“Your pardon, mistress,” said Robbie, “but mayhap you’ve seen a little man with gray hair and a long beard going by?”
“Do you say a laal man?” asked the old woman.
“Ey, wrinkled and wizzent a bit?” said Robbie.
“Yes,” said the woman.
Robbie was uncertain as to what the affirmation implied. Taking it to be a sort of request for a more definite description, he continued,—
“A blate and fearsome sort of a fellow, you know.”
“Yes,” repeated the woman, and then there was a pause.
Robbie, getting impatient of the delay, was turning on his heel with scant civility, when the old woman said, “Are you seeking him for aught that is good?”
“Why, ey, mother,” said Robbie, regaining his former position and his accustomed geniality in an instant. “Do you know his name?” she asked.
“Sim—that’s to say Sim Stagg. Don’t you fear me, mother; I’m a friend to Sim, take my word.”
“You’re a good-like sort of a lad, I think,” said the old woman; “Sim was here ower the night last night.”
“Where is he now?” said Robbie.
“He left me this morning at t’ edge o’ t’ daylight. He axed for t’ coach to Lancaster, and I telt him it started frae the Woodman, in Kirklands, and so he went off there.”
“Kirklands; where’s Kirklands?”
“In Kendal, near the church.”
It turned out that the good old woman had known Sim many years before, when they were neighbors in a street of a big town. She had been with Sim’s wife in her last illness, and had cared for his little daughter when the child’s mother died.
Robbie did not know when the coach might leave Kendal for Lancaster; Sim was several hours in front of them, and therefore he took a hasty leave. The old woman, who lived a solitary life in the cottage, looked after the young man with eyes which seemed to say that, in spite of the instinct which prompted her to confide in Robbie, she half regretted what she had done.
A RACE AGAINST LIFE.
No sooner had Ralph discovered that the straggler from the North who lay insensible in the yard of the inn at Kendal was Simeon Stagg than he pushed through the crowd, and lifting the thin and wasted figure in his arms, ordered a servant to show him to a room within.
There in a little while sensibility returned to Sim, who was suffering from nothing more serious than exhaustion and the excitement by which it had been in part occasioned.
When in the first moment of consciousness he opened his eyes and met the eyes of Ralph, who was bending above him, he exhibited no sign of surprise. With a gesture indicative of irritation he brushed his long and bony hand over his face, as though trying to shut out a vision that had more than once before haunted and tormented him. But when he realized the reality of the presence of the man whom he had followed over many weary miles, whose face had followed him in his dreams,—when it was borne in upon his scattered sense that Ralph Ray was actually here at his side, holding his hand and speaking to him in the deep tones which he knew so well,—then the poor worn wayfarer could no longer control the emotion that surged upwards from his heart.