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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XV A Sound in a Dream

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He sat down on the floor of the cellar and held his head in his hands, pressing his eyes so hard that curious lights floated before them.

``Tell me! Tell me!'' he said to that part of his being which the Buddhist anchorite had said held all knowledge and could tell a man everything if he called upon it in the right spirit.

And in a few minutes, he recalled something which seemed so much a part of his sleep that he had not been sure that he had not dreamed it. The ringing sound! He sprang up on his feet with a little gasping shout. The ringing sound! It had been the ring of metal, striking as it fell. Anything made of metal might have sounded like that. She had thrown something made of metal into the cellar. She had thrown it through the slit in the bricks near the door. She liked him, and said he was too good for his prison. She had thrown to him the only thing which could set him free. She had thrown him the KEY of the cellar!

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For a few minutes the feelings which surged through him were so full of strong excitement that they set his brain in a whirl. He knew what his father would say--that would not do. If he was to think, he must hold himself still and not let even joy overcome him. The key was in the black little cellar, and he must find it in the dark. Even the woman who liked him enough to give him a chance of freedom knew that she must not open the door and let him out. There must be a delay. He would have to find the key himself, and it would be sure to take time. The chances were that they would be at a safe enough distance before he could get out.

``I will kneel down and crawl on my hands and knees,'' he said.

``I will crawl back and forth and go over every inch of the floor with my hands until I find it. If I go over every inch, I shall find it.''

So he kneeled down and began to crawl, and the cat watched him and purred.

``We shall get out, Puss-cat,'' he said to her. ``I told you we should.''

He crawled from the door to the wall at the side of the shelves, and then he crawled back again. The key might be quite a small one, and it was necessary that he should pass his hands over every inch, as he had said. The difficulty was to be sure, in the darkness, that he did not miss an inch. Sometimes he was not sure enough, and then he went over the ground again. He crawled backward and forward, and he crawled forward and backward. He crawled crosswise and lengthwise, he crawled diagonally, and he crawled round and round. But he did not find the key. If he had had only a little light, but he had none. He was so absorbed in his search that he did not know he had been engaged in it for several hours, and that it was the middle of the night. But at last he realized that he must stop for a rest, because his knees were beginning to feel bruised, and the skin of his hands was sore as a result of the rubbing on the flags. The cat and her kittens had gone to sleep and awakened again two or three times.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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