Carla went white.
"Have you looked?"
"Yes, everywhere. We've literally combed the trees."
"Where are the other two?"
"Around," Carl said vaguely.
"Find them, take the baskets and go home," Carla ordered. "We're not coming home without David. We'll search for him and if we're not home by four-ish tell someone to come and help us. He can't be far," she reassured herself.
The boys vanished.
"I daresay we'll find him in the next half-hour," Rosetta soothed, though she sounded more confident than she felt.
The three girls decided that they didn't trust that the boys had made a good enough job of 'combing the trees' so they re-did it, taking in every detail.
"We might as well own that we're finished here, at least," Rosetta observed after half an hour of intense searching. She stretched her cramped back muscles. "Let's look outside the copse."
"The others ought to be home by now," Jessie said wistfully.
They took a drink from the brook and made their way out of the trees into the field. Carla took a view of the surroundings and gave up almost at once. The fields were huge and deserted. Only the path held any hope.
"Let's get into the shade on the path and look there," she said. "I've given up on the fields already. The grass isn't long enough to hide him and it's way too hot."
They looked for a further fifteen minutes on the path, by which time their backs were aching nastily and their eyes were growing sleepy with the effort of thorough investigation. They were very hot too, for even in early June it was sweltering.
"It's getting quite late now. It's almost three o'clock," Jessie mentioned. "If we walk back we might find him on the path."
"Lazy goose," Rosetta muttered.
"Ssh!" Carla hissed sharply.
They were silent.
"Yoohoo!" called a voice.
"Hello?" Rosetta shouted back.
"Hello. Is that Carla?"
A short-ish. dark-haired girl emerged from the trees clutching the hand of a small boy.
"David!" Carla cried, running towards her brother, hugging him and scolding him and then hugging him again.
Rosetta and Jess followed at a steadier pace.
"I was just walking through here and I heard crying. Your brother was actually halfway up a tree sobbing his heart out. I climbed up to get him and saw that he'd found a wonderful selection of branches just like a little house. I think he's hungry or he wouldn't have wanted to leave the place," Vienna explained.
Carla had got over the relief at finding her brother and now she stopped to ask a question, regarding her second cousin will cold shrewdness.
"What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I'm allowed to be here, I think," Vienna said, instantly on the defensive. "I was passing."
Jessica extracted David, who was exceedingly grubby, from Carla's protective arms, and led him away to the stream to freshen him up.
"Alice Mandalay lives up this way."
"How long have you been here?"
"Only a few minutes." Vienna had her own reasons for lying. "And I don't see what right you have to question me like this. It's none of your business," she said guardedly, resentment creeping into her voice.
"Oh no. Since you became class rep you've got too much dignity to talk to us your humble subjects. How did you come to stoop so far as to bring David back to us?"
Vienna was directly on her guard. Provoked, her obstinate nature did not allow her to tell any of the truth. "It's my job," she lied stubbornly.
Carla laughed hollowly. "You duty," she mocked.
Vienna smiled with tight lips. It was time to change the subject.
"By the way, it's my birthday the day we break up from term."
"That's nice," commented Carla with deadly sarcasm. It gave a nasty edge to her voice generally quite foreign to sunny Carla. She opened her mouth to be even ruder, but Rosetta stepped in.
"Are you having a party?" she asked politely.
Vienna turned to Rosetta thankfully, while Carla stared with wide eyes and an astonished mouth.
"Oh, yes," she said with a vivid smile. "I've invited you two and Jessica. I posted your invitations already. It's always much nicer to get things in the post."
"Well, I'm very sorry, but..." Carla started, but broke off in pain as a very hard shoe ground her toes into the gravel.
"I'll see if I'm free at the end of this term, but it's quite a busy time," Rosetta said courteously. "We're having a sale then to earn some money for..." (Carla dug her elbow into Rosetta's ribs sharply, and anyone less informed than Vienna could have been excused for wondering why they were having a fight on the path) "...for some things."
"I think I may be going on holiday at the end of term," Carla said loftily. "Though not before the sale, of course."
"Don't worry if you can't come. I'll just have to do without you," Vienna said, smiling sweetly at her second cousin. Carla knew there was more to the words than she was letting out, but she was so annoyed she couldn't think what.
"We'd better be going now," Carla told her friend, and without a moment's hesitation called her other friend. "Jessie! We're leaving! Bye, Vienna."
Rosetta inclined her head.
"See you on Monday," Vienna said, waving.
"Dutiful brat!" Carla exploded when they were almost out of hearing.