Having gone so far, however, Mr. Garth evidently concluded that the best course was to make a clean breast of it—an expedient which he conceived to be insusceptible of danger, for he could see that the funeral party were already on the brow of the hill. So, with one foot stretched forward as if in the preliminary stage of a hurried leave-taking, the blacksmith told Liza that he had met the schoolmaster that morning, and had gathered enough from a word the little man had dropped without thought to put him upon the trace of the old garrulous body with whom the schoolmaster lodged; that his mother, Mistress Garth, had undertaken the office of sounding this person, and had learned that Ralph had hinted that he would relieve Robbie Anderson of his duty at the top of the Stye Head Pass.
Having heard this, Liza had heard enough, and she was not unwilling that the blacksmith should make what speed he could out of her sight, so that she in turn might make what speed she could out of his sight, and, returning to the Moss without delay, communicate her fearful burden of intelligence to Rotha.
THE FLIGHT ON THE FELLS.
After going a few paces in order to sustain the appearance of continuing the journey on which she had set out, Liza waited until the blacksmith was far enough away to admit of retracing her steps to the bridge. There she climbed the wooden fence, and ran with all speed across the fields to Shoulthwaite. She entered the house in a fever of excitement, but was drawn back to the porch by Rotha, who experienced serious difficulty in restraining her from a more public exposition of the facts with which she was full to the throat than seemed well for the tranquillity of the household. With quick-coming breath she blurted out the main part of her revelations, and then paused, as much from physical exhaustion as from an overwhelming sense of the threatened calamity.
Rotha was quick to catch the significance of the message communicated in Liza’s disjointed words. Her pale face became paler, the sidelong look that haunted her eyes came back to them at this moment, her tremulous lips trembled visibly, and for a few minutes she stood apparently powerless and irresolute.
Then the light of determination returned to the young girl’s face. Leaving Liza in the porch, she went into the house for her cloak and hood. When she rejoined her companion her mind was made up to a daring enterprise.
“The men of Wythburn, such of them as we can trust,” she said, “are in the funeral train. We must go ourselves; at least I must go.”
“Do let me go, too,” said Liza; “but where are you going?”
“To cross the fell to Stye Head.”
“We can’t go there, Rotha—two girls.”
“What of that? But you need not go. It’s eight miles across, and I may run most of the way. They’ve been gone nearly an hour; they are out of sight. I must make the short cut through the heather.”