His heavy tread and the echo of his footfall were at length all that broke the stillness of the streets.
He walked southwards, and when he reached the turnpike he stood for a moment and turned his eyes towards the north. The fires that had been kindled were smouldering away, but even yet a red gleam lay across the square towers of the castle on the hill.
The old town was now asleep. Thousands of souls lay slumbering there.
Ralph thought of those who slept in a home he knew, far, far north of this town and those towers. What was his crime that he was banished from them—perhaps forever? What was his crime before God or man? His mother, his brother, Rotha—
Ralph struck his breast and turned about. No, it would not bear to be thought about. That dream, at least, was gone. Rotha was happy in his brother’s love, and as for himself—as for him—it was his destiny, and he must bear it!
Yet what was life worth now that he should struggle like this to preserve it?
Ralph returned to his old conviction—God’s hand was on him. The idea, morbid as it might be, brought him solace this time. Once more he stopped, and turned his eyes afresh towards the north and the fifty miles of darkness that lay between him and those he loved.
It was at that very moment of desolation that Rotha heard the neigh of a horse as she leaned out of her open window.
“Aye, poor man, about Martinmas the Crown seized his freehold and all his goods and chattels.”
“It will be sad news for him when he hears that his old mother and the wife and children were turned into the road.”
“Well, well, I will say, treason or none, that John Rushton was as good a subject as the loudest bagpipes of them all.”
Ralph was sitting at breakfast in a wayside inn when two Lancashire yeomen entered and began to converse in these terms: “Aye, aye, and the leaven of Puritanism is not to be crushed out by such measures. But it’s flat dishonesty, and nothing less. What did the proclamation of ’59 mean if it didn’t promise pardon to every man that fought for the Parliament, save such as were named as regicides?”
“Tut, man, it came to nought; the King returned without conditions; and the men who fought against him are reckoned as guilty as those that cut off his father’s head.” “But the people will never uphold it. The little leaven remains, and one day it will leaven the lump.”
“Tut, the people are all fools—except such as are knaves. See how they’re given up to drunkenness and vain pleasures. Hypocrisy and libertinism are safe for a few years’ reign. England is Merry England, as they say, and she’ll be merry at any cost.”
“Poor John, it will be a sad blow to him!”
Ralph had been an eager listener to the conversation between the yeomen, who were clearly old Whigs and Parliamentarians.