The gate had been left unlocked—he swung it open, and remounted the box. And we were now beyond the spell of Bartram-Haugh, thundering—Heaven be praised!—along the Queen’s highway, right in the route to Elverston. It was literally a gallop. Through the chariot windows I saw Tom stand as he drove, and every now and then throw an awful glance over his shoulder. Were we pursued? Never was agony of prayer like mine, as with clasped hands and wild stare I gazed through the windows on the road, whose trees and hedges and gabled cottages were chasing one another backward at so giddy a speed.
We were now ascending that identical steep, with the giant ash-trees at the right and the stile between, which my vision of Meg Hawkes had presented all that night, when my excited eye detected a running figure within the hedge. I saw the head of some one crossing the stile in pursuit, and I heard Brice’s name shrieked.
‘Drive on—on—on!’ I screamed.
But Brice pulled up. I was on my knees on the floor of the carriage, with clasped hands, expecting capture, when the door opened, and Meg Hawkes, pale as death, her cloak drawn over her black tresses, looked in.
‘Oh!—ho!—ho!—thank God!’ she screamed. ’Shake hands, lass. Tom, yer a good un! He’s a good lad, Tom.’
‘Come in, Meg—you must sit by me,’ I said, recovering all at once.
Meg made no demur. ‘Take my hand,’ I said offering mine to her disengaged one.
‘I can’t, Miss—my arm’s broke.’
And so it was, poor thing! She had been espied and overtaken in her errand of mercy for me, and her ruffian father had felled her with his cudgel, and then locked her into the cottage, whence, however, she had contrived to escape, and was now flying to Elverston, having tried in vain to get a hearing in Feltram, whose people had been for hours in bed.
The door being shut upon Meg, the steaming horses were instantly at a gallop again.
Tom was still watching as before, with many an anxious glance to rearward, for pursuit. Again he pulled up, and came to the window.
‘Oh, what is it?’ cried I.
’’Bout that letter, Miss; I couldn’t help. ’Twas Dickon, he found it in my pocket. That’s a’.’
‘Oh yes!—no matter—thank you—thank Heaven! Are we near Elverston?’
‘’Twill be a mile, Miss: and please’m to mind I had no finger in’t.’
’Thanks—thank you—you’re very good—I shall always thank you, Tom, as long as I live!’
At length we entered Elverston. I think I was half wild. I don’t know how I got into the hall. I was in the oak-parlour, I believe, when I saw cousin Monica. I was standing, my arms extended. I could not speak; but I ran with a loud long scream into her arms. I forget a great deal after that.
Oh, my beloved cousin Monica! Thank Heaven, you are living still, and younger, I think, than I in all things but in years.