All he need do was to walk along in the shelter of it, touching the rails now and then to make certain of not straying, until he should come out on the road, at the gate lodge. It was absurdly easy; compared to what he had been undergoing. Besides, the lee of the fence afforded a certain shelter from wind and snow. The child realized he had been turned about in the dark; and had been going in the wrong direction. But now, at last, his course seemed plain to him.
So he set off briskly, close to the fence;--and directly away from the nearby road.
For another half-hour he continued his inexplicably long tramp; always buoyed up by the hope of coming to the road in a few more steps; and doggedly sure of his bearings. Then, turning out from the fence, in order to skirt a wide hazel thicket, he tripped over an outcrop of rock, and tumbled into a drift. Getting to his feet, he sought to regain the fence; but the fall had shaken his senses and he floundered off in the opposite direction. After a rod or two of such futile plunging, a stumbling step took him clean off the edge of the world, and into the air.
All this, for the merest instant. Then, he landed with a jounce in a heap of brush and dead leaves. Squatting there, breathless, he stretched out his mittened hand, along the ground. At the end of less than another yard of this exploring, his fingers came again to the edge of the world and were thrust out over nothingness.
With hideous suddenness, Cyril understood where he was; and what had happened to him and why. He knew he had followed the fence for a full mile, AWAY from the road; through the nearer woods, and gradually upward until he had come the line of hazels on the lip of the ninety-foot ravine which dipped down into a swamp-stretch known as "Pancake Hollow."
That was what he had done. In trying to skirt the hazels, he had stepped over the cliff-edge, and had dropped five feet or more to a rather narrow ledge that juts out over the ravine.
Well did he remember this ledge. More than once, on walks with the Mistress and the Master, he had paused to look down on it and to think fun it would be to imprison someone there and to stand above, guying the victim. It had been a sweet thought. And now, he, himself, was imprisoned there.
But for luck, he might have fallen the whole ninety feet; for the ledge did not extend far along the face of the cliff. At almost any other spot his tumble might have meant--