“Only!” said Senior, wearily. “How far?”
“A bare mile. Step it out for all you’re worth.”
By this time it was obvious that the storm had recommenced in all its fury, and Acton, in an ecstasy of horror and anxiety lest he should turn the shoulder of the hill too late to see anything of the farm, almost ran forward. He had thrust out his head, and his eyes anxiously peered forward. They were now almost on the top of the shoulder of the fell. Acton turned round with eagerness.
“Five minutes more and we’re—— He’s gone!”
Senior, indeed, was not in sight. With a groan of despair, Acton ran back down the slope.
“Jack! Jack! Jack!” he howled above the wind, “Where are you?”
There was no reply
Further down the slope ran Acton, shouting into the storm. He heard nothing; not a sound. Then, and his heart almost burst with joy, his eye caught sight of a moving, staggering figure, drifting aimlessly across his path. Senior, half his senses beaten out of him by cold, wet, the wind, and lack of food, looked at the screaming Acton with uncomprehending eyes, and was aimlessly shaking off his grasp to lounge easily to death.
“He has cracked up,” said Acton, in despair, and he gripped the half-senseless youth with frenzied strength.
“This is the way you’re to go—with me!” he yelled.
Half-dragging, half-coaxing, uttering strange promises, to which Senior smiled stupidly, Acton regained those few but terrible yards to the top of the ridge. Then his heart almost died within him: there was nothing to be seen, as, half-blinded by the snow, he tried to peer down the valley.
Senior, bereft of his companion’s arm, had sunk down happily upon the snow and looked at Acton, stupidly trying to make head or tail out of the situation. His face was darkly flushed; his lips were swollen; and his eyes were heavy with sleep.
Roused from his momentary despair by these terrible signs, Acton seized his friend by the throat of his overcoat, and jerked him to his feet. He shook him savagely until some sign of intelligence glimmered in the sleepy eyes.
“Jack! Jack! Keep awake! We’ll win out yet if you do.”
“All right, old man: my head buzzes awf’ly, Where are we? What are you doing?”
“We’re going down the hill. Don’t leave go of me whatever you do, and oh, keep awake.”
“Serene,” said Senior, closing his eyes again peacefully.
With a sob of horror and despair, Acton lurched down the hill, dragging his companion with him. He kept repeating, as though it were a formula: “Down the slope and bear to the left” again and again.
What the next half-hour held of misery, horror, and utter despair, Acton cannot, even now, recall without a shudder. They stumbled and staggered downwards like drunken men. The snow blinded him, and the dragging weight of Senior on his arm was an aching agony, from which, above all things, he must not free himself.