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Chapter Sixteen. A search-party for Jennings and Darbishire.

Antony Buckeridge 
Jennings and His Friends

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Chapter Sixteen.  A search-party for Jennings and Darbishire.

"The next station," thought Mr Wilkins, "will be... What is the name that Carter told me in the bus? Whistlepottle Halt?... Pottlewhistle Halt? Or is it Haltpottle Whistle?" Mr Wilkins couldn't be sure.
"Well, it's either Whistlehalt Pottle or Pottlchalt Whistle," he said to himself and sat down with the receiver to his ear. "Hullo! Can you put me through to a station whose name is Whistlepott Horttle, please?.... What's that? There's no such place? Well, try Haltpottle Whistle, then... You can't find that place either?... Then try Haltwhistle Pottle... or Pittlewhostle Halt... Oh, you know what I mean?... Very good - that's more than I know."
A few moments later Mr Wilkins heard the voice of the old porter.
"Hullo, are you Whistlehalt Pott? Who is speaking? Whistlehalt Pott porter? Can you tell me whether the last train from Dunhambury stopped at Pottlewhistle Stop?... II stopped at Pottlewhistle Halt?... All right. Well, did you see if two boys in red-and-white school caps got off at the illation?"
"Yes," said the voice of the porter. "I really saw two boys. They walked from the station to the wood after the train had left. But the strange thing is that I'm sure they didn't get off the train."
"Thank you very much. Good-bye!" Mr Wilkins put down the receiver. "Well, now we know where they went. All we have to do now is to walk to the wood near Pottlewhatever-it-was, and meet them."
He hurried to the Headmaster's room where he found Mr Pemberton and Mr Carter.
"It's all right - I've found them," said Mr Wilkins. "I mean I know where they are."
"Did you speak to Pottlewhistle Halt?" asked Mr Carter.
"That's the name! Why didn't you tell me? Well, I spoke to the porter. He saw the boys walking to the wood."
"It's very dark now," said the Headmaster, "and the boys may lose their way... if they knew it. But they have never known the way from Pottlewhistle Halt to the school."
"I think if we have a search-party with torches and whistles, it will help us to find the boys," said Mr Carter.
"You are right," said the Headmaster.
Then the teachers decided that only the boys from the football team should be in the search-party.
"They are still in their outdoor shoes and raincoats," said Mr Carter, "and they know who we are looking for and they have already had their tea in Bracebridge School."
Five minutes later the ten football players were standing in the school yard.
"We are going towards Pottlewhistle Halt," Mr Carter said to them. "Jennings and Darbishire are coming from Pottlewhistle Halt. You must all keep together. You must be able to hear each other's whistles and see each other's torches. Now, have you all got torches?"
"I told them to go and take them," said Mr Wilkins, "because... Oh, I say. Carter, I haven't got a torch myself. I quite forgot to go and take one."
"If only Wilkins could stay at home!" thought Mr Carter. "With his help we may lose some other boys before we find Jennings and Darbishire."
But Mr Carter did not say so.
"Has any boy got a torch to give Mr Wilkins?" he asked.
"Yes, I have, sir," said Temple. "Here you are, sir; you can have this torch."
"Thank you," said Mr Wilkins. "Are you sure you don't want it yourself?
"Oh, no, sir, that's all right. I don't want it, sir,- it hasn't got a battery."
"I... I... But you, silly little boy, what can I do with it?"
"Let's go," said Mr Carter. "We have very little time. Let me count you."
Mr Carter switched on his torch and counted; ten boys plus two teachers.
"Let's go," he said and the search-party set out!

* * *
There was not one but many paths that lad to the road between Pottlewhistle Halt and Linbury. Jennings decided to take a short-ill, so the boys turned right, then left, then right again, and soon they understood that they were lost.
"How many miles do you think we have already walked?" asked Darbishire. "I'm tired."
"I don't really know. I think three or four," answered Jennings.
"Are you sure we are going the right way?"
"No, maybe we are walking round and round in circles," said Jennings. "It's so dark that I can't see anything. I can't see my hand in front of my face... Oh, Darbi! I've 1ost my glove again!"
"You couldn't lose your glove again. You have never really lost it."
Jennings turned and went back along the path. "It can't be very far away from here, I remember I had them five minutes ago," he thought.
Darbishire went after him. "As we've lost our way, it doesn't matter which way we go," he thought.
At that moment they heard a whistle - three long whistles.
"I say, Darbi, did you hear a whistle?"
"That wasn't a whistle: that was a bird," Darbishire decided.
"But there were three of them!"
"All right then, there were three birds; or the same bird whistled three times."
"Oh, don't talk! Listen, there it is again!"
The whistles were nearer now.
"It's Mr Carter's referee whistle," said Jennings.
"How can it be?" exclaimed Darbishire. "You are hearing things."
"Of course I'm hearing things. I've heard Mr Carter's whistle."
"No, I mean you're hearing things that aren't there. Maybe it's a mirage. But as it's too dark to see, you hear it," explained Darbishire.
But some moments later the "mirage" was nearer. The boys heard the shouts and saw the light of torches. Then they heard Venables' voice, then Atkinson's, then... Mr Wilkins'!
"All the team's there," Jennings said in surprise. "What are they doing miles away from Linbury? Maybe they are looking for something too. I wonder what it can be!"
"I think they were late for the bus and are walking back to school," explained Darbishire.
"Maybe they also tried to take a short-cut and lost their way," said Jennings.
"Let's go and join them," said Darbishire happily.
"No, if we go and tell them our story Mr Wilkins will get very angry. Maybe they didn't notice that we were missing."
"That's right, but what shall we do, then?" asked Darbishire.
"We'll just join them, one at a time, and not say much. They won't notice in the dark. And when they find the way, we'll all come back to school. They will think that we have been with them all the time," Jennings explained his plan. "Go and join them, and I'll go after you."


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