Miss Burnett uttered an exclamation and ploughed over the bed to the rescue, shouting, 'Stand still, you little featherhead! I'll free you in a moment.'
She was almost on top of some Madonna lilies and, to avoid them, she took a leap over them and - vanished into the earth with a startled yell.
'It - it must have been an - an earthquake!' quavered Emerence who had once spent a summer holiday in the thermal regions of New Zealand.
'Don't talk nonsense, whoever that is!' came in sepulchral tones from the ground, causing them all to take a backward leap with wild shrieks. 'It's some sort of old pit or well that has been filled in and the heavy rain has loosened the earth and my jumping on it has caused the whole thing to subside. That's all it is. Now one of you go and find Miss Everett and ask her to come here. And the rest of you don't dare to come within a yard of the place. You're sending mud and weeds right down on top of me.'
Verity-Anne, farthest away from the hole, went scudding off to the rock garden where she found Miss Everett, helped by some of the Fifth, busily cutting down hollyhocks and delphiniums.
'Please, Miss Everett, come at once!' she panted. 'Miss Burnett has fallen into the pit!'
'What?' Miss Everett straightened up and stared, as well she might at this highly dramatic statement.
'The pit - Miss Burnett's fallen into it and she sent me for you!'
'What pit?' Miss Everett demanded, wondering if this were a misguided attempt at humour on the part of Verity-Anne, though why she should have suspected that rather humourless young lady of such a thing, it is hard to say.
'The one in our garden bed - just beside the roses. Mary-Lou got caught in the thorns and Miss Burnett ran to help her, and she jumped and then she - she just vanished and she says it's a pit and we were to fetch you.' Verity-Anne put things into a nutshell.
Miss Everett glanced round her own helpers who were standing listening open-mouthed to this story. 'Katharine, Blossom and Hilary, run to the glasshouses and bring Griffiths. You can tell him what has happened. Lala Winterton, you go to the gym and bring me some of the ropes. You go with her, Meg. Elinor, Hilda and Amy, you go and find Jenks - I think he's at work in the orchard - and ask him to bring the longest apple-ladder. Move, all of you! - Oh, Betsy Lucy, you run and find Matron. Take Verity-Anne with you to tell her what has happened. Miss Burnett may have hurt herself, so Matron had better be prepared. And that reminds me, some of you Rangers had better go and bring one of your First Aid stretchers in case she's sprained her ankle and can't walk. The rest come with me.'
Miss Everett tore over the ground at top speed, rather nervous about what she might find at the scene of the accident. She arrived at the great square bed to find the younger girls huddled at a little distance from its centre and all looking scared out of their wits.
'Come off that bed at once and all of you keep on the path!' she ordered.
The frightened Middles did as they were told while she herself, picking her way cautiously, reached the great hole she could see in front of the rose bushes. Arrived there, she knelt down.
'Are you all right, Burnett?' she demanded, forgetting her audience in the exigency of the moment.
Greatly to her relief, Peggy Burnett replied, 'Well, I'm not exactly comfortable. I rather think I've ricked an ankle and it's damp and chilly down here, but I'm neither killed nor seriously injured as your voice seems to imply. I shan't be sorry to get out, though. There's a tiny oozing of water coming from just below me, so I gather I've fallen into an old well that's been filled up some time and the spring, or whatever it is, is beginning to function again.'
'I've sent for ropes, ladders, Griffith and Jenks, so we'll soon have you out of that.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' Peggy Burnett's voice was still cheerful but rather faint, and Miss Everett guessed that her ankle was hurting her pretty badly.
'I've sent to Matron, too, so she'll be ready to fix your ankle as soon as we can get you out - and that won't be long now,' she added. 'Here come the men and the apple-ladder.'
Griffiths…roped the ladder and then, with the help of Jenks, carefully lowered it. Once it was in position, Miss Everett went down it to find Miss Burnett, looking very white in the dim twilight of the well, leaning up against the wall with one foot doubled under her. There was a small puddle beneath her and when Miss Everett set her hand against the wall, she could feel drops slowly forming and oozing down.
'Well, we must get you out of this,' she said briskly. 'Let me see what I can do about that ankle. It's somewhat difficult, considering the restricted space.'
'It's rather painful,' Peggy Burnett said faintly.
'I'll strap it up with my hanky,' Miss Everett replied, pulling an enormous bandana like a small table-cloth from her breeches' pocket. 'Then I'll go up again and Griffiths and Jenks can come down and carry you up. Now don't begin fainting about here, please. There just isn't time or room for it.'
'As if I'd be such a goop as to faint!' Miss Burnett retorted indignantly. 'I must say, Everett, you're a complete mutt if - Ow!' For Miss Everett had taken advantage of her annoyance to draw the twisted foot from under her and the pain had been excruciating for the moment.
Miss Everett hurried up the ladder and spoke a few words to Griffiths.
He nodded when he heard of the water. 'I'll go down, Miss. Jenks and you can steady the ladder. It'll be safer with one and she's small-like and I can handle her. I'm a fireman voluntary aid in me off time,' he added with pride. 'I knows the drill as you might say.'
Matron, having revived Miss Burnett, ordered the more practiced of the Rangers to pick up the stretcher and bring it to the San.