Last time Bill and Allie made a trip to the hospital to check on her hand, and David returned with the donkeys but no children…
(As a side note, it is in this chapter we first mention Sam, the Black paratrooper. Much of the language used to describe him in the book isn’t acceptable today and so I have tried my best to make sensitive updates without losing anything of the original story. Feedback, as always, is appreciated.)
David turned to her, eyes wide, and stuttered over his words, his broken English and Welsh merging together. Mr Evans had to step in to explain, “David says that there were wolves on the mountain, so he took the donkeys free and came back down the trail.”
Everyone began talking at once, or rather shouting. Mrs Evans let loose a torrent of furious Welsh, making David cower. He tried to back behind one of the donkeys, but the donkey neatly sidestepped and left him without cover. Perhaps it was clever enough to know it didn’t want to attract the ire of the farmer’s wife. A cloud of flour rose in the air from Mrs Evans’ hand as she smacked David first on one arm and then on the other, still haranguing him. Suddenly the musical Welsh language didn’t sound so friendly and welcoming.
Mr Evans took his wife’s arm and carefully pulled her away, murmuring soothingly to her. He then spoke to David in Welsh before turning to Bill and Allie. “There have been no wolves in Wales for hundreds of years, he is mistaken, look you.”
“Wolves! Yes, wolves, howls in the night!” David insisted, nodding while keeping an eye on Mrs Evans and her floury hands. “And a face! In the tree!”
“It was probably one of the children in the tree, whateffer, playing a game,” Mrs Evans said scornfully.
“No,” David said firmly. “Black face.”
Mr Evans asked him something in Welsh, which David answered. “Yes, he says the face was a black one, very dark.”
Bill sighed deeply. “I suppose that he has never met a Black man, has he,” he said to Mr Evans.
Mr Evans shook his head emphatically. “No, nor have I, I have travelled to towns as much as fifty miles away, and I have never seen even one. Nor-”
Bill cut him off with an impatient gesture. “Never mind that. Likely some poor bloke has come here on his holidays with a couple of dogs, climbed a tree, and David’s made an utter fool of himself running back here.”
“Never mind about any of that,” Allie cut in. “What has happened to the children? Are they hurt, why aren’t they with you?” Bill put a hand on her good arm, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Now you listen to me,” he said sternly to David. “We entrusted you to guide four children on a nice trip to see some butterflies. And less than a week later you come rushing back pell-mell with a load of unladen donkeys, and a cock and bull story about wolves. If you’ve let those children come to harm, so help me…”
“They wouldn’t come,” babbled David in Welsh as Mr Evans translated. “He told them to mount the donkeys… but the donkeys came without them.”
Mr Evans looked uncomfortable but rallied, “They should still be where David left them, we can head back up and collect them.”
“David, you’ve lost a donkey too, you left with seven and now there’s only six,” Mrs Evans accused, her arms folded. David looked at her warily and then counted the donkeys himself and said something in Welsh.
“He isn’t sure if Dapple followed him,” Mr Evans translated. “She might be back with the children, or she got lost somewhere on the way back. The children have all the tents and food and things, though, so that’s something.”
“That’s something at least,” Bill muttered as Allie looked ready to burst. Philip and Dinah certainly got their tempers from their mother, no mistake. “Best get the donkeys and David fed, and then, I will accompany him back up the mountain for the children!”
David looked startled at the idea that he would have to go back, but then nodded resignedly. He said something to Mr Evans. “He managed the ride back in little more than a day, but he doesn’t recommend it. It will probably take two or perhaps three days to get to where the children are.” What he didn’t add was that he wasn’t sure David would be able to lead Bill straight to them, they had gotten a bit lost as it was, and then he had returned at such a speed.
“Let’s rest the donkeys, as they will need to do the return journey,” Bill said firmly. “I will return with David on the donkeys to make sure we find the children.”
“I shall start preparing more food,” Mrs Evans declared as Mr Evans and David led the donkeys towards the paddock where the two spare donkeys were. “You’ll need some for your journey, indeed to gootness, and the children will need plenty to eat when they get back after their fright!”
Allie just stood where she had stopped and looked aghast at Bill as the others went off. “Allie?” Bill said gently. “Darling, come inside and sit down, let me sort it out.”
“I wish I had insisted on you going with them,” she said with a sigh.
“I couldn’t have gone, you needed me to take you to the hospital,” Bill said firmly. “We weren’t to know that this would happen. The children will have behaved sensibly I’m sure. Jack and Philip will look after the girls and Lucy-Ann will make sure they’re fed, and Dinah will be telling Philip to stop adopting animals,” Bill joked lamely, trying to lighten the mood.
“I just don’t like the thought of them out there alone – again! What if one of them falls and injures themselves?”
“Then at least two of them will come down for help! They’re not daft, Allie!”
“They’ve only got one donkey between them,” she reminded him. “Or maybe not even one, David’s not sure if Dapple is even with them.”
“Maybe Kiki will fly down with a message like a carrier pigeon?” Bill said with a smile. He put his hands on Allie’s shoulders pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll go and look for them as soon as the donkeys are ready. I’ll go and find them. I promise I will bring them back in one piece.”
Bill spoke with absolute confidence – but if only he knew what was in store for him.