First published in the 1936 Girls' Own Annuak, pages 81-83. Donated by KB of The CBB.
Company meeting was over for the week and the Guides had been dismissed. The Robin Patrol were walking home along the sea-front, watching the great waves that came thundering in, tossing their spray high in the air and occasionally soaking the few passers-by who had dared to brave the gale.
“What a gorgeous sea!” said Rosalie Edwards, the eldest of them all and the Patrol Leader.
“Isn’t it awe-inspiring?” agreed Ursula Wilson, her great chum.
“Awe-inspiring just describes it,” said Elsie Grant as she turned to her younger sister, Sybil, who was venturing too near the railings for safety. “Come back, Syb! No one is going in after you if you get caught!”
“Not much use if they did,” grunted Janet Maclean. “Nobody could swim in that.”
She might well say so, for the waves were coming in with a force that even the strongest swimmer could scarcely have escaped being severely battered, even if he had been able to keep himself afloat.
“It must be nearly high tide,” said Sybil, as she obediently moved back. “When does the tide turn? Lois, do you know?”
“About one o’clock, I think,” replied Lois Ainslie. Then she gave a little shiver. “Br-r-r! Doesn’t it look cruel?”
“Awfully, but it’s gorgeous, all the same,” laughed Barbara Winthrop, the remaining member of the Patrol. Her father was an architect who worked in the neighbouring city, ten miles inland, and she had little understanding of the feelings of Lois, whose father was a sea-captain.
“I vote we go to one of the openings,” suggested Elsie. “We can see heaps better from there!”
“It’s half-past twelve and we have dinner at one,” said Janet. “So we do; but mother never minds if we’re a little late on Saturdays,” replied Elise. “We shan’t be allowed to come back this afternoon, I know that; so we may as well make the most of our opportunities now.”
“It can’t come up much farther if it turns about one,” said Barbara, as they reached one of the many openings in the seal-wall by which it was possible to reach the sands in dry weather.
“It won’t go down very far to-day,” said Lois decidedly. “The wind’s driving it shorewards and it’s full moon to-night as well.”
“What has that got to do with it?” Barbara was beginning, when a sudden scream sounded even above the noise of the freshening wind and waves.
“Oh, what us that?” gasped Sybil.
Janet and Elsie, who were a little way ahead of her, answered together: “A little boy – in the sea!”
They shrieked the words, but the wind tore them away, and the others only just caught them. With one accord they tore on to the next opening, whence the scream had come. They reached it in about three seconds, and there they saw something that filled them with horror.
A tall pinnacle of rock stood here at the foot of the steps, and clinging to it was a little boy. Every now and then he vanished from sight as the foam of the raging sea dashed over him, and it was plain that he could not hold on much longer. Indeed, the wonder was that he had held on as long. They found later that his jersey had caught on a spur of the rock, and prevented him from being swept away. He had been seeing how low down he could stand, and had been washed off the step by a bigger wave than usual. Of course, they only found this out much later. At the moment they had no time to think of how he came there. They couldn’t stand there and see him drown. But how were they to get to him? The rock was a good three feet away from the steps, and the sea was tossing madly over the little strip of sand that on fine days lay between it and the sea-wall; even Rosalie and Ursula, who were tall and strong for their fifteen years, could never have kept their feet.
It was Lois who was inspired.
“Barbara, run for help!” she shouted.
Barbara, the fleetest member of the company, turned and fled down the promenade towards the coastguard station which, mercifully, was not far away. Then Lois turned to the others.
“Scarves – quick!” she said.
It seemed impossible that the girls could have pulled off their scarves so quickly, but they had them free and were busy knotting them with reef-knots into a rope almost before she finished speaking. Lois tied this rope firmly to her belt.
“Rosalie next,” she said as she took a step down. “Then Ursula; then the rest, and Sybil last.”
They did not require to be told what to do. Rosalie gripped Lois’ hand “sailor’s grip”. Ursula took hers; then Janet hers, and so, till they had a living rope of the six of them. The last one, Sybil, tied the other end of the scarf-rope to her belt and slung her arm round the nearest railing, determined to hold fast at all costs.
Lois was already on a step washed by the foam; now she was a step lower and the others followed her, Sybil sliding her arm down to the next rail and never letting go for a moment. At length they were as far down as they dared let Lois go. They boy was gazing at them, anguish in his face. He could feel his jersey giving way under the strain, and he knew that he could never hold on by himself.
“Let go!” shrieked Lois suddenly.
The wind carried her words away, and he never heard them; but the jersey settled the matter, for just at that moment, it tore away, and he fell back into the raging water.
Lois had chosen her time well, however. The wave which swept down on them all was gigantic compared with those which had preceded it. It swooped down on the boy, who was now quite unconscious, and swung him up, flinging him into Lois’s arms stretched reach, for she had let go of Rosalie’s hand, trusting to the rope at her belt. She clutched the boy by his braces and then clasped one arm round him. Mercifully Guide scarves are made of stout material and the rope stood the strain, or both of them would have been swept into the sea. As it was she was taken off her feet, and only Rosalie’s frantic grip on her jumper swept her from being flung against the stone steps.
The first part of the business was over, but the hardest part was to come yet. They had to get back up the steps without breaking the human chain, and they had to get Lois on her feet and yet enable her to keep her grip on the boy.
As Elsie said afterwards, if only the waves had stopped coming in for even two seconds they could have managed quite nicely. But the tide was almost on the turn and the water seemed frantic. Lois was quite unable to steady herself. She needed both hands for the child, who was a dead weight, and she was only held by the scarves and Rosalie’s grip. And Rosalie was beginning to weaken.
It looked like being a tragedy after all when a great voice above them roared, “Hold on, missies! I’m a-comin’!”
The Patrol had a vague vision of a tremendous figure that flashed past them without even brushing them. And then, just as Lois was beginning to feel that she simply couldn’t hold out a moment longer, a huge arm encircled her waist and a hand, “like a ham,” as she said later on, took the weight of the boy off her arms.
The Guide was lifted up and set down on the steps beside Elsie, whose face struck her as being oddly white and pinched; and then Rosalie and Ursula were gently pushed upwards too. Finally, the Robins found themselves once more on the promenade, though how they got there not one of them could have told.
Their rescuer stood beside them, the small boy, the cause of all the trouble, in his arms, and a little crowd of people beginning to collect. At the foot of the sea-wall the sea was tossing and roaring furiously as if angry at being disappointed of its prey.
“Better get missing home,” said the coastguard nodding to Lois, while a doctor, hurriedly summoned from a nearby house, bent over the boy. “I know the kid all right – little Georgie White he is. He’ll be all right. I know his folks and I’ll take him home soon as the doctor says he can go. You take little missy an’ give her to her mother. It’s bed she needs.”
The Guides turned to Lois. She was dreadfully white, and only Rosalie’s arm flung round her kept her on her feet.
“Can you walk, old thing?” asked Janet, who was almost as white herself.
Lois tried, but her legs gave under her. “I – I can’t,” she said weakly.
And the others looked at each other in dismay.
“Better let me give you a lift home,” said a fresh voice beside them.
They turned; and there was the District Commissioner.
“Why, it’s the Third Company!” she said. “What has been happening to you all? Here, come to my car. I think I can squeeze you all in, though it will be a bit of a crush, I admit.”
They managed to squeeze in, thought it was more than “a bit of a crush,” and she drove them home. By dint of judicious questioning she got a fairly clear idea of what had been happening before she left them, though eleven-year-old Sybil never stopped crying once, and neither Rosalie nor Ursula could say much. As for Lois, she was beyond speech for the time being.
“I’m proud of you!” said the Commissioner, as she set down the last one – Barbara – at her gate.
You can imagine the excitement at each girl’s house when the cause of her delay was eventually related.
But matters did not end there. Six weeks later there was a special parade of the whole Guide Division, with the Vicar and the Mayor and other civic dignitaries present. On that great occasion Guide Lois Ainslie was awarded the Silver Cross for saving life at great risk to herself. There were no more awards, but the Robin patrol was highly commended for the bravery and unselfishness of its members.
“I am proud to think that you could show so well that the Guides are always ready, and can show such resource,” said the District Commissioner, who had come down for the purpose, as she pinned the coveted honour on Lois’ jumper. “You are worth of our Sisterhood, every one of you!”
But Georgie White, now safely recovered from the effects of his own silly bravado, summed up the feelings of the town where the Robins were concerned much better.
“Some girls!” he said to the doctor. “That’s what those Guides are – some girls!”
And the doctor agreed with his young patient!