Authors: John Bellairs
Anthony ran through the deserted streets. He splashed in and out of puddles. The gutters were running with rainwater. He could hear it gurgling down into the storm sewers as he ran.
I’ll save you, Miss Eells
, he said to himself as he ran.
Don’t worry, I’ll save you.
Another thought was running through his mind, too. It was about the treasure. He knew where it was now, or he thought he knew. It was in the library. Miss Eells had said that the treasure would be safe there for the time being, but Anthony wasn’t so sure about that. He was still worried that someone might sneak in and grab it before he got there.
Anthony was running down Division Street now. The houses were all dark. Nobody was around, not a soul. The evacuation of the lower part of town had been pretty complete. Once, as Anthony was crossing a street, he saw a jeep cruising past several blocks away. It was probably somebody sent by his mother, he thought, somebody who wanted to drag him back to the academy. Well, he wasn’t going. Not till he had found Miss Eells. His mother thought he was stupid, but grown-ups were the ones who were stupid, not him. Maybe he had been wrong about the treasure, but he was on the right trail now. As soon as he had made sure that Miss Eells was safe and sound, they would go get the treasure together, and then wouldn’t everybody be surprised! Including Hugo Philpotts. Anthony grinned. It was a determined, stubborn grin. He would fix them, he would show them all. His legs ached, and there was a pain in his side, but he gritted his teeth and ran on.
Sometime later, Anthony turned onto the sidewalk in front of Miss Eells’s house. It had stopped raining, but lightning still flashed now and then. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm was moving off across the bluffs, into Wisconsin. Anthony looked like a drowned rat. He was dripping with rain and sweat. Halfway down Division Street, he had torn off his raincoat and hat so that he could run faster. He saw a light burning in Miss Eells’s living room. Her garage doors were closed, so he really couldn’t tell if her car was there or not. When he caught his breath, he ran up the sidewalk and banged on the front door. He pushed the bell several times. Without waiting for an answer, he turned the doorknob. The door swung open.
Inside it was empty. Miss Eells was not to be found. Anthony turned and walked back toward the front door.
“Help! Help!” A cry, faint and feeble, came from the cellar.
Anthony ran back to the cellar door and looked down into the darkness. He could just barely see something or somebody lying huddled at the bottom.
“Down here... down here... please help me, I’m hurt!”
Frantically, Anthony fumbled for the switch that turned on the cellar light. He flipped it, but nothing happened. But by now his eyes were getting used to the darkness. With the hall light on, he could pick his way down. Slowly, cautiously, he started down the steps. At the bottom, he found Miss Eells.
“An—Anthony? Is that you?”
Anthony’s eyes filled with tears. “Yeah, it’s me, Miss Eells,” he said in a thick, choked voice. “Are you all right?”
Miss Eells made a funny sound that might have been a laugh. “Not really,” she said faintly. “I seem to—to keep passing out. And I’ve—cut myself some—somehow. That’s two bumps on the head in one year. Not good. Not good.” Miss Eells’s voice was wandering and dreamy, as if she were talking in her sleep. She tried to raise herself on her hands, but the effort was too much. She collapsed, unconscious, on the cellar floor.
Anthony didn’t know what to do. He figured Miss Eells must have fallen down the steps, and he had always been told that it was dangerous to move somebody who had had a bad fall. After all, they might have some broken bones. But if he left Miss Eells down there and the flood waters got into the town, then she would drown. He stood there trying to make up his mind. Could he drag her up those stairs? He was just a kid, but on the other hand, she was a small woman. She probably didn’t weigh very much. He knelt down by her side. He put his hands on her shoulders and was just about to turn her onto her back when she came to.
“Yeah, Miss Eells? What is it?”
“I—I think I could make it up the stairs if you would—help me.”
Anthony felt a lump in his throat. He saw the puddle of blood on the cellar floor, and when Miss Eells raised her head, he saw the ragged gash on her scalp and her hair matted with dried blood. He almost felt as if he were going to be sick, but he fought the feeling down. “Okay, Miss Eells. Let’s give it a try.”
Slowly, with Anthony’s help, she raised herself to her knees. Then Anthony put his arm around her waist and made her put her arm around his neck. He rose, and she rose with him, shudderingly and slowly. When Miss Eells took her first step, she almost fell down, but she stopped herself, and after a slight pause, she began to shuffle forward. Up the steps they went, one step at a time. It seemed to take forever, but at last they made it to the top.
Still hanging onto Anthony, Miss Eells hobbled into the kitchen and sat down. Now she began to give directions. She told Anthony to tear up a clean dishtowel so she could use it to bandage her head. Anthony got a pair of shears out of the drawer next to the sink and did as he was told. When the bandage was in place, Miss Eells asked for a glass of water. Anthony got it for her. She drank it all down in one swallow.
“Aah! That feels better!
Anthony sat down on a chair nearby and eyed Miss Eells anxiously.
“Miss Eells, doncha think we better get the heck out of here? There might be a flood any minute!”
Miss Eells stared vaguely into her empty water glass. It was hard to tell if she was punchy or just very relaxed. She had seemed clear-headed, enough while she was giving Anthony directions about the bandage, but now she seemed to be falling back into a kind of stupor, a state where nothing much mattered to her at all. “Hmmm... yes, I suppose that would be wise,” said Miss Eells carelessly. Then she looked up suddenly and blinked her eyes. “Good grief, do you suppose we really
“I dunno, Miss Eells, but I think we better get you over to the hospital.”
Miss Eells said nothing. Anthony was beginning to feel desperate. What was he going to do with her? For the time being, all thoughts of Alpheus Winterborn’s treasure had vanished from his mind. Miss Eells was hurt, and he had to help her. He had to get her to the hospital. Or better yet, call an ambulance. Sure. That would be the thing to do.
“I think we better get you to the hospital. Where’s your phone?”
Miss Eells looked confused. “Phone? Oh... well, it’s out in the front hall. By the way, could I have another glass of water?”
Anthony hurriedly poured Miss Eells another glass of water. Then he went out into the hall and hunted for the phone. There it was, on a dusty little table next to the coat tree. He picked up the receiver and put it to his ear. Nothing. Not even a rattle. He jiggled the little buttons on the receiver rest. Still nothing. The phone was dead.
Anthony slammed the phone down and went back to the kitchen. Miss Eells was still sitting there with the water glass in her hand.
“Miss Eells, the phone is dead. I don’t know what to do. Do—do you think you could walk to the hospital?”
“I guess so,” she said uncertainly. “How far is it?”
This was a further sign to Anthony that Miss Eells was pretty far gone. She knew the town like the back of her hand, and when she started asking things like “How far is the hospital?” it was a sure sign that she wasn’t very with it.
Anthony helped Miss Eells to her feet, and they started off. Out into the hall, down the front steps, down the walk. Miss Eells hobbled along at Anthony’s side, as helpless as a small child. Without his arm to cling to, she would have collapsed.
They had gone about half a block in the direction of the hospital when Miss Eells passed out. Anthony suddenly felt a heavy weight sagging against his arm, and Miss Eells fell to her knees, dragging him down with her. Anthony managed somehow to get her laid out on the sidewalk; then he started slapping her cheeks. “Wake up, Miss Eells! Wake up! We’ve still got a long way to go! Come on, wake up!” After a few minutes, she came to and staggered to her feet. Leaning heavily on Anthony, she started off again. Half a block more, and she passed out again.
It was useless, and Anthony knew it. They’d never get to the hospital at this rate. But where could they go? The library! Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of it before! It was on high ground, and there might be a phone in working order there. Vague visions of the treasure flitted before Anthony’s eyes again, but he ignored them. The important thing now was to save Miss Eells. Carefully he steered her across the street. They were headed toward Levee Park now, and the library.
Miss Eells hobbled across the park with Anthony holding her up. The walks were lined with benches, and every now and then Miss Eells would have to sit down on one and rest. She kept getting dizzy, and Anthony was afraid she might pass out again. Somehow, though, she managed to recover from each of these new attacks of dizziness. Each time she got up and moved on.
They were about halfway across the park when the street lights went out. The power station was down by the river, and somebody had decided to shut down the dynamos for fear that the river water would get in and short them out. The library loomed ahead of them, a dark shadow against a dark sky. They were approaching the library from the rear, and the tall shadow of the tower appeared on the right. Anthony gasped. He looked, and he blinked, and he looked again. There was a light on. A light in the tower.
“My gosh!” Anthony exclaimed. “Lookit!”
Miss Eells raised her head. She laughed an odd, silly little laugh. “Now that’s funny, isn’t it? A light in the tower room! But there isn’t any light up there, is there?” Miss Eells shook her head and stared strangely at Anthony. “Anthony,” she said suddenly, “why are we going to the library?”
“Because of the flood,” said Anthony.
Miss Eells looked vague again. “Oh. Oh, yes. I do seem to remember. But you know, there really isn’t any electric light up in the tower. No fixture of any kind. I’m quite sure of that. Every time I go up there, I have to take a flashlight with me.”
Anthony looked up at the tower again. Sure enough, there was a light on in the tower room. Suddenly, Anthony had a creepy feeling. Maybe the ghost of Alpheus Winterborn had come back. What if he was waiting for them at the top of the tower stairs? Anthony shook off this feeling. Ghosts were the least of his worries right now.
Following a narrow cement walk, Miss Eells and Anthony made their way around to the front of the library. The storm clouds were gone now. The sky was clear, and the moon was out. Under its light, the library cast a shadow, a vast, irregular, dark pall that fell across the sidewalk. Just as they rounded the northwest corner of the library, where the tower was, Miss Eells and Anthony stepped out of the shadow. Anthony felt as if they were stepping out into sunlight. The shadow of Alpheus Winterborn’s old stone castle chilled him to the bone.
When they reached the front steps of the library, Anthony stopped for a second. Miss Eells, who was being led along by him, stopped, too. Anthony turned and peered out across the park toward the riverbank. He could just barely see the wall of sandbags and the river glimmering beyond it. He wondered how high the river was now and whether any of the water was seeping through into the park. Then he saw something move. There were men down there, keeping watch on the river.
Anthony hesitated. He started to call to the men. Perhaps they could help Miss Eells; she certainly wasn’t in very good shape. Her cut had stopped bleeding, but she was acting funny, and Anthony knew she ought to see a doctor. He glanced at her again. She stood there at his side, staring blearily out toward the river, but her eyes didn’t seem to be seeing much. I’d
better get her inside first,
Anthony told himself.
As they climbed the library steps, Anthony fumbled in his pocket for the key to the front door. He always carried it with him, and he smiled as his hand closed over the small, cold piece of metal. But when he pulled the key out and started to stick it in the lock, he got a big surprise. The door was already open. One of the two big panes of glass in the door had been shattered. The bolt had been turned from the inside, and the door stood slightly ajar.
Now Anthony was frightened. Somebody
inside the library. He felt his heart pounding. He wanted to take Miss Eells and run. But then he told himself that he was being cowardly and foolish. The pane of glass might have been shattered by some kid with a stone. The light in the tower might have been a reflection from the lights down by the river, or the moon. Miss Eells might have forgotten to lock the door when she closed up the library, and the wind might have blown the door open. Anthony knew he was kidding himself, but he wanted to believe the little explanations he was making up in his mind. He was scared of what he might run into when he walked inside. But he had to get to a phone.
He took a deep breath, steeled himself, and stepped forward. He grabbed the knob and flung the door wide open. “Come on, Miss Eells,” he said, giving her his arm.
Miss Eells thanked Anthony in a mumbly voice and tottered on into the dark front hall of the library. Up the inside steps they went, and through a set of swinging doors. The Hoosac Public Library was a strange place in the darkness. Gaping black arches opened on either side, and at the rear of the building shadowy rows of books dreamed in the moonlight. Moving carefully, Anthony picked his way along till he came to an upholstered bench that was built into one wall. Gently, he eased Miss Eells down onto the seat.