“I could have followed you over the world, Willy, and looked for no better fortune. I could have trusted to you, and loved you, though we had no covering but the skies above us.”
“Don’t kill me with remorse, Rotha; don’t heap coals of fire on my head. Look up and smile but once, my darling.”
Rotha lifted her tear-dimmed eyes to the eyes of her lover, and Willy stooped to kiss her trembling lips. At that instant an impulse took hold of him which he was unable to resist, and words that he struggled to suppress forced their own utterance.
“Great God!” he cried, and drew back his head with a quick recoil, “how like your father you are!”
TREASON OR MURDER.
The night was dark that followed. It had been a true Cumbrian day in winter. The leaden sky that hung low and dense had been relieved only by the white rolling mists that capped the fells and swept at intervals down their brant and rugged sides. The air had not cleared as the darkness came on. There was no moon. The stars could not struggle through the vapor that lay beneath them. There was no wind. It was a cold and silent night.
Rotha stood at the end of the lonnin, where the lane to Shoulthwaite joined the pack-horse road. She was wrapped in a long woollen cloak having a hood that fell deep over her face. Her father had parted from her half an hour ago, and though the darkness had in a moment hidden him from her sight, she had continued to stand on the spot at which he had left her.
She was slight of figure and stronger of will than physique, but she did not feel the cold. She was revolving the step she had taken, and thinking how great an issue hung on the event. Sometimes she mistrusted her judgment, and felt an impulse to run after her father and bring him back. Then a more potent influence would prompt her to start away and overtake him, yet only in order to bear his message the quicker for her fleeter footsteps.
But no; Fate was in it: a power above herself seemed to dominate her will. She must yield and obey. The thing was done.
The girl was turning about towards the house, when she heard footsteps approaching her from the direction which her father had taken. She could not help but pause, hardly knowing why, when the gaunt figure of Mrs. Garth loomed large in the road beside her. Rotha would now have hastened home, but the woman had recognized her in the darkness.
“How’s all at Shoulth’et?” said Mrs. Garth in her blandest tones; “rubbin’ on as usual?”
Rotha answered with a civil commonplace, and turned to go. But Mrs. Garth had stood, and the girl felt compelled to stand also.
“It’s odd to see ye not at work, lass,” said the woman in a conciliatory way; “ye’re nigh almost always as thrang as Thorp wife, tittyvating the house and what not.”
Again some commonplace from Rotha, and another step homewards.