Chapter IV

Dorothy’s Daring!

And now was Dorothy called upon to display great courage if she were to save her father from the peril that threatened. Never before in her short life had she encountered such a happening as this, and few could have blamed her if she had bowed to what seemed to be the inevitable.

But Dorothy suddenly discovered that a courage almost amounting to recklessness was surging within her. She was ready to do or dare anything​—​she, just a girl, whilst her foes were grown-up people, many and formidable.

Her father must be saved​—​even if her own life were forfeit.

So Dorothy determined, and her first plan was naturally to try and escape from this house, hire a boat and row along the river until the Good Hope was reached.

But how to escape?

Here, indeed, was a problem. True, she had mastered the secret spring; but outside this room was equally a prison with old Bachelor and Ann ever on the look-out.

“At all costs they must suspect nothing,” muttered Dorothy.

Excitedly she paced the small apartment, conjuring her brains over the plan most likely to succeed. Every now and then she crept to the secret door and listened. All seemed silent, and her fingers hovered about the spring. Yet she hesitated. Suppose Ann were in the room beyond? Dorothy could easily visualise what would follow​—​Ann’s warning cry to her grandfather. And then escape was hopeless!

“No, I must think of some other way,” muttered Dorothy. “Presently she will appear with my dinner——”

Her mind dwelt on wild and strenuous action when this happened. She might seize Ann​—​she felt she was bigger and stronger then Ann​—​reverse the positions so that Ann became the prisoner and she was free. But then Ann would call out​—​she could hardly submit tamely to such a proceeding​—​besides, there were no bonds to bind her.

Dorothy beat her hands together, and oh, how she longed to be a strong man like her father, armed with a sword! Ah, indeed, freedom could then be won by force and daring.

The weary moments dragged along; but with the passage of time came no solution of the difficulty.

At nightfall her father would he here​—​nightfall!​—​that would be about six hours’ hence. Six hours! Much could be done in that time.

Presently came the click of the secret spring and the door sliding back. Ann appeared and stepped inside, bearing a tray with a basin on it, whilst over one arm hung a folded cloth.

This time there was no attempt to make herself pleasant. She placed the things on the table with a clatter, and half flung the cloth at Dorothy.

“There’s enough to do in this home without having to wait on people,” she grunted.

Dorothy stood with the cloth half unfolded, one end in each hand, and as Ann turned disdainfully on her heel, Dorothy acted on the wild impulse of the moment.

With a lightning dart Dorothy sprang at her, whipped the cloth high in the air, and in a second it had descended and enveloped Ann’s head and shoulders.

Dorothy heard the girl give a stifled yelp of surprise; but that did not deter Dorothy from pulling the cloth tightly beneath Ann’s armpits and with feverish haste tying a double knot behind.

Then with a swift thrust that sent Ann sprawling on the bed, Dorothy was through the secret opening; and, turning, secured the catch.

She was free​—​to an extent!

For the briefest moment she paused to listen. There was some sort of movement in the chamber she had just quitted​—​Ann was doubtless struggling to get free from her bonds.

“It may take her quite a minute,” Dorothy decided. “Now, where is her grandfather?”

She crept to the door, and out into the passage. Movements below​—​unmistakable movements. That retreat was cut off! Oh, what must she do? At any moment now Ann’s voice might ring out.

Even as the fear crossed her mind, Ann began bellowing.

“Granddad! Granddad! Quick!” Dorothy heard her cry.

A step below told Dorothy that old Bachelor had heard the sound.

“Now I’m surely done!” sighed Dorothy.

But the danger quickened her wits. The old man was coming up; yet in that there was a chance. And in this way. Dorothy had caught sight of a key in the lock of the door of the room communicating with the secret apartment, and if old Bachelor would only enter this room, there was the possibility of turning this key and thus making both her gaolers prisoners.

Quick as lightning Dorothy shrank back into the dark shadows of an alcove in the passage, and hardly had she gained this shelter when, puffing and blowing, Ann’s grandfather whipped up the stairs and lumbered into the room.

Then Dorothy acted.

As he darted towards the secret door, Dorothy leaped from concealment and twisted the key​—​once​—​twice!

Never were two prisoners more thoroughly secured.

This accomplished, Dorothy fell a-trembling, and little wonder, for violent reaction had momentarily set in.

Bang! Crash!

It was old Bachelor’s foot and fists on the panels; but they built solidly in those old days, and the door was likely to resist such attacks for many a long hour.

Curiously enough, the noise seemed to bring Dorothy to herself. She even smiled as his furious voice bellowed forth:

“Let me out! Let me out! ’Twill be the worst for you if you don’t!”

“You can let yourself out,” muttered Dorothy.

She had no anxiety about neighbours hearing the clamour, for in those lawless times neighbours found it safer to turn a deaf ear to any turmoil that went on next door.

“What next do I do?” Dorothy asked herself.

She slithered down the staircase until she reached the shop. The first thing that caught her eye was Ann’s hood and cloak hanging from a hook. Hastily she donned them, pulling the hood well over her face. Then she made for the door leading out into the street; but before she could cross the threshold, the cloaked figure of a man barred the way.

It was Sir Wilfred Hawkes​—​her father’s foe, and the unscrupulous guardian from whom she was escaping.

Dorothy stood before him, speechless and trembling. Surely he would penetrate her disguise​—​he with his lynx eyes.

But, as fortune would have it, Sir Wilfred was too intent on other business to trouble about the girl who stood before him in cloak and hood. He had no doubts that it was old Bachelor’s granddaughter, and with scarcely a glance he addressed her as such.

“This fire is like to upset all our plans,” he muttered.

Dorothy nodded. Above, still continued the muffled sound of the door being kicked and banged.

“What noise is that?” demanded Sir Wilfred.

“Nothing​—​nothing,” mumbled Dorothy, in as near as she could imitate Ann’s sulky tones. “’Tis only granddad and​—​and​—​a door.”

Sir Wilfred glanced round the shop.

“He should be down here on the watch,” he frowned. “The girl’s father might chance to look in earlier than we expect. It likes me not. The fire grows nearer​—​nowhere is safe​—​not even the bridge. It may be the girl must be taken elsewhere——”

He strode up and down, beating his gloved hands together, and all the while Dorothy eyed him, wondering how long it would be before she was discovered. The news of the Fire left her unmoved. She thought he exaggerated the peril, for her mind was incapable of picturing the wild and terrible scenes that were coming nearer and nearer.

But the peril was evidently very real to Sir Wilfred. He suddenly ceased his pacing and darted to the shop door and looked eastwards. Despite the risk, Dorothy felt compelled to join him. And she, too, looked.

It was as if a huge fog had descended on the city; but the red and yellow splashes of colour that mingled with the blackness told of the devastating progress of the fire. The roar of the flames was distinctly audible, and now and then crashes spoke of buildings collapsing.

“The whole city is doomed​—​doomed,” muttered Sir Wilfred, speaking more to himself than to Dorothy. “It began in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding Lane, and has spread east, west, north, and south. They pull houses down in its path, but the fire leaps over the ruins. See how the folk run with their goods.”

He pointed a trembling hand at a number of people about to cross the bridge. With them was every sort and shape of vehicle, and all were packed high with their belongings.

“First the Plague and now the Fire!” groaned Sir Wilfred. “Girl!” He whipped round and caught Dorothy by the arm. “Get ye up to your grandfather, and tell him I must speak with him at once.”

Dorothy slowly turned on her heel and went to the doorway communicating with the upstairs. She stepped into the passage, but there she halted. What ever was she to do now? she asked herself. If her guardian went upstairs, then all was lost. Indeed, the position seemed such that Dorothy was lost whatever happened.

She looked back into the shop. Sir Wilfred was still standing in the doorway, peering this way and that. Suddenly, to Dorothy’s consternation, he wheeled round and darted to where she stood. He gave an ejaculation which, strangely enough, sounded like one of relief as he saw her.

“Quick, quick!” he muttered; and it was plain to see that terror had him in its grip. “You must hide me! The very man we would capture is coming hither, accompanied by two of his ship’s crew. Where can I go?”

Dorothy’s heart gave a huge bound. Her father coming!

“Where can I go​—​where can I hide?” breathed Sir Wilfred, seizing Dorothy by the wrist. “Pull yourself together, girl. He will not hurt you; with me, ’tis different. Oh, of all the bad luck! Hark! I hear his step——”

There was a door on the left, and Dorothy opened it, although she had no knowledge as to where it led. Quickly though events were moving, her mind kept pace with them. Old Bachelor and his daughter prisoners upstairs, and now there was a chance of locking up Sir Wilfred Hawkes. This last would indeed be a triumph if she accomplished it.

Sir Wilfred snatched at the door, and whipped it open.

“A cupboard!” he breathed. “’Twill have to serve.”

In a flash he was inside, and almost equally quickly Dorothy had slammed the door shut, and turned the key.

And then footsteps sounded in the shop, followed by the voice that Dorothy had longed to hear for many a weary day.

“Master Bachelor! Master Bachelor!”

Dorothy literally bounded into the shop. Her hood fell back, disclosing her golden curls.

“Father! Father!” she cried, flinging out her arms.