Long before the funeral train had reached the top of the altitude. Ralph had walked over the more rugged parts of the pass, and had satisfied himself that there was no danger to be apprehended on this score. The ghyll was swollen by the thaw. The waters fell heavily over the great stones, and sent up clouds of spray, which were quickly dissipated by the wind. Huge hillocks of yellow foam gathered in every sheltered covelet. The roar of the cataract in the ravine silenced the voice of the tempest that raged above it.
From the heights of the Great Gable the wind came in all but overpowering gusts across the top of the pass. Ralph had been thrown off his feet at one moment by the fierceness of a terrific blast. It was the same terrible storm that began on the night of his father’s death. Ralph had at first been anxious for the safety of the procession that was coming, but he had found a more sheltered pathway under a deep line of furze bushes, and through this he meant to pioneer the procession when it arrived. There was one gap in the furze at the mouth of a tributary ghyll. The wind was strong in this gap, which seemed like a natural channel to carry it southward; but the gap was narrow, it would soon be crossed.
From the desultory labor of such investigations Ralph returned again and again to the head of the great cleft and looked out into the distance of hills and dales. The long coat he wore fell below his knees, and was strapped tightly with a girdle. He wore a close-fitting cap, from beneath which his thick hair fell in short wavelets that were tossed by the wind. His dog, Laddie, was with him.
Ralph took up a position within the shelter of a bowlder, and waited long, his eyes fixed on the fell six miles down the dale.
The procession emerged at length. The chill and cheerless morning seemed at once to break into a spring brightness—there at least, if not here. Through the leaden wintry sky the sun broke down the hilltop at that instant in a shaft of bright light. It fell like an oasis over the solemn company walking there. Then the shaft widened and stretched into the dale, and then the mists that rolled midway between him and it passed away, and a blue sky was over all.
“Which way now?”
“Well, I reckon there be two roads; maybe you’d like—”
“Which way now? Quick, and no clatter!”
“Then gang your gate down between Dale Head and Grey Knotts as far as Honister.”
“Let’s hope you’re a better guide than constable, young man, or, as that old fellow said in the road this morning, we’ll fley the bird and not grip him. Your clattering tongue had served us a scurvy trick, my man; let your head serve us in better stead, or mayhap you’ll lose both—who knows?”
The three men rode as fast as the uncertain pathway between the mountains would allow. Mr. Garth mumbled something beneath his breath. He was beginning to wish himself well out of an ungracious business. Not even revenge sweetened by profit could sustain his spirits under the battery of the combined ridicule and contempt of the men he had undertaken to serve.