Down the Cliff
Archie quickly suggested that they all climb though the hedge onto the grass at the edge of the cliff. Jane and Jack stood in startled silence for several seconds, and then both started to talk at once. It was Sally who eventually managed to calm them before making their way to the edge of the cliff.
Jane said, “Before I do any thing I must look after Sunbeam. It won’t take long but he must be fed.”
She had a travelling nosebag filled with oats that she fixed for Sunbeam to eat and then attached the reins to a stout branch in the hedge. Sunbeam munched happily and seemed quite content to stand and wait for Jane to return.
They all clambered through the hedge and the gap was getting noticeably wider since the first tine Sally and Archie had followed the white bird in the dark onto the cliff edge.
Archie got down on his tummy on the patch of flattened grass and the others quickly did the same. Again, they could not make out the cave entrance because of the shadow pattern, but as before the white bird flew down, and, shortly after it disappeared into the cave a bright light illuminated the cave’s exact location to the watching children.
“I agree it is far too steep for anyone to climb down safely,” said Jane.
“Don’t be daft,” boasted Jack. “I can manage that climb easily. In fact I could even do it with one eye shut!”
Once again Sally understood why he had the nickname of Mad Jack.
After a long argument it was Jane who came up with the best solution.
She explained, “There are several strong ropes in the large drawer under the milk float, I am certain that one will be long enough to reach all the way down to the rock beside the cave. One of us could use the rope to climb down the cliff face.”
“I am not too sure about this as an idea,” said Sally. “What if the rope is too short or it breaks?”
“Don’t be daft Sally. Ropes are very strong and I can climb them like a monkey,” Jack bragged.
Jane and Jack went back to the milk float to find the rope, while Archie did his best to ease Sally’s worries about the dangers of the climb.
When Jack and Jane returned they were carrying not one, but two lengths of rope.
Jane said, “We can use one length to climb down the cliff face. Then we can attach the other to whoever makes climb, just in case they fall.”
Archie and Jack argued for some time about which of them would be the best person to climb down to the cave.
Finally, it was agreed that Archie should go down using the rope. He was the one who spent much of his time climbing over rocks, also he was smaller than Jack was, so would be lighter for the others to hold if he did fall.
Jack did not like the idea of anyone but him climbing down the cliff, but eventually agreed that Archie should go down.
While they discussed the plan the white bird had returned and had sat watching and listening to the conversations. Once it had been agreed that Archie would be the one to explore the cave, the white bird nodded its head several times as if agreeing with the decision.
Jack and Jane were amazed when the bird hopped over, first to Sally, then Archie tapping its beak on their pockets. At once the two stones appeared and flipped up in the air for them to catch. The eyes in the stones were wide open and the markings appeared to be very bright.
“Gosh!” said Jack. “I have just seen it but in some ways I still don’t believe it.”
Jane added, “Now I can understand how Sally and Archie believed in the bird and stones. It is amazing, not only did our feathered friend understand what was being said, but it also helped to plan what to do next.”
They tied large knots a few feet apart in one rope so that Archie could grip better. Then they tied a large loop on the end of the other rope, so that they could slip it over Archie’s head and under his arms. This was to hold him safe, while allowing him to use both of his hands during the climb down.
“Let’s push the end of the climbing rope through the hedge and the tie it onto the milk float. This is the strongest thing to fix to,” suggested Jack
This idea was agreed on, so Jack pulled the rope through the hedge and tied it firmly to the shaft of the milk float, pulling it as hard as he could to ensure it was totally safe for Archie to use.
Again Jack was amazed to find that the bird had flown over the hedge to join him beside the milk float. It pecked at the knots on the shaft before it nodded its head, as if to say that Jack had done a good job of fixing the rope.
“Thank you,” said Jack. Then he shook his head adding, “I must be mad saying thank you to a bird.”
When Jack rejoined the others through the hedge, he found that they had already made the loop on the other rope and had slipped it around Archie. He was leaning back while Sally and Jane pulled the rope hard against him to make sure that the loop held without tightening like a noose. Every thing was ready for the climb to begin.
All four children once again crawled forward on their tummies to peer over the edge of the cliff. They took quite a long time to decide exactly where to hang the climbing rope to give Archie the best rout down to the rocks that still hid the cave entrance.
Below the cliff edge the rock face was covered with smaller rocks and sandy looking slate. This surface would not give any help to Archie, as it would not provide any good hand or footholds. There were small patches of spindly grass with wild flowers. However, they could tell by looking at them, they would not bear the weight of anyone trying to climb down the cliff.
Jack said, “I will drop the climbing rope over the edge to see if it is long enough to reach the rocks far below.”
When he crawled back with the rope and let it dangle down the cliff face, they could see the end did not quite reach the bottom. It seemed to be about three or four feet short.
Archie said “Don’t worry it won’t matter, I am tall enough to be able to get my feet onto the rocks at the bottom while still hanging onto the rope.”
“Are you sure you can manage to get down the rope safely” asked Sally with a very worried voice.
“Of course I can,” he replied. “I have been climbing ropes and rocks all my life.”
However, when he looked down to the rocks far below he was far more scared than he showed. In fact he was really quite terrified.
It was decided that Jack and Jane being the eldest and strongest would stand back from the edge and hold the safety rope they had fixed to Archie, while Sally would continue to lay on her tummy looking over and tell them what was happening to Archie below her.
Archie then very gingerly slid his legs over the edge, while holding tightly to the knotted climbing rope.
“Be careful Archie,” said Sally.
“Don’t worry, I will,” he replied. “I will dangle my legs over the edge Jack. If you and Jane take the strain I will wait until you say go then I will start going down.”
“We will hold your weight easily, but I wish you had not eaten so many pasties.” Jack said it with a grin, but he too was very worried about his friend, even if he would never show it.
“Right Archie, we are ready. Down you go and good luck,” said Jane as she took a firmer grip on the rope.
Jane and Jack slowly and carefully let out the safety rope as Archie slowly disappeared over the edge. Once he was clear of the edge and was hanging on to the rope with both hands, the white bird flew down along side of him.
“It is alright for you,” Archie muttered, “You have got wings.”
Archie then began to lower himself down the rope using the knots to help him grip with both his hands and feet.
Sally kept the safety rope fairly tight by telling Jack and Jane how fast to let it go.
When Archie was about half they way down, the gap between him and the rock face got smaller and he found that his feet could touch the cliff face. At this point the rocks in the cliff face were beginning to get larger.
The white bird was flying close to Archie when it suddenly dropped below him and landed on a rock that jutted out from the cliff. It hopped up and down and Sally, who was watching every move, shouted down to Archie, “I am sure that the bird is telling you the rock was safe to stand on while still hanging onto the rope.”
Archie managed to get both feet onto the rock, and sure enough it was solid enough to take his weight.
Archie shouted up to Sally, “I will take a short rest while I am balanced on this rock.” His arms and hands were aching with the strain of the climb. While Archie balanced on the rock the white bird flew down to perch on another rock just below him, and again hopped up and down on it.
Sally realised that the bird was showing Archie a safe route down the cliff. She shouted down to Archie, “Follow the bird’s lead. He will find the safe places to put your foot on.”
Slowly, but surely, Archie followed the bird down towards the bottom of the rope, however, when he was about ten feet from the bottom he swung himself over to a rock the bird had not landed on.
Sally shouted a warning; “Not on that rock, the bird did not choose it.”
Archie called back; “I know what I’m doing. I have climbed down rocks before without a blooming bird telling me what to do. I want to see if I can make out the cave entrance and I will be able to see better from this rock.”
For a short time it looked as if Archie was safe, but when he swung around to try and look down, the rock that he had his full weight on collapsed.
It crashed down onto the large rocks at the base of the cliff and Archie screamed with fright as he pitched backwards. The sudden strain on his hands made him let go of the rope, and he started to fall backwards.
Jane and Jack heard the screams of both Archie and Sally a split second before the safety rope they were holding took the weight of the falling boy far below.
Luckily neither let go of the rope, but the sudden jerk pulled Jane over and she started to be pulled across the grass towards the cliff edge, but she refused to let go of the rope.
Jack managed to stay on his feet, leaning back and jamming his heels into the grass as he lay back, pulling on the rope with all his might.
Far below Archie felt the noose of the safety rope cut into his flesh below his armpits, and his fall was checked, but he smashed into the rock face as he dangled from the safety rope.
The climbing rope was hanging out of his reach and Archie started to panic as he desperately tried to find a firm hand or foothold.
A shower of small stones fell away as he scrabbled about with his hands trying to find something to hang on to, anything that would save him falling.
The white bird flew up to the climbing rope, and with a great effort managed to get it held in its beak. It flew slowly across towards Archie who, with a cry of relief, grabbed the rope and grimly hung on.
At the top of the cliff, Jane and Jack felt the weight come off the safety rope and Jane managed to get to her feet while still gripping the rope.
“Are you alright,” Sally screamed.
“I think so,” Archie called back. “The bird saved me by bringing back the other rope to me.” He felt sick and could tell the he had got a number of cuts and scratches.
Sally let out a great sigh of relief, and Archie slowly got his breath back.
From then on Archie followed the white bird’s route until he reached the end of the climbing rope, where he dangled for a few seconds before letting go and dropped the few feet down safely onto the rocks at the base of the cliff.
He was down, and apart from a few grazes on his knees and hands, he was safe and sound.
The white bird had landed beside him and seemed to be checking that he was all right.
“Maybe I will always take a bird with me in future when I go climbing. Thank you!”
Although Archie had whispered, the bird seemed to know what he had said, and slowly winked one of his sparking black eyes.