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Mildred silently turned and regarded her companion. Her eyes were not hard and cold now. They were glowing with anxiety and terror.
“Cannot we get out?” demanded Inez.
Mildred shook her head.
“Not the way we came in,” she replied. “I remember now that Cristoval warned me never to close the door behind me; but I forgot to tell you that, so you are not to blame.”
Inez looked down at baby, who had again fallen asleep, snuggled close to her breast. Her fear at this time was not for herself. It was dreadful to think of the danger she had placed the darling baby in—the child she would have died rather than injure.
Mildred saw the look and read its anguish. Her own cheeks blanched for a moment, but there was an inherent quality of courage in this girl that forbade her to despair. Speaking as much to herself as to Inez she said:
“We were able to open this adobe door only by pressing downward on a block of the floor outside, which released a catch which is securely hidden in the lower edge of the opening—where I cannot reach it. So, unless some one knew the secret and could press that block in the nursery, the door cannot again be opened.”
Inez staggered to a stool and sat down.
“Must we stay here always?” she pleaded piteously.
“I think not. I am sure not, Inez. They will find some way to break through the wall and rescue us.”
“But no one knows we are here!”
“True. Well, I believe there are other ways to get out of this hollow wall, besides the opening we came through. I am quite certain I was told that Señor Cristoval could enter from his room, on the second floor; and perhaps there are other entrances. Stay here and keep baby quiet and I will make an examination of our prison.”
As she started to ascend the stairs Inez arose to follow her.
“Let me come, too,” she begged. “I am afraid to stay alone.”
“Very well; but try not to waken baby.”
The stairs were built the full width of the space, completely blocking it at that end. At the top they stepped into another narrow room, which was not over the lower one but extended farther along the wall. It was, indeed, extraordinary to note how comfortable the genius of that ancient Cristoval who had planned the place, had made this originally comfortless corridor-like room, for room it was despite its narrow confines.
The ceiling was high, and light and air were admitted by gratings placed at the top, letting onto the bastion of the roof, where they could not be observed by those below. The gratings were covered by projections that kept out the rain and dew. On the floor was a thick carpet, somewhat musty and dusty now, and at the far end was placed a couch with silken curtains. This was still piled high with bedding and pillows and was boxed in, the full width of the passage, with elaborately carved woods. Upholstered seats, rather narrow but long and quite comfortable, were built against the wall and supported by richly carved frames of ebony and panels of cherry. There were pictures upon the walls; oil paintings of quite good quality. A sort of wall-cabinet and some small brackets supported numerous hooks, ornaments, and several boxes of metal and sandalwood, which last Mildred eyed expectantly but had now no leisure to examine.
The girls were both awed by this discovery, for Mildred had never been permitted to mount the stair to this room when Señor Cristoval had allowed her to peep into the lower passage. The intense silence lent a weirdness to the place that was at first quite disconcerting. A gray rat scuttled along the carpet, causing them to jump and cry out, and then disappeared somewhere beneath the couch. Inez, trembling with nervous fear, hugged the baby with one arm and clutched Mildred’s arm with the other, and then they sat together on one of the cushioned seats and tried to collect their thoughts.
Mildred reflected that no person had entered this place for at least eight years, for it was eight years since the last Cristoval had passed to his fathers. Yet, aside from the dust, everything seemed in an excellent state of preservation. The secret room had been fitted up by its builder more than fifty years before and much of the furnishings must have been placed there then.
“My first task,” she said to Inez, “must be to make a thorough examination of this place. Since there is no one to help us, we must help ourselves, and any weakness at this time would be fatal.”
With this she rose and carefully began to inspect the walls. The heavy carpet was merely laid flat on the adobe floor and she raised it here and there and tested the blocks to see if any was movable. There was no means of reaching the ceiling but an opening there was out of the question.
Near the center of the room, on the inner wall and about two feet from the floor, was a square of wood firmly embedded in the adobe. This, she thought, might possibly be a means of egress or ingress, so she tested it eagerly, pressing not only upon the wood but on all the blocks of adobe near it, in the endeavor to discover a hidden spring or some other clever mechanical contrivance which would prove the “open sesame.” But the panel and the wall defied all her efforts and she finally concluded it was solid planking placed there to support the wall or to allow cupboards or shelves to be nailed against it.
Another similar place, where a huge panel of plank was set in the wall, she found at the very end of the passage, beyond the couch, and was only able to reach it by mounting the bed and climbing over the bedding. This panel was also immovable and she decided it could not be an opening because the wall beyond it was doubtless solid. This space beyond the bed, where the room ended, contained a huge chest of quaintly carved oak. As she saw the chest her heart gave a great bound and forgetting for the moment her desire to escape she reached down and raised the lid.
Then her face fell. Despite the dim light in this corner, which she had grown somewhat accustomed to in investigating the panel, she could see that the chest contained merely papers, with which it was half filled. This might be the accumulated correspondence of the Cristovals, of no use to any but themselves, and losing all interest in the chest she closed the lid and again crossed over the high bed to Inez.
The result of this investigation, which had consumed a full hour, so thorough had she been, convinced Mildred that there was no immediate way for them to leave their prison. So she began to plan how they might keep themselves and baby Jane comfortable until they were rescued.
The bottle of milk, which Inez still held in her hand, was a prepared food of a highly nourishing quality. The contents of the bottle had scarcely been touched by baby when, rousing from her sleep, she had been taken up and comforted by Inez until slumber again overtook her. Usually Jane consumed two bottles of such food each day, and another during each night.
Mildred looked at her watch and found it was nearly four o’clock. With a little care in its administration the baby’s food might last until morning, but not longer. For themselves, they must be content without food, unless—
She decided to search the boxes and shelves while daylight lasted, and bade Inez place the sleeping infant on one of the cushioned seats and support it with a pillow brought from the couch. Then the two girls began to take down the boxes from the shelves and explore their contents. Some were of tin and square in shape; others were round, like canisters.
In one they found some tea and in another a small quantity of loaf sugar. There was no other food, except a few cracker crumbs in the bottom of a tin.
Leaving Inez to sit beside baby, Mildred next visited the room below. Here the light was more dim, but she discovered a box of wax candles—two or three dozen in number—and a quantity of matches in a small iron safe. She tried these last and after several attempts managed to light one of them and with it light a candle. The matches were at least eight years old, but there was not a particle of dampness in the place and so they had not greatly deteriorated.
A broad slab of redwood, hinged and fastened to the wall by turn-buttons, was made to let down and serve as a table. When Mildred lowered it she found that it covered a small recess or cupboard in the wall, in which stood three tin cans. One was labeled “tomatoes” and the other two “corn.”
Here was food, of a certain sort; but the cans were tightly soldered and there seemed to be no tool that might be used to open them. Although the place was littered with many small articles there was nothing else among them that especially interested the girl. Two sabers were crossed upon the wall over the table, and below them hung a big revolver. A panama hat, yellowed with age, hung upon a peg. A broom made of palm fiber stood in a corner.
Mildred returned to the upper floor, carrying with her several candles and some matches.
“Inez,” said she, “we must make the best of our misfortune. I hope that before long we shall be rescued, both on baby’s account and on our own. There are some tins of tomatoes and corn down stairs, but nothing that baby could eat. However, we shall suffer more from thirst than from hunger, as there is not a drop of water in the place.”
Inez had been thinking during Mildred’s absence.
“Can we not scream, and so make them hear us?” she asked.
“I have thought of that and we will make the attempt. The servants are all in the opposite wing, so it is useless to try to arouse their attention; but when Mr. and Mrs. Weldon return, with the others, they may be able to hear us and so rescue us.”
“When will they be back?” Inez inquired.
Mildred considered this question.
“I heard them say they were to stay in town for luncheon, but Mrs. Weldon remarked that they would be back soon after. I think, Inez, they may already have returned and even now may be searching for us. Stay here, and I will go below, so as not to disturb baby, and call.”
She went again down the steep stairs to the lower room where, standing near to the place where they had come through the wall, she uttered a sharp, shrill cry, such as she thought might penetrate the thick blocks of adobe. The sound echoed with startling reverberations through the secret chambers and baby Jane, wakening in affright, set up a series of such lusty screams that it seemed as if they ought to be heard a mile away.
Inez did her best to soothe and quiet the baby, but succeeded only when she had given little Jane the precious bottle of milk.
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