Nor could this temporary miracle do more for Oliver Vyell than wake in him a false springtide of the heart and delay by so long the revenge of his past upon his present self.
Midway in the third week the weather broke. He had foreseen this, and early one morning set forth upon Bayard, the mare following obediently as a dog, along the downhill circuit to the village. There he would leave them in stall at the Ferry Inn, to be fetched by his grooms. Ruth walked some way beside him, telling off a list of purchases to be made at the village store to replenish their household stock.
She left him and turned back, under boughs too bare to hide the lowering sky. She had gained the hut and he the village before the storm broke. Indeed it gave him time to make his purchases and reach the Inn, where a heavy mail-bag awaited him. He was served with bread, cheese, and beer in the Inn parlour, and dealt with the letters then and there; answering some, tearing up others, albeit still with a sense of bringing back his habits of business to a world with which he had no concern. While he wrote, always in haste, on the cheap paper the Inn supplied, the storm broke and with such darkness that he pulled out his watch. It was yet early afternoon. He called for candles and wrote on.
The last letter, addressed to Batty Langton, Esquire, he superscribed “Most urgent,” and having sealed it, arose and shouldered his sack for the homeward tramp. By this time the wind howled through the village street, blowing squall upon squall of rain before it. It blew, too, dead in his path; but he faced it cheerfully.
Before he gained what should have been the shelter of the woods, the gale had increased so that they gave less than the road had given. The trees rocked above him; leaves and dead twigs beat on his face, and at length the blast forced him almost to creep on all fours. It was dark, too, beneath the swaying boughs. But uppermost in his mind was fear for his love, lest the hut should have given way before the tempest, and she be lying crushed beneath it.
Still he fought his way. Darkness—the real darkness—was falling, and he was yet a mile from the hut when in his path a figure arose from the undergrowth where it had been crouching.
“Ah, you are safe! . . . I could not rest at home—”
They took hands and forced their way against the wind.
“It stands, please God!”
After much battling they spied the light shining through the louvers of its closed shutter. The gale streamed down the valley as through a funnel, but once past the angle of the cliff they found themselves almost in a calm. He pushed the door open.
On the hearth—the hearth of his building—a pile of logs burned cheerfully. Over these the kettle hissed; and the firelight fell on their bed, with its linen oversheet turned back and neatly folded.