He thought again of his stricken mother in the old home, and then of the love which had gone from him like a dream of the night. Heaven had willed it that where the heart of man yearned for love, somewhere in the world there was a woman’s heart yearning to respond. But the curse came to some here and some there—the curse of an unrequitable passion.
* * * * *
The church bells were still ringing over the darkened town.
Rotha was happy in her love; Heaven be with her and bless her! As for himself, it was a part of the curse that lay on him that her face should haunt his dreams, that her voice should come to him in his sleep, and that “Rotha, Rotha,” should rise in sobs to his lips in the weary watches of the night.
Yes, it must be as he had thought—God’s hand was on him. Destiny had to work its own way. Why should he raise his feeble hands to prevent it? The end would be the end, whenever and wherever it might come. Why, then, should he stir?
Ralph had determined to go no farther. He would stay in Preston over the night, and set out again for the north at daybreak. Was it despair that possessed him? Even if so, he was stronger than before. Hope had gone, and fear went with it.
Take heart, Ralph Ray, most unselfish and long-suffering of men. God’s hand is indeed upon you, but God Himself is at your right hand!
That day Ralph walked through the streets with a calmer mind. Towards nightfall he stepped into a tavern and secured a bed. Then he went into the parlor of the house and sat among the people gathered there, and chatted pleasantly on the topics of the hour.
The governing spirit of the company was a little man who wore a suit of braided black which seemed to indicate that he belonged to one of the clerkly professions. He was addressed by the others as Lawyer Lampitt, and was asked if he would be busy at the court house on the following morning. “Yes,” he answered, with an air of consequence, “there’s the Quaker preacher to be tried for creating a disturbance.”
“Was he taken, then?” asked one.
“He’s quiet enough now in the old tower,” said the lawyer, stretching himself comfortably before the fire.
“I should have thought his tormentors were fitter occupants of his cell,” said Ralph.
“Perhaps so, young man; I express no opinion.”
“There was scarce a man among them whose face would not have hanged him,” continued Ralph.
“There again I offer no opinion,” said the lawyer, “but I’ll tell you an old theory of mine. It is that a murderer and a hero are all but the same man.”
The company laughed. They were accustomed to these triumphs of logic, and relished them. Every man braced himself up in his seat.
“Why, how’s that, lawyer?” said a townsman who sat tailor-fashion on a bench; he would hardly have been surprised if the lawyer had proved beyond question that he swam swanlike among the Isles of Greece.