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Grandmother Dear Part 24

"'Thank you, Mrs. Atkins,' said Mary, 'that will do nicely, I am sure.

And now we must really not keep you any longer from your husband.

Good-night, and thank you very much.'

"'Good-night,' I repeated, and we both stood at the door of the passage as she made her way out into the darkness. The snow was still falling very heavily, and the blast of cold wind that made its way in was piercing.

"'Oh, Mary, come back to the fire,' I cried. 'Isn't it _awfully_ cold?

Oh, Mary dear,' I added, when we had both crouched down beside the welcome warmth for a moment, 'won't it be _delicious_ to be back with mother again? We never thought we'd have such adventures, did we? Can you fancy this house ever feeling _home-y_, Mary? It seems so dreary now.'

"'Yes, but you've no idea how different it will seem even to-morrow morning, if it's a bright day,' said Mary. 'Let's plan the rooms, Laura.

Don't you think the one to the south with the crimson curtains will be best for father?'

"So she talked cheerfully, more, I am sure--though I did not see it at the time--to encourage me than to amuse herself. And after awhile, when she saw that I was getting sleepy, she took a candle into the outer room, saying she would lock the door and make all snug for the night. I heard her, as I thought, lock the door, then she came back into our room and also locked the door leading from it into the tapestry room.

"'You needn't lock that too,' I said sleepily; 'if the tapestry door is locked, we're all right!'

"'I think it's better,' said Mary quietly, and then we undressed, so far as we could manage to do so in the extremely limited state of our toilet arrangements, and went to bed.

"I fell asleep at once. Mary, she afterwards told me, lay awake for an hour or two, so that when she did fall asleep her slumber was unusually profound. I think it must have been about midnight when I woke suddenly, with the feeling--the indescribable feeling--that something had awakened me. I listened, first of all with _only_ the ear that happened to be uppermost--then, as my courage gradually returned again, I ventured to move slightly, so that both ears were uncovered. No, nothing was to be heard. I was trying to compose myself to sleep again, persuading myself that I had been dreaming, when again--yes most distinctly--there _was_ a sound. A sort of shuffling, scraping noise, which seemed to come from the direction of the passage leading from the tapestry room to the garden. Fear made me selfish. I pushed Mary, then shook her gently, then more vigorously.

"'Mary,' I whispered. 'Oh, Mary, _do_ wake up. I hear such a queer noise.'

"Mary, poor Mary awoke, but she had been very tired. It was a moment or two before she collected her faculties.

"'Where are we? What is it?' she said. Then she remembered. 'Oh yes--what is the matter, Laura?'

"'Listen,' I said, and Mary, calmly self-controlled as usual, sat up in bed and listened. The sound was quite distinct, even louder than I had heard it.

"'Oh, Mary!' I cried. 'Somebody's trying to get in. Oh, Mary, what _shall_ we do? Oh, I am so frightened. I shall die with fright. Oh, I wish I had never come!'

"I was on the verge of hysterics, or something of the kind.

"Mary, herself a little frightened, as she afterwards confessed--in the circumstances what young girl could have helped being so?--turned to me quietly. Something in the very tone of her voice seemed to soothe me.

"'Laura dear,' she said gravely, 'did you say your prayers last night?'

"'Oh yes, oh yes, indeed I did. But I'll say them again now if you like,'

I exclaimed.

"Even then, Mary could hardly help smiling.

"'That isn't what I meant,' she said. 'I mean, what is the _good_ of saying your prayers if you don't believe what you say?'

"'But I do, I do,' I sobbed.

"'Then why are you so terrified? You asked God to take care of you. When you said it you believed He would. Why not believe it now? _Now_, when you are tried, is the time to show if you do mean what you say. I am sure God _will_ take care of us. Now try, dear, to be reasonable, and I will get up and see what it is.'

"'But don't leave me, and I will try to be good,' I exclaimed, jumping out of bed at the same moment that she did, and clinging to her as she moved. 'Oh, Mary, don't you think perhaps we'd better go back to bed and put our fingers in our ears, and by morning it wouldn't seem anything.'

"'And fancy ever after that there had been something mysterious, when perhaps it is something quite simple,' said Mary. 'No, I shouldn't like that at all. Of course I won't do anything rash, but I would like to find out.'

"'The fire, fortunately, was not yet quite out. Mary lighted one of the candles with a bit of paper from a spark which she managed to coax into a flame. The noise had, in the meantime, subsided, but just as we had got the candle lighted, it began again.

"'Now,' said Mary, 'you stay here, Laura, and I'll go into the next room and listen at the passage door.' She spoke so decidedly that I obeyed in trembling. Mary armed herself with the poker, and, unlocking our door, went into the tapestry room, first lighting the second candle, which she left with me. She crossed the room to the door as she had said. _I_ thought it was to listen; in reality her object was to endeavour to turn the key in the lock of the tapestry room door, which she had _not_ been able to do the night before, for once the door was shut the key would not move, and she had been obliged to content herself with the insecure hold of the hook and staple. Now it had struck her that by inserting the poker in the handle of the key she might succeed in turning it, and thus provide ourselves with a double defence. For if the intruder--dog, cat, whatever it was--burst the outer door and got into the tapestry room, my fears, she told me afterwards, would, she felt sure, have become uncontrollable. It was a brave thing to do--was it not? She deserved to succeed, and she did. With the poker's help she managed to turn the key, and then with a sigh of relief she stood still for a moment listening.

The sounds continued--whatever it was it was evidently what Mrs. Atkins had heard the night before--a shuffling, rushing-about sound, then a sort of impatient breathing. Mary came back to me somewhat reassured.

"'Laura,' she said, 'I keep to my first opinion. It is a dog, or a cat, or some animal.'

"'But suppose it is a _mad_ dog?' I said, somewhat unwilling to own that my terrors had been exaggerated.

"'It is possible, but not probable,' she replied. 'Any way it can't get in here. Now, Laura, it is two o'clock by my watch. There is candle enough to last an hour or two, and I will make up the fire again. Get into bed and _try_ to go to sleep, for honestly I do not think there is any cause for alarm.'

"'But Mary, I _can't_ go to sleep unless you come to bed too, and if you don't, I can't believe you think it's nothing,' I said. So, to soothe me, she gave up her intention of remaining on guard by the fire, and came to bed, and, wonderful to relate, we both went to sleep, and slept soundly till--what o'clock do you think?

"It was _nine_ o'clock when I awoke; Mary was standing by me fully dressed, a bright frosty sun shining into the room, and a tray with a cup of tea and some toast and bacon keeping hot by the fire.

"'Oh, Mary!' I cried, sitting up and rubbing my eyes.

"'Are you rested?' she said. 'I have been up since daylight--not so very early _that_, at this season--Mrs. Atkins came and brought me some breakfast, but we hadn't the heart to waken you, you poor child.'

"'And oh, Mary, what about the noise? Did she hear it?'

"'She wasn't sure. She half fancied she did, and then she thought she might have been imagining it from the night before. But get up, dear. It is hopeless to try for the early train; we can't leave till to-night, or to-morrow morning; but I am anxious to get back to East Hornham and see Mr. Turner. And before we go I'd like to run round the gardens.'

"'But, Mary,' I said, pausing in my occupation of putting on my stockings, 'are you still thinking of taking this house?'

"'Still!' said Mary. 'Why not?'

"'Because of the noises. If we can't find out what it is, it would be very uncomfortable. And with father being so delicate too, and often awake at night!'

"Mary did not reply, but my words were not without effect. We ran round the gardens as she had proposed--they were lovely even then--took a cordial farewell of Mrs. Atkins, and set off on our return drive to East Hornham. I must not forget to tell you that we well examined that part of the garden into which the tapestry room passage led, but there were no traces of footsteps, the explanation of which we afterwards found to be that the snow had continued to fall till much later in the night than the time of our fright.

"Mr. Turner was waiting for us in considerable anxiety. We had done, he assured us, the most sensible thing possible in the circumstances. He had not known of our non-arrival till late in the evening, and, but for his confidence in Giles, would have set off even then. As it was, he had sent a messenger to Hunter's Hall, and was himself starting for the Grange.

"Mary sent me out of the room while she spoke to him, at which I was not over well pleased. She told him all about the fright we had had, and that, unless its cause were explained, it would certainly leave an uncomfortable feeling in her mind, and that, considering our father's invalid state, till she had talked it over with our mother she could not come to the decision she had hoped.

"'It may end in our taking Hunter's Hall,' she said, 'though the Grange is far more suitable.'

"Mr. Turner was concerned and perplexed. But Mary talked too sensibly to incline him to make light of it.

"'It is very unfortunate,' he said; 'and I promised an answer to the other party by post this evening. And you say, Miss Berkeley, that Mrs.

Atkins heard it too. You are _sure_, Miss, you were not dreaming?'

"'_Quite_ sure. It was my sister that heard it, and woke me,' she replied; 'and then we both heard it.'

"Mr. Turner walked off, metaphorically speaking, scratching his head, as honest Giles had done literally in his perplexity the night before. He promised to call back in an hour or two, when he had been to the station and found out about the trains for us.

"We packed our little bag and paid the bill, so that we might be quite ready, in case Mr. Turner found out any earlier train by which we might get on, for we had telegraphed to mother that we should do our best to be back the next day. I was still so sleepy and tired that Mary persuaded me to lie down on the bed, in preparation for the possibility of a night's journey. I was _nearly_ asleep when a tap came to the door, and a servant informed Mary that a gentleman was waiting to speak to her.

"'Mr. Turner,' said she carelessly, as she passed into the sitting-room.

Chapter end

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