Chapter XXXIX: A Gleam of Light

The Firm of Girdlestone

Kate Harston fled as quickly as she could through the wood, stumbling over the brambles and crashing through the briars, regardless of pain or scratches or anything else which could stand between her and the possibility of safety. She soon gained the shed and managed to mount on to the top of it by the aid of the barrel. Craning her neck, she could see the long dusty lane, with the bare withered hedges upon either side, and the dreary line of the railway embankment beyond. There was no pony-carriage in sight.

She hardly expected that there would be, for she had taken a short cut, and the carriage would have to go some distance round. The road along which it was travelling ran at right angles to the one which she was now overlooking, and the chances were equal as to whether the lady would turn round or go straight on. In the latter case, it would not be possible for her to attract her attention. Her heart seemed to stand still with anxiety as she peered over the high wall at the spot where the two roads crossed.

Presently she heard the rattle of wheels, and the brown pony trotted round the corner. The carriage drew up at the end of the lane, and the driver seemed to be uncertain how to proceed. Then she shook the reins, and the pony lumbered on along the road. Kate gave a cry of despair and the last ray of hope died away from her heart.

It chanced, however, that the page in the carriage was just at that happy age when the senses are keen and on the alert. He heard the cry, and glancing round he saw through a break in the hedge that a lady was looking over the wall which skirted the lane they had passed. He mentioned the fact to his mistress.

“Maybe we’d better go back, ma’am,” he said.

“Maybe we’d better not, John,” said the buxom lady. “People can look over their garden walls without our interfering with them, can’t they?”

“Yes, ma’am, but she was a-hollerin’ at us.”

“No, John, was she though? Maybe this is a private road and we have no right to be on it.”

“She gave a holler as if some one was a-hurtin’ of her,” said John with decision.

“Then we’ll go back,” said the lady, and turned the pony round.

Hence it came about that just as Kate was descending with a sad heart from her post of observation, she was electrified to see the brown pony reappear and come trotting round the curve of the lane, with a rapidity which was altogether foreign to that quadruped’s usual habits. Indeed, the girl turned so very white at the sight, and her face assumed such an expression of relief and delight, that the lady who was approaching saw at once that it was no common matter which had caused her to summon them.

“What is it, my dear?” she cried, pulling up when she came abreast of the place. Her good, kind heart was touched already by the pleading expression upon the girl’s sweet face.

“Oh, madam, whoever you may be,” said Kate, in a low, rapid voice, “I believe God has sent you here this day. I am shut up in these grounds, and shall be murdered unless help comes.”

“Be murdered!” cried the lady in the pony-carriage, dropping back in her seat and raising her hands in astonishment.

“It is only too true,” Kate said, trying to speak concisely and clearly so as to enforce conviction, but feeling a choking sensation about her throat, as though an hysterical attack were impending. “My guardian has shut me up here for some weeks, and I firmly believe that he will never let me out alive. Oh, don’t, pray don’t think me mad! I am as sane as you are, though, God knows, what I have gone through has been enough to shake my reason.”

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