“The debt is paid, I believe,” answered Mrs. Wesley; but she shook as she said it.
“Yet father is riding after him. What is the matter? Let me see your eyes!”
But her mother would not. In the long silence, looking at her, slowly—very slowly—Hetty understood. After understanding there followed another long silence, until Hetty drew herself up against the bole of the tree and shivered.
“Come back to the house, mother. You had best take my arm.”
Mr. Wesley slept that night at Lincoln, and rode back the next afternoon, reaching Wroote a little before nightfall. After stabling the filly he went straight to his study. Thither, a few minutes later, Mrs. Wesley carried his supper on a tray. He kissed her, but she saw at once from his manner that he would not talk, that he wished to be alone.
Hetty and Molly sat upstairs in the dusk of the garret, speaking little. Molly had exhausted her strength for the while and argued no more, but leaned back in her chair with a hand laid on Hetty’s forehead, who—crouching on the floor against her knee—drew down the nerveless fingers, fondled them one by one against her cheek, and kissed them, thinking her own thoughts.
Downstairs a gloom, a breathless terror almost, brooded over the circle by the kitchen hearth. They knew of Hetty’s probable fate— the sentence to be pronounced to-morrow; they had whispered it one to another, and while they condemned her it awed them.
Soon after nine Johnny Whitelamb came in from the fields where for two hours he had been walking fiercely but quite aimlessly. Great drops of sweat stood out on his temples, over which his hair fell lank and clammy. His shoes and stockings were dusted over with fine earth. He did not speak, but lit his candle and went off to his bed-cupboard under the stairs.
Before ten o’clock the rest of the family crept away to bed. Mr. Wesley sat on in his study. This was the night of the week on which he composed his Sunday morning’s sermon. He wrote at it steadily until midnight.
Next morning, about an hour after breakfast, Mrs. Wesley heard the hand-bell rung in the study—the sound for which (it seemed to her) she had been listening in affright for two long days. She went at once. In the passage she met Johnny Whitelamb coming out.
“I am to fetch Miss Hetty,” he whispered with a world of dreadful meaning.
But for once Johnny was not strictly obedient. Instead of seeking Hetty he went first across the farmyard and through a small gate whence a path took him to a duck-pond at an angle of the kitchen garden, and just outside its hedge. A pace or two from the brink stood a grindstone in a wooden frame; and here, on the grindstone handle, sat Molly watching the ducks.
“He has sent for her,” announced Johnny, and glanced towards the kitchen-garden. “Is she there?”