The City of Fire (Chapter 9, page 1 of 9)


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Chapter 9

After Billy had listened a long time he took a single step to relieve
his cramped toes, which were numb with the tensity of his strained
position. Stealthily as he could he moved his shoe, but it seemed to
grind loudly upon the cement floor of the cellar, and he stopped frozen
in tensity again to listen. After a second he heard a low growl as if
someone outside the house were speaking. Then all was still. After a
time he heard the steps again, cautiously, walking over his head, and
his spine seemed to rise right up and lift him, as he stood trembling.
He wasn't a bit superstitious, Billy wasn't. He knew there was no such
thing as a ghost, and he wasn't going to be fooled by any noises
whatsoever, but anybody would admit it was an unpleasant position to be
in, pinned in a dark unfamiliar cellar without a flash light, and steps
coming overhead, where only a dead man or a doped man was supposed to
be.

He cast one swift glance back at the cobwebby window through which
he had so recently arrived, and longed to be back again, out in the
open with the bells, the good bells sounding a call in his ears. If he
were out wouldn't he run? Wouldn't he even leave his old bicycle to any
fate and run? But no! He couldn't! He would have to come back
inevitably. Whoever was upstairs in that house alone and in peril he
must save. Suppose--!--His heart gave a great dry sob within him and he
turned away from the dusty exit that looked so little now and so
inadequate for sudden flight.

The steps went on overhead shuffling a little louder, as they seemed
further off. They were climbing the stair he believed. They wore rubber
heels! Link had worn rubber heels! And Shorty's shoes were
covered with old overshoes! Had they come back, perhaps to hide from
their pursuers? His heart sank. If that were so he must get out somehow
and go after the police, but that should be his last resort. He didn't
want to get any one else in this scrape until he knew exactly what sort
of a scrape it was. It wasn't square to anybody--not square to the
doped man, not square to himself, not even square to Pat and the other
two, and--yes, he must own it,--not square to Cart. That was his
first consideration, Cart! He must find Cart. But first he must find
out somehow who that man was that had been kidnapped.

It seemed an age that he waited there in the cellar and everything so
still. Once he heard a door far up open, and little shuffling noises,
and by and by he could not stand it any longer. Getting down softly on
all fours, he crept slowly, noiselessly over to the cellar stairs, and
began climbing, stopping at every step to listen. His efforts were much
hampered by the milk bottle which kept dragging down to one side and
threatening to hit against the steps. But he felt that milk was
essential to his mission. He dared not go without it. The tools were in
his other pocket. They too kept catching in his sleeve as he moved
cautiously. At last he drew himself to the top step. There was a crack
of light under the door. Suppose it should be locked? He could saw out
a panel, but that would make a noise, and he still had the feeling that
someone was in that house. A cellar was not a nice place in which to be
trapped. One bottle of milk wouldn't keep him alive very long. The
haunted house was a great way from anywhere. Even the bells couldn't
call him from there, once anybody chose to fasten him in the cellar,
and find the loose window and fasten it up--!

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