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A Romance of Wastdale By A. E. W. Mason Characters: 6653

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The glissade stretched down towards a beck which flows between Lingmell and the flank of Scafell. So that when Gordon stopped at the end of the snow, a tinkling of water, as it splashed from stone to stone, rose to his ears, and there seemed to him something strangely sweet and peaceful in the sound. He advanced to its edge and washed carefully in the stream. Then he took his haversack from his shoulders and opened it. Kate Nugent's shawl was the first thing which his fingers touched, and the feel of it sent a shiver through his frame. It reminded him too clearly of Hawke's scarf and the black stain widening over it. He took it out, and after it, a parcel. For a moment he wondered what that was, and then remembered that he had forgotten to eat his lunch. He repaired the omission on the instant, and proceeded to change his clothes.

That done, he sat down upon a stone, and went over carefully all that had occurred. Reflection showed him no opening for suspicion to arise, either from the deed itself or its attendant circumstances. Against the latter he had already guarded, while the broken fragments of glass, the presence of Hawke's own knife open by the side of the body, and even the scarf about his arm, which hung loose and clumsily after the ice-axe had been removed, would all point to the one conclusion-- that the wound was an accident and self-inflicted. Satisfied upon the point, Gordon picked up the clothes which he had discarded, wrapped them in the shawl, and continued his descent. At the bottom of the valley, however, instead of turning to the right in the direction of Wastdale Head, he bent away towards the Lake.

The strong wind, blowing up from the sea, had cleared the mist above his head and was chasing the clouds along the sky. Here and there a star could be seen winking from a blue gap, and so Gordon was able to distinguish when he reached the shore, that no loiterer was near to spy upon his acts. He felt in the pockets of the coat he was carrying and drew out the letters which he had taken from Hawke. Then he fastened the bundle securely about the biggest stone he could find and hurled it far out into the Lake. It sank with a loud splash, and Gordon looked quickly round thinking that some one must have noticed it. The only sound that he heard, however, was the wash of the ripples on the bank, and he turned and made hastily up the valley, across the fields, until he had left the village some hundreds of yards behind. From there he crossed into the path which leads down from Styhead, and finally reached the farmhouse. It was close upon half-past eight, he noticed, when he entered the parlour. He explained his lateness to Mrs. Jackson by saying that he had taken refuge from the storm. She added, indulgently, that it was a long way to Rosthwaite.

"Oh I did not get as far after all," said he. "Has not Mr. Hawke come yet?"

"Mr. Hawke?"

"Yes! I never told you. I asked him, or rather left a note to that effect, to come up to dinner this evening. I ought to have told you, but the fact is I never thought of inviting him until I had left the house."

Mrs. Jackson disclaimed all responsibility for the dinner, and had not set eyes on Mr. Hawke.

"Then I won't wait for him," said Gordon. "Bring the dinner in! I will just go up and wash."

"And cha

nge your clothes."

"I haven't any clothes to change into," he said, with a laugh. "You might lay another plate," he added. "Mr. Hawke may appear yet."

So Gordon dined, and opposite to him a place was laid for the man who was lying dead on Scafell.

The one thing which troubled Gordon was the recollection of the blow he had struck with his fist. He despised himself for that; and besides, the look with which Hawke had returned it somehow remained fixed in his mind. Strive as he might, he could not banish it. Everything else he had intended, and justice had dictated. But that blow!

At ten o'clock the Inn people sent up to inquire for their lodger. They had not imagined anything amiss before, as they understood from Lawson that Hawke meant to stay late upon the fells.

"He said he was going to the Pillar," Gordon said, "and he went up Mosedale in that direction."

One dalesman, however, asserted that he passed Hawke not later than one in the afternoon by the church in the centre of the valley. He was then going towards Scafell.

Finally two search parties were organised--one to proceed to the Pillar Rock, the other to examine the cliffs of Scafell. Gordon elected to join the former, and they separately started off, with much narrating of past accidents to cheer them on their way.

"Ten men have I brought down from these mountains, stone dead," said one, "and this will be the eleventh."

He repeated his lugubrious statement so often, that Gordon found himself in the end humming the words to the cadence of his steps.

They reached the Rock at last, and this mockery of a search began and was kept up all through the freezing night. In the grey of the morning they came down the path again. A man was running towards them with the news that the body had been found, and he led them up to the cliffs on Scafell. Gordon stood by Hawke's side for a moment, as he lay stretched out in a frozen pool of blood, and then turned away sick; for he had noticed about the corners of his mouth a faint blue mark, like a bruise.

"You will carry him down," he said. "I will follow you."

The men understood his feelings, or rather thought they did, and lifted the body gently and bore it down to the village. On the way they passed the glissade on the side of the mountain, and one of them stopped and pointed to the groove in the snow where Gordon had descended.

But he only said, "He will never come down that slide again, poor chap!"

Gordon watched them until they had disappeared round a headland, and then turned and looked down the crags.

"Not there!" he muttered to himself, with a shudder, and crossed over the mountain top down to the screes. He stopped in front of a steep, narrow gully, and far down he could see the quiet waters of the Lake lapping the base of it. He cast one look towards Wastdale. Eastwards the sun was rising over the Pass; "from Keswick," he thought. He took out of his pocket the three letters and handled them, and his eyes fell upon the signature.

* * * * *

Two days afterwards he was found by a fisherman at the bottom of the gully, caught by a boulder on the water's edge. One hand was trailing in the water and it clenched a torn scrap of sodden paper.

Made and Printed in Great Britain. Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury

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