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Grandmother Dear Part 23

"I listened with great interest--but Mary's thoughts were otherwise engaged. There was not a doubt that the snow-storm, instead of going off, was increasing in severity. We drank our tea and ate our sandwiches, and put off our time as well as we could till five o'clock. It was now of course perfectly dark but for the light of the fire. We were glad when our friend from the lodge returned with a couple of tallow candles, blaming herself for having forgotten them.

"'I really don't know what we should do,' said Mary to her. 'The storm seems getting worse and worse. I wonder what the driver thinks about it.

Is he in the house, do you know?'

"'He's sitting in our kitchen, Miss,' replied the young woman. 'He seems very much put about. Shall I tell him to come up to speak to you?'

"'Thank you, I wish you would,' said Mary. 'But I am really sorry to bring you out so much in this dreadful weather.'

"The young woman laughed cheerfully.

"'I don't mind it a bit, Miss,' she said; 'if you only knew how glad I shall be if you come to live here. Nothing'd be a trouble if so be as we could get a kind family here again. 'Twould be like old times.'

"She hastened away, and in a few minutes returned to say that the driver was downstairs waiting to speak to us----"

"Laura, my dear," said grandmother, "do you know it is a quarter to ten.

How much more is there?"

Aunty glanced through the pages--

"About as much again," she said. "No, scarcely so much."

"Well then, dears, it must wait till to-morrow," said grandmother.

"_Oh_, grandmother!" remonstrated the children.

"Aunty said it was a shorter story than yours, grandmother," said Molly in a half reproachful voice.

"And are you disappointed that it isn't?" said aunty, laughing. "I really didn't think it was so long as it is."

"Oh! aunty, I only wish it was _twenty_ times as long," said Molly. "I shouldn't mind hearing it all over again this minute, only you see I do dreadfully want to hear the end. I am sure they had to stay there all night, and that something frightens them. Oh it's 'squisitely delicious,"

she added, "jigging" up and down on her chair.

"You're a 'squisitely delicious little humbug," said aunty, laughing.

"Now good-night all three of you, and get to bed as fast as you can, as I don't want 'grandmother dear' to scold me for your all being tired and sleepy to-morrow."

CHAPTER XIII.

A CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE.--PART II.

"And as for poor old Rover, I'm sure he meant no harm."

OLD DOGGIE.

"Molly is too sharp by half," said aunty, the following evening, when she was preparing to go on with her story. "We _had_ to stay there all night--that was the result of Mary's conversation with the driver, the details of which I may spare you. Let me see, where was I? 'The driver scratched his head,'--no,--ah, here it is! 'He was waiting downstairs to speak to us; 'and the result of the speaking I have told you, so I'll go on from here----

"It was so cold downstairs in the fireless, deserted house, that Mary and I were glad to come upstairs again to the little room where we had been sitting, which already seemed to have a sort of home-like feeling about it. But once arrived there we looked at each other in dismay.

"'Isn't it dreadful, Mary?' I said.

"'And we shall miss the morning train from East Hornham--the only one by which we can get through the same day--that is the worst of all,' she said.

"'Can't we be in time? It is only two or three miles from here to East Hornham,' I said.

"'Yes, but you forget I _must_ see Mr. Turner again. If I fix to take this house, and it seems very likely, I must not go away without all the particulars for father. There are ever so many things to ask. I have a list of father's, as long as my arm, of questions and inquiries.'

"'Ah, yes,' I agreed; 'and then we have to get our bag at the hotel, and to pay our bill there.'

"'And to choose rooms there to come to at first,' said Mary. 'Oh yes, our getting away by that train is impossible. And then the Christmas trains are like Sunday. Even by travelling all night we cannot get home, I fear.

I must telegraph to mother as soon as we get back to East Hornham.'

"The young woman had not returned. We were wondering what had become of her when she made her appearance laden with everything she could think of for our comfort. The bed, she assured us, could not be damp, as it had been 'to the fire' all the previous day, and she insisted on putting on a pair of her own sheets, coarse but beautifully white, and fetching from another room additional blankets, which in their turn had to be subjected to 'airing,' or 'firing' rather. To the best of her ability she provided us with toilet requisites, apologising, poor thing, for the absence of what we 'of course, must be used to,'--as she expressed it, in the shape of fine towels, perfumed soap, and so on. And she ended by cooking us a rasher of bacon and poached eggs for supper, all the materials for which refection she had brought from her own cottage. She was so kind that I shrank from suggesting to Mary the objection to the proposed arrangement, which was all this time looming darkly before me. But when our friend was about to take her leave for the night I could keep it back no longer.

"'Mary,' I whispered, surprised and somewhat annoyed at my sister's calmness, 'are you going to let her go away? You and I _can't_ stay here all night alone.'

"'Do you mean that you are frightened, Laura dear?' she said kindly, in the same tone. 'I don't see that there is anything to be frightened of; and if there were, what good would another girl--for this young woman is very little older than I--do us?'

"'She knows the house, any way, and it wouldn't seem so bad,' I replied, adding aloud, 'Oh, Mrs. Atkins'--for I had heard the driver mention her name--'can't you stay in the house with us? We shall feel so dreadfully strange.'

"'I would have done so most gladly, Miss,' the young woman began, but Mary interrupted her.

"'I know you can't,' she said; 'your husband is ill. Laura, it would be very wrong of us to propose such a thing.'

"'That's just how it is,' said Mrs. Atkins. 'My husband has such bad nights he can't be left, and there's no one I could get to sit with him.

Besides, it's such a dreadful night to seek for any one.'

"'Then the driver,' I said; 'couldn't he stay somewhere downstairs? He might have a fire in one of the rooms.'

"Mrs. Atkins wished it had been thought of before. 'Giles,'--which it appeared was the man's name--would have done it in a minute, she was sure, but it was too late. He had already set off to seek a night's lodging and some supper, no doubt, at a little inn half a mile down the road.

"'An inn?' I cried. 'I wish we had gone there too. It would have been far better than staying here.'

"'Oh, it's a very poor place--'The Drover's Rest,' they call it. It would never do for you, Miss,' said Mrs. Atkins, looking distressed that all her efforts for our comfort appeared to have been in vain. 'Giles might ha' thought of it himself,' she added, 'but then you see it would never strike him but what here--in the Grange--you'd be as safe as safe. It's not a place for burglaries and such like, hereabouts.'

"'And of course we shall be quite safe,' said Mary. 'Laura dear, what has made you so nervous all of a sudden?'

"I did not answer, for I was ashamed to speak of Mrs. Atkins' story of the strange noises she had heard the previous night, which evidently Mary had forgotten, but I followed the young woman with great eagerness, to see that we were at least thoroughly well defended by locks and bolts in our solitude. The tapestry room and that in which we were to sleep could be locked off from the rest of the empty house, as a door stood at the head of the little stair leading up to them--so far, so well. But Mrs.

Atkins proceeded to explain that the door at the _outside_ end of the other passage, leading into the garden, could not be locked except from the outside.

"'I can lock you in, if you like, Miss,' she said, 'and come round first thing in the morning;' but this suggestion did not please us at all.

"'No, thank you,' said Mary, 'for if it is fine in the morning I mean to get up very early and walk round the gardens.'

"'No, thank you,' said I, adding mentally, 'Supposing we _were_ frightened it would be too dreadful not to be able to get out.'--'But we can lock the door from the tapestry room into the passage, from our side, can't we?' I said, and Mrs. Atkins replied 'Oh yes, of course you can, Miss,' turning the key in the lock of the door as she spoke. 'Master never let the young gentlemen lock the doors when they were boys,' she added, 'for they were always breaking the locks. So you see, Miss, there's a hook and staple to this door, as well as the lock.'

Chapter end

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