“Vex! no indeed! ’Tis something to be wept for. But cheer up, Anne mine. I have often been in far worse plights than this, when I have ridden up in the face of eight big Turkish guns. The balls went over my head then, by God’s good mercy. Why not the same now? Ay! and I was ready to give all I had to any one who would have put a pistol to my head and got me out of my misery, jolting along on the way to the Iron Gates. Yet here I am! Maybe the Almighty brought me back to save poor Sedley, and clear my own conscience, knowing well that though it does not look so, it is better for me to die thus than the other way. No, no; ’tis ten to one that you and the rest of you will get me off. I only meant to show you that supposing it fails, I shall only feel it my due, and much better for me than if I had died out there with it unconfessed. I shall try to get them all to feel it so, and, after all, now the whole is out, my heart feels lighter than it has done these seven years. And if I could only believe that poor fellow alive, I could almost die content, though that sounds strange. It will quiet his poor restless spirit any way.”
“You are too brave. Oh! I hoped to come here to comfort you, and I have only made you comfort me.”
“The best way, sweetest. Now, I will seal and address this letter, and you shall take it to Mr. Fellowes to carry to the ambassador.”
This gave Anne a little time to compose herself, and when he had finished, he took the candle, and saying, “Look here,” he held it to the wall, and they read, scratched on the rough bricks, “Alice Lisle, 1685. This is thankworthy.”
“Lady Lisle’s cell! Oh, this is no good omen!”
“I call it a goodly legacy even to one who cannot claim to suffer wrongfully,” said Charles. “There, they knock—one kiss more—we shall meet again soon. Don’t linger in town, but give me all the days you can. Yes, take her back, Sir Edmund, for she must rest before her journey. Cheer up, love, and do not lie weeping all night, but believe that your prayers to God and man must prevail one way or another.”
CHAPTER XXXI: ELF-LAND
“Three ruffians seized me yestermorn,
Alas! a maiden most forlorn;
They choked my cries with wicked might,
And bound me on a palfrey white.”
S. T. COLERIDGE.
Yet after the night it was with more hope than despondency, Anne, in the February morning, mounted en croupe behind Mr. Fellowes’s servant, that being decided on as the quickest mode of travelling. She saw the sunrise behind St. Catherine’s Hill, and the gray mists filling the valley of the Itchen, and the towers of the Cathedral and College barely peeping beyond them. Would her life rise out of the mist?
Through hoar-frosted hedges, deeply crested with white, they rode, emerging by and by on downs, becoming dully green above, as the sun touched them, but white below. Suddenly, in passing a hollow, overhung by two or three yew-trees, they found themselves surrounded by masked horsemen. The servant on her horse was felled, she herself snatched off and a kerchief covered her face, while she was crying, “Oh sir, let me go! I am on business of life and death.”