The threat was unspeakably frightful. Those were days of capital punishment for half the offences in the calendar, and of what was to her scarcely less dreadful, of promiscuous imprisonment, fetters, and gaol fever. Poor Aurelia’s ignorance could hardly enhance these horrors, and when her perceptions began to clear themselves, her first thought was of flight from a fate equally dreadful to the guilty or not guilty.
Springing from the bed, she tried the other door of her room, which was level with the wainscoting, and not readily observed by a person unfamiliar with the house. It yielded to her hand, and she knew there was a whole suite of empty rooms thus communicating with one another. It was one of those summer nights that are never absolutely dark, and there was a full moon, so that she had light enough to throw off her conspicuous white habit, all scorched and singed as it was, and to put on her dark blue cloth one, with her camlet cloak and hood. She made up a small bundle of clothes, took her purse, which was well filled with guineas and silver, and moved softly to the door. Hide and seek had taught her all the modes of eluding observation, and with her walking shoes in her hand, and her feet slippered, she noiselessly crept through one empty room after another, and descended the stair into her own lobby, where she knew how to open the sash door.
One moment the thought that Mr. Belamour would protect her made her pause, but the white phantom she had seen seemed more unreal than the voice she was accustomed to, and both alike had vanished and abandoned her to her fate. Nay, she had been cheated from the first. Everything had given way with her. My Lady might be coming to send her to prison. Hark, some one was coming! She darted out, down the steps, along the path like a wild bird from a cage.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE WANDERER.
Widowed wife and wedded maid,
Betrothed, betrayer, and betrayed.—SCOTT.
Aurelia’s first halt was in a moss-grown summer-house at the end of the garden, where she ventured to sit down to put on her stout leather shoes. The children’s toys, a ball and a set of ninepins lay on the floor! How many ages ago was it that she had made that sarcastic reply to Letty?—perhaps her last!
A nightingale, close overhead, burst into a peal of song, repeating his one favourite note, which seemed to her to cry out “Although my heart is broke, broke, broke, broke.” The tears rushed into her eyes, but at a noise as of opening doors or windows at the house, terror mastered her again, and she hurried on to hide herself from the dawning light, which was beginning to increase, as she crossed the park, on turf dank with Maydew, and plunged deep into the thick woods beyond, causing many a twittering cry of wondering birds.