Then, with a frantic gesture, Sim sprang forward, and seizing the arm of the under sheriff, he cried hysterically,—
“Ay, but I have something to say. He is innocent—take me back and let me prove it—he is innocent—it’s true—it’s true—I say it’s true—let me prove it.”
With a face charged with sorrow, Ralph walked to Sim and said, “One moment more and we had clasped hands in heaven.”
* * * * *
But now there was a movement at the back. The sheriff himself was seen stepping from the window to the scaffold. He was followed by Willy Ray and John Jackson. Two women stood together behind, Rotha and Mrs. Garth.
Willy came forward and fell on his brother’s neck.
“God has had mercy upon us,” he cried, amid a flood of tears.
Ralph looked amazed. The sheriff said something to him which he did not hear. The words were inaudible to the crowd, but the quick sympathy of the great heart of the people caught the unheard message.
“A reprieve! a reprieve!” shouted fifty voices.
A woman fainted at the window behind. It was Rotha.
The two men were led off with staring eyes. They walked like men in a dream.
Saved! saved! saved!
Then there went up a mighty shout. It was one vast voice, more loud than the blast on the mountains, more deep than the roar of the sea!
SIX MONTHS AFTER.
It was the height of a Cumbrian summer. Bracken Mere was as smooth as a sheet of glass. The hills were green, gray, and purple to the summits, and their clear outlines stood out against the sky. The sky itself would have been cloudless but for one long scarf of plaited white which wore away across a lake of blue. The ghyll fell like a furled flag. The thin river under the clustering leaves sang beneath its breath. The sun was hot and the air was drowsed by the hum of insects.
And full of happy people was the meadow between the old house on the Moss and the pack-horse road in front of it. It was the day of the Wythburn sports, and this year it was being celebrated at Shoulthwaite. Tents had been pitched here and there in out-of-the-way corners of the field, and Mrs. Branthwaite, with her meek face, was appointed chief mistress and dispenser of the hospitality of the Shoulthwaite household.
“This is not taty-and-point,” said her husband, with a twinkle in his eyes and a sensation of liquidity about the lips as he came up to survey the outspread tables.
Mattha Branthwaite was once more resplendent in those Chapel-Sunday garments with which, in the perversity of the old weaver’s unorthodox heart, that auspicious day was not often honored. Mrs. Ray had been carried out in her chair by her stalwart sons. Her dear old face looked more mellow and peaceful than before. Folks said the paralysis was passing away. Mattha himself, who never at any time took a melancholy view of his old neighbor’s seizure, stands by her chair to-day and fires off his sapient saws at her with the certainty that she appreciates every saw of them.