As he spoke, there came down to him, above the tumult, a faint cry of mingled surprise and anger. The cheering ceased abruptly. There was silence; then there burst on the stillness a hurricane of indignation.
The crowd surged forward, then turned. Every eye was directed across the stream. A hundred damning fingers pointed at the solitary figure there. There were hoarse yells of: "There he b& Yon's him! What's he done wi' it? Thief! Throttle him!"
The mob came lumbering down the slope like one man, thundering their imprecations on a thousand throats. They looked dangerous, and their wrath was stimulated by the knot of angry Dalesmen who led the van. There was more than one white face among the women at the top of the slope as they watched the crowd blundering blindly down the hill. There were more men than Parson Leggy, the squire, James Moore, and the local constables in the thick of it all, striving frantically with voice and gesture, ay, and stick too, to stem the advance.
It was useless; on the dark wave rolled, irresistible.
On the far bank stood the little man, motionless, awaiting them with a grin upon his face. And a little farther in front was the Tailless Tyke, his back and neck like a new-shorn wheat-field, as he rumbled a vast challenge.
"Come on, gentlemen!" the little man cried. "Come on! I'll hide for ye, never fear. Ye're a thousand to one and a dog. It's the odds ye like, Englishmen a'."
And the mob, with murder in its throat, accepted the invitation and came on.
At the moment, however, from the slope above, clear above the tramp of the mulitude, a great voice bellowed: "Way! Way! Way for Mr. Trotter!" The advancing host checked and opened out; and the secretary of the meeting bundled through.