The descent was far from easy, the banks being steep, and treacherous with their covering of newly-fallen snow. Once or twice Amos, in his declaration of the Divine will, nearly lost his footing, and narrowly escaped falling into the defile, the entrance to which they sought to gain. Oliver manifested his anxiety and parental care in sundry oaths, while Moses Fletcher, who had loved the child ever since saving him from the Lodge, said little and retained his wits.
When the search party entered the heart of the Clough, Oliver’s dog began to show signs of excitement, that became more and more noticeable as they drew near to the Gin Spa Well. Here the brute suddenly stopped and whined, and commenced to wildly caper.
‘Th’ dog’s goin’ mad,’ said Amos.
‘It’s noan as mad as thee, owd lad,’ replied Moses. ’I’ll lay ought we’n noan so far fro’ th’ chilt.’
‘It is always wise to stop when a dog stops,’ assented the minister.
‘Yi; yo’ connot stand agen instink,’ said Malachi.
‘Good lad! good lad! find him!’ sobbed Oliver to his dog; and the brute again whined and wagged its tail and ran round and between the legs of the men.
‘There’s naught here,’ impatiently cried Amos.
I’ll tak’ a dog’s word agen thine ony day, owd lad,’ said Moses.
‘Well, thaa’s no need to be so fond o’ th’ dog. It once welly worried thi dog, and thee into th’ bargain.’
‘Yi; it’s bin a bruiser i’ id time, an’ no mistak’; but it’s turned o’er a new leaf naa—and it’s noan so far off th’ child;’ and Malachi, too, commenced to encourage it in its search.
‘It looks to me as th’ child’s getten up theer somehaa;’ and so saying, Moses pointed to the ledge of rock where Jenny Greenteeth was said to slumber through the winter’s cold.
‘What mut th’ child ged up theer for?’ asked Amos. ’Thaa talks like a chap as never hed no childer.’
At this rebuff Moses was silent; for not only was he a childless man, but until the day he saved the very child they were now seeking from the Green Fold Lodge, children had been nothing to him. Now, however, he had learned to love them, and none better than the little lost offspring of Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s.
While the two men were wrangling, Mr. Penrose stepped aside and commenced the climb towards the ledge. The snow lay white and undisturbed on the shelving surface, and there was no sign of recent movements. Looking round, he discovered the mouth of the recess. There it stood, black and forbidding. In another moment the minister stooped down and looked in; but all was dark and silent, nor did he care to go further along what to him was an unknown way.
‘Have any of you a light?’ asked he of the men below; and Malachi handed him his collier’s candle and matches, with which he commenced to penetrate the gloom.
It was a small cavernous opening out of which, in years past, men had quarried stone. Damp dripped from the roof, and ran down its seamed and discoloured sides. Autumn leaves, swept there by the wind, strewed its uneven floor, and lay in heaps against the jutting angles. A thin line of snow had drifted in through the mouth, and ran like a river of light along the gloomy entrance, to lose itself in the recesses beyond.