare managed to shake her bridle free of the choreboy's restraint, and plunged forward. Impelled forcibly to a sitting position by his own inertia, he emitted only a non-committal, snorting:
"Humph!" and was gone.
As the joggling cart tracked twin ribbons along the raindappled surface of the road that spiralled down the mountain, the major ruminated on the scene he was about to enter. Grave, eight kilometres down-slope, was a mere cluster of ramshackle buildings, a sort of breathing-place for the coach that daily made its tortuous ascent from Grenoble and the valley of the turbulent brown Isère. A handful of tiled roofs scrambling carelessly on the brink of a gulch, through the depths of which a glacier-fed torrent ripped its course-La Grave offered the occasional traveller-off-the-beaten-track a wonderful view of the ice fields and white crests of the opposing range. Here, too, one might procure a mist-coated glass of foaming goat's milk, and relief from an intolerant sun; or shelter from such afternoon storms as this. The hamlet was graced with an inn, seldom patronized save by such tourists as were too fatigued or too famished to continue their climb to the more pretentious accommodations offered further up on the plateau of Lauteret. The inn at La Grave boasted a telephone, and it was from this instrument that Major Pearce had received such urgent summons.
It seemed that the coach-driver's home, next door to this inn, was about to witness the advent of an addition to a family already conspicuous for its numerical strength; that the husband was still with his equipage in Grenoble, whence he had been unable to send either a doctor or a sage-femme to ease his wife
in the throes of delivery. Her distraught neighbors had conceived the idea of communicating the situation to Lauteret, on the chance of their discovering there a hypothetical physician. The major, however determined he had been in the abandonment of his professional self, finding himself moved by their entreaties, had speedily promised his assistance; accusing himself of softheartedness, but secretly rather glad to be of use; freed from the chafing of idleness, and eager for the opportunity of proving to the natives the inadequacy of their accepted methods of midwifery.
Eight kilometres downhill, behind a spirited horse, can be comfortably covered in half an hour; Major Pearce lowered it to twenty minutes. As he reined in the mare at the hostelry of La Grave, the coach-driver's eldest, a boy of twelve (with scared eyes, and fingers that made the sign of the cross whenever he thought himself unobserved), relieved him of the steaming mare, and led her to the inn-yard. The major stepped toward the door of the combined café-restaurant, but he was forestalled on the threshold by the aubergiste himself. The latter was stammering and trembling with unrepressed excitement, and the American disgustedly made a mental note as to the ubiquitous nervousness of certain Latins. At length, he recovered himself enough to blurt a command to the boy in bewildering dialect. The youngster suspended his unhitching of the mare, and turned wondering eyes across the dog-cart, toward his mentor. The inn-keeper pawed convulsively at the arms of the impatient doctor, and, with a last despairing gulp, chattered fearfully:
"M'sieu 'ave not yet seen madame of ze next door, non? Eh bien, ett moost be zat you return immédiatement à Lauteret!" "What?" drawled the nonplussed major.
"Yess. Eet moost be! Your son, 'e 'as 'ad one accident." "What do you mean?" thundered the major, startled into himself. "It can't be !-No!"
"But yes. Zey come from téléphoning from Lauteret. Zhust aftaire you 'ave left, zey 'ave carr'd eem down from Pelvoux, an' zey 'ave say e' was ver' mooch blessé. 'E was-what you call?-fell!"
The major stared. He reached for the door-jamb, to steady himself. In the silence of the inn-yard, broken only by the soft
thud of rain-drops on the dust, and the hungry bleating of a faroff goat, his breathing sounded quick and hard....He turned fiercely away.
"You're sure that it was my son-Henry?"
"Mais oui, m'sieu. M'sieu Henri, zey 'ave say. I come from answering of ze téléphone. Zey 'ave say for you to return most immédiatement, zat 'e ees verr' sérieuse injured. 'E 'have been peecking of flowers, wen ze snow 'e ees come an' 'as blinded of 'eem-an' 'e 'as fell-not verr' distánt-but 'e 'as broke someting, an' ees yet insensible."
The major walked mutely toward the cart. His sterr: face met the dumbly questioning eyes of the coach-driver's son, who still held tight the mare's bit. As the major placed a foot on the step, preparatory to swinging himself to the seat, there came from the low dwelling at the further side of the yard, a woman's shriek of anguish-piercing, throbbing, heart-rending. The boy shivered fearfully, and crossed himself with his free hand, huddling his head down between shoulders wet with large drops of rain. The major hesitated. Again sounded the scream, low at first, but crescending to a pitch almost inhuman in its wild agony.
The doctor withdrew his foot from the step, dragged his medicine pack from beneath the seat, and signalled to the boy to unhitch the horse; then walked slowly, with sagging head, into the house of torture.
It was long hours after dark when the major reopened the door to cross the inn-yard, on his way to the telephone. The storm had stopped; the sky was luminous with stars, which reflected a phosphorouslike gleam from the snow-peaks and glaciers across the valley. The chill of Alpine night was in the air. As he stepped into the yard, he stumbled over a figure which had been stretched out on the cold stone of the doorstep. A little cry of fright escaped from the cold lips of the boy, his widely-wondering eyes now hidden in the darkness.
"It's all right, sonny!" boomed the major. "You can tell your daddy when he comes that I congratulate him on having such a fine wife, and such a husky pair of twins as she's just given him.
Two healthy baby brothers for you, sonny, and your mother doing nicely."
The boy understood not a word; yet understood all that was necessary, from the doctor's altered tones, and from a reassuring pat on his shivering shoulders. He scampered happily off to the stable, for the mare. By the time the dog-cart was ready, the major had had a sharp conversation over the 'phone, and had resumed his bulky wrappings. Ignoring the inn-keeper's expostulations over his neglected supper, he compromised by gulping down a throat-scalding, heart-warming thimble of eau-de-vie. Impatient to be off, he nevertheless took the time to thank the aubergiste for his fervent wish that all might be found well back at Lauteret; and to slip a crumpled twenty-franc note into the hands of the boy, who had now ceased crossing himself. As the cart rattled out of the yard, the boy choked, and ran, with streaming eyes, into the house. The inn-keeper stood on his threshold, listening for a moment to the rapidly diminishing thud of hoofs. Then he turned, and with his hand on the clanking latch, voiced the infinite tribute:
They would never know, these two, what anguish those few hours had cost their benefactor; nor appreciate the torture of this midnight drive. The ascent to Lauteret, even with the eager mare headed for home, would consume at least an hourtime which the major could ill afford. He had not repeated to the inn-keeper what he had just learned over the telephone; that his son had regained consciousness, but was very weak, and calling distractedly for his father. The unskilled people at Lauteret had done all in their power to help, but he was still in great pain.
.........Pain........Pain....It ran through his mind.... His boy Henry in great pain.... Perhaps he should be too late.-Perhaps even his arrival could not save his son.-Perhaps he should die before his own father reached him....Henry, alone-and calling for his dad.....And what a father he had been!—to jeopardize, possibly to sacrifice, his only son, to the mere call of duty! To murder his own Henry, for the sake of adding the burden of two more hungry mouths to a family already sapped in vitality! But, he comforted himself, if he had not relentlessly stifled