Last Updated on June 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540
“The Striding Place,” by Gertrude Atherton, was published in 1896. Atherton was a rebellious and outspoken writer, best known for her novel Black Oxen (1923). “The Striding Place” is a short story about the disappearance of Wyatt Gifford, a young aristocrat visiting the countryside of Yorkshire, England. The short story is told from the limited third-person perspective of Gifford’s close friend Weigall. Its title comes from a line of William Wordsworth’s “The Force of Prayer,” which tells the story of a young man killed at same site along the River Wharfe where Atherton’s story is set.
At the start of the story, Weigall is out hunting birds on a dreary day. Heavy rains have made the moorlands swamp-like, and the men and women he is with are lackluster company. However, Weigall is not thinking about the bad weather or poor company; his friend Gifford disappeared two days before, departing without a hat or overcoat and leaving behind no trace of his travel.
Weigall is sure that Gifford is playing a prank, as he has been known to do. Still, Weigall cares deeply for his friend and cannot be at peace until Gifford is found. Unable to sleep, Weigall goes on a nighttime walk. Weigall follows a path through the woods, thinking back on a conversation he once had with Gifford. They had just attended a funeral for a college friend. As they walked the streets of London, they discussed “various theories of the soul’s destiny.” In their conversation, Gifford theorized that “the soul sometimes lingers in the body after death.” He imagined that the soul stays in the body to see family and friends one last time and to ensure that the mortal body is given a proper funeral. Weigall asked if Gifford believes the soul and body are separate. Gifford answered that the soul and body are twins, “always loyal in the last instance.”
Weigall’s memories are interrupted by the sudden roar of water. Weigall leaves the wood and walks down to a narrowing of the River Wharfe, called the Strid. It is formed of “huge slippery stones which nearly close the [r]iver.” Weigall thinks of the many people who have lost their lives in the Strid, which is believed to form underwater caverns in which swimmers become trapped. He feels that the area has “an ugly fascination” due to its history of human death. Unsettled, he turns to leave, but then notices something in the water. It appears to be a hand reaching out of the rushing river. Believing a swimmer to be in trouble, Weigall tears a large branch from a tree. He leans out over the water, extending the branch to the hand. The hand grabs on, and Weigall pulls until an arm is visible. With alarm, he realizes that the arm belongs to Gifford. Weigall is suddenly filled with passion and pulls harder. Something shifts, and the body is freed from where it is trapped. It floats downstream to a calm pool. Weigall wades in and lifts his friend out of the river.
Weigall prepares to resuscitate Gifford, but then notices something odd and turns Gifford’s body towards him. With horror, he sees that Gifford no longer has a face.