At this moment Fern was interrupted in his scientific meditations by a loud scream of terror, and lifting his eyes, he saw a picturesque combination of yellow, black, and scarlet (in its general outline resembling a girl), fleeing with desperate speed up the narrow path along the glacier. The same glance also revealed to him two red-painted wooden pails dancing down over the jagged bowlders, and just about to make a final leap down upon the ice, when two determined kicks from his foot arrested them. Feeling somewhat solicitous about the girl, and unable to account for her fright, he hurried up the path; there she was again, still running, her yellow hair fluttering wildly about her head. He put his hands to his mouth and shouted. The echoes floated away over the desolate ice-hills, growing ever colder and feebler, like some abstract sound, deprived of its human quality. The girl, glancing back over her shoulder, showed a fair face, convulsed with agitation, paused for an instant to look again, and then dropped upon a stone in a state of utter collapse. One moment more and he was at her side. She was lying with her face downward, her blue eyes distended with fright, and her hands clutching some tufts of moss which she had unconsciously torn from the sides of the stone.
“My dear child,” he said, stooping down over her (there was always something fatherly in his manner toward those who were suffering), “what is it that has frightened you so? It is surely not I you are afraid of?”
The girl moved her head slightly, and her lips parted as with an effort to speak; but no sound came.
Fern seized her hand, and put his forefinger on her pulse.
“By Jove, child,” he exclaimed, “how you have been running!”
There was to him something very pathetic in this silent resignation of terror. All the tenderness of his nature was stirred; for, like many another undemonstrative person, he hid beneath a horny epidermis of apathy some deep-hued, warm-blooded qualities.
“There now,” he continued, soothingly; “you will feel better in a moment. Remember there is nothing to be afraid of. There is nobody here who will do you any harm.”
The young girl braced herself up on her elbow, and threw an anxious glance down the path.
“It surely was the devil,” she whispered, turning with a look of shy appeal toward her protector.
“The devil? Who was the devil?”
“He was all black, and he grinned at me so horribly;” and she trembled anew at the very thought.
“Don’t be a little goose,” retorted he, laughing. “It was a far less important personage. It was my servant, Jake. And it was God who made him black, just for the sake of variety, you know. It would be rather monotonous to have everybody as white as you and me.”