Lonely, cheerless, and now proscribed by the fears and superstitions of the villagers, it stood as gaunt as a solitary pine on the mountain head that has been blasted and charred by the lightning.
When Rotha reached it she hesitated as if uncertain whether to go in or go back. She stood at the little wicket, while the dog bounded into the garden. In another moment Laddie had run into the house itself.
How was this? She had locked the door. The key had been hidden as usual in the place known only to her father and herself. Rotha hurried down, and pushed her hand deep into the thatch covering the porch. The key was gone. The door stood open.
And now, besides the pat of the dog’s feet, she heard noises from within.
Rotha put her hand to her heart. Could it be that her father had come home? Was he here, here?
The girl stepped into the kitchen. Then a loud clash, as of a closing chest, came from an inner room. In an instant there was the rustle of a dress, and Mrs. Garth and Rotha were face to face in that dim twilight.
The recoil of emotion was too much for the girl. She stood silent. The woman looked at her for an instant with something more like a frightened expression than had yet been seen on her hard face.
Then she brushed past her and away.
“Stop!” cried Rotha, recovering herself.
The woman was gone, and the girl did not pursue her.
Rotha went into the room which Mrs. Garth had come from. It was Wilson’s room. There was his trunk still, which none had claimed. The trunk—the hasty closing of its lid had been the noise she heard! But it had always been heavily locked. With feverish fingers Rotha clutched at the great padlock that hung from the front of the trunk. It had a bunch of keys suspended from it. They were strange to her. Whose keys were they?
The trunk was not locked; the lid had merely been shut down. Rotha raised it with trembling hands. Inside were clothes of various kinds, but these had been thrust hurriedly aside, and beneath them were papers—many papers—scattered loosely at the bottom. What were they?
It was growing dark. Rotha remembered that there was no candle in the house, and no lamp that had oil. She thrust her hand down to snatch up the papers, meaning to carry them away. She touched the dead man’s clothes, and shrank back affrighted. The lid fell heavily again.
The girl began to quiver in every limb.
Who could say that the spirits of the dead did not haunt the scenes of their lives and deaths? Gracious heaven! she was in Wilson’s room!
Rotha tottered her way out in the gathering gloom, clutching at the door as she went. Back in the porch again, she felt for the key to the outer door. It was in the lock. She should carry it with her this time. Then she remembered the keys in the trunk. She must carry them away also. She never asked herself why. What power of good or evil was prompting the girl?