These two were to part company soon. Not more devoted to its master was the dog that ran about them than was Sim to Ralph. He was now to lose the only friend who had the; will and the strength to shield him against the cruel world that was all the world to him.
They were walking along the pack-horse road on the breast of the fell, and they walked long in silence. Each was busy with his thoughts—the one too weak, the other too strong, to give them utterance.
“There,” said Ralph as they reached the top of the Raise, “we must part now, old friend.” He tried to give a cheery tone to his voice. “You’ll go on to the fell every day and look around—an idle task, I fear, but still you’ll go, as I would have gone if I might have stayed in the old country.”
Sim nodded assent.
“And now you’ll go back to the Mess, as I told you. Rotha will want you there, and Willy too. You’ll fill my place till I return, you know.”
Sim shook his head.
“I’d be nothing but an ache and a stound to the lass, as I’ve olas been—nothing but an ache and a stound to them all.”
“No, not that; a comfort, if only you will try to have it so. Be a man, Sim—look men in the face—things will mend with you now. Go back and live with them at the old home; they’ll want you there.”
“Since you will not let me come with you, Ralph, tell me when will you come back? I’m afeart—I don’t know why—but some’at tells me you’ll not come back—tell me, Ralph, that you will.”
“These troublous times will soon be past,” said Ralph. “There’ll be a great reckoning day soon, I fear. Then we’ll meet again—never doubt it. And now good bye—good bye once more, old friend, and God be with you.”
Ralph turned about and walked a few paces southward. The dog followed him.
“Go back, Laddie,” said Ralph. Laddie stood and looked into his face with something of the supplicatory appeal that was on the countenance of the man he had just left. The faithful creature had followed Ralph throughout life; he had been to his master a companion more constant than his shadow; he had never before been driven away.
“Go back, Laddie,” said Ralph again, and not without a tremor in his deep voice. The dog dropped his head and slunk towards Sim.
Then Ralph walked on.
The sun had risen over Lauvellen, and the white wings of a fair morning lay on the hamlet in the vale below. Sim stood long on the Raise, straining dim eyes into the south, where the diminishing figure of his friend was passing out of his ken.
It was gone at length; the encircling hills had hidden it. Then the unfriended outcast turned slowly away.
THE GARTHS: MOTHER AND SON.
The smoke was rising lazily in blue coils from many a chimney as Sim turned his back on the Raise and retraced his steps to Wythburn.