A terrible sense of powerlessness came upon Rotha as she stood beside her prostrate companion within sight of the goal she had labored to gain, and the strong-hearted girl burst into a flood of tears.
Yes, from the head of the pass Ralph Ray saw the scarf that was waved by Rotha, but he was too far away to recognize the girls.
“Two women, and one of them lying,” he thought; “there has been an accident.”
Where he stood the leaden sky had broken into a drizzling rain, which was being driven before the wind in clouds like mist. It was soaking the soft turf, and lying heavy on the thick moss that coated every sheltered stone.
“Slipt a foot, no doubt,” thought Ralph. “I must ride over to them when the horses come up and have crossed the pass; I cannot go before.”
The funeral train was now in sight. In a few minutes more it would be at his side. Yes, there was Robbie Anderson leading the mare. He had not chained the young horse, but that could be done at this point. It should have been done at the bottom, however. How had Robbie forgotten it?
Ralph’s grave face became yet more grave as he looked down at the solemn company approaching him. Willy had recognized him. See, his head drooped as he sat in the saddle. At this instant Ralph thought no longer of the terrible incidents and the more terrible revelations of the past few days. He thought not at all of the untoward fortune that had placed him where he stood. He saw only the white burden that was strapped to the mare, and thought only of him with whom his earliest memories were entwined.
Raising his head, and dashing the gathering tears from his eyes, he saw one of the women on the hill opposite running towards him and crying loudly, as if in fear; but the wind carried away her voice, and he could not catch her words.
From her gestures, however, he gathered that something had occurred behind him. No harm to the funeral train could come of their following on a few paces, and Ralph turned about and walked rapidly upwards. Then the woman’s voice seemed louder and shriller than ever, and appeared to cry in an agony of distress.
Ralph turned again and stood. Had he mistaken the gesture? Had something happened to the mourners? No, the mare walked calmly up the pass. What could it mean? Still the shrill cry came to him, and still the words of it were borne away by the wind. Something was wrong—something serious. He must go farther and see.
Then in an instant he became conscious that Simeon Stagg was running towards him with a look of terror. Close behind him were two men, mounted, and a third man rode behind them. Sim was being pursued. His frantic manner denoted it. Ralph did not ask himself why. He ran towards Sim. Quicker than speech, and before Sim had recovered breath, Ralph had swung himself about, caught the bridles of both horses, and by the violent lurch had thrown both riders from their seats. But neither seemed hurt. Leaping to their feet together, they bounded down upon Ralph, and laying firm hold upon him tried to manacle him.