“Robbie, remember the vow you took never to speak of this matter again.”
At mention of the warrant, Sim had once more crept up eagerly. Ralph saw that the hope of escape still clung to him. Would that muddy imperfection remain with him to the last?
“Robbie, if you ever had any feeling for me as a friend and comrade, let this thing lie forever undiscovered in your mind.”
Unable to speak, the young dalesman bent his head.
“As for Sim, it wounds me to the soul. But for myself, what have I now to live for? Nothing. I tried to save the land to my mother and brother. How is she?”
“Something better, as I heard.”
“Poor mother! And—Rotha—is she—”
“She is well.”
“Thank God! Perhaps when these sad events are long gone by, and have faded away into a dim memory, perhaps then she will be happy in my brother’s love.”
“Willy?” said Robbie, with look and accent of surprise.
Then there was a pause.
“She has been an angel,” said Robbie feelingly.
“Better than that—she has been a woman; God bless and keep her!” said Ralph.
Robbie glanced into Ralph’s face; tears stood in his eyes.
Sim sat and moaned.
“My poor little Rotie,” he mumbled. “My poor little lost Rotie!”
The days of her childhood had flowed back to him. She was a child once more in his memory.
“Robbie,” said Ralph, “since we have been here one strange passage has befallen me, and I believe it is real and not the effect of a disturbed fancy.”
“What is it, Ralph?” said Robbie.
“The first night after we were shut up in this place, I thought in the darkness, being fully awake, that one opened the door. I turned my head, thinking it must be the gaoler. But when I looked it was Rotha. She had a sweet smile on her dear face. It was a smile of hope and cheer. Last night, again, I was awakened by Sim crying in his sleep—the strange, shrill, tearless night-cry that freezes the blood of the listener. Then I lay an hour awake. Again I thought that one opened the door. I looked to see Rotha. It was she. I believe she was sent to us in the spirit as a messenger of peace and hope—hope of that better world which we are soon to reach.”
The gaoler knocked. Robbie’s time had expired. “How short these last moments seem!” said Ralph; “yet an eternity of last moments would be brief. Farewell, my lad! God bless you!”
The dalesmen shook hands. Their eyes were averted.
Robbie took his leave with many tears.
Then rose again the voices of the unseen choir within the chapel. The organ pealed out in loud flute tones that mounted like a lark, higher, higher, higher, winging its way in the clear morning air. It was the chant of a returning angel scaling heaven. Then came the long sweeps of a more solem harmony. Peace, peace! And rest! And rest!