“Leave that to the pair of us.”
The perspiration was standing in beads on every inch of Robbie’s body. He was struggling with an almost overpowering temptation to test the strength of his muscles at pitching certain weighty “bodies” off the top of that coach, in order to relieve it of some of the physical burden and a good deal of the moral iniquity under which it seemed to him just then to groan.
Snow began now to fall, and the driver gave the whip to his horses in order to reach a village which was not far away.
“We’ll be bound to put up for the night,” he said; “this snowstorm will soon stop us.”
The two strangers were apparently much concerned at the necessity, and used every available argument to induce the driver to continue his journey.
Robbie could not bring himself to a conclusion as to whether it would be best for his purpose that the coach should stop, and so keep back the vagabonds who were sitting behind him, or go on, and so help him to overtake Ralph. The driver in due course settled the problem very decisively by drawing up at the inn of the hamlet of Mardale and proceeding to take his horses off the chains.
“There be some folk as have mercy neither on man nor beast,” he said in reply to a protest from the strangers.
Jim’s sentiment was more apposite than he thought.
The two men grumbled their way into the inn. Robbie remained outside and gave the driver a hand with the horses.
“Where’s Haribee?” he asked.
“In Carlisle,” said the driver.
“What place is it?” asked Robbie.
“Haribee?—why, the place of execution.”
When left alone outside in the snow, Robbie began to reflect on the position of affairs. It was past midnight. The two strangers, who were obviously in pursuit of Ralph, would stay in this house at least until morning. Ralph himself was probably asleep at this moment, some ten miles or thereabouts farther up the road.
It was bitterly cold. Robbie’s hands and face were numbed. The flakes of snow fell thicker and faster than before.
Robbie perceived that there was only one chance that would make it worth while to have come on this journey: the chance that he could overtake Ralph before the coach and its passengers could overtake him.
To do this he must walk the whole night through, let it rain or snow or freeze.
He could and he would do it!
Bravely, Robbie! A greater issue than you know of hangs on your journey. On! on! on!
WHAT THE SNOW GAVE UP.
The agitation of the landlord of the inn at Askham, who was an old Parliamentarian, on discovering the captain under whom he had served in the person of Ralph Ray, threatened of itself to betray him. With infinite perturbation he came and went, and set before Ralph and Sim such plain fare as his house could furnish after the more luxurious appetites of the Royalist visitors had been satisfied.