Read CHAPTER XXIII of Love and Lucy , free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on


Macartney found him lying very still; nothing, in fact, seemed to be alive but his eyes, which were wide open and missed nothing.

“You’re hurt, I’m afraid. Can you tell me anything?”

Urquhart spoke in a curiously level tone. It seemed to give impartiality to what he said, as if he had been discussing the troubles of a man he hardly knew.

“Back broken, I believe. Anyhow, I can’t feel anything. I’m sorry you came down after me.”

“My dear fellow,” said James, “what do you take me for?”

Those bright, all-seeing, steady eyes were fixed upon him. They had the air of knowing everything.

“Well, you knew what I did take you for, anyhow, and so it would have been reasonable ”

“We won’t talk about all that,” James said. “Let me cover you up with something and then I’ll see what can be done about moving you.”

Urquhart spoke indifferently about that. “I doubt if you can get down and it’s a good step to Odde. Four hours, I dare say.”

“Yes, but there would be a house nearer than Odde. If I could get some bearers we’d get you comfortable before dark.”

“Oh, I’m comfortable enough now,” Urquhart said. James thought that a bad sign.

He unpacked the rucksacks, got out the brandy-flask, a mackintosh, a sweater and a cape. “Now, my dear man, I’m going to hurt you, I’m afraid; but I must have you on a dry bed; and you must drink some of this liquor. Which will you have first?”

“The brandy,” said Urquhart, “and as soon as you like.”

He helped as much as he could, groaned once or twice, sweated with the effort; but the thing was done. He lay on the mackintosh, his head on a rucksack, the cape and sweater over him. Macartney went to the edge of the plateau to prospect. A billowy sea of white stretched out to a blue infinity. The clouds had lifted or been vaporised. He could see nothing of Odde; but he believed that he could make out a thread of silver, which must be the fiord. It would take him too long to get out there and back and yet to stay here! That meant that the pair of them would die. It is but just to him to say that no alternative presented itself to him. The pair of them would die? Well, yes. What else was there? He returned. Urquhart was waiting for him, intensely awake to everything.

“Old chap,” said James, “that’s no go. I didn’t try the snow; but I can judge distances. It’s a deuce of a way down, even if there is a way, and ”

“It’s all right,” Urquhart said, “there isn’t a way. I’m cornered this time. But there’s just a chance for you if you work at it. It’ll begin to freeze in fact, it has begun already. Now if you can find the shovel, you might employ yourself finely, digging a stairway. You’ll be up by midnight.”

“Never mind about me,” James said. “I’m going to keep you warm first.”

But Urquhart was fretting. He frowned and moved his head about. “No, no, don’t begin that. It’s not worth it and I can’t have you do it. You ought to know who I am before you begin the Good Samaritan stunt. I want to talk to you while I can. I’ve got a good deal to tell you. That will be better for me than anything.” Jimmy was prepared for something of the kind.

“I believe it will,” he said. “Go on, then, and get it over.”

It had been his first impulse to assure the poor chap that he knew all about it; but a right instinct stopped him. He would have to hear it.

So Urquhart began his plain tale, and as he got into it the contrast between it and himself became revolting, even to him. A hale man might have brazened it out with a better air. A little of the romance with which it had begun, which indeed alone made it tolerable, would have been about it still. A sicker man than Urquhart, who made a hard death for himself, would have given up the battle, thrown himself at James’s feet and asked no quarter. Urquhart was not so far gone as that; a little bluster remained. He did it badly. He didn’t mean to be brutal; he meant to be honest; but it sounded brutal, and James could hardly endure it.

He saw, too, as the poor chap went on, that he was getting angry, and doing himself harm. That was so. Every step he took in his narrative sharpened the edge of the fate which cut him off. He would have made a success of it if he could but he had been really broken before he broke his back, and the knowledge exasperated him.

So he took refuge in bluster, made himself out worse than he was, and in so doing distorted Lucy. James was in torment, remembering what he must. He felt her arms close about his neck; he felt the rush of her words: “And oh, darling, I thought it was you of course I thought so and I was proud and happy that you should like me so much! I looked at myself in the glass afterwards. I thought, ’You must be rather pretty.’ ...” Oh, Heaven, and this mocking, dying devil, with his triumphs!

“Say no more, man, say no more,” broke from him. “I understand the rest. I have nothing to say to you. You did badly you did me a wrong and her too. But it’s done with, and she (God bless her!) can take no harm. How can she? She acted throughout with a pure mind. She thought that you were me, and when she found that you weren’t well, well, take your pride in that. I give it up to you. Why shouldn’t I? She gave you her innocent heart. I don’t grudge you.”

“You needn’t,” said Urquhart, “since I’m a dead man. But if I had been a living one, who knows ?” He laughed bitterly, and stung the other.

“You forget one thing,” said James, with something of his old frozen calm. “For all that you knew, ten minutes after you had left my house that day the first of them I might have benefited by your act and you been none the wiser, nor I any the worse off. And there would have been an end of it.”

Urquhart considered the point. James could have seen it working in his poor, wicked, silly mind, but kept his face away.

“Yes,” Urquhart said, “you might; but you didn’t.” Then he laughed again not a pleasant sound.

“Man,” said James indignant, “don’t you see? What robs me of utterance is that I have benefited by what you have done.”

“It’s more than you have deserved, in my opinion,” Urquhart retorted. “I’ll ask you not to forget that she has loved me, and doesn’t blame me. And I’ll ask you not to forget that it is I who am telling you all this, and not she.” It was his last bite.

The retort was easy, and would have crushed him; but James did not make it. Let him have his pitiful triumph. He was not angry any more; he couldn’t be and there was Lucy to be thought of. What would Urquhart think of a Lucy who could have revealed such things as these? He would have judged her brazen, little knowing the warm passion of her tears. Ah, not for him these holy moments. No, let him die thinking honour of her honour according to his own code. He put his hand out and touched Urquhart’s face with the back of it.

“Let us leave it at this,” he said; “we both love her. We are neither of us fit. She would have taken either of us. But I came first, and then came Lancelot and she loves the law. Put it no other way.”

“The law, the law!” said the fretful, smitten man.

“The law of her nature,” said James.

He felt Urquhart’s piercing eyes to be upon him and schooled himself to face them and to smile into them. To his surprise he saw them fill with tears.

“You are a good chap,” Urquhart said. “I never knew that before.” Macartney blew his nose.

No more was said, but the sufferer now allowed him to do what he would. He chafed his hands and arms with brandy; took off his boots and chafed his feet. He succeeded in getting a certain warmth into him, and into himself too. He began to be hopeful.

“I think I shall pull you through,” he told him. “You ought to be a pretty hard case. I suppose you don’t know how you came to fall so badly.”

“Well, I do,” Urquhart said.

“Don’t tell me if you’d rather not.”

“Oh, what does it matter now? It was a whim.”

James smiled. “Another whim?”

“Yes and another fiasco. You see, in a way, I had dared you to come.”

“I admit that.”

“Well, I hadn’t played fair. I knew, and you didn’t, that it was a bad job. You can’t get down this way not when the snow’s like this.”

“Oh, can’t you?”

“I think not. Well, I ought to have told you. I was tempted. That’s the worst thing I ever did. I ask your pardon for that.”

“You have it, old chap,” said James.

“You can afford to be magnanimous,” Urquhart snapped out fiercely. “Damn it, you have everything. But I felt badly about it as I was going down, and I thought, ’They’ll feel the break, and know it’s all over. So I cut the painter do you see?”

“Yes,” said James, “I see.” He did indeed see.

Urquhart began to grow drowsy and to resent interference. He was too far gone to think of anything but the moment’s ease. James, on the other hand, was entirely absorbed in his patient. “I’m not going to let you sleep,” he said. “It’s no good making a fuss. I’ve got the kinch on you now.” It was as much as he had. The air was biting cold, and the colder it got the more insistent on sleep Urquhart became.

James stared about him. Was this the world that he knew? Were kindly creatures moving about somewhere in it, helping each other? Was Lucy in this place? Had she lain against his heart two nights ago? Had he been so blessed? Had life slipped by and was this the end? Which was the reality, and which the dream? If both had been real, and this was the end of men’s endeavour if this were death if one slipped out in this cur’s way, the tail between the legs why not end it? He could sleep himself, he thought. Suppose he lay by this brother cur of his and slept? Somewhere out beyond this cold there were men by firelight kissing their wives. Poor chaps, they didn’t know the end. This was the end loneliness and cold. Yes, but you could sleep!...

Suddenly he started, intent and quivering. He had heard a cry. Every fibre of him claimed life. He listened, breathlessly. Above the knocking of his own heart he heard it again. No doubt at all. He turned to Urquhart and shook him. “They are coming they are coming we are going to be saved!” He was violently moved; tears were streaming down his face. Urquhart, out of those still, aware, dreadfully intelligent eyes, seemed to see them coming whoever they were. He too, and his pitiful broken members, were calling on life.

James, on his feet, shouted with might and main, and presently was answered from near at hand. Then he saw Lingen and the guide wading through the snow. “They have found us,” he told Urquhart; “it’s Francis Lingen and the guide. How they’ve done it I don’t pretend to guess.”

“They’ve got around the cornice,” Urquhart said. “It can be done I know.” He seemed indifferent again, even annoyed again that he couldn’t be allowed to sleep. James thought it a pose, this time.

Lingen, out of breath but extremely triumphant, met James.

“Thank God,” he said. James with lifted brows waved his head backward to indicate the sufferer.

“He’s very bad,” he said. “How did you get him to come?” He meant the guide.

Flaming Lingen said, “I made him. I was desperate. I’ve never done such a thing before, but I laid hands on him.”

“You are a brick,” said James.

Lingen said, “It’s something to know that you can throttle a man when you want to badly enough. I hadn’t the slightest idea. It’s a thing I never did before. I rather like it.”

Throttled or not, the guide saved the situation. He saved it, undisguisedly, for his own sake; for he had no zest for helping to carry a bier over the Folgefond. They made a litter of alpen-stocks and the mackintosh, and so between them carried Urquhart down the mountain. No need to dwell on it. They reached the hotel at Odde about midnight, but halfway to it they found help.