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.'
Peggy leaned against the wall and waited, tried to keep track of time: now they will be rushing over to find Everett, now they will be explaining to her what has happened, now she will be on her way...
'Are you all right, Burnett?' came the familiar brisk tones, their usual vigour somewhat diminished by a note of worry.
Far below, Peggy gave a faint smile of relief. '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.'
Of course, thought Peggy. Of course, that was why I sent for Everett. Because she's nearby, and she's endlessly practical like that. That was the reason - the only reason. 'I'm glad to hear it,' Peggy called back, as cheerfully as she could manage; her ankle really was quite painful.
'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.'
Peggy watched and waited as first the ladder descended, then Everett - firm and swift and practically radiating hale-and-heartiness, in her usual breeches and boots. Peggy suddenly felt slightly breathless.
It was not long before Everett had drawn level with her - or as close to level as was likely: Everett stood at least a foot taller than Peggy on flat ground, and now was still balanced on the bottom rung of the ladder, space in the small pit being at something of a premium. Peggy flushed.
'Well, we must get you out of this,' Everett said briskly, propping herself up with one hand on the wall as she surveyed Peggy looking very white in the dim twilight of the well. 'Let me see what I can do about that ankle. It's somewhat difficult, considering the restricted space.'
In spite of the sharp pain emanating from her ankle, Peggy felt a sudden powerful urge to pull the other woman to her, to lean for a moment against the cool, damp mud wall of the pit with the full length of Everett's sturdy physique pressed against her.
'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.
Everett straightened up again and their eyes met silently. Peggy's heart thumped loudly in her chest and she glanced away. Then, all too quickly, Everett was gone again, flying away up the ladder to where a small crowd waited anxiously.
The pain and shock of the experience struck Peggy properly as Griffiths carried her weightlessly up the ladder into fresh air and daylight, and finally she lost consciousness. Settled onto the stretcher and brought round with the help of a stiff dose of Matey's brandy, she looked down and permitted herself a brief frisson of pleasure at the sight of Everett's great hanky tied adroitly around her bare skin.
Sighing inwardly, Peggy put a stern stop to such thoughts and lay back as the girls bore her off to San.