Before setting out we had a light
breakfast at the Hotel des Alpes, where
we were informed by several other persons, and on two
further occasions by the waiter that the “patron”
was deaf. Indeed, the village had no other news.
The postmaster had ordered a carriage,
which, however, could only take us two miles on our
road, for this ceased at that distance, and only a
bad bridle path led onward to Italy.
Alphonse was by this time beginning
to feel the effects of his long ride and sleepless
night; for he had not closed his eyes, while I had
snatched a priceless hour of sleep. Moreover,
the hardships of the campaign had rendered him less
equal to a sudden strain than a man in good condition.
He kept up bravely, however, despite a great thirst
which at this time assailed him, and sent him to the
brook at the side of the path much too often for his
We entered at once upon a splendid
piece of mountain scenery, and soon left behind us
the vivid green of the upper valley. To our left
a sheer crag rose from the valley in one unbroken
slope, and in front the mountains seemed to close
and bar all progress. We had five thousand feet
to climb from the frontier stone, and I anticipated
having to accomplish the larger part of it alone.
They had warned us that we should find eight feet
of snow at the summit of the pass.
Miste had assuredly been hard pressed
to attempt such a passage alone, and bearing, as he
undoubtedly did, a large sum of money. The man
had a fine nerve, at all events; for on the other
side he would plunge into the wildest part of northern
Italy, where the human scum that ever hovers on frontiers
had many a fastness. Villainy always requires
more nerve than virtue.
I meant, however, to catch Mr. Charles
Miste on the French side of the Chapel of the Madonna
We trod our first snow at an altitude
of about five thousand feet. The spring, it will
be remembered, was a cold one in 1870, and the snow
lay late that year. At last, on turning a corner,
we saw about two miles ahead of us a black form on
the white ground, and I confess my heart stood still.
Alphonse, who had no breath for words,
grasped my arm, and we stood for a moment watching
Miste, for it could be no other. The sun was
shining on the great snow-field, and the man’s
figure was the one dark spot there. He was evidently
tired, and made but slow progress.
“I am not going to lose him
now,” I said to Alphonse. “If you
cannot keep up with me, say so, and I will go on alone.”
“You go at your own pace,”
answered the Frenchman, with admirable spirit, “and
I will keep up till I drop. I mean to be in at
the death if I can.”
Miste never turned, but continued
his painful, upward way. He was a light stepper,
as his shallow footprints betokened; but I saw with
grim delight that each step of mine overlapped his
measure by a couple of inches.
There is nothing so still as the atmosphere
of a summit, and in this dead silence we hurried on.
Giraud’s laboured breathing alone broke it.
I glanced at him, and saw that his face was of a pasty
white and gleaming with perspiration. Poor Alphonse
had not much more in him. I slackened pace a
“We are gaining on him, every
step tells,” said I encouragingly, but it was
clear that my companion would soon drop.
We went on in silence for nearly half
an hour and gained visibly on Miste, who never looked
back or paused. At the end of the time we were
within a mile of him, and only spoke in whispers, for
at such an altitude sound travels far. Every
moment that Miste was ignorant of the pursuit was
invaluable to us. I could see clearly now that
it was he and no other; the man’s back was familiar
to me, and his lithe springy gait.
“Have you a revolver?”
whispered Giraud as we stumbled on.
“Then take mine, I cannot-last-much
Supposing that Miste should be in
better training than myself! Supposing that when
he turned and saw us he should be able to increase
his pace materially, he would yet escape me!
I stretched out my hand and took the
revolver, which was of a familiar pattern. I
made up my mind to shoot Miste sooner than lose him,
for the chase had been a long one, and my blood was
We were gaining on him still, and
the heat of the day made him slacken his pace.
The sun beat down on us from a cloudless sky.
My lips and throat were like dry leather. Alphonse
had long been cooling his with snow. We did not
care to speak now. All our hearts were in our
eyes; at any moment Miste might turn.
Suddenly Alphonse lagged behind.
I glanced at him, and he pointed upward, so I went
on. It was difficult enough to breathe at such
an altitude, and my heart kept making matters worse
by leaping to my throat and choking me. I felt
giddy at times, and shivered, though the perspiration
ran off my face like rain.
I was within three hundred yards of
Miste now, and Alphonse was somewhere behind me, I
could not pause to note how far. We were near
the summit, and the world seemed to contain but three
men. My breath was short, and there was clockwork
going in my head.
Then at length Miste turned.
He took all in at a glance, probably recognising us.
At all events he had no doubt of our business there;
for he hurried on, and I could see his hand at his
jacket pocket. Still I gained on him.
“Beer against absinthe,” I remember thinking.
There was an unbroken snow-field ahead
of us, the sheer side of a mountain with the footpath
cut across it-a strip of blue shadow.
After ten minutes of rapid climbing,
Miste turned at length, and waited for me. He
had a cool head; for he carefully buttoned his coat
and stood sideways, presenting as small a target as
He raised his revolver and covered me.
“He won’t fire yet,”
thought I, forty yards below him, and I advanced quickly.
He stood covering me for a few seconds,
and then lowered his arm and waited for me. In
such an atmosphere we could have spoken in ordinary
tones, but we had nothing to say. Monsieur Miste
and I understood each other without need of words.
“Fire, you fool!” cried
Giraud behind me-nearer than I had suspected.
I was within twenty yards of Miste
now; the man had a narrow, white face, and was clean
shaven. I saw it only for a moment, for the revolver
came up again.
“He is probably a bad shot,
and will miss first time,” I thought quickly,
as I crept upward. The slope was steep at this
I saw the muzzle of the revolver quiver-a
sign, no doubt, that he was bearing on the trigger.
Then there was a flash, and the report, as it seemed,
of a cannon. I staggered back, and dropped on
one knee. Miste had hit me in the shoulder.
I felt the warm blood running down within my clothes,
and had a queer sensation of having fallen from a great
“I’ll kill him!-I’ll
kill him!” I found myself repeating in a silly
way, as I got to my feet again.
No sooner was I up than Miste fired
again, and I heard the bullet whistle past my ear.
At this I whipped out Giraud’s revolver, for
I thought the next shot would kill me. The scoundrel
let me have it a third time, and tore a piece out
of my cheek; the pain of it was damnable. I now
stood still and took a careful sight, remembering,
in a dull way, to fire low. I aimed at his knees.
Monsieur Charles Miste leapt two feet up into the
air, fell face forwards, and came sliding down towards
me, clutching at the snow with both hands.
I was trying to stop my two wounds,
and began to be conscious of a swimming in the head.
In a moment Giraud was by my side, and clapped a handful
of snow on my cheek. He had been through the winter’s
campaign, and this was no new work for him. He
tore open my shirt and pressed snow on the wound in
my shoulder, from which the blood was pumping slowly.
I was in a horrid plight, but in my heart knew all
the while that Miste had failed to kill me.
Giraud poured some brandy into my
mouth, and I suppose that I was nearly losing consciousness,
for I felt the spirit running into me like new life.
In a minute or two we began to think
of Miste, who was lying on his face a few yards away.
“All right now?” asked Alphonse, cheerily.
“All right,” I answered,
rising and going towards the black form of my enemy.
We turned him over. The eyes
were open-large, liquid eyes, of a peculiarly
gentle expression. I had seen them before, in
Radley’s Hotel at Southampton, under a gay little
Parisian hat. I was down on my knees in the snow
in a moment-all cold with the thought that
I had killed a woman.
But Charles Miste was a man-and
a dead one at that. My relief was so great that
I could have shouted aloud. Miste had therefore
been within my grasp at Southampton, only eluding
me by a clever trick, carried out with consummate
art. The dead face seemed to wear a smile as I
looked at it.
Alphonse opened the man’s shirt,
and we looked at the small blue hole through which
my bullet had found his heart. Death must have
been very quick. I closed the gentle eyes, for
they seemed to look at me from a woman’s face.
“And now for his pockets!” I said, hardening
We turned them out one by one.
His purse contained but little, and in an inner pocket
some Italian silver, for use across the frontier.
He had thought of everything, this careful scoundrel.
In a side pocket, pinned to the lining of it, I found
a flat packet enveloped in newspaper. This we
unfolded hastily. It contained a number of papers.
I opened one of them-a draft for five thousand
pounds, drawn by John Turner on Messrs. Sweed & Carter
of New York! I counted the drafts aloud and had
a long task, for they numbered seventy-nine.
“That,” I said, handing
them to Giraud, “is the half of your fortune.
If we have luck we shall find the remainder in Sander’s
hands at Genoa.”
And Alphonse Giraud must needs embrace
me, hurting my shoulder most infernally, and pouring
out a rapid torrent of apology and self-recrimination.
“I listened when it was hinted
to me that you were not honest,” he cried, “that
you were not seeking the money at all, or that you
had already recovered it! I have watched you
as if you were a thief-Mon Dieu, what a
scoundrel I have been.”
“At all events you have the money now.”
“Yes.” He paused,
fingering the papers, while he thoughtfully looked
down into the valley. “Yes, Dick-and
it cannot buy me what I want.”
Thus we are, and always shall be,
when we possess at length that for which we have long
We made a further search in Miste’s
pockets, and found nothing. The man’s clothing
was of the finest, and his linen most clean and delicate.
I had a queer feeling of regret that he should be dead-having
wanted his life these many months and now possessing
it. Ah-those accomplished desires!
They stalk through life behind us-an army
of silent ghosts. For months afterwards I missed
him-incomprehensible though this may appear.
A good foe is a tonic to the heart. Some of us
are virtuous for the sake of our friends-others
pay the tribute to their foes.
There was still plenty of work for
us to do, though neither was in a state to execute
it. My left arm had stiffened right down to the
fingers, which kept closing up despite my endeavours
to keep life and movement in them. The hurt in
my cheek had fortunately ceased bleeding, and Giraud
bound it up with Miste’s handkerchief. I
recall the scent of the fine cambric to this day,
and when I smell a like odour see a dead man lying
on a snow-field.
We composed Miste in a decent attitude,
with his slim hands crossed on his breast, and then
turned our steps downward towards St. Martin Lantosque.
To one who had never known a day’s illness, the
fatigue consequent upon the loss of so much blood
was particularly irksome, and I cursed my luck many
a time as we stumbled over the snow. Giraud would
not let me finish the brandy in his flask, but kept
some for an emergency.
The peasants were at work in the fields
when we at length reached the valley, and took no
heed of us. We told no one of Miste lying alone
on the snow far above, but went straight to the gendarmerie,
where we found the chief-a sensible man,
himself an old soldier-who heard our story
to an end without interruption, and promised to give
us all assistance. He sent at once for the doctor,
and held my shoulder tenderly while the ball was taken
from it. This he kept, together with Miste’s
revolver, and indeed acted throughout with the greatest
shrewdness and good sense. As an old campaigner
he strongly urged me to remain quietly at St. Martin
for a few days until the fever which inevitably follows
a bullet wound should have abated; but, on learning
that it was my intention to proceed at once to Genoa,
placed no difficulty in my way.
Knowing that I should find Sander
at Genoa, where I could be tended, Giraud decided
to remain at St. Martin Lantosque until Miste had been
buried and all formalities observed.
So I set forth alone about midday-in
a private carriage placed at my disposal by some local
good Samaritan-feeling like a worm and no