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XXVIII


Had Bassett had some wider knowledge of Dick's condition he might
have succeeded better during that bad hour that followed.
Certainly, if he had hoped that the mere statement of fact and its
proof would bring results, he failed. And the need for haste, the
fear of the pursuit behind them, made him nervous and incoherent.

He had first to accept the incredible, himself - that Dick
Livingstone no longer existed, that he had died and was buried deep
in some chamber of an unconscious mind. He made every effort to
revive him, to restore him into the field of consciousness, but
without result. And his struggle was increased in difficulty by
the fact that he knew so little of Dick's life. David's name meant
nothing, apparently, and it was the only name he knew. He described
the Livingstone house; he described Elizabeth as he had seen her
that night at the theater. Even Minnie. But Dick only shook his
head. And until he had aroused some instinct, some desire to live,
he could not combat Dick's intention to return and surrender.

"I understand what you are saying," Dick would say. "I'm trying to
get it. But it doesn't mean anything to me."

He even tried the war.

"War? What war?" Dick asked. And when he heard about it he groaned.

"A war!" he said. "And I've missed it!"

But soon after that he got up, and moved to the door.

"I'm going back," he said.

"Why?"

"They're after me, aren't they?"

"You're forgetting again. Why should they be after you now, after
ten years?"

"I see. I can't get it, you know. I keep listening for them."

Bassett too was listening, but he kept his fears to himself.

"Why did you do it?" he asked finally.

"I was drunk, and I hated him. He married a girl I was crazy about."

Bassett tried new tactics. He stressed the absurdity of surrendering
for a crime committed ten years before and forgotten.

"They won't convict you anyhow," he urged. "It was a quarrel, wasn't
it? I mean, you didn't deliberately shoot him?"

"I don't remember. We quarreled. Yes. I don't remember shooting him."

"What do you remember?"

Dick made an effort, although he was white to the lips.

"I saw him on the floor," he said slowly, and staggered a little.

"Then you don't even know you did it."

"I hated him."

But Bassett saw that his determination to surrender himself was
weakening. Bassett fought it with every argument he could summon,
and at last he brought forward the one he felt might be conclusive.

"You see, you've not only made a man's place in the world, Clark,
as I've told you. You've formed associations you can't get away
from. You've got to think of the Livingstones, and you told me
yesterday a shock would kill the old man. But it's more than that.
There's a girl back in your town. I think you were engaged to her."

But if he had hoped to pierce the veil with that statement he
failed. Dick's face flushed, and he went to the door of the cabin,
much as he had gone to the window the day before. He did not look
around when he spoke.

"Then I'm an unconscionable cad," he said. "I've only cared for
one woman in my life. And I've shipwrecked her for good."

"You mean - "

"You know who I mean."

Sometime later Bassett got on his horse and rode out to a ledge
which commanded a long stretch of trail in the valley below. Far
away horsemen were riding along it, one behind the other, small
dots that moved on slowly but steadily. He turned and went back
to the cabin.

"We'd better be moving," he said, "and it's up to you to say where.
You've got two choices. You can go back to Norada and run the
chance of arrest. You know what that means. Without much chance
of a conviction you will stand trial and bring wretchedness to the
people who stood by you before and who care for you now. Or you
can go on over the mountains with me and strike the railroad
somewhere to the West. You'll have time to think things over,
anyhow. They've waited ten years. They can wait longer."

To his relief Dick acquiesced. He had become oddly passive; he
seemed indeed not greatly interested. He did not even notice the
haste with which Bassett removed the evidences of their meal, or
extinguished the dying fire and scattered the ashes. Nor, when
they were mounted, the care with which they avoided the trail. He
gave, when asked, information as to the direction of the railroad
at the foot of the western slope of the range, and at the same
instigation found a trail for them some miles beyond their starting
point. But mostly he merely followed, in a dead silence.

They made slow progress. Both horses were weary and hungry, and
the going was often rough and even dangerous. But for Dick's
knowledge of the country they would have been hopelessly lost.
Bassett, however, although tortured with muscular soreness, felt
his spirits rising as the miles were covered, and there was no sign
of the pursuit.

By mid-afternoon they were obliged to rest their horses and let
them graze, and the necessity of food for themselves became
insistent. Dick stretched out and was immediately asleep, but the
reporter could not rest. The magnitude of his undertaking obsessed
him. They had covered perhaps twenty miles since leaving the
cabin, and the railroad was still sixty miles away. With fresh
horses they could have made it by dawn of the next morning, but he
did not believe their jaded animals could go much farther. The
country grew worse instead of better. A pass ahead, which they
must cross, was full of snow.

He was anxious, too, as to Dick's physical condition. The
twitching was gone, but he was very pale and he slept like a man
exhausted and at his physical limit. But the necessity of crossing
the pass before nightfall or of waiting until dawn to do it drove
Bassett back from an anxious reconnoitering of the trail at five
o'clock, to rouse the sleeping man and start on again.

Near the pass, however, Dick roused himself and took the lead.

"Let me ahead, Bassett," he said peremptorily. "And give your
horse his head. He'll take care of you if you give him a chance."

Bassett was glad to fall back. He was exhausted and nervous. The
trail frightened him. It clung to the side of a rocky wall,
twisting and turning on itself; it ran under milky waterfalls of
glacial water, and higher up it led over an ice field which was a
glassy bridge aver a rushing stream beneath. To add to their
wretchedness mosquitoes hung about them in voracious clouds, and
tiny black gnats which got into their eyes and their nostrils and
set the horses frantic.

Once across the ice field Dick's horse fell and for a time could
not get up again. He lay, making ineffectual efforts to rise, his
sides heaving, his eyes rolling in distress. They gave up then,
and prepared to make such camp as they could.

With the setting of the sun it had grown bitterly cold, and Bassett
was forced to light a fire. He did it under the protection of the
mountain wall, and Dick, after unsaddling his fallen horse, built
a rough shelter of rocks against the wind. After a time the
exhausted horse got up, but there was no forage, and the two
animals stood disconsolate, or made small hopeless excursions,
noses to the ground, among the moss and scrub pines.

Before turning in Bassett divided the remaining contents of the
flask between them, and his last cigarettes. Dick did not talk.
He sat, his back to the shelter, facing the fire, his mind busy
with what Bassett knew were bitter and conflicting thoughts. Once,
however, as the reporter was dozing off, Dick spoke.

"You said I told you there was a girl," he said. "Did I tell you
her name?"

"No."

"All right. Go to sleep. I thought if I heard it it might help."

Bassett lay back and watched him.

"Better get some sleep, old man," he said.

He dozed, to waken again cold and shivering. The fire had burned
low, and Dick was sitting near it, unheeding, and in a deep study.
He looked up, and Bassett was shocked at the quiet tragedy in his face.

"Where is Beverly Carlysle now?" he asked. "Or do you know?"

"Yes. I saw her not long ago."

"Is she married again?"

"No. She's revived 'The Valley,' and she's in New York with it."

Dick slept for only an hour or so that night, but as he slept he
dreamed. In his dream he was at peace and happy, and there was a
girl in a black frock who seemed to be a part of that peace. When
he roused, however, still with the warmth of his dream on him, he
could not summon her. She had slipped away among the shadows of
the night.

He sat by the fire in the grip of a great despair. He had lost ten
years out of his life, his best years. And he could not go back to
where he had left off. There was nothing to go back to but shame and
remorse. He looked at Bassett, lying by the fire, and tried to fit
him into the situation. Who was he, and why was he here? Why had
he ridden out at night alone, into unknown mountains, to find him?

As though his intent gaze had roused the sleeper, Bassett opened
his eyes, at first drowsily, then wide awake. He raised himself
on his elbow and listened, as though for some far-off sound, and
his face was strained and anxious. But the night was silent, and
he relaxed and slept again.

Something that had been forming itself in Dick's mind suddenly
crystallized into conviction. He rose and walked to the edge of
the mountain wall and stood there listening. When he went back to
the fire he felt in his pockets, found a small pad and pencil, and
bending forward to catch the light, commenced to write...
At dawn Bassett wakened. He was stiff and wretched, and he grunted
as he moved. He turned over and surveyed the small plateau. It
was empty, except for his horse, making its continuous, hopeless
search for grass.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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