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HOME > Classical Novels > White Motley > CHAPTER XXIII THE NIGHT MAIL
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Lily Delayne had left Andana at midday in an interlude when it was possible to get sleighs from the stable.

They had told her that she would not be able to reach the valley at all that day if she left it until the afternoon; and this fell in with her own resolution, which was to go at once while she had the courage.

So she set out when the excitement was at its height, and no one else in the village thought of anything but the mad Englishman. There were thousands grouped upon the plateau when the sleigh came for her; every commanding slope of snow was black with the people who stared into the ether as though their eyes might win a far vision if they had but the patience. She could hear the music of bands, the ebb and flow of carnival and a murmur of voices which betoken a great throng at its pleasures. When the sleigh came for her at length, André the driver, complained bitterly that he should be compelled to go down to Sierre at such a moment.

"It is a thing no man will ever see again," he said almost pathetically. "Madame should have stayed until her countryman returned."

She made no comment, and when she had settled everything with the dour maid, who was to return to Brigue, they began their drive, making their way carefully through the press, and arousing no comment where so many strangers were gathered. André, for his part, drew up more than once at the roadside to show her just where the madman had flown and by what height he would return.

"It was over there," he cried dramatically, indicating Mont Blanc with a flourish of his long whip. "I saw him myself, madame—like the eagle we see in the picture books. He was gone before a man could have counted ten. If he comes again, it will be over the Weisshorn. Just think of that—and we have lived to see it! He will come over the Weisshorn like a flash of light, and to-morrow all the world will hear of it. Well, we may not be too late after all, if we keep our eyes open. It is a pity, though, that madame must go to-day."

She made no reply. Her eyes had followed vaguely the course of the flight, and she had tried to realise the wonder of it. But her deeper thoughts forbade her to do so. Had she been honest with herself, she would have said that she was going away just because of this man's victory—fleeing from his success, because she believed that it was her duty to do so.

Here she proved once more that a woman's heart is impregnable to the assaults of reason. Luton Delayne had not a shadow of claim upon her. The world would say, "Well done!" if she carried her case to the courts and ended forever the tragedy of the years. She intended to do nothing of the kind. Behind her intention lay the traditions of centuries, the habit of mind which the ancient Faith had fostered, and the resolution of unnumbered millions of good women who had lived and suffered such a life as this. At their bidding she fled from another and from his victory. A certain resentment against the honours he had won possessed her. He would be famous before the world to-morrow!

It was warmer in the depths of the valley, and the sun shone with great power. Sierre, that odd little town where all Englishmen travelling to the Simplon gather at some time or other, was deserted to the point of wonder. Even the hall-porter at the Terminus Hotel had gone a little way up the hillside in the hope of seeing something of the flight. The officials at the railway station were gathered in the yard, staring skywards until their necks ached. When Lily obtained a hearing at last, they told her it would be almost impossible to go through to Italy to-night by any ordinary train, and that all the places in the sleeping-cars were booked. Far better, said the amiable old lady who received her at the Terminus, far better to stay until to-morrow, when the excitement would be over. Yes, she could have a bed. An English family had left unexpectedly for Caux that morning, and its rooms were vacant.

Lily decided to accept this wise advice, but prudence restrained her from sending a telegram to Luton. She spent the afternoon in wandering about the little town and listening to the wild tales of the gossips at the street corners, each of whom had some new version of the flight. The excellent telephone service in Switzerland spread the news rapidly enough, and it was soon known that the aviator had reached Mont Blanc, that he had descended safely, and gone on towards Zermatt amid scenes of almost frantic enthusiasm. Later on, there was a sudden bustle in the streets, men running hither and thither, and an exodus from the station and from every café. Someone said that the machine had been seen high over the northern slopes; but Lily herself could make nothing of it, and when she returned for a cup of afternoon tea the excitement had subsided as quickly as it arose, and all was quiet in the town again.

This was merely a lull, as events proved, and she quickly perceived the wisdom of the advice offered by the landlady. No sooner was it known that the Englishman had succeeded than the sleighs began to return to the station. One would not have believed that there were so many horses in the Rhone Valley, and this was to say nothing of the thousands of excursionists who came down on foot besieging the railway station, and filling every café to the point of riot. Lily was glad that she had abandoned all idea of a journey to Locarno until to-morrow, and she went to bed early, avoiding her loquacious countrymen in the corridor of the hotel, and trying to believe that she was little interested in their excited stories of the day. When she arose next morning, it was snowing hard, and the wind had attained some force. She did not dare to venture out, and kept her own room until after dinner, when the news reached her that there was a delay upon the line at Brigue, and it was doubtful if the evening express could reach Milan at all that night.

Everyone seemed sure of this—the hall-porter, who spoke English like a German, and the amiable landlady, who spoke French like an Italian. Exactly what had happened no one could say with certainty, and the stories were so contradictory that Lily put on her hat about nine o'clock and went over to the station to hear the news for herself.

It was snowing heavily and the wind bitterly cold. She found a little group of officials upon the dimly-lighted platform and two or three English people, who, like herself, had been on the point of going into Italy. One of these was no other than Harry Clavering, who recognised her immediately, and came forward with both hands outstretched. She remembered that he had been the first of the guests at Andana to offer friendship upon her arrival, and she thought it an odd coincidence that she should meet him here at such an hour.

"They told me you had returned to England," he exclaimed, "but you n............
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