A Strange Disappearance
quarters of a mile. At last she paused with a short 'Here we are;' and looking up, I
saw that we were in front of a small unlighted cottage.
"No refuge ever appeared more welcome to a pair of sinking wanderers I am
sure. Wet to the skin, bedrabbled with mud, exhausted with breasting the gale,
we stood for a moment under the porch to regain our breath, then with her
characteristic energy she lifted the knocker and struck a smart blow on the door.
"'We will find shelter here,' said she.
"She was not mistaken. In a few moments we were standing once more before a
comfortable fire hastily built by the worthy couple whose slumbers we had thus
interrupted. As I began to realize the sweetness of conscious safety, all that this
young, heroic creature had done for me swept warmly across my mind. Looking
up from the fire that was begining to infuse its heat through my grateful system, I
surveyed her as she slowly undid her long braids and shook them dry over the
blaze, and almost started to see how young she was. Not more than sixteen I
should say, and yet what an invincible will shone from her dark eyes and
dignified her slender form; a will gentle as it was strong, elevated as it was
unbending. I bowed my head as I watched her, in grateful thankfulness which I
presently put into words.
"At once she drew herself erect. 'I did but my duty,' said she quietly. 'I am glad I
was prospered in it.' Then slowly. 'If you are grateful, sir, will you promise to say
nothing of--of what took place at the inn?'
"Instantly I remembered a suspicion which had crossed my mind while there, and
my hand went involuntarily to my vest pocket. The roll of bills was gone.
"She did not falter. 'I would be relieved if you would,' continued she.
"I drew out my empty hand, looked at it, but said nothing.
"'Have you lost anything?' asked she. 'Search in your overcoat pockets.'
"I plunged my hand into the one nearest her and drew it out with satisfaction; the
roll of bills was there. 'I give you my promise,' said I.
"'You will find a bill missing,' she murmured; 'for what amount I do not know; the
sacrifice of something was inevitable.'
"'I can only wonder over the ingenuity you displayed, as well as express my
appreciation for your bravery,' returned I with enthusiasm. 'You are a noble girl.'
"She put out her hand as if compliments hurt her. 'It is the first time they have
ever attempted anything like that,' cried she in a quick low tone full of shame and
suffering. 'They have shown a disposition to--to take money sometimes, but they
never threatened life before. And they did threaten yours. They saw you take out
your money, through a hole pierced in the wall of the room you occupied, and the
sight made them mad. They were going to kill you and then tumble you and your
horse over the precipice below there. But I overheard them talking and when they
went out to saddle the horse, I hurried up to your room to wake you. I had to take
possession of the bills; you were not safe while you held them. I took them
quietly because I hoped to save you without betraying them. But I failed in that.
You must remember they are my father and my brother.'
"'I will not betray them,' said I.
"She smiled. It was a wintry gleam but it ineffably softened her face. I became
conscious of a movement of pity towards her.