She started worse than before when I said that and gripped the hand that I had round her waist.
“Hughie!” she exclaimed. “He’ll not be giving you ten pounds for a bit of a ride like that! Oh, now I’m sure there’s danger in it! What would a man be paying ten pounds for to anybody just to take a message? Don’t go, Hughie! What do you know of yon man except that he’s a stranger that never speaks to a soul in the place, and wanders about like he was spying things? And I would liefer go without chair or table, pot or pan, than that you should be running risks in a lonesome place like that, and at that time, with nobody near if you should be needing help. Don’t go!”
“You’re misunderstanding,” said I. “It’s a plain and easy thing—I’ve nothing to do but ride there and back. And as for the ten pounds, it’s just this way: yon Mr. Gilverthwaite has more money than he knows what to do with. He carries sovereigns in his pockets like they were sixpenny pieces! Ten pounds is no more to him that ten pennies to us. And we’ve had the man in our house seven weeks now, and there’s nobody could say an ill word of him.”
“It’s not so much him,” she answered. “It’s what you may meet—there! For you’ve got to meet—somebody. You’re going, then?”
“I’ve given my word, Maisie,” I said. “And you’ll see there’ll be no harm, and I’ll give you a tap at the window as I pass your house coming back. And we’ll do grand things with that ten pounds, too.”
“I’ll never close my eyes till I hear you, then,” she replied. “And I’ll not be satisfied with any tap, neither. If you give one, I’ll draw the blind an inch, and make sure it’s yourself, Hughie.”
We settled it at that, with a kiss that was meant on my part to be one of reassurance, and presently we parted, and I went off to get my bicycle in readiness for the ride.
THE RED STAIN
It was just half-past nine by the town clocks when I rode out across the old Border Bridge and turned up the first climb of the road that runs alongside the railway in the direction of Tillmouth Park, which was, of course, my first objective. A hot, close night it was—there had been thunder hanging about all day, and folk had expected it to break at any minute, but up to this it had not come, and the air was thick and oppressive. I was running with sweat before I had ridden two miles along the road, and my head ached with the heaviness of the air, that seemed to press on me till I was like to be stifled. Under ordinary circumstances nothing would have taken me out on such a night. But the circumstances were not ordinary, for it was the first time I had ever had the chance of earning ten pounds by doing what appeared to be a very simple errand; and though I was well enough inclined to be neighbourly to Mr. Gilverthwaite, it was certainly his money that was my chief inducement in going on his business at a