280 THE GOLD OF FAIRNILEE
soup, and digging for roots that were often little better than poison. They ground the hark of the fir trees, and mixed it with the little flour they could get; and they ate such beasts as never are eaten except in time of famine.
It is said that one very poor woman and her daughter always looked healthy and plump in these dreadful times, till people began to suspect them of being witches. And they were taken, and charged before the Sheriff with living by witchcraft, and very likely they would have been burned. So they confessed that the}1 had fed ever since the famine began—on snails ! But there were not snails enough for all the country-side, even if people had cared to eat them. So many men and women died, and more were very weak and ill.
Lady Ker spent all her money in buying food for her people. Jean and she lived on as little as they could, and were as careful as they could be. They sold all the beautiful silver plate, except the cup that Randal's father used to drink out of long ago. But almost everything else was sold to buy corn.
So the weary year went on, and Midsummer Night came round—the seventh since the night when Randal was lost.
Then Jean did what she had always meant to do. In the afternoon she slipped out of the house of Fairnilee, taking a little bread in a basket, and saying that she would go to see the