“I’ve telt thee afore thou’rt yan of the wise asses. What do you mean by sell?”
“I reckon you know when strangers in the street can tell me.”
The blacksmith coiled himself up in his gloomy reserve and stared into the fire.
“Oh, thou’s heard ’at yon man’s in Doomsdale, eh?”
Joe grunted something that was inarticulate.
“I mean to hear the trial,” continued Mrs. Garth, with a purr of satisfaction.
“Maybe you wouldn’t like to see me in his place, mother? Oh, no; certainly not.”
“Thou great bledderen fool,” cried Mrs. Garth, getting on to her feet and lifting her voice to a threatening pitch; “whearaway hast been?”
Joe growled again, and crept closer over the fire, his mother’s brawny figure towering above him.
A HORSE’S NEIGH.
A bleared winter sun was sinking down through a scarf of mist. Rotha was walking hurriedly down the lonnin that led from the house on the Moss. Laddie, the collie, had attached himself to her since Ralph’s departure, and now he was running by her side.
She was on her way to Fornside, but on no errand of which she was conscious. Willy Ray had not yet returned. Her father had not come back from his long journey. Where was Willy? Where was her father? What kept them away? And what of Ralph—standing as he did, in the jaws of that Death into which her own hands had thrust him! Would hope ever again be possible? These questions Rotha had asked herself a hundred times, and through the responseless hours of the long days and longer nights of more than a week she had lived on somehow, somehow, somehow.
The anxiety was burning her heart away; it would be burnt as dry as ashes soon. And she had been born a woman—a weak woman—a thing meant to sit at home with her foot on the treadle of her poor little wheel, while dear lives were risked and lost elsewhere.
Rotha was a changed being. She was no longer the heartsome lassie who had taken captive the stoical fancy of old Angus. Tutored by suffering, she had become a resolute woman. Goaded by something akin to despair, she was now more dangerous than resolute.
She was to do strange things soon. Even her sunny and girlish ingenuousness was to desert her. She was to become as cunning as dauntless. Do you doubt it? Put yourself in her place. Think of what she had done, and why she had done it; think of what came of it, and may yet come of it. Then look into your own heart; or, better far, look into the heart of another—you will be quicker to detect the truth and the falsehood that lies there.
Then listen to what the next six days will bring forth.
The cottage at Fornside has never been occupied since the tailor abandoned it. Hardly in Wythburn was there any one so poor as to covet such shelter for a home. It was a single-storied house with its back to the road. Its porch was entered from five or six steps that led downwards from a little garden. It had three small rooms, with low ceilings and paved floors. In the summer the fuchsia flecked its front with white and red. In these winter days the dark ivy was all that grew about it.