Last time Bill and the children finally made it to the bottom of the ladder. Now, for freedom?
As they moved Bill said “If only those wretched dogs don’t find us! Philip’s told me about them and how you thought they were wolves. I don’t fancy a pack of Alsatians on my trail, somehow, with Meier and Erlick urging them on!” He hurried the children onwards, though the girls were beginning to stumble through the tunnel in tiredness. Bill didn’t blame them, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel – the dawn was coming.
“Come on,” he said as the children stopped to gaze around in the light of the new day. “I left Philip and Johns by the stream – where you left Dapple.” He kept up a light chatter as they moved down towards the lush green valley below, telling them how they had taken Dapple home on their first expedition. “He thinks we’re coming through the air of course,” he added, going on to tell them about landing the helicopter in the dark.
“Philip will be looking out for us by that light, then?” Lucy-Ann asked him. “Not by the stream?”
Bill was grateful that he could answer her with a “No. I told him not to, in case anyone was roaming about there, saw the light and spotted him and Johns,” he explained. A wise move, as it had turned out.
They easily made it to the meeting place, and were overjoyed that on the way there, Kiki appeared. Jack was ecstatic and so glad to have his beloved bird back that he couldn’t speak and just scratched her head lovingly as Kiki rubbed herself against him and repeated back his little loving noises. “Oh, good! Oh Jack! Dear old Kiki, isn’t it lovely to have her again. It’s been awful without you Kiki,” Lucy-Ann spoke for them all, glad that Kiki was back in one piece where she belonged.
“You saved us, Kiki, old bird! You led those fellows such a song and dance that they let us escape,” Bill added, feeling the need to acknowledge the bird’s performance however accidental.
“God save the King,” Kiki responded before producing some of her sillier noises.
It was then that Dinah noticed that Snowy was gone. “He hasn’t been with us for some time,” Bill said. “He’ll turn up, I expect – just like Kiki,” he assured her. They were NOT going back for the young goat.
“Dithery, slithery,” Kiki trilled suddenly, her eyes locking on to Jack’s sleeve where Sally the slow-worm was poking her head out into the fresh air. To her credit, Dinah didn’t make a sound. They started moving again, Kiki firmly planted on Jack’s shoulder, muttering to herself and nibbling his ear affectionately. It didn’t take them long before they heard a hailing yell from nearby.
“Hie! Here we are! Jack! Dinah! Lucy-Ann! Bill! And oh, I say, there’s Kiki too. Hurrah! You’ve escaped! But where’s the helicopter? We’ve been waiting and waiting for it!” Philip shouted madly, barely stopping for breath as he jumped around in excitement. Bill couldn’t suppress a smile especially when he noticed Johns standing stolidly behind Philip, ignoring not only the shouting and jumping but also the goat-kid frisking around them both.
Before the happy reunion could get underway, however, they heard a terrible howling in the distance.
“The dogs!” said Jack. “They’re after us!”
Lucy-Ann immediately shank back behind Bill and Johns as she heard the angry howls from the dogs. The two grown-ups exchanged glances and Bill swore in Russian under his breath (a good way to prevent the children knowing exactly what he’d said). He’d been so delighted to have all the children back under his care and pleased with their escape that he hadn’t been keeping enough of an eye out for a retaliation from Meier and Erlick, not to mention keeping an eye (or ear) out for the dogs. They all stood a good chance of being caught again, and Meier would not be kind, Bill was sure.
“Bill! Get into the stream and wade up through the water!” Jack said, taking charge. He explained how that was what Sam had done, claiming that water would break up their scent.
“Well, it’s a poor chance,” Bill said, aware of how many times that hadn’t worked out for various colleagues. “But we’ll try it,” he added, knowing their other options were limited and it couldn’t hurt.
“Blow that helicopter – behaving like that when I wanted to take off to safety. We’d have been quite all right by now if it hadn’t been for the damage to the steering,” he ranted to himself as he waded into the icy water.
The group made their way up the stream as quickly as they could, hoping that the dogs wouldn’t catch up to them. They were looking for a good hiding pace, somewhere where the dogs and men couldn’t find them. Soon they found the very thing, a nice big cave where the water rushed out of it. Bill suggested that they all try and hide in it, hoping that they would all be able to fit!
It turned out that the cave narrowed quite quickly and so the six people and two animals were rather squashed in, but at least they were in, and not visible to anyone who wasn’t within about six feet of the cave.
Bill reached into his pocket and produced some chocolate. “I forgot about this,” he said, and handed it around. Johns grinned and produced his own bar, too. Another mark in his favour, thought Bill.
“Do you think the dogs have lost the trail now?” Jack asked.
“Yes, sounds like it,” Bill said, though more out of hope than true belief. “They’re at a loss, I should think. They must have come to the stream, jumped over it and found the trail at an end. They probably won’t have the sense to realise we’ve gone upstream,” he reasoned, and it sounded convincing. Whether it was right was another matter.
“But I should think the men with them would guess,” said Johns, calmly echoing Bill’s unspoken thoughts. “I know I would! If I went hunting a man with dogs, and we came to a stop by a stream, I’d order the dogs up or downstream at once.”
Johns, who was taking all this in his stride in a particularly impressive manner, was absolutely right but Bill wished that he hadn’t just dashed the children’s hopes in such a no-nonsense way.
Lucy-Ann was already sounding upset at the thought of Meier finding them. “He’s got the most piercing eyes, Bill – honestly, they go right through you.”
“Well, he’d better try looking right through me. He’d be sorry!” Bill said in a threatening voice. At this point he’d like nothing more than to face off against Meier on an even playing field.
Kiki lightened the mood briefly by hiccuping and making even Johns laugh, but the levity was short-lived. “The dogs are coming nearer,” Jack said, and soon the others could hear the howls getting louder.
Dinah and Philip were matter-of-fact as they analysed the situation, and Jack was uncharacteristically sharp with Kiki as she shouted. Lucy-Ann clutched Bill’s hand tighter and tighter as the tension in the cave grew unbearable and then, the sound of a dog splashing through the stream reached their ears.
To be continued…