“Well, I don’t wonder,” answered Nellie in a patronising tone. “Such a dreadful night too! Of course, it would startle anybody. But he won’t try again, and you can scold Mary to-morrow and then she can scold her young man.”
The child spoke so naturally that all doubts vanished from Mrs. Goddard’s mind. She reflected that children are much more apt to see things as they are, than grown people whose nerves are out of order. Nellie’s conclusions were perfectly logical, and it seemed folly to doubt them. She determined that Mary should certainly be scolded on the morrow and she unconsciously resolved in her mind the words she should use; for she was rather a timid woman and stood a little in awe of her stalwart Berkshire cook, with her mighty arms and her red face, and her uncommonly plain language.
“Yes dear,” she said more quietly than she had been able to speak for some time, “I have no doubt you are quite right. I thought I heard his footsteps just now, going down the path. So he will not trouble us any more to-night. And now darling, kneel down and say your prayers, and then we will go to bed.”
So Nellie, reassured by the news that her mother was going to bed, too, knelt down as she had done every night during the eleven years of her life, and clasped her hands together, beneath her mother’s. Then she cleared her throat, then she glanced at the clock, then she looked for one moment into the sweet serious violet eyes that looked down on her so lovingly, and then at last she bent her lovely little head and began to say her prayers, there, by the fire, at her mother’s knees, while angry storm howled fiercely without and shook the closed panes and shutters and occasional drops of rain, falling down the short chimney, sputtered in the smouldering coal fire.
“Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come—”
Nellie gave a loud scream and springing up from her knees flung her arms around her mother’s neck, in uttermost, wildest terror.
“Mamma, mamma!” she cried looking, and yet hardly daring to look, back towards the closed window. “It called ‘Mary Goddard’! It is you, mamma! Oh!”
There was no mistaking it this time. While Nellie was saying her prayer there had come three sharp and distinct raps upon the wooden shutter, and a voice, not loud but clear, penetrating into the room in spite of wind and storm and rain.
“Mary Goddard! Mary Goddard!” it said.
Mrs. Goddard started to her feet, lifting Nellie bodily from the ground in her agony of terror; staring round the room wildly as though in search of some possible escape.
“I must come in! I will come in!” said the voice again.
“Oh don’t let him in! Mamma! Don’t let him in!” moaned the terrified child upon her breast, clinging to her and weighing her down, and grasping her neck and arm with convulsive strength.