We talked scarcely at all.
‘You were up early this morning,’ he said.
‘Yes; I could not sleep.’
‘It was the same with me.’
We recovered the sea; but now it was far below us, and the footprints of the wind were marked on it, and it was not one blue, but a thousand blues, and it faded imperceptibly into the sky. The sail, making Mentone, was much nearer, and had developed into a two-masted ship. It seemed to be pushed, rather than blown, along by the wind. It seemed to have rigidity in all its parts, and to be sliding unwillingly over a vast slate. The road lay through craggy rocks, shelving away unseen on one hand, and rising steeply against the burning sky on the other. We mounted steadily and slowly. I did not look much at Frank, but my eye was conscious of his figure, striding leisurely along. Now and then, when I turned to glance behind, I saw our shadows there diagonally on the road, and again I did not care for his hat. I had not seen him in a straw hat till that morning. We arrived at a second set of French custom-houses, deserted, and then we saw that the gigantic side of the mountain was cleft by a fissure from base to summit. And across the gorge had been thrown a tiny stone bridge to carry the road. At this point, by the bridge, the face of the rock had been carved smooth, and a great black triangle painted on it. And on the road was a common milestone, with ‘France’ on one side and ‘Italia’ on the other. And a very old man was harmlessly spreading a stock of picture postcards on the parapet of the bridge. My heart went out to that poor old man, whose white curls glinted in the sunlight. It seemed to me so pathetic that he should be just there, at that natural spot which the passions and the blood of men long dead had made artificial, tediously selling postcards in order to keep his worn and creaking body out of the grave.
‘Do give him something,’ I entreated Frank.
And while Frank went to him I leaned over the other parapet and listened for the delicate murmur of the stream far below. The split flank of the hill was covered with a large red blossom, and at the base, on the edge of the sea, were dolls’ houses, each raising a slanted pencil of pale smoke.