They halted at the café, where they drank long and thirstily. Adventurous Basilie bought some buttermilk, anxious to taste the delicious-sounding drink.
“It doesn’t smell brilliant,” she said, wrinkling up her nose in premature revulsion.
“What does it taste like?” said Coralie eagerly.
Basilie took a cautious sip from the carton and removed her mouth hurriedly.
“Bleugh!” said Basilie, grabbing the water bottle and pouring half its contents down her throat, thereby rendering herself dumb for the next few moments. She spoke again soon, having rinsed out her mouth with a thoroughness not to be underestimated.
“You expect it to be a creamy, buttery sort of milk,” she said.
“And it’s like a very, very fresh natural yoghurt,” finished Élodie, who had taken the opportunity to take a swig herself in the short interlude. “It’s disgusting.”
“Count me out,” Coralie said with a laugh.
“What a horrible aftertaste,” Basilie had been saying. “Hey, you chicken, Coralie! We’ve both tried it. It’s your turn now.”
Coralie looked doubtful. She turned to her much-older sister.
“I’m not saying anything,” said Élodie. “Try it if you like.”
“I dare you,” Basilie added in very impolite French.
Nothing loath, Coralie immediately grabbed the carton and tipped a generous dose of buttermilk down her throat. Élodie cried out in very French horror, but Coralie lowered her arm, gulping all the while, and licked her lips to clear them of their milky coat.
“Have you two been having me on?” she grinned, “this is delicious!”
Basilie’s mouth fell open, and Élodie nearly exploded with laughing.
“Of course we haven’t been joking. Buttermilk is revolting,” declared Basilie when she had recovered her breath.
“No way!” replied Coralie, downing the remainder of the carton-ful without a qualm.
“I agree with Basilie,” the oldest sister put in. “I only hope you don’t get sick later. If you start vomiting on the ferry, we’ll know where we’re at – and so will you!” She checked her watch. “We’d better be pushing on. It’s nearly four already.”
They went on, around a flat headland of green foliage, the sun’s rays filtering pleasantly through the trees onto the path. Soon enough they were going down, and all of a sudden they found themselves looking across a huge dry riverbed of stones and pebbles that would have submerged all three girls at its height. Coralie was the first to go forward, and she stood against one of the deep channels, proving that the water would have drowned her. Roots stuck out at various angles where the earth at the sides had broken away, and Élodie felt a sick feeling as she thought of the terrific force of water cascading down the mountain, tearing at the rocks and throwing them in all directions. She thought of it submerging the path, and up to their chins.
She swayed a little. She hated moving water. That was one of her greatest fears. Looking at Coralie, so small and vulnerable as she explored the channel, she realised how broken they all would be if the water suddenly came gushing down. She came back to herself.
“Come on, Coralie!” she called, a fearful note in her voice. “Let’s get out of this sun.”
They climbed the avalanche of stones and found themselves on top of a little rise in between two like channels. With an inward shudder, Élodie half-slid down the stones and back onto the path, where she thankfully continued walking.
They carried on, up and down the path, until Basilie’s sharp eyes spotted some people ahead. They hadn’t met very many so far, as most people preferred to walk in the mornings, but Basilie saw clearly a large party just ahead, climbing up another rise. At the back of the line, she saw a tall fair young woman, who held onto the rock wall as she climbed a particularly steep section of the path.
As Basilie watched, entranced, the girl slipped, and would have fallen a long way had a tall dark handsome man not leapt forward and caught her. Basilie recognised the man instantly as being the Englishman who was staying in the nearby hotel. Meanwhile, the girl cried out and seemed to greet the man, who bowed courteously even on his unsafe perch, and helped her up the last bit of the slope, where they stood talking haltingly for a few moments.