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HOME > Classical Novels > White Motley > CHAPTER XXVI AT THE HOSPICE
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It was three in the morning when Bajazet turned into the yard of the H?tel de Ville at Domo d'Ossola and ordered a sleepy ostler to prepare horses for Brigue.

In summer the place would have been wide awake enough even at such an hour, for the summer would have found it alive with motorists about to cross the pass according to the regulations which forbid them to travel at the height of the day. But being the month of February, the town was as silent as the grave when the carriage drove in, and even the ostler could be discovered with difficulty. When twenty questions had recalled his understanding, he remembered that an Englishman had set out for Brigue yesterday, but had no idea who he was. His description, however, answered to that of Luton Delayne, and Benny quickly came to the conclusion that the baronet had persisted in his madness, and had returned to Switzerland upon an impulse no one else might pretend to understand.

And yet, was it so difficult to be understood? Luton Delayne knew the best and the worst that life had in store for him. Of all his fortune, good or ill, fortune of character and of possessions, there remained to him but the supreme desire to seek out the woman who had been his wife, and to throw himself upon her pity. Desperately, and with almost a child's trust, he had come to believe that she would save him. The unanswered letter, the hours of loneliness by the lakeside, the alternations of hope and despair, so drove him at the last, that, flinging all reason to the winds, he determined to go to her and hear the worst. And he had set off immediately when the abbé sent him a warning message. What mattered it, if he could win a hearing from her? The good that was in him claimed audience now. He believed that she would judge him lightly if all were known; and, determined that it should be known, he drove to Iselle and the pass.

Perhaps Benny guessed something of this when he commanded horses for the journey to Brigue, and announced his determination to depart immediately. He understood men in many moods, and could almost sympathise with this broken man who thus flung down the gauntlet to the world and did not stop to consider that it might be picked up—not by a chivalrous enemy, but by the police. For himself, his task was plain, and events had not changed the trend of it. He would save Luton Delayne from a public exposure if he could, and would save him for the woman's sake. What happened afterwards must be as destiny decided. It would be enough for him that he had done his duty to one who claimed his friendship, and for whom he would measure no sacrifice.

There was a considerable delay before the carriage could leave the hotel, and he was glad of the hot coffee which the maids prepared for him. Early as it was, the great road to the pass now became alive with peasants coming down into Italy or returning to the Valley of the Rhone. These seldom travel by the train, and for them the Hospice upon the summit of the pass is kept open during the winter months. Benny watched them as they tramped stolidly through the darkness, their eyes set upon a visionary city, and their faces pinched with the cold. When he spoke to one of them at the door of the inn yard, an old man whose sister was ill at Baveno, the veteran told him that there had been a dreadful storm on the heights last night, and that a bruit of accidents was abroad. He also spoke of the railway, and of the mishap above Brigue; but that, he said, had now been put right, and the trains were running as usual. When he left, with a five-franc piece for his gratuity, he confessed that it was seldom an Englishman was met upon the pass nowadays—bad luck to all this craze for railway travelling which robbed so many of their dues.

Benny was pleased at the news about the trains, for it fitted in very well with the idea which had come to him at the shanty, and had not been abandoned during the journey. He perceived that all now depended upon what the gendarme Philip had done—whether the lad had attempted to reach Italy by the pass, or had waited for the line to Milan to be reopened. In the former case, nothing could save Luton Delayne from arrest—or worse. In the latter, it might very well be that the baronet would reach Sierre, and, having met his wife, would be persuaded to take the express to Paris. Should that be done, his escape was almost assured, for the heat of the hue and cry had subsided by this time, and but for Philip Gaillarde might have been forgotten altogether. The gendarme, truly, was the key to the whole situation, and Benny was almost tempted to ring up the abbé at the Hospice and ask if he had news of him. This, however, would have been a concession to mere curiosity, and, set upon his purpose of overtaking the baronet if he could, he entered his carriage about four o'clock and departed immediately for Brigue.

Many know the Simplon Pass by name, but to few of this generation is it more than a name. Sometimes, in the history lesson, the boy learns that the great road was built at Napoleon's command immediately after the battle of Marengo, and that it took no fewer than six years to construct. By here and there in an old painting there are pictures of the Ponto Alto, or, more commonly, of the Gallery of Gondo, with its wondrous black-mouthed tunnel and arched bridge, and mighty ramparts uplifted, as it were, to the very heavens. But these things are but traditions to the flitting tourist, who climbs mountains in a railway carriage and would have his waterfalls illuminated.

Benny knew nothing of the pass, but insensibly the wonders of it grew upon him as the day dawned and the fertile valleys of Italy began to give place to the grandeur and desolation of the heights. What mind had conceived these things—what hand had planned them? An engineer by every instinct of his being, he tried to understand the spirit in which this great work was conceived and the labour which had accomplished it. And from that he passed to the sheer fascination of it all; of these frail bridges spanning the very jaws of hell; of the galleries wrought in the face of the iron rock; of the vast aqueducts bringing black torrents, and the mighty roofs which defied the thundering avalanche. By one man's genius this had come to be; the gates had been opened, the goal attained. And with that man he crossed the pass in spirit, and lifted his eyes to the stars, and dwelt in the infinite.

Upward and still upward—to what end, to what humour of destiny? Must all this grandeur of the road melt ultimately to a vulgar truth of life; must it give place to a man's shame and a woman's tears? He tried to think that it could not be, and yet the inevitableness of it all seemed written upon every rock which towered above him. He believed no longer that Philip Gaillarde had gone down into Italy. The lad, he thought, would be advised by others, and all that had been done at the villa would be well known to the authorities. Possibly, and this was to be reckoned with, Philip had himself gone up to the Hospice and would there meet the baronet face to face. And if he did so it might well be that a new page in this sordid tragedy would be written that very day. Benny would not dwell upon this, but he encouraged Bajazet with new promises, while that good fellow urged on his horses with wild cries and a great cracking o............
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