After the colonel's return, Mr. Statia found many difficulties in the way of that social ease which was his ideal. The ladies were never to be met with unaccompanied by the colonel or Gethryn; usually both were in attendance. If he spoke to Mrs. Dene, or Ruth, it was always the colonel who answered, and there was a gleam in that trim warrior's single eyeglass which did not harmonize with the grave politeness of his voice and manner.
Rex had never taken Mr. Statia so seriously. He called him "Our Bowery brother,'' and "the Gentleman from West Brighton,'' and he passed some delightful moments in observing his gruesome familiarity with the maids, his patronage of the grave Jaegers, and his fraternal attitude toward the head of the house. It was great to see him hook a heavy arm in an arm of the tall, military Herr Förster, and to see the latter drop it.
But there came an end to Rex's patience.
One morning, when they were sitting over their coffee out of doors, Mr. Statia walked into their midst. He wore an old flannel shirt, and trousers too tight for him, inadequately held up by a strap. He displayed a tin bait box and a red and green float, and said he had come to inquire of Rex "vere to dig a leetle vorms,'' and also to borrow of him "dot feeshpole mitn seelbern ringes.''
The request, and the grossness of his appearance before the ladies, were too much for a gentleman and an angler.
Rex felt his gorge rise, and standing up brusquely, he walked away. Ruth thoughtlessly slipped after him and murmured over his shoulder:
"Friend of yours?''
Gethryn's fists unclenched and came out of his pockets and he and Ruth went away together, laughing under the trees.
Mr. Statia stood where Rex had left him, holding out the bait-box and gazing after them. Then he turned and looked at the colonel and his wife. Perspiration glistened on his pasty, pale face and the rolls of fat that crowded over his flannel collar. His little, dead, white-rimmed, pale gray eyes had the ferocity of a hog's which has found something to rend and devour. He looked into their shocked faces and made a bow.
"Goot ma--a--rnin, Mister and Missess Dene!'' he said, and turned his back.
The elderly couple exchanged glances as he disappeared.
"We won't mention this to the children,'' said the gentle old lady.
That was the last they saw of him. Nobody knew where he kept himself in the interval, but about a week later he came running down with a valise in his hand and jumped into a carriage from the "Green Bear'' at Schicksalsee, which had just brought some people out and was returning empty. He forgot to give the usual gratuity to the servants, and a lively search in his room discovered nothing but a broken collar button and a crumpled telegram in French. But Grethi had her compensation that evening, when she led the conversation in the kitchen and Mr. Statia was discussed in several South German dialects.
By this time August was well advanced, but there had been as yet no "Jagd-partie,'' as Sepp called the hunting excursion planned with such enthusiasm weeks before. After that first day in the trout stream, Ruth not only suffered more from fatigue than she had expected, but the little cough came back, causing her parents to draw the lines of discipline very tight indeed.
Ruth, whose character seemed made of equal parts of good taste and reasonableness, sweet temper and humor, did not offer the least opposition to discipline, and when her mother remarked that, after all, there was a difference between a schoolgirl and a young lady, she did not deny it. The colonel and Rex went off once or twice with the Jaegers, but in a halfhearted way, bringing back more experience than game. Then Rex went on a sketching tour. Then the colonel was suddenly called again to Munich to meet some old army men just arrived from home, and so it was not until about a week after Mr. Statia's departure that, one evening when the Sennerins were calling the cows on the upper Alm, a party of climbers came up the side of the Red Peak and stopped at "Nani's Hütterl.''
Sepp threw down the green sack from his shoulders to the bench before the door and shouted:
"Nani! du! Nani!'' No answer.
"Mari und Josef!'' he muttered; then raising his voice, again he called for Nani with all his lungs.
A muffled answer came from somewhere around the other side of the house. "Ja! komm glei!'' And then there was nothing to do but sit on the bench and watch the sunset fade from peak to peak while they waited.
Nani did not come "glei'' -- but she came pretty soon, bringing with her two brimming milk-pails as an excuse for the delay.
She and Sepp engaged at once in a conversation, to which the colonel listened with feelings that finally had to seek expression.
"I believe,'' he said in a low voice, "that German is the language of the devil.''
"I fancy he's master of more than one. And besides, this isn't German, any more than our mountain dialects are English. And really,'' Ruth went on, "if it comes to comparing dialects, it seems to me ours can't stand the test. These are harsh enough. But where in the world is human speech so ugly, so poverty-stricken, so barren of meaning and feeling, and shade and color and suggestiveness, as the awful talk of our rustics? A Bavarian, a Tyroler, often speaks a whole poem in a single word, like -- ''
"Do you think one of those poems is being spoken about our supper now, Daisy?''
"Sybarite!'' cried Ruth, with that tinkle of fun in her voice which was always sounding between her and her parents; "I won't tell you.'' The truth was she did not dare to tell her hungry companions that, so far as she had been able to understand Sepp and Nani, their conversation had turned entirely on a platform dance -- which they called a "Schuh-plattl'' -- and which they proposed to attend together on the following Sunday.
But Sepp, having had his gossip like a true South German hunter-man, finally did ask the important question:
"Ach! supper! du lieber Himmel!'' There was little enough of that for the Herrschaften. There was black bread and milk, and there were some Semmel, but those were very old and hard.
"Yes, but no sugar.''
When Sepp delivered this news to his party they all laughed and said black bread and milk would do. So Nani invited them into her only room -- the rest of the "Hütterl'' was kitchen and cow-shed -- and brought the feast.
A second Sennerin came with her this time, in a costume which might have startled them, if they had not already seen others like it. It consisted of a pair of high blue cotton trousers drawn over her skirts, the latter bulging all round inside the jeans. She had no teeth and there was a large goiter on her neck.
"Good Heavens!'' muttered the colonel, setting down his bowl of milk and twisting around to stare out of the window behind him.
"Poor thing! she can't help it!'' murmured Ruth.
"No more she can, you dear, good girl!'' said Rex, and his eyes shone very kindly. Ruth caught her breath at the sudden beating of her heart.
What was left of daylight came through the little window and fell upon her face; it was as white as a flower, and very quiet.
Dusk was setting in when Sepp made his appearance. He stood about in some hesitation, and finally addressed himself to Ruth as the one who could best understand his dialect. She listened and then turned to her father.
"Sepp doesn't exactly know where to lodge me. He had thought I could stay here with Nani -- ''
"Not if I can help it!'' cried the colonel.
"While,'' Ruth went on -- "while you and Rex went up to the Jaeger's hut above there on the rocks. He says it's very rough at the Jagd-hütte.''
"Is anyone else there? What does Sepp mean by telling us now for the first time? '' demanded the colonel sharply.
"He says he was afraid I wouldn't come if I knew how rough it was -- and that -- '' added Ruth, laughing -- "he says would have been such a pity! Besides, he thought Nani was alone -- and I could have had her room while she slept on the hay in the loft. I'm sure this is as neat as a mountain shelter could be,'' said Ruth -- looking about her at the high piled feather beds, covered in clean blue and white check, and the spotless floor and the snow white pine table. "I'd like to stay here, only the -- the other lady has just arrived too!''
"The lady in the blue overalls?''
"Yes -- and -- '' Ruth stopped, unwilling to say how little relish she felt for the society of the second Sennerin. But Rex and her father were on their feet and speaking together.
"We will go and see about the Jagd-hütte. You don't mind being left for five minutes?''
"The idea! go along, you silly boys!''
The colonel came back very soon, and in the best of spirits.
"It's all right, Daisy! It's a dream of luxury!'' and carried her off, hardly giving her time to thank Nani and to say a winningly kind word to the hideous one, who gazed back at her, pitchfork in hand, without reply. No one will ever know whether or not she felt any more cheered by Ruth's pleasant ways than the cows did who were putting their heads out from the stalls where she was working.
The dream of luxury was a low hut of two rooms. The outer one had a pile of fresh hay in one corner and a few blankets. Some of the dogs were already curled up there. The inner room contained two large bunks with hay and rugs and blankets; a bench ran where the bunks were not, around the sides; a shelf was above the bunks; there was a cupboard and a chest and a table.
"Why, this is luxury!'' cried Ruth.
"Well -- I think so, too. I'm immensely relieved. Sepp says artists bring their wives up here to stay over for the sunrise. You'll do? Eh?''
"I should think so!''
"Good! Then Rex and I and Sepp and the Dachl'' -- he always would say "Dockles'' -- "will keep guard outside against any wild cows that may happen to break loose from Nani. Good night, little girl! Sure you're not too tired?''
Rex stood hesitating in the open door. Ruth went and gave him her hand. He kissed it, and she, meaning to please him with the language she knew he liked best, said, smiling, "Bonne nuit, mon ami!'' At the same moment her father passed her, and the two men closed the door and went away together. The last glimmer of dusk was in the room. Ruth had not seen Gethryn's face.
"Bonne nuit, mon ami!'' Those tender, half forgotten -- no! never, never forgotten words! Rex threw himself on the hay and lay still, his hands clenched over his breast.
The kindly colonel was sound asleep when Sepp came in with a tired but wagging hound, from heaven knows what scramble among the higher cliffs by star light. The night air was chilly. Rex called the dog to his side and took him in his arms. "We will keep each other warm,'' he said, thinking of the pups. And Zimbach, assenting with sentimental whines, was soon asleep. But Gethryn had not closed his eyes when the Jaeger sprang up as the day broke. A faint gray light came in at the little window. All the dogs were leaping about the room. Sepp gave himself a shake, and his toilet was made.
"Colonel,'' said Rex, standing over a bundle of rugs and hay in which no head was visible, "Colonel! Sepp says we must hurry if we want to see a `gams.'''
The colonel turned over. What he said was: "Damn the Gomps!'' But he thought better of that and stood up, looking cynical.
"Come and have a dip in the spring,'' laughed Rex.
When they took their dripping heads out of the wooden trough into which a mountain spring was pouring and running out again, leaving it always full, and gazed at life -- between rubs of the hard crash towel -- it had assumed a kinder aspect.
Half an hour later, when they all were starting for the top, Ruth let the others pass her, and pausing for a moment with her hand on the lintel, she looked back into the little smoke-blackened hut. The door of the inner room was open. She had dreamed the sweetest dream of her life there.
Before the others could miss her she was beside them, and soon was springing along in advance, swinging her alpenstock. It seemed as if she had the wings as well as the voice of a bird.
"Der Jaeger zieht in grünem Wald
Mit frölichem Halloh!"
Sepp laughed from the tip of his feather to the tip of his beard.
`"Wie's gnädige Fraulein hat G'müth!'' he said to Rex.
"What's that?'' asked the colonel.
"He says,'' translated Rex freely, "What a lot of every delightful quality Ruth possesses!''
But Ruth heard, and turned about and was very severe with him. "Such shirking! Translate me Gemüth at once, sir, if you please!''
"Old Wiseboy at Yarvard confessed he couldn't, short of a treatise, and who am I to tackle what beats Wiseboy?''
"Can you, Daisy?'' asked her father.
"Not in the least, but that's no reason for letting Rex off.'' Her voice took on a little of the pretty bantering tone she used to her parents. She was beginning to feel such a happy confidence in Rex's presence.
They were in the forest now, moving lightly over the wet, springy leaves, probing cautiously for dangerous, loose boulders and treacherous slides. When they emerged, it was upon a narrow plateau; the rugged limestone rocks rose on one side, the precipice plunged down on the other. Against the rocks lay patches of snow, grimy with dirt and pebbles; from a cleft the long greenish white threads of "Peter's beard'' waved at them; in a hollow bloomed a thicket of pink Alpen-rosen.
They had just reached a clump of low firs, around the corner of a huge rock, when a rush of loose stones and a dull sound of galloping made them stop. Sepp dropped on his face; the others followed his example. The hound whined and pulled at the leash.
On the opposite slope some twenty Hirsch-cows, with their fawns, were galloping down into the valley, carrying with them a torrent of earth and gravel. Presently they slackened and stopped, huddling all together into a thicket. The Jaeger lifted his head and whispered "Stück;" that being the complimentary name by which one designates female deer in German.
"All?'' said Rex, under his breath. At the same moment Ruth touched his shoulder.
On the crest of the second ridge, only a hundred yards distant, stood a stag, towering in black outline, the sun just coming up behind him. Then two other pairs of antlers rose from behind the ridge, two more stags lifted their heads and shoulders and all three stood silhouetted against the sky. They tossed and stamped and stared straight at the spot where their enemies lay hidden.
A moment, and the old stag disappeared; the others followed him.
"If they come again, shoot,'' said Sepp.
Rex passed his rifle to Ruth. They waited a few minutes; then the colonel jumped up.
"I thought we were after chamois!'' he grumbled.
"So we are,'' said Rex, getting on his feet.
A shot rang out, followed by another. They turned, sharply. Ruth, looking half frightened, was lowering the smoking rifle from her shoulder. Across the ravine a large stag was swaying on the edge; then he fell and rolled to the bottom. The hound, loosed, was off like an arrow, scrambling and tumbling down the side. The four hunters followed, somehow. Sepp got down first and sent back a wild Jodel. The stag lay there, dead, and his splendid antlers bore eight prongs.
When Ruth came up she had her hand on her father's arm. She stood and leaned on him, looking down at the stag. Pity mingled with a wild intoxicating sense of achievement confused her. A rich color flushed her cheek, but the curve of her lips was almost grave.
Sepp solemnly drew forth his flask of Schnapps and, taking off his hat to her, drank "Waidmann's Heil!'' -- a toast only drunk by hunters to hunters.
Gethryn shook hands with her twenty times and praised her until she could bear no more.
She took her hand from her father's arm and drew herself up, determined to preserve her composure. The wind blew the little bright rings of hair across her crimson cheek and wrapped her kilts about her slender figure as she stood, her rifle poised across her shoulder, one hand on the stock and one clasped below the muzzle.
"Are you laughing at me, Rex?''
"You know I am not!''
Never had she been so happy in her whole life.
The game drawn and hung, to be fetched later, they resumed their climb and hastened upward toward the peak.
Ruth led. She hardly felt the ground beneath her, but sprang from rock to moss and from boulder to boulder, till a gasp from Gethryn made her stop and turn about.
"Good Heavens, Ruth! what a climber you are!''
And now the colonel sat down on the nearest stone and flatly refused to stir.
"Oh! is it the hip, Father?'' cried Ruth, hurrying back and kneeling beside him.
"No, of course it isn't! It's indignation!'' said her father, calmly regarding her anxious face. "If you can't go up mountains like a human girl, you're not going up any more mountains with me.''
"Oh! I'll go like a human snail if you want, dear! I've been too selfish! It's a shame to tire you so!''
"Indeed, it is a perfect shame!'' cried the colonel.
Ruth had to laugh. "As I remarked to Rex, early this morning,'' her father continued, adjusting his eyeglass, "hang the Gomps!'' Rex discreetly offered no comment. ``Moreover,'' the colonel went on, bringing all the severity his eyeglass permitted to bear on them both, "I decline to go walking any longer with a pair of lunatics. I shall confide you both to Sepp and will wait for you at the upper Shelter.''
"But it's only indignation; it isn't the hip, Father?'' said Ruth, still hanging about him, but trying to laugh, since he would have her laugh.
He saw her trouble, and changing his tone said seriously, "My little girl, I'm only tired of this scramble, that's all.''
She had to be contented with this, and they separated, her father taking a path which led to the right, up a steep but well cleared ascent to a plateau, from which they could see the gable of a roof rising, and beyond that the tip-top rock with its white cross marking the highest point. The others passed to the left, around and among huge rocks, where all the hollows were full of grimy snow. The ground was destitute of trees and all shrubs taller than the hardy Alpen-rosen. Masses of rock lay piled about the limestone crags that formed the summit. The sun had not yet tipped their peak with purple and orange, but some of the others were lighting up. No insects darted about them; there was not a living thing among the near rocks except the bluish black salamanders, which lay here and there, cold and motionless.
They walked on in silence; the trail grew muddy, the ground was beaten and hatched up with small, sharp hoof prints. Sepp kneeled down and examined them.
"Hirsch, Reh, and fawn, and ja! ja! Sehen Sie? Gams!''
After this they went on cautiously. All at once a peculiar shrill hiss, half whistle, half cry, sounded very near.
A chamois, followed by two kids, flashed across a heap of rocks above their heads and disappeared. The Jaeger muttered something, deep in his beard.
"You wouldn't have shot her?'' said Ruth, timidly.
"No, but she will clear this place of chamois. It's useless to stay here now.''
It was an hour's hard pull to the next peak. When at last they lay sheltered under a ledge, grimy snow all about them, the Jaeger handed his glass to Ruth.
"Hirsch on the Kaiser Alm, three Reh by Nani's Hütterl, and one in the ravine,'' he said, looking at Gethryn, who was searching eagerly with his own glass. Ruth balanced the one she held against her alpenstock.
"Yes, I see them all -- and -- why, there's a chamois!''
Sepp seized the glass which she held toward him.
"The gracious Fraülein has a hunter's eyesight; a chamois is feeding just above the Hirsch.''
"We are right for the wind, but is this the best place?'' said Rex.
"We must make the best of it,'' said Sepp.
The speck of yellow was almost imperceptibly approaching their knoll, but so slowly that Ruth almost doubted if it moved at all.
Sepp had the glass, and declining the one Rex offered her, she turned for a moment to the superb panorama at their feet. East, west, north and south the mountain world extended. By this time the snow mountains of Tyrol were all lighted to gold and purple, rose and faintest violet. Sunshine lay warm now on all the near peaks. But great billowy oceans of mist rolled below along the courses of the Alp-fed streams, and, deep under a pall of heavy, pale gray cloud, the Trauerbach was rushing through its hidden valley down to Schicksalsee and Todtstein. There was perfect silence, only now and then made audible by the tinkle of a distant cowbell and the Jodel of a Sennerin. Ruth turned again toward the chamois. She could see it now without a glass. But Sepp placed his in her hand.
The chamois was feeding on the edge of a cliff, moving here and there, leaping lightly across some gully, tossing its head up for a precautionary sniff. Suddenly it gave a bound and stood still, alert. Two great clumsy "Hirsch-kühe'' had taken fright at some imaginary danger, and, uttering their peculiar half grunt, half roar, were galloping across the alm in half real, half assumed panic with their calves at their heels.
The elderly female Hirsch is like a timorous granny who loves to scare herself with ghost stories, and adores the sensation of jumping into bed before the robber under it can catch her by the ankle.
It was such an alarm as this which now sent the two fussy old deer, with their awkward long legged calves, clattering away with terror-stricken roars which startled the delicate chamois, and for one moment petrified him. The next, with a bound, he fairly flew along the crest, seeming to sail across the ravine like a hawk, and to cover distances in the flash of an eye. Sepp uttered a sudden exclamation and forgot everything but what he saw. He threw his rifle forward, there was a sharp click! -- the cartridge had not exploded. Next moment he remembered himself and turned ashamed and deprecating to Gethryn. The latter laid his hand on the Jaeger's arm and pointed. The chamois' sharp ear had caught the click! -- he swerved aside and bounded to a point of rock to look for this new danger. Rex tried to put his rifle in Ruth's hands. She pressed it back, resolutely. "It is your turn,'' she motioned with her lips, and drew away out of his reach. That was no time for argument. The Jaeger nodded, "Quick!'' A shot echoed among the rocks and the chamois disappeared.
"Is he hit? Oh, Rex! did you hit him?''
"Ei! Zimbach!'' Sepp slipped the leash, the hound sprang away, and in a moment his bell-like voice announced Rex's good fortune.
Ruth flew like the wind, not heeding their anxious calls to be careful, to wait for help. It was not far to go, and her light, sure foot brought her to the spot first. When Rex and Sepp arrived she was kneeling beside the dead chamois, stroking the "beard'' that waved along its bushy spine. She sprang up and held out her hand to Gethryn.
"Look at that beard -- Nimrod!'' she said. Her voice rang with an excitement she had not shown at her own success.
"It is a fine beard,'' said Rex, bending over it. His voice was not quite steady. "Herrlich!'' cried Sepp, and drank the "Waidmann's Heil!'' toast to him in deep and serious draughts. Then he took out a thong, tied the four slender hoofs together and opened his game sack; Rex helped him to hoist the chamois in and onto his broad shoulders.
Now for the upper Shelter. They started in great spirits, a happy trio. Rex was touched by Ruth's deep delight in his success, and by the pride in him which she showed more than she knew. He looked at her with eyes full of affection. Sepp was assuring himself, by all the saints in the Bavarian Calendar, that here was a "Herrschaft'' which a man might be proud of guiding, and so he meant to tell the duke. Ruth's generous heart beat high.
Their way back to the path where they had separated from Colonel Dene was long and toilsome. Sepp did his best to beguile it with hunter's yarns, more or less true, at any rate just as acceptable as if they had been proved and sworn to.
Like a good South German he hated Prussia and all its works, and his tales were mostly of Berliners who had wandered thither and been abused; of the gentleman who had been told, and believed, that the "gams'' slept by hooking its horns into crevices of the rock, swinging thus at ease, over precipices; of another whom Federl once deterred from going on the mountains by telling how a chamois, if enraged, charged and butted; of a third who went home glad to have learned that the chamois produced their peculiar call by bringing up a hind leg and whistling through the hoof.
It was about half past two in the afternoon and Ruth began to be very, very tired, when a Jodel from Sepp greeted the "Hütte'' and the white cross rising behind it. As they toiled up the steep path to the little alm, Ruth said, "I don't see Papa, but there are people there.'' A man in a summer helmet, wound with a green veil, came to the edge of the wooden platform and looked down at them; he was presently joined by two ladies, of whom one disappeared almost immediately, but they could see the other still looking down until a turn in the path brought them to the bottom of some wooden steps, close under the platform. On climbing these they were met at the top by the gentleman, hat in hand, who spoke in French to Gethryn, while the stout, friendly lady held out both hands to Ruth and cried, in pretty broken English:
"Ah! dear Mademoiselle! ees eet possible zat we meet a--h--gain!''
"Madame Bordier!'' exclaimed Ruth, and kissed her cordially on both cheeks. Then she greeted the husband of Madame, and presented Rex.
"But we know heem!'' smiled Madame; and her quiet, gentlemanly husband added in French that Monsieur the colonel had done them the honor to leave messages with them for Miss Dene and Mr Gethryn.
"Papa is not here?'' said Ruth, quickly.
Monsieur the colonel, finding himself a little fatigued, had gone on to the Jaeger-hütte, where were better accommodations.
Ruth's face fell, and she lost her bright color.
"But no! my dear!'' said Madame. "Zere ees nossing ze mattaire. Your fazzer ees quite vell,'' and she hurried her indoors.
Rex and Monsieur Bordier were left together on the platform. The amiable Frenchman did the honors as if it were a private salon. Monsieur the colonel was perfectly well. But perfectly! It was really for Mademoiselle that he had gone on. He had decided that it would be quite too fatiguing for his daughter to return that day to Trauerbach, as they had planned, and he had gone on to secure the Jagd-hütte for the night before any other party should arrive.
"He watched for you until you turned into the path that leads up here, and we all saw that you were quite safe. It is only half an hour since he left. He did us the honor to say that Mademoiselle Dene could need no better chaperon than my wife -- Monsieur the colonel was a little fatigued, but badly, no.''
Monsieur Bordier led the way to the usual spring and wooden trough behind the house, and, while Rex was enjoying a refreshing dip, he continued to chat.
Yes, as he had already had the honor to inform Rex, Mademoiselle had been his wife's pupil in singing, the last two winters, in Paris. Monsieur Gethryn, perhaps, was not wholly unacquainted with the name of Madame Bordier?
"Madame's reputation as an artist, and a professor of singing, is worldwide,'' said Rex in his best Parisian, adding:
"And you, then, Monsieur, are the celebrated manager of `La Fauvette'?''
The manager replied with a politely gratified bow.
"The most charming theater in Paris,'' added Rex.
"Ah! murmured the other, Monsieur is himself an artist, though not of our sort, and artists know.''
"Colonel Dene has told you that I am studying in Paris,'' said Rex modestly.
"He has told me that Monsieur exhibited in the salon with a number one.''
Rex scrubbed his brown and rosy cheeks with the big towel.
Monsieur Bordier went on: "But the talent of Mademoiselle! Mon Dieu! what a talent! What a voice of silver and crystal! And today she will meet another pupil of Madame -- of ours -- a genius. My word!''
"Yes, she is with us here. She makes her debut at the Fauvette next autumn.''
Rex concealed a frown in the ample folds of the towel. It crossed his mind that the colonel might better have stayed and taken care of his own daughter. If he, Rex, had had a sister, would he have liked her to be on a Bavarian mountaintop in a company composed of a gamekeeper, the manager of a Paris theater and his wife, and a young person who was about to make her debut in opera-bouffe, and to have no better guardian than a roving young art student? Rex felt his unfitness for the post with a pang of compunction. Meantime he rubbed his head, and Monsieur Bordier talked tranquilly on. But between vexation and friction Gethryn lost the thread of Monsieur's remarks for a while.
The first word which recalled his wandering attention was "Chamois?'' and he saw that Monsieur Bordier was pointing to the game bag and looking amiably at Sepp, who, divided between sulkiness at Monsieur's native language and goodwill toward anyone who seemed to be accepted by his "Herrschaften,'' was in two minds whether to open the bag and show the game to this smiling Frenchman, or "to say him a Grobheit'' and go away. Sepp's "Grobheit'' could be very insulting indeed when he cared to make it so. Rex hastened to turn the scale.
"Yes, Herr Director, this is Sepp, one of the duke's best gamekeepers -- Monsieur speaks German?'' he interrupted himself to ask in French.
"Parfaitement! Well,'' he went on in Sepp's native tongue, "Herr Director, in Sepp you see one of the best woodsmen in Bavaria, one of the best shots in Germany. Sepp, we must show the Herr Director our Gems.''
And there was nothing for Sepp but to open the bag, sheepish, beaten, laughing in spite of himself, and before he knew it they all three had their heads together over the game in perfect amity.
A step sounded along the front platform, and Madame looked round the corner of the house, saying that lunch was ready. Her husband and Rex joined her immediately. "Ze young ladees are wizin,'' she said, and led the way.
The sun-glare on the limestone rocks outside made the little room seem almost black at first, and all Rex could distinguish as he followed the others was Ruth's bright smile as she stood near the door and a jumble of dark figures farther back.
"Permit me,'' said Monsieur, "to introduce you to our Belle Hélène.'' Rex had already bowed low, seeing nothing. "Mademoiselle Descartes -- Monsieur Gethryn -- '' Rex raised his head and looked into the white face of Yvonne.
"Ah, yes! as I was saying,'' gossiped Monsieur while they were taking their places at table, "I shoot when I can, but merely the partridge and rabbit of the turnip. Bah! a man may not boast of that!''
Rex kept his eyes fixed on the speaker and forced himself to understand what was being said.
"But the sanglier?'' His voice sounded in his ears like noises one hears with the head under water.
"Mon Dieu! the sanglier! yes, that is also noble game. I do not deny it.'' Monsieur talked on evenly and quietly in his self-possessed, reasonable voice, about the habits and the hunt of the wild boar.
Ruth, sitting opposite, forcing herself to swallow the food, to answer Madame gaily and look at her ease, felt her heart settle down like lead in her breast.
What was this? Oh! what was it? She looked at Mademoiselle Descartes. This young, gentle stranger with the dark hair and the face like marble, this girl whom she had never heard of until an hour ago, was hiding from Rex behind the broad shoulders of Madame Bordier. The pupils of her blue eyes were so dilated that the sad, frightened eyes themselves looked black. Ruth turned to Gethryn. He was listening and answering. About his nostrils and temples the hollows showed; the flush of sunburn was gone, leaving only a pallid brown over the ashen grey of his face; his expression varied between a strained smile and a fixed stare. The cold weight at her heart melted and swelled in a passion of pity.
"Someone must keep up! Someone must keep up!'' she said to herself; and turned to assure Madame in tones which deserved the name of "crystal and silver,'' that, Yes, for her part she had not been able to see any reason why hearing Parsifal at Bayreuth should make one forget that Bizet was also a great master.
But the strain became too great, and at the first possible moment she said brightly to Rex, "I'm going to feed Zimbach. Sepp said I might.'' She collected some scraps on a plate and went out. The hound rose wagging as she approached. Ruth stood a moment looking down at him. Then she knelt and took his brown head in her arms. Her eyes were full of tears. Zimbach licked her face, and then wrenching his head away began to dance about her, barking and running at the platter. She took a bone and gave it to him; it went with a snap; so bit by bit she fed him with her own hands, and the tears dried without one falling.
She heard Rex come out and stood up to meet him with clear grey eyes that seemed to see nothing but a jest.
"Look at this dog, Rex! He hasn't a word to say about the bones he's eaten already; he merely remarks that there don't seem to be any more at present!''
Rex was taking down his gun. "Monsieur wants to see this,'' he said in a dull, heavy voice. "And Ruth -- when you are ready -- your father, perhaps -- ''
"Yes, I really would like to join him as soon as possible -- '' They went in together.
An hour later they were taking leave. All the usual explanations had been made; everyone knew where the others were stopping, and why they were there, and how long they meant to stay, and where they intended to go afterward.
The Bordiers, with Yvonne, were at a lake on the opposite side of the mountain, but a visit to the Forester's house at Trauerbach was one of the excursions they had already planned.
It only remained now, as Ruth said, to fix upon an early day for coming.
The hour just past had been Ruth's hour.
Without effort, or apparent intention, she had taken and kept the lead from the moment when she returned with Rex. She it was who had given the key, who had set and kept the pitch, and it was due to her that not one discordant note had been struck. Vaguely yet vividly she felt the emergency. Refusing to ask herself the cause, she recognized a crisis. Something was dreadfully wrong. She made no attempt to go beyond that. Of all the deep emotions which she was learning now so suddenly, for the first time, the dominant one with her at present was a desire to help and to protect. All her social experience, all her tact, were needed to shield Rex and this white-faced, silent stranger, who, without her, must have betrayed themselves, so stunned, so dazed they were. And the courage of her father's daughter kept her fair head erect above the dead weight at her heart.
And now, having said "Au revoir'' to Monsieur and Madame, and fixed upon a day for their visit to the Försthaus, she turned to Yvonne and took her hand.
"Mademoiselle, I regret so much to hear that you are not quite strong. But when you come to Trauerbach, Mama and I will take such good care of you that you will not mind the fatigue.''
The sad blue eyes looked into the clear grey ones, and once more Ruth responded with a passion of grief and pity.
How Rex made his adieux Ruth never knew.
When he overtook her, she and Sepp were well started down the path to the Jagd-hütte. They seemed to be having a duet of silence, which Rex turned into a trio when he joined them.
For such walkers as they all were the distance they had to go was nothing. Soft afternoon lights were still lying peacefully beside the long afternoon shadows as they approached the little hut, and Sepp answered the colonel's abortive attempt at a Jodel with one so long and complicated that it seemed as if he were taking that means to express all he should have liked to say in words. The spell broken, he turned about and asked:
"Also! what did the French people,'' -- he wouldn't call them Herrschaft -- "say to the gracious Fraulein's splendid shot?''
Ruth stopped and looked absently at him, then flushed and recovered herself quickly. It was the first time she had remembered her stag.
"I fear,'' said she, "that French people would disapprove a young lady's shooting. I did not tell them.''
Sepp went on again with long strides. The four little black hoofs of the chamois stuck pitifully up out of the bag on his broad back. When he was well out of hearing he growled aloud:
"Hab' 's schon g' wusst! Jesses, Marie and Josef! was is denn dös!''
That evening, when Rex and the Jaeger were fussing over the chamois' beard and dainty horns inside the Hütte, Ruth and her father stood without, before the closed door. The skies were almost black, and full of stars. Through the wide fragrant stillness came up now and then a Jodel from some Bursch going to visit his Sennerin. A stamp, and a comfortable sigh, came at times from Nani's cows in their stall below.
Ruth put both arms around her father's neck and laid her head down on his shoulder.
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