As soon as the sun struck through the trees, Mr. Treffry’s strength ebbed again. He seemed to suffer greatly; but did not complain. They had reached the pass at last, and the unchecked sunlight was streaming down with a blinding glare.
“Jump up!” Mr. Treffry cried out. “We’ll make a finish of it!” and he gave the reins a jerk. The horses flung up their heads, and the bleak pass with its circling crown of jagged peaks soon slipped away.
Between the houses on the very top, they passed at a slow trot; and soon began slanting down the other side. Mr. Treffry brought them to a halt where a mule track joined the road.
“That’s all I can do for you; you’d better leave me here,” he said. “Keep this track down to the river—go south—you’ll be in Italy in a couple of hours. Get rail at Feltre. Money? Yes? Well!” He held out his hand; Harz gripped it.
“Give her up, eh?”
Harz shook his head.
“No? Then it’s ‘pull devil, pull baker,’ between us. Good-bye, and good luck to you!” And mustering his strength for a last attempt at dignity, Mr. Treffry gathered up the reins.
Harz watched his figure huddled again beneath the hood. The carriage moved slowly away.
At Villa Rubein people went about, avoiding each other as if detected in conspiracy. Miss Naylor, who for an inscrutable reason had put on her best frock, a purple, relieved at the chest with bird’s-eye blue, conveyed an impression of trying to count a chicken which ran about too fast. When Greta asked what she had lost she was heard to mutter: “Mr.—Needlecase.”
Christian, with big circles round her eyes, sat silent at her little table. She had had no sleep. Herr Paul coming into the room about noon gave her a furtive look and went out again; after this he went to his bedroom, took off all his clothes, flung them passionately one by one into a footbath, and got into bed.
“I might be a criminal!” he muttered to himself, while the buttons of his garments rattled on the bath.
“Am I her father? Have I authority? Do I know the world? Bssss! I might be a frog!”
Mrs. Decie, having caused herself to be announced, found him smoking a cigar, and counting the flies on the ceiling.
“If you have really done this, Paul,” she said in a restrained voice, “you have done a very unkind thing, and what is worse, you have made us all ridiculous. But perhaps you have not done it?”
“I have done it,” cried Herr Paul, staring dreadfully: “I have done it, I tell you, I have done it—”
“Very well, you have done it—and why, pray? What conceivable good was there in it? I suppose you know that Nicholas has driven him to the frontier? Nicholas is probably more dead than alive by this time; you know his state of health.”
Herr Paul’s fingers ploughed up his beard.