“Cursed woman,” said David when he heard the news. “What did she want to wander off for if she didn’t know the area?”
“Beside the point,” said Charles brusquely. “Just now the important thing is that we find her. Believe me, she’s not the sort of person you want to admit you’ve lost track of – especially not to a bunch of news reporters.”
David’s bushy eyebrows rose at this.
“Better find her, then, hadn’t we?” He drained his drink, slammed it down on the bench, stood up and strode across the grass.
“Wait a minute,” Charles called. “We should organise –”
He fell silent as David stopped, inflated his chest and let loose a bellow that echoed and reverberated around the mountains for several minutes and caused Millie and Charlie, still standing by the fence, to clap their hands to their ears. There was a pause, then what sounded like an echo but a little louder.
David turned around and came striding back, looking smug. He vanished for a moment into the inn, and they all stood round watching the door in fascination as though expecting a magnificent conjuring trick. When he returned he was carrying a tray with another round of drinks on it. Charles stared.
“We need to go and look for Hilda,” he said, a little feebly.
David gave him an amiable smile and glanced over towards the path down which the younger children had vanished. A speck was just visible in the far distance, which soon materialised into a slightly larger speck surrounded by a number of smaller specks. After a few minutes it became apparent that it was in fact a person, who shortly became distinguishable as Sphinx.
“He’s carrying someone,” said Millie.
“It’s – oh my –”
The adults were running then, towards Sphinx striding across the grass, his face grim and Hilda clasped securely in his arms, limp, grey and to all appearance unconscious with a horrifying bloodstain on her head. John was at his side, the younger ones trotting along behind them, all of them subdued and some tearful.
“Give her to me,” said David, who, by virtue of his enormous height, had reached them first.
“I’ve got her, Dad,” said Sphinx. David looked at him for a moment, then grinned.
“All right, my boy. Bring her into the inn there.” He turned to Charles, who was peering round him, trying to determine the state of Hilda’s head. “Is there a telephone in there?”
“Yes. Do you think she’s –?”
“Then get in there and telephone a doctor,” said David. Charles, in deference to the emergency, did not object but turned and ran.
A few moments later the rest of the party burst into the inn, David clearing the way with his powerful frame, Sphinx striding along in his wake and the rest flooding after them. David was already barking orders, sending the innkeeper, the barmaid and various patrons scurrying to obey. Within minutes Hilda was comfortably – though only because she had still not recovered consciousness – settled on a long table, a mattress and pillow beneath and blankets covering her. The innkeeper, a tall, thin man called Heinrich Ging, was looking over Charlie’s shoulder, a jug of water clutched in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other.
Charles came out of a room behind the bar.
“They’ll be here in a few minutes,” he said. “How is she?”
“Unconscious,” said Charlie. “Do you think we should do something about that wound?”
“Better not,” said Sphinx. “It’s not actually bleeding any more, and head wounds are best left to the doctors.”
“We could try waking her up,” said Ricky, brightening a little. “Throwing water over people usually works.”
“Go and sit down with the kids,” said Phoebe, throwing him a cold look. “And don’t play the injured innocent – I know you lot had something to do with this.”
But it was Sphinx, who, once Hilda had been taken off to the Sanatorium with Charles, dealt with the children. Hilda had woken up and seemed perfectly coherent, but rather weak and confused. The headlines already flitting through his mind, Charles was beginning to panic a little. Sphinx, in the meantime, slammed his hands down on the table at which the children were sitting, making the empty glasses rattle.
“Now! What the hell were you doing?”