Page:Yule Logs.djvu/163

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147
THE BADGE OF THE FOURTH FOOT

the walls that formed the sides of the narrow stairway. It went down and down, growing gradually dimmer and dimmer, until at last it died away. The old grandfather and Colin waited, listening. They faintly heard the tread of the colonel's spurred boots echoing hollowly in the darkness. Once they heard him cough, and then all was silent. The minutes slowly passed. Sir Donald grew a trifle nervous, his nervousness being indicated by the impatient tapping of his foot.

"Listen!" cried Colin. "I heard something fall—something that rattled." He knelt down and peered into the opening. "I hear him walking," he whispered. "He's coming nearer now. Now he has stopped. Now he is coming on again. He's on the stairs. He's carrying something that knocks against each step. I can see the reflection of the light now. And now here's the lantern." The boy drew back. "Mind your head, colonel, or you'll knock it," he cried.

Colonel Ossington did not require the caution. Bending his head, he crept upward, holding the lantern in his extended hand. Presently his face appeared in the aperture. It was ghastly white, and his eyes stared wildly. He drew a deep breath of the fresher air.

"You had better come down," he said, glancing up at Sir Donald Leslie; and drawing his left hand upward, he cast an old and rusty broadsword at the old man's feet. Sir Donald glanced at the weapon and kicked it aside.

"Come!" reiterated the colonel in a voice of authority, and the grandfather slowly obeyed. Colin followed him down the steps, although he was aware that he had not been included in the command. Perhaps he would have been wiser to remain where he was, but his boyish curiosity and love of adventure overcame his caution. Step by step they descended into the gloom. The air about them was damp and cold and stifling. The walls dripped with moisture. The stone stairs were slimy. Darkness hemmed