“I wonder what Robbie Anderson wanted with him? He was here twice, you know, in the morning. And the schoolmaster—what could little Monsey have to say that he looked so eager? It is not his way.”
“Be sure it was nothing out of the common,” said Rotha. “What happened last night makes us all so nervous.”
“True; but there was a strange look about both of them—at least I thought so, though I didn’t heed it then. They say misfortunes never come singly. I wish Ralph were home.”
Mrs. Ray had risen from her seat at the fire, and was placing one of the candles upon a small table that stood before the neuk window.
With her back to the old dame, Rotha put her finger on her lip as a motion to Willy to say no more.
When Ralph retired to his own room on the night of his father’s death there lay a heavier burden at his heart than even that dread occurrence could lodge there. To such a man as he was, death itself was not so terrible but that many passions could conquer the fear of it. As for his father, he had not tasted death; he had not seen it; his death was but a word; and the grave was not deep. No, the grave was not deep. Ah, what sting lay in that thought!—what fresh sting lay there!
Ralph called up again the expression on the face of Simeon Stagg as he asked him in the inn that night (how long ago it seemed!) to give the name of the man who had murdered Wilson. “It’s your duty in the sight of Heaven,” he had said; “would you tarnish the child’s name with the guilt laid on the father’s?” Then there had come into Sim’s eyes something that gave a meaning to his earlier words, “Ralph, you don’t know what you ask.” Ah, did he not know now but too well? Ralph walked across the room with a sense as of a great burden of guilt weighing him down. The grave was not deep—oh, would it were, would it were! Would that the grave were the end of all! But no, it was as the old book said: when one dies, those who survive ask what he has left behind; the angel who bends above him asks what he has sent before. And the father who had borne him in his arms—whom he had borne—what had he sent before?
Ralph tramped heavily to and fro. His dog slept on the mat outside his door, and, unused to such continued sounds within, began to scrape and growl.
After all, there was no certain evidence yet. To-morrow morning he would go up the fell and see Sim alone. He must know the truth. If it concerned him as closely as he divined, the occasion to conceal it was surely gone by with this night’s event. Then Robbie Anderson,—what did he mean? Ralph recalled some dim memory of the young dalesman asking about his father. Robbie was kind to Sim, too, when the others shunned him. What did it all mean?
With a heavy heart Ralph began to undress. He had unbelted himself and thrown off his jerkin, when he thought of the paper that had fallen from his father’s open breast as he lifted him on to the mare. What was it? Yes, there it was in his pocket, and with a feverish anxiety Ralph opened it.