Last time Bill and David headed off into the valleys to collect the children, but only found Dapple.
The things that concerned him in the note were that Philip had been marched off by force, as well as the fact they had seen a helicopter apparently land on the top of the mountain. Why would there be a helicopter in these mountains? It didn’t make sense.
He forced himself to slow down and read the letter for a third time, though it did not yield any more useful information, other than physical descriptions of the two men. Ape-like and hawk-faced. Well, that was something to go on.
He turned to David who was watching him anxiously, and told him what had happened in a few simple words. “Those wolves you saw were Alsatian dogs,” he added.
David looked confused. “Wolves, yes,” he said after a minute and bared his teeth and growled as if to prove to Bill they had been scary.
“Not wolves, dogs,” Bill said half-heartedly, not really interested in arguing the point. He was looking at the mountain that Jack had described in his note. The mountain which Philip had entered under duress, the rest of the children had apparently followed him into, and upon which a helicopter had landed. He was glad he had brought his revolver along after all.
“First things first,” he muttered to himself. “See what’s in that mountain.”
David seemed to understand his intentions and pulled on his arm, “No, no! Bad place!”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he replied. “The children, or at least, Philip, is in there. I need to go and take a look so I know what I’m dealing with. I’m not asking you to come.”
David looked a little concerned. “I stay, donkeys?” he asked, clearly very afraid.
“Yes. You stay with the donkeys,” Bill said. Normally he would welcome back-up but he didn’t think David would be of much help in this situation. He left his rucksack with David, tucking his gun into the back of his trousers and keeping a torch in his hand. He walked slowly from the clearing they were in, picking out the easiest route towards the sheer rocky bottom of the mountain.
“I don’t suppose saying open sesame will work,” he said to himself as he stood looking up at the mountain from deep in its shadow.
Jack had given the best description he could, but one sheer rocky wall looked very much like another sheer rocky wall, and Bill spend quite a time scrambling around the mountainside looking for some sort of cave or hole into which two men, one boy, one young goat and ten large dogs could vanish.
He found the secret quite by accident when his foot slipped on a loose rock. He reached out to grab some of the tangled creepers and brambles that trailed down the rocks just there, and they swung out as he applied his weight. He righted himself and looked at the vines he held in his hand, giving them an experimental tug. The whole lot moved. He found the far edge and pulled that away from the rocks to reveal a tall crack in the rock. “Oh-ho,” he said quietly to himself.
Taking out his pocket torch he edged into the tunnel that had been revealed. He wondered how far into the mountain this went and how far the children may have made it before either being caught or being forced to stop. He went slowly, wishing he didn’t have to use his torch as that was a sure way for him to get discovered very quickly.
The light reflecting off the body of water that almost filled the cave warned him to stop before he fell in. Not sensing anyone else in the vicinity he flashed his torch around quickly, and then more slowly. The cave seemed to have no top, the roof so high his torch couldn’t pick it out. He turned his attention to the walls, examining them for any holes, levers, buttons, niches, anything that would reveal a way out, and found nothing. Round he went again, and a third time, starting to feel as if he was in some sort of queer dream. At last he had to admit defeat. The walls were solid, there was no way through or up them. He shone his torch up again. Perhaps a rope or platform was lowered down from above to let people in. Or perhaps the men had simply hidden Philip in this cave until dark, and had smuggled him out in the night. If the other children had gone looking for Philip, had they found this cave? If so, where were they? And if not, the same question applied – where on earth were they?
He had a lot of questions and not a single answer.
Dejected and annoyed by his lack of success, Bill headed back to David. He directed the man to head back down the mountain. He mounted his own donkey and followed, all the time formulating a plan.
Allie, bless her, she had so much faith in him. When the donkeys carried them into the farmyard just three days after they’d left, she rushed out, all smiles, obviously expecting to see the four children accompanying he and David. He felt an ache in his heart, as well as a deep shame, as her face fell.
“Allie…” he began, dismounting his donkey clumsily in his haste.
“Bill, where are they? What’s happened?” Allie asked, trying to keep the resentment out of her voice.
“Let’s go inside and we can sit down,” he said.
“I don’t want to go and sit down, I want you to tell me why you’ve come back without the children,” she said, only the slightest wobble in her voice.
“It’s going to be all right,” he said first, and then, he told her everything he knew. The note from Jack, and his exploration of the mountain cave.
Allie was trying not to flap but she expressed her panic to Bill when he had finished his story. “But how are you going to rescue them Bill?” she said, worriedly. “Are you going to call in your friends?”
“I’m going to find out what I can about that helicopter,” he told her, holding her good hand in his. “I can’t find my way into the mountain from the bottom… but maybe I can get in from the top.”
To be continued…