“You mean to say,” said Mlle. Moiseney, “that M. Moriaz and the bezique has frightened him away. I would not for worlds speak ill of your father; he has all the good qualities imaginable, except a certain delicacy of sentiment, which is not to be learned in dealing with acids. Think of condemning a Count Larinski to play bezique! There are some things that your father does not and never will understand.”
M. Moriaz had entered meanwhile. “Please oblige me by explaining what it is that I do not understand,” said he to Mlle. Moiseney.
She replied with some embarrassment, “You do not understand, monsieur, that certain visits were a charming diversion to us, and that now we miss them.”
“And do you think that I do not miss them? It has been four days since I have had a game of cards. But how can it be helped? Poles are fickle—more fools they who trust them.”
“It may be simply that M. Larinski has been ill,” interrupted Antoinette, with perfect tranquility. “I think, father, that it would be right for us to make inquiries.”
The following day M. Moriaz went to Cellarina. He brought back word that M. Larinski had gone on a walking-excursion through the mountains; that he had started out with the intention of climbing to the summit of Piz-Morteratsch, and of attempting the still more difficult ascent of Piz-Roseg. Mlle. Moriaz found it hard to decide whether this news was good or bad news. All depended on what point of view was taken, and she changed hers every hour.
Since his mishap, M. Moriaz had become less rash than formerly. Experience had taught him that there are treacherous rocks that can be climbed without much difficulty, but from which it is impossible to descend—rocks exposing one to the danger of ending one’s days in their midst, if there is no Pole near at hand. Certain truths stamp themselves indelibly on the mind; so M. Moriaz never ventured again on the mountains without being attended by a guide, who received orders from Antoinette not to leave him, and not to let him expose himself. One day he came in later than usual, and his daughter reproached him, with some vivacity, for the continual anxiety he caused her. “The glaciers and precipices will end by giving me the nightmare,” she said to him.
“Pray on whose account, my dear?” he playfully rejoined. “I assure you the ascent that I have just made was neither more difficult nor more dangerous than that of Montmartre, nor of the Sannois Hill, and as to glaciers, I have firmly resolved to keep shy of them. I have passed the age of prowess. My guide has been making me tremble by relating the dangers to which he was exposed in 1864 on Morteratsch, where he had accompanied Professor Tyndall and another English tourist. They were all swept away by an avalanche. Attached to the same rope, they went down with the snow. A fall of three hundred metres! They would have been lost, if, through the presence of mind of one of the guides, they had not succeeded in stopping themselves two feet from a frightful precipice, which was about to swallow them up. I am a father, and I do not despise life. Let him ascend Morteratsch who likes! I wish our friend Larinski had made the descent safe and sound. If he has met an avalanche on the way, he will invent no more guns.”