Read CHAPTER XIII - THE ROAD TO PEKING of The Little Girl Lost A Tale for Little Girls , free online book, by Eleanor Raper, on ReadCentral.com.

‘Now what are you going to do?’ asked An Ching.

’We shall follow you to Peking or wherever Hung Li takes you, and then go at once and tell the English gentleman where you are. You have no need to fear now,’ turning to Nelly, ‘that you will not get home.’

‘And can’t An Ching come with us?’

‘I dare not take her,’ said Chang, ’but perhaps your father can arrange something. Now I will go and ask Chi Fu what we had best do.’

Chi Fu thought that all they could do for the present was to keep the party well in sight and put up at the same inn that night. Chang returned and told An Ching this, and said they would go and get their mules. He cautioned all three not to appear to know either of them, even if they came and spoke to Hung Li.

After Chang and Chi Fu went away it seemed a very long time before Hung Li returned with another mule. He was accompanied by a man who brought a cart and took away the dead animal. Hung Li told An Ching that he had only been able to get a mule to take them as far as the next village, and they must put up there. He had brought some food, and they prepared another meal by the roadside. The children ate sitting in the cart. As soon as they had finished, Hung harnessed the mule and then set off once more.

This was a good strong beast and took them along briskly to the next village, but as so much time had already been wasted it was late in the afternoon when they arrived.

Hung Li was now obliged to go in search of another mule and return the one he had to its owner. By the time this was done, it was too late to start again that day.

The inn was about a hundred yards from the main road. It stood in an open space and was reached by a narrow winding path. All round and between the inn and the road was short grass and stubble. But on the opposite side of the road, a short distance on the way they had come, there was a hillock with a clump of trees at one side. The room which had been engaged for An Ching had its door, and also a small window, opening towards the road. Nelly and Little Yi could quite well see the hillock and clump of trees on the other side of the road from the window, and they had not been long in the room before they noticed that Chang and Chi Fu were there with their mules. Later in the evening they saw the two come over to the inn and heard them make arrangements to put up there for the night. An Ching went outside and passed them quite close, but they took no notice of her. She heard Chang inquire of Hung Li if he were going to Peking next day.

‘I am not sure,’ said Hung Li, in a very surly tone.

Chang took no notice of his rudeness, but said politely:

’I hope you will permit my son and me to follow your party, as we are strangers to these parts and not very sure of the road.’

‘You can if you like,’ replied Hung Ching ungraciously, and walked away. An Ching felt sure he had been drinking.

Nelly was still feeling far from well when she awoke next morning. She got up early, slipped the bolt, went out on to the dewy grass and looked up the road towards Peking. The fresh air revived her, although she was still very languid and depressed when she returned to the room. An Ching was awake, and reproved her for going out.

‘You know how dreadfully angry Hung Li would be with me if he saw you,’ she said.

But she let Nelly stand at the open window, and Little Yi, being in boy’s clothing, was not prevented from going in and out as she pleased.

An Ching went as usual to get the breakfast. Hung Li was still half tipsy. He said he was in a hurry to be off, although he did not appear to be making any preparations.

Chang and Chi Fu took their mules and went to the hillock to wait until Hung Li’s party started. Nelly was sitting listlessly in the room, and Little Yi had gone outside to have a look round. Presently a cloud of dust began to rise from the road in the distance, and four riders came in sight. Little Yi looked intently, suddenly turned round, and ran back to the room where Nelly was, crying breathlessly:

‘There’s your father and another gentleman riding from Peking!’

Nelly jumped up, dashed through the door and into the grassy space, paused a moment to look, and set off as fast as she could go. How she ran! but her legs felt weak, something thumped in her head, and her heart went pit-a-pat.

Mr. Grey rode with his head bent, and was looking at the ground.

‘Father! father! father! do stop!’ Nelly called out.

But her father did not see or hear, and there was An Ching shouting to her, and she knew that Hung Li might be after her directly.

‘Father! father!’ she wailed.

She thought she shouted loudly, but her voice was very weak and quite drowned by the clattering of the pony’s hoofs.

Still he did not look up, and was going by without seeing her! It was too much for the poor child. She felt as though everything was turning upside down, and just as her father rode past she fell to the ground in a faint.

But Chi Fu had seen it all from the hillock; and as Nelly fell he dashed forward and stood with outstretched arms in the middle of the road, ready to stop Mr. Grey’s pony. When it came up he caught hold of the bridle and turned the head right round, greatly to the astonishment of the rider.

‘What does this mean?’ exclaimed Mr. Grey angrily.

‘Your daughter! your daughter!’ replied Chi Fu, pointing to Nelly as she lay on the ground.

Mr. Grey asked no more questions, but spurred his pony and galloped back to where the little girl lay, Chi Fu running after him. He jumped off his pony and stooped anxiously over the little figure.

‘It’s Nelly,’ he said, when he looked at the face, and he kissed her.

Mr. Grey soon saw that she was only in a faint, and taking her in his arms he carried her towards the inn, feeling very happy to have recovered his little girl. When Little Yi came up he recognised her in spite of her boy’s clothing, and giving her a kindly pat on the head he told her to keep close to him and run to get some water as soon as they were at the inn. Little Yi showed him the room they were occupying and went for the water, while Mr. Grey sat with his child on his knee.

When her father bathed her head with the water Nelly soon recovered. Her happiness and delight when she found herself in her father’s arms cannot be described. Let each girl who reads this imagine it for herself.