“Did you hear it?” he asked, in a whisper that had an accent of fear.
“Hear what?” asked Ralph.
“The neigh of the horse,” said Brown. “I heard nothing” replied Ralph, and walked to the window, and listened. “What horse?” he asked, turning about.
“Nay, none of us knows rightly. It’s a horse that flies ower the fell o’ nights, and whinnies and whinnies.”
“One of the superstitions of your dale,—an old wife’s tale, I suppose. Has it been heard for years?”
“No, nor for weeks neither.”
Brown resumed his position in front of the fire, and the hours rolled on.
When the first glimmer of gray appeared in the east, Sim was awakened, and Ralph and he, after eating a hurried breakfast, started away on foot.
* * * * *
Where is Robbie now? A life hangs on the fortunes of this very hour!
* * * * *
“Tell them the horses came from the Woodman at Kendal,” said Ralph as he parted from his old comrade. “You’ve done better than save our lives, Brown, God bless you!”
“That’s a deal more nor my wages, captain,” said the honest fellow.
The snow that had fallen during the night lay several inches deep on the roads, and the hills were white as far up as the eye could trace them. The dawn came slowly. The gray bars were long in stretching over the sky, and longer in making way for the first glint of mingled yellow and pink. But the sunrise came at length. The rosy glaives floated upwards over a lake of light, and the broad continents of cloud fell apart. Another day had breathed through another night.
Ralph and Sim walked long in silence. The snow was glistening like a million diamonds over the breast of a mountain, and the upright crags, on which it could not rest, were glittering like shields of steel.
“How beautiful the world is!” said Ralph.
“Ey, but it is that, after all,” said Sim.
“After all,” repeated Ralph.
They had risen to the summit of a little hill, and they could see as they began to descend on the other side that the snow lay in a deep drift at the bottom.
At the same moment they caught sight of some curious object lying in the distance.
“What thing is that, half covered with the snow?” asked Sim.
“I cannot say. We’ll soon see.”
Ralph spoke with panting breath.
“Why, it’s a horse!” said Sim.
“Left out on such a night, too,” said Ralph.
His face quivered with emotion. When he spoke again his voice was husky and his face livid.
“Sim, what is that on its back?”
“Surely it’s a pack, the black thing across it,” said Sim.
Ralph caught his breath and stopped. Then he ran forward.
“Great God!” he cried, “Betsy! It is Betsy, with the coffin.”