chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10
chapter 11
chapter 12
chapter 13
chapter 14
chapter 15
chapter 16
chapter 17
chapter 18
chapter 19
chapter 20
chapter 21
chapter 22
chapter 23
chapter 24
chapter 25
Chapter 25

The next two weeks spent at Impala Lodge proved to be glorious times for the four children. They had become the new 'Lords of the Manor' and consequently their every whim was attended to. Each morning, after breakfast, Mrs. Applebee would even come to them to discuss the rest of the day's meals. One question did stand out above all others, though. 'What to do with the Black Panther?'
    "I will not allow Sheba to spend another minute in that horrid cage," decided Elké.
    The young girl moved her stuff into Fat Cat's old room and that is where she and Aitch were to sleep. At night the big cat had the run of the top floor apartment but preferred to sleep under the stars on a pile of rugs laid out on the flat roof. Each morning she would quietly pad into Elké's room and wake her with a rasping lick to the face.
    The daytime presented a completely different set of problems, however. Elké began solving these by formally introducing Sheba to Biffer, Skin and Rebecca. Rebecca and Biffer seemed very relaxed.
    "Wow! How soft and silky her coat feels," exclaimed Rebecca, running her hand down Sheba's back. "And her shoulders are so muscular and powerful!"
    But Skin, as a result of his first encounter with the Black Panther, was decidedly nervous.
    Elké took him by the arm and led him to the centre of the lawn. "Now, just sit down on the grass with your arms wrapped around your knees, like this," she said, demonstrating.
    Skin did as he was told and Elké called out to Sheba. The big cat came loping over and immediately lifted her head and began sniffing the air around Skin.
    Skin stiffened. "I think she is smelling to see if I'm something tasty to eat," he whispered.
    Elké laughed. "Don't be daft. She's simply checking you out. Just remember that Sheba is a completely changed animal from when she attacked you. Fat Cat used to cage her up during the day and keep her hungry at night. All that a wild animal needs is a bit of tender, loving care."
    As if to prove the point Sheba flopped down next to Skin and rolled over on her side with her back resting right up against him.
    "There you are," said Elké, grinning broadly. "That means you've been accepted. If you want to give her a treat stroke her on the chest just under her chin."
    Skin gave Elké a funny look but slowly put his hand down and ruffled the soft fur between the black panthers front legs. Soon Sheba was purring contentedly and Skin was feeling quite good, too.
    The big surprise was how Sheba took to Aitch. The huge panther allowed the small puppy to crawl all over her and even to nibble at her ears. They would often be found asleep together with Aitch nestled between Sheba's giant, front paws.
    That afternoon Aunt Kathy and Leanne decided to pay a visit. Rebecca showed them around the house before heading out into the garden where the others were relaxing.
    Aunt Kathy was genuinely impressed. "My! You four have certainly landed on your feet," she said, gazing around at the superb surroundings. "I almost feel like I am hobnobbing with the local gentry."
    Leanne, legendary for her love of animals, immediately pleaded with Elké to be introduced to Sheba, who was playing with Aitch down by the pond.
    Soon after Captain Friddle arrived. He had news for Elké. "Good news, I'm glad to say," he added, with a grin. "I have spoken to my friend in Tanzania concerning Sheba and he was very enthusiastic about having a female Black Panther introduced into the wild life park where he is stationed."
    Elké looked up, squinting her eyes against the glare of the sun. "This wild life park. Do you think Sheba will like it?"
    "Like it! She is going to love it," replied the Captain, with certainty. "And I should know. I've been there many times. It goes by the name of 'The Ngorongoro Crater', a paradise on earth to be sure. In fact, Elké, it's almost like the place you described. Lush jungle, waterfalls, fast flowing streams, deep pools and wide expanses of grassland."
    "Stop, stop!" cried out Elké, flinging her arms around the panther. "This is all too much. Did you hear that, Sheba? You can go back to your native country."
    Sheba gave a low growl of approval.
    "But how is she going to get there? Africa is such a long way away."
    The Captain smiled. "That does not seem to be a problem. A pair of lions and a Rhino from the Longleat Breeding Centre are being flown out to Tanzania next week. I have been told that a gamekeeper will call here on Tuesday to collect Sheba."
    Captain Friddle now appeared somewhat uneasy. "I have something else to tell you," he said, becoming serious. "I have been making enquiries to the whereabouts of your father."
    Elké looked up, startled.
    "He is appearing as a clown for a circus playing at 'The National Exhibition Centre' not five miles from here."
    "Have you spoken to him?" asked Elké.
    "No, no, and, as far as I am aware, nobody else has either."
    "Thank you," said Elké, softly.
"Come with me up to the house, Elké, for I also have some news for the others. I fear it is not as good as yours, but maybe we can find a solution."
    Biffer, Skin and Rebecca were still sitting on the patio chatting to Aunt Kathy.
    Captain Friddle, never a one for preliminaries, went straight to the point. "Chief Inspector Webb has spoken to the authorities and it has been decided that Biffer and Skin should be taken into care and Rebecca is to be sent back to the orphanage in Bristol."
    The three children groaned deeply.
    "That's not fair," complained Biffer. "We do the community a favour and save the banks from losing millions of pounds and it's us that loose out."
     "I quite agree," sympathized the Captain. "And that is what prompted me to come up with an alternative."
    He went on to describe the large house he owned in the Peak District.
    "I am hardly ever at home. Most of the year the house is boarded up. I am sure that, if I employed a cook, a housekeeper and maybe a private tutor, the authorities would jump at the chance of allowing you all to live there." He gave them a knowing wink. "I've already spoken to Mr. And Mrs. Applebee and Lucy about taking over the running of the house and they have agreed wholeheartedly."
    The three children looked at each other in amazement.
    "Brilliant!" exclaimed Skin. "Mrs. Applebee's cooking is the best in the world."
    "Listen," said Captain Friddle, "don't make up your minds just yet. Why don't we all drive up there next week and take a look. You too, Aunt Kathy. I am sure you would like to see that Biffer and Skin make the correct decision."
    "There is no need for us to do that, Captain Friddle," said Biffer, emphatically, "The offer is too good to turn down. We've already decided to accept, thank you."
    The days slowly rolled by. But all too soon Tuesday, the day of Sheba's departure, arrived. Elké had spoken to the big cat and explained that she was going on a long journey, but not to be frightened, for she would finally reach the land of her dreams.
    The gamekeeper proved to be a delightful young woman. She gave Elké a booklet containing amazing pictures of 'The Ngorongoro Crater' and explained how Sheba would be gradually introduced into a new way of life in the wild.
     After Sheba had gone the four children and Aitch sat around moping.
    "It was so exciting to have a black panther wandering about the place," said Rebecca. "I shall miss her so."
    "I wonder who will be saying the same about us," said Biffer. "Don't forget, tomorrow we head off for the Peak District and Elké goes in search of her father."
    Just then the phone rang and Rebecca raced off to take the call. She was back in a trice, beaming with excitement. "That was Aunt Kathy," she said. "There is going to be a farewell party for Biffer and Skin at the Buccaneer tonight."

The Buccaneer club was packed to the rafters. A stage had been set up at one end and live music was to be played all night long. Most of the children had brought an instrument and whenever one player quit the stage another would take his or her place.
    For the finalé Aunt Kathy entered carrying a huge cake in the shape of a Buccaneers man o' war sailing ship with billowing white sails made from crystalline icing sugar, thin strands of chocolate for the rigging and, sticking out from each side, row upon row of lighted candles representing firing canons.
    Leanne followed behind holding above her head a silver platter. The young girl had spent several days hand embroidering five Buccaneer badges, red stitching upon a glittering gold background.
    Amidst loud cheers and a trumpet fanfare she presented one each to Biffer, Skin, Rebecca, Elké and Aitch.
    "You five well and truly deserve to be called…'The Buccaneers'

The End.
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