Loyal Pistachio was still trotting after her, and she nearly wept again as he caught up with her and bestowed on her a sympathetic nuzzle. Gratefully she accepted him, and girl and horse walked on.
She was no longer crying. No. She was perfectly calm. She knew exactly what she was doing; she knew exactly where she was going. She was conscious of the mother back in the cottage who as yet did not know what had chanced. But she had a granite will, and a plan she knew would work for her. She remembered how many times her mother had given her the comfort and love she needed. But in this case, she knew that her mother would be a broken reed, unable to comfort others. Safe in the supposition that Miggi and Mary would care for her mother, she did not feel guilt in abandoning her. Perhaps she would return one day. At that moment, she did not know, and neither did she care.
She swung on, picking up in the fresher air. The wind stung pink into her pallid cheeks, and the tears had brought the sparkle back into her eyes, also with something else, a mature, aged expression. She was no longer a child. She could not be a child, not after watching the greatest tragedy in her life.
She walked for an hour down the hill. The storm began to die down, but she didn’t care any more. It didn’t matter what happened to her. She was on her way to discover a new life in a new scene, though that was as yet a closed book to her. If the storm was too bad, and she too perished, no soul could care, including herself. Maybe it would be a relief just to die too.
The misery returned as she entered the village. Many people called out to her, for she had been well-loved, helping and caring for the people, the sick and the sad and the sorry. But many of the villagers sheered off, warned by her preoccupied expression, mourning eyes and dishevelled appearance, so unlike the girl they knew so well.
One young man, cobbler of the town, came up to her and asked her what was wrong, but with a look that quelled his words and cast them into nothingness, she continued on, almost startled into regret by the gentle, forgiving expression in his soft cocoa eyes. Everyone knew he had always adored her. Everyone knew she had returned his affection with a friendship warmer than cordial. Never had she treated him that rude way, even after her popular betrothal to a young doctor.
Then a small child, Faithie McQuillan by name, ran up to her and threw her arms around her muddy knees. The girl brushed on without taking the least notice, accidently knocking the small girl to the cobbles. Glancing back, tears sprung to her eyes as she saw the injured expression in the eager blue eyes of the poor unwanted orphan-girl of the village. The wounded but ever-trusting eyes of an unwanted puppy followed the girl all the way along the street to the docks, where she choked back the emotion and demanded a ticket to Gillingsbury as soon as possible in a hard, impassive voice.