The gentleman addressed had turned alternately white and red at the woman’s description. There had flashed upon his brain the idea that little Lizzie Branthwaite had betrayed him.
“I reckon it must have been that hang-gallows of a tailor—that Sim,” he said, perspiring from head to foot.
“And he’s here to carry tidings of our coming. Push on—follow the man—heed this blockhead no longer.”
The procession of mourners, with Robbie Anderson and the mare at its head, had walked slowly down Borrowdale after the men on foot had turned back towards Withburn. Following the course of the winding Derwent, they had passed the villages of Stonethwaite and Seathwaite, and in two hours from the time they set out from Shoulthwaite they had reached the foot of Stye Head Pass. The brightness of noon had now given place to the chill leaden atmosphere of a Cumbrian December.
In the bed of the dale they were sheltered from the wind, but they saw the mists torn into long streaks overhead, and knew that the storm had not abated. When they came within easy range of the top of the great gap between the mountains over which they were to pass, they saw for a moment a man’s figure clearly outlined against the sky.
“He’s yonder,” thought Robbie, and urged on the mare with her burden. He remembered that Ralph had said, “Chain the young horse to the mare at the bottom of the pass,” and he did so. Before going far, however, he found this new arrangement impeded rather than accelerated their progress.
“The pass has too many ins and outs for this,” he thought, and he unchained the horses. Then they went up the ravine with the loud ghyll boiling into foam at one side of them.
“I cannot go farther, Rotha. I must sit down. My foot is swelling. The bandage is bursting it.”
“Try, my girl; only try a little longer: only hold out five minutes more; only five short minutes, and we may be there.”
“It’s of no use trying,” said Liza with a whimper; “I’ve tried and tried; I must sit down or I shall faint.” The girl dropped down on to the grass and began to untie a linen bandage that was about her ankle.
“O dear! O dear! There they are, more than half-way up the pass. They’ll be at the top in ten minutes! And there’s Ralph; yes, I can see him and the dog. What shall we do? What can we do?”
“Go and leave me and come back—no, no, not that either; don’t leave me in this place,” said Liza, crying piteously and moaning with the pain of a sprained foot.
“Impossible,” said Rotha. “I might never find you again on this pathless fell.”
“Oh, that unlucky stone!” whimpered Liza, “I’m bewitched, surely. It’s that Mother Garth—”
“Ah, he sees us,” said Rotha. She was standing on a piece of rock and waving a scarf in the wind. “Yes, he sees us and answers. But what will he understand by that? O dear! O dear! Would that I could make Willy see, or Robbie—perhaps they would know. Where can father be? O where?”