“There’s a beck somewhere down here, Jack, but we’ll not see it until we’re almost into it. So look out!”
“All serene! I’m on the qui vive!” Hardly were the words out of Senior’s mouth than he stumbled headlong forward, the ground opening at his feet, and a narrow ribbon of cold grey water, silently sliding under its shrunken banks, caught Acton’s eye. Senior had plumped cleanly into this. Luckily, it was not very deep, and he scrambled out to the other side drenched to the skin, and showing clearly enough, where he had broken through the snow on both sides, that all the care in the world would not prevent them repeating the experience. The snow overhung a yard. Acton had stopped dead when he saw Senior disappear, but in a moment he had sprung clear, and was helping his friend up the bank. The snow slipped silently into the stream as he jumped.
“That’s number one,” said Senior, “and only half an hour from the train! Any more hereabouts?”
“I fancy so, but we may have better luck next time.”
“Hope so. Set the pace, old man, please. It’s b-b-beastly c-c-cold.”
Acton was thoroughly upset by this mishap, and he headed up the opposite slope of the hill with a face that showed how the incident had shaken him. Senior’s teeth chattered, and he looked blue with cold. The two plodded on, Acton insisting on Senior keeping behind. Acton again had the unenviable pleasure of seeing some more of those icy waters, and their slow and deadly stealing under the snow seemed to him sinister and fatal as he pulled himself up on the brink. The care necessary, the cold, cutting wind, and the knee-deep snow, made their progress terribly slow, and Acton began to notice that Senior, despite his anxiety for a sharp pace, was already terribly fagged.
The distance widened between the two, and once, when Acton turned round and found his friend nearly thirty yards behind, his heart almost stopped beating.
“This will never do! Heaven help us if he cracks up!” He waited for the weary Senior, and then said gently, “Pace too hot, old fellow?”
“Rather. So sorry, but you seem to run almost.”
“Run!” smiled Acton, bitterly. “Why, we’re not doing a mile an hour. Put your heart into it, Jack, and for Heaven’s sake don’t let me get too much in front!”
“All serene!” said Senior, gamely.
To Acton’s intense alarm, the snow had recommenced, and the wind swept it down the fells full into their faces. Acton was afraid that he might make a mistake if the snow became so heavy as to blot out the landscape, and, knowing that to do so might have terrible consequences, he nervously forced the pace.
Senior responded gamely.
“Keep well behind, old man. You’ll dodge the snow better. Can you do a wee sprint? We’re not far from the top of the ridge, and then we’ve only to work down the hill and bear to the left, and there we are.”