- CHAPTER IX ACROSS THE CHASM
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ACROSS THE CHASM
FOR a long moment there is profound stillness over the ravine, from which the last rays of the departing sun have now faded, leaving shadows of grey and black where the clearer lights had been, and over the figures lying so close to the edge of the narrow chasm--the one, half concealed by the soft foliage of the young shrubbery among which it has fallen; the other, nearest the dangerous verge, and clearly revealed to the still kneeling watcher on the other side; and all might be the features in the foreground of some gruesome and tragic paintina shadowy and cold.
"My God! If she moves!"
The kneeling man, white and trembling, stretches out his hands toward the still figure so lately escaped from danger, and still so dangerously near a horrible death; and his straining eyes are full of a misery of uncertainty, "Did the shot kill her, too?"
Hearing, thought, all senses save sight, are momentarily benumbed in that great agony, and he seems hardly to know that another has ap- | | 112 proached, and stands beside him, until the latest comer, stooping, takes from the loosely clasping fingers something still warm, and about which the smell of gunpowder still clings.
As the kneeling man turns, startled and ready to spring, this one lifts the weapon high, then, pausing, lowers his arm, and looks closely at the thing he is about to hurl from him; then, darting a swift glance at the man, who is now struggling to his feet, and with a stern setting of the lips, he again lifts his arm; not so high this time, and with less force in the impetus he gives it, as, measuring the distance with care, he throws the weapon across the ravine, and sees it fall, just beyond the thicket of shrubbery which partly conceals the body of Felix Chetwynde. Then he takes the other and slighter man by the arm, gently but with strong clasp.
"Come," he says, with sharp command, "we must get across--somehow."
"But how?" asks the other hoarsely.
"You know this ravine?"
"Then show me its narrowest point; come."
Both men speak hurriedly, and in hushed voices. Both are pale. One is trembling and strengthless; the other's nerves are tensely strung, his face is set, and only his eyes, blue and deep, betray the agony of soul held under with iron will and strength.
A moment only Loyd Hilton hesitates, then he leads the other to the left or westward.
To both it seems an interminable distance. In reality it is scarcely a dozen rods that they traverse | | 113 along the border of the ravine, and then Hilton stops.
"This is the narrowest place--at least the narrowest within a mile or more."
Terence Glynne seems scarcely to have heard him. He is down upon the ground, peering over the edge, looking across and below, while Loyd leans over him, still tremulous.
"I can make it," says the other, rising quickly; "stand away, Loyd, and as soon as I am over do you go back"--he throws off his coat, draws his sweater up about his body, and tightens his belt--"back--there."
"Terry! you must not; you'll never make it!"
"I must make it!" The stalwart shoulders heave, the teeth are clinched. "Stand back, Loyd!"
He is a trained athlete, and his running jumps have seldom been beaten. But as he looks once more across the chasm, and down at the rough way over which he must run to make the jump, he knows that this will be a desperate leap indeed, and that the risk is great. The bank, if gained, may crumble, and to miss it means instant death below upon the jagged rocks.
Terence Glynne thinks of these things, but they do not cause him to falter or to pause for so much as one instant. Rapidly he surveys his ground, swiftly he thrusts aside the loose-lying brush and dead branches from his path, and then--it is done in an instant, the swift run, the flashing leap, the body hurling itself through space, striking the opposite bank at its crumbling edge, and throwing itself forward headlong, grasping, as he falls, at the | | 114 body of a strong young tree, and clinging there, as the earth crumbles away where his feet have that moment struck with all the force of that mighty leap, but the tree holds, and then, in a moment, he is upon his feet again, and running along the ravine towards the spot where the girl he loves is lying, dying, or dead, perhaps.
She has not stirred, and he snatches her away from the steep and unsafe ledge, and puts her tenderly down in a spot where a group of close, low-growing bushes intervene between themselves and the sight of that other figure, at which he has not so much as glanced.
A moment he bends over her, then lifts his head and calls across to where Loyd is standing, hoping, fearing, dreading.
"She is not hurt, she has only fainted," and then suddenly both young men lift their heads and seem to listen.
"Look!" cries Glynne, who is still kneeling beside the prostrate girl; and Loyd Hilton runs a few steps along the ravine to his right, and climbs a tall tree near the edge, mounting high, and looking long, before he calls from his lofty perch.
"It is a carriage and single horse. The top is half down--there is a bicycle piled across the seat end-wise. There is no driver, and--the horse seem running away."
Loyd comes down from his lofty perch, and looks wistfully across the narrow gulf between him and his friend.
"I must cross--somehow," he says, and then stands, watching and breathless, while Terence | | 115 Glynne goes to the body in the thicket and bends above it.
"He is dead," he says, almost instantly. "He never breathed after that shot." And now he comes close to the edge, and looks across at his friend.
"Loyd--old fellow--we must act quickly," he says. "If we could get your sister away from here before she recovers it might save her a shock, and--be best for other reasons. Perhaps she was unconscious when--it happened. Loyd, you must be strong and keep all your wits about you, we must find a way for me to cross--with her."
"My God! we can't! and it's ten long miles around. Are you sure she is only in a swoon, Terry?"
"Quite sure. Her pulse is slow, but quite even. She's better like that a little longer than she would be to arouse now and see--that."
He had knelt once more beside Lorna, and now he came again to the edge of the ravine.
"Come to the bridge," he says.
The central support of the broken bridge is built, not up from below, but out from either side in the form of a rude cantilever; timbers being thrown out and upward from either side and joined in the centre, where they support several uprights, and these still stand, though the flooring which they supported lies far down in the ravine.
"Loyd," asks Glynne, after a momentary survey of the ruins, "is there a fence, a board fence, near here, on either side?"
"Yes, there are fences farther west on either side," Loyd replies, and in an instant the command is given.| | 116
"Watch your sister, and call me if she moves," and Glynne runs lightly along the gully's edge in the direction indicated. Then Loyd hears a ripping of boards, violently wrenched from their fastenings, and soon Glynne reappears bearing upon his shoulder two stout fence lengths. No moment is lost in useless speech; but one of the boards is fixed upon end, righted, and allowed to fall. It spans the space between the south side of the ravine and the central support, and rests upon the latter; Glynne tests it with hand and foot.
"Terry," cries Loyd, "it won't bear your weight and--hers! Let me come over!"
"It won't bear you," retorts the other grimly. "Stand aside at the edge--I'm going to throw you this plank."
He lifts the long, unwieldy burden, steps out upon the other frail board as far as is possible, with one foot still upon terra firma, and the muscles of his strong arms swell and strain as he poises the plank and hurls it with all his strength across the chasm, where one end is caught by Loyd and held in a strong grasp.
"Now--now, Loyd; can you lay it? Can you let it drop and join the other close, exact? They are even thickness you see; they will fit, and the support is wide enough. It must be."
"Terry, what are you about to do?"
"Quick! Don't waste time. Place the board, man, carefully, don't miss it!" As he speaks he goes the side of the prostrate girl. "Quick, Loyd!" cries again. "Her pulse is stronger; she will soon be conscious."| | 117
If Loyd Hilton is not a giant in proportion he is, nevertheless, a trained athlete, and he soon has the second plank poised and placed; and now there is a bridge, frail, narrow, and insecure, across the ravine.
"The wheels." Glynne turns now towards the tree against which, as his quick eye has at once discovered, the two wheels are leaning. It is a rash thing, this he has ventured upon; but the situation is a horrible one, and honour, happiness, life itself, perhaps, is at stake--for one of them, at least.
He glances at the two wheels, and then turns toward Loyd.
"Loyd, see! It's your wheel!"
"I know. He took mine. I have his--back here."
"Yours must be got away. Ah!" He turns at the soft sighing sound close behind him. It is Lorna, sitting almost erect, and looking straight at him.
"I knew--you would come," she says in a faint, far-away voice. "Take me away."
"I will. Can you trust me?"
She nods weakly and her eyes droop. "The--bridge is gone," she says, as he brings forward Loyd's wheel, eager now to remove her from, if possible, the sight of the body lying so still among the bushes at her back, but so near.
"I know; but we can go over if you will sit before me on the wheel--we must go at once, if you are strong enough. You have only to sit still, but you must do that, or endanger our lives."
"Terry!"--it is Loyd's voice, tense and low--"I see now what you mean to do! My God, it's a terrible risk! We can go around; and--at the worst--"| | 118
"At the worst ruin; a name dishonoured, and her name! Loyd, she is as dear to me as to you; dearer I swear! Do you think I will not save her? Besides, she cannot go around. She is ill; and she, you, all of us, must be at home before this is known."
He turns again to the half-reclining girl.
"We have made a path," he says tenderly. "Will you close your eyes and trust all to me. If you should start--"
"I will not start," she says, and reaches up her hands. "I will close my eyes. I am not afraid." He lifts her to her feet, steadies the wheel, and places her upon it.
"You are to lean back against me," he says firmly, "and not to press upon the handle-bars. It will be only for a moment. Close your eyes when I give the word. Are you quite ready?"
To the day of his death Loyd Hilton will remember that awful dash across those two frail lengths of fencing, narrow, old, and unsteady. As they strike the boards Loyd's knees tremble, and he, too, shuts his eyes; but not so Terence Glynne. He holds in his hands the life, the honour of the woman he loves, and every nerve is tense and strong, resolute to preserve the life he loves. Of what use is his splendid strength and health, his strong nerves and will, his grand training, and exploits in the athletic field, if he cannot do this thing! He will do it, and--it is done.
But when the chasm is crossed, and when Loyd takes his sister, his other self, into his arms, Terence Glynn, too, is a child for weakness.| | 119
And now it is Loyd who is strong.
"I see what must be done now, Terry!" he says. "My sister's wheel must be got over, and--I will bring it. No," as the other is about to hold him back, "I can ride straight, and I am lighter than you. I'll change wheels."
He can ride, and he does; and when Lorna Hilton's wheel is ridden safely across the frail bridge, and all three have the ravine between themselves and the dead form on the other side, the impromptu bridge is withdrawn and the planks dropped into the chasm.
There is danger in delay; but they may not move on until Lorna is recovered from what has been very nearly a second faint, upon reaching safely the side of the ravine upon which lies home and safety. There is water here, bubbling and clear from a tiny running stream; and, when they have laved her temples and wrists, they leave her for a moment to confer together, under pretext of choosing the shortest road; and, standing face to face, Loyd says--
"Terry--I'm not thinking for myself, but for Lorna--she must not be mixed up in this awful business. I--"
"She shall not! And--don't tell me anything, Loyd--except this; am I right in thinking that they set off together?"
"They must have done so, although I did not know it when I met you. When you told me of the unsafe bridge, I hastened to the house, and was told that Lorna had left more than two hours earlier."| | 120
"Do you mean--did they not mention him?"
"They did not. They may have met at the summer-house by the lake. The wheels are kept there, and it is from there that we usually set out."
"And the summer-house is invisible from the villa! Come, Loyd; we must set out at once if we have to carry your sister. You must learn, from her, whether he was seen, and--if she does not remember--everything, you are not to tell her. Our safety--her safety--hangs upon the chance that they two were not seen together."
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