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Act III--In The Valley
It was about the middle of the month of February when Vendale and Obenreizer set forth
on their expedition. The winter being a hard one, the time was bad for travellers. So bad
was it that these two travellers, coming to Strasbourg, found its great inns almost empty.
And even the few people they did encounter in that city, who had started from England or
from Paris on business journeys towards the interior of Switzerland, were turning back.
Many of the railroads in Switzerland that tourists pass easily enough now, were almost or
quite impracticable then. Some were not begun; more were not completed. On such as
were open, there were still large gaps of old road where communication in the winter
season was often stopped; on others, there were weak points where the new work was not
safe, either under conditions of severe frost, or of rapid thaw. The running of trains on
this last class was not to be counted on in the worst time of the year, was contingent upon
weather, or was wholly abandoned through the months considered the most dangerous.
At Strasbourg there were more travellers' stories afloat, respecting the difficulties of the
way further on, than there were travellers to relate them. Many of these tales were as wild
as usual; but the more modestly marvellous did derive some colour from the
circumstance that people were indisputably turning back. However, as the road to Basle
was open, Vendale's resolution to push on was in no wise disturbed. Obenreizer's
resolution was necessarily Vendale's, seeing that he stood at bay thus desperately: He
must be ruined, or must destroy the evidence that Vendale carried about him, even if he
destroyed Vendale with it.
The state of mind of each of these two fellow-travellers towards the other was this.
Obenreizer, encircled by impending ruin through Vendale's quickness of action, and
seeing the circle narrowed every hour by Vendale's energy, hated him with the animosity
of a fierce cunning lower animal. He had always had instinctive movements in his breast
against him; perhaps, because of that old sore of gentleman and peasant; perhaps, because
of the openness of his nature, perhaps, because of his better looks; perhaps, because of his
success with Marguerite; perhaps, on all those grounds, the two last not the least. And
now he saw in him, besides, the hunter who was tracking him down. Vendale, on the
other hand, always contending generously against his first vague mistrust, now felt bound
to contend against it more than ever: reminding himself, "He is Marguerite's guardian.
We are on perfectly friendly terms; he is my companion of his own proposal, and can
have no interested motive in sharing this undesirable journey." To which pleas in behalf
of Obenreizer, chance added one consideration more, when they came to Basle after a
journey of more than twice the average duration.
They had had a late dinner, and were alone in an inn room there, overhanging the Rhine:
at that place rapid and deep, swollen and loud. Vendale lounged upon a couch, and
Obenreizer walked to and fro: now, stopping at the window, looking at the crooked
reflection of the town lights in the dark water (and peradventure thinking, "If I could fling
him into it!"); now, resuming his walk with his eyes upon the floor.