Last time David made his excuses as to why he abandoned the children in the Welsh valleys, and needless to say Bill and Allie were not impressed.
Bill went to David and Effans and told them of his plan to take David and the donkeys back up the mountain to find the children, and when David had eventually agreed, Bill went upstairs to re-pack his rucksack. As he went through his suitcase his hand touched his service revolver and he wondered if he should take it with him. The children were known to get into scrapes and maybe his weapon would be handy, there was also the man David claimed to have seen which had sent him scurrying down the mountain without the children.
In the end he decided to take it, if he did and didn’t use it then there was no problem. If he didn’t take it and they ran into bother, then he’d regret not having the back-up of the small metal object. He would just be careful to pack it so that Allie didn’t see it. If she knew he was taking a gun it would only worry her unnecessarily. He wouldn’t need much else; Mrs Evans would pack the donkeys’ panniers with food, Effans was supplying another tent, so all he needed was a couple of spare items of clothing and his toothbrush, really.
“How long do you think you might be gone?” Allie asked anxiously when he came down into their sitting room after packing. “How long do you think it will take you to find the children?”
“Well,” Bill said thoughtfully. “It took David a little over a day to get back here, so I expect it will take us a bit longer to get back, maybe two full days as we won’t be fleeing from danger and will want to stop properly overnight to rest. Then we’ll help the children pack up, and start back. So I’d say about four or five days, give or take.”
“I wish I could come with you,” Allie sighed. “This silly hand, why did it have to happen now?”
“Just bad luck,” he said. “There’s no use worrying, Allie. They’ll be camping out in the valleys, they’ve got plenty of food and they know that I’ll be coming to get them. In fact I expect they’ll be disappointed to have their trip cut short like this, but it can’t be helped. Once your hand’s recovered then we can all go for a trip later, we’ve got plenty of holiday left, still.”
Allie sighed and crossed her arms and winced at the pain in her hand. “I wouldn’t worry so much if they weren’t so prone to falling into trouble!”
“Still, it doesn’t do anyone any good to worry too much. Just sit back and enjoy the peace for a few days – you’ll soon be wishing them lost again!”
With the donkeys rested overnight and the map placed carefully in Bill’s rucksack, he and David set off after a hearty breakfast. There wasn’t much conversation to be had with David as he spoke very little English, but now and again Bill would enquire about something amongst the trees and hills and David would try to answer. They made camp that evening, David seemed to indicate that they weren’t too far from where he thought he’d left the children, but there was no point in carrying on in the gathering dark. With the high mountains shading them from the setting sun it grew dark earlier than it otherwise would.
A few hours before they stopped they had left the path they should have taken to the Valley of Butterflies. Bill, following the map, had wanted to carry on, but David had insisted that they hadn’t gone that way. He had tried to explain about the clouds, and at last Bill had come to understand that a fog had come across the valley and caused them to lose their way.
Bill’s heart had sank a little at the realisation that there had been a fog, that meant the children might not be so easy to find after all. He really wished he hadn’t have played the gallant boyfriend to Allie, but had stuck to the original plan and gone with the children. At least then he would know where they were.
Once they had eaten, Bill took out their map and began to mark down the way they had come, to track their way home, and to see how far off route David had brought the children.
David had been reasonably easy-going on the ride back, it had seemed to Bill. He was ashamed of his foolishness at running away, and clearly wished to make amends, and yet the next morning as the headed off again David suddenly seemed reticent. He tried to give Bill directions, pointing with his arms as if Bill was to go collect the children alone, but Bill wasn’t having it.
“Look, if you’re scared of someone, or something, then you’re best sticking with me, see,” he said slowly so that David could take in his meaning. “You don’t want to be out here alone, surely, if something untoward comes along!”
David thought for a moment and obviously decided that Bill was right as his donkey’s nose practically brushed the tail of Bill’s donkey for the rest of their ride.
Keeping his eyes peeled for any signs of life, Bill tried to ignore David riding so close behind him. Idly he wondered if he would soon have Kiki flying towards him, he really would have been overjoyed to have Kiki flutter down and screech in his ear. He’d even have been glad to be subjected to her express-engine-in-a-tunnel squawk.
But it wasn’t Kiki that they found, it was Dapple. The donkey was wading in some shallow water, tied to a long bit of rope. Bill pulled his donkey up and dismounted, leaving David to keep an eye on it. If the missing donkey was here then the children couldn’t be far off.
Dapple was pleased to see Bill and came over, nuzzling at him as if looking for a treat. “I haven’t got anything for you,” Bill said, patting her head. “Now, where are the children?” he asked Dapple. “I don’t suppose you can tell me.”
Then he spotted the piece of paper wedged in Dapple’s harness and plucked it out. He smiled, glad the children were considerate enough to consider that if they’d gone for a walk that he might turn up and worry. His smile soon faded, however, as a few key words jumped out at him.
He turned away from Dapple who returned to nibbling at the long grass that grew along the banks of the stream and sat on a rock to read the note properly.