When I crossed the hall again, no one was there; and the singing of the birds in the library had ceased. I could not stop to make any fresh investigations. I could only assure myself that the way was clear, and then leave the house, with the two letters safe in my pocket.
On my way to the village, I prepared myself for the possibility of meeting Sir Percival. As long as I had him to deal with alone, I felt certain of not losing my presence of mind. Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper. I had no such fear of Sir Percival as I had of the Count. Instead of fluttering, it had composed me, to hear of the errand on which he had gone out. While the tracing of Anne Catherick was the great anxiety that occupied him, Laura and I might hope for some cessation of any active persecution at his hands. For our sakes now, as well as for Anne's, I hoped and prayed fervently that she might still escape him.
I walked on as briskly as the heat would let me, till I reached the cross-road which led to the village; looking back from time to time, to make sure that I was not followed by any one.
Nothing was behind me, all the way, but an empty country waggon. The noise made by the lumbering wheels annoyed me; and when I found that the waggon took the road to the village, as well as myself, I stopped to let it go by, and pass out of hearing. As I looked toward it, more attentively than before, I thought I detected, at intervals, the feet of a man walking close behind it; the carter being in front by the side of his horses. The part of the cross-road which I had just passed over was so narrow, that the waggon coming after me brushed the trees and thickets on either side; and I had to wait until it went by, before I could test the correctness of my impression. Apparently, that impression was wrong, for when the waggon had passed me, the road behind it was quite clear.
I reached the inn without meeting Sir Percival, and without noticing anything more; and was glad to find that the landlady had received Fanny with all possible kindness. The girl had a little parlour to sit in, away from the noise of the tap-room, and a clean bed-chamber at the top of the house. She began crying again, at the sight of me; and said, poor soul, truly enough, that it was dreadful to feel herself turned out into the world, as if she had committed some unpardonable fault, when no blame could be laid at her door by anybody—not even by her master, who had sent her away.