A Story by A Boy
About A Girl by
Before I tell you the story about Smith's sister in particular (said
Stanislaus Yarrow), I wish to make a few remarks about sisters in
Sisters are of two kindsyour own and other fellows'. There are
boysespecially older oneswho consider their own sisters worse than
other fellows' sisters.
(Hear, hear, cried Martin Abbott, who was strongly suspected of
having fallen in love with Dr. Audlem's maiden aunt, who was not much
more than forty).
But the general opinion amongst boys is that all sistersall girls,
in factare muffs and nuisances.
(So they are, agreed a number of voices cordially).
I thought so myself once. But Smith's sister taught me to take a
higher view of girls. I admit that they have defectsthey can't help
'em. There are times when I doubt if even boys are perfect. I freely
admit that there is a certain amount of idiocy in the ways and manners
of girls in general. Far be it from me to deny that they squeak and
squeal when there is no occasion for squeaking and squealing. There is
no use in denying that they are afraid of mice. Even Smith's sister
visibly shuddered when I offered to give her my biggest piebald rat, to
be her very own for ever. But we ought to be charitable and try to
overlook these things, for, as I said just now, they can't help 'em.
What I insist upon is that there's real grit in girls all the same.
This is how I work it out: Smith's sister was a brickSmith's sister
is a girltherefore, as one girl can be a brick, so can other girls,
other sisters, be bricks.
Now for my true yarn. To separate the circumstances of the story
from the story itself, I will first give you the circumstances.
Smith and I lived next door to each other, and were close chums,
especially at intervals. He was a very generous chaphe'd give a
friend anything he'd got. When he was laid low with illness last
summer, I slipped into his bedroom by way of the verandah, to have a
look at him, and he gave me the scarlet fever. He was such a very
generous chap that he never wanted to keep anything all to himself. The
fever stayed with both of us as long as it could, and left us a good
deal weaker than it found us. Finding us both in need of a long and
thorough change, Smith's father and mine put their heads together, and
finally decided to send us to North Wales for the rest of the summer
and the autumn. The idea was promptly carried out.
They didn't, strictly speaking, send us, for they came with us. In
fact, it was quite a carriage-ful of us that steamed away north-west
from Paddingtonnamely, Smith, myself, Smith's father and mother, my
father and mother, a number of boxes, portmanteaux, and parcels, and
Smith's sister. I put her last because at the time she was last in my
We had a lovely journey, to a lovely little out-of-the-way and
out-of-the-world station, which was spelt with all consonants, and
pronounced with three sneezes, a cough and two gasps. From the station
we had a long drive to the remote farmhouse in which our fathers had
In this delicious old farmhouse we soon made ourselvesSmith and
Iquite at home. It was in a beautiful valley. Tremendous hills rose
all round it. On the very tops of some of the mountains there was snow
almost all the year round. Glens, and brooks, and streams, and
waterfalls simply abounded.
After a fortnight our two fathers had to return to London, leaving
behind them our mothers, us, and Smith's sister.
Oh, what a time we had then! Smith shot me by accident in the leg
with the farmer's gunSmith himself got almost drowned in two
different streams, and was once carried over a waterfall, and dashed
against the stones. On all three occasions he was getting black in the
face when pulled out. I fell down a precipice in the mountains, and was
rescued with the greatest difficulty. On another occasion a
neighbouring farmer caught us trespassing, and thrashed us with a stick
till he was too tired to hold it any longer. Smith got bitten by a dog
supposed to be mad, and a horse kicked me in the stomach.
All was gaiety and excitement. Ah! when shall we have such times
again? We made inquiries as to whether we were likely to catch scarlet
fever a second time.
Now Smith's sister screamed at our accidents; she was afraid to join
us in any of our adventures. She was as old as myself, and only a year
younger than Smith, but as timid as a chickenor so we thought her,
for so she seemed. We tried at first to encourage her, to bring her out
a little; but it was no goodwe just had to leave her to herself.
She hasn't pluck enough to come with us, Smith used to say as we
set off on our rambleslet her stop at home and play with the fowls.
You must understand that we didn't dislike herwe simply despised
her. I think contempt is worse than dislikeat all events, it is
harder to bear. Week after week passed away, till at length the end of
September approached. In a few days we were to go home again.
Now high as all the hills were, there was one that towered above the
others. From the very first, Smith and I had been warned not to attempt
to scale this monarch of the mountains, whose crown was sometimes
visible, sometimes hidden in the clouds. Being warned not to do it, we
naturally wanted to do it. We had made, in fact, several tries, but had
always been frustrated. Once or twice Mr. Griffithsthe farmer at
whose house we were stayingcaught us starting, and turned us back.
Up towards the top of that mountain, he said, on the last
occasion, is a place so difficult of access, except by one way, that
it is called the 'Eagles' Home.' Lives have been lost there. The hill
is dangerousthe clefts are steep and deep. Leave it alone. There are
plenty of other hills to climb that are not so dangerous.
That reference to the Eagles' Home was more than we could stand. We
could make out the very spot he meant. Fancy being up there with the
eagles near the skyfancy birds-nesting in the clouds!
Yarrow, said Smith firmly, we must do it.
Or perish in the attempt, I agreed recklessly, quoting from a book
What we meant was, of course, that before our visit ended we must
climb that hill, at all events as high as the Eagles' Home.
Our approaching return to London left us with no time to lose. We
had only four clear days before us.
We'll make the ascent immediately after dinner to-morrow, said
Right you are, replied I.
The next day arrived. Dinner was always over soon after one at the
farmhouse, and by two o'clock, having slipped quietly and secretly off,
we were beginning our climb up the hillside. For more than an hour we
made slow but easy progress, taking a rest every now and then for a
minute or two. We must have got up a considerable distance, but neither
the mountain-top nor the Eagles' Home seemed much nearer. On and up we
trudged, walking faster and determined to take no more rests. We
noticed how much colder it was, and cast uneasy glances at the dipping
We met a shepherd going down, and stopped him to ask some questions.
He told us that there was an easy way and a hard way to reach the
Eagles' Home. The easy way was to follow the path worn up the hill to
the left. That would take us above the spot. Still following the
path as it curved round to the right, we should find a comparatively
easy way down to the home of the eagles, unless we lost the road, and
tumbled down one of the many steep declivities.
Which was the hard way? we asked.
With a smile, he pointed straight up the mountain-side. It wasn't
far that way, he saidonly that way would take us farther than we
wanted to go. We looked up the frowning pathless mountainand knew
what he meant. We must take the safer and longer way.
Not that we're afraid of the other, said Smith.
Of course not, I replied.
In vain the shepherd tried to dissuade us from going any further in
the failing light: in vain he told us of the dangers we should run. We
thanked him, put him off with some excuse about going a little
further, and turned resolutely on up the path he had pointed us to.
It was by no means the sort of path we were accustomed to.
On and on and onI don't know how far we went. But the farther we
went the more silent we became. Each knew the other knew that he was
getting more and more uneasy at every step. Each knew the other wasn't
going to be the first to admit that he was funky.
It grew so awfully cold. It became so awfully dark.
The moon will be up by-and-by, Smith said.
Yes, said I; we shall be all right then. What's this?
It was too dark to see it, but we felt it in our faces. We put our
hands on our sleeves and felt it there.
We both gave in then, and funked it without disguise. We turned to
go down, to get home. We tried at first to disbelieve it, but it wasn't
long before we both gave up the pretence.
We're lost! we cried together.
That was just our position. In the cold, dark night, in the midst of
a rapidly-rising storm and fast-falling snow, we were lost on the wild
We stumbled about. For a long timeI don't know how long, but it
was a long timewe stumbled about. That is the only expression I can
use, for soon we didn't know whether we were moving up or down, left or
right. We were so numbed, so bewildered. It was so cold up there,
though October had not yet set in, that we had a vague idea that if we
didn't keep on moving we should be frozen still, meeting the fate of
many other mountaineers.
You must bear in mind that we had nothing to eat, nothing to drink,
and only our summer clothes on. Neither of us had a watch, so we could
only judge what the time was. Smith's hope that the moon would soon
rise hadn't been realised, for everything above was as dark and black
as everything was beneath.
At last a frightful thing happened. Our feet slipped at the same
moment, and the next moment we were both falling through space. My
previous slip down a precipice was nothing compared with that awful
fall in the darkness. Only one thing saved us. Before we struck the
ground, we managed to break the full force of our fall by grasping the
roots and branches of some low-growing shrubs and bushes which we felt
without seeing. We slipped then less rapidly from hold to hold, until,
with a thud, we struck the earth. It seemed more like the earth
Smith gave a loud scream of painthen all was silent.
Smith fainted. I cried. Smith recovered and cried. I left off
crying, and took his turn at fainting. There's nothing like telling the
truth. We both prayed. I won't tell you about that, because praying is
a thing to do, not to talk about.
We didn't move about any more. That fall proved that moving about
was too dangerous. Poor old Smith couldn't move. He couldn't
even stand up. He tried to once and sank down again with a yell. He had
sprained his ankle.
Please imagine for a moment that this adventure is being played on
the stage, and let the curtain fall. Now imagine the curtain raised
In the meantime, the storm has died down. The winds are not howling
now, the snow is not falling. The heavens above us are not so black we
can see parts of the mountain that drops from our feet into the deep
invisible valley below. We can see enough to make out where we are. We
are in the Eagles' Home. Our ambition has been realisedbut in what a
way! We reached the spot neither by the pathway nor up the rugged
steepwe rolled from the top; we came through the air with the
Pretty snowflakes! Smith is hopelessly crippled, and Ithe other
snowflakeam simply a living collection of bumps and bruises. We must
spend the rest of the bleak night strung up on this dizzy height. We
must wait till the morningif we can live through the night.
What's that, down therefar away down there?
A light! a number of lights. They're movingmoving up. They've
reached the spot where we met the shepherd who told us of the two ways.
They've stopped. Hark! What's that?
A shouta hailloud and long continued, as though a lot of people
are calling together.
Hurrah! We're saved. The farmer has turned out a rescue party to
find and save us. Hurrah!
Gathering all my strengthall I have leftI answer the hail. Smith
joins me as well as he can. Once, twice, thrice we shout. We catch the
distant cry that tells us we have been heard.
For a minute the lights are stationary. Thentheir bearers sending
up another great hail as though to tell us they know where we are and
are comingwe see the lanterns flashing forward up the track which
leads above our heads, and then round to the Eagles' Home. Mr.
Griffiths, who knows the hills as well as he knows his own farm lands,
has told them where we are from the direction of our frantic voices.
So cheer up, Smiththey're coming.
But they'll be such a long time comingand we're so cold and
numbed. Smith is fainting again. So am I, I'm afraidyou must remember
I am knocked about. It will be such a long time before the coming help
Will it? Then what's that solitary light stealing up the jagged
steep below us? Who is it coming to us by the hard way, straight up
the precipitous mountain-side? It must be Griffithshe's crawling up
the rough bouldershe's clinging hold of roots and branches, swinging
himself over the clefts. The shepherd said it couldn't be donebut
Griffiths is doing it. How torn his hands must be!
I can't be quite fainting, because I can see that Griffiths' lantern
is coming nearer and nearer.
Listen! I can hear his voiceonly it sounds such a weak voice. That
is because I am getting so weak now myself, though I manage to call
back, that Griffiths may know just where we are....
Griffiths has reached us. Griffiths is attending to poor old Smith.
Now he's got his arm round me. Griffiths is pouring a cordial down my
throat that brings life back into me. I can feel my heart beating
again. I'm better now. I'll shake Griffiths by the hand. I dare say I
shall by-and-by. But this is the hand of SMITH'S SISTER!
The strain of this theatrical style, and of the present tense, is
more than I can stand any longer, so I hope it is quite clear to you
what had happened. Just a few words to sum up.
When the rescue party formed by Mr. Griffithsas soon as it was
obvious that Smith and I had lost ourselvesset out, Smith's sister
set out with them. Griffiths ordered her back. She went back, collared
a lantern and a flask all to herself (in view of the party
separatingwhat a thoughtful girl!), followed and rejoined them. When
they stopped and halloaed to find whereabouts we were, he ordered her
back again, but not until she had heard the hasty consultation which
resulted in the party sticking to the safer way to us. She heard about
the two ways, and she dared the one that everybody else was afraid
of. The ascent up the mountain's face was suggested, but only Smith's
sister had the pluck to make it. This was the girl we had scorned and
laughed at. This was the girl whom we had told to stop at home and play
with the chickens!
About an hour after she reached us with the first help that may
have saved our lives, we saw the lights of Griffith's party on the
crest above us. We exchanged shouts, and they let down a rope at once,
and hauled us up. Long before this, Smith's sister had bound up his
injured ankle neatly and lightly with her own handkerchief and our
You should have seen the farmer's faceand, indeed, the faces of
all the others toowhen they realised how she had reached us.
It is all very well for her to say that she didn't know what she was
doingthat she couldn't have done in the light what she did in the
dark. All I am concerned with is the fact that she did do what I have
told you she did.
Referring to the proposition I laid down soon after I startedabout
there being real grit in girls after allyou will understand what I
meant when I wind up my yarn with the familiar quotation, Q. E. D.