“Come on, Jack! Art here ain’t scared”
“I am not scared.” Seward was merely rather certain that this hunting expedition was less about hunting and more about what Morris had said the Latins call “machismo”, which bore too much in common with “masochism” to be coincidence. I am the sane one, he thought. I am not the one who suggested we crawl along every cliff in the Alps.
“Are you coming or not?”
“I am coming!” Seward snapped. With one more heave, and Holmwood’s assistance, he reached the ledge where Morris stood, his large American hat shading his face so that his expression was invisible.
“You shoulda stayed in Amsterdam if you weren’t up to it.”
“In England, hunting is not what you seem to think it. We kill animals, not ourselves.”
“Don’t start in on that fox bullshit. Art took me fox ‘hunting’. That ain’t hunting. That’s watching dogs hunt. You ever fired that thing?” he asked, indicated the rifle slung across Seward’s back.
“At something running?”
“No. Pheasant fly,” he replied pedantically.
Holmwood tried to intervene. “Let up on him, Quincey. He’s spent most of his life indoors, unlike you. He’s almost a doctor, not an adventurer.”
“You said he was up for it.”
“I am up for getting out of Amsterdam and spending a few days with an old friend. Exercise and fresh air are important. And I had looked forward to meeting you, as you are all Arthur writes about these days.” And you seem to encourage all his faults, Seward finished silently.
“We are nearly there,” Holmwood proffered. “Just over that ridge, if you can make it. There’s a stream that attracts quite a few chamois.”
“May we rest a moment so I might catch my breath? The air is devoid of oxygen at this elevation.”
“I’d never want him on a drive,” Seward heard Morris mutter to Holmwood.
“Quincey, be a sport. Jack is one of my oldest friends. He’s only a bit of out shape.”
Seward could bear neither Morris’ eyes on him nor Holmwood’s pleading any longer. “Let us go on. I daresay we will all feel more comfortable when our true objective is in sight.”
The three men tramped on. Seward’s lungs burned, his legs burned, his pack cut into his shoulders. But with Morris in the lead, his suffering was hidden. The ridge proved less difficult to climb than Seward had anticipated, but his heart fell at the sight of the drop down to the stream. The unpopulated stream, he realised as from the corner of his eye he saw Holmwood’s disappointed expression.
“It used to attract quite a few. I was last here with my father.”
“The modern world even attacks remote Switzerland. Well, down we go, boys. Gotta camp somewhere, and at least here we’ve got flat land and running water.” Morris concealed his disappointment slightly better than Holmwood, but his cheer was painfully false.
Seward collapsed in the rough late summer grass just yards from the swiftly flowing stream. Every part of his body burned with fatigue and lack of oxygen. Holmwood lay next to him, eyes closed, head resting on his pack, but Morris had already begun to clear a space to make a fire ring. In the interest of keeping the peace, Seward crawled over to help remove grass from the circle Morris had marked out.
“I should apologise,” he said softly. “I should have known my limitations.”
Morris waved his apology away. “We’re all tired and disappointed. I suppose we ought to learn to like each other. Art loves you. Like a brother, only not.”
“All he talks of these days is you. What were you doing in Argentina for him to have met you?”
“Cattle. With these new refrigeration techniques, we can sell abroad after slaughter, so I wanted to look at what else was on the market. Breeds, raising techniques, quality of meat. It’s just business.”
“You’re serious.” Seward could hardly believe the man had a brain, yet even his Texas accent managed to sound businesslike when he spoke of business matters.
“Of course. It was a deal with my father. I’d look at the cattle trade in Argentina for him, and he’d let me grand tour all I want for two years.”
“It seems a reasonable bargain.”
“What are you doing in Amsterdam?”
“Doctor Van Helsing is the world’s foremost expert in disorders of the brain. I confess a fascination with the strange, and I cannot study as I would like in England.”
“If you want strange, you should see Argentina. Everyone is completely off his rocker. Nuts when they went over, or else so inbred it amounts to the same thing.”
“Why are you suddenly charming?”
“Why are you suddenly talking to me?”
Both men turned in a single movement to look at Holmwood. “What are you chaps doing? Is there no sign of tea yet?”
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