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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 3. The Flight
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There & Back - Chapter 3. The Flight Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2725

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There & Back - Chapter 3. The Flight


She read until every sound had died in the house, every sound from garret to cellar, except the ticking of clock, and the tinkling cracks of sinking fires and cooling grates. In the regnant silence she rose, laid aside her book, softly opened the door, and stepped as softly into the narrow passage. A moment or two she listened, then stole on tiptoe to the main corridor, and again listened. She went next to the head of the great stair, and once more stood and listened. Then she crept down to the drawing-room, saw that there was no light in the library, billiard-room, or smoking-room, and with stealthy feet returned to the nursery. There she closed the door she had left open, and took the child. He lay in her arms like one dead. She removed everything he wore, and dressed him in the garments which for the last fortnight she had been making for him from clothes of her own. When she had done, he looked like any cottager's child; there was nothing in his face to contradict his attire. She regarded the result for a moment with a triumph of satisfaction, laid him down, and proceeded to put away the clothes he had worn.

Over the top of the door was a small cupboard in the wall, into which she had never looked until the day before, when she opened it and found it empty. She placed a table under it, and a chair on the table, climbed up, laid in it everything she had taken off the child, locked the door of it, put the key in her pocket, and got down. Then she took the cloak and hood he had hitherto worn out of doors, laid them down beside the wardrobe, and lifting the end of it with a strength worthy of the blacksmith's daughter, pushed them with her foot into the hollow between the bottom of the wardrobe and the floor of the room. This done, she looked at the timepiece on the mantelshelf, saw it was one o'clock, and sat down to recover her breath. But the next moment she was on her knees, sobbing. By and by she rose, wiped the hot tears from her eyes, and went carefully about the room, gathering up this and that, and putting it into her box. Then having locked it, she stuffed a number of small pieces of paper into the lock, using a crochet-needle to get them well among the wards. Lastly, she put on a dress she had never worn at Mortgrange, took up the child, who was still in a dead sleep, wrapped him in an old shawl, and stole with him from the room.

Like those of a thief--or murderess rather, her scared eyes looked on this side and that, as she crept to a narrow stair that led to the kitchen. She knew every turn and every opening in this part of the house: for weeks she had been occupied, both intellect and imagination, with the daring idea she was now carrying into effect.

She reached the one door that might yield a safe exit, unlocked it noiselessly, and stood in a little paved yard with a pump, whence another door in an ivy-covered wall opened into the kitchen-garden. The moon shone large and clear, but the shadow of the house protected her. It was the month of August, warm and still. If only it had been dark! Outside the door she was still in the shadow. For the first time in her life she loved the darkness. Along the wall she stole as if clinging to it. Yet another door led into a shrubbery surrounding the cottage of the head-gardener, whence a back-road led to a gate, over which she could climb, so to reach the highway, along whose honest, unshadowed spaces she must walk miles and miles before she could even hope herself safe.

She stood at length in the broad moonlight, on the white, far-reaching road. Her heart beat so fast as almost to stifle her. She dared not look down at the child, lest some one should see her and look also! The moon herself had an aspect of suspicion! Why did she keep staring so? For an instant she wished herself back in the nursery. But she knew it would only be to do it all over again: it _had to be done! Leave the child of her sister where he was counted in the way! with those who hated him! where his helpless life was in danger! She could not!

But, while she thought, she did not stand. Softly, with great strides she went stalking along the road. She knew the country: she was not many miles from her father's forge, whence at moments she seemed to hear the ring of his hammer through the still night.

She kept to the road for three or four miles, then turned aside on a great moor stretching far to the south: daybreak was coming fast; she must find some cottage or natural shelter, lest the light should betray her. When the sun had made his round, and yielded his place to the friendly night, she would start afresh! In her bundle she had enough for the baby; for herself, she could hold out many hours unfed. A few more miles from Mortgrange, and no one would know her, neither from any possible description could they be suspected in the garments they wore! Her object in hiding their usual attire had been, that it might be taken for granted they had gone away in it.

She did not slacken her pace till she had walked five miles more. Then she stood a moment, and gazed about her. The great heath was all around, solitary as the heaven out of which the solitary moon, with no child to comfort her, was enviously watching them. But she would not stop to rest, save for the briefest breathing space! On and on she went until moorland miles five more, as near as she could judge, were behind her. Then at length she sat down upon a stone, and a timid flutter of safety stirred in her bosom, followed by a gush of love victorious. Her treasure! her treasure! Not once on the long way had she looked at him. Now she folded back the shawl, and gazed as not even a lover could have gazed on the sleeping countenance of his rescued bride. The passion of no other possession could have equalled the intensity of her conscious _having_. Not one created being had a right to the child but herself!--yet any moment he might be taken from her by a cold-hearted, cruel stepmother, and given to a hired woman! She started to her feet, and hurried on. The boy was no light weight, and she had things to carry besides, which her love said he could not do without; yet before seven o'clock she had cleared some sixteen miles, in a line from Mortgrange as straight as she could keep.

She thought she must now be near a village whose name she knew; but she dared not show herself lest some advertisement might reach it after she was gone, and lead to the discovery of the route she had taken. She turned aside therefore into an old quarry, there to spend the day, unvisited of human soul. The child was now awake, but still drowsy. She gave him a little food, and ate the crust she had saved from her tea the night before. During the long hours she slept a good deal by fits, and when the evening came, was quite fit to resume her tramp. To her joy it came cloudy, giving her courage to enter a little shop she saw on the outskirts of the village, and buy some milk and some bread. From this point she kept the road: she might now avail herself of help from cart or wagon. She was not without money, but feared the railway.

It is needless to follow her wanderings, always toward London, where was her husband, and her home. A weary, but happy, and almost no longer an anxious woman, she reached at length a certain populous suburb, and was soon in the arms of her husband.

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