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!
Then the dress began to give beneath her weight, as she hung there, dangling over eternity. She heard the sibilant hiss of splitting cloth and braced herself for whatever fate might be in store for her.
It was then that she became aware that someone was approaching from below. At first she thought that it was either Laura or Vi and wondered how it was possible for them to have made their way around to the foot of the cliff in such a short time.
However, in another moment or two, the girl came within her range of vision and she saw that the newcomer was neither Laura nor Vi, but a person who was a stranger to her.
Another rip of tearing cloth sent a shudder through Billie. The stranger made amazingly swift progress up that dangerous ascent, but Billie knew she must come very quickly if she was going to be in time. Another few moments, and the rescuer would have arrived – too late!
Another ripping and tearing sound, and Billie’s weight sagged. She clung desperately, with numbing fingers, to that clump of stout vine. She knew by the feel of it in her hand that it was breaking loose. In another minute or two the roots would be dislodged.
“Oh, hurry!” she called to the strange, gallant girl, who continued her steady upward progress. “I’ve only a few moments left – ”
“Hold fast! Never give up the ship! I’ll git up to that there shelf if it takes a leg!”
The stranger was gasping from her exertions but her voice was round and hearty, full of a vitality that Billie found tremendously reassuring.
The strange girl rapidly closed the distance between herself and Billie. She climbed to a narrow ledge of rock that had been invisible to Billie from where she hung and, across the space of three or four feet, the eyes of the two girls met and clung.
Then Billie turned her eyes away. What could the strange girl do, now that she was so near? She was in almost as precarious a position as Billie herself, and certainly she had nothing at hand with which to help except her own unaided hands and strength.
Suddenly Billie gasped and groped frantically at the cliff face. The clump of vine had come loose in her hands, the sound of rending cloth told her that the stout threads of her dress had parted at last! With wild panic at her heart, she felt herself falling!
Something slapped the cliff face close to her clawing hand. A voice said sharply:
“Grab that! Quick!”
Instinctively, Billie grabbed, clung.
The authoritative voice cried again:
“Now then! Help yourself if you can. This ledge makes purty good footin’, though slippery. Hang on now. I’ll pull you up!”
Billie clung to the leather belt flung her by the strange girl. In the interstices of the rock she managed to gain a toehold, and by a prodigious effort and with the help of the strange girl she managed to draw herself up to the ledge. There she clung, while an overpowering dizziness assailed her.