Read CHAPTER XXVIII of The Breaking Point, free online book, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, on ReadCentral.com.

Dick had picked up life again where he had left it off so long before.  Gone was David’s house built on the sands of forgetfulness.  Gone was David himself, and Lucy.  Gone not even born into his consciousness was Elizabeth.  The war, his work, his new place in the world, were all obliterated, drowned in the flood of memories revived by the shock of Bassett’s revelations.

Not that the breaking point had revealed itself as such at once.  There was confusion first, then stupor and unconsciousness, and out of that, sharply and clearly, came memory.  It was not ten years ago, but an hour ago, a minute ago, that he had stood staring at Howard Lucas on the floor of the billiard room, and had seen Beverly run in through the door.

“Bev!” he was saying.  “Bev!  Don’t look like that!”

He moved and found he was in bed.  It had been a dream.  He drew a long breath, looked about the room, saw the woman and greeted her.  But already he knew he had not been dreaming.  Things were sharpening in his mind.  He shuddered and looked at the floor, but nobody lay there.  Only the horror in his mind, and the instinct to get away from it.  He was not thinking at all, but rising in him was not only the need for flight, but the sense of pursuit.  They were after him.  They would get him.  They must never get him alive.

Instinct and will took the place of thought, and whatever closed chamber in his brain had opened, it clearly influenced his physical condition.  He bore all the stigmata of prolonged and heavy drinking; his nerves were gone; he twitched and shook.  When he got down the fire-escape his legs would scarcely hold him.

The discovery of Ed Rickett’s horse in the courtyard, saddled and ready, fitted in with the brain pattern of the past.

Like one who enters a room for the first time, to find it already familiar, for a moment he felt that this thing that he was doing he had done before.  Only for a moment.  Then partial memory ceased, and he climbed into the saddle, rode out and turned toward the mountains and the cabin.  By that strange quality of the brain which is called habit, although the habit be of only one emphatic precedent, he followed the route he had taken ten years before.  How closely will never be known.  Did he stop at this turn to look back, as he had once before?  Did he let his horse breathe there?  Not the latter, probably, for as, following the blind course that he had followed ten years before, he left the town and went up the canyon trail, he was riding as though all the devils of hell were behind him.

One thing is certain.  The reproduction of the conditions of the earlier flight, the familiar associations of the trail, must have helped rather than hindered his fixation in the past.  Again he was Judson Clark, who had killed a man, and was flying from himself and from pursuit.

Before long his horse was in acute distress, but he did not notice it.  At the top of the long climb the animal stopped, but he kicked him on recklessly.  He was as unaware of his own fatigue, or that he was swaying in the saddle, until galloping across a meadow the horse stumbled and threw him.

He lay still for some time; not hurt but apparently lacking the initiative to get up again.  He had at that period the alternating lucidity and mental torpor of the half drunken man.  But struggling up through layers of blackness at last there came again the instinct for flight, and he got on the horse and set off.

The torpor again overcame him and he slept in the saddle.  When the horse stopped he roused and kicked it on.  Once he came up through the blackness to the accompaniment of a great roaring, and found that the animal was saddle deep in a ford, and floundering badly among the rocks.  He turned its head upstream, and got it out safely.

Toward dawn some of the confusion was gone, but he firmly fixed in the past.  The horse wandered on, head down, occasionally stopping to seize a leaf as it passed, and once to drink deeply at a spring.  Dick was still not thinking ­there was something that forbade him to think-but he was weak and emotional.  He muttered: 

“Poor Bev!  Poor old Bev!”

A great wave of tenderness and memory swept over him.  Poor Bev!  He had made life hell for her, all right.  He had an almost uncontrollable impulse to turn the horse around, go back and see her once more.  He was gone anyhow.  They would get him.  And he wanted her to know that he would have died rather than do what he had done.

The flight impulse died; he felt sick and very cold, and now and then he shook violently.  He began to watch the trail behind him for the pursuit, but without fear.  He seemed to have been wandering for a thousand black nights through deep gorges and over peaks as high as the stars, and now he wanted to rest, to stop somewhere and sleep, to be warm again.  Let them come and take him, anywhere out of this nightmare.

With the dawn still gray he heard a horse behind and below him on the trail up the cliff face.  He stopped and sat waiting, twisted about in his saddle, his expression ugly and defiant, and yet touchingly helpless, the look of a boy in trouble and at bay.  The horseman came into sight on the trail below, riding hard, a middle-aged man in a dark sack suit and a straw hat, an oddly incongruous figure and manifestly weary.  He rode bent forward, and now and again he raised his eyes from the trail and searched the wall above with bloodshot, anxious eyes.

On the turn below Dick, Bassett saw him for the first time, and spoke to him in a quiet voice.

“Hello, old man,” he said.  “I began to think I was going to miss you after all.”

His scrutiny of Dick’s face had rather reassured him.  The delirium had passed, apparently.  Dishevelled although he was, covered with dust and with sweat from the horse, Livingstone’s eyes were steady enough.  As he rode up to him, however, he was not so certain.  He found himself surveyed with a sort of cool malignity that startled him.

“Miss me!” Livingstone sneered bitterly.  “With every damned hill covered by this time with your outfit!  I’ll tell you this.  If I’d had a gun you’d never have got me alive.”

Bassett was puzzled and slightly ruffled.

“My outfit!  I’ll tell you this, son, I’ve risked my neck half the night to get you out of this mess.”

“God Almighty couldn’t get me out of this mess,” Dick said somberly.

It was then that Bassett saw something not quite normal in his face, and he rode closer.

“See here, Livingstone,” he said, in a soothing tone, “nobody’s going to get you.  I’m here to keep them from getting you.  We’ve got a good start, but we’ll have to keep moving.”

Dick sat obstinately still, his horse turned across the trail, and his eyes still suspicious and unfriendly.

“I don’t know you,” he said doggedly.  “And I’ve done all the running away I’m going to do.  You go back and tell Wilkins I’m here and to come and get me.  The sooner the better.”  The sneer faded, and he turned on Bassett with a depth of tragedy in his eyes that frightened the reporter.  “My God,” he said, “I killed a man last night!  I can’t go through life with that on me.  I’m done, I tell you.”

“Last night!” Some faint comprehension began to dawn in Bassett’s mind, a suspicion of the truth.  But there was no time to verify it.  He turned and carefully inspected the trail to where it came into sight at the opposite rim of the valley.  When he was satisfied that the pursuit was still well behind them he spoke again.

“Pull yourself together, Livingstone,” he said, rather sharply.  “Think a bit.  You didn’t kill anybody last night.  Now listen,” he added impressively.  “You are Livingstone, Doctor Richard Livingstone.  You stick to that, and think about it.”

But Dick was not listening, save to some bitter inner voice, for suddenly he turned his horse around on the trail.  “Get out of the way,” he said, “I’m going back to give myself up.”

He would have done it, probably, would have crowded past Bassett on the narrow trail and headed back toward capture, but for his horse.  It balked and whirled on the ledge, but it would not pass Bassett.  Dick swore and kicked it, his face ugly and determined, but it refused sullenly.  He slid out of the saddle then and tried to drag it on, but he was suddenly weak and sick.  He staggered.  Bassett was off his horse in a moment and caught him.  He eased him onto a boulder, and he sat there, his shoulders sagging and his whole body twitching.

“Been drinking my head off,” he said at last.  “If I had a drink now I’d straighten out.”  He tried to sit up.  “That’s what’s the matter with me.  I’m funking, of course, but that’s not all.  I’d give my soul for some whisky."’

“I can get you a drink, if you’ll come on about a mile,” Bassett coaxed.  “At the cabin you and I talked about yesterday.”

“Now you’re talking.”  Dick made an effort and got to his feet, shaking off Bassett’s assisting arm.  “For God’s sake keep your hands off me,” he said irritably.  “I’ve got a hangover, that’s all.”

He got into his saddle without assistance and started off up the trail.  Bassett once more searched the valley, but it was empty save for a deer drinking at the stream far below.  He turned and followed.

He was fairly hopeless by that time, what with Dick’s unexpected resistance and the change in the man himself.  He was dealing with something he did not understand, and the hypothesis of delirium did not hold.  There was a sort of desperate sanity in Dick’s eyes.  That statement, now, about drinking his head off ­he hadn’t looked yesterday like a drinking man.  But now he did.  He was twitching, his hands shook.  On the rock his face had been covered with a cold sweat.  What was that the doctor yesterday had said about delirium tremens?  Suppose he collapsed?  That meant capture.

He did not need to guide Dick to the cabin.  He turned off the trail himself, and Bassett, following, saw him dismount and survey the ruin with a puzzled face.  But he said nothing.  Bassett waiting outside to tie the horses came in to find him sitting on one of the dilapidated chairs, staring around, but all he said was: 

“Get me that drink, won’t you?  I’m going to pieces.”  Bassett found his tin cup where he had left it on a shelf and poured out a small amount of whisky from his flask.

“This is all we have,” he explained.  “We’ll have to go slow with it.”

It had an almost immediate effect.  The twitching grew less, and a faint color came into Dick’s face.  He stood up and stretched himself.  “That’s better,” he said.  “I was all in.  I must have been riding that infernal horse for years.”

He wandered about while the reporter made a fire and set the coffee pot to boil.  Bassett, glancing up once, saw him surveying the ruined lean-to from the doorway, with an expression he could not understand.  But he did not say anything, nor did he speak again until Bassett called him to get some food.  Even then he was laconic, and he seemed to be listening and waiting.

Once something startled the horses outside, and he sat up and listened.

“They’re here!” he said.

“I don’t think so,” Bassett replied, and went to the doorway.  “No,” he called back over his shoulder, “you go on and finish.  I’ll watch.”

“Come back and eat,” Dick said surlily.

He ate very little, but drank of the coffee.  Bassett too ate almost nothing.  He was pulling himself together for the struggle that was to come, marshaling his arguments for flight, and trying to fathom the extent of the change in the man across the small table.

Dick put down his tin cup and got up.  He was strong again, and the nightmare confusion of the night had passed away.  Instead of it there was a desperate lucidity and a courage born of desperation.  He remembered it all distinctly; he had killed Howard Lucas the night before.  Before long Wilkins or some of his outfit would ride up to the door, and take him back to Norada.  He was not afraid of that.  They would always think he had run away because he was afraid of capture, but it was not that.  He had run away from Bev’s face.  Only he had not got away from it.  It had been with him all night, and it was with him now.

But he would have to go back.  He couldn’t be caught like a rat in a trap.  The Clarks didn’t run away.  They were fighters.  Only the Clarks didn’t kill.  They fought, but they didn’t murder.

He picked up his hat and went to the door.

“Well, you’ve been mighty kind, old man,” he said.  “But I’ve got to go back.  I ran last night like a scared kid, but I’m through with that sort of foolishness.”

“I’d give a good bit,” Bassett said, watching him, “to know what made you run last night.  You were safe where you were.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Dick said drearily.  “I didn’t run from them.  I ran to get away from something.”  He turned away irritably.  “You wouldn’t understand.  Say I was drunk.  I was, for that matter.  I’m not over it yet.”

Bassett watched him.

“I see,” he said quietly.  “It was last night, was it, that this thing happened?”

“You know it, don’t you?”

“And, after it happened, do you remember what followed?”

“I’ve been riding all night.  I didn’t care what happened.  I knew I’d run into a whale of a blizzard, but I ­”

He stopped and stared outside, to where the horses grazed in the upland meadow, knee deep in mountain flowers.  Bassett, watching him, saw the incredulity in his eyes, and spoke very gently.

“My dear fellow,” he said, “you are right.  Try to understand what I am saying, and take it easy.  You rode into a blizzard, right enough.  But that was not last night.  It was ten years ago.”