After some few hundred more paces, he reached the foot of the hill and stood on the nearer side of the stream. This must be the place he sought. Before him, the River Glaven ran the last part of its course towards the sea. Save in severe floods, it was too small to be called a proper river, yet it was always too fast-flowing and too variable in depth and width to merit dismissal as a mere stream.
On the side where Adam sat on Fancy, the path came out from between the trees onto a small beach of flint pebbles. Cattle had been drinking here, widening the little river into a series of shallow pools. On the other side, the bank was higher, so they had worn two or three narrow paths down to the water. Though the water seemed easy enough to cross that day, Adam suspected heavy winter rains would turn it into an impassable flood. Much of the bank on the other side was crumbling and undercut. If you walked a horse across, as he intended to do when he had finished here, and used one of the paths up the bank worn by the cattle, it would be quite safe. But it you came upon it at speed—especially if you tried to jump over the water—he judged it would be very easy to come to grief.
Was this what had happened? Had Sir Jackman been in too great a hurry, tried to jump the stream and been thrown in the process? If so, his son was correct in calling it an accident. Their belief in murder would suffer a bad blow.
Adam got down from Fancy and went to tie her to one of the trees by the path. As he did so, his eye was caught by some marks higher up the trunk, too high up to be seen clearly from the ground. It looked as if something had been tied around this tree at a height of six feet or a little more. He looked around, but too many people had passed this way since the baronet’s death. Any useful signs had been obliterated, muddled or smudged. He climbed again onto Fancy’s back to take a better look at those marks on the trees. From this vantage point, all was clear. Something like a thin rope had been wrapped around the tree trunk and had cut into the bark deeply on one side. There was nothing there now, but the signs were plain enough once you had spotted them. There was also a deeper groove crossing the others, where someone must have used a knife to cut away the rope and gouged deep into the tree.
Adam rode swiftly to the other side of the path and peered into the trees there. Yes! There it was. A second thin area of wounds to the bark of a tree, the mirror image of the first. He was right! Somebody had tied a thin rope across the path, at about the height where it would catch an unwary rider; then returned later and removed the evidence.
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