“What are you gaping at now? Come, go along in front. Is this your Scarf Gap?”
Simeon Stagg had followed the three men closely enough to keep them in view, and yet had kept far enough away to escape identification. Ascending the Bleaberry Fell, he had descended into Watendlath, and crossed under the “Bowder” stone as the men passed the village of Rosthwaite. He had lost sight of them for a while as they went up towards Honister, but when he had gained the breast of Grey Knotts he could clearly descry them two miles away ascending the Scarf Gap. If he could but pass Brandreth before they reached the foot of the Black Sail he would have no fear of being seen, and, what was of more consequence, he would have no doubt of being at Stye Head before them. He could then get in between the Kirk Fell and the Great Gable long before they could round the Wastdale Head and return to the pass.
But how weak he felt! How jaded these few miles had made him! Sim remembered that he had eaten little for three days. Would his strength outlast the task before him? It should; it must do so. Injured by tyranny, the affections of this worn-out outcast among men had, like wind-tossed trees, wound their roots about a rock from which no tempest could tear them.
Sim’s step sometimes quickened to a run and sometimes dropped to a labored slouch. The deep declivities, the precipitous ascents, the broad chasm-like basins, the running streams, the soft turf, had tried sorely the little strength that remained to him. Sometimes he would sit for a minute with his long thin hand pressed hard upon his heart; then he would start away afresh, but rather by the impulse of apprehension than by that of renewed strength.
Yes, he was now at the foot of Brandreth, and the horses and their riders had not emerged above the Scarf. How hot and thirsty he felt!
Here stood a shepherd’s cottage, the first human habitation he had passed since he left Watendlath. Should he ask for some milk? It would refresh and sustain him. As Sim stood near the gate of the cottage, doubtful whether to go in or go on, the shepherd’s wife came out. Would she give him a drink of milk? Yes, and welcome. The woman looked closely at him, and Sim shrank under her steady gaze. He was too far from Wythburn to be dogged by the suspicion of crime, yet his conscience tormented him. Did all the world, then, know that Simeon Stagg would have been a murderer if he could—that in fact he had committed murder in his heart? Could he never escape from the unspoken reproach? No; not even on the heights of these solitary hills!
The woman turned about and went into the house for the milk. While she was gone, Sim stood at the gate. In an instant the thought of his own necessities, his own distresses, gave place to the thought of Ralph Ray’s. At that instant he turned his eyes again to the Scarf Gap. The three men had covered the top, and were on the more level side of the hill, riding hard down towards Ennerdale. They would be upon him in ten minutes more.