By this time the lock of the postern door had, after some hard wrenching, yielded to the master-key; and the Countess, not without internal shuddering, saw herself beyond the walls which her husband’s strict commands had assigned to her as the boundary of her walks. Waiting with much anxiety for their appearance, Wayland Smith stood at some distance, shrouding himself behind a hedge which bordered the high-road.
“Is all safe?” said Janet to him anxiously, as he approached them with caution.
“All,” he replied; “but I have been unable to procure a horse for the lady. Giles Gosling, the cowardly hilding, refused me one on any terms whatever, lest, forsooth, he should suffer. But no matter; she must ride on my palfrey, and I must walk by her side until I come by another horse. There will be no pursuit, if you, pretty Mistress Janet, forget not thy lesson.”
“No more than the wise widow of Tekoa forgot the words which Joab put into her mouth,” answered Janet. “Tomorrow, I say that my lady is unable to rise.”
“Ay; and that she hath aching and heaviness of the head a throbbing at the heart, and lists not to be disturbed. Fear not; they will take the hint, and trouble thee with few questions—they understand the disease.”
“But,” said the lady, “My absence must be soon discovered, and they will murder her in revenge. I will rather return than expose her to such danger.”
“Be at ease on my account, madam,” said Janet; “I would you were as sure of receiving the favour you desire from those to whom you must make appeal, as I am that my father, however angry, will suffer no harm to befall me.”
The Countess was now placed by Wayland upon his horse, around the saddle of which he had placed his cloak, so folded as to make her a commodious seat.
“Adieu, and may the blessing of God wend with you!” said Janet, again kissing her mistress’s hand, who returned her benediction with a mute caress. They then tore themselves asunder, and Janet, addressing Wayland, exclaimed, “May Heaven deal with you at your need, as you are true or false to this most injured and most helpless lady!”
“Amen! dearest Janet,” replied Wayland; “and believe me, I will so acquit myself of my trust as may tempt even your pretty eyes, saintlike as they are, to look less scornfully on me when we next meet.”
The latter part of this adieu was whispered into Janet’s ear and although she made no reply to it directly, yet her manner, influenced, no doubt, by her desire to leave every motive in force which could operate towards her mistress’s safety, did not discourage the hope which Wayland’s words expressed. She re-entered the postern door, and locked it behind her; while, Wayland taking the horse’s bridle in his hand, and walking close by its head, they began in silence their dubious and moonlight journey.