The summer evening was closed, and Janet, just when her longer stay might have occasioned suspicion and inquiry in that zealous household, returned to Cumnor Place, and hastened to the apartment in which she had left her lady. She found her with her head resting on her arms, and these crossed upon a table which stood before her. As Janet came in, she neither looked up nor stirred.
Her faithful attendant ran to her mistress with the speed of lightning, and rousing her at the same time with her hand, conjured the Countess, in the most earnest manner, to look up and say what thus affected her. The unhappy lady raised her head accordingly, and looking on her attendant with a ghastly eye, and cheek as pale as clay—“Janet,” she said, “I have drunk it.”
“God be praised!” said Janet hastily—“I mean, God be praised that it is no worse; the potion will not harm you. Rise, shake this lethargy from your limbs, and this despair from your mind.”
“Janet,” repeated the Countess again, “disturb me not—leave me at peace—let life pass quietly. I am poisoned.”
“You are not, my dearest lady,” answered the maiden eagerly. “What you have swallowed cannot injure you, for the antidote has been taken before it, and I hastened hither to tell you that the means of escape are open to you.”
“Escape!” exclaimed the lady, as she raised herself hastily in her chair, while light returned to her eye and life to her cheek; “but ah! Janet, it comes too late.”
“Not so, dearest lady. Rise, take mine arm, walk through the apartment; let not fancy do the work of poison! So; feel you not now that you are possessed of the full use of your limbs?”
“The torpor seems to diminish,” said the Countess, as, supported by Janet, she walked to and fro in the apartment; “but is it then so, and have I not swallowed a deadly draught? Varney was here since thou wert gone, and commanded me, with eyes in which I read my fate, to swallow yon horrible drug. O Janet! it must be fatal; never was harmless draught served by such a cup-bearer!”
“He did not deem it harmless, I fear,” replied the maiden; “but God confounds the devices of the wicked. Believe me, as I swear by the dear Gospel in which we trust, your life is safe from his practice. Did you not debate with him?”
“The house was silent,” answered the lady—“thou gone—no other but he in the chamber—and he capable of every crime. I did but stipulate he would remove his hateful presence, and I drank whatever he offered.—But you spoke of escape, Janet; can I be so happy?”
“Are you strong enough to bear the tidings, and make the effort?” said the maiden.
“Strong!” answered the Countess. “Ask the hind, when the fangs of the deerhound are stretched to gripe her, if she is strong enough to spring over a chasm. I am equal to every effort that may relieve me from this place.”