“My child! my child!” cried Dame Hartley, putting her arms round the girl, and weeping as she did so. “How could you do such a fearful thing? Think, if your foot had slipped you might be lying there now yourself, in that dreadful place!” and she shuddered, putting back the tangle of fair hair with trembling fingers.
“Ah, but you see, my foot didn’t slip, Nurse Lucy!” replied Hilda, gayly. “I wouldn’t let it slip! And here I am safe and sound, so it’s really absurd for you to be frightened now, my dear!”
“Why in the name of the airthly didn’t ye wait till I kem home, and let me go down for ye?” demanded the farmer, who was secretly delighted with the exploit, though he tried to look very grave.
“Oh! I—I never thought of it!” said Hildegarde. “My only thought was to get down there as quickly as possible. So I waited till I heard you coming, for I didn’t want to leave Nurse Lucy alone; and then—I went! And I will not be scolded,” she added quickly, “for I think I have made a great discovery.” She held one hand behind her as she spoke, and her eyes sparkled as she fixed them on the farmer. “Dear Farmer Hartley,” she said, “is it true, as Bubble told me, that your father used to go down often into the vault of the old mill?”
“Why, yes, he did, frequent!” said the farmer, wondering. “’Twas a fancy of his, pokin’ about thar. But what—”
“Wait a moment!” cried Hilda, trembling with excitement. “Wait a moment! Think a little, dear Farmer Hartley! Did you not tell me that when he was dying, your father said something about digging? Try to remember just what he said!”
The farmer ran his hand through his shaggy locks with a bewildered look. “What on airth are ye drivin’ at, Hildy?” he said. “Father? why, he didn’t say nothin’ at the last, ’cept about them crazy di’monds he was allus jawin’ about. ‘Di’monds’ says he. And then he says ‘Dig!’ an’ fell back on the piller, an’ that was all.”
“Yes!” cried Hilda. “And you never did dig, did you? But now somebody has been digging. Little Jock began, and I finished; and we have found—we have found—” She broke off suddenly, and drawing her hand from behind her back, held up the iron box. “Take it!” she cried, thrusting it into the astonished farmer’s hands, and falling on her knees beside his chair. “Take it and open it! I think—oh! I am sure—that you will not lose the farm after all. Open it quickly, please!”
[Illustration: “‘TAKE IT AND OPEN IT!’”]
Now much agitated in spite of himself, Farmer Hartley bent himself to the task of opening the box. For some minutes it resisted stubbornly, and even when the lock was broken, the lid clung firmly, and the rusted hinges refused to perform their office. But at length they yielded, and slowly, unwillingly, the box opened. Hilda’s breath came short and quick, and she clasped her hands unconsciously as she bent forward to look into the mysterious casket. What did she see?