The lingering beams of a bright December day still gilded the moss- clad roof of that deserted church, and flamed on its broken panes, when a young man came galloping toward it, from Hillsborough, on one of those powerful horses common in that district.
He came so swiftly and so direct, that, ere the sun had been down twenty minutes, he and his smoking horse had reached a winding gorge about three furlongs from the church. Here, however, the bridle- road, which had hitherto served his turn across the moor, turned off sharply toward the village of Cairnhope, and the horse had to pick his way over heather, and bog, and great loose stones. He lowered his nose, and hesitated more than once. But the rein was loose upon his neck, and he was left to take his time. He had also his own tracks to guide him in places, for this was by no means his first visit; and he managed so well, that at last he got safe to a mountain stream which gurgled past the north side of the churchyard: he went cautiously through the water, and then his rider gathered up the reins, stuck in the spurs, and put him at a part of the wall where the moonlight showed a considerable breach. The good horse rose to it, and cleared it, with a foot to spare; and the invader landed in the sacred precincts unobserved, for the road he had come by was not visible from Raby House, nor indeed was the church itself.
He was of swarthy complexion, dressed in a plain suit of tweed, well made, and neither new nor old. His hat was of the newest fashion, and glossy. He had no gloves on.
He dismounted, and led his horse to the porch. He took from his pocket a large glittering key and unlocked the church-door; then gave his horse a smack on the quarter. That sagacious animal walked into the church directly, and his iron hoofs rang strangely as he paced over the brick floor of the aisle, and made his way under the echoing vault, up to the very altar; for near it was the vestry- chest, and in that chest his corn.
The young man also entered the church; but soon came out again with a leathern bucket in his hand. He then went round the church, and was busily employed for a considerable time.
He returned to the porch, carried his bucket in, and locked the door, leaving the key inside.
That night Abel Eaves, a shepherd, was led by his dog, in search of a strayed sheep, to a place rarely trodden by the foot of man or beast, viz., the west side of Cairnhope Peak. He came home pale and disturbed, and sat by the fireside in dead silence. "What ails thee, my man?" said Janet, his wife; "and there's the very dog keeps a whimpering."
"What ails us, wife? Pincher and me? We have seen summat."