Last time we had the conclusion to the children’s adventures in the valley. Now to get them safely home.
Chapter 11, epilogue
Allie was standing at the window, her dressing gown wrapped around her, peering around the curtains and waiting for the big expensive car to sweep into her drive and deliver her children home safe and sound.
A telephone call had come in an hour ago, saying that Bill– well, the caller had referred to him as Mr Cunningham –’s plane had just entered British airspace with the children on board. She had been told to expect them within a few hours, and had been anxiously waiting ever since. She knew that none of them could have been badly hurt otherwise they would have gone to a hospital on landing, not straight home, but she couldn’t rest until she had seen them safe and well with her own eyes. She stiffened with every set of headlights that passed the house, but none of them shone in her direction yet.
Bill nudged Anatoly as they turned into Allie Mannering’s drive way and said, “Can you wake the children up. They’re home.”
Anatoly turned in his seat and reached back to give the two kids closest to him a shake on the knee. “Jack, Lucy-Ann, time to wake up, you are almost home.”
The children had slept a little on the plane, after exhausting everyone with their constant chatter. They had woken upon landing and had been refreshed by the cool night air; but after half an hour in the car they had dozed off again. “It must be your sedate driving,” Bill had teased Anatoly who had taken the wheel to begin with, swapping when they had reached the suburbs to save Bill having to give step by step instructions to the house.
Jack was reasonably alert upon being woken but Lucy-Ann just snuggled further into Jack’s side. “Come on, sleepy head,” he yawned. “Philip! Dinah! We’re home!” he added loudly, elbowing Dinah who was squashed next to him.
“Are we really?” yawned Dinah. “Oh good, I can’t wait to see Mother!” She smiled and nudged Lucy-Ann again. “Won’t it be nice to be in our own beds again tonight?”
“Give me a moss bed anytime,” laughed Jack through a bit of a yawn.
Dinah didn’t have to wait to see her mother, as the moment the car headlights had dazzled her at the window she had dashed across the sitting room to the front door and was at the car as the doors opened.
“Hallo, Mother,” Philip said quite calmly. “Sorry to keep you up so late!”
“Oh Philip!” his mother gasped, pulling him into a tight hug as the girls moved forward to hug her as well. “I’ve been worried sick about you all!”
“You needn’t have been, we were absolutely fine,” he assured her. “In fact we’ve had the most marvellous adventures!”
“Yes, I know,” she said, her mouth pursed as she hugged the girls. “You had better go and get ready for bed while I talk to Bill.”
Lucy-Ann paused only long enough to say “I’m sorry that we worried you, Aunt Allie, we honestly didn’t mean to. It was a complete accident that we got on the wrong plane.”
“I know, dear, I don’t blame you,” Allie said, knowing that Lucy-Ann especially would never do something like that deliberately.
“She blames Bill,” Jack said quietly as they let themselves in the front door.
“I wouldn’t like to be him right now,” Philip agreed.
Anatoly could also sense the tension out on the driveway and slid back into the car as unobtrusively as he could. “I won’t be long,” Bill muttered to him as he walked around the vehicle to Allie.
“Safe and sound, just as I promised,” he said to her, holding his hands up, palms out in a gesture of supplication.
“Oh Bill,” Allie sighed. “Thank you for bringing them back, but how can I keep trusting the them with you when they keep getting into trouble with you?”
“You know that I would never intentionally put them in harm’s way,” he said earnestly. He ushered her inside as she shivered at a sudden breeze. They could hear taps running upstairs, the children’s footsteps as they went back and forth, chattering away.
“I know you wouldn’t but whenever they are with you, they get into trouble!” she said with a sigh. “But thank you for getting them back in one piece. Were they in a terribly bad situation?”
“Well,” he said, not sure how to answer that. “It could have been bad. But they are an incredibly resourceful bunch and had set up quite the little home for themselves. If they had landed anywhere but an enclosed valley I’m quite sure they would have been half-way home before we’d even set up the search parties.”
Allie pursed her lips. “Hows terrible! But I’m glad they managed to settle down somewhere comfortable. I hope Lucy-Ann wasn’t too scared. I’m so glad that no one got hurt.”
“They were all in extremely high spirits when we got to them. They had, in fact, done our job for us and trapped several unpleasant characters in a cave, but I suppose I should let them fill you in fully tomorrow.”
“I wish they wouldn’t get into such dangerous situations,” he said unhappily. She shook her head and turned away from Bill as the children stampeded down the stairs.
“Aunt Allie, what’s the matter?” Lucy-Ann asked as she flung herself on her aunt.
“You’re not giving Bill too hard a time, are you?” Philip asked shrewdly, and for a moment Allie felt like it was her late husband looking at her from under his tuft of hair.
“No, of course she isn’t,” Bill said smoothly. “And I think you lot are supposed to be in bed. It’s nearly midnight and you’ve had a long day.”
“But we wanted to tell you about our adventure,” Jack said as Kiki made snoring sounds on his shoulder.
“There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow, Jack,” Allie said. “Come on now, bed.” She shooed them towards the stairs and then followed them up to make sure they actually went to bed. When she came back down Bill was just emerging from the back hall.
“I thought you could do with a cup of tea,” he said unashamedly.
Allie flushed. She would love a cup of tea but she wasn’t sure she wanted to have one with Bill right now. “Thank you,” she said, closing her eyes with tiredness.
“Go and sit down,” he instructed her, indicating the sitting-room. “I’ll bring it to you.” A few minutes later he set down a tray with two cups, a pot of tea and all the usual accompaniments including biscuits.
“Am I being presumptuous?” he asked, touching the second cup.
She shook her head and then paused. “Maybe a little. You’re not my favourite person right now Bill, I hope you know that.”
“Yes, I know that,” he said, hovering uncertainly by the table. He didn’t want to sit down if he wasn’t welcome. “But I hope that you could bring yourself to forgive me, some day? I think the world of the children.” He cleared his throat. “And of you, of course.”
“I know Bill, which is what makes it difficult for me to forgive you for letting this happen!”
He wanted to say that he didn’t let it happen but he didn’t want to argue with her. He had been responsible for the four children and they had been abducted from more or less under his nose. “Had I escorted the children to the plane after finding out that there was a problem on site, they wouldn’t have gotten on the wrong plane,” he admitted. “But I had no idea that the taxi driver had just dumped their cases by the nearest plane. I honestly thought that they would go to my plane and be entirely out of harm’s way.”
Allie sighed, poured herself a cup of tea and took a sip after adding milk. “I’m sorry, I was just so worried about them! They are all I have and they’re such adventurous children. I worry that one day they’ll get into mischief that they can’t come home to tell me about.”
“For as long as I’m around I will make sure that they always come home to you,” he replied seriously. “I mean that. You can call me any time, Allie, if you’re worried about them for any reason.”
“Thank you,” said Allie, before she took a bit mouthful of tea to hide her emotion from Bill’s kind words.
“I should go,” Bill said quietly. “And you should get off to bed soon, too. I imagine you haven’t slept much the past few nights?”
She shook her head. “Not really. I’ve been much too worried. However I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight because I’ll be checking on the children every hour to make sure they have really come home and this wasn’t all a dream.”
That raised a smile from Bill. “I can assure you that it’s not a dream. Should I pinch you to prove it?”
She moved her arm out of his way and managed a weak laugh. “No, thank you!” Then she paused. “I am really glad you managed to find them, Bill. Thank you.”
“It was nothing,” he lied. “I’ll leave you to get some sleep, then.” He was reluctant to go, however.
“It would be rude of me not to say thank you,” she insisted gently, not entirely sure she wanted him to leave despite her earlier protestations.
“I was just righting a wrong. Good night, Allie. Take care.” And with that he was gone.
Bill went to take the car keys out of his pocket and had a split second of alarm before he remembered that he had left Anatoly in the car while he supposedly ‘dropped’ the children back with their mother and guardian. He headed towards the car only to see the young agent, asleep in the front seat, head tipped back and mouth open, and, Bill guessed, snoring softly.
Anatoly jerked awake the second that Bill opened the door. Had he been asleep? he wondered. He had only closed his eyes for a moment. He cleared his throat. “Sir,” he said with a nod, by way of greeting.
“Sorry I took quite so long, Petrov,” Bill said trying to be formal for a moment. “I was explaining things to the children’s mother.”
“Yes, of course,” Anatoly said as seriously as he could manage. Bill didn’t look flustered or flushed, but he suspected that there had perhaps been more than talking going on. Bill had been inside for a very long time.
Bill cleared his throat, choosing to ignore the unspoken, and entirely false, accusation. “How did you find that mission?” he asked as he started the car and went to back it out of the driveway. “I think you did very well.”
“Well, I wish that my work had actually come in useful,” he said after a moment’s thought. “But I very much enjoyed being out in the field.”
“Your information, especially the information on Otto, was very handy indeed,” Bill said kindly.
Anatoly accepted the praise with an awkward bob of his head. “I am just glad we got the children out of there in one piece,” he said. He paused. “Does this mean that I get to go out again, before I qualify in April, I mean? If I qualify,” he added quickly. He still had nearly eight months of his training to go, after all, and anything could happen in that time.
“I think you will go out again, though I don’t think you need to, “Bill said honestly as they reached the road.
“I want to, though,” Anatoly said carefully, not wanting to appear too eager in case it came off as reckless. “I could not describe what I have done in the past few days as fun, but, I did enjoy it. It was… exhilarating. Hunting for information, relying on just my wits and the gun at my side. I cannot wait to gain more experience.”
Bill nodded, acknowledging that it was an enjoyable state of being to be in, especially when you weren’t in imminent danger. “I see, well perhaps we can arrange for some more field training before your qualification. We may need someone on the ground to help trace those artefact’s owners. Would that suit?”
It wasn’t the most thrilling of jobs but it was better than being in a classroom, and he knew well enough that not showing willing to do the more sedate jobs would go against him. “I would like that,” he said.
“We can see what’s on my desk after the write ups” said Bill said kindly. “But next time those children get into trouble and we need to step in, you can call their mother!” He joked.
“No thanks, I will leave that part to you. You are the senior agent here, you get paid to deal with that level of danger,” Anatoly laughed. “But thank you for including me on this one. It was quite the adventure in the end.”