The drizzling rain still fell and the night had closed in when Ralph set his face afresh towards the mountains.
And now the sickening horrors of sentiment overtook him, for now he had time to reflect upon what had occurred. The figure of the riderless horse flying with its dead burden before the wind had fixed itself on his imagination; and while the darkness was concealing the physical surroundings, it was revealing the phantasm in the glimmering outlines of every rock and tree. Look where he would, peering long and deep into the blackness of a night without moon or stars, without cloud or sky, with only a blank density around and about, Ralph seemed to see in fitful flashes that came and went—now on the right and now on the left of him, now in front and now behind, now on the earth at his feet and now in the dumb vapor floating above him—the spectre of that riderless horse. Sometimes he would stop and listen, thinking he heard a horse canter close past him; but no, it was the noise of a hidden river as its waters leapt over the stones. Sometimes he thought he heard the neigh of a horse in the distance; but no, it was only the whinny of the wind. His dog had followed close behind him when he fled from the pass, and it was still at his heels. Sometimes Laddie would dart away and be lost for a few minutes in the darkness. Then the dog’s muffled bark would be heard, and Ralph’s blood would seem to stand still with a dread apprehension that dared not to take the name of hope. No; it was only a sheep that had strayed from its fold, and had taken shelter from wind and rain beneath a stone in a narrow cleft, and was now sending up into the night the pitiful cry of a lost and desolate creature.
No, no, no; nowhere would the hills give up the object of his search; and Ralph walked on and on with a heart that sank and still sank.
He knew these trackless uplands as few knew them, and not even the abstraction of mind that came with these solitary hours caused him an uncertain step. On and on, through the long dark night, to the Stye Head once more, and again along the range of the rugged pikes, calling the mare by the half-articulate cry she knew so well, and listening for her answering neigh, but hearing only the surging of the wind or the rumble of the falling ghyll; then on and on, and still on.
When the earliest gleams of light flecked the east, Ralph was standing at the head of the Screes. Slowly the gray bars stretched across the sky, wider and more wide, brighter and more bright, now changed to yellow and now to pink, chasing the black walls of darkness that died away on every side. In the basin below, at the foot of the steep Screes, whose sides rumbled with rolling stones, lay the black mere, half veiled by the morning mist. Still veiled, too, were the dales of Ireton, but far away, across the undulating plains through which the river rambled, flowed the wide Western Sea, touched at its utmost bar by the silvery light of the now risen sun.