“The Striding Place” by Gertrude Atherton – Selection 35 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥J♥  Jack of Hearts.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2019, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and, though I haven’t read much by Atherton, the story I have read was a home run.

The Author: Gertrude Atherton – perhaps most famous for her novel, Black Oxen, published in 1923, was a prolific American author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Raised by a grandfather who “insisted she be well read” she was naturally (or nurture-aly!) well equipped for a literary career!

The Selection: “The Striding Place” which I don’t own, but is available to all of us online (see link below) is a truly frightening tale of a missing person and the unique way in which he is eventually found.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

What about you?

While walking, perhaps in the woods, have you ever came to the barrier formed by a stream and stopped, contemplating jumping across at its narrowest point? The banks might be muddy or slippery and yet you still take a chance and “go for it” because, after all, what’s the penalty if you fail to clear it? Some muddy clothes and maybe wounded pride? Both things may be quickly remedied or forgotten. What if, however, a more formidable waterway, due to quirk of topography, also narrowed at one point to a “jumpable” width. Might such a spot become a local legend, particularly in the guise of a proving ground for the young to test their courage? This is what the titular “Strid” of this story turns out to be…

The Striding Place

“Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of those that had been done to death in the Strid. Wordsworth’s Boy of Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond. Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The spot had an ugly fascination.”

Some spoilers follow, but by all means, do read the story. It’s not that long and is available online at: https://americanliterature.com/author/gertrude-atherton/short-story/the-striding-place

Mr. Weigall is our main character and is sojourning in Yorkshire, entertaining a guest at his “country estates” for the sport of grouse shooting (I mean, what else is one to do in England in August?). But casting a pall on the occasion is a report that a “chum of Weigall’s college days,” Wyatt Gifford, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace. Some locals suggested it might be a suicide, but Weigall dismissed such nonsense, as they – along with other friends – had recently been together at a funeral of yet another acquaintance and all seemed normal with him (well, as normal as such an occasion might allow, I suppose).

Anyway, search parties have been unsuccessful in their attempts to find Gifford and we join Weigall walking near “the ‘Strid.” He muses about the danger of the place and becomes a bit mesmerized by the roar of the water and the visual motion of the rapids. Suddenly he sees a foreign object “describing a contrary motion to the rushing water, an upward backward motion” He realizes it’s a struggling hand and that “doubtless, but a moment before his arrival” a man had been swept into the current, and was now trying to resist the force of the water in order to free himself.

Weigall leaps into action in an attempt at rescue, at first mindful of his own safety – until he recognizes a french-cuffed shirt sleeve and lower arm – and cuff link – as one belonging to his very friend Wyatt. He renews his efforts at greater risk to himself and using a long stick finally frees the man from the awful current, leaving the man “liberated and flung outward” into the quieter pool downstream from the ‘Strid. Weigall believes the valiant rescue complete, knowing that “the danger from suction was over”  and that “Gifford was a fish in the water and could live under it longer than most men.”

Weigall scrambles down to the quiet pool below but doesn’t find quite what he was expecting..

This was a truly chilling story and I liked it a lot.

I found the picture above via google images. Apparently it’s a ‘strid on the “Bolton Abbey Estate”. It looks smaller and less formidable that what my imagination cooked up while reading the story, but is nonetheless a jump I wouldn’t attempt myself.

♫♫ Personal Notes:  I was surprised to find myself remembering a nearly fossilized memory from my youth when reading the story. I believe it was in 1978, and I was on a summer camping trip out west with my family and one of our stops was Zion National Park in southern Utah. We stayed in the campground, which is bordered by the Virgin River (which has sculpted the wondrous Zion Canyon over the eons). My little brother Gary and I liked to “swim” in the very shallow river which, at least at times, had a reasonably strong current. I remember one day we invented a game at a ‘strid-like narrowing of the river. One of us would man one of the miniature “Pillars of Hercules” on either side of the ‘strid, while the other would go upstream and pretend being caught in the current and sweeping downstream, thinking he would be saved by the other at the narrowing. The other would grab the floater’s arm, pretending he would rescue him, then suddenly let go and let him be swept away, cackling maniacally. Somehow we found this hilarious, and to kids our age, I guess it was!

<below (from wikipedia): grouse shooters, of course>

August-1922-m-mcdonald-a-member-of-lord-woolavingtons-house-party-a-picture-id3432611

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2 Comments

  1. Paula Cappa said,

    August 21, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    I love Atherton’s writing. Her Death and the Woman is another fine short story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. marianallen said,

    August 22, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Geez Louise, Jay, way to give me nightmares!!!! lol

    Liked by 1 person


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