It was a chilly night, and the fire in the widow's parlour had burnt low. Her strange
companion placed her in a chair, and stooping down before the half-extinguished ashes,
raked them together and fanned them with his hat. From time to time he glanced at her
over his shoulder, as though to assure himself of her remaining quiet and making no
effort to depart; and that done, busied himself about the fire again.
It was not without reason that he took these pains, for his dress was dank and drenched
with wet, his jaws rattled with cold, and he shivered from head to foot. It had rained hard
during the previous night and for some hours in the morning, but since noon it had been
fine. Wheresoever he had passed the hours of darkness, his condition sufficiently
betokened that many of them had been spent beneath the open sky. Besmeared with
mire; his saturated clothes clinging with a damp embrace about his limbs; his beard
unshaven, his face unwashed, his meagre cheeks worn into deep hollows,--a more
miserable wretch could hardly be, than this man who now cowered down upon the
widow's hearth, and watched the struggling flame with bloodshot eyes.
She had covered her face with her hands, fearing, as it seemed, to look towards him.
So they remained for some short time in silence. Glancing round again, he asked at
'Is this your house?'
'It is. Why, in the name of Heaven, do you darken it?'
'Give me meat and drink,' he answered sullenly, 'or I dare do more than that. The very
marrow in my bones is cold, with wet and hunger. I must have warmth and food, and I
will have them here.'
'You were the robber on the Chigwell road.'
'And nearly a murderer then.'
'The will was not wanting. There was one came upon me and raised the hue-and-cry',
that it would have gone hard with, but for his nimbleness. I made a thrust at him.'
'You thrust your sword at HIM!' cried the widow, looking upwards. 'You hear this man!
you hear and saw!'