Last time the children were reunited with the donkeys, Effans, Trefor and a sheepish David.
Bill was relieved that the children managed not to get themselves lost, kidnapped or otherwise into trouble for what remained of the afternoon.
In the evening they gathered together again and took the time to share their stories properly. The children had told him some of their adventure already but now Bill got to hear every last detail, and had time to examine Philip’s wings which the boy had collected from the helicopter on their way to the Vale of Butterflies and entrusted to Johns to carry. They really were a fine piece of craftmanship and Bill wasn’t surprised that Philip planned to keep them and show them off.
When at last the children had run out of things to tell them he described his search for them, though his story was not nearly so detailed. There were things he wouldn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t tell the children.
At last it was late enough to retire to ‘bed’ amongst the rugs Effans had brought, but the children stayed awake far later than Bill imagined they could – every time it went quiet someone would remark ‘I say, remember when…’ and a new conversation would break out as they reminisced about the past week or two. At last, however, they fell asleep and all was quiet until the morning.
They rose very early upon Bill’s insistence and after a breakfast of food Effans had been wise enough to keep aside, they set off for the farm. There wasn’t anything left for lunch so they barely stopped except to drink from a spring or clear stream from time to time. The dogs, donkeys, children and adults made quite the procession, Bill thought as he bumped up and down on his donkey’s back.
The children still chattered as they rode, Kiki flying alongside them trying to join in. The dogs darted about, in between the donkeys but mostly surrounding Philip and snapping at Meir and Erlick’s ankles when they passed.
Bill hoped that they would make good time back to the farm. He also didn’t want Allie to worry any longer than she had to. Had they still had the helicopter, he knew he’d have sent Johns back to an airfield and got him to send word to her.
He kept them going at a good pace, and as a result they arrived back at the Evans’ farm around dinner-time. The farm-yard which had, until that point, been drowsing quietly in the late-afternoon sun was suddenly filled with well over thirty bodies if you included Kiki and Snowy. So if you had 33 bodies and 1/3 of them were people… that was like the start of one of those very complicated riddles about how many legs everyone had, and Bill decided he was not going to go there.
Any anyway, Mrs Mannering had now run out to greet them joyously, throwing the maths off entirely.
“MOTHER!” “AUNT ALLIE!” The children called, jumping from their donkeys and running to her for hugs. Lucy-Ann found herself quite overcome with emotion and squeezed Aunt Allie tightly when she had a firm grip around one of her favourite adults. She buried her face in the fabric of her Aunt Allie’s clothes and once again found herself glad that she had such a wonderful person to come back to after an adventure.
Mrs Effans was with them now too, exclaiming loudly in her sing-song voice and adding to the general clamour. Kiki, excited by all the noise began showing off, making Effans and then everyone else start to laugh.
The thought of food brought them under control again at last; they were all very hungry after their early breakfast and long ride. Mrs Evans had clearly done nothing but cook in the previous 24 hours as the table was absolutely laden, which was just as well with all the extra bodies.
Johns and Bill marched Meier and Erlick to a barn, and tied the two men up against a wooden pillar. The dogs, under Philip’s command sat down outside the barn, and Mrs Evans promised to take Johns a tray of food from the groaning table. He thanked her, saluted to Bill and sat down on a bail of hay, gun on display as the others went for food.
It was a jolly meal as the children recounted their adventures for the benefit of Mrs Mannering and Mrs Evans; everyone else had heard it all before. Not that they would tire of it for a while, it was such a thrilling tale.
Mrs Mannering gasped and went quite pale when she was told about Philip being selected to jump from the helicopter with the wings on. Bill squeezed her shoulder comfortingly as he smoked his pipe, using the pipe to hide a lot of his emotions, as he felt similarly to Allie in regards to the danger the children seemed to get into and this adventure had been very close to a tragic ending. Not that they seemed any the worse for wear for any of it. They had obviously been very scared at the time, but having put distance between themselves and the events they were now treating it mostly as a jolly adventure.
Given that they hadn’t slept well during their adventure, it wasn’t surprising that the children soon began yawning over their empty plates. “Bed,” Mrs Mannering said firmly after Kiki started imitating the yawns loudly in between choruses of ‘God save the Queen’. She stood up as the children protested. “I will not take no for an answer, bed, all of you! Maybe a bath first,” she added as an afterthought.
“Oh Mother!” Philip protested. “We’re not all that filthy!”
“You absolutely are, Philip, dear,” his mother replied. “When was the last time any of you washed?”
“Well… we bathed in the stream at some point I’m sure,” he said.
“If you can’t even remember, then you need a bath before bed,” Allie said firmly. “Mrs Evans, can we get the water warmed for the children please?”
Soon Mrs Evans was bustling about drawing a bath in the one and only bathroom. “I’m not going in after Philip,” Dinah protested.
“Why not? You’re just as dirty as me,” her brother retorted. In the end they all had a wash at the sink to remove the worst of the dirt before they got into the bath, Mrs Evans having apologised that she wouldn’t have enough hot water for four baths.
“I feel much better,” Lucy-Ann said as she brushed out her hair, clean and dressed in pyjamas and her dressing gown. “I feel like I have washed off the adventure of that horrible mountain,” she added.
“Silly,” Dinah chided, also dressed in her night things. “You can’t wash off an adventure!”
They really were much too tired to argue it any further, much to Mrs Mannering’s relief, and she personally tucked them each into bed despite protestations that they weren’t babies any longer.
She returned downstairs to find Bill on the sofa with his pipe, looking just as tired as the children had.
He beckoned to her and she sat close to his side so he could put his arm around her. “Thank you, Bill,” she said softly.
“Any time,” he said with a sleepy smile.
To be continued…