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had never come this way; we should have been home by this time, and even before this, if we had gone straight back by the usual road. I wonder what time it is? I'm sure it must be very late, for it is getting pitch-dark.”
It was very true; the shades of evening and the dense fog combined had left them by this time only the feeblest glimmer of light. They did indeed, seem to be benighted.
To add to their dilemma, at this moment it began to rain-a steady, drenching, downpour; whilst the wind rose and whistled around them as if to bring matters to a climax. Percy put his arm protectingly round his sister, and they both drew still closer to one another.
"We shall get wet through in a few minutes if we can't find any place of shelter," said Mabel. "If we could even get under any trees it would be better."
"What is this?" suddenly exclaimed Percy, as they groped about in the dark. “It's a wall, I declare. Perhaps we can get some shelter under it. If we could get round the other side of it, it would screen us from the wind, at any rate."
But to their joy, on further investigation, they found it to be more than a mere wall. It appeared to be a sort of barn or outhouse, the door of which was open, whilst there was just enough light left to enable them to perceive that it was empty, and would form a safe and dry place of shelter for them from the storm.
"How fortunate!" exclaimed Percy, in tones of relief. "This is famous. We need not get wet through now."
"And it will screen us from the wind too," rejoined Mabel, with another shiver. "Let us shut the door and keep out as much cold as we can."
Acting at once upon her suggestion, she hastily pushed to the door. But no sooner had she done so than they found themselves in total darkness, as there was no vestige of a window, or any loophole for admitting light save the door.
"Well, this isn't very cheerful, I must say," remarked Percy. "Let us have the door a little way open, so as to let in a glimmer of light. It is so dismal to be boxed up here quite in the dark." "It would certainly be more pleasant to have a little light," assented Mabel.
But to their consternation they found that the door refused to open. It was a rough affair, with clumsy locks and hinges, which no doubt had become rusty. At any rate, certain it was that all their struggles and efforts to pull it open were ineffectual. It remained obstinately closed.
"Let us have another try. Perhaps there is
some knack about it, and we may succeed this time."
But no every effort was utterly fruitless, until at last they gave up in despair, and feeling there was no course open to them but to resign them. selves to their fate, they sank down on the ground upon some straw which was lying there, huddled up close to one another in a corner.
"When morning comes I dare say they will send somebody to look for us," said Percy, trying to be cheerful," and then we shall be released from our prison-house."
"But they would never think of looking for us up here. They wouldn't know we had taken the road up through the woods. Oh, Percy, just think! suppose nobody should find us!" cried the little girl in awe-struck tones.
"Well, we needn't begin to anticipate such things just yet."
"And if not we shall be starved! I'm getting dreadfully hungry already."
"So am I," rejoined Percy. "It seems a long while since tea-time. How I wish we had brought some food with us."
"I have some chocolate you gave me," said Mabel, searching in her pocket for it. "Let us eat that it will be better than nothing."
"Quite true, if only there were more of it. Now wasn't it a pity you didn't spend that shilling of yours upon more chocolate, or something of that sort, instead of on a book; for then we should have been able to have quite a feast, instead of a few crumbs which won't do much towards appeasing our hunger."
Poor Mabel! She certainly did for the moment wish that the little parcel, which she had been carrying all this time so carefully in her hand, contained something of an eatable nature, instead of only food for Janet's mind, now that she had come to contemplate the possibility of having to go with out any further sustenance for an indefinite period.
When the chocolate was all gone, Percy produced the remnants of his stock of bull's-eyes, almond toffy, and similar delicacies, which he had bought in the town, and which they both shared together; but it must be owned that, even after all had been consumed, they did not feel as if they had made a very satisfactory meal.
"And now there is nothing more left. Our supply of provisions has come entirely to an end, and starvation stares us in the face," said Percy, in tragic tones. "We are like people in a besieged city who have come to an end of everything. Now we shall know what it means when we read, like we do in books, about sieges and blockades, and the people being starved into submission."
"Oh, but people don't give in directly like that," rejoined Mabel. "In a siege, when all the proper food is gone, then they turn round and eat all manner of disagreeable things,-tallow candles, and rats, and mice, and I don't know what. I've read about it in stories of sieges. We oughtn't to give in till we have done all that."
"Quite true, my most valiant sister. There spoke Queen Mab's determined spirit. You would do to act the part of those women who cut off their hair to have it made into bow-strings to supply fresh weapons to the men, rather than they should yield. But I don't quite see how we are to act upon your suggestion. Where shall we get the tallow candles from? And though there may possibly be plenty of rats infesting this old barn, the question is how are we to capture and slay them?"
"I'm sure I hope there aren't any rats here!" cried Mabel in tones of terror. "I wish you wouldn't put such dreadful things into one's head, Percy. It's bad enough to be shut up in the dark, without having rats running over us."
"We must hope they will keep at a respectful distance, as we are incapable of fleeing from them. Are you comfortably warm, Mabel?"
"No, indeed; I'm shivering with cold. And so are you; your hands are as cold as stones."
"Suppose we take a little exercise to warm ourselves? Let us grope our way to the door and try again if we can open it."
They did so, but it was all of no avail. And had they succeeded they would not have been much better off; for to wander in an aimless manner over the mountains in the dark and fog would have been worse than remaining where they were, except for that sense of being imprisoned which made them feel so helpless.
It was now long past their usual bed-time, and to the children it seemed already an age that they had been shut up in their dark place of confinement. Their spirits were rapidly reaching a very low ebb. A depressed, desponding feeling was creeping over them.
They had sunk down again in their corner by this time, huddled close to one another, and for a time nothing was said by either. At length Mabel broke the silence.
Percy, suppose nobody should find us!" "Well?"
"In that case we should just have to starve." "Yes," responded Percy, briefly.
"Should you be afraid to die?" The boy was silent.
"Shouldn't you mind?" persisted Mabel.
"What makes you ask such questions? A fellow doesn't like owning himself a coward; and yet I
don't want to be a sham. Yes; I should mind very much, for I'm not one of your good sort. We fellows at school do lots of wrong things. I don't suppose anybody knows one-half of all that goes
"But God does," whispered Mabel.
"I believe I've been forgetting that-forgetting Him even," said Percy, musingly, growing confidential under cover of the darkness, as well as under the influence of present circumstances. "It's so difficult to keep straight at school, when there are a lot of fellows edging you on, and jeering at you if you set up to be a saint,' as they call it. None of them in my room say their prayers."
"Oh, Percy! And haven't you either?" "I can't say I have for a long time-at least, nothing more than a few words under the bedclothes. And often I've forgotten even that.”
"Oh, Percy! what would mamma think? For she does so want us both to be good. Haven't you been very miserable?"
"I used to feel ashamed of being such a coward at first, but I've got accustomed to it now; and it never looked so bad, somehow, as it does to-night. I wish mother would come home. There's nobody to talk to me now like she used to do; no one to help a fellow to do right. I've been going all wrong for a long time."
"Percy," said Mabel, softly, "I think I know what mamma would say if she were here."
"Well, what? But I know. She would say she never thought a boy of hers could so forget all her teaching and all her wishes," murmured Percy, in tones of compunction.
"I think she would say, as she has so often said to me, and as Mrs. Lang told me the other day, when I had been so very naughty, the only thing to do is to go to God and tell Him what we have done, and how ashamed we are, and ask Him to forgive it all. He is ready to forgive, you know, isn't He? And then He helps us to make a fresh start. You'll say your prayers again next term, won't you, without minding whether the boys laugh at you or not?"
"It's not so easy to bear being laughed at." "But it's such a mean thing to be cowardly," said Mabel, who was naturally possessed of far more moral courage than her brother. "I would be plucky if I were you, and show them you aren't afraid of them."
"It's all very fine for you to talk," returned Percy, not, however, with any tones of annoyance in his voice. "What do girls know of these things?" "Of course it's very different, and much easier for me than for you. But, Percy, don't you remember that verse we learnt with mamma
So a messenger was sent off into the town, charged to go straight to Mademoiselle's lodgings to inquire for them there, unless indeed he should first meet them by the way. But he came back saying he could hear nothing of them.
By this time the suspense had become more than Miss Alicia knew how to bear, and Mr. Howard ordered the men to go in all directions to search for them. But all without success. No one at Heylands got much sleep that night: certainly neither its master nor mistress.
As for the authors of all this anxiety, they had at length fallen asleep, locked in each other's arms, and did not wake until daylight was finding its way in through the chinks of the door and underneath it. Then they rose, and gave themselves a good stretch; for their limbs were stiff, owing to their hard bed and the cramped position in which they had been lying, or rather sitting.
"Oh, Percy!" cried Mabel, despondingly, as she rubbed her sleepy eyes, and awoke to the recollection of their present dilemma, "will nobody come and find us?"
"There's more chance of somebody's coming along now it is daylight than there was by night," he answered, encouragingly. "Cheer up; we'll hope for a speedy release from our prison."
"But how can we let people know we are in here?" "Ah, that's the difficulty. There's no means of hoisting a flag of distress. If there had even been a chimney in the place, I might have climbed up that, and got out at the top, or waved my handkerchief."
"There seems no chance of getting any breakfast yet," sighed Mabel.
And I'm getting so hungry," rejoined her brother. "But hark! hush! what is that?" he cried, with a thrill of delight, as he fancied he caught the sound of a human voice.
Yes, it certainly was some man or boy whistling, and evidently drawing nearer and nearer. The children's faces brightened as hope sprang up in their hearts. Was it some one coming in search of them?
They waited for a moment in breathless expectation. But even in that moment the voice seemed to be going farther off instead of drawing closer. What if, after all, the owner of the voice should pass by without coming to their rescue, unconscious that there were two poor little prisoners shut up in the barn!
In desperation, Percy shouted and hallooed and kicked at the door with all his might to attract attention, whilst Mabel lifted up her voice and uttered the most piercing shrieks and touching appeals. Was it after all to be of no avail whatever?
In an agony of expectation they listened for a moment. The voice could no longer be heard, whilst on the soft turf no footstep, of course, could be discerned. Was their hope to be quite disappointed? Their countenances fell; but they set to work to redouble their efforts to attract attention, until such was the confusion of sounds that filled the barn that it was fortunate for Miss Alicia's ears and delicate nerves that she was far away out of hearing.
The owner of the voice was one of the farm labourers-a shepherd lad, who was taking a short cut over the moor on his way to a distant sheepfold. He was a youth of not over bright parts; rather dense, on the contrary, and slow to take in ideas. Suddenly his ears were assailed by strange, not to say unearthly, noises, which broke upon the stillness of the morning air. Whence and from whom could they proceed?
His whistling stopped, as with a scared face he looked around. No one was in sight; everything wore its usual aspect. But again those yells and unaccountable sounds. Standing still, with a look of infinite perplexity on his heavy countenance, he thrust his fingers through his hair, as if he hoped that process might assist in sharpening his wits, and for a moment or two he remained thus transfixed, whilst an expression of fear mingled with the look of astonishment on his face. He evidently thought it altogether uncanny,' to say the least. High and low he glanced, and on all sides of him. Nothing was to be seen at all different from usual. Just then, fortunately for Percy and Mabel, his eye fell upon the barn. Was it possible the sounds proceeded from it? Staring hard at it for some seconds, he slowly ejaculated, in a broad northcountry accent, "Can any of them beasts have got shut up in there, I wonder!"
Slowly and cautiously, looking well around him all the time, he drew a little nearer, evidently feeling doubtful about approaching too close. As he advanced, however, the sounds became more intelligible, and resolved themselves into cries for help and energetic kicks upon the barn door. But our friend apparently considered discretion to be the better part of valour; for, without giving any signs that might betray his own existence, he stealthily drew near and applied his ear to the door. At length he seemed to have arrived at a satisfactory understanding of the state of the
Putting his mouth close to the key-hole, he slowly and solemnly, in a gruff voice, jerked out the words, "Who's there."
The two children, who had been fearing, through not having heard the whistle again, that all their
cries were being expended upon the air, were so startled by this unexpected sound close to their ears that they both jumped as if they had been shot.
But hope now returned to them.
"We are two children," explained Percy, "who are shut up here and can't get out."
"Do help us, whoever you are, or we shall be starved,” added Mabel, pathetically, with a view to enlisting the sympathies of the stranger.
"Why don't ye open the door, if ye wants to get out?" was the solemn response.
"Because we can't. You don't suppose we should have stopped here all night if it had been in our power to get out?"
"How did you come there? Did anybody shut you in?" was the next question, prompted by the lad's cautious spirit.
"We came in here to shelter from the rain, and pushed the door to, and then found we couldn't open it again. So here we've had to stay all night, and we are heartily tired of our imprisonment." "Ah, I knows that door. I could have tell'd ye it wasn't safe to shut him. He's a crazy old door, and behaves as if he was bewitched."
"Then perhaps you know how to open it. Please let us out quickly."
But that our friend seemed scarcely disposed to do, either owing to his natural slowness of disposition, or to a certain proneness to a love of teasing and tormenting.
"Ye wants to be let out, does ye?" he said, with a little chuckle at the thought of having them thus in his power.
"Of course we do," returned Percy, impatiently. 66 Maybe that's easier said than done.”
"Can't you break in the door? Or, if not, can you go to Heylands and tell them where we are, that they may send some one to release us?" Ye belongs to Heylands, does ye?" "Yes, Mr. Howard is our uncle. He'll be sure to give you something for your trouble."
The youth again had recourse to scratching his head, whilst he pondered over this new idea. At length his mind seemed to be made up. With his thick, hob-nailed boots, he suddenly, and without any warning, gave the door so tremendous a kick that Percy and Mabel started back.. A few more well-aimed blows from that powerful foot told upon the old door, and at length its timbers shivered and splintered, and finally gave way.
The little captives' delight on finding themselves free was great indeed, and very heartily they thanked their deliverer.
"The master will expect you to put up a new door, I guess," was his remark as they came out.
"We'll tell Uncle Gwynne about it," said Percy; and after settling that their new friend should come round by Heylands as soon as his work was over in the evening, that Mr. Howard might have an opportunity of rewarding him for his services, respecting which reward the lad seemed to feel no delicacy whatever, the two children joyfully turned their steps homewards, after first receiving full directions as to the course they must take.
They were like birds let loose out of a cage, and felt they had never known what freedom meant until that moment. In great spirits they hastened towards Heylands as fast as their feet would carry them. But as they drew near they sobered a little, doubts suggesting themselves as to what sort of reception they might find awaiting them.
"I wonder if Aunt Alicia will be dreadfully angry," said Mabel, wishing the first meeting were well over.
However, Miss Alicia had suffered so much on their account that every feeling was, for the time being, swallowed up in rejoicing at seeing them back safe and sound; whilst their uncle laughed heartily over their adventure, and warned them not to eat too much breakfast, as half-starved people needed to be cautious how they began to take food again. Moreover, he said he thought they must have had enough of mountain ascents, and that this impromptu one would suffice them, at any rate for the present, and thus his services as guide would not be needed. But both children stoutly maintained that he was bound by his promise, and must on no account back out from it. Nor did he wish to do so, and more than one pleasant excursion the three had together before Percy's holidays came to a close.
After breakfast, Mabel ran down to the lodge with her present for Janet, who was delighted with her book, and duly grateful for it. Then the little girl related her experiences and adventures to her two listeners. It made quite an exciting story.
Percy's holidays came to an end without any serious mishap occurring, to Miss Alicia's intense relief. Her fears had been many and various, fresh apprehensions of new and possible dangers seeming to present themselves to her imagination almost daily, when she mentally conjured up visions of all kinds of accidents and misadventures which might happen-but never did. Mr. Howard came to the rescue nobly, and, to relieve her anxious mind, took the children out a good deal with him, and gave them many a pleasant ramble, or row on the water, when all three were thoroughly happy.
Mabel could not bear the thought of losing her brother and companion, and was beginning to feel