They moved into a short trot, but pulled up soon, breathless.
The rain ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and now Betty became aware of some tall dark object looming in front of her, only as yet half visible. The wind howled past, and distinctly she heard a sort of clanking noise, as of chains or the rattling of something hard clanking together.
“Let us ride on, let us ride fast.” cried Squire Thornton in his loud hearty voice. As he spoke there was a whirr of loud wings, and a dark cloud of foul birds rose into the air from off that dark thing.
Betty put out her hand and laid it on Sir James Templemore’s arm.
“What is it?” she said in a ghastly whisper.
“Ah, a sad sight indeed,” said he sadly. “There hangs as noble a gentleman as ever drew sword for the king, God bless him.”
“Who is it?” she asked again; the whisper came hissing forth.
“Who? God rest his soul, he had many names. He was Wild Jack Barnstaple, alias John Johnstone of Belton, alias Daredevil Jack of the North.”
“For the sake of all that is sacred, hold your tongue!” shouted the squire, who had caught the last words.
He was too late. With a wild hoarse cry that none who heard it ever forgot, Betty flung wide her arms, and fell back on her saddle. The terrified horse galloped furiously forward, throwing her from side to side, then violently to the ground at the foot of the gallows.
In horror the gentlemen surrounded her, and raised her inanimate form between them.
But it was long and very late before they could get her home.
After long hours her body awoke to life, but her brain was gone. Heartbroken, mind gone, in very sooth mad, what remained for sweet Betty now.
Travellers passing by would point to the parsonage wall, and sorrowfully tell her story. Some more curious than the rest would perhaps stop to look through the gate.
A strange sight met their eyes.
As beautiful as ever, with a strange fearful beauty, stood Betty, her hands hanging clasped before her, and she sang to herself softly, dreamily:
“Call him, call him over the
Aye, well and well-a-day;
Lover will never come back to thee
Who loves and gallops away.”
Then she put her hands to her mouth as men do who wish that their voices should carry far, and called over and over again slowly, “John Johnstone! John Johnstone!”—the last syllable rising loud on a long high note.
Then she would hold up her finger, and bend her head listening, listening, listening, till she heard the sound of the galloping hoofs come nearer and nearer, passing and fading away.
Those who watched with her in the dark evenings in the walled garden swore that they also heard the sound, and their hair bristled with cold fear.