Nick was technically back on duty.
He used the word technically as his work was limited to desk work. Manning the radio, completing reports, gun licences. Mundane, boring work. Yet he was fine with this. He felt no urge to be out there on the front line.
Talking quietly in Oscar Blaketon's office, Ventress spoke frankly to his Sergeant.
"He's lost his nerve, Sarge."
"Aye." Blaketon sighed. "I can't put the other lads at risk Alf. I can't let him out on full duties yet." He tapped his desk. "Have we done the right thing Alf."
Alf was beginning to wonder himself. But he did not air his doubts to Blaketon. He said, "I'm sure it'll come Sarge."
"He's been back six weeks Alf. I've got to put a report into Division next week. I need more from him." Blaketon got up from his desk, paced the room, frustrated. "If we don't get him back Alf, this is a tragedy. He's got a bloody good career in front of him or he did have!"
Later that day Nick was alone in the duty room. Phil was out on enquiries, Alf had gone to Ashfordly Hall with Oscar Blaketon to deal with reports of systematic poaching. The station phone rang, Nick answered it, "Ashfordly Police, PC Rowan."
"John Talbot here. High Top Farm. Me daughter's gone missing. She's only seven." The man sounded breathless, panicky. Nick took a deep breath. He knew John, who was bringing up his little girl Megan alone following the death of his wife some four years ago. "Her aunt were wi' her in the farmhouse but Meg, she slipped off. And Mary, her aunt, thought had come ter me you see. Only Ive not seen her all afternoon. We've searched t' farm top ter bottom. There's no sign of her."
"I'll get someone out to you John. Stay at home, we'll organise a search when we get up there."
Nick reached for the radio and put a call out for Oscar Blaketon. Blaketon had been talking to Lord Ashfordly's gamekeeper and was standing near the car. He went to the car and answered the radio promptly.
"Go ahead, Rowan."
"John Talbot,, High Top. Reports his daughter missing. Last seen at 2.45. They've searched the farm but no sign of her."
"We'll need a full search party. Organise all available constables to go up to High Top immediately. Speak to Division, see who they can release. We'll need a dog team."
"I've done that Sarge."
"Right. Well, include yourself in that."
"I need all hands Rowan! You're more use to me out there than sitting behind a bloody desk! That's an order by the way Rowan."
Alf Ventress was looking askance at Sergeant Blaketon. "I need to push him Alf, " Oscar said quietly. "And we do need all hands. We need to find that little girl before it gets dark."
Not a bit happy with his Sergeant's approach Nick collected his motorbike which was currently in the station yard at Ashfordly. He set off on the journey to High Top a bleak farm on the top moors. He was actually first on scene and as he pulled the bike to a standstill in the farm yard a farm hand came running to him.
"We've found her constable," he gasped evidently having been running hard. "She's fallen down t' quarry. Landed on a ledge halfway down like."
Nick nodded. "I'll follow you up there."
He got on the radio, relayed this information to his colleagues, and requested fire brigade assistance. Then he rode his bike slowly up the track to the quarry. John Talbot met him, ashen faced.
"God, if that ledge she's on breaks."
"I know John." Nick bit his lip.
Cautiously he moved to the edge of the quarry. Megan's ledge was halfway down. She was sitting up and crying. He called down to her, "Its Nick Rowan Megan. I need you to keep really still all right. I'll be down to you in a minute. Promise." He paused. "Are you hurt love?"
"Good. You keep still there Megan."
He had to do something, he knew. But the fear was there. If there was another tragedy…He got a grip of himself and opened the panniers on the bike. Training and instinct was taking over now. He had doubted that was still there yet it seemed to be automatically kicking in.
He took out two long ropes. "Right," he said to John and the two farmhands with him, "I've got the fire brigade on the way. But that ledge could go before they get here. So I'm going down to her and getting a rope on her. Wind the ropes round that tree. I'll secure myself with one and put the other on Megan."
The men nodded and lashed the ropes tightly round the tree. John grabbed Nick's arm. "I should go down to her.."he began.
"No John. Best its me. You hold onto those ropes and pull when I tell you." Nick lay down on the ground and eased himself to the edge of the quarry. He called to the child, "Keep really still Megan. I'm coming down to you."
Alf Ventress and Oscar Blaketon got there as Nick eased himself over the edge. They glanced at each other wondering about the wisdom but did not intervene at this critical stage. They assisted in taking the weight on the ropes.
Nick got down to Megan and crouched beside her. "Hallo love," he said gently.
She wiped her eyes. "I was picking flowers and I fell. I didn't mean to be so near the edge."
"Hush, its fine. Look here's a rope. I'm going to put it round you, like this and then your Dad is going to pull you up nice and safe."
He roped her up and shouted, "Ok, got her."
Slowly the men up above hoisted Megan to the top. She was light and it didn't take long. Nick heaved a sigh of relief as she was pulled over the edge.
Now his turn. He half scrambled, was half pulled up the quarry face. At length he lay sprawled on the ground safely at the top. As he disentangled himself from the rope Blaketon crouched down beside him
"Well done lad!" he said. "I wasn't sure about you, whether yer could do this but you have. "
"Aye," John Talbot stepped forward and helped pull Nick to his feet. "I can't thank you enough from me and Megan for what you've done."
"Just doing my job , John. I'm glad we got her back safely," Nick said quietly.
Alf said to Nick, "Yer see, lad, once yer back on that horse it all comes back to yer. You've done right well today."
Nick was aware they were both anxiously looking at him.
"Yeah, all right," he said. "I wasn't sure, how I'd react, whether I could react. But…I suppose its just instinct isn't it?" He sighed. "Come on, I want a cup of tea after that.."
"Nick" Blaketon paused. "I'd have no hesitation in saying to Division you should be back on full duty. But is that what you want?"
Nick spoke slowly. "Yeah…I think I'd like to try Sarge."
Kate came up to the farm just to check little Megan was really okay which she was. The quarry was fenced off in part but of course she'd gone to pick flowers at the part which wasn't fenced off and lost her balance and gone over.
"Very lucky," Kate said quietly to Nick as she went back to her car. She smiled at him. "I'm glad you're going to give it another chance Nick. We'll never forget Daisy and what happened. But you must know you couldn't have saved her. Nick?"
He nodded. "I wanted to save her so much Kate. I thought I could…"
"I know love. I know. But you did all you could with what you had. You're a good bloke Nick Rowan, a good copper. And you care. It shouldn't have happened what happened. But you have so much to give. It would be a tragedy to walk away."
He hugged her. "I don't think I could have seen this through without you."
She let herself stay in his arms for a moment or two. There was still some way to go before the horror of that day was put behind him. Perhaps to some extent it would never leave him. But at least they could move forward. Slowly, step by step, together.