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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPortent - Chapter 26. Escape
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Portent - Chapter 26. Escape Post by :rag1357 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3323

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Portent - Chapter 26. Escape

CHAPTER XXVI. Escape

It was time, however, to lay some plan, and make some preparations, for our departure. The first thing to be secured was a convenient exit from the house. I searched in all directions, but could discover none better than that by which I had entered. Leaving the house one evening, as soon as Lady Alice had retired, I communicated my situation to Wood, who entered with all his heart into my projects. Most fortunately, through all her so-called madness, Lady Alice had retained and cherished the feeling that there was something sacred about the diamond-ring and the little money which had been intended for our flight before; and she had kept them carefully concealed, where she could find them in a moment. I had sent the ring to a friend in London, to sell it for me; and it produced more than I expected. I had then commissioned Wood to go to the county town and buy a light gig for me; and in this he had been very fortunate. My dear old Constancy had the accomplishment, not at all common to chargers, of going admirably in harness; and I had from the first enjoined upon Wood to get him into as good condition as possible. I now fixed a certain hour at which Wood was to be at a certain spot on one of the roads skirting the park, where I had found a crazy door in the plank-fence--with Constancy in the dogcart, and plenty of wraps for Alice.

"And for Heaven's sake, Wood," I concluded, "look to his shoes."

It may seem strange that I should have been able to go and come thus without detection; but it must be remembered that I had made myself more familiar with the place than any of its inhabitants, and that there were only a very few domestics in the establishment. The gardener and stableman slept in the house, for its protection; but I knew their windows perfectly, and most of their movements. I could watch them all day long, if I liked, from some loophole or other of my quarter; where, indeed, I sometimes found that the only occupation I could think of.

The next evening I said, "Alice, I must leave the house: will you go with me?"

"Of course I will, Duncan. When?"

"The night after to-morrow, as soon as every one is in bed and the house quiet. If you have anything you value very much, take it; but the lighter we go the better."

"I have nothing, Duncan. I will take a little bag--that will do for me."

"But dress as warmly as you can. It will be cold."

"Oh, yes; I won't forget that. Good night."

She took it as quietly as going to church.

I had not seen Mrs. Blakesley since she had told me that the young earl and countess were expected in about a month; else I might have learned one fact which it was very important I should have known, namely, that their arrival had been hastened by eight or ten days. The very morning of our intended departure, I was looking into the court through a little round hole I had cleared for observation in the dust of one of the windows, believing I had observed signs of unusual preparation on the part of the household, when a carriage drove up, followed by two others, and Lord and Lady Hilton descended and entered, with an attendance of some eight or ten.

There was a great bustle in the house all day. Of course I felt uneasy, for if anything should interfere with our flight, the presence of so many would increase whatever difficulty might occur. I was also uneasy about the treatment my Alice might receive from the new-comers. Indeed, it might be put out of her power to meet me at all. It had been arranged between us that she should not come to the haunted chamber at the usual hour, but towards midnight.

I was there waiting for her. The hour arrived; the house seemed quiet; but she did not come. I began to grow very uneasy. I waited half an hour more, and then, unable to endure it longer, crept to her door. I tried to open it, but found it fast. At the same moment I heard a light sob inside. I put my lips to the keyhole, and called "_Alice_." She answered in a moment:--

"They have locked me in."

The key was gone. There was no time to be lost. Who could tell what they might do to-morrow, if already they were taking precautions against her madness? I would try the key of a neighbouring door, and if that would not fit, I would burst the door open, and take the chance. As it was, the key fitted the lock, and the door opened. We locked it again on the outside, restored the key, and in another moment were in the haunted chamber. Alice was dressed, ready for flight. To me, it was very pathetic to see her in the shapes of years gone by. She looked faded and ancient, notwithstanding that this was the dress in which I had seen her so often of old. Her stream had been standing still, while mine had flowed on. She was a portrait of my own young Alice, a picture of her own former self.

One or two lights glancing about below detained us for a little while. We were standing near the window, feeling now very anxious to be clear of the house; Alice was holding me and leaning on me with the essence of trust; when, all at once, she dropped my arm, covered her face with her hands, and called out: "The horse with the clanking shoe!" At the same moment, the heavy door which communicated with this part of the house flew open with a crash, and footsteps came hurrying along the passage. A light gleamed into the room, and by it I saw that Lady Alice, who was standing close to me still, was gazing, with flashing eyes, at the door. She whispered hurriedly:

"I remember it all now, Duncan. My brain is all right. It is come again. But they shall not part us this time. You follow me for once."

As she spoke, I saw something glitter in her hand. She had caught up an old Malay creese that lay in a corner, and was now making for the door, at which half a dozen domestics were by this time gathered. They, too, saw the glitter, and made way. I followed close, ready to fell the first who offered to lay hands on her. But she walked through them unmenaced, and, once clear, sped like a bird into the recesses of the old house. One fellow started to follow. I tripped him up. I was collared by another. The same instant he lay by his companion, and I followed Alice. She knew the route well enough, and I overtook her in the great hall. We heard pursuing feet rattling down the echoing stair. To enter my room and bolt the door behind us was a moment's work; and a few moments more took us into the alley of the kitchen-garden. With speedy, noiseless steps, we made our way to the park, and across it to the door in the fence, where Wood was waiting for us, old Constancy pawing the ground with impatience for a good run.

He had had enough of it before twelve hours were over.

Was I not well recompensed for my long years of despair? The cold stars were sparkling overhead; a wind blew keen against us--the wind of our own flight; Constancy stepped out with a will; and I urged him on, for he bore my beloved and me into the future life. Close beside me she sat, wrapped warm from the cold, rejoicing in her deliverance, and now and then looking up with tear-bright eyes into my face. Once and again I felt her sob, but I knew it was a sob of joy, and not of grief. The spell was broken at last, and she was mine. I felt that not all the spectres of the universe could tear her from me, though now and then a slight shudder would creep through me, when the clank of Constancy's bit would echo sharply back from the trees we swept past.

We rested no more than was absolutely necessary; and in as short a space as ever horse could perform the journey, we reached the Scotch border, and before many more hours had gone over us, Alice was my wife.

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