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15. The Journey in the Night
For a long minute Don stared at the piece of paper which he had in his hand. The words were perfectly clear but he was not able to realize immediately what they meant to him. Dennings was looking at him, and when the man saw that Don was reading the letter a frown gathered quickly on his forehead. With a single swoop of his hand he snapped the sheet from the cadet’s hand and hastily read the postscript.

Sudden vigor flashed in his eye and he raised his head to look at Don. But by this time the boy was ready for action. Before Dennings could move Don had stepped to the door leading into the other rooms. Seeing that Don meant to flee Dennings took a step nearer to him.

“Here, you!” called the man. “Where are you going? Come back here!”

Don knew it would be useless to try and get out of the door back of Dennings, and without answering the man he began to run down the dark hall that led to the front of the farmhouse. Dennings sprang after him in swift pursuit. When Don reached the hall which opened from the narrow passage he found that he had no time to try and open a door. Dennings was close behind him so the cadet turned at the foot of the stairs and ran rapidly up them. His pursuer followed unhesitatingly, and Don rushed into a bedroom in the center of the place and slammed the door. To his joy he found a bolt on the inside and he shot it closed just as Dennings threw his weight against the door.

“You open that door!” shouted the man, kicking savagely against the lower part of the wooden barrier.

“Nothing doing!” Don panted, leaning against the door. “You can’t come in here, Mr. Dennings!”

There was a pause and then Dennings spoke up. “Well, never mind, kid. I was told to keep you a prisoner until I heard from the major, and that’s what you are now. You saved me the trouble of locking you up myself.”

“Seems to me like I did the locking,” Don replied.

A key was thrust into the lock and to Don’s dismay it was turned with a sharp clicking noise. A chuckle came from the other side.

“Just doing a little locking of my own,” Dennings informed him. “You’ll just stay where you are for some time, boy. Don’t waste your time calling or pounding. No one will hear you out here.”

He walked away from the outside of the door and Don could hear him going down the front stairs. He shook the door, after drawing his bolt, and found that it was tightly locked. Then he turned to examine the room, a task that did not take him long. It was unfurnished, and the two windows were boarded up tightly. There was only the one door and a single deep closet with a shelf. Otherwise there was not a single object in the room.

“Well here’s a pretty mess,” reflected Don, in disgust. “Ran my head right into a noose. So the major is deeply concerned in all of this business, eh? Not a doubt in the world but what he knows very well where the colonel is, too. If I get a chance I’ll certainly ruin their little game.”

He set to work to find a way out of his prison, but after an hour of searching he gave up. The door was solid and the windows were well boarded. There were no other openings. He stopped and began to consider seriously his position. As there was no fire any place in the house he was beginning to feel chilled through, and he fell to rubbing his hands.

Three hours passed in this way and it grew darker in the room. The only light which entered the place filtered in through cracks in the boards, and it was not until some snow drifted in that Don realized what was causing the darkness. The threatened snowstorm had arrived.

Once more he looked around the room and his eyes fell on the closet. He opened the door and looked around the little compartment, but the walls were as firmly built as the rest of the room, and he had no hope of breaking through them. Then he looked at the ceiling above the shelf and a new thought struck him.

“Perhaps the ceiling above the shelf is not so strong as the rest,” he thought. “Might as well give it a try.”

The next problem was to climb upon the shelf. He tried the strength of the boards by hanging on them with all his weight suspended and he found that they would stand the strain. Using the door frame for his hands and feet he scrambled up on the shelf and sat there panting for a moment, to regain his breath. Then he reached up and pressed the ceiling with his hands.

The plaster was soft and the ceiling springy. It was evident that a layer of lath was the only covering, and he felt confident of breaking through that. Sliding forward on his back he raised one foot and sent his heel crashing against the ceiling of the closet. The heel broke through the soft plaster and the wood above splintered loudly. A shower of powdery plaster sprinkled over him, but he did not care for that. Much encouraged he sent another kick and still another against the ceiling, until his feet had crashed out a jagged hole in the plaster.

Now he sat up and carefully removed the fragments which hung around the ragged hole. He had broken a place between two beams, an opening large enough to admit his body, and when he had torn the splinters away he stood up and thrust his head and shoulders through the opening. Although he could see very little he realized that he was half way in an attic, and it took him but a brief instant to raise his body and haul himself to the level of the floor. He stood up and knew that he was free, for the moment at least.

His next task was to find the stairs. This took him several minutes, for the attic was dark by this time, and he had to proceed with caution. But at length he located them and began a careful descent. A door stood at the foot of the steps. He opened it and after a hasty look around, stepped out into the upper hall.

There was no sound in the house and Don made his way to the head of the stairs up which he had run a few hours ago. He looked over the railing and peered into the darkness below, but there was no light to be seen anywhere. Perhaps Dennings had gone away, and if such was the case he was free ............
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