"zenith" mean high point, i believe. i am never sure about such things. words and abstract definitions are not among my strengths. in any event, the sun was high in the sky. it was hot. i was suddenly very thirsty. my feet were sore. my walking stick felt heavy in my hand, to the point that i was tempted to throw it away. i had absolutely no idea where i was going or why i was going there. i was thoroughly miserable. all in all, a typical day of my so-called existence.
at least, i thought, i was rid of costermayne and fenwick. i could now barely hear the echoes of fenwick's angry shoutings and costermayne's desperate whimperings . and another sound. the sound of a walking stick on thrashed human flesh? a hot wind had sprung up and was blowing in my face. it seemed to be blowing their noises away from me also. perhaps i had not left them so far behind as i thought? i was afraid to look back, lest this fear prove too well founded, and i increased my pace as best i could.
my curiosity about fenwick , which had brought me to this wretched pass, had more than totally evaporated, and i rued the day i had ever seen or thought about him. i set to walking with a will so as to put more distance between them and myself. yes, first one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other. i relaxed just a bit, falling into the comfortable, familiar rhythm. one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other, just as nature intended. if only nature would show a little mercy in regards to the blasted sun, beating down on the my beleaguered carcass .
ah, blind self-deluding folly ! for now i heard wheezing, slapping sounds behind me. then right behind me, not to be denied. i turned and there, of course, was the unfortunate costermayne, redfaced and hatless, running up the road as best he could on his flat feet. and fenwick in the distance behind him, not running, but coming on methodically, with his sneer on his face, knowing costermayne could not possibly escape him.
how tiresome! costermayne looked at me imploringly as he approached, then collapsed on the road at my feet. he burbled something unintelligible, no doubt "help me ' or "for the love of god" or something equally futile and meaningless. it occurred to me to simply turn and be on my own way, but something about fenwick's purposeful stride held me - i did not care to turn my back on him. as he got nearer, i saw he had his pistol held at his side.
costermayne's piteous noises subsided to barely audible squeaks as fenwick reached him and stood over him.
"look here," fenwick announced. "let's put an end to this nonsense, shall we?" and he put a bullet into costermayne's forehead. the single shot echoed up and down the road.
i am, i admit it, often - usually - at a "loss for words" in even the most civilized and familiar surroundings, with the most routine and ritualized behaviors. and besides being at a "loss for words" i usually do not know "what to think" in even the most everyday encounters. nevertheless i felt impelled to say something, and what i said was "a bit harsh, eh?"
"a bit harsh? the fellow was a blackguard. he was following me. " fenwick looked me in the eye. he still held his pistol at the ready. he laughed. "surely you don't approve of such behavior, eh?"
"oh no, no."
"were you familiar with this individual? he spoke to you as if he knew you. if you do not mind my asking?"
"we were together at school. i have hardly seem him since."
fenwick gave costermayne's corpse - i assumed at that point that it was a corpse -a short kick. "and what sort of chap did you find him?"
"the most disagreeable sort imaginable."
"well, there you are. good riddance to bad rubbish, and all that." fenwick put his pistol away beneath his coat. "here, help me drag him to the side to the road."
i looked around. the road at that point was particularly narrow, with the scrawniest and least shade-bearing trees imaginable lining both sides.
"the road hardly has a side," i noted.
"all roads have sides, sir." fenwick looked at me curiously. "what sort of statement is that? you are not a philosopher, are you?"
"oh no. in fact, i am - i am hardly capable of thought at all."
"good man! thinking never did anyone any good. come now, let us get him to the side of the road, or into the bush, or however you care to phrase it."
there seemed nothing else for it. i grasped costermayne's right hand - and it seemed to grip mine!
"are you sure he's dead?" i asked fenwick.
"i shot him at point blank range. are you gainsaying my markmanship?"
"of course not - it's just that -"
"look here, just get him behind these bushes. there we go. "
"shouldn't we what? give him a good christian burial? ha, ha, ha! no, the vultures and jackals will take care of him in no time."
i was by now feeling quite disoriented. "vultures and jackals?," i protested feebly. "there are no vultures and jackals in the village of a----------"
"nonsense! there are vultures and jackals of one sort or another everywhere. they are mother nature's most faithful servants. besides, we are not in the village of a--------, are we? we are on the high road to b-------------, as i am sure you are well aware, given your determined though not terribly energetic stride, eh?"
"shouldn't we notify the authorities?"
"the authorities? what are you, some kind of bloody parson? what next, will you be handing me a temperance leaflet?"
i had no answer for that. i tried to step away into the center of the road, but costermayne's hand gripped my ankle and and almost sent me sprawling.
"i - i'm afraid he's still alive."
"nonsense, he's just twitching. perfectly natural, especially in this heat. " fenwick slashed at costermayne's hand with his walking stick - dealing a ferocious blow to my ankle in the process - and the hand relaxed its grip. "you looked a bit peaked, sir. the sun, eh?"
"yes, yes, the sun. the sun."
fenwick looked up at that object in the sky. "hardly any sun at all, really. look here, we'll be in b------------ soon enough.
enjoying a glass at the hostage and crawfish. you're familiar with it, eh? everyone who goes to b------------ knows it. in fact, there is hardly any other reason to go to b-------------, is there?" he looked me in the eye. and although i would sincerely resent being described by any such adjective as "shifty", i am not the easiest person to look in the eye.
"hardly any reason - unless you were following a chap, eh?"
"quite. quite," i managed to mutter.
"well, then. i will see you there. i don't mean to be rude, but you can hardly expect me to try to keep to your pace. i noticed it, and - ha, ha - you almost seem to be moving backwards." he gave me a last stern gaze, saluted me with his stick and headed back up the road to b-------------. at least, i thought, there must be such a place as b-------------- and it is up ahead.
fenwick disappeared from view again, leaving me with the sun and the dust and the twitching carcass of costermayne barely hidden in the bushes.