Then they drove for hours in silence. It was dark when they passed through Threlkeld, and turned into the Vale of Wanthwaite on their near approach to Wythburn.
“I scarce know rightly where Robbie bides, now old Martha’s dead,” thought Reuben; “I’ll just slip up the lonnin to Shoulth’et and ask.”
And to be wroth with
one we love
Doth work like madness in the brain.
When Reuben Thwaite formed this resolution he was less than a mile from Shoulthwaite. In the house on the Moss, Rotha was then sitting alone, save for the silent presence of the unconscious Mrs. Ray. The day’s work was done. It had been market day, and Willy Ray had not returned from Gaskarth. The old house was quiet within, and not a breath of wind was stirring without. There was no sound except the crackling of the dry boughs on the fire and the hollow drip of the melting snow.
By the chair from which Mrs. Ray gazed vacantly and steadily Rotha sat with a book in her hand. She tried to read, but the words lost their meaning. Involuntarily her eyes wandered from the open page. At length the old volume, with its leathern covers clasped together with their great brass clasp, dropped quietly into the girl’s lap.
At that moment there was a sound of footsteps in the courtyard. Getting up with an anxious face, Rotha walked to the window and drew the blind partly aside.
It was Matthew Branthwaite.
“How fend ye, lass?” he said on opening the door; “rubbin’ on all reet? The roads are varra drewvy after the snow,” he added, stamping the clods from his boots. Then looking about, “Hesn’t our Liza been here to-neet?”
“Not yet,” Rotha answered.
“Whearaway is t’ lass? I thought she was for slipping off to Shoulth’et. But then she’s olas gitten her best bib and tucker on nowadays.”
“She’ll be here soon, no doubt,” said Rotha, giving Matthew his accustomed chair facing Mrs. Ray.
“She’s a rare brattlecan to chatter is our Liza. I telt her she was ower keen to come away with all the ins and oots aboot the constables coming to Wy’bern yesterday. She had it pat, same as if she’d seen it in prent. That were bad news, and the laal hizzy ran bull-neck to gi’e it oot.”
“She meant no harm, Matthew.”
“But why duddent she mean some good and run bull-neck to-neet to bring ye the bettermer news?”
“Better news, Matthew? What is it?” asked Rotha eagerly, but with more apprehension than pleasure in her tone.
“Why, that the constables hev gone,” said Matthew.
“Gone! Another of the same sort came to-day to leet them, and away they’ve gone together.”
Matthew clearly expected an outburst of delight at his intelligence. “What dusta say to that, lass?” he added between the puffs of a pipe that he was lighting from a candle. Then, raising his eyes and looking up at Rotha, he said, “Why, what’s this? What ails thee? Ey! What’s wrang?”