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CHAPTER XV
PATSY MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT

"Get out of here!" shouted the boy, angrily, as Patsy appeared at the foot of his stair.

"I won't!" she answered indignantly. "I've come to speak to you about the mare, and you'll just treat me decently or I'll know the reason why!"

But he didn't wait to hear this explanation. He saw her advancing up the stairs, and fled in his usual hasty manner to the hall and up the ladder to the roof.

Patsy stepped back into the garden, vexed at his flight, and the next instant she saw him appear, upon the sloping roof and start to run down the plank.

Even as she looked the boy slipped, fell headlong, and slid swiftly downward. In a moment he was over the edge, clutching wildly at the plank, which was a foot or more beyond his reach. Headforemost he dove into space, but the clutching hand found something at last—the projecting hook of an old eaves-trough that had long since been removed—and to this he clung fast in spite of the jerk of his arrested body, which threatened to tear away his grip.

But his plight was desperate, nevertheless. He was dangling in space, the hard pavement thirty feet below him, with no possible way of pulling himself up to the roof again. And the hook was so small that there was no place for his other hand. The only way he could cling to it at all was to grasp his wrist with the free hand as a partial relief from the strain upon his arm.

"Hold fast!" called Patsy. "I'm coming."

She sprang up the steps, through the boy's room and into the hallway. There she quickly perceived the ladder, and mounted it to the roof. Taking in the situation at a glance she ran with steady steps down the sloping roof to where the plank lay, and stepped out upon it far enough to see the boy dangling beside her. Then she decided instantly what to do.

"Hang on!" she called, and returning to the roof dragged the end of the plank to a position directly over the hook. Then she lay flat upon it, an arm on either side of the plank, and reaching down seized one of the boy's wrists firmly in each hand.

"Now, then," said she, "let go the hook."

"If I do," answered the boy, his white face upturned to hers, "I'll drag you down with me."

"No you won't. I'm very strong, and I'm sure I can save you. Let go," she said, imperatively.

"I'm not afraid to die," replied the boy, his voice full of bitterness. "Take away your hands, and I'll drop."

But Patsy gripped him more firmly than ever.

"Don't be a fool!" she cried. "There's no danger whatever, if you do just what I tell you."

His eyes met hers in a mute appeal; but suddenly he gained confidence, and resolved to trust her. In any event, he could not cling to the hook much longer.

He released his hold, and swung in mid-air just beneath the plank, where the girl lay holding him by his wrists.

"Now, then," she said, quietly, "when I lift you up, grab the edges of the plank."

Patricia's strength was equal to her courage, and under the excitement of that desperate moment she did what few other girls of her size could ever have accomplished. She drew the boy up until his eager hands caught the edges of the plank, and gripped it firmly. Then she released him and crept a little back toward the roof.

"Now swing your legs up and you're safe!" she cried.

He tried to obey, but his strength was failing him, and he could do no more than touch the plank with his toes.

"Once more," called the girl.

P 181--Aunt Jane's nieces.jpg

"Once more," called the girl

This time she caught his feet as they swung upward, and drew his legs around the plank.

"Can you climb up, now?" she asked, anxiously.

"I'll try," he panted.

The plank upon which this little tragedy was being enacted was in full view of the small garden where Aunt Jane loved to sit in her chair and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine. She could not see Kenneth's wing at all, but she could see the elevated plank leading from the roof to the oak tree, and for several days had been puzzled by its appearance and wondered for what purpose it was there.

Today, as she sat talking with John Merrick and Silas Watson, she suddenly gave a cry of surprise, and following her eyes the two men saw Kenneth step out upon the roof, fall, and slide over the edge. For a moment all three remained motionless, seized with fear and consternation, and then they saw Patsy appear and run down to the plank.

This they watched her move, and saw her lie down upon it.

"She's trying to save him—he must be caught somewhere!" cried the lawyer, and both men started at full speed to reach the spot by the round-about paths through the garden.

Aunt Jane sat still and watched. Suddenly the form of the boy swung into view beneath the plank, dangling from the girl's outstretched arms. The woman caught her breath, wondering what would happen next. Patricia drew him up, until he seized the plank with his hands. Then the girl crept back a little, and as the boy swung his feet upward she caught them and twined his legs over the plank.

And now came the supreme struggle. The girl could do little more to help him. He must manage to clamber upon the top of the plank himself.

Ordinarily Kenneth might have done this easily; but now his nerves were all unstrung, and he was half exhausted by the strain of the past few minutes. Almost he did it; but not quite. The next effort would be even weaker. But now Patricia walked out upon the plank and Aunt Jane saw her lean down, grasp the boy's collar and drag him into a position of safety.

"Bravely done!" she murmured, but even as the sound came from her lips the girl upon the bridge seemed in the exertion of the struggle to lose her balance. She threw out her arms, leaned sidewise, and then fell headlong into the chasm and disappeared from view.

Aunt Jane's agonized scream brought Phibbs running to her side. At a glance she saw that her mistress had fainted, and looking hastily around to discover the cause she observed the boy crawl slowly across the plank, reach the tree, and slide down its trunk to pass out of view behind the high hedge.

"Drat the boy!" growled the old servant, angrily, "he'll be the death of Miss Jane, yet."