Janet D. Wheeler
Billie Bradley and the School Mystery; Or, The Girl From Oklahoma
AT LAKE MOLATA
“My, but it’s good to get back!”
The statement came from Billie Bradley. She gazed upon the ivy-covered towers of the boarding school with genuine affection.
Three Towers Hall was an impressive building, set amidst gracious, well-tended lawns on the borders of one of the prettiest and most picturesque lakes in that part of the country. From its gates students flocked in gay anticipation of vacation and good times at the end of the spring term, to return, more soberly, but with a refreshed and brightened outlook, to take up their studies at the beginning of the fall semester.
Such a time had come again to Billie Bradley and her two close chums, Violet Farrington and Laura Jordon. After a particularly interesting and adventure-filled summer, they had returned to their beloved seat of learning, eager for work and with renewed and heightened ideals.
Now they stood on the borders of the lake, looking toward Three Towers Hall through a lane of trees that made flickering shadows on the lawn. Idly, they speculated on the future.
“I’d feel better,” observed Vi, “if I hadn’t that condition in math to make up. It worries me.”
“It would,” agreed Laura. “I mean, it would have worried me so much that if it had been my condition, I’d have made it up during the summer instead of waiting until fall, when goodness knows the work is hard enough, anyway.”
“It’s easy enough for you to criticize,” said Vi, a shade resentfully. “You take all your studies at a run, while all I can do is to hobble.”
“Of course, not everyone can have a brain like mine,” murmured Laura, with a mischievous grin.
“Besides, what time have I had this summer for study?” Vi persisted. “Between treasure hunts and mysteries and such things, I’ve had my hands full.”
“You should have found time,” returned Laura, pursing her mouth primly in mischievous imitation of Miss Phelps, their new mathematics teacher. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Vi shrugged her shoulders petulantly.
“Well, if you are going to be so disagreeable – ” She left the sentence unfinished and turned toward the Hall.
Billie awoke from the reverie that had been occupying her secret thoughts; awoke in time to seize a fold of Vi’s abbreviated skirt and hold it firmly between thumb and forefinger.
“Laura’s insulting me,” said Vi, with a wavering smile. “I’ll not stay.”
“Don’t be foolish,” laughed Billie. “Laura insults everybody. It’s just her way. But she never means anything by it.”
“I’m going up to the house to study math,” persisted Vi.
“No you’re not,” said Billie. “You are going for a walk with Laura and me back of the lake and pick goldenrod. Miss Walters likes it in her office and it would be nice in the dorm. Come along.”
“But I must study math!” wailed Vi, beginning to weaken. “Honestly, Billie, you don’t know how it worries me. It has me scared stiff.”
“Well, we’ll go and pick goldenrod first and then I’ll help you with your math. How will that do?”
“Excellently, thanks,” said Vi, with a sigh of relief. When Billie helped with “math,” or anything else, she really helped, explaining each step and making everything as clear as day. Vi had wished, many a time, that she had Billie’s head for “math.”
The three girls took the footpath to the right of the lake, the path that climbed steadily until it came out on a high ridge of ground overlooking both Three Towers Hall and Boxton Military Academy, the boys’ school directly across the lake from the Hall.
Billie Bradley and her chums knew that on this ridge grew goldenrod, flaming, golden patches of it. The sight of it always fascinated them. As Billie once had said, it seemed as though the sun had touched the earth and become entangled in the weeds.
“It was some time before it could untangle itself and get back in the heavens where it belonged,” Billie had concluded her whimsical fancy. “The result was – goldenrod!”
Now, as they made their way toward this higher ground, the girls continued to discuss the events of the past few days, the renewal of acquaintanceship with old school friends, the excitement and interest of meeting and “looking over” the newcomers to Three Towers Hall.
“The new girls seem a rather commonplace lot,” observed Laura. She paused by the wayside to pick a lace flower and stuck it jauntily over one ear revealed by a very short bob. “Just the usual smattering; some shy, some bold, all somewhat excited by finding themselves at boarding school.”
“Can you blame them? ’Member how we felt when we first came?” chuckled Vi.
“Sort of exalted and plumb scared to death,” interpreted Billie. “Those were the days of big fun, though.”
“And the big fights,” giggled Laura. “Remember how Amanda Peabody and that shadow of hers, Eliza Dilks, used to ride us to death?”
“Where do you get that stuff – used to?” demanded Vi slangily. “Why, I’ll tell you something. Just this morning Amanda tried to pick a quarrel with me.”
“Over what?” Billie was interested. Amanda Peabody was one of the most unpleasant girls at Three Towers Hall. She had money and had developed a sort of dashing good looks. Because of this some of the students – that smattering of toadies found among the girls of every boarding school – had rallied round her, forming a small, exclusive clique. Among the most conspicuous and faithful of Amanda’s following was a girl named Eliza Dilks, otherwise known as “The Shadow.”
“What did you and Amanda quarrel about?” Billie asked again.
“I didn’t quarrel about anything,” returned Vi virtuously. “It was Amanda who did the quarreling, and it was all about some silly little thing like a pencil that she accused me of taking from her desk in the study hall. Of course it was all nonsense. Why should I want her pencil when I have that beautiful silver one Uncle Dan gave me for Christmas?”
“What did you tell her?” Laura wanted to know.
“What would I tell her? I merely went by with my nose in the air and refused to answer her. She looked mad enough to bite nails,” with a reminiscent giggle.
“I suppose that girl will be a thorn in our side – ”
“Flesh,” corrected Billie with a giggle.
“I said ‘side’ and I meant it,” retorted Laura firmly. “Anyway, I suppose neither you nor Vi will deny that Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks are a thorny pair.”
“Two thorns, without the roses,” remarked Billie.
Vi began to chant in a soft, singsong:
“Oh, Amanda and her Shadow,
Amanda and her crony,
Went out to take the air one day,
Aridin’ on a pony.
They thought they were the bees’ headlight,
They thought they looked so tony.
But everyone they met called out,
‘Go home! Your style is phony!’”
Billie and Laura applauded dutifully and Billie demanded to know how long Vi had been keeping this unsuspected talent a secret from her chums.
“You look romantic enough, Vi, goodness knows, but we never suspected you of being a poetess.”
“Then don’t now,” urged Vi. “I wouldn’t be guilty of such ‘poetry.’ It’s Connie’s.”
“She should be shot at daybreak,” remarked Laura. “I’ll see to it myself.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a pretty good ‘pome,’” chuckled Billie. “I’ve a notion to put it to music and adopt it as the new school song. Where is Connie, anyway? I thought she was coming with us for a hike?”
“She had to rewrite that composition on hitchhikers. Miss Johnson,” – a teacher of English at Three Towers Hall – “said it was too flippant.” Laura finished with a chuckle, for Connie had read that composition to Billie and her chums the evening before, sitting cross-legged, like a young Chinese idol, on Billie’s bed. It had been flippant – like Connie – and full of fun. The girls had laughed uproariously.
“Miss Johnson is dried up and old, a hopeless spinster,” was Vi’s merciless indictment of the English teacher. “She can’t be expected to recognize honest fun when she sees it.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised but what Connie’s second theme would be more flippant than her first,” giggled Laura. “Then what will poor Miss Johnson do?”
“In that case, I certainly feel sorry for Connie,” laughed Billie.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Miss Johnson would fall over in a fit and never come fully out of it. Then we’d all be freed from her. Me, I wish she would,” declared Vi a bit vindictively.
The girls came out on the high promontory overlooking the lake, and halted in mute appreciation of the lovely view spread out before them. They had seen it many times before, but the fresh sight of it never failed to thrill them.
Boxton Military Academy stood high and proud on the crest of a hill, its parades and drill grounds marked out in patches of green velvet. From where they stood the girls could hear the beating of a drum and the fanfare of spirited music.
“No wonder the boys love it there,” murmured Laura. “We should have a band at Three Towers. Might liven things up a bit.”
“That would be lovely,” laughed Vi. “I speak to play the big drum and you can take the bass horn, Laura. Billie, what’s your choice? I suggest the trombone.”
“I’ll speak to Miss Walters about it as soon as we get back,” she promised. “Meanwhile, get busy, lazybones, and garner some of this goldenrod.”
The yellow flame of the gorgeous weed covered the top of the promontory so that the girls were confronted by an embarrassment of riches. In a few moments their arms were filled with the golden blossoms.
“Aren’t they the loveliest things you ever saw, girls?” cried Billie.
“Yes, they are. I adore this bright yellow, whether it’s in flowers or dresses or hangings. It always makes me feel more cheerful.”
“I wonder how anyone can have a favorite flower. It always seems to me that the flower I’m looking at at the moment is my favorite. Just now, of course, it’s goldenrod. To-morrow it may be roses, for instance.”
“Come on, let’s start back,” said Vi.
Laura and Vi had turned to go back when a sharp cry from Billie startled them. When they looked in the direction whence the cry had come, Billie Bradley was nowhere to be seen!
A DESPERATE FIX
Laura and Vi dashed through the field of goldenrod to the spot where they had last seen Billie Bradley. They called to her and received a faint answer from somewhere far below.
“She’s gone over the cliff!” gasped Vi.
“There are rocks down there, too,” muttered Laura. She parted the bushes and peered below. “Billie, Billie! Where are you?”
A voice responded gallantly, battling with fear:
“I’m down here. My dress is caught on something. I daren’t move, for fear it will tear. If you could reach me a stick or a rope, or something – ”
“Sounds easy!” Laura sprang to her feet and looked wildly about her. “But where are we going to find the stick or the rope long enough to reach – Vi, what have you got?”
Vi had dashed through the field of goldenrod to a wooded patch in the background. Now she returned, bearing a long, forked stick.
“Looks like an uprooted tree,” gasped Laura hysterically.
“So it is, I guess. If it’s only long enough to reach Billie!”
The two girls flung themselves face downward on the edge of the cliff. They were almost afraid to part the bushes and look below for fear Billie had already disappeared.
She was still there, clinging desperately to the rocky, moss-covered face of the cliff. One hand clutched a runner of tough vine, the other clawed helplessly at loose dirt. Her feet could find no hold whatever, but dangled, impotent and useless, over the glazed surface of a huge, flat rock.
The thing that had saved her from being dashed upon the pointed rocks at the foot of the cliff was the clump of dwarfed bushes growing between the rocks in which her stout linen dress had caught and held. The dress still held. But if it gave way, or if the clump of bushes should come loose from the rocks, what would happen to Billie Bradley?
This agonized thought found an echo in the hearts of Laura Jordon and Vi Farrington as they lay there on the edge of the cliff, staring downward.
Laura impatiently caught the long stick from Vi’s trembling hand.
“I’m stronger than you are. Let me try!”
At the spot where the two girls lay, Billie was almost directly beneath them. If the stick proved long enough, it would be an easy matter for her to grasp it with her one free hand. If it proved long enough —
Laura lowered the stick over the side of the cliff, hoping, praying, that it would reach Billie’s groping hand.
There! It was extended to the utmost and still came a good two feet short of the imperiled girl.
“Vi, hold my feet!” commanded Laura. “Hold me so I can’t go over myself. I’m going to try once more.”
With Vi clinging to her feet, Laura wriggled further over the edge of the cliff. Having progressed as far as she could and being herself in imminent danger of losing her balance and plunging head downward upon those sharp-pointed rocks, Laura clung there, stretching her muscles until they ached, striving to bring the stick within the grasp of Billie’s groping fingers.
The stick would not reach. Billie still hung there, at the mercy of the stout material in her dress, which might give way at any moment. What were they to do?
While the girls are striving desperately to find an answer to this question, a moment will be taken to introduce Billie Bradley and her chums to those who have not already made their acquaintance.
The three girls had been chums since those good old days when Billie Bradley had inherited the queer old house at Cherry Corners, as related in the first volume of this series, entitled, “Billie Bradley and Her Inheritance.” In the attic of the queer old house Billie and her chums had discovered a small fortune in rare old postage stamps and coins.
This lucky discovery later proved the open sesame to Three Towers Hall, the boarding school toward which Billie had long turned yearning, but none-too-hopeful, eyes.
Life at Three Towers had exceeded even Billie’s happy expectations. To be sure, there had been a few heartaches, a few defeats, but these were more than offset by the many victories, the many friends that Billie won for herself in her new environment. Laura Jordon and Violet Farrington, long friends and admirers of Billie Bradley, found their friendship cemented into a firm bond by the mutually shared experiences at Three Towers Hall.
Later, Billie and her chums spent an exciting and decidedly worthwhile summer at Lighthouse Island as the guests of Connie Danvers, whose father owned a summer bungalow there.
Back at Three Towers Hall again, the girls found themselves in the midst of a mystery, the solution of which brought undreamed-of happiness to a widow and her three children.
There had been other vacations which the chums had shared, prominent among them being that interesting and exciting summer spent at Twin Lakes. Another, more recent adventure was that which befell them at Treasure Cove where the three girls and their friends unearthed an old sea chest filled with rare silks, carved ivory, coins, and precious gems.
In the volume directly preceding this, entitled, “Billie Bradley at Sun Dial Lodge,” Billie and her chums met with a series of alarming but fascinating adventures which finally led to the solution of an astonishing mystery.
Billie, who had been christened Beatrice but was seldom called by the more formal name, was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, energetic young person, whose overflowing vitality constantly demanded action. She was the undoubted leader of her small group and it was a tribute to Billie’s personality that her friends not only deferred to her, but liked doing it.
Billie’s family was small, but suited her exactly. Martin Bradley, her father, was a real estate and insurance broker, at which he was moderately successful. Mrs. Bradley was a charming woman, loved by her friends and adored by her family. There was a son, Billie’s brother, Chetwood, commonly known as Chet. Between this brother and sister was a genuine regard and a similarity of tastes, a foundation for the best kind of comradeship.
Perhaps Billie’s very best chum was Laura Jordon. Laura was fair-haired and blue-eyed and somewhat spoiled by being able to do as she liked about almost everything. Teddy Jordon was fair-haired and blue-eyed like his sister, a fine lad who was popular with boys and girls alike. Raymond Jordon, the father of the likable pair, owned a controlling interest in the big jewelry factory at North Bend, thus providing his offspring with a bit more spending money than was strictly good for them.
Violet Farrington, another very good chum of Billie’s, was an only child but a very happy one, blessed with a pair of doting parents who made up to her whatever lack the girl might otherwise have felt in her brotherless and sisterless state.
Beside Chet Bradley and Teddy Jordon, there was a third lad often found in the company of Billie and her chums. His name was Ferd Stowing. Ferd was a likable, easy-going young fellow with a commendable knack for making other people comfortable.
These three boys attended Boxton Military Academy, the school for boys on Lake Molata, directly across from Three Towers Hall. When at home the sextette of young people lived at North Bend, a thriving town of some twenty thousand inhabitants. Forty miles of railroad travel transported one from the heart of North Bend to the heart of New York City. It was a pleasant place to live, as the boys and girls agreed.
During their activities in and about North Bend and at Three Towers Hall, the girls had encountered many adventures, some thrilling, some sad, but all more or less spiced with danger. None, however, had found them in such desperate fix as the one in which they were now involved.
Billie hung over that precipitous drop to the rocks at the base of the cliff with only the stout cloth of her dress between her and almost certain death.
It was impossible to get her from above. The ground sloped abruptly and it was covered by flat rocks and moss so that it would be impossible to gain a foothold.
Laura sprang to her feet and looked about her desperately.
“If we could only reach her from below, Vi! There’s just a chance we might be able to climb up to her – ”
“There is a path to the lake,” said Vi, her teeth chattering with excitement. “But it’s all around Robin Hood’s barn. We haven’t time – ”
A faint cry reached them, tinged with desperation.
“Girls, do hurry! I can’t cling here much longer! The cloth is beginning to – tear!”
EDINA TO THE RESCUE
At Billie Bradley’s desperate cry, Laura flung herself at the edge of the cliff.
“I’m coming, Billie!” she shouted. “I’ll get to you some way, if I break my own neck.”
Vi caught her and dragged her back.
“Wait!” she cried. “Someone is down there near the lake!”
Laura looked where Vi pointed and saw a small figure at the foot of the cliff. It looked terribly far off, standing there on the massed rocks bordering the lake. Moreover, judging from the clothes she wore, the stranger was only a girl like themselves. Laura and Vi felt that it would take a man’s strength to rescue Billie from her fearful predicament.
The girl made a megaphone of her hands and shouted up to Billie.
“Hold fast a minute! I’ll get up to you!”
Laura and Vi watched, fascinated, as the girl began to ascend the steep face of the cliff hand over hand like a monkey. She made amazingly swift progress; but each moment the onlooking girls expected, feared, that she would lose her grip, go hurtling over backward to a horrible fate on the sharp-pointed, massed rocks at the foot of the cliff.
Meanwhile, Billie Bradley was striving to keep up heart and courage as she pressed her body close against the rock of the cliff face, clinging to the stout vine with nerveless fingers, striving to find a foothold for her dangling feet.
Each time she moved, a wave of fear swept over her as the stout linen cloth of her frock threatened to give way. She dared not even try to help herself, for fear that one support would fail her!