"Stay," said Lewis, detaining his friend; "there seems to be delicacy as well as mystery connected with this matter, you must therefore allow me to be the messenger." Lawrence had no objection to the proposal, and in less than an hour Lewis, guided by Antoine Grennon, was on the road to Martigny by way of the celebrated pass of the Tete-Noire. The guide was one of Nature's gentlemen.
The giant Tete-noire, towering above his fellows and clad from head to foot in plate of proof, led on his boarders, waving a huge mace in the air, with which he struck to the deck every man who approached him.
Nita's illness, and the mystery connected somehow with the Count, afforded food not only for meditation, but anxiety, and it was not until the town lay far behind them that he looked at his guide, and said: "The route over the Tete-Noire is very grand, I am told?" "Very grand, Monsieur magnificent!" "You are well acquainted with it, doubtless?" "Yes; I have passed over it hundreds of times.
You will see differently in a few years. Meanwhile we had better talk about something else." It was the first break in the perfect ease and harmony that reigned between them on this ideal holiday. From Chamonix they went on by the Tete-Noire to Martigny, where they stopped to rest, as the weather was stiflingly hot.
But there is a certain villainous and bloodthirsty Norman pirate hight Tete-noire, who, with a Genoan called Tito Caracci, commonly known as Spade-beard, hath been a mighty scourge upon these coasts. Indeed, my lord, they are very cruel and black-hearted men, graceless and ruthless, and if they should come to the ancient and powerful town of Lepe then "
Passing the village of Argentiere with rapid strides, and pausing but a few moments to look at the vast glacier of the same name which pours into the valley the ice-floods gendered among the heights around the Aiguille Verte and the Aiguille du Chardonnet, which rise respectively to a height of above 13,400 and 12,500 feet they reached the point where the Tete-Noire route diverged to the left at that time, in the form of a mere bridle-path, and pushed forward towards the Col, or pass.
Allowing himself only a few minutes to drink it in, he hastened back to the Tete-Noire path, and soon found himself traversing a widely different scene. On the Col he had, as it were, stood aloof, and looked abroad on a vast and glorious region; now, he was involved in its rocky, ridgy, woody details.
De Saussure speaks also of a detached bowlder, situated upon the opposite side of the Tete-Noire, 'which is, he says, 'of so great a size that one is tempted to believe that it was formed in the place it occupies; and it is called Barme russe, because it is worn away beneath in the form of a cave which can afford accommodation for more than thirty persons at a time."
My treatment and a night of rest will put you all right, and to-morrow, by break of day, we will hie back to Chamouni over the Tete-Noire." A week passed away, during which Nita was confined to bed, and the Count waited on her with the most tender solicitude. As their meals were sent to their rooms, it was not necessary for the latter to appear in the salle-a-manger or the salon.
"That on the right," said Edricson, "appears to have the head of an Ethiop upon it." "'Tis the badge of Tete-noire, the Norman," cried a seaman-mariner. "I have seen it before, when he harried us at Winchelsea. He is a wondrous large and strong man, with no ruth for man, woman, or beast. They say that he hath the strength of six; and, certes, he hath the crimes of six upon his soul.