There were just twenty boys to look after but she counted only nineteen after their afternoon of snowboarding. This was every tutor’s nightmare, and Rachel wondered how it could possibly have happened as she had been so careful, giving them clear warnings not to go off on their own, and to keep her always in sight. She shivered as the implications of what had taken place assaulted her consciousness. Her brief training had not prepared her for this, concentrating exclusively on the matter of snowboarding technique. She zipped her anorak high up to her throat, and lifted her snow goggles to the top of her head so that she might see around her more clearly. The atmosphere was clear and the surrounding trees were at least three hundred meters away, apart from the downward slope where there were none. She had, of course, called a role and had identified the missing child as Owen Davies, age eleven, who was normally obedient and not given to recklessness. In fact, he was placid and inoffensive in the extreme. She might of expected some of the others to take off, but not Owen Davies. The fact that he had been wearing a disturbingly bright red snowsuit made it clear that he must be some distance away, or perhaps he was lying injured and out of sight in some hollow in the ski slope. She dare not organise the other boys to carry out a search; further disappearances might result, and there was no other adult present to help. Rachel realised that it had been a mistake to take such a large group to the mountain on her own. She should have refused, but as they say ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’.
Surely the wretched boy could not be far away. She began to think how long it had been since she last saw him, but the dreadful fact was that she could not remember every being conscious of his presence in the group. Had he ever been here? Could he be dreaming away in their hostel? It would be quite in character. She could soon find the answer to that by making a phone call on her mobile. She had to wait what seemed an endless time for the answer – no, he was not in his room, nor anywhere else on the premises. Reluctantly she had to admit that the problem need the help of others, so that a thorough search could be made, and as quickly as possible.
A party of men arrived carrying poles to probe the snow in places where it was deep, and there was a dog which seemed eager to be about its business. It ran off up the slope, and disappeared into the distant trees, quietly. The men fanned out and walked in a straight line starting at the bottom of the ski run, those at the extreme ends entering the forest. After about five minutes the dog barked loudly ahead of them and two of the men made off to where the sound had come from. Rachel’s hopes rose, and with great relief she received the message that the missing boy had been found, uninsured but frightened by the disorientation that had caused his removal from the party. Of course, questions would still be asked; maybe there would be a formal enquiry. She resolved that the role of tour guide was not for her.