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CHAPTER II .—Continued, Taranaki Herald, Volume LIV, Issue 12769, 24 January 1905
CHAPTER II .—Continued
The servants' quarters being at ; the back of the house, I doubted whether any of them could ha<ve heaa/d the strange cry which we had Uttjand. so plainly in the clrtuying room that overlooked this part of the terrace. But I ha,d just time to wonder how long it woJuM be belorc JaJkcs anicl the others would come, just time to wowdcr why Kitty had not answered niv ca.l, an,d to realise that the cries "ceased, an'cl the figure by the moat had turndcl toward me, when I felt my arms gripped from ! behinld. I I struggled to twist mysell round 'in that firm grasp ; but the fingers upon my arm held it as in an I iron vise, aad I couM see nothing to gjuide me as to the identity of my assailant. But a voice hissed in my ear, "This will end the farce," and I was lifted bodily from my feet, a harid was pressed over my; month to prevent me from streaming for help, anicl before anyone could have counted ten I was flung into the dark waters of the moat. As 1 say, I did not see my assailant, who attacked me from behind. 'I had no time to scream for helj>, anicl if I had done so, who wo.ul'd have heard me ? Kitty had) evidently rushed away to summon the servants, and they, in their charters at the back of the house, woftikl 'have heard nothing-. All this flashed through my mind' as I swung through the air anid splashed into the water, then the dark waters closed over <my head, arid I felt myself sinking; — sinking I—sinking,1 — sinking, into what seemed a bottomless ■ pit of black water. It is marvellous how clear one's thoughts can Ibe, even at a time of acute and ghasilv danger. My first thought was, "Thank Go?d I am a good swimmer ;" my second, "Martin, the lotlgekecper, must be one of the Strauges," anjd then I tent all my energies to idisfcoiver some means of saving myself, even in what appeared to be so dire and dreadful an extremity. I If I rose at once to the surface, my enemy would finjd means to thrust ihe imWer again ; if I c oat I'd manage, unseen, to swim farther round the moat, I migiht contrive to esJcape. So far my, mind worked clearly enough in spite of the water that wa,s giuargling round me and nearly , choking me — in spite of the weight ' of my clothes, hy which , I was > afraid of being! dragged downward. But I tried to keep all my faculties on the alert, and not to lose my self-possession, and I allowed (myself to rise sufficiently near the surface to take in a breath of fresih draught of air ; then I dived j again to the bottom of the moat, and as I 'did so my outstretched [hands strftok with great force ■ against something which was cerI taiuly not mud ; something hard that yielded to my toiipli. I heard a kind of snap, and then, without a moment's warning,' I found myself precipitated into what really did seem to be a bottomless abyss — miich deeper, much more awful than the moat itself. A rush of water appeared to come with me ; I was blinded, choked, suffocated ; every vein in my body felt as though it wofciM b-uVst ; I tried in vain to get my breath, my heart beat in great thirobs, cacih one of which was torture, and it was as thoiugh an iron hammer beat ,tnpoii my brain. I expected every moment to be my last ; all hope of es.cape or safet}' died within me, and in a second my whole life was spread out before my mental vision like a map, each incident standing otiL in a vivid flash of remembrance. I think consciousness must have left me, and to be drifting into a dreamy condition whkfa must soon have passed into death it. self. And then, all at once, and for no apparent reason, the awful pressure of water ceased.
I heard, somewhere behinkl me, a shatfp click as of a spring #oiii£ into its place, and I realized, with tho most unfeigned amazement, that the water was sinking. — sinking away from me — thai I could i feel d'rv ground under my feet, and that I was able to breathe again. The dreamlike sensation passed from me in the renewed hope oi life. I was no longer unconscious, but very much alive to all my su'rraundings, and in another iuvstant I was on my feet, choking an ( d splattering, it is true, but to my no small bewilderment and .siiVpri.se, alive;— really and. truly alive. But where in tin* world was I ? ITow could 1 ever get out of this ghastly, uwdergrouiHd place ? And how had I contrived to get into lit ? By this time the water haki hlippevf away from me, •until' «tihore there was only a little trickling stream round ." my feet. On each side of mo I could by stretching out my arms, feel a rough stone wall, "ami by putting my haaitl over my head I was able to louidi a roof, also of rou'gJi stone. Both walls auld roof were <lripping with moisture, and the atmosphere was stillimg in the extreme. Still, I could breathe, and that, after lay recent e:vperien':e >of having the breath , inearly
Mjlueezed and pressed out of me, was indeed something to be thanjkful for. 'I was in pitrh darkness, and stiff from head to foot alter the shodk and strain of the terrible few seconds I had just teeu through, but I tried to call common sense to my aid. I thdught I must be in some kinld of subway, anld wisdom certainly approved the advisability oi trying to mud some outlet. I paused where I stood, and tried to tliin'k out the situation as lar as my dateed and muddled senses would allow me to think out anything. I was inclined to imagine that this millet, if it existed ,at all, woidd be in a direction opposite to that toward which the stream round my feet was rapidly trickling. The water would nm downward ' into the bfowcls of tho earth. It was highly improbable that anyone would have built a wallod and roofed .in passage merely to cover the course of a stream, it must infallibly lead somewhere, and. that somewhere I determined was most likely upward and outwajixl to the good air of heaven again. i could not walk upright, the height of the roof would not allow of it, and I groped my way along this strange passage, stooping till I was bent nearly double, keeping one hand on the wall, lest I shoiuld lose my direction, anld mOving with extreme caption, for fear of any holes or pitfalls in my path whkh might prove my dcstru'etion. My progress in s?u/:h a posture was necessarily of . the slowest, and to add to my troubles, the atmosphere became more and more unbearable. I literally panted for breath, and my progress was rendered additionally difficult b} r the fact that my clothes were wringing wet, and hftiug heavily upon me, impeding my c.'very step. Tiic heat was intolerable as the airlessnes-s ; the perspiration sto.od in great beads on my loxchead an|d poured down my face like water ; the want of air made each heart-beat painful and distressing, and I couid only crawl along at a snail's pace, being obliged now and again to pause to alter my cramped position as much as cirieiumstauces would permit.
After I had 1 travelled for a whiL in this un Comfortable and dijflicltl way, I became conscious that tin passage was beginning to slojp< upward, and that I was, so t< speak, going toward safety. Ii that fact lay my sole sustaining hoipe. Surely, surely, my first S|Uirmis< must be cJorrcct, anld whoever hac planned this extraordinary plaf< must hax-e planned it to reach the open air at last. 'No one wouit otherwise hajve been .such a lunatic as to make it. I think, as I toiled on, T m\us1 foir a while 'liiave become delirious for I remember feeling that vague shaldowy forms slid past me in the darkness, ghostly lights danced before, my eyes out of the black gloom, and I shrank and cried out when 1 fancied that skeleton handj: touched my face and caressed my hair. The darkness, the stifling armosphere, tho loneliness, moulded to my brain, and in my delirium of terror I believe I might have even turned and iled backwand, or sat down to die, but for the oiverwhclmin'g craving for air and light that 'haunted me like an obsession, and ra,n tkro'ugh all my wildest fancies. "Oh, Heaven ! for daylight' — for daylight !" I whimpered once. "Let me get back to the world outside, andi the air* — the air ! I cannot bear this ! Give me light — light' — light, and air ! Let mo get away from this awful place. Let me get away!" I think it was just as I said these words that my last remnants of self-control slipped from me. I remember giving vent to a long cry of 'utter tcrron — a cry that echoed and re-echoed along the dark and gr-uesome passage. I was filled by the awful belief that some horror was pursuing me from the depths below, and, unable to recover my balance, or recall my vanished courage, I relinqjuished my crawling gait and hurled myself forward, regardless of possible danger in the path, intent only on getting out — out — olut, into a world where there was air and light ! vScores of times I stamiblcd and nearly fell : I tore my hands o>n the rough roof ; but, oppressed with that nightmare .sensation of being followed, 1 tore on and on, wi i til I felt that -upon in}- face whicjli restored to me all in an instant my self-control anil common sense. •It was a cool breath of air that fanned my burning forehead ; in tiie g^lioam in front of me 1 became aware of a faintly glimmering light, and with a relief that no words wojtilcl ever be adequate to express, I kliew that at last — at last— l had found my way back to the surface of Uhe earth, and out of the darkness whose black horror had entered into my .very soul. The delicious breath of fresh air revived inc. It came at a moment when I had begun to feel that I was at the end ol my itreugUi, hat I could not move another
hie']), that 1 would fain lie clown a md let the terrible exhaustion that mastered me have its way. But that gleam of light, that breath of fresh air, even though it was only the isigluiig wiwd of a dreary Scptemher night, gave me life, and I struggled on, the halunting visions which (delirium, had brought me fading away, now that safety was at hanjd.. That hual struggle b.rougiLt me to the eiul of tiie Mibtcrfan-eaai passage, ajjkl I found mytrelf confronted by a mass of brambles and undergrowth. Thraugli tliis I franticall)', tearing my hands with the thoru.s, and reducing my 'dress to ribbons ; but I was uumiuidJJul of any such trifling matters when 1 knew that ircedbm lay on the other side of this tangled barrier, and that my life had been restored to me as by a miracle. It seemed to me that 1 had been struggling for hoairs among those stones and brambles ; Ijut I was safely through at last, stanfcling gnYler the open sliy again, a wide 1 ' reach of country stretcfliing on either 'hand, Gofct's goad air hloAving keen and 'fresh on my face. And I .sank i?pon my knees on the grass, intent only on giving t hauls for my great deliveraiiue. (To be Continued.)
CHAPTER II .—Continued, Taranaki Herald, Volume LIV, Issue 12769, 24 January 1905
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