“It lies exactly N.N.E., and one could find one’s way in the dark if that were all.”
“But it isn’t, Acton,” said Grim, anxiously, “not by a long chalk. Oh, Acton, don’t go!”
“I’m going to turn over the idea, Grim. But, anyhow, I don’t stir out of this cutting until the snow’s out of the sky.”
Acton and the guard talked long and seriously, whilst the Amorians put into practical working Senior’s idea of a fire beside the van. There were coals galore.
Half an hour afterwards the snow ceased. “Now,” said Acton, quietly, “I know exactly where that farm is. I’m going to go now and have a try for it. I’ll move the farm people, if I reach ’em, double quick back again with food, for they’re used to these fells, and then we can all go back to the farm together. The fact is,” said Acton, hurriedly, as he saw a chorus of dissent about to break out, “we must get out of this very soon. There’s the lady and the child—and even more than that, there is the fireman, who is downright ill. We cannot wait till we’re dug out; that is absolutely certain. I’m not going to run any danger, and if I find I’m likely to, I’m coming back. I fancy, really,” he added, laughing, “that the most difficult part of the business will be to get out of this cutting.”
The fellows all knew Acton; they knew that when he said things in a certain tone there was no good arguing. That was why Grim, with a white face, hurriedly left stoking the blazing fire and retired in dismay to the guard’s van, and why Gus Todd, in an access of angry impatience, shied the magazine he had been turning over into the middle of the flames.
Jack Senior said, “This is just like you, Acton. You will fight more than your share of bargees, but this time I’m going to go one and one with you. If you like to risk being drowned in those beastly moorland streams, or to fall into some thirty-feet drift, I’m going to go too. That is final. Kismet, etc.!”
Acton looked narrowly at Senior. “All right, Jack. Get your coat on; but, honour bright, I’d rather go alone.”
“Couldn’t do it, old man,” said Senior, whilst Worcester nodded approvingly. “What would Phil Bourne say, if he heard we’d let you melt away into—— I’m going too.”
The passage out of the cutting was not so difficult as Acton had bargained for; but Worcester and Todd did wonders with the fireman’s shovels and made a lane through the drifts. On the firm ground of the fell the two found that, though the snow was deep enough in all conscience, it was not to be compared with the drifts on the line. The wind now, as they started off, was whipping away the loose top layers of snow in cold white clouds, which stung the face and ears with their icy sharpness; but, with caps well down and coats buttoned up to the ears, the two trudged on. The snow had ceased, but it was plain, by the dark and lowering sky, that this might only be temporary, and Acton kept up as smart a pace as he could, heading right for the shoulder of the fell, a couple of miles away, behind which he might, if he were lucky, see that moorland farm. The hill ran down into a valley, towards which the two Amorians hurried, Acton keeping his ears well open for the faintest murmur of water.