فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER TEN

The Search Begins

In twenty-four hours he must tell the Hunters the terrible news about their lost pets.

And he had no idea where they were!

The Hunter family were on their way home from England. The children, Peter and Elizabeth, were very excited. They wanted to see their home and friends again and, of course, their wonderful pets. Every day Elizabeth said to her mother, “I hope Tao hasn’t forgotten me.” She had a special present from England for him.

Peter wasn’t worried about seeing Bodger again. He knew that his old terrier couldn’t forget him. Their father was excited, too. He wanted to see Luath again and go hunting with him.

Far away in Ontario, John Longridge returned from his vacation to an empty house. He looked for the animals everywhere: in the house, in the yard, in the fields. He called and called, but there was no answer.

Mrs. Oakes didn’t know where they were either. She showed Longridge the first page of his note to her and the burnt second page.

“I only read the first page,” said Mrs. Oakes. “I thought the animals were with you at Heron Lake.”

“No, the animals have disappeared,” Longridge said sadly. “But they were happy here. Why did they leave?”

“And why didn’t anybody see them?” asked Mrs. Oakes sadly.

“I don’t know. I’ve spoken to some of Bodger’s friends at the school. None of the children saw the dogs or the cat on the day I left for my vacation. And the police don’t know anything either.”

Longridge went to sit down at his desk. He read a letter from Elizabeth again. She was excited about seeing Tao, and the dogs. In twenty-four hours he must tell the Hunters the terrible news about their lost pets. And he had no idea where they were!

He pressed his aching head into his hands and tried to think clearly.

Animals didn’t just disappear. Then he remembered Luath on the last morning… his eyes… Something was different… lifting up his paw. Suddenly, he understood!

“Mrs. Oakes!” he shouted. “I know what’s happened! I know where they’ve gone! Luath’s taken them home! He’s taken them all back to their home!”

Mrs. Oakes looked at him in silence for a minute. Then she cried out, “No! It’s not possible! The Hunters live more than four hundred kilometers away! And nobody’s seen them…”

“There aren’t many people if you go straight across country, over the Ironmouth mountains,” said Longridge thoughtfully.

“Over the Ironmouth?” Mrs. Oakes said. “If you’re right, then there’s no hope. There are bears and other wild animals over there, and no food…”

“Maybe a hunter or somebody has helped them,” said Longridge when he saw Mrs. Oakes’s sad face.

“No, Mr. Longridge, it’s impossible. A young dog could cross that country, and possibly a cat. A cat can look after itself. But old Bodger couldn’t walk ten kilometers! No dog as old as Bodger could live more than a day or two in that wild country. And that’s a fact.”

They both looked out of the window at the dark.

“You’re right, Mrs. Oakes,” said Longridge in an exhausted voice. “They left almost three weeks ago. I’m sure our old friend Bodger is dead. And Tao, too,

maybe. Siamese cats hate the cold. But a big, strong dog like Luath may still be alive.”

“That Luath!” said Mrs. Oakes angrily. “Why did Bodger follow him to his death? And why didn’t Tao stop Luath? Poor old Bodger.”

She left the room quickly and shut the door. Longridge knew that she was crying about the animals.

With no time to lose, he phoned the police. “I’m sure the animals are trying to get home,” he told him. “Can you ask everyone in the area to look for them?” “Yes, of course, Mr. Longridge,” the officer replied. “Everybody will help. But we can’t do anything until tomorrow morning.”

Longridge found a map of the area and drew a line between his small town and the Hunters’ town. The line passed through hills, woods, and lakes, but not through many towns. The last seventy or eighty kilometers looked very wild and dangerous. Longridge felt less and less hopeful as he looked at the map. “Why did I offer to take the animals when the Hunters went to England?” he thought to himself. “Now they’re dead, because of me. And tomorrow Elizabeth and Peter are coming home…”

Later that night the telephone rang. It was a hunter in a place called Lintola.

A little girl from the Nurmi family found a Siamese cat in the river about two weeks ago, he told Longridge. “But it disappeared again a few days later.”

Thank you, said Longridge. “I’ll phone Lintola tomorrow and try to speak to the child.”

“There’s some other news too,” the man said. “But I don’t know if it’s useful. Old Jeremy Aubyn came into town and talked about three visitors’ to his house. He never has any visitors, poor old man. Maybe his visitors were animals, not people.”

Longridge thanked the man warmly, put down the phone, and looked at Lintola on the map. “They are going home,” he thought. “I was right. Two weeks ago the cat was alive. But what’s happened to the other two? Are they dead?”

He lay awake in the dark that night, missing the feeling of the old terrier’s warm body next to him on the bed.

“You can have the bed if you come back, Bodger,” he thought. “I’ll sleep on the floor. But please, come back!”

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