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Chapter XV. The Escape.

"No mistake about our being here!" gasped Nyoda. Her knees failed her and she sank weakly to the floor. "What can that mean? Are we kidnapped? Do you suppose we are being held for ransom?"

"It's too horrible," said Gladys, passing her hand over her eyes. "Such things happen in novels, but not in real life."

"And yet," said Nyoda musingly, "if you read the newspapers, you see that stranger things happen in reality than in fiction."

"If we're being held for ransom," said Gladys, "then mother and father will find out where I am." She was more troubled about the worry her disappearance would cause her parents than about any evil which might befall herself.

They rushed to the window to see if any boat was passing which they could signal. Not a sign of anything. Whoever had constructed this tower had considered a great many things. Built in the middle of an extensive estate and hidden on three sides by tall trees, it was not visible from the road at all. The barred window in the tower could only be seen from the lake side, so that if some one should wander through the grounds the appearance of the house itself would excite no suspicion. At some distance on each side of the tower a long rocky pier extended far out into the water. It was not a landing pier, for the rocks were piled unevenly on each other. These rocks changed the current of the water and made boating in the vicinity dangerous, so that launches and sailboats gave the place a wide berth. Then, on the outside of the barred window, clearing it by about two feet, there was an ornamental wooden trellis on which vines grew, which effectually screened the barred window from detection on the lake side.

All these excellent points of construction were borne in on the girls as they circled the room again and again looking for some way of escape. Discouraged and heartsick, they finally sat down on the bed and faced each other When the woman brought their dinner they made a further attempt to get from her the meaning of their being held there, but in vain. To all their written questions she simply wrote,

"I can tell you nothing."

The afternoon dragged slowly by, the girls getting more dejected all the time.

"I believe this violet color is affecting me already," said Nyoda. "I never felt so depressed and melancholy."

"It's the same way with me," said Gladys.

"If there was only one bright spot to relieve the monotony," said Nyoda, "it wouldn't be so bad."

"How about our middy ties?" asked Gladys. "They're bright red and ought to inspire courage." She took the ties from her little satchel and spread them out over a chair.

"That's better," said Nyoda. "I feel more cheerful already." After staring intently at the flaming square of silk for a while her mental activity began to revive and she commenced to turn over in her mind plans for their escape. Acting on this latest impulse, she wrote a letter addressed to a friend of hers and sealed and stamped it. When the deaf-mute brought their supper she drew a diamond ring from her finger, laid it beside the letter and wrote on a piece of paper,

"The ring is yours if you will mail this letter."

The woman shook her head. Nyoda drew off another ring, a handsome ruby surrounded by seed pearls and tiny diamonds. The woman gazed steadfastly at it, and Nyoda thought she saw a longing look in her eyes. She turned the ring so the stone sparkled in the light. The woman's lips parted and her hand crept toward the letter. Nyoda turned the ring in the light once more. By the look in the woman's face she knew that she had gained her point. In another moment she would accept the bribe. Just then the throbbing sound of a motor was heard on the drive. The woman started violently, jerked her hand back and sent the elevator down in haste. With a gesture of despair Nyoda threw the letter down on the dresser.

"Do you suppose she really is deaf?" asked Gladys. "She seemed to hear that sound."

"Maybe she heard it," said Nyoda, "and then again she may have felt the vibrations. Who do you suppose has come?"

They spent the evening in a thrill of expectation, but were undisturbed. Without lighting the lights they stood looking at the stars through the openings in the trellis. At last Nyoda turned from the window and snapped on the switch. As she did so she noticed that the elevator cage had been up and was just going down. As it sank out of sight she saw that the occupant was a man. Soon afterward they heard the throb of the motor again and then the sound of a car driving away.

"Where did you put the red ties?" asked Gladys the next morning.

"I didn't take them," said Nyoda. The ties had disappeared from the chair overnight.

From sheer nervousness Nyoda began twisting up her felt outing hat in her hands. As she did so she came upon something hard in the inside of the crown. Investigating she drew out her Wohelo knife. "I had forgotten I had it in there," she said. "I put that pocket in my hat just for fun and slipped the knife in to see if it would go in."

Why is it that a knife in one's hand inspires a desire to cut something? Nyoda immediately began examining the room for a possible means of escape with the aid of the knife. Opening the window, she inspected the setting of the bars closely. They were set only into the wooden window sill. "Gladys," she whispered excitedly, "I believe we can cut the wood away from these bars and push them out."

"And what then?" asked Gladys.

"Jump," said Nyoda. "Jump into the lake and swim away."

Not daring to make any attempt in the daytime for fear of the mysteriously silent visits of the deaf-mute, who never came at any regular time, they waited until after dark, and then Gladys sat close beside the elevator shaft, watching for the slightest indication of the approaching car. Nyoda meanwhile hacked away at the window casing, cutting and splitting it away from the bars. She worked feverishly for several hours and succeeded in freeing the ends of three of the bars, which would be enough to let them through. Just then Gladys gave a warning hiss. The elevator cord was moving. Nyoda drew the shade down over the window and closed the purple curtains over it, and both girls jumped into bed and pulled the covers over them. They had undressed so as to avert suspicion. The next moment the elevator door opened silently, but whether it moved up or down or side wise they could not make out, and the deaf-mute stepped into the room. Guided by a flash-light, she picked up Gladys's red petticoat from the chair and departed as silently as she had come. As soon as the elevator had sunk out of sight the girls were back at work again. Throwing all her weight against the bars, Nyoda bent them out and upward, the wood that held them at the top splintering with the strain. Then, leaning out, she began to cut away the trellis, which was in the way. It was built out from the sill and had no supports on the ground, and the vines which were on it came around the corner of the house.

Looking down, she could see that they were indeed right above the lake, without a foot of ground at the bottom of the tower. No other part of the house was visible from this angle. The waves roared and dashed on the cliff below, and a strong wind was blowing from the west. "It looks as if a storm were coming," said Nyoda in a low tone. The night was wearing away fast and the girls knew that it was safer to escape under cover of darkness. About three o'clock in the morning the storm broke, a terrific thunder shower. The tower swayed in the wind and at each crash they held their breath, thinking that the house had been struck. The spray from the waves as they were flung against the rocks often came in through the open window. Both girls looked down into the boiling sea beneath them and drew back with a shudder. "Wait until the storm is over," said Gladys.

"It may be daylight then," said Nyoda. Howling like an imprisoned giant, the wind hurled itself against the side of the tower. "There's one thing about it," said Nyoda, "we never can swim in those waves with skirts on. I'm going to have a bathing suit." Taking the blankets from the bed, she made them into straight narrow sacks, cutting various holes in them so as to leave the arms and limbs free.

When the storm had abated somewhat they prepared for the plunge. The first faint streaks of dawn were showing in the east. Gladys crept out on the sill and then shrank back. The surface of the water seemed miles below her. "I can't do it, Nyoda," she panted.

"Yes, you can," said Nyoda, patting her on the shoulder. "You aren't going to lose your nerve at this stage of the game, are you? 'Screw your courage to the sticking point,' We have our fate in our own hands now. 'Who hesitates is lost.'"

"But the water is so far away," shuddered Gladys.

"What of that?" said Nyoda. "It's perfectly safe to jump. The water is very deep along the shore here. Think, just one leap and then we're out of this!"

Gladys still hung back. "You go first," she pleaded.

Nyoda made a motion to go and then stopped. "No," she said firmly, "I'd rather you went first. You might be afraid to follow me afterward. Brace up; remember you're a Winnebago!"

This had its effect and without allowing herself to stop to think Gladys tossed her bundle of clothes out of the window and, closing her eyes, dropped from the sill. There was a wild moment of suspense as she sank downward through the gloom, and then she struck the water and it rolled over her head. It was icy cold and for a minute she felt numb. Then the waves parted over her head and she felt the wind blowing against her face. A great splash beside her terrified her for an instant, and then she remembered that it was Nyoda jumping in after her. In a moment a head came up nearby and Nyoda inquired calmly how she enjoyed the bathing. "It's g-r-r-e-a-t," said Gladys with chattering teeth.

"Now for a little pleasure swim," said Nyoda, striking out. While they were swimming away the storm broke the second time; the thunder sounded in their ears like cannon and the vivid lightning flashes lit up the shore for miles around. By its light they could see that they were nearing one of the long stone piers. Climbing up on this, they rested until they had their breath back again, although it was a rather exciting rest, for the waves were going high over the pier and threatened to wash them off every moment. The shore line along here was peculiarly rugged and forbidding. Instead of a beach, high cliffs rose perpendicularly out of deep water and afforded nowhere a landing place. The girls swam slowly and easily, fearing to spend their strength before they could reach shallow water, often turning over to float and gain a few moments' rest in this way. The waves were very rough and tossed them about a great deal, but the wind was west and they were swimming toward the east, and as the natural current of the lake was eastward toward Niagara, their progress was helped rather than retarded by the force of the water.

The storm abated and the sun began to rise over the lake, gilding the crest of the waves. Still no sign of a beach. "I can't go much further," said Gladys faintly. Both girls were nearly spent when Nyoda spied a strip of yellow in the distance which put new strength into them. Putting forth their last efforts, they headed toward it. Trembling with weakness and breathless from being buffeted about so much, they gained the narrow beach and with a great sigh of relief rolled out onto the sand.