The immediate reaction of most concerned seemed to run along the lines of 'what, again?' That she seemed to be making rather a habit of this would have meant that they left it for a few hours before reporting it, but for the fact that Poppy had insisted it was an emergency. Because of this, she was now to be found curled in Charlie's arms sucking her thumb and staring through wide eyes at the two burly police officers who were trying to elicit from her just what had happened. Charles sat on another sofa – the rest had been taken back to Augusta's chalet at her kind insistence that she would look after them all and feed them dinner until the police had satisfied themselves that Hilda was nowhere in the chalet, at least.
“So you were playing with her when it happened?” asked Detective Laurent Stockli kindly, leaning forwards slightly while his partner – Detective Heinrich Christen – took notes behind him. The security guards who had been at the hospital had telephoned the British Embassy to sort out all paperwork and set off on her trail before the police could arrive.
“She was pretending to be a mummy for me again,” ventured Poppy shyly. “I was drawing on her in marker pen, to show where you'd make the cuts. Everyone else was upstairs, but Auntie Hilda asked me to stay and keep her company.”
“Then what happened?” asked the detective. Seeing her daughter's fear, Charlie added softly,
“You aren't in any trouble, don't worry. Mummy and daddy just need to know so that we can find Auntie Hilda again.”
“She said she wasn't feeling well and wanted to get a glass of water,” explained Poppy through her thumb. “She stood up and went over to the window and looked out. Then suddenly two men came in through the window door and took her. She tried to fight them, but one of them picked up her legs and carried her round the house. When she'd gone I ran to tell Ashley what happened.”
“What did the men look like?”
“They were wearing funny hats,” was Poppy's answer. “All black, and it covered their faces.”
After that there appeared to be nothing else to be gleaned from the children. Poppy was adamant that she hadn't run to the window to look after them, and the rest of the children, when questioned before they left, vowed that by the time they crowded around the nursery window any men, carrying Hilda or otherwise, had vanished completely. The rest couldn't shed any light on it, despite the detectives pressing them, and in the end they came to be a thorough nuisance.
By the fifth time they asked Poppy if she really hadn't seen anything else, in their heavy accents that she hardly understood anyway, so that she had to keep looking to Charlie to help her hear what they were saying, she burst into tears, worn out and fractious thanks to the day. This proved to be what completed Charles' bad mood and, though he was usually quiet and reserved, he towered over them and positively thundered,
“My daughter has told you all that she can, now why don't you stop harassing her and go out there and find the damn woman. Do you have any idea of the diplomatic incident that this could cause? It's going to be all that we can do to stop the press getting hold of this, and then it will be your jobs on the line. Leave a tired little girl alone and do your job!”
With his eyes spitting thunderbolts, they felt it best to turn to his far more reasonable wife, thank her for her hospitality and her help, and escape the building as fast as possible. Even though dusk was now creeping across the peaks, they had had a number of bodies called up to the Platz, and started to organise the search while trying to ignore the residents crowding around fences and gossiping.
Inside the house, Charlie laid a hand on Charles arm that cooled him at once, and persuaded him to sit down next to her and shift Poppy into his arms for a cuddle. Heaving a heavy sigh, he looked up at his wife, but she didn't need him to speak to guess what was on his mind.
“This isn't your fault,” she promised. “Whatever's happened, Hilda is a grown woman and she wouldn't thank you for interfering. She knew before we left that we were treating this as a separate holiday to her own, and that she was looking after herself. Something, by the way, that I think she can do rather well.”
“But if I'd been here -”
“If nothing,” said Charlie obstinately. She was showing all the old, spirited passion that had scared even the most certain of opponents on the political rallies that the pair had attended in their youth. “If I hadn't been trapped in the roof, I could have done something. They would have been watching us, waiting for a time that nobody was around. She was the last person who was going to let herself be under watch constantly, that's why she sent the security men away. All we can do now is wait, not worry, and help as best we can.”
“And get Poppy over to the Emersons' for that dinner we were promised,” Charles managed, with a smile to his daughter that didn't reach his eyes.