Chapter VII. What Happened in the Orchard
 

Within the schoolroom more than one girl was wondering what had happened to Sarah Ford. Dorothy was worried. Hers was a nature that took all things seriously, while Tavia insisted on looking on "the easy side" as she termed Hope. She was hoping with all her heart now, that Sarah Ford would soon enter the room, but the morning wore on and no Sarah appeared.

At last recess came. Such whispering among the girls--so many theories advanced to account for Sarah's disappearance.

"Playin' hookey," was all Tavia said, in the way she had of making light of things.

"Perhaps she was hurt," whispered Dorothy to Alice MacAllister, a girl who had always been a close friend.

"I don't think so," said Alice, "Even had she fallen there was nothing she could strike on, and I have often jumped when I could not go one bit higher."

"She may have fallen on the rubbish heap," suggested one of the older girls.

At last school was dismissed.

"I'll wager we find her down the lane taking Widow Drew's apple blossoms," remarked Tavia, as she and Dorothy started for home. "She may be going to another party and want a change of decorations,--she wore honey-suckle last time."

"Hush!" Dorothy interrupted, "I thought I heard--"

"Some one moan? So did I," declared Tavia.

They listened a moment.

"There it is again," said Dorothy. "Oh, I'm sure that's Sarah!"

"It was down in the orchard," went on Tavia.

"Help! oh, help me!" came a voice, and this time there was no mistaking the cry; a girl was calling.

Springing over the fence, with Dorothy following her, Tavia ran through the deep grass to the spot from which the sounds came.

Under the apple tree, suffering and helpless, they found Sarah Ford.

"Oh, what has happened!" wailed Dorothy, bending over her.

"You have killed me!" gasped Sarah.

"Is it your ankle?" Tavia asked, trying to find out what could be done to get Sarah home.

"Yes, and you did it!" declared the suffering girl. "You gave me that last push. Oh,--oh. Get a doctor--or I will surely die!" and she buried her head deeper in the grass, writhing in agony.

"Can't you move, Sarah dear?" Dorothy pleaded, "If you only could, perhaps we could make a hand chair and carry you."

"Oh, it would kill me. My leg is surely broken. I can feel the bone. Oh, dear! Oh dear me! What shall I do? What shall I do?" and the unfortunate girl burst into hysterical weeping--

"I'll run and get a wagon--or a carriage--or something," Tavia said nervously, for she was very much frightened at Sarah's condition.

"They never could drive in this rough place," Dorothy sighed. "Listen! There is Joe. Call him. He will help us."

In a moment Joe Dale was beside his sister.

"Why, a man must carry her, of course," he declared promptly, "I just met Ralph Willoby--"

A shrill whistle from Joe, followed by his calling loudly the young man's name, soon brought Ralph to the scene.

"Oh, I am so glad it is you!" said Dorothy. "You will know just what to do, and we--don't want--a crowd."

By this time Sarah showed signs of fainting; her breath came in gasps and her face was very white.

"Run over to the spring Joe, and fetch a cup of water," Ralph commanded. "Now, Miss Ford, you must put your head down flat on the grass--this way. There, that's it. Now try to straighten out so that you can breathe better."

But every move that the suffering girl tried to make caused her such pain that Dorothy fell upon her knees and tried to fan a breath into her white face, to prevent her, if possible, from becoming unconscious.

"Here's Joe, with the water," exclaimed Tavia, running to meet the boy, and hurrying back with the cool liquid.

Ralph pressed the drink to Sarah's lips, while Dorothy waited to bathe the pale face with what water might remain in the cup.

"Oh!" sighed Sarah. "I feel--better. I thought I was going to die."

"You were faint," Ralph exclaimed. "Do you think you can sit up now?"

Not waiting for a reply, the young man slipped his hand under the girl's shoulders, and the next minute he had her in his arms.

It was a sad little procession that followed him. Dorothy almost in tears; Tavia with eyes already overflowing, while Joe kept very close to Ralph, ready to offer any assistance in carrying Sarah to her home.

But Ralph was well able to manage his burden, for the girl was not heavy, and she helped herself some by keeping her arms clasped about his neck. Fortunately the Ford home was not far away.

"There's Mr. Ford," whispered Joe to Tavia, as they reached the gate, and at that moment the man on the porch raised his head from his paper, and saw them coming.

Mr. Ford seemed dazed--he did not stir for a moment but sat there staring wildly at the group now coming up the path.

"Sarah has hurt her ankle," Joe hurried to say, and as his voice roused the man from his frightened attitude, he sprang up and reached to take his daughter from the young man's arms.

"I had better put her on a couch," objected Ralph, "Her ankle seems quite painful."

"What has happened?" asked the father opening the door of the sitting room and making ready the couch under the window.

"The girls did it," gasped Sarah, "that girl there, Tavia Travers!"

"You!" exclaimed the man, making a threatening move towards the accused girl.

"It was an accident," interposed Dorothy, "we do not know how it happened; we found her under a tree in the orchard."

"They do know," persisted the injured girl "They sent me up so high!-- oh, get a doctor, quick!"

Ralph had now placed Sarah on the couch, and "while Mr. Ford hurried to call his wife, Ralph and Joe hastened off for Dr. Gray, leaving the three girls together.

"Tell us about it," Dorothy pleaded, not wanting to leave Sarah until she had obtained some idea of how the accident had occurred.

"I'll tell Squire Sanders," answered the girl on the couch, "and then you will be arrested, every one of you who--who tried to kill me!"

"Come!" whispered Tavia to Dorothy as Mrs. Ford appeared. "It only makes matters worse for us to be here."

Then as the mother fell weeping by the couch Tavia and Dorothy left the room.