“Come with me to the door, sweet Bet,” said John lingeringly.
“Yes, even farther than that,” she said, and she caught up her fur cloak, threw it round her, and followed him out to the garden gate. The crisp snow crackled pleasantly under foot.
Old Isaac, who held the bay mare, left them when he had given the bridle into her master’s hand.
“They will be wishing to kiss, mayhap,” he muttered to himself, “and I’ll not stand in their way, God bless them!”
John Johnstone mounted. He looked up to the sky and said, “It is later than I thought. I have a long ride before me to-night, sweetheart. I have business near Newbury. I had meant to go home and change the bay mare for my faithful Seagull, but it is too late.”
“When shall you be back?” asked Betty, who was used now to his sudden departures.
“To-morrow—to-morrow at latest, and my first halt shall be here.”
“Are you armed?”
He gave a laugh, and pointed to his saddle, well garnished with pistols.
“They are loaded,” he said. “For it might fall out that I should meet with Wild Jack.”
“Heaven forbid!” said Betty with a shiver.
“You are cold, sweetheart, you must go in. We must part. Oh! it is bitter to say farewell.”
“Only till to-morrow, John! Only till to-morrow!”
“Only till to-morrow!” he echoed.
Then he bent down, put his hand under her chin and raised her sweet face—the moon shone on it, on the large eyes lovingly turned to his, on the wondering tender look, in which joy and pain seemed strangely mingled.
Their lips met, one long wild kiss—for the first time she heard his passionate words, “My own, my beloved!” Then he drew up his reins. John gave one glance at the moon, and noted how she mounted heaven’s arch—then he looked back no more, but set spurs to the bay mare’s flanks, and galloped away.
Betty went home; she lay down to rest with a smile on her beautiful face. The happiest day must end when night falls.
When evening fell the next day, Betty lingered long at the gate.
“He could not get his business done in time,” she said to herself. “He will not come to-day.”
But the next day passed also, and the next, and still John Johnstone had not come home.
On the fourth day Mr. Ives rode into Wancote to hear the news, and promised his daughter that he would go over to Belton, and find out from the servants whether they had had any news of their master, and when they expected him to return.
Mary Jones came over to the parsonage—it was an important day, for Betty was to try on her wedding-gown, finished the night before.
She looked very beautiful in it, the soft colour flushing on her cheek, her sweet eyes shining. When the little ceremony was over, Betty put her arm round the waist of her friend, and led her away out of earshot of busy Dame Martha, and the smart dressmakers.