Gretli, as they knew, would see them safe at the foot of the Alp before saying good-by. The goats knew it was not yet supper-time. Very leisurely they came up the track, old Moufflon in advance, young Bimbo bringing up the rear. Between them the she-goats, twenty or thirty of them, straggled along, stopping 69 here to nibble a tuft of grass or clover, there to investigate a bush or stone.
They are inquisitive creatures, goats. Now and then a shrill bleat was heard, and some goat would canter a few paces ahead, then fall to nibbling again. Look, my demoiselles. Nanni, her own aunt, you observe, has found a green tuft of the most succulent, and begins to take her pleasure. Now in a moment—regard! Poor Nanni flies, and that one enjoys the morsel. Again, I make my heartfelt apologies to my Sister for giving her holy name to this creature. A thing very curious.
Bimbo, now! Yet Bimbo also is handsome, we think. As if he heard and understood, Bimbo, the young he-goat, lifted his head, and reconnoitered the party standing on the green; then, slowly and with an air of elaborate carelessness, he detached himself from the flock, and began a circuitous approach, pausing to nibble—or to make a pretence of nibbling—at every other step. He was jet black, with white horns and hoofs; a superb animal, already larger than Moufflon, his father and leader. Stephanie did not hear her. Her eyes were fixed in terror on the advancing flock, and especially on Moufflon, a goat of great dignity, with wide-branching horns and a notable beard.
Stephanie was naturally afraid of all animals. Their size mattered little; a cow or a mouse threw her into almost equal agonies of terror. Indeed, the mouse was the more to be dreaded of the two, since—horror! She had made up her mind that Moufflon meant to attack her. If any one had cast a glance at Bimbo, he would have been seen nibbling grass, serenely unconscious; the catastrophe might have come just the same: but no one did cast a glance. Presently, Madame Madeleine called Gretli to her, to ask some question about the descent.
Gretli, stepping forward some paces, left Stephanie for the moment standing alone, still holding the unlucky red parasol. Directly in front of her stood Honor, her eyes fixed on the mountains, lost in a dream of the Norse gods. Two 73 at a time! Lowering his head, he advanced at a smart gallop. Stephanie sprang up and rushed sobbing and screaming to throw herself into the tender arms of Madame Madeleine. Honor lay still. The air was black and full of sparks; there was a pain somewhere, a rather sickening pain.
When Honor opened her eyes, it was to look round her in amazement. Where was she? Certainly not at home in the Maison Madeleine. This bed, with its fragrant sheets of coarse heavy linen and its wonderful quilt, was not her own, nor was the little room with its bare white walls and dormer windows. A quaint little room, homely, yet friendly. Along one wall ran a shelf, on which were many pieces of wood-carving, some of exquisite delicacy. A wonderful piece of work it seemed to her.
There 75 must be a very skilful carver here. The wooden bedstead on which she lay was carved too, and its four tall posts were surmounted by four heads, with smiling, friendly faces.
What a curious, delightful place! You have sprained your ankle, and must remain tranquil till it restores itself. Our Gretli will care for you, as tenderly as we ourselves could do. A few days only; then Atli will fashion a carrying chair and bring you down the mountain and home to us. Madame left her fondest love for you; she was forced to go, you understand, and now I must follow, lest the boat depart without me. My child, with no one save Gretli and Atli 76 could we possibly have left thee, thou knowest that. The ankle is well bandaged, and Gretli is a skilful nurse; adieu, my little Honor!
Thou wilt be good and not unhappy? A few moments after, Gretli appeared, and sat down by the bedside with an air of business-like cheerfulness. My faith, she is a good mountaineer; she leaps like a goat. She will soon overtake Madame, who, being of a certain age, must proceed more cautiously.
And how does mademoiselle find herself? Not too ill, I hope? Honor was still looking about her in a bewildered fashion. What happened, Gretli?
Did somebody knock me down? With sorrow and shame I avow it, Mademoiselle Honor; Bimbo, that child of Satan, attacked Mademoiselle Stephanie, from the rear, you understand, with a violence not to be credited had one not seen it. She was flung forward upon you, who stood before her; a loose stone, it would appear, turned under your foot. You fell to the ground, striking your head on another stone. I ran to raise you; you swooned in my arms, poor child. Mademoiselle Stephanie shrieking to the skies that she was killed; Zitli belaboring the misguided beast with his crutch; the demoiselles clustering together in affright; my Ladies full of anxiety and distress.
I will give her soup of cream and onion with cheese, a restorative not worse than another; for her amusement Zitli will tell stories—but, par example!
The creatures will all be at her feet, except that ruffian Bimbo, who will not be suffered to approach her. By and by, when all is well, Atli will carry her down the mountain like an egg of glass, will deposit her by your side. Finally, mademoiselle, behold us here, three of us—four, when Atli returns to-morrow 79 from the higher Alp.
We shall do well, is it not so? And now, to prepare the soup! It will be good, I promise you!
Left alone, Honor looked round her, and tried to take in the situation. She remembered the sudden impact of some soft body—that was poor Stephanie, of course; then— crash!
Without moving her head, she saw a green giant towering, and behind him, looking over his shoulder, a white one. Lying there in the narrow bed, they floated back to the wonderful day—was it a 80 week ago, or a month? It all came, curiously enough, from English Literature. She could recall the very day when she first came to her mountain world. She was in the garden, studying her English Literature. For Patricia had flung up an imploring hand and burst into a fit of coughing; she now scuttled her own word, not mine! Honor did not stir; she was hardly conscious of the interruption.
Sitting on the bench under the great pear-tree, she murmured the opening lines over and over, all unconsciously following the familiar pronunciation. It was not Mont Blanc that towered in the distance across the blue lake, but the Dent du Midi , white and austere. It was not the morning 83 star, but Hesperus, that glittered in the rosy sunset light: but these details did not matter. At first, it was as if she had never seen them before; she could only gaze and wonder.
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