“He has a smell,” she said excitedly, as Apollo circled the grass and gave one short sharp bark.
The five gathered around and watched as Apollo put his nose down and quite literally followed his nose to the gate at the front of the house, accompanied by giggles from the girls, who scampered after him. At the gate Apollo halted, looked back at them with mournful eyes and emitted a pitiful howl from his furry muzzle.
“What do you think he’s after?” Coralie said.
“I don’t know. Shall we find out?” Blaise suggested, reaching to open the gate.
“No!” Dan yelled. “I mean, wait. Wait till I get back. I’ll ask Aoife. It must be at least two hours till tea. I don’t see why we shouldn’t go out. The five of us won’t come to any harm, surely. Just you must let me ask.”
“What if she doesn’t let us go?” Blaise groaned.
“Then we can’t go,” Dan said decidedly. “Wait here; I won’t be a moment.”
He was more than a moment. He couldn’t find Aoife anywhere, and, upon hearing voices from upstairs, he realised that Aoife was probably showing Élodie the house, or perhaps her latest purchases. He mounted a few steps and quickly clarified that the talking was coming from Aoife’s bedroom. Perhaps she was showing off the beginning of her ‘Sonnjoch Half-light’ painting.
“I’ll start on the dinner soon,” he heard Aoife’s pleasant voice say. He couldn’t intrude, so he decided to go back outside and tell the others they weren’t allowed to go anywhere. Exiting out the front door, he strolled to the gate. Something was wrong. He could tell by the agitation in Basilie’s violet eyes. Then he saw: the three younger girls and the dog were gone, and the gate was still swinging.
“Which way did they go?” he said.
“I said stop,” Basilie cried. “I did. But they went.”
“And after all Aoife had to say to Blaise a couple of weeks ago about going off! Which way?”
“Aren’t you going to tell someone?”
“I couldn’t find Aoife. She’s going to start the dinner soon, so she won’t notice if we’re away. We shouldn’t worry her. We won’t be long.”
“We are not permitted to go?”
Basilie stared at the swinging gate, then back at the chalet, then out towards the great mountain. Without a moments’ further pause, they both darted through the gate, taking care to shut it securely, and raced down the path towards the Tristenkopf. Apollo’s trail of paw prints in the dirt was still very fresh.
But after just a few minutes of running, Basilie doubled up, clutching her side, a painful stitch slicing a chunk out of her body. She gritted her teeth and Daniel stopped to sit down on a rock and wait for her to recover herself. There was nothing else he could do.
“We should have caught them by now if we were on the right track,” he said as her breath returned and the pain subsided.
Basilie nodded soundlessly.
“Apollo must have branched off the path. If only we had another dog we’d have them by now.”
“Yes,” she gasped. “I’m sorry – I just…”
“It’s okay. Maybe we should walk now. We aren’t going to catch them anytime soon.”
A look of horror flashed over her face. Then it was gone.
Dan grinned. “You okay now?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” Basilie was confident, but Dan could tell by the way her breath came in quick gasps every now and then that the cruel pain was still at work every time she put a foot forward.
“I am so sorry. I get a pain when I run for a while.”
“You’re quite a good runner – for a girl,” Daniel remarked amiably, trying to change the subject.
Basilie smiled at the wry compliment, but she made no reply and placed all her energy in the effort of walking along the path and hoping for a sign of the three girls and the dog.
They had been walking for nearly half an hour when Basilie gave a short cry.
“Look! There’s Coralie’s wooden pen. She always keeps this in her pocket, because she it has Maman’s name carved in the wood. See – ‘Ophélie Joubert’. I must tell her to be more careful! Oh, look! It lies a little off the path. They’ve gone this way; I know it!”
She saw Daniel staring at her, and realised she had been speaking in French. She hastily recast her words into a much barer version in English.
“They’re a long way from the chalet.” Dan was dubious.
“Come!” Basilie, her stitch long gone, led the way briskly off the path and through the pines, hoping and praying that she was right and that Apollo had led the girls this such way. Even so, Daniel was right; they were a very long way from the chalet, and she could only half believe that Coralie had been so idiotic as to go this far in blind ignorance.
They pushed their way through the thick pines as the air grew chillier and the air windier. They were following an obvious path made not long ago by several people, and occasionally they saw a dog’s paw print pressed into the dirt. The trail seemed to be leading around in a curve, doubling back and going again towards the lake, which made Dan feel relieved. With every step away from the chalet and every second away from unsuspecting Aoife, the more his conscience whined and protested. The guilt grew a little less with the doubling back, but it was soon balanced by the discomfort he felt as the minutes ticked by.