« ZurückWeiter »
a threat. When he came where the ground fell away less quickly, he saw as it were the nucleus of a denser fog, which approaching him took gradually a less exaggerated size, a more definite form, as the umbra, then the substance and hardly that of a man; a gaunt fleshless stooping figure, clad in leather from brimless hat to much-worn shoes. He carried a basket of mining tools at his back; his hair and beard were long and wild and black, but perhaps the mist gave some of that deathly ghastliness to the leaden hue of his skin. Roland was for passing by, but the newcomer stood in his way. He spoke, and his speech was as strange and uncouth as his appearance.
"Hast seed oat," he said, "o' t' chap as killed hisself deäd a-tumblin' from top to bottom o't' Winnats? hear? Spake or else let a be." Roland stood dumbfoundered. "Aw reet. Let a be then. But mebbe thou'rt him thysel. Thou'rt noan deäd, and yet thou doesna look quite wick.' I reckon thou'st bin so nee death 'at thou'st seed his fow" face and are freetened o't. Well, deäd or wick, lad, dunna goo down into Castleton. Iv thou does wi' that face they'll nab thee, sure as sure, for a deäd mon out a-walkin'."
"Which way must I take?" said Roland at last.
"I've a feelin' for thee, lad. I'm welly nee death mysel, an' I goo about sayin' 'Which way mun I tak?' But I hanna gotten no kindly answer from nayther parson nor clerk nor nubbudy. An' I sit awhoam' an' think it ower wi' mich labber, but my tho'ts gie me no kindly answer. "T'oad trodden way, thou fool,' say they aw. But it looks awful lonely to be sich a common way. Well, well, what mun be mun be. I can show thee a road 'at wunna
* 1 Quick, alive.
? Foul, ugly.
do for me. Look up, mon; foller me. For thee, noan for me."
The miner led him by a foot-path across a level meadow thick with fog, white with frost. After a while the ground began to rise and he saw before him dimly, first a smoking furnace, then heaps of mineral rubbish encumbering the hillside, a rude hovel or two, and appearances of men and women apparently busy thereabouts.
"But I munna let t' folks see thee," his guide muttered. "Mebbe they'd ax more questions nor thou'st answers for i' thy poke."
He led him aside up the hill, which increased rapidly in steepness.
Soon the fog was so thin before them that the dividing line of hill and sky appeared above. It was indeed the same ridge as Roland had seen from Windy Knoll, and that was Mam Tor itself looming large on their left hand. From far away down the valley came the sound of a horn. The guide stopped
"Dost want to get to Hope?" Roland caught at the well-omened
"Ay. to Hope if I may. But where is Hope?"
"We conna see't for t' mist: but hark to me. Thou mun goo up to yonner rigg, and thou mun kape along it while thou cooms to Back Tor. Thou'll meet nubbudy; Jack Shepherd'll be gone after a' hounds."
"How shall I know Back Tor?" asked Roland.
"By t' name. "Twill rare up its back afore thee like a great awful cat; high up afore thee, like things thou sees i' thy sleep. Then if thou'rt boun' for Hope, thou mun lave follerin' t' rigg an' draw a little to t' reet an' pass unner Lose Hill; that'll bring thee straight to Hope. Lose Hill's o' one side Hope an' Win Hill o' tother. Down Lose Hill, that mun be; up Win Hill,
that may be. But atween Hope an' Win Hill there's a river."
"What river?" asked Roland. "Some ud say t' river Jordan; I say t' river Noe."
"Ay, or Noe river; accordin' as thou taks it."
With such enigmatical words he turned his back on Roland's thanks and slunk downhill again into the fog. Roland strode uphill. The rise was abrupt; he was soon out of the fog and out of breath. He rested a little while and then clambered higher. saw gorse in bloom; like a friendly face it put heart into him and before long he gained the ridge. On either side he saw a valley fog-possessed, beyond which hills stood dimly forth like darksome cliffs repelling a white sea. Especially on the left one huge formless thing towered up, a flat-topped lump of a mountain, and occupied all that front, seeming only the more sullenly gray for the sunlight that played upon its frown. To his unaccustomed eyes it looked like a monstrous deformity in stone; he was glad to turn away to the task before him.
He followed the ridge, and after about half a mile came to Back Tor; he did not mistake it, he knew it by its name. For the ridge which had hitherto been fairly even suddenly leapt up before him; and the hillside on his left hand was shorn clean away leaving a sheer precipice. He avoided it on the right, still heading in nearly the same direction. After Back Tor the ridge rose yet higher, then rapidly falling disappeared in the fog. Would that be Lose Hill? Yonder in front of him beyond the waste of fog stood forth a sun-lit eminence crowned by a peak, which sat on it like a dwarf's cap on a gigantic head. Was that Win Hill? And was Hope anywhere between the two? Anyhow he declined the rise offered him close at hand, and
The fog was somewhat less dense than before, but soon he lost sight of both hills and everything but the ground he trod on, no wide circle. reached the level ground at the bottom, and almost walked into a little knot of men a-foot armed with bill-hooks, sickles and stakes. One of them saw him and raised a shout; but before they had made their dash for him he had run by. Before he had run many yards he found the ground before him traversed by a swift stream, jumped in up to his middle and waded across. Was that the river Noe? It certainly was not no river. His pursuers shouting to one another contradictory recommendations ran some up and some down in search of a better crossing-place, lost sight of him and did not trouble him again. Still he ran on across a narrow meadow, until the upward tilt and the roughness of the ground brought him to a more moderate pace. Presently the ascent was so steep that he was constrained to bear a little to the right in order to ease it. Where was Hope? Had he gone by and lost it, or was it still attainably before him?
He heard the thud of horses' hoofs on the hillside, stopped and crouched among the heather. Two horsemen appeared out of the fog about a furlong off; so much clearer was the air. He lay still while they rode by into the fog again; then he rose and pushed on more hurriedly, always lessening the gradient by taking it aslant. He reached a height at which there was a strong breeze, icy-cold to his sweaty brow, and the air was clear; which was not at first apparent to him, so dim were his eyes in that turmoil of his blood. He stood panting, doubled up, only long enough to half-regain his breath and eyesight, then mechanically resumed his course, but without aim,
his strength almost spent, his spirits lapsed. Weary of climbing he turned and moved on almost at a level, having the rising steep on his left hand and the descending on his right. He felt that he had somehow missed Hope, felt beset on every side by armed horsemen and footmen. The ground became yet rougher, often boggy or crossed by watercourses, and the steeps upon his left and right were yet steeper. After a while the sun, which had been troubling his eyes, shone upon his back, a sensible relief. Still he stumbled on, not looking so far forward as to his next step, ever thinking that his then step would be his last. Unawares he must have begun to descend, for he was again involved in mist, unless that dimness was caused by a clouding of his vision. But he also heard, which must have been outward; heard the faint clatter from below of horses' hoofs as on a hard road.
Suddenly his going tended abruptly downwards; some dozen short staggering steps. Then as it seemed by the greater effort asked of him the succeeding step, the thirteenth or so, was planted on ground as abruptly mounting. His hinder foot refused the effort; he stood panting with a hand on each knee. Without any sound of approach a man stood before him. His heart gave a leap, his feet were fastened to the ground; he thought he was taken. Next moment he perceived the Highland dress; he was a second or two longer in seeing that the outstretched hand held not a weapon but a flask glittering with silver. One hand released a knee, accepted the flask and put it to his mouth. He drank of the brandy in it and straightened his back. His clearer sight recognized the Highlanders' forespeaker. He had descended into a tiny clough, a mere furrow, running straight down the hillside. It had a dribble of water at the bottom and a
scattering all along of young oak and beech.
The Highlander turned away downhill beckoning him to follow; which he did limping. Soon they came where the fog was somewhat denser and a thicker growth of beech saplings, which still kept much of their foliage, afforded considerable cover. There more Highlanders were gathered, the bulk of them it seemed, seated against trees or lying along the bank. These hardly lifted an eye on the new-comer, but the orator gave him a hunch of bread from his pouch. It would seem that even during the hazards of flight they had ventured on a little thievery.
A breeze was springing up and the fog was fast disappearing. On the other side of the valley, about a mile away, a jagged cliff dimly appeared. Sunshine crowned the beech under which Roland sat and ate, and it turned the dull russet leaves to the color of flame. From the topmost bough a robin began to sing. When it had sung it fluttered down to the branch just over Roland's head, twittered there a little, alighted on the ground at his feet, looked him boldly in the face, came within arm's length and pecked up the crumbs he dropped. Then again it flew to its singing place and renewed its song.
The Highlanders, who had seemed so sullenly indifferent to Roland's presence, had every man turned and looked and listened with an absorbed interest while the little bird piped and hopped. As soon as it flew away, as though that had been the sig nal, the whole party rose and stole in silence down the clough, which deepened somewhat as it descended. It descended so quickly that in a few minutes they had overtaken the receding mist. Then they came upon one of their fellows. He put up his hand; they stopped at once and crouched where they stood, so as to make the most of the shelter afforded by the trees and
the ground. Roland did as they did. Not only could he hear from below the rush of a turbulent river but also men's voices.
Now only in the trough of the valley had the fog any body. The outlaws looking to their every step went down a little further, almost to the mouth of the clough. The river into which it drained itself was so near that they could see its furtive gleam. Standing and listening they could hear the voices of Englishmen stationed close at hand, the stamping of their horses, the jingling of their accoutrements. Apparently these were keeping careless watch, for loud speech and laughter passed from one to another.
there was a double thump upon the ground above, such as a jack-hare would make with his strong hind-legs. Immediately each Highlander adjusted his booty, then with his right hand quietly unsheathed sword, with his left clutched dirk and assumed shield or made ready his claymore with both. The orator put a naked dagger into Roland's hand.
Again they stood and waited, silent, motionless; until there was again that double thump. Then they all together sprang out of hiding and with a loud barbaric shout, the very scream of war, dashed down to the river; also to a bridge, and a party of horsemen on and by it, a dozen or more, of whom some were mounted, some dismounted, all unprepared. Their horses took fright at the outcry and the clash of
just let blood in a cateran's arm and was felled by the stock of the cateran's pistol. The bridge was carried at one rush. Roland was the last to clear
it. A farmer whose horse had been disabled hooked him round the throat with his whip, and said:
"Who's to pee for poor oad Ball?" Roland threatened him with the dirk. "A carving-knife? Thankee kindly; 'tisna our dinner-time yit."
With that he let Roland pass. teeth knocked out, three horses disabled was the sum of the bloodshed. It was evidently no desire of the crafty freebooters to rouse the country against them by unnecessary violence. By then the gentleman who had been thrown at the first end of the bridge had risen to his feet, confounded as much by the present quiet as by that furious onset and his fall.
"Where's Barker? Where's Wright?" he said to a comrade who had kept his seat, and scarcely that..
"Oh, they have matehed their horses one against tother and are now engaged equis virisque in settling the wager."
"And what have you been doing?" "Practising the noble art of equita
"Then I may say that I have been practising the noble art of disequitation?"
"The noblest art of all, witness the performances of the noble Carteret, the noble Pulteney, the noble Walpole and the equally noble etceteras."
The unhorsed gentleman was now horsed again, and the two rode off apace with such few others as had kept their ground and saved their horses, leaving the gentleman who had been stunned to condole with the gentleman who was spitting out his teeth. In a quarter of a mile the road divided right and left, up and down the valley. The stampede of the horses had been stayed and they were returning to the pursuit.
Moreover the alarm had spread as if on wings and other horsemen were riding up post-haste on either hand. But the Highlandmen, taking the shortest road to safety, had turned neither to right nor left but had run straight up what fronted them. Neither its steepness nor roughness affected their speed one whit, but to Roland, out of condition and mauled as he was, it seemed to frown down like a very hill of difficulty. He fell behind, and would soon have been overtaken had not the orator stepped back to him and taken him under his arm. At a word from him another stalwart mountaineer did the like on the other side. Thus the two upheld his failing strength as with mainstays and hurried, almost dragged him along at a pace that was marvellous under the circumstances. As for Roland he worked his legs without volition, being subjected to the will of the men who ran on either side of him.
The ground before them became yet steeper, more thickly beset with boulders and other impediments; they were approaching the cliff that capped its brow.
of a gun.
Then there was the report
The cateran with the fowling-piece had shot down the horse of the foremost rider. Next moment Roland's supporters dropped him behind a great lump of rock and sped on without apparent break; but instead of attempting immediately to scale the cliff they wheeled to the right and ran under it for some distance, with the effect, perhaps the intention of bending the line of pursuit from pointing towards Roland. Their comrades had all taken or now took the same direction. Those of the hunters who put a restraining value on their horses or their necks turned back, others whose horses were not too blown still pursued eagerly, the rest straggled after as they might. But these were under the disadvantage that whereas the caterans could choose a place and scramble over the edge, the
best of light horses used to that country would have to go round.
Roland was left alone. He could see nothing but the cloudless sky and the crinkled stems, dark foliage and withered bloom of the heather in which he lay; heard nothing but the continual rustle of the breeze there through and the occasional cry of a grouse, that barking laugh ending in a grunting chuckle. Lassitude had seized him. He lay with no thought of rising, and let the action of his arrest pass and repass through his brain with such variations as his errant imagination invented, a moving picture in which his part was wholly passive.
He lay thus for quite an hour; then he heard footsteps. He believed that the time was come for the realization of his visionary dread. He waited, lying, with little more emotion than he had lain and imagined. It seemed long, yet was but a few seconds before the footsteps ceased, a man stood over him. He had to open his eyes and take him in; until then he did not know that his eyes were shut. It was the red-haired orator. The difference between that and his expectation was so great that he had to shut his eyes again to stay the whirling of his brain. When again he opened them the orator beckoned to him to rise. Still he lay until the orator took him by the hand and helped him up, then with repeated gestures invited him to follow, admonished him to hasten. Follow he did, but at first slowly, stiffly. He was led straight to the cliff, up whose face he had a zigzag ascent pointed out to him, quite practicable with a little rough clambering and here and there the help of the Highlander's strong right hand. He had never flushed with an angrier shame than when he conceded that such help was necessary to him. Being fairly over the top he stopped to recover breath.
He thought he had never beheld so