Evadne and Edgar are now married, and the Watson family have moved to Geneva, complete with Millicent Mary!
Follow the Watsons, and their family and friends though the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of family life, growing together and growing up.
Sequel to A Second Chance.
As with the other drabbles in my Evvy series, it's not necessary to read the prequels first (ASC and Long Road Home), but it may help to make more sense of some bits and will introduce some of the characters.
Timeline runs alongside and sometimes weaves in and out of EBD's universe until the end of her series (including where Evvy puts in the odd appearance in the books), and then carries her universe forward. Includes the appearance of many a familiar face, both from the CS universe and the previous parts of this series, and introduces plenty of new ones as well. Hope you enjoy!
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Future, SwitzerlandSchool Name:
Domestic, Drama, Family, Friendship, Humour, Romance, School Story
Josie's Quintette Universe
04 Oct 2017 Updated:
20 Oct 2017
1. Chapter 1 by Josie
2. Chapter 2 by Josie
3. Chapter 3 by Josie
4. Chapter 4 by Josie
5. Chapter 5 by Josie
6. Chapter 6 by Josie
7. Chapter 7 by Josie
8. Chapter 8 by Josie
9. Chapter 9 by Josie
10. Chapter 10 by Josie
11. Chapter 11 by Josie
12. Chapter 12 by Josie
13. Chapter 13 by Josie
14. Chapter 14 by Josie
15. Chapter 15 by Josie
16. Chapter 16 by Josie
17. Chapter 17 by Josie
18. Chapter 18 by Josie
19. Chapter 19 by Josie
20. Chapter 20 by Josie
21. Chapter 21 by Josie
22. Chapter 22 by Josie
23. Chapter 23 by Josie
24. Chapter 24 by Josie
The haphazard stacks of photo albums had been straining for release from their confines ever since they’d been bundled back into the dresser a year previously, the last time anybody had paid them any attention. Coming down the stairs, ready to pack up the contents of the dresser, Lady Watson had entirely forgotten they were there. She dropped the two empty boxes she was carrying onto the polished wooden floor, crouched down and reached out a hand, pulling open the door nearest to her. A second later she gave a wild shriek as the piles inside gave way and came cascading down on top of her, knocking her off-balance and causing her to topple ignominiously onto her backside.
Cursing audibly and thanking her lucky stars that none of her family had been around to see the spectacle, she rubbed her calf where something had hit her exposed skin leaving a red mark. Then picking up the nearest book, she smiled as she saw what had landed on her. It was their family albums, telling the story of fourteen joyful years in their Geneva home; fourteen joyful years of marriage and family life. She began to leaf through the one she held in her hands and felt a lump come to her throat as she looked at the happy, smiling faces of her family gathered together on the back lawn. Their youngest had been just two at the time. It all felt so long ago now.
Deciding that her packing could wait a little longer, she began to pile the albums up on the floor, sorting them into date order. Then picking up the first six in her arms, she made her way out through the family room to the gardens at the rear of the house.
Thirty minutes later, she had transferred them all outside. Sitting herself down at the table with a cup of strong, milky coffee, she opened the first book – the one with ‘1954 -1955’ inscribed on the inside of the cover. Turning back the protective sheaf of tissue paper, she felt sentimental tears pricking the back of her eyes. She blinked hard and smiled as she stared at the first photo; one of herself, fourteen years ago, posing outside the front of the house. It was the day that they had moved in, eleven days into their honeymoon. She could even remember why she had been laughing. Edgar had been having trouble getting the camera to work…
“Well I don’t know what’s wrong with the blasted thing!”
Examining the back of the camera intently, the frown on his face deepening, Edgar gave it a shake and then glared suspiciously at his wife who had suddenly started giggling.
“What’s so funny?”
“You…the lens…” Evadne giggled again as he lifted the camera back to his eye, and giving up her efforts to speak, she pointed forlornly at his hands.
Confused, Edgar lowered the camera, turning it around so he could see the front. The next moment he went bright red and sheepishly removed the lens cap, putting it in his pocket.
“Alright, I’m an idiot!” He grinned as Evadne lifted her head to look at him, still laughing and wiping away tears of mirth. “Smile!” and lifting the camera back to his eye, he quickly took a picture before she had time to react.
“Hey! I wasn’t ready!”
“Serves you right for laughing at me!” Laying the camera down carefully on top of the suitcase next to him, Edgar walked towards her. “Right, time to get into the house I think! No, leave that there for now,” he added, as Evadne leaned down to grab the handle of the nearest bag.
“Because I’m going to carry you over the threshold, of course!”
“Oh no you’re not!” She dodged sideways to try and escape him, but he was too quick for her and reached out to grab her arm. “Edgar, no! We’ve been into the house already - you don’t need to carry me in now!”
“I know we have, but we've not been in since the wedding and it’s traditional, so I’m carrying you over the threshold whether you like it or not!” and as she laughed and tried to free herself from his grasp, he reached down and picked her up in a fireman’s lift. Ignoring her protests, he carried her across the forecourt to the already-open front door.
Once they were inside the spacious entrance hall, he stopped and lowered her back to the polished, tiled floor, grinning at her indignant expression. “There, that wasn’t so painful was it?”
“How very romantic of you!” she retorted, straightening her skirt, “I thought you were supposed to sweep me up in your arms, not carry me over like a sack of potatoes!”
“Well you shouldn’t have protested then should you?” He looked around at the newly-papered walls. “Come on grumpy, let’s go and see what sort of job the decorators have done. We should have a new kitchen by now too,” and taking hold of her hand, he led her to the far side of the hall and in through the kitchen door.
They spent the next hour going happily from room to room, inspecting the decorating and making final decisions on what each one would be used for. With the exception of the kitchen, the only furnished room was their bedroom. That they had done before the wedding had taken place, knowing they would need somewhere to sleep when they arrived. The rest of the furniture was due to begin arriving that afternoon.
The top two floors were easily sorted out. They decided to leave the three children to choose their own bedrooms, and the rest would be guest rooms and perhaps one or two would become nurseries, should they be lucky enough to add to their family in the future. Making their way back downstairs, the drawing room, Edgar’s study, the reading room and the dining room were soon chosen. The family room, they had already determined, would be the vast room running across the full length of rear of the house, with several sets of french doors opening out onto the large flagstone terrace. Part of the basement was obviously meant to be a wine cellar. The other half, with its large vent leading outside, they designated a workroom, where Ned could work on his models and Edgar could, in his own words, ‘build things’.
Evadne was now standing in a smallish room built as an extension off the rear of the salon, set back and protruding from the side of the house. It had large windows running right around two of its three external walls, allowing views of both the gardens running down to the tennis court at the side of the house, and the lake and mountains at the back. There was a wide boxed-in window seat running underneath the windows and built-in bookshelf alcoves along the back wall. As Edgar came into the room, she turned around to face him with a wide grin.
“This is ours.”
He raised an eyebrow, a little confused. “I know that, we own the whole house!”
“Oh…you!” Evadne replied in exasperated tones. “You know what I mean! It’s our ‘snug’!”
“What on earth’s a ‘snug’?”
“It’s our own special room - where we can come and sit and look at the view and be together. See, we’ve bookshelves so we can have a mini library, and there’s room for a couple of armchairs and a table. And come see the view from here!” she added, beckoning him over to the window seat on which she was now kneeling.
Walking over to stand behind her, he slipped his arms around her waist and looked out of the window at the gleaming sapphire-blue lake with the Alps towering in the distance. Lowering his head, he kissed the top of hers. “I love that idea.”
Evadne leant back into him. “My folks had a room like that when we lived in Salzburg,” she recalled, a touch of wistfulness in her voice. “I always promised myself I’d have one too, when I got a husband of my own.” She tilted her head back to look up at him. “And now I have both!”
He smiled affectionately down at her, but before he could reply, the sound of the doorbell clanged throughout the house. Pulling out of his arms, Evadne jumped down from the seat and made for the door.
“That must be the first of the furniture! What was coming today again?”
“The sofas and chairs and things for the family room, I think,” Edgar replied, following her out of the room into the hall.
He was soon proved right, as they opened the front door to find a small, wiry, moustachioed man standing on their doorstep, holding a clipboard, while two burlier men prepared to unload a large armchair from the back of a van. Edgar exchanged a few quick words with the man with the clipboard, while Evadne checked that the way through the hallway was clear of their bags, and before long, they were unloading the first of the Watson’s new furniture into the house.
Evadne was standing in the corner of the family room, directing the delivery men as to where to put everything, when Edgar appeared and took hold of her elbow, steering her out of the room.
“Will you be alright looking after things here for a while?”
“Yes, of course,” she answered, surprised at his question. “Why? Where are you disappearing off to?”
“I have to go and pick up the car. The dealer’s been holding it for us til we arrived, and I think we could do with it as soon as possible. I thought I’d pop into the city, drop off the rental and pick it up now, before things get too hectic here.”
“Sure, that makes sense. Is this it for today, or are we expecting anything else?”
“No, this is it. You just need to check that everything on the foreman’s list is actually here and then sign for it all when they’re finished unloading. I’ve just tried the telephone line and that’s working fine, so I think that’s all for today.”
“Okay. Can you pick up some bread and cold meat and salad-y things for dinner while you’re in there? I've not figured out the stove yet, so I don’t think me cooking is the best option!”
Edgar laughed. “Will do. I shouldn’t be too long,” and planting a quick kiss on her cheek, he turned and headed out of the front door.
Evadne watched him go, and then smiling to herself, she made her way back into the sitting room just in time to prevent them from putting one of the large, heavy sofas against the back wall.
It was almost six-thirty by the time Edgar returned. Pulling up outside the house, he jumped out and surveyed the gleaming new car proudly as his wife came out of the front door.
“Well, what do you think?”
Evadne tilted her head to one side. “It’s white and it’s a car.”
“Evvy! How can you say that?” Edgar exclaimed, aghast. “This is a top of the range Mercedes-Benz 300b!”
Trying hard not to laugh, Evadne shook her head. “You see, you may say that, but all I see is ‘white’ and ‘car’!”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Edgar patted the bonnet lovingly, and then turned and walked towards her. “You just don’t understand, do you?”
“No, sorry,” she replied, raising her face for his kiss, “and let’s face it, the way me and cars go together, it’s probably best that I don’t! Did you get the things for dinner? I don’t know about you, but I’m famished!”
“Yes, they’re in the boot. Honestly woman, you and your stomach!” Edgar retorted with a grin, making his way back to the car to retrieve the shopping. “I thought I’d better buy a few plates and some cutlery and glasses too, seeing as none of our stuff’s arrived yet.”
“Oh, I forgot all about that! Well done!” Taking the bags from his hand, she turned to go back into the house. “Grab the rug from the bag upstairs, will you? We can put it on the back lawn and eat out there,” and with that she was gone.
A short while later, they had succeeded in putting together quite a spread. As day slowly turned to night, they sat in their new garden, surrounded by the beauty and peacefulness of the shores of Lake Geneva, savouring their first evening together in their new family home and tucking into a tasty meal of cold cuts, fresh bread and tomatoes, followed by some delicious sponge and cream concoctions that Edgar had found in a patisserie in the city.
Once they finished, Evadne disappeared inside to find them both jumpers, as it was getting cold now that the sun was going down. On her return, she found Edgar sitting on the rug, staring down at the lake and holding a glass of cognac.
“Here you are!” she said, laying his jumper over his shoulder and looking at the drink in his hand. “Is there one for me too?”
“Of course!” Reaching behind him, he picked up a second tumbler and handed it up to her. “For you, my lady!” he grinned, and placing his glass down beside him, he began to pull his sweater over his head.
Evadne took a sip of her drink, and looked around her. The sun was setting in the sky to their left, casting an orangey-pink light on the mountains to the north of the city. The cicadas were buzzing in the trees around the garden, and a gentle hum of activity could be heard on the water, as boats headed back into shore after their day on the lake. Heaving a satisfied sigh, she sat down between her husband’s legs, turning her back to him and leaning into his chest.
“A girl could get used to this honeymoon lark, you know!” she said contentedly, gazing out at the view, her eyes shining as they reflected the colours in the sky.
Edgar chuckled as he finished straightening out his jumper and turned to retrieve his drink. “Well make the most of it – our peace’ll be shattered in a couple of weeks time!” he replied, wrapping his arms around her and taking her free hand in his own.
Evadne laughed. “I know. I do miss them though – it’ll be wonderful when they do get here.” Tilting her head back to look at him, she added excitedly, “We’re in our very own home, Edgar! It’s so perfect I can scarcely believe it!”
Smiling down at her, Edgar bent to kiss her gently on the lips. Pulling back, he gazed at her as she grinned up at him, her pretty face alight with happiness. “Well you’d better get used to it, because this is it for the rest of your life!” he said, his green eyes twinkling as he spoke.
“Hmm, let me think.” She shifted position so that she was leaning against one of his arms. “So I’m now stuck here with that view, this house, the lake, my family and my wonderful husband – I reckon I can get used to it!” and placing her drink on the ground, she lifted a hand to pull his head down towards her and, wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed him back.
The next morning, Evadne was rudely awoken by the sound of loud hammering coming from downstairs. Groggily opening one eye, she reached out to grab her watch off the nightstand and checked the time: seven-thirty a.m.
“What idiot’s banging around at this hour?” she muttered grouchily, distinctly unimpressed at being woken up.
There was no reply. Turning over, she realised that the other half of the bed was empty; Edgar was already up. It must be him making all that noise. Sitting up, she yawned and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. They had not yet fitted the new shutters on the windows, and she could see that it was going to be a scorching hot day. The sky was a bright azure blue, with barely a visible trace of cloud, and when she knelt up to get a better view, she could see the sun beating down on the back lawn, even at this early hour.
Another volley of bangs and thumps echoed through the house. Evadne grimaced at the din and decided that now she was awake, she may as well get up and go and find out exactly what her husband was up to. Swinging her legs out from underneath her, she sat on the edge of the bed and slid her feet into her slippers. Then grabbing her thin summer dressing gown from the bedpost, she wrapped it around her, tying it at the waist, and made for the door. She had her hand on the handle, ready to turn it when she heard a noise outside on the landing, and she stepped back just in time. The next moment, the door opened and Edgar came into the room carrying a tray. He grinned as he saw her standing there.
“Good morning, dormouse!” Putting the tray down on a nearby chest of drawers, he walked over and kissed her on the forehead. “Did you sleep alright?”
Evadne pulled a face at him. “I did til you started banging around at unearthly hours! What in god’s name were you doing down there? Please tell me that was not you making my breakfast!” she added, with a concerned look at the tray, which was actually one side of a small packing crate.
Edgar chuckled and shook his head. “I wasn’t doing anything down there – or not that was making a noise at least.” He looked her up and down as he spoke, taking in her dressing gown and slippers. “You may want to put a few more clothes on though, if you’re planning on heading down.”
“Because, my love, we have a house full of delivery men! The dining room furniture and the terrace table and chairs have arrived - and the first of the boxes from England are due shortly too. I thought you might prefer to hide up here until you’d eaten and made yourself fit to be seen.”
“What are they doing here at seven-thirty?” she asked, incredulously, and Edgar raised his eyebrows and looked at his watch.
“Evvy, it’s almost ten o’clock!”
“What? It can’t be!” Walking back to the nightstand, she picked up her watch. It still showed the exact same time as it had done ten minutes before. “Damn thing must be broken again!”
“Broken or not wound?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Pretending not to hear his last question, she placed the watch back on the nightstand and made her way over to the chest of drawers to examine her breakfast. “Coffee, croissant and fruit – perfect! Okay, I’ll keep you!”
Edgar chuckled. “So I should hope! Now, enjoy your breakfast and I’ll see you downstairs when you’re ready,” and picking an orange segment off the plate and popping it in his mouth, he left the room.
The next few hours flew by, as furniture was delivered and assembled in various rooms of the house. Not long after midday, the first crates arrived containing some of the belongings they had shipped out from England, including the enormous box that housed Millicent Mary. Well, Millicent Mary’s body anyway. Unfortunately, despite searching high and low, they were unable to locate the head. Having turned out every crate to no avail, they eventually gave up and instead turned their attention to unpacking their belongings, and starting to make the house a proper home.
Sitting on the floor of the salon, Edgar was busy unpacking photographs of his family, dusting them off and standing them on the low dresser next to him. After several attempts, he finally managed to get a picture of his three children to stand up straight, and turning his attention back to the crate, he pulled out a small frame that had been tucked down the side. Turning it over, he was shocked to see Madeleine staring back at him. How had no idea how that had got in there. He was sure he had left all her photographs behind at Whitlingford Hall. Gazing down at the delicate face of his first wife, he felt a slight lump form in his throat as his mind dwelled for a moment on all that had passed since that picture had been taken.
Edgar started as Evadne’s voice cut through his thoughts. Looking over to where she was busy unpacking books and sorting them into piles, he gave her a guilty smile. “Yes thanks. Was just thinking, that’s all.”
“What’s that?” she asked, inclining her head towards the frame he still clutched in his hand.
Slowly, he turned it around so that she could see for herself. As her eyes widened in surprise, he hastened to explain. “Evvy, I’m so sorry, I thought I’d left all these in England. One of the children must have slipped it into the box when I wasn’t looking. I’ll pack it away, don’t worry,” and picking up a scrunched up sheet of newspaper, he began to wrap it up.
Evadne hesitated for a second, and then getting to her feet, she walked across to where Edgar was sitting. Reaching down, she took the frame from his hands and, throwing the paper aside, she set it down on top of the dresser next to the other photographs.
“Personally, I think it looks pretty good just here.”
He stared up at her in disbelief. “Evvy, are you sure?”
Crouching down in front of him, she smiled as she answered, “I’m certain.”
Edgar had no idea what to say. Reaching out, he gently ran his hand down the side of her face. Then, catching her off-guard, he took hold of her arm and pulled her towards him, a mischievous grin lighting up his face. Evadne shrieked as she overbalanced and toppled onto the floor. Laughing, she rolled onto her back as Edgar leant down to kiss her.
“Right, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of unpacking for today,” he stated as he sat up again. “How do you fancy getting changed into our swimming togs and having a dip in that little lake of ours?”
Propping herself up on her elbows, Evadne grinned back up at him. “Absolutely!” and as he got to his feet, she held out her hand so that he could pull her up.
Ten minutes later they were changed and ready, and with a cry of ‘Ready, Set, Go!” from Evadne, they raced each other down the garden and jumped off the end of the jetty into the cool, blue water.
For the next two weeks, Evadne and Edgar spent their time furnishing their house and getting it ready for the children’s arrival at the beginning of July. They were settling in well in Geneva, had got to know the neighbourhood and some of their neighbours, and were already feeling very much at home. They were particularly taken with their next door neighbour, an eccentric millionaire by the name of Anton Baertschi, who listed his job description as 'man-about-town'. The Watsons had made his acquaintance several times by the end of the month, and found him charmingly eccentric and very enjoyable company. They had also been introduced to his extensive collection of rare lizards on more than one occasion, putting Evadne in mind of when Cornelia had turned up one school term with a chameleon for a pet.
Meanwhile, back in Wiltshire, Arthur, Veronica and the two girls had spent the final weeks of June making sure everything was packed and ready for them to shut up Whitlingford Hall. It was now the first Friday in July, the day they were due to set off for Switzerland. The final boxes had been dispatched earlier in the week, and yesterday Arthur had driven up to Oxford to collect Ned from school and attend his Commemoration Day. It had been Ned’s final term at his prep school, and as Arthur watched his grandson go up on stage to collect awards for outstanding contribution in both rugby and cricket, as well as an essay prize, he found himself beaming with pride.
Today, everyone had got up at the crack of dawn and spent the last two hours checking that everything was ready for them to leave. It was now eight a.m. and they were due to depart in one hour’s time. Marcia and Veronica had disappeared outside to pick some flowers for Evadne, and Ned and Arthur were doing a final check round in all the rooms of the house, making sure that all the windows were securely shut and that they had not left anything behind that they might need.
Making his way into the dining room, Arthur did a quick search for stray belongings and then pulled back the long, heavy curtains that covered the french doors. He checked that the doors were secure and was about to turn back into the room when he spotted Thea sitting on the low terrace wall, staring across the gardens towards the church. She had been very quiet all morning, and as he watched her, Arthur could not help noticing the sad expression that she wore on her face. Unlocking the doors again, he stepped out onto the terrace and walked over to sit down next to her.
“You okay, sweetie-pie?”
She glanced at him for a moment, and nodded her head.
Arthur had a vague idea as to what was wrong, and he studied her delicate little face closely as he spoke again. “It’s a big change leaving here, isn’t it? You looking forward to Geneva?”
She remained silent, staring straight in front of her across the lawns. As Arthur watched her, her jaw began to shake, and he saw a tear escape from the corner of her eye and run down her cheek. Putting his arm around her, he pulled her towards him. “You’re not leaving here forever, sweetheart. You’ll be coming back to visit.”
Scrubbing her eyes with her sleeve, Thea sniffed and cuddled up to his side. “I know that, but this is where we lived with Granny, and she’s here in the church and we’ll be so far away.” She lifted her hand to scrub her eyes again and Arthur hugged her tight.
“She’ll be with you in Geneva too. She not just here, she’s everywhere you go.”
“But it isn’t the same.”
“I know.” Arthur dropped a kiss on the top of her head and glanced at his watch. “Look, we’ve an hour before we leave. Do you want to scoot down to the church for twenty minutes and say goodbye?” Thea nodded. “Go on then, just be back by a quarter to nine, okay?”
He watched her as she jumped down and set off across the grass at a run. Then swinging his legs back over the wall, he stood up and made his way back into the house, deep in thought.
As he walked out of the dining room, he was met in the hallway by Ned. “I think Dad forgot something!” said that young man, dissolving into a fit of giggles and holding up a small box with a large strip of hairy material nailed to the top of it and a face drawn crudely on the front.
Arthur burst out laughing as he stared at Millicent Mary’s head. “Where was that?”
“In the coat cupboard. I ‘spose he must have shoved it in there to get it out of the way the day before the wedding,” Ned laughed.
“Well I guess we’d better take that with us, or your sisters’ll be a mite upset!” Arthur replied, still chortling at the absurd vision. “Throw it in the trunk of the car, we’ll figure out what to do with it when we get to the airport,” and as Ned went to do his bidding, he turned and headed into the summer room to make sure all was secure in there.
One hour later, they were finally ready to go. Thea had returned from the churchyard red-eyed and subdued, and Arthur warned the other two not to wind her up or ask her questions, an order that they thankfully obeyed. At nine o’clock on the dot, they all piled into the car, Arthur started up the engine and they drove off up the driveway, waving farewell to the house as they went. They passed through the village, Ned and Marcia calling goodbye to the shops and the church as they passed them, and twenty minutes later, Arthur swung the car onto the Great West Road towards London, leaving Whitlingford far behind.
They arrived at Heathrow with plenty of time to get their flight. Unpacking their luggage onto a couple of trolleys, they left the car in the prearranged spot for Elsie and Paul to come and collect the next day and headed into the terminal. Before long they were checked in and ready to go through to the departure lounge. Arthur thanked the woman behind the check-in desk, and turned around to gather them all together.
“Okay, everyone check you have everything, because once we go through that’s it,” he said, looking around at them all. “Ned, can you give Granny a hand with those two bags? Thea be careful, sweetie, you’re dropping your coat. Where’s Marcia got to?”
At this last question they all stopped and looked around them.
“She was here a minute ago,” Ned replied, confusion on his face. “Maybe she went to the toilet?”
Arthur rolled his eyes and turned to his wife. “You go check, honey, I’ll stay with these two.”
Veronica nodded and departed, only to return five minutes later, all alone. “No sign of her in there. I checked a couple of other rooms too, but she wasn’t in any of them.”
“Honestly, that child!” Arthur sounded somewhat irritated as he scanned the terminal floor for her. “It’s a wonder Edgar’s not lost her completely by now, the way she wanders off!”
“He almost has a couple of times,” Ned put in with a grin.
As Arthur’s mouth tightened, Veronica hastily put a hand on his arm to calm him. “She can’t have gone far, Arthur, why don’t we split up and look for her. You two stay here with the bags,” she added, turning to Ned and Thea, “we’ll be back in a few minutes.”
They both returned twenty minutes later, empty handed and with worried looks on their faces.
Arthur shook his head. “You neither, I assume?” His wife confirmed the obvious answer, and his expression became grim. “I’ll get them to put out a call and we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed," and ust as he turned back to the desk to do so, a voice sounded over the tannoy.
“Call for Mr Arthur Lannis. Please come to the TWA check-in desk immediately. I repeat, call for Mr Arthur Lannis, please come to the TWA desk.”
Arthur grimaced. “I guess that means we’ve just found her!” and looking distinctly less-than-impressed, he set off to answer the call.
A few minutes later he was back, wearing a furious expression and towing a sheepish and somewhat tearful Marcia behind him.
“Now you stay with us, or I swear I will chain you to my arm for the rest of the trip!” he said angrily, letting go of her. Marcia hastily stood next to Thea and stared at the ground. “Heaven knows what your father’s going to say when I tell him.”
“Oh no, Grandpa, you can’t tell him, please!” she pleaded, staring up at him, her big, green eyes filling with again with tears.
“I don’t think you have much say in the matter, do you?” As she stared back at her shoes again and shook her head, he reached down and picked up his bags. “Thea, take your sister’s hand until we’re through and onto the plane please. Right, come along, we’d best hurry as we’re well and truly late now.” He sent the children ahead so that he and Veronica could keep and eye on them, and they all set off for the departure gate as fast as they could go.
“Where was she?” Veronica panted as she walked swiftly along next to her husband.
“Stupid child decided to climb through and see where the bags went to!” he replied, giving his wife a sideways glance. “Seems she waited til everyone was busy and slipped past one of the desks. Thankfully someone down at TWA spotted her before she got too far.” He gave a slight shudder as he spoke. “She could have gotten anywhere! Imagine if we’d had to turn up in Geneva and tell my daughter and son-in-law I’d lost one of their children!”
“At least you found her, Arthur,” she replied, with a sympathetic smile, “it could have been worse.”
“Oh I know!” he paused for a second and then gave a slight chuckle. “It’s only the kind of thing Evadne used to do, I guess. Gee, was she ever a pest at times!” and with that fond memory the subject was dropped, as they reached the gate and pulled out their boarding cards to board the plane.
With Marcia being thoroughly subdued by the whole affair, and the other two somewhat overawed at seeing jolly ‘Grandpa Arthur’ quite so angry, the flight passed by smoothly enough. The only minor incident occurred when Ned, thoroughly disgusted at the fact that his tea had turned yellow when powdered milk was added, buried the drink under a napkin. It therefore went unnoticed by the air hostess, and when she picked up the tray the cup tipped over and emptied its contents down the front of her crisp, clean uniform. Arthur ordered him to apologise, but she understood it had been an accident and merely brushed it off with a smile and a wave of her hand.
After that, the next hour or so went by in peace, and by the time they reached Geneva, Arthur had calmed down, and was laughing and joking with the three children again. In turn, they were all thoroughly excited at being in their new home city, and even Thea forgot her woes long enough to smile and laugh at a few jokes. Once they were in the terminal, Arthur and Ned secured two trolleys, and they made their way through to the baggage hall to await their luggage.
Standing a little back from the luggage belt, Veronica was chating Thea and holding Marcia’s hand while they waited, when she heard a strange noise from behind them. She turned just in time to see Ned speeding towards them with his trolley, pretending it was a race car and he was in the lead of the Monaco Grand Prix. Immersed in his game, he failed to pay attention to where he was going, and he was on a direct collision course with his youngest sister. Marcia, in turn, was busy gazing around her, clutching the flowers that she had picked for Evadne and paying no attention to what was going on. Veronica was about to call out to him when Arthur, coming back from the bathroom, caught sight of the situation and beat her to it.
“Ned! Watch out!”
At the sound of his grandfather’s voice, Ned looked up at him rather than slowing down, and the next moment he ran straight into Marcia, catching her on the arm and causing her to drop her flowers. They fell under the wheel of the trolley and were instantly decapitated, their heads squashed and their petals torn off.
Upset, her arm throbbing in pain, Marcia turned on her brother. “Now look what you’ve done you stupid pig! They were flowers for Mummy from the house and now they’re ruined! You mess up everything, Ned!” she shouted, and then promptly burst into tears.
Shocked at what he had done and worried that he had hurt his sister, Ned began to apologise profusely but she refused to listen, shoving him roughly away. Veronica bent down to check the emerging bruises on her arm and give her a cuddle, and Arthur hurried over, taking Ned by the arm and steering him away. Pulling some francs from his pocket, he put them in the boy’s hand.
“Go on through to the outside, see if there’s a stall where you can get some more flowers and redeem yourself a little. That was a damn fool thing you just did then!”
Ned had no need to be told twice. Thankful to get off so lightly, he turned tail and made his way out through customs as fast as he could, leaving the others behind to comfort Marcia and keep an eye out for their luggage. It was half an hour before they finally emerged, their bags being some of the last off the plane, and it gave Ned ample time to greet his father, locate a flower stall and be back waiting next to Edgar by the time the rest of them came through.
Edgar waved to get their attention as they appeared in the arrivals hall and, spotting her father, Marcia shrieked and ran towards him, throwing herself into his arms. Edgar picked her up and cuddled her, kissing her blonde curls, and then turned to greet the others as they walked towards him at a more sedate pace. Setting his youngest daughter on the ground, he crouched down to greet Thea, kissing her cheek and giving her a hug. He could not help but notice how subdued she was and he gave his father-in-law a questioning look as he stood back up.
Arthur smiled as he shook Edgar’s hand and murmured, “Tell you later.”
Edgar nodded, but before he could reply, their attention was caught by Marcia and Ned, as that young man tried to apologise to his sister.
“I’m sorry, squirt, I didn’t mean it!”
“Don’t call me squirt!”
“Alright, sq..." he tailed off as he caught Edgar's eye. "I got you some more flowers to give to Evvy, anyway. And I am sorry.”
Marcia held out her hand, her scowl fading slightly as she took the bouquet. Edgar looked down at the pair of them. “What do you say, Marcia?”
“Thank you,” she mumbled, clutching the flowers tightly, and Edgar turned back to Arthur and Veronica with a grin.
“Good flight?” he asked innocently, bending to kiss Veronica on the cheek.
Arthur laughed. “Let’s just say eventful, shall we?”
“Sounds about right,” Edgar replied, chuckling. “Come on then scamps, the car’s outside. Your stepmother's waiting for you all at home and she can’t wait to see you,” and reaching down to take hold of Marcia’s hand, he led the way out of the building.
“Look, Thea, Ned, there it is! Isn’t that the house, Daddy?”
“Cor, look at it! It’s even better in real life!”
Edgar chuckled at Ned and Marcia, and glanced to his left as he drove along the top road running parallel to the lake. “Yes, that’s it. What do you think, Thea?” he asked, noting that his elder daughter had made no comment.
“S’okay I ‘spose,” came the reply.
Edgar watched closely her for a moment in the rear view mirror, wondering to himself what on earth was wrong. He realised there was little he could do right now, but made up his mind to quiz Arthur as soon as he got the opportunity and returned his concentration to the road. Turning the car off to the left, he sounded a violent fantasia on the horn as they made their way down the long driveway. Almost immediately, the front door flew open and Evadne emerged, waving her arms and jumping up and down in her excitement, a broad grin lighting up her pretty face.
Arthur laughed as he caught sight of his daughter. “Is it just, me, or does she seem more like thirteen than thirty-four right now?” he asked his son-in law, and Edgar chuckled.
“More like about twelve, I’d say.”
“Is Mummy really thirty-four?” Marcia asked, wide-eyed.
Her brother nodded. “She doesn’t look it, does she? Not like Dad - he’s thirty-seven but he looks more like he’s forty-seven, ‘specially with his grey hair!”
As the others started laughing, Edgar glared at his son in the rear view mirror. “One more comment like that, young man, and I’m taking you back to the airport and you can find somewhere else to live!” he said threateningly. Examining his reflection, he added in an injured voice, “And anyway, what’s wrong with my grey hair? I’ll have you know your stepmother thinks it looks very distinguished!”
Ned grinned as his father pulled the car up in front of the house. “She has to say that, she’s married to you!”
“Excuse me!” Edgar exclaimed indignantly, switching off the engine and turning round in his seat. He may as well have been talking to thin air. Ned and Marcia had jumped out of the car the moment it stopped - Marcia throwing herself on her stepmother, and Ned giving her a quick hug and kiss before examining the front of the house and declaring how ‘cool’ it all was. Turning back, Edgar climbed out of the car, shut the door and bent to examine his hair in the wing mirror.
“What in God’s name are you doing?”
“Nothing!” he replied guiltily, standing up quickly and spinning around to face his wife, his neck turning pink with embarrassment.
“He’s checking his hair ‘cause I told him he looked old!” Ned put in, and Edgar grimaced at his son, the pink now turning a deeper shade and creeping up to his cheeks.
Evadne gave an incredulous laugh. “I can’t believe you rose to that!” she exclaimed, shaking her head at her husband. Then turning back to Ned, “And if you tease your father about his hair anymore, you’re getting dry bread and water for dinner! Now where’s my Thea?” she asked, looking around for that young lady, who was standing a little way away looking sullen. “Come here, sweetie, I've not given you a hug!”
Thea gave her a thin smile and walked over to them, putting her arms around her stepmother and holding her tight. As Evadne hugged her back, she gave her husband a quizzical look, and he shrugged his shoulders. Deciding to leave it for now, Evvy dropped a kiss on the sleek brown hair and released her.
“Okay, you three, we have a job for you straight off. You need to go and choose which bedrooms you want. You can have any except the really big one at the back with the dressing room and en-suite - that one belongs to Daddy and me,” she shouted at Ned and Marcia’s backs as the two of them ran into the house as fast as they could go. Watching Thea follow in her siblings’ wake, she waited until that young lady reached the staircase, and then turned back to give her father a hug.
“Pops, it’s so good to see you! How are you, Veronica?” she asked, pecking that lady on the cheek. “Come on, let’s go through to the back and have a natter, leave the men to unpack the car,” and slipping a hand through her stepmother’s arm, she led the way into the house.
“Well she sure has the art of delegation down to a tee!” Arthur said, as his son-in-law unlocked the boot of the car. “Have you had to do all the unpacking since you’ve been here?”
Edgar chuckled. “No, we’ve done it all together. She’s even been making dinner most nights, though admittedly it’s all been cold meats and salad. I don’t think she’s quite worked the oven out yet!”
“You surprise me,” Arthur returned with a grin, pulling a case out of the boot of the car. Noticing a small wooden box at the back, he pulled it out and held it up. “That reminds me, look what Ned found!”
Edgar burst out laughing. “Where did he find that?”
“In the coat cupboard in the hall apparently,” Arthur replied, handing over Millicent Mary’s head.
“We’ve been looking for it everywhere! I ended up making another one last night so that she wouldn’t be headless when the girls arrived.” Edgar tucked the head under his arm and picked up a second bag. “Oh well, I suppose she has a spare now!” and as Arthur laughed, he turned and made his way into the house.
It didn’t take them long to unpack the boot, and setting the last bags down in the entrancehall, the two men made their way through to the back garden with the intention of collecting Veronica for a tour of the house. They had just stepped onto the veranda when the sound of shouting came floating through an open bedroom window, telling them clearly that Ned and Thea were in the middle of a stand-up row.
“I was here first!”
“No you weren’t!”
“Now what?” Edgar exclaimed, rolling his eyes, and with a quick “Back in a minute” to his guests, he made his way back inside. Reaching the top of the stairs, he easily located where the noise was coming from, and striding down the landing he flung open a bedroom door at the far end. The shouting stopped immediately as he entered the room, and the two of them turned to look at their father’s angry face.
“What on earth’s going on? We can hear you yelling from outside!”
They both started shouting at once and Edgar had to bellow to be heard. “Quiet this instant, the pair of you!” As they fell silent he turned to look at Ned. “Now, do you want to tell me what this is all about?”
“He only wanted this room because I wanted it and…”
“I was talking to your brother!” Edgar interrupted, glaring at Thea. “You’ll have your turn in a minute. Now Ned, what have you got to say?”
“We both wanted this room, but I think I should get it ‘cause I’m the eldest and it’s only fair. And anyway I got here first.”
Edgar stared at him for a second and then turned to his daughter. “Thea?”
“But I’m here all the time, Daddy, so I’ll be in my room more. And Ned always gets his own way! It’s not fair!”
“So you decided to settle it by having a screaming match?” their father asked, looking from one to the other. His question received no reply. “Well I suggest you find a better way to settle this, or neither of you will have the room and I’ll give it to Marcia instead!”
There was silence again for a few moments, and then Thea rounded on her brother. “Fine, you can have it! I don’t care, I don’t want to be in this stupid house anyway,” and turning on her heel, she ran out of the room and into another bedroom opposite, slamming the door behind her.
Edgar followed her and opened the door to find her lying face down on the bed. “Thea, what’s going on?”
“Nothing, leave me alone!”
Seeing that he was unlikely to get anywhere with her just yet, Edgar left the room, closing the door behind him, and headed back downstairs. Walking out onto the terrace, he flopped down in a chair next to his wife and looked across the table at his in-laws.
“Arthur, what’s got into Thea?”
Arthur grimaced and filled Edgar in on what had happened back at Whitlingford Hall that morning, and how Thea had been so upset to leave her grandmother behind. As he finished speaking, Edgar regarded him a look of dismy.
“Damn it, I forgot all about that, I was so caught up with the wedding and moving everything else. I should have seen it coming. How was Ned about leaving his mother?”
Arthur gave him a sympathetic smile. “Fine as far as I can tell. He’s certainly seemed cheerful enough.”
Edgar fell silent and stared at his lap, his face still wearing the same stricken expression, and Evadne reached out and clasped his arm. “Baby don’t beat yourself up, it’s not your fault.”
“I'm pretty sure it is.”
Arthur looked from one to the other and cleared his throat. “Listen you two, I was thinking on the way over here. Have you a photo of Amelia I could have?”
Edgar looked up in surprise. “Yes, why?”
“Well I hope you don’t think me interfering, but I may have an idea…”
A little while later, with everyone else now outside in the garden, Edgar made his way back upstairs. Tapping gently on the door, he entered the bedroom to find Thea sitting on the bed staring out of the window, and he crossed the room to sit down next to her. Ignoring his presence, she continued staring out at the mountains in the distance, and he put an hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“I’m so sorry, darling, I didn’t think about you having to leave Granny. I should have done.”
For a moment there was no response. Then slowly she turned to face him and shook her head. “S’okay. I know I’m silly, Daddy, I’m just so sad to leave there.”
Edgar put his arms around her and gave her a hug. “You’re not silly at all – this is a big change for you.” He kissed the top of her dark brown locks. “Listen, sweetheart, will you come downstairs with me? Grandpa’ has something to show you.”
Thea gave him a reluctant glance and then nodded. Getting to his feet, he took hold of her hand and led her from the room towards the stairs. The others looked up as they made their way outside, but said nothing, and they quickly turned right across the terrace, making their way down the path that led off the main lawn towards the tennis court. About half way down the wall of trees and rhododendrons that lined the path, Edgar stopped and crouching down, he squeezed his way through a small gap. Curious as to where he was going, Thea followed behind him.
Pushing through the leaves, she found herself in a small clearing, where her father and grandfather were waiting. Arthur gave her a warm smile, and holding out his hand, he pulled her over to the trunk of a large tree. At the base stood a crude wooden cross with Amelia’s name burnt onto it and her photo pinned underneath.
“Thea, it isn’t quite the same, I know, but I thought you may like somewhere private to talk to your Granny.”
She stared silently down at the cross and as he watched her, Arthur saw her eyes begin to fill with tears. He gave Edgar a quick nod, and the pair of them pushed their way back through the bushes, leaving her alone with her thoughts.
“Do you think it’ll work?” Edgar asked, as they made their way back up the path towards the house.
Arthur gave him a quick glance and shrugged his shoulders. “I hope so.”
“Yes, so do I.”
Emerging from the path, they turned to make their way up to the terrace, only to find it empty. They turned to each other in surprise.
“Where did they all go?”
A sudden loud splash answered Arthur's and, turning round to face the water, Edgar grinned. “Come on, let’s go and join them.
Ned was already in the water, having unpacked his swimming trunks as soon as he had taken his suitcase upstairs, in anticipation of being allowed in for a swim. Catching sight of his father, he swam to the shallow water and then stood and ran towards Edgar and grabbed hold of his arm.
“Come on, Dad, in you come!” he cried as he began to drag his father towards the lake.
“Ned stop it I’m…now look what you’ve done!” he exclaimed as Ned managed to get him as far as the shoreline, “I’ve got wet shoes!”
Evadne, who was standing to one side chatting to her stepmother, looked around and laughed. “Well take them off then, you big wimp!” she teased.
Before he could reply, they heard a terrific splash and turned to see Marcia in the water, her dress floating up around her ears.
“Marcia, what are you doing? Get out now!” Evadne exclaimed, abandoning her conversation and running down the jetty towards her.
Edgar followed behind his wife, and between them they managed to pull Marcia back onto the wooden platform. “What on earth where you thinking? Go and change into your swimming costume if you want to go in!” her father ordered, as they deposited her on the jetty.
Marcia was utterly unperturbed by her parents admonishments, and simply ran off up the garden, her dress dripping as she went.
“Take that thing off before you go in the house!” Evadne yelled after her, and Veronica turned to follow her.
“I’ll go, Evvy, don’t worry.”
“Thanks Veronica.” Evadne watched her stepmother run off up the grass, and from the corner of her eye, caught sight of Thea walking towards them. Her face was flushed, and her eyes looked very red. Evvy gave her a smile.
“Hey, sweetie, you coming to join us?”
Thea nodded as she reached her stepmother, and Evadne put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Thea slipped an arm around Evvy’s waist and then smiled as her father looked over towards them both. “It’s a nice house, Daddy, I think I’ll like it,” she called out.
Edgar returned her smile. “I’m glad, darling.”
“Where’s Marcia?” she asked, glancing back up at the house.
Evadne grinned and filled her in on her sister’s exploits. “Do you want to go in too?”
Thea laughed and shook her head. "No thanks. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Well I’ll tell you what then. I’m about to head in and make a start on dinner – we’re having chicken and salad. I bought the chicken ready cooked so it won’t take long. Want to come and help me?”
“Yes please. Can I just do one thing first?”
Evadne smiled. “Okay, catch me up.”
She began to make her way up lawn, and Thea walked over to Arthur and put her arms around his waist. “Thank you.”
Returning her embrace with a huge bear hug, Arthur kissed her on the forehead. “You’re welcome.”
Giving her brevet-grandfather one final squeeze, she released him and ran up the garden after Evadne, reaching her just as Marcia sped past them in the other direction, shrieking at the top of her voice, a harassed looking Veronica following in her wake. The next moment, they heard an enourmous splash. Turning to look at each other, they both rolled their eyes.
“I think Marcia’s in the lake.”
Evadne nodded. “Yes,” and without another word, they turned and continued their stroll up towards the house.
“Mummy, can we have shepherd’s pie for dinner tonight?”
Evadne glanced up from her magazine in surprise. “Erm…yes, I guess we could. Wouldn’t you rather have ham and salad though? It’s a little hot for shepherd’s pie, don’t you think?”
“Yes, I know that, but it’s really still quite warm.”
Thea gave her stepmother an incredulous look. “Well can we have something else cooked then? Please!”
“Oh yes, Mummy, can we?” Marcia put in, leaving her colouring books and crossing the room to join in the conversation. “We always have salad, it’s boring!”
Evadne looked from one to the other, slightly perturbed. “Well I’m not sure, I’ll have to see what Daddy and Ned want.”
“They won’t mind,” Thea replied with conviction. “I heard them say the other day that they wanted some real food.”
“They really said that?”
Thea nodded. “Daddy said he thought he might hire a cook soon.”
“Then you wouldn’t have to do it all, Mummy,” Marcia added, “That’d be good for you.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Evadne paused and stared out of the window for a moment, her brow knotted into a frown. Then getting to her feet, she added briskly, “Well if I’m cooking tonight then I guess we’d better go shopping. Marcia, go get your brother, will you? I’ll just find my shoes and handbag,” and leaving them to sort themselves out, she left the room and headed upstairs to her bedroom.
Once there, she retrieved a pair of shoes from the dressing room and sat down on the edge of the bed. Truth be told, she was a feeling a little put-out. Edgar knew she wanted to keep house herself. Why was he thinking of hiring a cook?
It was now two weeks since the children had arrived out in Geneva, and they were all settling well in their new abode. Even Thea seemed to have accepted the situation and was now her usual cheerful self once more. Edgar had started his new job on the first Monday in July, and was thoroughly enjoying it, despite the pressures that accompanied such a high-profile role. Evadne and the children spent the weekdays exploring their new neighbourhood and the city, or making the most of the hot weather and playing tennis or swimming in the lake. Then at weekends, the whole family would pile into the car and head further afield towards Lausanne or Montreux or Yverdon, or up into the Alps for picnics and hikes. All-in-all it was a thoroughly happy time for the Watson family.
The one bone of contention had been Evadne’s insistence on keeping house. Having seen how successfully Cornelia, Elsie and many of her other friends ran their households, she had been determined that once married, she would manage without the help that she had been used to all her life. She had learnt a few skills at school, she reasoned with herself, and if her friends could manage then so could she. She had forgotten, however, that Elsie had always helped out at home when she was growing up, and Cornelia had looked after her ailing father for several years after leaving school. Evadne, on the other hand, had grown up with a troupe of domestic staff - even when she lived on her own in London she had relied on a housekeeper - and any skills that she had acquired during her time at the Chalet School had long since been erased from her mind.
As a consequence, the results of her endeavours had been interesting to say the least. Although the silver and brass gleamed like never before, her polishing the one skill that she had retained from her youth, Edgar had lost count of the amount of new shirts he had been forced to purchase, thanks to his wife leaving iron prints on the back or sleeves. The first time it happened he had failed to notice and had worn the shirt to work. It had been a hot day, so he had dispensed with his suit jacket whilst in his private office, and then wondered why his secretary kept smirking every time he passed. The whole family were beginning to find their clothes a little stiff and itchy as she failed to rinse them through properly when doing the laundry, and her mending, though secure, was not exactly neat and tidy. But it was mealtimes with which they were finding it hardest to cope.
Although she had now been living in the house for almost six weeks, Evadne had been unable to fathom how the oven worked. Truth be told, she was in no hurry to do so either, as she was well aware that her culinary skills were not the best in the world. As a result, they had eaten nothing but salads and sandwiches since they had moved in, and they were all craving what Ned termed ‘proper food’.
Up until now, nobody had brought any of this to her attention. Edgar could see how happy and contented she was in her new role and not wanting to spoil it for her, he had instructed the children to keep quiet for now. However, the discovery that they were yet again having ham and salad for dinner that evening had finally pushed the two girls over the edge, hence the request that they have shepherd’s pie for their evening meal.
Evadne finished pulling on her shoes and stood up. So Edgar thought he needed to hire a cook, did he? Well she would prove him wrong. She would work out the oven and cook them all the best shepherd’s pie they had ever eaten. She just had to try and remember what the ingredients were. Then maybe they would appreciate her efforts a little bit more. Feeling happier again, she picked up her handbag, and swinging it over her shoulder, she left the room.
“Daaaa-ddyyy! Dinner’s ready!”
Marcia ran back into the dining room after calling her father and sat down excitedly in her seat. “I’m hungry!”
“You’re always hungry!” Ned retorted, grinning across the table at her, “you’re like a bottomless pit!”
Marcia stuck her tongue out at him as Thea came into the room behind her sister, carrying a white dish. She set it down on a mat in the centre of the table, looked from one of her siblings to the other and grimaced.
“What?” Ned enquired, looking a little concerned.
Checking over her shoulder, she replied in a hushed voice. “Don’t say anything when you see it, whatever you do!”
Unable to reply, as Evadne appeared behind her carrying another dish, Thea took her seat as her stepmother placed the dish down on the table and the other two peered into the casserole dish to see what their sister was talking about. When they saw the shepherd’s pie, Marcia’s eyes widened to their fullest extent and Ned hurriedly turned his laughter into a coughing fit. Evadne had made the mashed potato far too runny, and it was rapidly mixing together with the mince to create a somewhat alarming effect.
“Where’s your father?” Evadne asked, just as the gentleman himself appeared at the door. "There you are! Come on, food's up."
Catching sight of their dinner, he bit his lips. “That…er…that looks lovely, darling. What is it?”
“Shepherd’s pie of course!” his wife retorted indignantly. “What does it look like?”
Edgar had no answer for that, so he sat down, shook out his napkin and put it on his lap. “Well let’s get it dished out then, shall we?” and picking up the serving spoon, he began to slop a helping on to the first plate. He passed it down to Marcia, who stared at the puddle in front of her with a sceptical look.
“Are they vegetables?” she asked, looking up at the dish that Thea had brought in earlier.
“Sure are,” Evadne replied with a grin. “Peas and cabbage. And there’s gravy in that jug down there too. I’ve done the full works I’ll have you know.”
Marcia returned her smile and reached for the vegetables. Spooning some onto her plate, she passed the dish to her sister and then asked her brother to pass over the jug. Tipping it at an angle, she waited for the gravy to pour out, but nothing happened. The mass inside the jug did not move at all. Ned choked audibly and passed her a spoon.
Marcia tried to suppress her laughter as she shovelled solid lumps of gravy onto her plate, but she failed miserably and Evadne looked up at her sharply. “What’s wrong?”
Thoroughly undone, Marcia gave in to her giggles, her shoulders shaking as she laughed and setting Thea off as well. Ned shot his stepmother a grin, “I think the gravy’s set!”
Evadne’s face fell as she looked at the lumps on Marcia’s plate. “Well, I guess it was a bit thick, but it poured just fine in the kitchen.”
Seeing the look on his wife’s face, Edgar hastened to cheer her. “Well I’m sure it’ll taste just fine,” he said, heaping spoonfuls of mushy cabbage onto his plate and picking up his fork, he took a mouthful of the shepherd’s pie. He grimaced as he tasted it, and then seeing Evadne watching him he quickly swallowed and gave her a smile. “Mmm – it’s delicious!”
At a pointed glance from their father, the three children followed suit, making similar encouraging remarks as they forced themselves to swallow the sloppy mess. Evadne shot them suspicious looks and lifted a forkful to her own mouth. She instantly spat it back out onto her plate. It tasted horrible. The potato was floury and tasteless, the mince tough and chewy, the onion slimy and the carrots hard and underdone.
“No, Evvy, it’s not, honestly,” Edgar said, shovelling another forkful into his mouth. “See, it’s fine. Come on you three, eat up.”
“Please don’t patronise me, Edgar,” his wife retorted, glaring at him. “I’m a horrible cook, I’m not stupid - I can taste it for myself. Guess you may as well go ahead and hire a cook now.”
“What are you talking about? I…”
“Don’t lie to me!" she spat back at him, "Thea told me what you were planning to do.” Upset at her failure to produce a decent meal and what she saw as Edgar going behind her back, her temper was coming to the fore. “I can’t believe you discussed it with the children and not me! What are you going to do next – hire a housekeeper as well?” She caught the guilt that flashed across Edgar’s face. “Well that’s just great!”
Pushing her chair back, she stood up, picked up her plate, walked across to the wastepaper basket in the corner and tipped her food into it. Then walking back to the table, she collected Edgar’s plate and followed suit with the contents of that as well. Finally, she grabbed the dish containing the shepherd’s pie and dropped it on top, smashing it and splashing the contents all over her trousers. “There’s ham and salad in the kitchen – if you’re hungry, you can make it yourselves!” and turning on her heel, she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
A stunned silence followed her departure. The children had never seen their stepmother lose her temper quite so badly and were shocked at her outburst, and Edgar was feeling too guilty to speak. After a minute or so, Ned turned to face his father.
“Nice one, Dad, well done!”
Edgar got to his feet. “Don’t start, Ned.”
“I’m not, I’m just saying…”
“Well don’t!” and with a stern glare at his son, he left the room to go and find his wife.
Evadne was sitting on the edge of their bed, staring out of the window and trying hard not to give in to the tears that were pricking the back of her eyes. She turned her head as Edgar entered the room.
“Don't you have phone calls to make? Agencies to call?”
“Evvy, I’m sorry…”
“Just leave me alone, Edgar.”
“No.” Walking across to the edge of the bed, he sat down next her. “We’re not leaving this to stew, we’re going to talk about it now.”
Evadne glanced at him and then returned her eyes to the window. “What is there to talk about? You’ve decided your hiring a cook and a housekeeper. So that's that.”
“Evvy, stop it. It’s not like that at all.”
She swung back to face him, her hurt showing in her eyes. “You know, it’s not even the fact that my food was awful that’s upset me so much. It’s the fact that you went behind my back, especially as you know how important it was to me to do things myself. Why did you do it? Why did you talk to the kids instead of me? I thought we’d been through all this when we got engaged – we’re supposed to make decisions together. Clearly you’ve forgotten all that.”
Edgar sighed and stared back at her, holding her gaze. “I’ve not forgotten anything of the sort,” he replied, sounding a little injured at her accusation. “Look, I’m sorry you had to find out via the children, but I didn’t discuss anything with them. Ned simply asked me one day if I was planning to hire a cook, and I said I was thinking about it. I had no idea that Thea had overheard, and I would never have gone ahead and done anything without discussing it with you first.”
“But why did you want to do it at all?”
Edgar took a deep breath and decided to be completely honest. “Evvy, I love you, but darling, you are a terrible housekeeper and a terrible cook. I’ve had to buy countless new shirts because you’ve burnt all mine with the iron, some of the children’s clothes are looking more like patchwork quilts, and we’ve eaten nothing but cold meals since you and I moved here six weeks ago.” He could see tears forming in her eyes and he put an arm around her shoulders. “You don’t have to do all this yourself, sweetheart, we can afford the help.”
Evadne sniffed and stared down at her hands. “I know that, but you don’t understand, I wanted to do it myself.” She lifted a hand to impatiently wipe her eyes. “I wanted to prove I could keep house, but all I’ve proved is how utterly useless I am.”
“Evvy, we don’t care if you can cook or do the ironing.”
“I care, Edgar. I’m supposed to be able to look after you all. Everyone else can do this stuff, why can’t I?”
Putting his other arm around her, Edgar pulled her towards him and into a hug. “Come here, you silly old thing. Looking after us isn’t all about domestic chores you know. It’s about things like loving us and picking us up when we’re low and making us laugh and making life fun and letting us know you’re always there for us – they're the things that are important,. And I’ll have you know that you do all of them wonderfully well. You couldn’t look after us any better, in fact.” He kissed her fair curls and gently stroked her back as she leant against his shoulder. “I didn’t marry you for your housekeeping skills, darling, I married you inspite of them!”
Despite herself, Evadne laughed. “I’m sorry I ruined all your shirts, baby,” she said, putting her hand on his knee.
Edgar chuckled. “That’s okay. It’s been quite a treat buying myself a whole new wardrobe.”
Sitting up straight, Evadne scrubbed her eyes with her sleeve and smiled. “It did taste like dog food, didn’t it?”
“That’s what it was!” Edgar exclaimed, a twinkle in his eye. “I knew it reminded me of something, I just couldn’t put my finger on it!” As his wife laughed again, he reached out and took hold of her hand. “So does this mean we can get you some help?”
She nodded. “Sure, go ahead. It’s probably for the best, before I poison you all and have you dressed in rags.”
“Jolly good. And how about you do the hiring, not me, then you can choose whoever you like. I’ll leave it up to you how you go about it, shall I?”
“Sounds good.” Getting to her feet, she held out a hand to pull her husband up from the bed. “I guess you must all be hungry then, seeing as I put your dinner in the trash. Ham salad okay?
Edgar laughed. “Ham salad sounds perfect. It must be at least two days since we’ve had that!” and as she uttered an indignant “Watch it!” and hit him on the chest, he put an arm around her shoulders and led her back downstairs.
A few days later, Evadne engaged a local lady, one Signora Berardi, as their cook, and from the time she arrived on the scene, the family were treated to a myriad of Swiss and Italian meals of the highest standard. In keeping with her Italian roots, she was demonstrative, passionate about her food and a great deal of fun and once they learnt to keep out from under her feet, the children soon came to adore her. She in turn slipped them all little treats here and there, and returned their affection with interest, instructing them all to call her ‘Zia Guilia’. It did npt take Evadne and Edgar long to work out that if any or all of their children were unaccounted for, they could more often than not be tracked down to the kitchen.
In addition, Evadne hired another local, Frau Siefert, in the position of housekeeper, and the daughter of a friend of Frau Siefert’s, one Ingrid Besse, as a cleaner-come-maid. So with Evvy no longer keeping house, the rest of July and August passed by in relative peace.
It was now the first Thursday in September and this afternoon, Ned was due to return to England for his first term at Harrow School. Evadne was taking him to the airport, as Edgar had to stay home and work, and he would be met at Heathrow by David Pepperell, Harry’s father. Harry was starting at the new school along with his friend and the Pepperells would drive both boys there the next day.
The Watsons' home was a frenzy of activity. Ned had not bothered to start packing until this morning, and he and his stepmother were now running around frantically trying to gather together his belongings while Guilia made him some snacks to take on the flight. Witnessing the last minute panic that seemed to have set in, Thea and Marcia decided they were best off out of the way and retreated to the tennis court to practise their forehands.
Coming out of his study in search of a cup of tea, Edgar met his wife in the hall, her arms full of Ned’s clothing that she had just retrieved from the laundry.
“How’s it all going?” he asked, bending to pick up a couple of socks that she had shed from the pile. “Having fun?”
Evadne pulled a face. “If he pulls this stunt next term, remind me to wring his neck! I just know we’re going to forget something, and then his Matron will berate me for being a bad mother!”
Edgar grinned. “I gather your Matron at school was similar ours then?” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I think they must be the same the world over! Do you need a hand?” he enquired, as a pair of shorts dislodged themselves from the top of the heap and fell to the floor.
She shook her head. “No thanks. I think I’m pretty much balanced now and we’ve not much more to get done.”
“Okay, well holler if you change your mind. Where are the girls?”
“Outside, playing tennis.”
“Jolly good.” Edgar bent down to retrieve the shorts, placing them and the socks back on top of the pile. “I’m just going to grab a cup of tea. Can I make you one?”
“Oh you’re an absolute gem – yes please! Just leave it on the dresser there when it’s done. I’ll be down in a few minutes,” and turning, she continued her journey across the hall, shedding yet more items in her wake.
Edgar picked up all the stray clothes, hanging them over the end of the banisters, and then made his way through to the kitchen, a wide grin on his face.
Ten minutes later, he was back in his study, outlining a report that he had to write on international farming regulations, when he was interrupted by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Heaving a sigh, he put down his pen and picked up the receiver.
Upstairs, Evadne laid the clothes down on Ned’s bed and then went off to collect the things she had dropped and to check for anything else he may have left lying around. When she returned twenty minutes later, her cup of tea in hand, she found Ned crouched on the floor, rifling through his wardrobe and scattering the contents all around him.
“I hope you intend to put all those things away again when you’re done? What are you looking for?”
“My rugger boots,” came the muffled reply, followed by a cry of “Ow!” as he banged his head on a shelf.
Evadne rolled her eyes. “They’re down in the back porch.”
Ned withdrew from the bottom of the wardrobe and stood up, rubbing his head. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because you didn’t ask! It’s not up to me to remember where you’ve left all your belongings, anyhow.”
Ned muttered something unintelligible and stropped out of the room to find them, and Evadne turned her attention back to the pile of clothes on the bed. Picking up a pair of pyjama trousers, she folded them up and was just about to put them into Ned’s trunk when something caught her eye. On the very top of the layers of clothes, books and sundry other belongings, Ned had placed three framed photographs. Two were old ones of his mother and of the three children with Amelia that he had had since starting prep school. The third frame, which had previously held a photograph of his father and sisters, now contained a new picture – one of his family, taken a month ago in the garden of their Geneva home. Evadne felt her eyes welling up as she stared at it. She had still been a little unsure as to how much Ned considered her a true part of his family, but finding this photograph finally put to rest all her doubts.
Hearing his footsteps coming back up the stairs, she hurriedly returned the frame to the trunk and placed the pyjama bottoms on top of it. She had just picked up his pyjama top when he came back into the room.
“Found them!” he stated, waving his boots in the air. “Dad’s yelling for you, by the way. I’ll finish doing that if you like,” he added, taking the top out of her hands.
Gett to her feet, Evadne stared at him for a second, and then impulsively kissed him on the cheek.
“What’s that for?” Ned exclaimed, an incredulous look on his face.
“No reason,” she replied, smiling as she left the room.
Ned watched her go. “Positively barking!” he muttered to himself, turning back to the bed and tipping his clothes haphazardly into his trunk.
Evadne appeared at the top of the stairs and hung over banisters, looking down at her husband. “You hollered?”
“Can you come down? I need to talk to you.”
“Can’t it wait two minutes?”
“Not really, no,” Edgar replied impatiently. “Ned can finish his own packing anyway – serves him right for leaving it so late.”
Evvy raised her eyebrows and made her way down the stairs. “What’s so urgent?”
Taking hold of her elbow, Edgar steered her towards his study, waiting until they were inside and the door was shut before replying. “I’ve just had a call from Miss McReadie,” he said, making his way round his desk and sitting down in his chair.
“How is she? All ready to join us?” Miss McReadie was due to arrive on Saturday, ready to start the girls’ lessons the following week.
Edgar heaved a rather dramatic sigh. “No, not quite. In fact, she’s not coming at all!”
“Whyever not?” came the shocked reply, as Evadne pulled a chair up to the desk and sat down opposite her husband.
“Well, it seems her sister died a few days ago – quite suddenly from a heart attack – and so she has to stay in Scotland to look after her mother. The old girl’s coming on for eighty and rather frail, so she can’t manage on her own.”
“Oh how horrible – about her sister, I mean! Is there anything we can do to help?”
Edgar shook his head. “She says not, but she’s promised to call if anything crops up. We’ll have to get a condolence card and arrange for some flowers to be delivered.”
“Of course. The poor things, they must be devastated.” Evadne looked thoroughly upset by the whole affair. Then a sudden thought occurred to her. “Oh, but if she’s not coming, what’re we going to do about the girls?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure yet, but I’ve made a couple of calls…”
“We could send them to school!”
Edgar gave her an amused look. “As I was just about to say,” he continued pointedly, “I’ve made a few calls and it appears we can get them into an English school attached to the U.N. Personally, I’d have preferred the Ecole Internationale, but Thea’s year group’s full up there so we’ll have to go with the other one. What do you think? They’ve missed the first couple of weeks of course, but that’s not the end of the world.”
“Sounds good to me. There’s no chance I’m teaching them myself!” she replied, looking horrified at the thought.
“Yes, I rather thought you might say that,” her husband replied with a grin. Then a worried look crossed his face. “I suppose they’ll be alright at school? They’ve never been before – what if they hate it?”
Evadne gave him a sympathetic smile. “Edgar, they’ll be fine, I’m sure. It’s about time they went to school, anyhow – you knew they’d have to go eventually. And it’s probably the best way for them to make friends out here too, which won’t be a bad thing. They need some playmates apart from just each other, you know.”
“I know, it’s just…oh never mind, I’m being a fool.” Sitting up, he reached for the telephone. “Well I suppose that’s settled then. I’ll call the school back and make arrangements for them to start Monday, and then I’d better break the news to them” He picked up the receiver and heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness that was so easily sorted. I had visions of me getting no work done today! Do you want to be here when I tell them?”
Evadne shook her head as she got to her feet. “No, you go ahead. I’d best go make sure Ned’ll actually be ready to leave some time today! We have to go the minute lunch is through,” and so saying, she turned and left the study.
By half-past one, lunch had been eaten, the remaining clothing had been packed and Ned was finally ready to go. He said his goodbyes all round, and then climbed into the car and they set off up the drive. Edgar grimaced as his wife ground the gears, giving thanks that she was at least driving her own car. Justifiably anxious as to what she might do to his prized Mercedes, he had refused to let her behind the wheel. Instead, he had bought her a small Renault, on the basis that it was cheap so it didn’t matter too much what she did to it.
“Daddy, can we take Millicent Mary outside?”
Spinning around, he gave Thea a smile. “Yes, if you like. Just take her out through the front door and round via the gate will you. I don’t want her being dragged through the salon and all our belongings getting knocked over like last time,” he added, directing a meaningful look at Marcia.
That young lady did not appear to be unduly perturbed at his remark. Both girls were in a high state of excitement, having found out that they would be starting school on Monday, and there was very little that could dampen their spirits. Edgar helped negotiated Millicent Mary out through the front door, and then still having a great deal of work to do, he left them to it and returned to his study.
The two of them dragged their ‘dog’ across the forecourt, through the gate, and down the path that ran along the side of the house. When they finally reached the terrace, they stopped and looked at each other.
“So what’s your great idea then?” Thea asked her sister, and Marcia grinned.
“We can ride her down the hill – see how far we go!” she replied, pointing down the sloping garden towards the lake. “I’ll go first, and then you can go next.”
Thea turned her gaze in the direction Marcia was pointing. “D’you think it’s safe?” she asked pensively.
Her sister gave a snort and began to tow Millicent Mary to the edge of the terrace. “Of course it is! Anyway, you don’t have to go if you’re a scaredy-cat!” she retorted, wheeling her pet onto the lawn and then pulling over a chair so that she could climb onto its back.
“I was only asking - I never said I wasn’t going to go!” Thea walked across to where Marcia was now sitting astride her mount, ready to set off. “I bet you don’t reach the big tree.”
“Bet I do! Bet I get all the way to the bushes at the bottom!”
“Well what do you bet then?”
There was silence for a minute as Marcia thought about this. “If I win you have to give me your yellow top…”
“That’s my favourite!”
“…and if you win, you can have my pink hat.”
As the hat was an item of clothing much coveted by young Thea, she stopped protesting about the possible loss of her top and grinned at her sister. “Alright, it’s a bet. We have to shake though”
Marcia reached down to shake her sister’s hand. “Okay, we’re all shook. Give me a push will you?”
Thea moved the chair back out of the way and then obligingly gave Millicent Mary an almighty shove. With a shriek of laughter from Marcia, the ‘dog’ began to move forward, slowly gaining momentum as it rolled across the grass. Giggling, Thea watched her sister go, waiting for the dog to come to a stop. Instead of doing so, however, it started getting faster and faster, speeding down the garden towards the water. Suddenly realising what was happening, Thea began to run down the lawn, shouting at Marcia to slow down. At the same time, Marcia realised that she was going far too fast, and not having any way to obey her sister’s command, she panicked and began to scream, holding on to Millicent Mary’s head for dear life. Their yells got louder and louder as she cannoned towards the lake, heading straight for the gap in the rhododendron bushes.
In his study, Edgar heard the din they were making and putting down the papers he was reading, he pushed back his chair and made his way outside to see what was going on. He arrived on the terrace just in time to see Millicent Mary reach the edge of the water and tip over, sending his youngest daughter flying in a graceful arc through the air. As she landed in the shallow water with a wild shriek, he set off down the garden at a run.
When he reached the lake, Thea was crouching down over her sister, trying to get her to sit up. Ordering her back onto the grass, he hurried across to Marcia and bent down next to her. The little girl was clutching her left arm, tears streaming down her face, which was screwed up with pain. Her face lay half under the water and she was gulping it in as she choked on her sobs. Edgar quickly slipped an arm underneath her, pulling her upright and causing her to cry out. He was absolutely furious with them both, but seeing how much she was hurting, he tried hard to keep calm.
“My…my arm…hurts,” she managed to gulp out through her tears.
Moving her other hand out of the way, Edgar went to lift it up to see what was wrong, but she gave a sharp cry of pain so he gently let it drop again.
“Daddy, is she alright?” He turned around to look at Thea, who was standing on the shoreline, a terrified expression on her face.
“She’s hurt her arm,” he said shortly, turning back to Marcia and lifting her gently into his arms. “We’ll have to go to the hospital.” Standing up, he gave his eldest daughter an angry look as they began to walk back up the garden. “What on earth were you doing?”
“We…um,” Thea’s voice faltered under her father’s glare. “We were trying to see how far we could ride Millicent Mary,” she mumbled, looking down at her shoes.
“You were what? How stupid can the pair of you be?” he exclaimed. “Marcia could have drowned just then. What were you thinking?”
“Don’t know,” Thea stared up at her father, tears forming in her eyes. “Sorry, Daddy.”
“Well it’s a bit late for sorry now, isn’t it? I expect this sort of thing from Marcia but not you, Thea.” Tears started to run down his daughters face as she realised the magnitude of what they had done, and Edgar decided he had said enough. “Go on, go and get a dry skirt on, quickly. We need to go now,” and thankful to get away, she ran in through the french doors, scrubbing furiously at her eyes.
Arriving back from the airport two hours later, Evadne was shocked to find the house so quiet. She was about to go and see if they were all in the garden when she spotted a note on the dresser and picking it up, gave an exclamation as she read it through quickly and then grabbed her bag to make her way out again with the intention of going straight to the hospital. At that moment, a car door slammed outside, and hurrying to the front entrance she opened it to see her husband lifting a sleepy-looking Marcia up in his arms, a shining white cast on her left arm.
“Is she okay?”
Edgar nodded as he walked towards her. “Nothing that won’t mend, thank goodness, just a broken forearm.” He entered the hall, a very subdued looking Thea following on behind. “She’s going to be in pain for a little while though. Did Ned get off okay?”
“Yes, fine. What happened?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute. I’m just going to pop her into bed – she’s a bit drowsy from the painkillers,” and striding across the entrance hall, he made his way up the stairs. “Thea, you can go to your room until dinner.”
Thea followed him up the stairs, her feet dragging and her head hanging low. Evadne turned to put her bag back down on the dresser and suddenly noticed that Millicent Mary was missing. What on earth had been going?
Returning downstairs some twenty minutes later, Edgar found his wife down by the lake, trying to pull Millicent Mary out of the water. He gave her a hand to drag the ‘dog’ back onto the bank, and then straightened up as she turned to face him.
“Edgar, what’s been going on?”
He filled her in on what his two daughters had been up to, and as he repeated the story, the realisation of what could so-easily have happened began to set in. “What if she’d landed on her head? She could have been killed, Evvy,” he said, looking extremely shaken.
Seeing how upset he was, Evadne slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. “She wasn’t though, Edgar. She’s going to be okay.”
He stroked her hair and took a deep breath before replying. “I know, thank God. I’m not risking it happening again though. I’m sorry, but that dog has to go!”
Pulling back, Evadne looked up at him. “Oh Edgar, must you? They’ll be terribly upset.”
“Well it serves them right!”
She glanced over to where Millicent Mary was standing, looking bedraggled and forlorn. “Can’t you just take the wheels off? That way she’ll have to stay in the hallway or be carried out, and they won’t be able to do stupid things like ride her again.” Turning back to her husband, she gazed up at him with pleading eyes. “Go on, please!”
Despite himself, Edgar could not help chuckling. “Why are you so keen to keep her anyway?”
Evadne shrugged. “I dunno, she’s like part of the family, I guess. It’d be a shame to lose her.”
Edgar looked over at the ‘dog’ and rolled his eyes. “Fine, we can keep her. She does appear to have lost her head, though!” he added in an amused tone, turning to look out over the lake. He spotted the small crate, bobbing up and down on the surface some fifty metres or so offshore. “Yes, there it is, floating merrily away.”
Evadne laughed. “Well it’s a good thing we have a spare then!” she replied, walking over to Millicent Mary. “Come on - let’s get her back up to the house.”
“Here Ned, look at this!”
Ned was brought back down to earth by Harry’s voice, and drew his gaze away from the noticeboard to look across to where his friend was standing further along the corridor, beckoning him over.
“Did you know Lasker and Burgess were coming into this house too?”
“Yeah, I heard from Dan over the summer.” Harry replied staring back up at the wall above him. “Never mind that now though, come here!”
Ned tore himself away from the list of new boys that he had been staring at, and walked across to where Harry was standing. Following his gaze, he noticed that there were signatures carved into the wooden surrounds of the noticeboards. Looking around him he saw that it was the same all up and down the corridor.
“Wonder what that’s all about?”
“’Spose it must be a tradition or something,” Harry said, grabbing his friend’s arm. “Look!”
Ned stared up at the name at which he was pointing. “What’s so special about that?”
“It’s Terence Rattigan - the playwright!” he added, seeing the look of incomprehension on Ned’s face. “Don’t you know anything?”
Ned shrugged. “Not about playwrights, no - unless you count Shakespeare. Do you know who that is?” he asked pointing at another name.
“No, should I?”
"He’s Guy Butler – won medals in the Olympics in the ‘20’s. So see, you don’t know everything either! And I bet you didn’t know our Housemaster played rugger for Scotland?”
“Did too, was in the prospectus,” Harry replied, pulling a face at his friend.
Before Ned could retort, he heard a familiar name being called. “Edgar Watson? Which of you’s Edgar Watson?”
“Why are they calling my Dad?” Ned asked Harry, puzzled, and Harry gave him an incredulous look.
“They’re calling you, idiot! Isn’t your real name Edgar?”
“Oh yeah, forgot!” Ned muttered, turning bright red.
“He’s over here!” Harry yelled out, and the boy who had been calling Ned’s name looked around and walked over to them.
“You Edgar Watson?” Ned nodded, and the newcomer held out his hand. “Jonny Weare. I’m in Remove – second year,” he explained, “and I’m your Shepherd. That means I show you around today and then you can hunt me out and ask me any questions you’ve got for the first couple of weeks of term. Here’s your bill.” He handed Ned the small blue book that contained all the vital information regarding the school, the school calendar, sport fixtures and such like.
“Guard it with your life, whatever you do. Putter’ll eat you if you have to ask for another.”
“The house tutor, Dr. Putt. You’ll meet him later. Who’re you?” Weare asked, turning to Harry.
Weare pulled a list out of his pocket and skimmed it quickly. “Ah yes, Livingstone’s your Shepherd. I’ve seen him around – he’ll be down in a minute or two. Come on then, we’d better get off,” he said, turning back to Ned.
With a quick ‘see you later’ to his friend, Ned followed Weare back down the corridor to the main entrance hall. “Why are all these names carved on the wall?” he asked as they walked briskly along.
“It’s a Park tradition,” Weare replied, referring to The Park, Ned and Harry’s house for their time at Harrow. “Everyone who ever boarded here has carved their name up there. You new lot in Shell – that’s the first year - will be doing it tomorrow.”
Ned glanced around him. “My Dad must be up there somewhere then.”
“Was your Dad a Park man? What was his name?”
“Edgar Watson, same as mine. Though everyone calls me Ned, not Edgar. D’you think they’ll do that here?”
Weare nodded. “Should think so. My real name’s Jonathan, but none of the beaks ever call me anything but Jonny or Weare. They’ll probably just call you Watson to be honest.”
“Beaks are the masters, right?” Ned asked, trying hard to remember some of the Harrow slang that his father had taught him over the summer.
“That’s right. They’re pretty good eggs on the whole, as long as you watch your step and work hard. Now,” Weare stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked at his charge. “Have you seen your study?”
“Yes, they took us straight up there when we got here,” Ned replied. All first year boys at Harrow shared a study with one other boy for the first two years before getting their own room. “I’m in with Harry. We’ve unpacked already.”
“Excellent. Well I suppose I’d better give you a quick tour then.”
At that moment two older boys came walking down the stairs towards them and stopped to talk to Weare. “Good hols, Weare?” asked the shorter, stockier one. “Hope you got plenty of practise in. First match is a week tomorrow.”
Weare nodded. “Yes thanks, and I got a bit in with my little brother. Bennett, this is Ned Watson,” he said, indicating Ned who was standing shyly at his side. “Ned, this is Tim Bennett, the school Games Monitor, and Guy Rabbetts, our House Monitor. Dick Callister is Head Boy, but he’s in Druries, another house.”
“Welcome to The Park,” Rabbetts replied, smiling and holding out his hand. “Hope you enjoy it here. It’s a jolly good house to be in, though I say so myself.”
Ned returned his smile. “Thanks.”
Bennett, meanwhile, was watching him with a furrowed brow. “Watson, Watson…you any relation to Edgar Watson?”
“Yes, he’s my Dad,” Ned replied, curious as to why this boy was talking about his father.
“Don’t suppose you’ve inherited his sporting talents have you?” Bennett asked with a grin. “He’s quite the school legend you know!”
“Is he?” Then remembering he’d been asked a question, Ned added, “Well I’m not bad, I suppose - I was rugger and cricket captain at my prep school, and I'm okay at tennis and sprinting. I've not really played much else though.”
“Excellent! Well, rugger try-outs are on Monday after school. See you there!” and the two prefects continued their way down across the hall.
Weare gave Ned a wide grin. “Brilliant – we could do with another rugger player in the house. What position do you play?”
“Even better! Our one left last year, so we’ll be looking for a replacement for Torpids. That’s our house team.”
“Wouldn't I be too young though?”
Weare shook his head. “Not at all. I got in last year, so did Wooller, another boy in my year. Bennett must think you’ll be good if he’s personally asked you to try out. He’s head of The Phil, who are our top athletes, and he’s only interested in the very best.” He checked his watch and then began walking up the stairs. “Come on, we’d better get a shove on if we want to finish this tour before supper.”
The remainder of the afternoon passed by in a blur for Ned. Unaccustomed words such as Tosh (bathrooms), Ducker (swimming pool) and Yarder (recreation ground) were ringing in his ears, and he thought he would never be able to remember his way around the warren-like corridors of The Park. He had been introduced to several people, none of whose names he could remember, and had already been given a short shrift by Matron Jones for having creased shirts – the result of him having packed the last few things in his trunk any-old-how when his stepmother wasn’t looking.
It was evening before he properly caught up with Harry again, having found himself at the opposite end of the table at dinner, sitting with Weare on one side and James Emery, another new boy, on the other. So it was with some relief, when Weare finally released him, that he made his way back to his study and flopped down onto his bed. Harry was already there, and looked over at him with a grin.
“You look just how I feel! I swear I’m never going to be able to remember anything!”
Ned turned onto his side so that he faced his friend. “Tell me about it! My head’s a complete jumble. Weare seems solid though,” he added as an afterthought, “and they’ve asked me to try out for the house rugger team. How was Livingstone?”
“Seems okay – bit stuffy, but nice enough,” Harry replied. “So d’you reckon we’ll like it here?”
Ned grinned. “Absolutely! Now,” he said firmly, sitting up, “I’m going to get changed and into bed. I’m frazzled!”
“Good idea, it’ll be ‘flicks’ soon anyway.”
“It’ll be what?”
“Flicks – light’s out!”
“I told you!” Ned groaned, “I’m never going to remember this stuff!” and as Harry laughed, he heaved himself up off his bed and made his way to the small sink to clean his teeth.
“Marcia, this is Ann Bown, she’ll look after you for your first few days, alright?”
Marcia nodded up at Miss Vallance, her new teacher, and then as that lady left she turned to face Ann with a grin. “Hello!”
Ann returned her smile. “Hello! What did you do to your arm?” she asked bluntly, staring at Marcia’s cast.
“I was riding my dog and I fell off.” Ignoring the confused expression on Ann’s face, she looked around her and heaved a sigh. “It’s funny being in a new school, isn’t it?”
“Dunno, never been anywhere else,” Ann replied shaking her head. “Where were you before?”
“I’ve never been to school before.”
Marcia nodded. “My Granny used to teach my sister and me at home, and then when she died we had a governess called Miss McReadie. She was ‘sposed to come here when we moved but she couldn’t ‘cause her sister died, so now we have to go to school instead.” She paused for a second to take a breath and look around her again. “Looks like fun though – I’ve always wanted to come to school.”
“It is fun, you’ll like it! Can I sign your cast?” Ann asked, staring at the white plaster which had already been signed by Marcia’s family and Guilia at home.
“Ooo – yes please. I want to get as many as I can.”
Ann grinned. “Come and meet the others then. They’ll all sign it too!” and taking her new friend's arm, she towed her as fast as she could across the playground towards the rest of her gang, before the bell rang for morning assembly.
“So do we have the same teacher for all our lessons?”
Francesca Harford, otherwise known as Franny, turned around to look at her charge in amazement. “Yes, of course. Didn’t you at your last school?”
Thea shook her head. “I’ve never been to school before. We had Granny teach us, and then a governess. I don’t really know how schools work.”
Franny stared at her for a second and then pulled a face. “Weird!” Truth be told, Franny was none-too-bright and did not much care for school, and she was starting to find Thea’s questions rather irritating. “Come on, we’d better get back to class – the bell’s already gone. And you might want to answer less questions for the rest of the day if you want to fit in,” and with a sweep of her auburn hair, she set off down the corridor, leaving Thea to follow in her wake.
In contrast to her sister, who was taking to her new school like a duck to water, Thea had found the first part of the morning rather strange. She was a very bright girl and Amelia had always taught her to learn by asking and answering. Miss McReadie’s methods had been much the same. However after the first few times she had put her hand up this morning in response to her new teacher’s questions, she could have sworn that Miss Langdon had started to ignore her, only asking her if absolutely nobody else knew. Franny’s words had just confirmed her suspicions. Obviously they did things differently here. She made up her mind to do her best from now on to ‘fit in’ as Franny had put it.
She managed well enough for the first twenty minutes, only putting her hand up once in response to a query. But then Miss Langdon began to talk about the book they were about to start reading.
“This term’s reader will be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You should all have a copy – I gave them out last Friday. What is it, Thea?” she said, sounding slightly fed up as Thea put her hand in the air.
“Um…I don’t have one, Miss Langdon. I wasn’t here last Friday.”
Miss Langdon sighed. “Well I don’t have a spare copy on me, you’ll just have to share with Francesca for today. Now,” she continued, as Thea moved her chair across to Franny’s desk, “The story follows the adventures of a young American boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named John. They become friends when…what now, Thea?”
“Please, Miss Langdon, I think the slave’s name was Jim,” Thea said nervously, wishing she had not put up her hand.
There was silence for a moment as Miss Langdon stared at her. Then the teacher drew her mouth into a tight line. “Are you trying to tell me you know better than me? I can’t believe a girl of your age who’s never even been to school has read Huckleberry Finn already!”
Thea turned bright red. “But I have, my granny…”
“I don’t care what your grandmother says. Kindly stop showing off and let me get on with my lesson. If I have one more interruption from you, I’m sending you out of the class!”
Everyone started to snigger at this, and one of the boys sitting at the back threw a rubber that hit Thea on the back of the head. As Miss Langdon held up her hand for silence, and continued talking about the book, Thea stared at the pages in front of her feeling a little bewildered and upset. She did not understand what she had done so wrong.
It was a relief when the lesson finally came to an end, and she filed out of the classroom with everybody else to go and get lunch. Pausing to put some books in her locker and to wait for Franny, she was just emptying her bag when she heard that young lady’s voice.
“It serves her right, I think. She’s a stuck-up know-it-all. I warned her at break and she didn’t even listen.”
“I heard her dad’s Sir Edgar Watson - he’s Daddy’s boss,” came another voice that Thea recognised as belonging to a girl called Kate, “I ‘spose she thinks she’s somebody ‘cause of that.”
Shutting the door to her locker, Thea turned around and walked over to where they were standing. “I don’t think I’m anyone, I just know the answers,” she said, feeling angry and hurt at their remarks.
The two girls looked at each other and began to giggle. Then pushing their way past Thea, they walked off down the corridor, whispering to each other.
“Franny, where do I go for lunch?” she called after them, suddenly realising she had no idea what to do next.
Franny swung around to face her. “Find it yourself!” and giggling again, they ran off before Thea could say anymore.
Deciding that she was best off following the direction everybody else was heading in, Thea finally found herself in the dining hall. She got her lunch from the canteen-style servery, and then looked around her for somewhere to sit. Spotting Marcia at a far table, she began to make her way towards her when she noticed that her sister was chatting away to a small group of girls. Clearly she had already made her own friends and Thea wasn’t sure that she would want her big sister intruding. So instead she sat down at a nearby table with some other people from her class, and ate in silence as they all ignored her. It felt like the longest meal that she had ever endured.
When she finally finished, she cleared her tray away to the counter at the side and made her way towards the corridor that led outside.
Hearing Marcia’s voice, she stopped and turned to face her little sister, who came bounding up to her with a big smile on her face.
“Isn’t this great?”
“It’s alright I ‘spose.”
“I’ve already made lots of friends and my teacher’s really nice – it’s so much more fun than being stuck at home all the time! Are you okay?” she added, seeing the look on her sister’s face.
Thea hesitated for a second and then made up her mind to tell her sister exactly how her morning had been. “Not really, I…”
“Marcia, hurry, we’re going to have a game of tag! You can play that even with your arm!”
“Okay, coming!” Marcia called after Ann as her friend ran past her. Then turning back to her sister, “Want to come and play?”
Thea smiled faintly and shook her head. “No thanks, you go.”
“What’s wrong, Thea?”
“Nothing, only a headache. Go and play tag.”
“Okay, see you after school,” and Marcia ran off down the corridor towards the playground.
Thea watched her go, feeling desperately alone. Looking around her, she noticed she was standing outside door to the girl’s bathrooms. She needed to get away from all this. Checking around quickly that nobody was watching, she slipped through the door and was relieved to find them empty. Going into a cubicle, she locked the door behind her. Then lowering the lid, she sat down, put her head in her hands and began to cry.
Scanning the faces of all the children pouring out of the schoolhouse door, Evadne finally spotted Marcia come out into the playground and waved in her direction. Catching sight of her, Marcia gave a yell and ran across to meet her, throwing her arms around her waist. Evvy laughed as she ruffled her stepdaughter’s blonde curls.
“Hey there, sweetie. How was your day?”
Pulling back, Marcia looked up at her with a wide grin. “It was so good, Mummy! I’ve made lots of friends and I learnt some words in French! Je m’appelle Marcia!”
“Pleased to met you, Marcia,” Evadne replied with a chuckle, “Where’s your sister?”
“Dunno, coming I ‘spose,” came the half-interested reply as Marcia gazed around her. ‘There’s Ann! Ann – come and meet Mummy!”
Answering her call, Ann came over, dragging with her a friendly-faced, auburn-headed woman of round about Evadne's age. “Hello!" Ann grinned up at Evvy, friendly and self-assured. "I’m Ann and this is my Mummy, Mrs. Bown,” she said, indicating the lady standing next to her. “Mummy, this is my new friend Marcia and her Mummy!”
Evvy gave a quick hello to her daughter's new friend, and then held out her hand to that lady's mother. “Evadne. Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Bown.”
“Please, call me Janice. It’s nice to meet you too. Did your daughter just start today?”
“Yes - it was all a bit last minute, to be honest. Long story.” Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Thea crossing the playground towards her and turned to face her with a wave. “Thea, sweetie, over here!”
Her stepmother’s voice roused Thea out of her trance, and smiling, more out of relief at seeing a friendly face than anything else, she waved back. Her afternoon had been marginally better than her morning, but only because she had kept her mouth shut and her hand down all the way through class. Franny and her friends had made the odd the stinging comment, but Thea had done her best to ignore them, telling herself that if she did so, they would leave her alone. Now she just wanted to get home, back to her family and people who loved her.
“Evadne, we's better get going, Ann has a piano lesson, but it was lovely to meet you both. Marcia will have to come to tea sometime.”
“Ooo , can I Mummy, please.”
“Yes, I’m sure you can. Thanks, I think she’d like that!” Evadne replied, looking back up at Janice Bown with a grin. “Same goes for Ann - we’d be delighted to have her. Well goodbye, see you soon no doubt.”
As Ann and her mother departed to go home, Thea finally reached her sister and stepmother. Walking straight up to Evvy, she put her arms around her waist and buried her head in her chest. Evadne returned the hug, giving Marcia a quizzical look as she did so. That young lady shrugged her shoulders as she watched her sister in amazement.
“Are you okay, sugarpie?” Evvy asked, stroking the smooth brown locks and feeling a little concerned. “Did you have a good day?”
Thea nodded, her head still buried in Evadne’s chest. “Was okay,” came the muffled reply. “Can we go home now?”
It was obvious that something was wrong, but Evadne simply said, “Yes of course we can, come along,” and keeping her arm firmly around Thea’s shoulders, she turned and led the way to the car.
Thea seemed to perk up on the journey home, as she listened to Marcia gabbling about her day, and by the time they arrived at the house, she was more or less her normal self. Marcia jumped out of the car and ran inside, throwing her bag down in the hall and heading straight through to the kitchen to see Guilia. As Thea clambered out and tried to follow her sister, Evadne caught hold of her arm.
“Thea, is everything okay? You seemed a mite upset when you came out of school.”
Thea stared at the ground for a moment, and then shook her head. “I’m okay, Mummy, honest. It’s just funny getting used to school, that’s all. It’ll be alright.”
“Are you sure? There’s nothing else?”
“No, nothing. Can I go and see Guilia now?”
Evadne was not entirely convinced, but realising that her daughter was unlikely to divulge much more just now, she said, “Okay, off you go. I reckon she’s been cooking something special for you both – that’d be my guess from the yummy smells that've been coming from the kitchen all day.”
As Thea ran off towards Guilia's domain to seek out their cook, Evvy entered the house, put her handbag down on the dresser in the entrance hall and made her way through the family room to the snug, temporarily putting all thoughts of her stepdaughter’s problems aside. Sitting down on the cushioned windowsill, she hugged her knees to her chest and stared out at the gardens, a wide grin on her face. It was now four thirty p.m. and Edgar should be home very shortly. She had called him earlier in the day to ask if there was any chance he could get away early, and he had promised that he would do his best. A visit to her doctor this morning had confirmed her suspicions of the past three weeks, and she couldn't wait to tell him her news.
In the kitchen, Thea happily took the biscuits and juice that Guilia offered her, and then sat herself down at the table. Marcia was perched on the sideboard, biscuits clutched in her hand, pouring forth the details of her first day at school to their cook, and as Thea listened to her little sister talking, she began put a few things straight in her mind. She still was not sure what she had done wrong in lessons to make Miss Langdon shout at her, or why the other children in her class were picking on her, but she knew that it must be her fault. Marcia had made lots of friends and had got on fine in her classes, so it couldn’t be the school. Picking up her glass and draining the last of her juice, she made up her mind to figure out how she could put things right. If they didn't like her as she was, then she would just have to change if she wanted to fit in. She stood up, and swinging her satchel onto her shoulder, she left her sister and Guilia chattering away in the kitchen and made her way up to her room to think.
She had been sitting on her bed, staring at the opposite wall for fifteen minutes, mulling over the day’s events, when there was a knock at the door. It opened slowly and Marcia’s curly head appeared.
“Can I come in?”
“Course you can.” Thea beckoned her in to the room and Marcia closed the door behind her, made her way across the room and jumped up to sit down opposite Thea on the bed. Thea gave her a smile. “Want another biscuit?” she asked, offering one of the two that she had brought upstairs with her.
Marcia accepted it, took a bite, and then stared at her sister. “Thea, what’s wrong?”
“Yes there is, I can tell,” Marcia retorted, looking sternly at Thea face as that young lady stared at the biscuit in her hand, refusing to catch her sister's eye. “Didn’t you like it at school?”
Thea shrugged. “Was okay,” she mumbled, trying hard to sound convincing and failing miserably.
Marcia frowned. “But you made some friends, didn’t you? Everyone’s really nice!”
There was silence for a moment as Thea looked down at her bedspread, feeling tears start to well up in her eyes. “I don’t think I’m very nice.”
“Course you’re nice!” Marcia replied in amazement. “Nobody would like you if you were horrid!”
“Well then I must be horrid, ‘cause nobody likes me!” Thea spat out, and as she spoke, the tears escaped and ran down her face. “They said I’m stuck up and a know-all and I think I’m someone ‘cause of Daddy and Miss Langdon said I show off in class.”
Marcia stared at her sister in shock. “But it’s not true – you’re not like that!”
Thea shook her head as her tears continued to fall. “But I must be or they wouldn’t say it,” she choked, raising her hand to scrub her eyes.
“You’re not!” Scrambling up the bed, Marcia threw her arms around Thea’s neck and hugged her tight. Despite their occasional squabbling, she looked up to and adored her elder sister, and hated seeing her so upset. “They’re mean, horrid pigs and they’ve no right to say it. You’re the nicest girl in the whole world. I’m going to tell Mummy!” and she turned to jump down to do just that.
Before she could make it off the bed, Thea grabbed her arm. “Don’t, Marcia, please.”
“But you have to say if people are being nasty to you!”
“I don’t want to!”
“Then I’ll tell the girls in your class that you’re really nice and they have to leave you alone. Me ‘n’ Ann’ll do it tomorrow.”
“No, Marcia, you mustn’t! I don’t want anyone to know. Promise me you won’t tell.”
Marcia stared at her sister with concern. “Okay, I promise. But ‘snot fair, Thea, you’re not horrid.” She put her arms back around her sister again. “Please don’t cry. You can play with Ann and me tomorrow if you like.”
Thea returned her sister’s hug for a moment, and then pulling free, she wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “S'okay, I’ll be alright. Maybe if I know less they’ll like me more.”
Marcia stared at her for a second, and then bounced down off the bed, holding out her hand. “Come and see Guilia with me again. She’s got more biscuits.”
“No thanks, I’m going to talk to Granny. You really promise you won’t tell about what I said?”
“I really promise.”
Thea nodded and then, without another word, she climbed off her bed and headed out of her room, leaving Marcia to follow on behind.
Meanwhile downstairs, Evadne heard the front door slam. indicating that her husband was home. Getting to her feet, she made her way across the room to go and greet him, butterflies fluttering in her stomach. She had just reached the door into the family room, when it was suddenly flung open, hitting her square on the nose.
“Oh sweetheart, I’m sorry, did I hurt you?” Edgar rushed forward to check that she was alright, but she pushed him away, putting her hand to her face to check if her nose was bleeding.
“What do you think? You could be more careful, you great oaf!”
“Well I like that!” he replied, justifiably indignant. “How was I supposed to know you’d be standing behind the door?”
“You could still be careful,” she muttered.
“Come here, let me see.” Ignoring her grouchiness, Edgar reached forward and pulled her hand away from her face. Then bending down, he kissed the tip of her nose. “Better?”
“A bit,” she replied, pouting, and Edgar laughed.
“You looked just like Marcia then! How old are you again?” She scowled up at him, and he grinned at her in return. “Well, you wanted me home early – so here I am!” he stated, indicating his presence with a little bow. “Now, am I allowed to know why, or is it a state secret?”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “Well in that case, maybe I should go and get changed while you make up your mind?” and turning, he put his hand on the door handle to open it.
Evadne grabbed his other arm and held him back. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. Come and sit down,” and still holding his hand, she dragged him over to the window seat. He sat himself down on the cushioned surface and looked back up at her. She was standing in front of him, rubbing one foot up and down her other calf, a coy expression on her face that he had never seen her wear before.
“What are you up to?” he asked suspiciously, and the coyness, giving way to indignation.
“That’s nice! I’m not up to anything, thank you very much! I've something to tell you, as it happens. I went to the doctor today.”
“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned, and she laughed and shook her head.
“Nothing’s wrong, don’t worry. In fact, we’re both very well indeed,” she replied, her shyness returning as she smiled down at him. Seeing the confused expression on his face, she added, “We’ll need to start thinking about a nursery soon though.”
Edgar stared at her for a moment in shock, and then his face broke into a broad smile, his eyes shining with delight. “Really? Is it certain?”
She nodded, her grin becoming wider by the second. “Yes, absolutely certain. We’re going to have a baby!” and as she finished speaking, she burst into tears.
“Darling, come here, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I’m just so happy!” she sobbed, and laughing, Edgar pulled her down into his lap.
Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he dried her tears before kissing her on the lips and hugging her to him tightly. “We’re having a baby!” he said, repeating her words and sounding so happy that she started to cry again. “Come on, Evvy, it’s alright - it’s marvellous news!”
“I know!” came the muffled reply – she still had her head buried in his shoulder – and he lifted her face, kissing her again and handing her his handkerchief so that she could dry her eyes. She did so and gave him a sheepish smile. “I was just so worried I was too old, and I was so nervous about starting to try for one - that’s why I hadn’t brought it up yet.” She took a deep breath, swallowing another sob as she did so. “And then it happened anyway before we could talk about it, and I was so scared about going to see Doc Schreiber to get the results in case I was wrong. It was such a relief when he said I really was pregnant that I burst into tears in his office - I don’t think he knew what to do with me!” she added with a grin. “He sat me in an armchair with a handkerchief and left me to it!”
Edgar chuckled. “Poor man, you must have given him a shock!” Lifting his hand, he ran his fingers through her fair curls and gazed into her eyes. “So when’s it due?”
“End of April. We’re going to have a spring baby.” She scrubbed her eyes one last time and then handed his handkerchief back to him. “Edgar, I was wondering whether…well…can we keep it our secret for now?”
He gave her a curious look. “Yes of course, if that’s what you want?”
“Yes please. Just for a few months, til I start to show. We hardly get to have anything just for ourselves, and I thought it’d be good if this could be only ours for a while before everybody knows. Are you sure that’s okay?”
Tucking some loose locks behind her ear, Edgar leaned forward to kiss her again. “Of course it’s okay,” he said, wiping away the smudged make-up from under her eyes with his thumb. “It can be our secret for as long as you want.”
Before she could reply, there was a tap at the door and Marcia burst into the room holding a plate of biscuits. “Guilia said…Mummy, why are you crying?” she exclaimed, alarmed at the sight of her stepmother’s red eyes.
Evadne smiled at her and shook her head. "I had something in my eye, sweetie, that’s all. What do you have there?”
“Guilia made some biscuits,” she said, holding out the plate. “She said to bring you some ‘cause me and Thea have eaten them til we’re full.”
Edgar smiled and reached out to take the plate. “If you’ve eaten until you’re full, does that mean you won’t need any dinner?”
“No!” Marcia looked shocked at the idea. “Course I want dinner!”
Edgar laughed. “Where’s Thea? Still with Guilia?”
“No, she went to talk to Granny.”
“Marcia, is she okay?” Evadne asked, concern evident in her voice. “Did something happen at school today?”
Marcia hesitated for a moment, then shook her head. “No, she’s alright. Daddy, school was so much fun! I wrote a story all about my summer holidays – do you want you hear it?”
“That sounds lovely, poppet. How about you run and get it, and Mummy and I’ll meet you out on the terrace.”
Shooting him a beaming smile, Marcia turned and ran from the room. Edgar watched her go, and then turned to his wife with a furrowed brow. “What’s that about Thea?”
“I’m not really sure, Edgar, but I think something’s wrong. She was so clingy and quiet when I picked them up – not like herself at all. When I asked her what it was, she said it was just hard to get used to being at school, but I’m not so sure she’s telling the truth – nor’s Marcia for that matter.”
Edgar frowned. “Well I suppose it would be strange for them after being taught at home for so long. Didn’t she say anything else?”
“No, nothing. What d’you think we should do?”
“There’s nothing we can do, I don’t think. Not unless she tells us something. I suppose we’ll have to just keep an eye on her.”
“I guess you’re right.” Evadne took a deep breath and sighed. “Maybe I’ll go see her teacher if she’s still like this in a few weeks.”
“Sounds like a good idea.” Putting a hand on her stomach, he rubbed it gently and grinned at her. “Come on then, let’s get you two outside so we can hear this story. I hate to think what she’s said!”
Evadne returned his grin, placing her hand over his, and kissed him soundly on the lips. “I love you, Edgar Watson.”
Edgar gazed back at her, his eyes full of affection. “I love you too.” Then pushing her up from his lap, he stood up and put an arm around her shoulders. “Now then, can you walk now you’re in your delicate state, or do I need to carry you?”
“Don’t you dare!” she retorted, a horrified look coming over her face, and pulling away from him, she ran towards the door and out into the living room before he could catch her and carry out his threat.
“What did you get?”
Ned looked up from cramming his books into his desk and grinned at his friend. “I can guess what you got - another ‘A’? You do realise you’re becoming a swot, don’t you?” he added, as Harry nodded and held up his geography book with the large, red ‘A-’ at the top of the page.
Not in the least bit bothered by Ned’s teasing, Harry simply gave him a complacent smile. “I’m very proud of being a swot, thanks. And anyway, Dad’d kill me if I wasn’t. He and Mum were always top of the class and I’m expected to follow in their footsteps. So come on then – you never said what you got.”
Ned grimaced and turned back to his desk to try and wedge one final book into the haphazard jumble inside. “Let’s just say my Dad’d probably have a fit if he knew.”
“No, one worse than that. I seem to be making my way down the alphabet,” Ned replied with a chuckle. “Why don’t they make these dratted desks big enough?” Giving up on trying to squeeze his geography book into an inch of spare space, he dropped it on the desk next to him and began to pull some of his other books out instead.
Harry watched on in amusement. “I swear you’re the biggest slob I know, Ned Watson. And you’re very calm about getting an ‘E’, I must say! I’d be having several fits if it were me.”
Ned shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. It’s not like I can’t do the work, anyway, I was just too busy with eccer and stuff. The beaks know that, they’ll let me off,”
Harry did not think for a moment that any of the masters would let Ned off doing his homework just because he had been playing sport instead, but he knew that his friend would not appreciate him saying so. So rather than risk a dose of Ned’s wrath, he contented himself with raising his eyebrows and pulling a sceptical face. Ned chose to ignore him and turned his attention back to his desk again. Finally managing to find a place for everything, he slammed down the lid and got to his feet.
“What are you doing now?” he asked, picking up his satchel and swinging it onto his shoulder. “You going to into town?”
Harry shook his head. “Think I’ll make a start on my prep. The play auditions are on after dinner and I’d quite like to give it a go, so I’d better get it out of the way now. How about you?”
“Torpids practice,” Ned replied, referring to the house rugby team of which he was the new scrum-half. “We’re playing Moretons tomorrow remember? Bennett wants us to be tight on all the tactics. Better get going actually, or I’ll be late,” he added, as they walked out of their form room into the corridor. “See you at dinner!” and he turned and ran off in the direction of their boarding house, leaving Harry to follow behind in his wake.
It was now almost four weeks into Ned’s first term at Harrow, and he was settling in very well. He and Harry got on famously with the rest of their year group in The Park, and with one or two exceptions, were proving to be popular among the rest of the house as well. On the sports field, Weare’s predictions of the first afternoon of term had been proved correct. Bennett had been impressed with Ned’s prowess on the rugby field, and he soon found himself the new scrum-half of both The Park house team and the school’s Under 13’s. So all in all, with the beginning of October now upon them, Ned Watson was one very happy young man.
The only fly in the ointment was his academic grades. A very bright boy, he was perfectly capable of being up among the top pupils on his form lists should he choose to be, but more often than not, his obsession with sport meant that not enough attention was paid to his studies. This was by no means a new problem as far as Ned was concerned. It had been noted on his reports at Dragon House, and Edgar had been trying for well over a year to get his son to see the importance of balancing sport with his school work. The difference was that at prep school he had been able to get away with dashing off his homework in a minimal amount of time, and his grades, though not as high as they could have been, were always above average. At Harrow, however, he was finding that this tactic did not work quite so well. The more involved he got with rugby, the lower his marks became and in the past month he had been averaging a ‘C-’ or ‘D+’. Today’s geography prep had been an all-time low.
Harry had tried to tactfully point out to his friend that maybe he should do a bit more work, but after getting his head bitten off a couple of times, he had decided that Ned would just have to learn the hard way and more or less left him to it. In turn, Ned had somehow convinced himself that the fact that he was busy with rugby practice would mean that allowances would be made for him, and consequently he barely gave his terrible grades a second thought. Only occasionally did his conscience kick in, when he thought about what his father and stepmother would say when they saw his end-of-term report. But like most twelve year old boys, he found that it was fairly easy to his ignore his conscience by just not thinking about the reality of the situation, and so he carried on regardless and his academic work continued to slide.
Later that evening, Harry was sitting on his bed learning his repetition, when the study door burst open and Ned came in, red-faced and dressed in his tennis whites. Throwing his racket onto his bed, he plumped himself down next to it and heaved a sigh. Harry looked up from his book, his eyebrows raised.
“Why are you in your tennis kit?”
“Dur! ‘Cause I’ve been playing tennis, idummkopf!” Ned replied, grinning as Harry rolled his eyes and laid his book down on his bed. “I’ve just been playing Burgess – thought we may as well get a set in while the courts are still open, seeing as they’re taking the nets down next week. I owed him a thrashing after he beat me 6-1 last time.”
“So did you win?”
“Just – 7-5. But the win’ll be the only thing that’s remembered in the history books, not the details! What are you doing?”
“My rep. I didn’t get finished done before the auditions.”
“How did they go?”
“Really well, I think. They’re putting the cast up tomorrow lunchtime, so I've to wait 'til then to find out though. I’m up against Livingstone for Bottom.”
“Bet you get it. You’re much better than he is.” Ned glanced at his watch, and an expression of mild panic crossed his face. “Oh drat it! It’s half-eight already and I still haven’t done my prep!” and getting to his feet again, he hurriedly crossed the room to his desk and sat down. Picking up his satchel from the floor next to him, he pulled out his algebra books, opened the text book to the correct page, and began to scribble frantically.
Half an hour later, he shut his history book triumphantly, just as the bell rang to announce that it was fifteen minutes to lights out. Harry looked round from the sink where he was brushing his teeth.
“You can’t have finished already, surely?” he exclaimed in surprise, dribbling toothpaste down his chin as he spoke.
Ned grinned, scraping back his chair and getting to his feet. “Have too!”
Harry rinsed his mouth out, and then turned back to face him. “What about your rep?”
“I’ll skim through it in the morning – won’t take long.”
“You always say that and you never do.”
“Well this time I will!” Ned retorted, pulling off his tennis shirt and vest, and pulling on his pyjama top. “What’s got into you, anyway? Anyone would think you were my mother, the way you’re carrying on! Get off my back, will you? I’ll be fine!”
“Well on your head be it. Richardson’ll have kittens if you’ve not learnt it again, you know what he’s like!” Harry replied as he climbed into bed.
“I know, but as you said, on my head be it. So let me choose what to do with my own head!” Ned pulled a face at him as he tied his pyjama bottoms and then picked up his toothbrush. Brushing his teeth quickly, he had just replaced the brush in its holder when the bell rang for lights out. Being the nearest to the switch, he turned them out and then fumbled his way back to his bed in the dark. He almost made it. He was only two feet away when he tripped over the satchel that he’d left lying on the floor and fell sprawling into his nightstand, knocking his alarm clock off with a terrific clatter. Cursing, he fished around for it under his bed as Harry dissolved into fits of laughter.
“Stop howling, idiot!” Ned hissed as he found the clock and put it back on the nightstand. Laughing himself, he groped his way onto his bed and climbed between the sheets. “You’ll bring Stevenson or Putter in here in a flash if you don’t shut up!”
Choking down his laughter, Harry asked, “What did you do?”
“Fell over my bag and knocked off my clock,” Ned replied, giggling as he spoke.
“Serves you right for being such a slob!”
“Well serves you right for being an idiot!”
Harry was about to point out that Ned’s argument made no sense whatsoever, when the door opened and Guy Rabbetts, the house monitor, stuck his head around it. “It's flicks, you two. Shut up and go to sleep! Goodnight.”
As he disappeared again, Ned turned over onto his side and wriggled himself into a comfortable position, then whispered, “Idiot!”
“Slob!” came the hissed reply, and with that, Harry had the last word of the night.
“Girls, do you have everything? Marcia, get back upstairs and change your socks, right now! You know you’re not allowed to wear red ones to school! Thea, let me take that, sugar-pie, you don’t want to drop it.”
As her sister ran back up the stairs to put on her uniform white socks, Thea turned to her stepmother with a smile and passed over the model that she was holding in her hands. She had spent most of the previous evening building the Roman villa out of shoe boxes, scraps of material, pipe cleaners and other oddments, and she was justifiably proud of it. She certainly didn’t want to drop it.
Evadne returned her smile as she took hold of it. “You go get in the car, and then I’ll set it on your knees,” she said, steering her stepdaughter out of the front door. “You can get Daddy to help you out again at the other end.” Thea ran across to her father’s UN staff car, said a quick good morning to his driver, Andreas, and clambered into the back seat. Evadne followed with the model and as soon as her Thea was settled, she balanced it carefully in the little girl’s lap. Then kissing her on the cheek and wishing her a good day at school, she exchanged a couple of words with Andreas, and then headed back into the house. She was met at the front door by her husband, who was dragging a large, heavy suitcase along beside him.
“How much are you taking?” she asked, amused at the size of the case. “You’re only going for three days, and it’s hot in Rome, so don’t tell me you’ve had to pack sweaters and things!”
“Not sweaters, no. Try three different suits and all the accompanying paraphernalia. That’s the problem with these conference things – too many outfit changes! Thanks,” he added, as Andreas came over to take the case from him.
“You mean you’re not just going to sit by a pool?”
“Sadly not, no. If you’re lucky, I might get shopping and buy you a present though.”
“Well in that case, I forgive you for going off and leaving me!” Evadne shot him a cheeky grin, and then crossed the entance hall to the bottom of the stairs. “Marcia, will you get a hurry on!” she called, as Edgar took his jacket from the closet in the hall and put in on. “Your father needs to leave right now! Would you believe she tried to wear red socks to school today?” she added, turning back to her husband, and reaching up to smooth down the corner of his collar.
“Somehow I can believe that only too well!” he replied with a smile. “Is Thea already in the car?”
Evadne nodded. “She seems a little happier today, actually. Maybe she’s getting over whatever it is that’s been eating at her?”
Edgar’s face sobered at his wife’s words, and he heaved a sigh. “I do hope so. I hate seeing her like this. Did you manage to book that appointment with her head?”
“Yes, though he couldn’t see me til Friday,” she replied with a frown. “You’d think he could’ve spared ten minutes a little sooner. Still,” she added, “at least you’ll be back and off work, so we can go together.”
“Yes, that’s true. I just wish we knew what was wrong. Evvy, have another go and see if you can get anything out of her this week, will you?”
Evadne gave a slight smile and nodded her head. “Will do.” At that moment, they heard the loud clatter of feet on the landing above, and Marcia came flying down the stairs.
“Okay, ready!” she cried, as she ran past them out to the car.
“Marcia!” There was no response, and Evadne resignedly walked across the hall and picked up her abandoned school bag. “I swear she’d forget her head if it wasn’t screwed on. Give her this, will you, and be to check sure she doesn’t leave it in the car when you get to school,” she asked, handing the bag over to Edgar.
He took it, and then stooped to kiss her. “Alright you, have a wonderful week and I’ll see you Thursday evening.
“You too, and remember to buy me something nice!”
He chuckled and kissed her on the forehead. Then releasing her, he stooped to pick up his briefcase and made his way to the front door. “Take care of yourself, darling,” he said over his shoulder. “I love you.”
“Love you too. Have a safe flight!” She watched as he walked across the forecourt and climbed into the car. Then giving a little wave, she turned back into the house, shutting the front door behind her.
As she bent to pick up a scarf that had fallen off the rack in the coat closet, her thoughts returned to Thea. Much like her husband, Evadne wished dearly that she knew what was wrong. Over the past four weeks, Thea had continued to be subdued and clingy, and seemed to slowly be losing her spark and joie de vivre. To begin with, they had hoped that it was just an adjustment period in getting used to her new school but as time had gone on, both Evadne and Edgar became increasingly concerned. She appeared to be getting more and more unhappy and they weren’t even hearing about any friends. She had brought one girl from her class home for tea in her second week there, and they seemed to get along well enough, but no more had been heard about her since. When Evadne had suggested inviting her again, Thea had shaken her head and refused to discuss it.
They had tried several times to get her to open up about what was bothering her, but she simply said she was fine and there was nothing wrong. At the end of the previous week, Evadne had finally gone into the school to speak to the headmaster about her concerns, only to be told by the haughty school secretary that he was too busy to see her and she would have to make an appointment. A little put out by the secretary’s attitude, she had nevertheless done as she was told, and consequently she and Edgar were due to pay a visit to the school on the coming Friday.
Hanging the scarf back on the rack, she gave a small sigh. At least Thea seemed in better spirits today. Maybe it was just an adjustment period after all. Realising there was little she could do now until her stepdaugher got home again, she put the young girl’s troubles aside for now, and turned and made her way through to the kitchen. She had finally persuaded Guilia to teach her how to cook, and this morning was to be her first lesson.
“Here you are, sweetheart,” Edgar handed the model over to his eldest daughter and kissed her on the cheek. “Be good for Mummy this week, won’t you, and keep an eye on that sister of yours! I’ll see you Thursday night after school.”
“Bye, Daddy, see you Thursday.” Thea watched as her father climbed back into his car and Andreas pulled away from the kerb drove off down the street. Then she turned and walked across the playground to join her sister who was already on the other side talking to her friends.
Things in school had got no better for Thea since her very first week there. After the experiences of her first day, she had made up her mind to try not to stand out in class, and to that end she had been successful. As long as she kept quiet and did her work, Miss Langdon had no reason to single her out.
Out of class, however, things had gone from bad to worse. Franny, Kate and their coterie had obviously decided to make a target of her, and they took every opportunity to make subtle little remarks or to have ‘accidents’ around her, always being careful not to draw attention to what they were doing. Of the seventeen children in the class beside Thea herself, six of them were in the gang that seemed to delight in making her schooldays a misery. They flicked their ink pens at her, spattering her clothes with dots of ink, tripped her up in corridors, stuck notes to her back, nicknamed her ‘stinky’ and told her she smelt of cowpats, and one morning they locked her in the girls' toilets, causing her to be late for class, for which she got in trouble with Miss Langdon.
Thea’s other eleven classmates simply ignored what was going on. Truth be told, they actually sympathised with her, knowing full well what Franny and her friends were like, but they were unwilling to risk becoming targets themselves. So they ignored Thea in school, and occasionally laughed along at the coterie’s ‘jokes’ if the situation demanded it. One girl had made an effort to befriend Thea in her first week, even going to the Watsons for tea one night after school. But then Kate had threatened that they would start picking on her too if she continued to hang around with Thea, so that friendship had ended as quickly as it had started.
At lunch and break times, she sought refuge with Marcia. The gang tended to keep their distance whenever she was with her sister and that young lady's friends. Ann Bown was a very popular girl throughout the school, and they could see that Marcia was on her way to becoming equally well-liked. They had no desire to make their behaviour known to a wider audience, and it surely would become so if those two young ladies were to find out what was going on. Little did they know that Marcia and Ann were only too aware, but had been forbidden to get involved by Thea herself.
For her own part, Thea had long since given up trying to get them to like her, and endured their bullying with a somewhat resigned air. She was always careful not to react, as it made them worse, but inside she was so upset by it all that her work was beginning to suffer, and Miss Langdon was starting to take notice of her again, pulling her up several times for sloppy mistakes.
Today, however, she was feeling a little better about things. They had been given an assignment for history class to make a model of a building from any era they chose. She had decided on the Roman times, and as has already been said, had spent the whole of the previous evening creating a villa and had done a very fine job. History was her second lesson today, and she was very much looking forward to handing it in and hopefully winning some praise from her teacher for once.
The first lesson after assembly was English, in which they studied more of Huckleberry Finn, and Thea’s morning seemed to be going better than usual. She had been left alone so far today, and allowed herself a glimmer of hope that maybe they had finally got bored. After forty minutes, Miss Langdon asked them to put away their books and when they were ready, to bring out their models and stand them on the large table at the side of the room. Thea carefully extracted her villa from where she had stowed it by her feet, and then standing it on her desk, she bent to put her story book n her bag as she would need it that evening. The next moment, she heard a loud bang and was almost pushed off her chair. Steadying herself, she looked up to see Franny leaning against her, a nasty smirk on her face and her hand crushing the side of Thea's villa, one half of which was completely destroyed.
“Francesca, what do you think you’re doing?”
Franny hastily rearranged her face into an expression of remorse, and then turned to face her teacher.
“I’m awfully sorry, Miss Langdon, I tripped on the way back to my desk and fell on Thea’s model. It was an accident.”
“Well be more careful next time, you stupid girl. Thea, bring it up here and let me have a look at it, see if we can do anything to save it.”
Thea had been staring at her crushed villa, fanger welling up inside her. She could feel tears pricking the back of her eyes, and was determined not to cry in front of her classmates. But Franny’s words were been the final straw as far as her temper was concerned.
Jumping to her feet, she ignored her teacher's commands and instead shouted, “It wasn’t an accident! She did it on purpose – I know she did!”
“Of course it was an accident,” Miss Langdon replied, sounding irritated, “Nobody would do that deliberately. Now stop being silly and bring it up to me, now!”
“But it was on purpose…”
“Thea, if you don’t stop yelling, you can leave the class this instant. Now do as you’re told and bring it here.”
“But it’s not fair…”
"You don't care! They're mean and horrid and..."
“Right, that’s it. Get out. You can got to Mr. Anthony’s office and explain why I’ve had to send you out of class. Go on, go!”
Thea had no need to be told twice. Picking up her bag, she left the room as quickly as she could, unable to keep her tears at bay. As she shut the door behind her, she turned in the opposite direction from the Head’s office and began to run down the corridor towards the playground. She just wanted to get home.
“Thea! What’s wrong?”
The familiar voice stopped her in her tracks and she swung round to face Ann, who had come out of class to use the toilet.
“They crushed my model! They did it on purpose, I know they did, and I said and I got in trouble and Miss Langdon sent me out of class!” and turning on her heel again, she continued her run down the corridor, her eyes blinded by her tears, not looking where she was going. As she turned the corner leading to the outside door, she ran straight into the solid form of the school nurse.
“Whoa there!” Nurse Solomons staggered slightly under the impact, and then steadied herself, grabbing the young girl by the shoulders to stop her running off again. “Where are you off to young lady? Shouldn’t you be in class?”
Thea stared up at her and shook her head. She knew she should tell the nurse the real reason why she was out of her lessons, but right now all she wanted to do was get home. “I don’t feel well. I want to go home to Mummy,” she said, her voice breaking as she tried to choke down her sobs.
Nurse Solomons looked down at her, taking in the tears streaming down her cheeks. Thea was not a good liar, and it was obvious that she was not out of class because she felt unwell. Looking her up and down once more, she said “Come with me,” and keeping one hand on Thea's shoulder, she turned and steered her back down the corridor in the direction from which she had just come.
Evadne’s first cooking lesson was going very well. Guilia had decided to start with something simple, and after hearing of the disaster that had led her to be employed with the Watsons in the first place, she decided that the first thing she should teach Lady Watson to cook was shepherd’s pie. Despite Evadne’s first attempt, which saw her forgetting the potatoes were on and leaving them to burn on the bottom of the pan, she had made considerable progress over the course of the last two hours. There was now an impressive-looking pie ready to put in the oven for dinner, and the two women were taking the opportunity to have a cup of coffee and some homemade biscotti and catch up on some gossip. Guilia was in the middle of a story about her new grandson who had arrived the previous weekend, when the phone rang and, apologising for the interruption, Evadne set her coffee down on the table and went to answer it.
A minute later she burst back into the kitchen, worry clouding her pretty face. “Guilia, I have to head to the school, something’s wrong with Thea. Will you be okay to look after things her?”
“But of course! Quickly, you must go now,” and hustling Evadne out into the hallway, she gathered her employer’s handbag and scarf from the dresser whilst that lady put on her coat. “You will need these,” and before Evvy knew what was happening, she found herself bundled out of the front door and into her car.
When she arrived at the school, she parked askew to the kerb, leaving the rear end of the car sticking out into the road. Ignoring the fact that people were honking their horns and having to drive around it, she jumped out and she hurried across the playground to the school entrance. She was met at the door by Nurse Solomons, who greeted her with a solemn nod.
“Thanks for coming down, Lady Watson,” she said, as she led Evadne down the corridor towards her office. “I really think she needs you just now.”
“I’m not entirely sure. I found her running down the corridor in tears, saying she didn’t feel well and wanted to get home to you.” They reached the door to her room as she said this and she paused, her hand on the handle, and glanced down at the petite woman next to her. “I’ve a strong suspicion that she’s not telling me the truth. You may want to see if she’ll open up more to you at home,” and giving Evadne a meaningful look, she opened the door.
Thea was sitting in a chair on the far side of the room. She raised her head from her hands as they entered, and seeing her stepmother, she jumped down from her seat and ran towards her, throwing her arms around her and bursting into tears again. Evadne bent down, holding the little girl tightly to her and shooting Nurse Solomons a concerned glance.
“It’s okay, sweetie, I’m here now,” she said, gently rubbing Thea’s back as it heaved with her sobs. “Do you want to come home?”
Thea nodded, her head still buried in Evadne’s shoulder. Keeping hold of her stepdaughter with one arm, Evvy reached into her handbag with her spare hand and pulled out her handkerchief. Lifting Thea’s head, she gently wiped her eyes and kissed her on the cheek.
“Let’s get going shall we?” she said, handing Thea the handkerchief and getting to her feet. “Do you have your bag?”
Nodding again, still too emotional to speak, Thea walked back to the chair and pulled her satchel out from underneath it. As she did so, Evadne turned to address Nurse Solomons. “Thank you for looking after her.”
The nurse gave her a smile. “You’re welcome – and good luck.”
Evvy returned the smile with a small one of her own, and then putting her arm around Thea’s shoulders, she steered her out of the room.
A few minutes later, the bell rang for morning break. Nurse Solomons straightened her office, returning the chair to its usual spot, and then locking her door behind her, she set off towards the staffroom. When she arrived, only the headmaster was there, and greeting him with a cheery smile, she made her way over to the small kitchenette on the far side. She was just pouring herself a coffee when the door open again, and several people entered the room.
“Mr. Anthony, there you are!” said a voice that she recognised as Miss Langdon’s. “I’m terribly sorry I had to send Thea Watson along to you, but I didn’t know what else to do. I really don’t know what the problem is with that child!”
Nurse felt herself tense at the words, but she kept her back firmly to to the room and tipped two sugars into her drink.
“Thea Watson?” she heard Mr. Anthony reply. “I haven’t seen her all day.”
“Are you telling me that she didn’t come to see you?”
“No, she didn’t. Did you see her Miss Hope?” he asked the school secretary, and got a negative response in return.
“Well that’s just about the living edge!” Miss Langdon exclaimed, her anger evident in her voice. “First I have to send her out of my class for cheeking me and making accusations about another girl, and then she doesn’t even do as she’s told! She’s thoroughly impossible!”
Nurse finished stirring her coffee, and then throwing the spoon into the sink, she turned around to face them.
“I can tell you where she is,” she began, and the room went silent as everyone stared, waiting to hear what she had to say. “I met her on the way to your office, Mr. Anthony, and I’ve sent her home ill.”
“What?” Miss Langdon looked furious as she faced her colleague. “There was nothing wrong with her!”
“As the medical professional here, I’d have to disagree,” Nurse replied, staring calmly back at the teacher’s apoplectic face. “It was clear to me that all was not well, so I called her mother to come and get her. If you need to address something regarding her behaviour in class, then you’ll have to wait until she’s well enough to return,” and picking up her cup of coffee, she took a sip and then walked out of the room without a backwards glance.
“Well really!” Miss Langdon exclaimed indignantly, as Nurse Solomons walked out of the door. “Of all the cheek! There was nothing wrong with her at all – at least nothing that a good talking to wouldn’t fix. Honestly, she’s impossible in class – either she’s talking out of turn and showing off, or she’s utterly unresponsive. And she hasn’t made a single friend either, from what I can see.”
Mr. Anthony, to whom this tirade had been addressed, thought for a moment and then turned around to face his games mistress – the only other teacher in the school to have close contact with Thea. “Miss Redmond, do you find her the same?”
Miss Redmond nodded. “She doesn’t cheek me, but she is very quiet and solitary – in fact she’s almost aloof in her attitude, if I’m honest. She certainly doesn’t seem to have made any friends, and makes no effort to join in. Quite the opposite to her sister.”
“I see. Well in that case,” the Headmaster replied, turning his attention back to Miss Langdon, “I think you’d better come along to my study and tell me everything that’s been going on. Her parents are coming to see me on Friday and I should really be armed with the facts beforehand.” Retrieving his cup of coffee from the table in front of him, he rose and made his way out of the room, Miss Langdon following in his wake.
Back at the Watsons, Thea climbed out of the car and made her way slowly inside the house, swallowing and blinking hard in an effort to keep her tears at bay. Evadne followed a moment later and closing the door behind her, she walked across to her stepdaughter, taking the young girl's satchel from her shoulder and crouching down in front of her.
“What do you want to do? Do you want to go up to bed if you’re sick?”
Thea shook her head and reached out to grab her stepmother’s arm. “I want to stay with you,” she whispered, tears springing to her eyes again.
“Oh sweetheart, it’s okay, come here.” Evadne pulled Thea towards her and into a hug. “Of course you can stay with me if that’s what you want,” she said, gently stroking the smooth, brown locks as Thea hugged her back. “I tell you what, how about we make you up a nice, snug bed on the couch? Then you can lie down and get some rest as well.”
Thea nodded and pulled back, raising her fist to scrub her eyes. Evadne dropped a kiss on the young girl’s forehead before getting to her feet. “Go on then – you run up and get changed into your nightdress and I’ll hunt out some blankets and pillows. Remember to grab a book or two if you want them.”
Giving her a slight smile, Thea turned and ran up the stairs to do as she was told, and Evadne heaved a heavy sigh as she watched her go.
Fifteen minutes later, Thea was cuddled up on the sofa in the family room, clutching her teddy bear in her arms. Evadne pulled up the blankets, making sure that she was securely tucked in, and then sat down beside her, stroking her stepdaughter’s hair and gazing down at the delicate little face below her.
“Thea, what happened at school today?” She watched as the Thea's jaw began to shake and tears welled up in her eyes again. “Come on, sweetie, it’s okay, you can tell me.”
There was silence as Thea shook her head, a couple of tears escaping to run down her cheeks. Evvy gently wiped them away and then tried again.
“Thea, what is it? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, Mummy, I just don’t feel well.”
Evadne reached out to feel Thea’s forehead. It was cool and dry, there were no signs whatsoever that she was ill. “That’s not really it, is it?” she asked, and Thea looked away, avoiding her eyes. “Please, sweetheart, tell me what’s wrong?”
“Of course it does! If something’s upset you then it matters very much. You were okay this morning. Did Miss Langdon like your villa?” At mention of her villa, Thea buried her head in her pillow and began to cry. “Is that what this is about? Didn’t she like it?”
“S’not it,” came the muffled reply.
“Then what is it? Thea, please, you have to tell me.”
“Of course you can!”
“Please, Mummy, it doesn’t matter. I can’t.” She was working herself up into a fit as she lay there, and Evadne reached down, pulling her close.
“Okay, come on - I’m sorry, darling, I won’t make you. Come here,” and lifting her up, Evadne pulled her into her lap. Thea buried her face in her stepmother’s shoulder, clinging to her as tears flowed down her cheeks. As she held her stepdaughter tightly, waiting for the storm to subside, Evadne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It broke her heart to see Thea obviously hurting so much.
By the time Thea finally managed to calm down, she was so emotionally exhausted that she began to doze off in Evadne’s arms. Lowering her back onto the sofa, Evvy tucked the blankets around her, kissed her on the forehead, and left her to get some much-needed sleep.
It was mid-afternoon before she woke again. Evadne had toyed with the idea of going back down to the school to see if she could find out what was going on, but was worried about Thea waking up and finding her gone, so decided against it. But at three o’clock, she realised that somebody would have to go and collect Marcia from school. She was just on the verge of asking Guilia if she would mind going, when she heard a stirring from the sofa, and glanced up to see Thea looking over at her, bleary-eyed.
“Hey there. You feeling a little better?” Thea nodded, and Evadne got up out of her chair and crossed the room to sit down next to her. “Listen, sweetheart, I have to go and collect Marcia. Will you be okay here with Guilia, or do you want to come with me?”
“I’ll stay here please.”
“Well make sure you call Guilia if you need anything - I’ll be back as soon as I can. And we’re having shepherd’s pie, for dinner, your favourite.”
A slight grin touched Thea's lips. “Did you make it?”
“Yes I did, and it’ll be very good, thank you very much!” Evvy replied indignantly. Then glancing conspiratorially over her shoulder, she whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but Guilia taught me how!” Thea giggled, and Evadne bent down to kiss her on the cheek. “Okay, you be good, and I’ll be back soon,” and throwing a wink at her stepdaughter, she left the room.
Arriving at the school gates fifteen minutes later, she was surprised to be met by Marcia’s teacher, Miss Vallance, who was standing by schoo gates, grippig a very subdued Marcia by the shoulder. Out of the corner of her eye, Evvy caught sight of Mrs. Bown leading away an equally sullen-looking Ann.
“Lady Watson, I’m very sorry to have to do this,” Miss Vallance said, looking somewhat apologetic, “but I’ve been instructed to make sure you know that Marcia’s been put on report.”
Evadne glanced at Marcia, who stared down at her shoes. “What on earth’s she been put on report for?” she asked, wondering what mischief Marcia had been up to now.
“She...er…she and Ann got into a fight in the playground with some of the other girls.”
Whatever Evadne was expecting to hear, it certainly wasn’t that. “But...but Marcia wouldn’t fight a fly!” she exclaimed, extremely shocked
“Yes, well, I’ll leave her to tell you what it was about, but it appears Miss Hope caught her pulling another girl’s hair.” Miss Vallance shot her another apologetic look and handed over a thin, white envelope. “This tells you all about it, I believe. Well, I’d better let you get on. I’ll see you tomorrow, Marcia,” and without another word, she turned and headed back across the playground.
Stunned, Evadne watched her go. Then looking down at Marcia, who was still staring at the ground, she said, “In the car – now! We’ll talk about this when we get home.”
Marcia glanced up at her, and then did as she was told. Evadne followed her, made sure she was strapped in properly, and then climbed in and started the engine. The twenty minute drive home passed by in silence, and it was not until Evadne turned the car into their driveway that Marcia finally spoke.
“Mummy, how’s Thea?”
Evvy glanced at her out of her corner of her eye. “She’s not feeling too well. She’s having a rest on the couch.” She paused for a moment, as she pulled the car up outside the house, and then turned around to face her stepdaughter. “Marcia, do you know what’s been going on?”
Marcia stared at her for a moment as she did her seatbelt. “Maybe,” she replied, and then before Evadne could say anything else, she opened the car door and jumped out. Running in through the front door, she made her way straight to the family room where Thea was lying on the sofa reading a book.
“Thea, you have to tell!”
Thea looked up in surprise. “I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t understand.” She could feel tears pricking the back of her eyes again and she blinked hard.
“You have to!” Marcia replied, stamping her foot. “Ann told me what happened and it’s not right! You have to tell Mummy or I will!”
“You have to tell Mommy what?” Both girls jumped at the sound of Evadne’s voice, and Marcia span around to face her. “Well come along, I’m waiting. What do you have to tell me?”
There was a guilty silence for a moment after Evadne spoke. Marcia turned around to face her sister, willing her to answer their stepmother’s question. Thea narrowed her eyes and shook her head.
“Thea, please! It’s not fair,” Marcia pleaded, but Thea remained stubbornly silent. “Right, then I’m telling!”
“Yes! They can’t do it – I’m not letting them!”
“I don’t care!” Marcia spun around to face Evadne. “Some horrid girls are being nasty to Thea and calling her names and things and they’ve made no-one like her and her teacher tells her off and says she's showing off and she’s not and today they broke her model and I’ll not let them do it anymore!” She paused for breath for a moment, as Evadne stared at her in shock. “Ann and me tried to tell them today but we got in trouble. Mummy, you and Daddy have to stop them! They can’t do it to Thea!”
“Thea, is this true?”
Thea glared at her sister. “You…you sneak!” she cried, jumping to her feet and making for the door.
“Thea…” Evadne tried to grab her but she slithered out of her grasp.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” she cried, and she ran from the room, slamming the door behind her.
Marcia made a move to follow her sister, but Evadne caught her arm and held her back.
“Mummy, I have to talk to her!”
“No you don’t, not right now. I’ll go see to her. You stay here or go and talk to Guilia.”
“I didn’t want to make her cry, but I had to tell. Mummy, she thinks it’s all her fault and it isn’t.” Marcia was getting upset, and Evadne bent down to drop a kiss on her blonde curls.
“It’s okay, sweetie, you did the right thing. Now how about you go see if Guilia can make you a soda,” and leaving Marcia to do her bidding, she left the salon and made her way upstairs. Reaching Thea’s room, she paused and said a quick prayer that she’d be able to deal with the situation, and then taking a deep breath, she turned the handle and opened the door.
Thea was curled up on the floor on the far side of her bed, her body shaking as she sobbed uncontrollably. Evadne crossed the room and crouched down next to her.
Thea tensed as she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Go away!”
“I’m not going anywhere.” She tightened her grip as Thea tried to wriggle away. “Why didn’t you tell Daddy and me what was happening?”
“Because then you’d…know how horrid…I am and you…you wouldn’t like me either!” Thea replied, her voice choking as she tried to hold back her sobs.
“You’re not horrid, don’t be silly, sweetheart.”
“I am! I know I am. Just leave me alone.” She curled up tighter, turning her back fully on her stepmother, and Evadne sat back on her heels, unsure what to do. Releasing Thea from her grasp, she sat down properly on the floor, her head leant back against the bed. Not wanting to leave the young girl alone, the only thing she could think of to do was just stay where she was and wait until Thea was ready to speak.
For the next twenty minutes, the sat in silence, the only sound being Thea’s intermittent sniffs and catches of breath as she tried hard to stop her tears. Evadne stared up at the ceiling, a mixture of guilt and rage building up inside her – guilt because they had not discovered what was happening sooner, and anger that anybody could treat her stepdaughter in the way that they had.
“I said go away!”
Evvy lifted her head and looked down at Thea's red, tear-stained face. “And I said I wasn’t going anywhere.”
“I want Daddy.”
“I know you do, sweetie, but Daddy won’t be here til Thursday, you know that. Will I do instead?”
Thea stared at her for a moment, her shoulders still heaving with the occasional sob. “What’s wrong with me, Mummy?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you.” Evadne took the delicate little face in her hands and stared down into her puffy, bloodshot eyes. “You’re a kind, clever, wonderful little girl and we love you very much. It’s those other girls there’s something wrong with, not you.”
Thea shook her head. “But it’s not just them, it’s everyone. I’ve got no friends, ‘cept Marcia ‘n’ Ann, and Miss Langdon hates me too.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t hate you. What makes you say that?”
“She said I was showing off ‘cause I knew the answers to things, and she didn’t believe me that I’d read Huckleberry Finn, and she tells me off if I ask questions. Granny told me to ask things and so did Miss McReadie, but Miss Langdon says it’s wrong and she doesn’t care what Granny said.”
Evadne was stunned. “She really said all that?”
Thea nodded, tears springing to her eyes once more. “See, it must be me. Nobody likes me. They say I’m a know-all and I think I’m someone ‘cause of Daddy, but I don’t know what that means. Daddy’s just Daddy, so why would I think that? I don’t understand what I’ve done wrong, Mummy. I’ve tried to be different but they still don’t like me.”
Seeing the obvious pain in the Thea’s eyes and hearing the deep hurt in her voice, Evadne felt completely helpless. She had no idea how to take it all away. Putting her arms around her stepdaughter’s shoulders, she pulled her into a hug. “You’ve done nothing wrong sweetheart, and you don’t need to be different. You’re just perfect as you are.”
“Then why does nobody like me?”
Evadne was not quite sure what to say. Kissing the top of Thea’s hair, wishing dearly that Edgar was at home just now rather than in Italy, she thought for a moment before replying. “I don’t know, Thea. Maybe they’re jealous of you, or maybe they’re just not very nice girls. But I promise you it’s not your fault.”
“But what about Miss Langdon?”
Evadne felt her blood boiling at the mention of the teacher’s name. “She’s just a god-awful teacher!” she replied vehemently, with very little tact but a great deal of truth. “Did you try to tell anyone else except Marcia?”
Thea shook her head. “Nobody else cared,” she said, her voice breaking again.
‘I’ll make sure they care!’ Evvy thought to herself as she kissed the top of Thea’s head again. Then she said out loud, “Well I’m going to go in tomorrow and talk to your headmaster, okay? Try and sort it out for you.”
“I don’t want to go back there!”
“It’s okay, sweetheart, you don’t have to. You can stay home til Daddy gets back on Thursday, then we’ll figure out what to do after that, okay? We won’t let anyone else hurt you, I promise.” Thea nodded. “Now will you do me one favour?”
Thea scrubbed her eyes with her hand and looked up at her stepmother. “What?”
“Will you let Marcia come and see you? She’s very worried about you.” Thea looked down at the ground and said nothing. “Thea, I think she and Ann got into a fight today trying to speak up for you, and they got in a lot of trouble. She loves you very much and she was just trying to help by telling me. Don’t you feel a little better now I know?” Thea hesitated for a moment, then nodded her head. “Well then will you speak to her, please?”
“Thank you.” Evadne kissed her forehead, and then got to her feet. “You find a hanky to dry your eyes, and I’ll go send her up, okay?”
“Good girl.” Evvy gave her a smile and left the room in search of Marcia.
She found her sitting in one of the armchairs in the family room, staring out of the window, and she turned around as Evadne came into the room. “Is she okay, Mummy?”
Evvy smiled. “She’s very upset, but she’s feeling a mite better now it’s all out in the open.”
“I didn’t mean to upset her - I just thought she should tell.”
“I know, sweetie, and so does she. She said she’d like to see you.” Marcia uncurled herself from the chair and was about to stand up, when Evadne added, “Before you go though, I’d like you to tell me about the fight.”
Marcia twisted her fingers together and looked down at her lap. “Thea told Ann that those girls broke her model, and Ann told me and I was really cross, so at break we went to tell them to leave Thea alone. But then they said some really nasty things about her and I got angry and shouted, and then Ann shouted too, and then Kate pulled Ann’s hair so I pulled Kate’s hair to make her let go, and Miss Hope caught me, and Ann and me got told off.” She paused for a breath and then added, “They’re mean, horrid pigs, Mummy!”
“Didn’t they get in trouble also?”
Marcia shook her head. “They said it was all our fault and we couldn’t say anything ‘cause we’re not sneaks.”
Evadne stared at her. “What are their names, Marcia?”
“There’s lots of them, but the main one’s are Franny Harford and Kate Cranston and Sheila King.” She hesitated for a second. “I’m sorry I got in trouble, Mummy.”
“It’s okay, I know you were just trying to defend your sister. You know it’s wrong to fight and pull someone’s hair though, don’t you?”
Marcia nodded. “I won’t do it again, I promise.”
“Then we’ll say no more about it. You run up and see Thea.”
Marcia jumped down from her chair and ran across the room to give her stepmother a hug. “You’re the best Mummy ever!” she said, and then releasing her, she carried on her way upstairs.
From her perch on the edge of her bed, Thea looked up as her door opened slowly, and smiled as her little sister’s head appeared. “You took ages to come.”
“Mummy wanted to ask me something.”
“About the fight?” Marcia nodded. “Sorry you got in trouble ‘cause of me.”
Marcia smiled and shook her head. “I’m always in trouble. And no-one’s allowed to do that to you, ‘specially not a pig like Franny Harford!” She crossed the room and stood by the bed. “I’m sorry, Thea, I know I promised not to tell, but I had to. They’re so horrid and I hate them and I didn’t want them to upset you anymore.”
Thea looked down at her lap. “’S’okay, I’m glad you told. Sorry I called you a sneak.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’ll all be okay now. Daddy and Mummy’ll fix it, you’ll see.”
“They will, I know they will.” Marcia stared at her sister for a moment, and then added, “Wait there,” and turning, she ran out of the room again. She returned a minute later, clutching her pink hat – the one that Thea coveted so much. “I want you to have this,” she said, holding it out.
Thea gaped at her. “But it’s your favourite!”
“Don’t care. I want you to have it so you’re less sad.” She set the hat down on the bed next to Thea, and then wrapped her arms around her sister’s neck. “You’re the best sister in the whole, wide world.”
Tears appeared in Thea’s eyes again as she returned Marcia’s embrace. Pulling back, she gave her little sister a watery smile. “Thank you.”
“’S’okay.” Marcia held out her hand. “Let’s go down – dinner’s ready.”
Thea smiled again. “Mummy made shepherd’s pie!” A look of horror appeared on Marcia’s face, and Thea giggled inspite of herself. “Don’t worry, Guilia helped her,” she added, as she took her sister’s hand and jumped down from the bed.
Later that night, long after both girls were asleep, Evadne lay on her back in bed, her eyes wide open, looking up through the darkness. A shaft of moonlight was shining through a gap in the curtains, casting a pattern on the ceiling, and she stared at it, eyes unfocussed, as she replayed the day’s events in her head. As the evening had worn on, her anger had steadily built as she thought about what had been happening, in particular the way that, with the exception of Nurse Solomons, the staff at the school just didn’t seem to care.
Though Thea had cheered up a little after making things up with Marcia, she was still very fragile and prone to tears. Thoroughly exhausted by the day’s events, she had taken herself off to bed immediately after dinner, and Marcia had followed not long afterwards. A little later, Janice Bown had telephoned to see if there was anything she could do to help, having heard some of the story from Ann. It had been good to talk to another adult about the situation, and Janice had been very supportive, but Evvy couldn’t help wishing that Edgar was there with her. She did not think she had ever felt so unsure of herself in her life, and a large part of her was dreading having to go into the school tomorrow. She just prayed that Mr. Anthony would be willing to listen and able to help.
She was roused from her thoughts by a tapping at the door, and she sat up as it opened and Thea came into the room.
“Mummy, I don’t want to be on my own.”
She could hear the tears in Thea’s voice, and patting the empty side of the bed, she said, “Would you like to sleep with me tonight?”
“Yes please.” Thea crossed the room and climbed up onto the high bed, crawling underneath the covers. Evadne reached out for her, and she wriggled across to snuggle up against her stepmother’s side. “I wish Daddy, was here.”
Evvy held her tightly and kissed the top of her head. “So do I, sweetheart, so do I.”
Meanwhile, back in Noth-West London, Dr. Richardson turned off the High Street and strolled across the recreation ground in front of The Park. England was in the throes of an Indian summer; it was a balmy early-October evening and the grounds of Harrow School looked striking in the orangey light being cast over everything by the setting sun. However, John Richardson was too caught up in his thoughts to notice. He was visiting the house on unpleasant business, and there was a deep frown upon his face as he made his way inside. Crossing the vast entrance hall, with its high windows and highly-polished floors, he walked down one of the long corridors and came to rest outside a door with a plaque on it that read ‘Dr. H. Putt – House Tutor’. Taking a deep breath, he lifted his hand, rapped firmly on the door, and then took a step back.
Dr. Putt was sitting behind his desk, and he looked up as his visitor entered, his face breaking into a wide smile.
“Hello John. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Evening, Humphrey. Official business, I’m afraid,” Dr Richardson replied, as he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “I’ve come…” He stopped as he turned back into the room and noticed a second gentleman standing to one side. “Oh I’m sorry, Bill, I didn’t realise I was interrupting. I’ll just wait outside,” and he made a move to leave the room again.
“Not at all,” Bill Stevenson, House Master of The Park replied, calling him back again. “We were just catching up on a few odds and sods – nothing that can’t wait. I’ll leave you two to it, shall I?”
“Actually, Bill, I’d rather you stayed. It could well be your concern soon too, and I could do with a second opinion anyway.”
“Sounds serious.” Bill pulled up a couple of chairs and indicated to their visitor to sit down. “What’s up?”
Dr. Richardson took his seat, crossing his legs, and looked from one to the other. “Bit of trouble with one of your lads, I’m afraid. I’m the official staffroom delegate.”
Humphrey Putt sat back in his seat and heaved a sigh. “Not Finch again, surely? Is that boy never going to learn how to work?”
Dr Richardson shook his head. “It’s not Finch for once, I’m pleased to say. In fact, at risk of tempting fate, he seems to finally be knuckling down. No, it’s one of your newer recruits this time – Ned Watson.”
“Ah yes, Watson. What’s he been up to now?”
“Well, erm, not a lot, as it happens,” John replied, giving a slight grimace. “That’s the problem.”
Dr Putt leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands, and glanced over at his House Master. Bill Stevenson cleared his throat. “We were wondering how long it would be til it came to this.”
John Richardson raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You know then?”
Mr Stevenson nodded. “Humphrey gets a record of all their grades, remember? He’s already had a couple of quiet words with the boy, but they seem to have gone in one ear and out the other. In actual fact, it’s one of the things we were due to talk about this evening. So what’s the word in the staffroom?”
The three men spent the next hour in deep discussion. It wasnot until Dr Richardson looked at the clock and realised that it was half-past eight that they finally brought their meeting to an end. Getting up from his seat, John Richardson straightened down his jacket.
“So we’re decided then. An official warning first, and then if that doesn’t work, we take it a step further.”
Getting to his feet to show their guest out, Bill Stevenson nodded. “We’ll let you know how it goes in the morning. I’ll go and send for him, shall I Humphrey?”
“If you don’t mind. I’ll come along with a report once I’ve seen him.”
“Well thanks for your time,” Dr Richardson said, his hand on the door handle. He paused before leaving the room. “I just hope he listens. He’s a bright boy, you know, and a good lad. It’ll be a shame if things don’t work out.”
Evadne set the glass of milk she was carrying on the nightstand and smiled down at the little face below her. “Here you go, sugar-pie. Careful you don’t knock it off. Now, have you everything you need before Marcia and I head into school?”
Thea nodded and returned her stepmother's smile. “I think I’ll just sleep some more. Yours and Daddy’s bed is so big and comfy!”
Evvy chuckled. “That it is. We’ve two of us to fit in there, remember, and you know what a length your father is! Can you imagine if we tried to fit into your bed?”
“You’d fall out and Daddy’s feet would hang off the end!” Thea replied with a giggle.
“Yes, and then they’d get frostbite and drop off. Imagine Daddy with no feet!” Thea giggled again and Evadne reached out, taking one of Thea’s small, slim hands in her own. “Listen, Thea, are you sure there’s nothing else you need to tell me before I go?”
Thea’s face sobered and she shook her head. “I just want it to be all over, Mummy. I don’t want to talk about it,” she replied, tears forming in her eyes.
“Okay, sweetie, we don’t have to, I’m sorry.” Evadne raised Thea’s hand to her lips, kissing the slim fingers, and looked down at her. Thea was small and slight for her age – Marcia was already the same height despite being fifteen months younger – and tucked underneath the covers on the large bed, she looked fragile and lost. As Evadne gazed at her, she began to get angry all over again that anybody could hurt this beautiful, little girl. She gave Thea a smile. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, I promise, and then we’ll do something special this afternoon. How does a trip to Alessandro’s for ice cream, and then a walk to the Jardin D’Anglais to watch the Jet d’Eau sound?”
“Nice,” Thea replied with a smile, raising her hand to wipe her eyes.
“Right, well the sooner Marcia and I get going the sooner I’ll be back. You holler for Guilia or Frau Siefert if you need anything and I’ll see you soon, okay?” and dropping a kiss on Thea’s forehead, she turned and left the room.
When they arrived at the school, Evadne took Marcia’s hand and walked her to her classroom. They came to a stop outside the door and, crouching down, Evvy looked her stepdaughter in the eyes. “Now, you promise me if anybody says anything out-of-line to you today, or if you get into any extra trouble because of the fight, you’ll tell me the moment you get home?”
“Promise.” Marcia leant forward to peck her stepmother on the cheek. “I’ll be alright, Mummy, Ann and the others’ll be with me. See you later,” and with a grin, she turned and ran into her classroom to join her friends. Evadne watched her go, feeling a little uneasy. She had been in two minds as to whether to let Marcia come to school today, but that young lady had insisted that she wanted to see her friends. Evvy had eventually given in, but she was still far from certain that she had done the right thing.
As she stood in the corridor, mulling it over in her mind, the bell rang for morning lessons, and Evadne suddenly found herself surrounded by scores of children, who had appeared from nowhere and were now running past her towards their classrooms. Heaving a sigh, and doing her best to avoid bumping into them, she turned on her heel and began to walk back the way she had come in. She knew that morning assembly would be taking place shortly, and that it would be wise to wait until that was over before going to see Mr. Anthony. She would sit in her car for half an hour and wait;. It would give her a chance to go over what she was planning to say.
At half-past nine, she returned to the school. The Headmaster’s study was situated at the far side, close to the middle-school classrooms, and it took Evadne a good few minutes to wend her way through the maze of corridors to that part of the building. Eventually arriving outside the door that bore his name plaque, she took a deep breath and knocked. A hard, high-pitched, voice called ‘Come in’ and she opened the door and smiled at Miss Hope.
“Good morning,” she began, giving the school secretary a friendly smile.
Miss Hope stared back at her with a stony expression, its severity heightened by the dark hair that was scraped tightly back into a high bun, making her look far older than her twenty-eight years. “Can I help you?”
Evvy had already met Miss Hope a couple of times, and did not hold her in high regard, either as a secretary or a human being, but she was determined to be polite. “Yes please. I was hoping that Mr. Anthony may be free to see me sometime this morning.”
Miss Hope looked Evadne up and down, and then stared back at the book she had been reading before being interrupted. “You’ll have to make an appointment.”
Evvy bit back the retort that was on the tip of her tongue, and fixed a smile on her face. “We already have one on Friday, as it happens, but…”
“Then come and see him Friday.”
“…it’s rather an emergency,” Evadne continued firmly, ignoring the interruption and trying hard not to rise. “I’d appreciate you seeing if there’s any chance he can fit me in now.”
“He’s too busy this morning, and anyway, he’s not here just now,” Miss Hope replied, without looking up.
Evadne spotted a seat against the far wall. “Well in that case, I think I’ll just wait,” she said, as she began to walk towards it.
“There’s no point, he won’t be back for a while.”
“Well when will he be back,” Evvy asked, her patience rapidly running out as she turned back to face the secretary.
Miss Hope closed her book and looked up at her visitor with a patronising glare. “With all due respect, Mrs. Watson, that’s none of your business. As you’ve said yourself, you have an appointment on Friday. I suggest you come back then.”
“My name is Lady Watson, as you well know,” that lady replied, very much on her dignity and sounding every inch in keeping with her title, “and with all due respect Miss Hope, it’s every bit my business. I expect to be able to speak to my kids’ headmaster when they have a serious problem at school, not be faced with heap of excuses!”
“Well I’m afraid the Head’s very busy,” Miss Hope replied snottily, “At this school we consider all the children as important as each other and we treat all the parents the same. We don’t single any out for special treatment - even those with titles.”
Evadne was incensed. “I’m not asking for special treatment, just a bit of common courtesy, rather than limp excuses from some fluffy-headed, little snob!”
The secretary looked her up and down again, an unpleasant sneer touching her lips. “Well with that attitude, it’s no wonder your daughter’s they way she is.”
Evvy had turned to walk towards the chair again, but at this remark she swung around and stormed back to the desk, her eyes flashing. “I beg your pardon?”
Miss Hope was inwardly a little scared by the anger she had roused in her visitor, but her stubbornness and stupidity got the better of her. “I said it’s no wonder your daughter’s like she is,” she repeated insolently, staring Evadne straight in the eye.
Evadne turned bright red, her dignity forgotten in her anger. “How dare you talk about my daughter like that, you ignorant, pie-faced, empty-headed, two-bit piece of scum!” she shouted, no longer refined Lady Watson, but Evadne Lannis once more. “You have no idea of what she’s like. I’ll bet you’ve never even spoken to her. She’s being bullied to the point where she thinks she’s worthless by some spoilt little brats and that hard-faced cow masquerading as her teacher is doing nothing to help, and you have the cheek to talk about her like that. If you even mention her again I’ll…”
“Fight me, like your other daughter?”
The room went silent as Evadne spluttered and glared at her, catatonic with rage. She was not a remotely violent person, but she had never wanted to slap someone so much in her life. A penny had dropped at mention of Marcia, and Evvy took several deep breaths to try and get a hold on her temper. “That’s right, you’re the one who put Marcia on report,” she replied, her voice calmer but her eyes still flashing with anger.
“She deserved it.”
“Really?” Evvy leaned forward, her hands tightly clasping the side of Miss Hope’s desk. “And did you even bother to investigate the others involved?”
“I didn’t need to,” came the imperious reply. “Those students have been with the school for a long time and they’ve never been disruptive before. Maybe it’s your daughters who are spoilt – they seem to invite trouble.”
“How dare you, you worthless little tramp,” Evadne exploded, losing her temper again. “I doubt you can see further than the end of your nose, you…”
“Lady Watson?” Halting her tirade, Evadne spun round to see Nurse Solomons standing in the doorway. “I thought I heard your voice. I’ve been trying to telephone you.”
“Why, what’s happened?” Evvy asked quickly, Miss Hope forgotten in her worry. “Is Marcia okay?”
Nurse Solomons smiled. “She’s fine, as far as I’m aware. I do need to talk to you though. Can you come along to my office?”
“Of course.” Picking up her handbag, Evadne hurriedly made her way towards the nurse.
“We’ll look forward to seeing you Friday, Mrs. Watson,” Miss Hope shot after her as she reached the door. Evadne turned puce again and was about to respond, when Nurse Solomons grabbed her elbow and hurried her out of the room.
As they disappeared from view, Miss Hope sat down behind her desk, a self-satisfied smile on her face. She had just picked up her book again, when the door to the adjoining office opened and Mr. Anthony emerged. “What was all that about?”
Miss Hope rolled her eyes. “Thea Watson’s mother kicking up a fuss, I’m afraid. I am sorry. I told her to come back but she just wouldn’t leave. Like mother like daughter, I feel.”
Mr. Anthony gave her a smile. “It would certainly seem that way. Well done for standing your ground. Any chance of a cup of tea?” and as Miss Hope nodded and got to her feet to make it, he disappeared back into his room once more.
Nurse Solomons led Evadne quickly to her office in the junior part of the school, and ensconced her in a chair in front of a large oak desk. She let her visitor rant at will about the interview with Miss Hope, and listened intently until Evadne eventually ran out of steam. Then leaning back in her chair, she pursed her lips. “I see.”
Evadne looked up and gave her a sheepish smile. “Say, I’m sorry. I got a little carried away then.”
“Don’t be,” Nurse replied with a warm smile. “I can’t say I blame you. I’m sure I’d have reacted much the same. Can I get you a drink?”
“Water it is. I just have to pop to the staffroom to get it, I’ll be right back,” and pushing back her chair, she stood up and left the room.
She returned five minutes later, glass of water in hand, and Miss Vallance, Marcia’s teacher, behind her. That lady smiled at Evadne and pulled a chair up next to her. Evvy returned the smile, and looked back at Nurse Solomons, a quizzical look on her face. Nurse handed over the glass of water and then sat down before she spoke.
“Lady Watson, we wanted to…”
“Please, call me Evadne.” Evvy said, tiring of hearing her title being bandied about.
Nurse Solomons smiled. “Evadne it is. Anyway, we wanted to talk to you about your daughters.” She noticed Evvy’s back stiffen and hastened to put her at ease. “We wanted you to know that we’ve some idea of what’s been going on. I’ve watched Thea becoming more and more subdued, and you know how I found her yesterday. Does this, by any chance, have anything to do with Franny Harford and her gang?”
Evvy nodded, looking from one to the other, and Miss Vallance took up the tale. “They were in my class last year, and this exact thing happened to another girl,” she said, glancing at Nurse Solomons. “The two of us tried our best to fight it at the time, but her parents took her away from the school without wanting to confront it, so we weren’t able to do much good. As you may have gathered, many of our staff are not exactly…er…sympathetic to the cause.”
Evadne gave her a wry smile. “I had noticed.”
Nurse grinned. “Well yesterday, after Marcia and Ann got in trouble, Miss Vallance spoke to them and then came to see me, and it didn’t take us too long to put two and two together.”
There was silence for a moment as Evvy took in what they were saying. “Evadne, I realise that this must seem terribly unprofessional of us, discussing school business with you like this,” Miss Vallance said, looking at their guest with pleading eyes, “but we’re determined not to let them get away with this again. We wanted to let you know that if you and your husband wish to take this further, we’ll back you all the way.”
Evadne looked from one to the other, a lump rising in her throat in relief. At least somebody in the school wanted to help. The three women spent the next twenty minutes discussing the situation and what could be done. When they were finally done, Miss Vallance looked at her watch and got to her feet.
“Sorry, but I’d better be going. I’ve left the children with Miss Redmond, and she’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.”
“I should really be getting off too.” Evadne said, rising and making a move to follow her. “I promised Thea I’d be home as soon as possible.”
“How is she?”
“Not so good.” She looked from one staff member to the other again, and gave them both a grateful smile. “Thank you so much, both of you. I can’t tell you what a relief it’s been to talk about this and to know someone’s on our side.”
Nurse Solomons nodded, as she rose to show her visitor out. “You’re welcome. I just hope that we can do some good.”
A high wind had picked up by the time Evadne left the school, and dark, ominous-looking clouds filled the sky. Realising that the fountain would be switched off, and that it was likely to rain shortly anyway, she drove into the centre of the city to collect some ice cream from Alessandro’s and then headed straight home. She found Thea helping Frau Siefert with the housework, seemingly enjoying herself, and she left her to it. Then after lunch, the two of them took their bowls of ice cream and settled down in the salon to play some games. Thea’s favourite was Scrabble, and she had clamoured to play until Evadne, who was terrible at it, eventually gave in.
“There’s no such word as ‘flimble’!” Thea protested, as Evadne finished placing her letters and sat back with a satisfied smile.
“There is too! It’s a floppy thimble!” Thea giggled and Evadne watched her, smiling, overjoyed to see some light back in her eyes. “I hope you’re keeping score? I do believe I’m winning!”
Thea, who had already had to endure explanations for the words ‘nopoly’ (Monopoly with some of the pieces missing), ‘hisbrow’ (a man’s forehead) and ‘lirtsium’ (a rare plant found in the jungles of Borneo), rolled her eyes. “You’re cheating!”
“I take offence at that!” her stepmother replied, an expression of mock-indignation on her face. “I’ll have you know I’m an undiscovered genius!”
As Thea giggled again, they were interrupted by the shrill ringing of the telephone, and she scrambled to her feet, saying “I’ll get it!”, and ran out into the entrance hall. The next moment a cry of “Daddy!” caused Evadne to rapidly follow in her wake.
She reached the hall in time to hear Thea saying, “Daddy, when are you coming home?”
There was a pause for a moment, during which Evvy sat down at the bottom of stairs, and then Thea said “I want you home now, Daddy” and tears escaped to run down her cheeks. There was another pause, and then she added, “Nothing, I just want you. Please come home.” Her voice broke as she dissolved into sobs, and Evadne reached out and took the receiver from her quickly, pulling her towards her and putting her free arm around her shoulders.
“Evvy, what’s happened? Why’s she at home? Isn’t she well?”
Holding Thea tightly with one arm, Evadne proceeded to tell him briefly what had happened, eliciting exclamations of anger and upset from the other end of the phone. When she finished speaking, there was a pause before he asked, “What have you done so far?”
Sending Thea to find a handkerchief, she told him briefly of her encounters at the school that morning, trying to get everything in before Thea returned. “I’m not sure what else to do, Edgar. I’m not sure I’m coping so well.”
“You’re coping wonderfully, darling. Listen, my time’s going to run out any minute. Keep Thea at home 'til I get back. And don’t go back in to Mr. Anthony just yet. We’ll do it the minute I get home. I’m going to…” The line went dead as they got cut off, and Evadne hung up, and then sat back down on the bottom of the stairs, putting her head in her hands. The relief at finally speaking to her husband was palpable and she could feel tears pricking the back of her eyes.
“Mummy?” She looked up to see Thea standing in front of her, her jaw still trembling, a handkerchief clutched in her hands. Reaching out, Evvy pulled her into her lap, cradling the young girl's head against her shoulder. “Is Daddy coming home?”
Evvy closed her eyes and rested her cheek on Thea’s hair. “Soon, sweetheart, soon.”
It was gone midnight, and the Watson household was fast asleep when Edgar's taxi pulled up outside the house. Thanking the driver, he made his way across the forecourt and opened the front door. He set his bags down in the hallway and then headed quietly up the stairs. Tip-toeing along the landing, he opened the door of the main bedroom and walked across to the side of the large bed. Evadne was laying half on her back, half on her side, a peaceful look on her face as she slept. He sat down beside her, gently brushing back her hair from her face and running his hand along her arm. Then leaning down, he kissed her firmly on the lips.
Evvy stirred, muttered something, and slowly opened her eyes. The next second, she sat bolt upright in shock. “What…oh my god…what are you doing here?” she exclaimed, as Edgar reached out and turned on the bedside light.
He smiled and ran his hand across her hair. “I managed to get away – told them it was a family emergency. The main part’s over with anyway, they can cope without me.” Lowering his hand, he rested it on her belly. “I wanted to get back to you. You shouldn’t be dealing with this on your own and you’re not supposed to be getting stressed, remember? And I needed to see Thea. How is she?”
“Not good,” his wife replied, gazing deep into his eyes.
Edgar grimaced and looked down at his lap. “I was afraid of that. How’re you?” he asked, raising his eyes to look at her again.
“So much better now you're home,” and reaching forward, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tight. Edgar returned her embrace and they stayed like that for a few minutes, before Evadne finally pulled back and stared up at him. “Thank you for coming back,” she said, lifting her hand to caress his cheek.
Giving her a slight smile, Edgar leaned forward to kiss her, and then looked down at his lap again. “I feel terrible, Evvy. My poor girl, I can’t believe I’ve let her down so badly again.”
Evadne reached out and gently rubbed his back. “She doesn’t see it that way, Edgar. She’s been dying to see you. Why don’t you pop in, see if she’s awake?”
He nodded, and then rising from the bed, made his way round to the other side and began to get changed. He soon had his pyjamas on, and giving his wife a smile, he left the room and walked down the landing to Thea’s door. She was fast asleep, facing the far wall, and Edgar crossed the room and sat down gently on the edge of the bed. He could see her face in the landing light shining through the door, and as he gazed down at the pale cheeks he felt so guilty he wanted to cry. Bending down, he pecked her on the cheek and then stood up to leave. He had just made it to the door when he heard a rustling from the bed.
Turning around, he saw her sitting up, staring at him bleary-eyed, and he gave her a smile. “Hello sweetheart.”
“Daddy, you came.”
Thea’s voice broke as the words came out, and rushing back over to the bed, Edgar scooped her up in his arms and cuddled her tightly to his chest.
“I’m so sorry, darling,” he said, stroking her smooth, brown locks. “I should never have let this happen to you.”
When her husband had not returned to the bedroom half an hour later, Evadne decided to go and see where he’d got to. Getting up and pulling on her dressing gown, she made her way out onto the landing and along to Thea’s room. Through the open door, she saw her husband curled up on his side on the bed, fast asleep, his daughter cradled in his arms. Smiling to herself, she walked across the room and took a blanket from the end of the bed. Then covering them both over, she bent and kissed them both lightly on the cheek, and then made her way back to her room.
As Edgar parked their car outside the school, his wife gave him a nervous glance. Pulling on the handbrake, he switched off the engine and turned to her with a smile.
“You okay there?”
Evadne nodded. “Fine. You ready to go Marcia?” Marcia answered in the affirmative and opened the door to scramble out. “Careful, your bag’s unfastened, you’re gonna spill…”
She was too late. As Marcia dragged her satchel out behind her, it tipped upside down, emptying the contents onto the pavement. Books, pencil case, notepads and other oddments disappeared under the car, some rolling out into the road, causing the traffic to swerve to avoid them. Evadne made an exasperated sound and climbed out, dodging cars to retrieve what she could while Edgar, who was trying desperately not to laugh, opened his door and grabbed hold of Marcia to stop her following her belongings into the busy road.
“I swear to goodness, you’re going to be the death of me!” Evadne said, as she returned to the pavement, her arms laden with Marcia’s belongings. She thrust them into the bag that Edgar held out for her. “You can just do that up before we go any further,” she commanded, as Edgar handed the satchel back to his daughter. “I’m not having you drop everything all over the yard as we go.”
Meekly, Marcia did as she was told. Edgar reached down and took hold of her hand, and the three of them hurried across the playground and in through the junior school door, just as the bell rang for morning assembly.
Letting go of his daughter, Edgar watched as she ran off in the direction of her classroom, and then turned back to face his wife. “Come along then, let’s go and find this Nurse Solomons, shall we?”
Evadne nodded and pointed in the direction Marcia had just gone. “It’s down here on the left,” she said, beginning to move off in that direction.
The tension was evident in her voice, and Edgar put a hand on her arm to stop her. “Evvy, are you sure you’re alright?”
She looked up at him, a concerned expression on her face. “I’m just a little worried, I guess. It’s great of Nurse Solomons and Miss Vallance to support us and all, but what if it makes no difference and they lose their jobs? They’re being so good to us, it wouldn’t be right.”
“I know, darling, but I’m sure they thought it through before they offered to help,” he replied, placing a hand on her shoulder. “And I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen, I promise you. Someone’s going to get what they deserve for all this, or my name’s not Edgar Watson.” She smiled thinly and checking quickly that nobody was about, Edgar pecked her on the lips. “Come on, let’s go and get this over with,” and placing a hand on her back, he steered her down the corridor towards Nurse Solomons’ room.
Morning assembly was over and Miss Hope was just settling down behind her desk with her latest cheap novel when there was a tap at the door. She looked up with a frown, and saw Nurse Solomons standing in the doorway.
“Hello, Geraldine, is Mr. Anthony in by any chance? I just need a quick word.”
Miss Hope waved her hand in the direction of the headmaster’s door. “He’s in there,” she said, her eyes returning to her page.
Nurse rolled her eyes and walked across the small room. She was just about to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened and Mr. Anthony appeared.
“Hello Janet, what can I do for you? Coffee please, Geraldine,” he added, glancing around the stout figure of the nurse and waving his mug at his secretary.
As Miss Hope got up from her desk to do his bidding, Nurse Solomons returned his smile. “I was just wanting a quick word with you, Sir,” she said loudly. “Are you in all morning by any chance?”
“Yes, I’ve nothing much on today.”
“Excellent, that works out very well. You have some visitors,” and as she spoke, Evadne and Edgar appeared around the door.
“Mr. Anthony,” Edgar said, striding forward with his arm outstretched. "I don’t know if you remember me? I’m Sir Edgar Watson, and this is my wife Evadne. We’ve something we need to discuss and we’d appreciate half an hour of your time.”
Struck dumb, Mr. Anthony held out his hand to shake Edgar’s, and Miss Hope glared at Nurse Solomons, aware that that lady had outwitted her and her boss. Miss Solomons returned the glare with a shrug of her shoulders. Edgar grinned as he caught the expression on Miss Hope’s face, and then turned back to the headmaster.
“Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, but Nurse Solomons will be sitting in with us. Shall we go in?” and without waiting to be invited, he brushed past Mr. Anthony and into the office.
“Yes, er, well, of course,” Mr. Anthony blustered, as Evadne followed her husband, pausing to smile sweetly at Miss Hope. “Miss Hope, coffee all round please,” and following his visitors into the office, he shut the door behind him.
“Please, take a seat,” he said, trying to sound genial. Looking around, he realised that they had already made themselves comfortable and, looking a little unnerved, he coughed and made his way around his desk. “So, what can I do for you? Can I assume that you’re here about Thea?”
Edgar raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Yes, that’s right. Does this mean you’re aware of what’s been going on then?”
“You mean her problems in class?” Edgar nodded. “Yes, I’m aware of them.” Crossing the room to a cabinet in the far corner, he opened the second draw down and took out a file. Thea’s name was clearly visible on the right hand corner, and a sticker reading ‘ATTENTION’ was attached to the front. Mr. Anthony sat back down in this chair and regarded the Watsons with a smile. “So, where would you like to start?”
Edgar and Evadne exchanged glances, and then Evadne proceeded to tell the headmaster everything that had happened to Thea over the course of the last month, ending in her model being broken and her being sent out of class just two days ago.
As she finished speaking, Mr. Anthony was silent for a moment. Then saying “I see,” he leant forward and picked up the file from his desk and opened it, appearing to read something, before laying it down again and staring back at his guests.
“I know that you’ll probably not want to hear this, but has the possibility occurred to either of you that this may all be Thea’s own fault?” The Watsons were temporarily shocked into silence, and he continued, “I’ve spoken to Miss Langdon and she tells me that Thea makes no effort to join in, and is generally sullen and unresponsive, and often rude when she’s spoken to. And Miss Redmond, the games teacher, tells me much the same.”
Characteristically, it was Evadne who was first to regain her voice. “Have you considered, Mr. Anthony, that they might not be telling the truth?”
Mr. Anthony raised his eyebrows. “I hardly think that’s likely, Lady Watson. They’re both excellent members of staff.”
At this, Nurse Solomons snorted, and he turned his head to glare at her as Evadne continued. “Well I’ll bet that Miss Langdon hasn’t told you that she told Thea off for asking questions in her classroom, and that she’s accused her of lying and called her a show-off in front of her entire class?”
“I find that very hard to believe,” the headmaster replied in a patronising tone.
“Really?” Edgar put in, folding his arms across his chest as he spoke. “Then I suggest that you call Miss Langdon in here now and we’ll ask her ourselves.”
“I’m afraid that’s not appropriate...”
“I think you’ll find it’s entirely appropriate, Mr. Anthony,” Edgar replied, his voice calm but cold, causing the headmaster to splutter the rest of his sentence.
Nurse Solomons rose from her seat and opened the door. “Miss Hope, could you please go and ask Miss Langdon to join us right away? You can remain with her class until she returns.”
Standing up, Mr. Anthony opened his mouth to order her not to go, but was quelled by a furious look from Edgar and sat down again. A couple of minutes later, Miss Langdon appeared at the doorway, a look of impatience on her face.
“I hope this won’t take long, Mr. Anthony, I was just…oh.” She fell silent as she saw the other occupants of the room.
At the sight of her, Evadne’s face darkened and she opened her mouth to speak. Thankfully, Edgar noticed just in time and stood on her foot, eliciting a muffled squeak of pain. Mr. Anthony waved her to a spare chair on the far side against the wall.
“Please, Miss Langdon, take a seat.” He waited until she had made herself comfortable and then added, “We just have a couple of questions for you. The Watsons appear to think that you’re hampering their daughter’s progress in class,” he added, a nasty edge to his voice.
Miss Langdon’s jaw dropped. “I’m doing no such thing!” she retorted indignantly. “I can’t be expected to focus my attention on one child when I have an entire class to look after.”
Edgar turned around in his chair to face her. “But surely if you’ve asked a question, and she knows the answer, then she’s participating in your lesson, not taking your attention away from the others?”
“She cheeks me frequently, and butts in all the time,” Miss Langdon said hurriedly, ignoring his question.
“That doesn’t sound like our daughter,” Evadne put in, and Miss Langdon sneered.
“I thought she was your step-daughter?” came the spiteful response.
Edgar glared at her. “In our family we don’t make the distinction, Miss Langdon,” he said, his voice getting colder and angrier by the minute. “Now perhaps you’ll give us an example of this so-called cheek?”
Miss Langdon turned scarlet, but she kept her head high. “Well, on her first morning here, she had the audacity to not only correct what I was saying, but to tell me that she had actually read Huckleberry Finn. As if a girl her age would have read it of her own free will.”
“She has read it, as it happens,” Edgar replied, “two years ago, in fact.”
“Impossible,” Miss Langdon scoffed, and Edgar raised his eyebrows.
“I think you’ll find it’s perfectly possible. She’s a bright girl and she enjoys reading.”
“Yes, well that’s not the only time,” Miss Langdon continued defensively. “Just the other day there was accident in class involving her model, and when I asked her politely to do something, she had the cheek to accuse the other girl of causing it deliberately and was very rude.”
“Well perhaps the other girl did do it deliberately.”
“Now see here,” Mr. Anthony put in, “you can’t go around accusing people with no evidence. They believe that Thea’s being singled out by Francesca Harford and her friends,” he added, looking directly at Miss Langdon.
“Don’t be absurd! If she was, I would have noticed and I’ve certainly seen no such thing.”
Evadne rounded on her. “Well let me tell you that since her first day, they’ve made her life a misery – calling her names, making fun of her, damaging her work, locking her in bathrooms. If that's not making a target of her, then what do you call it?”
“Well…I…I,” Miss Langdon spluttered, “I don't have eyes in the back of my head! And if you’ll excuse me for saying so, I wouldn’t be surprised if she brings it on herself. Children should learn to fit in – it’s a valuable life lesson. Nobody likes a know-all.”
Evadne turned bright red and was about to speak, but Edgar beat her to it. “I thought you were just blind, but now I realise you’ve encouraged it!” he said with flashing eyes, turning fully around in his chair to face her.
“Well excuse me…”
“Have you openly shouted at my daughter in class for asking questions?”
“Just answer me!”
“Well yes, but she’s rude!”
“She has a point,” Mr. Anthony interjected, and Edgar turned back to face him. “I really think you need to look at your own family here. Your wife came in yesterday and was abominably rude to my secretary.”
“I’ve no doubt she deserved it.”
Mr. Anthony coughed. “Nobody deserves to be called a…” he fished around on his desk for a moment, and picked up a piece of paper. “…an ignorant, pie-faced, empty-headed two-bit piece of scum,” he read.
Despite himself, Edgar almost laughed. He could just imagine Evadne saying it. Nurse Solomons had to cover her mouth with her hand, turning her chuckle into a cough. While they pulled themselves together, Evadne addressed the headmaster.
“She was deliberately blocking me from seeing you and was very rude about Thea,” she said by way of explanation.
“I wasn’t here,” the headmaster replied, and Nurse looked up in surprise.
“Actually you were here, Mr. Anthony, I can vouch for that.”
He turned his head to give her a filthy look. “Why are you even here, Nurse Solomons?”
“Because we asked her to be,” Edgar put in.
“It’s none of her business!”
“I am here, Mr. Anthony, because last year when Sally Thomas had to leave because she was bullied by the same girls, you swept the whole thing under the carpet. I’m not letting that happen again.”
“I told you at the time,” he replied, his eyes narrowing, “that if you didn’t like the way things were done here, you were free to leave.”
“And leave the children with one less person on their side? I don’t think so.”
Edgar got to his feet. “I think I’ve heard about all I need to hear,” he said, glaring at the headmaster. “Our children will be leaving this school as of today and will not be returning.”
“I think that’s probably for the best,” Mr. Anthony replied, and Edgar shook his head.
“Don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.”
“I think you forget who you’re dealing with…”
“No, I think you forget who you’re dealing with,” Edgar flashed back. “As far as I am aware, this school is still attached to the U.N. This afternoon, official complaints will be entered against both Miss Langdon and Miss Hope, copied to the board of governors and your boss, as will another regarding what our daughter has had to endure. If you fail to act on them promptly, then another will wend its way to both the aforementioned parties regarding your suitability to be head of this school.”
“Well I’m sure I…I mean…”
“This is your chance to redeem yourself – a chance you scarcely deserve. We have the support of some parents already, and I can guarantee that if word gets around, we’ll have a lot more. Our children may be leaving, but mark my words - I’ll make sure that things around here change so no-one else has to go what Thea went through at the hands of those girls. I promised her that much and it’s a promise I intend to keep. Come on, Evvy, let’s go.”
Holding out his hand, he pulled his wife to her feet. “Nurse Solomons – thank you,” and with a smile to the Nurse, the two of them left the room.
“I can’t believe I got another ‘D’!” Ned exclaimed, throwing his English book down on his bed and flopping down next to it. “You’d think they’d go a bit easy on me – they know I’m on report.”
Harry glanced up at him, rolled his eyes, and returned his attention to the lines he was trying to learn for the school play. Ned caught his look.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“I know, but you thought it, I saw you. Come on, out with it.”
Harry hesitated for a second, debating whether or not he wanted to be on the receiving end of Ned's wrath, and then put his book down on the bed next to him. “Fine, you want to know what I think? It serves you right.”
Ned stared at him. “Well that’s nice! I thought you were supposed to be my friend?”
“I am your friend, that’s why I’m telling you. You know you’re on report, and you’ve still done as little work as possible. That's why you’re getting ‘D’s.”
“Just ‘cause you’re a swot and get ‘A’s all the time.”
“I get ‘A’s because I work hard for them! Why should they make it easy for you while the rest of us slog our guts out?”
“Yes, well I don’t have time for that. Some of us have got things to do other than have our nose shoved in a book,” Ned retorted nastily, and Harry rose from his bed, his eyes flashing.
“So do I,” he shot back angrily, glaring at his friend. “I’m in the play, and I do debating and fives but I still find time to get my work done, and so would you if you weren’t such a lazy slob. I’m sick to death of you complaining when it’s all your own fault. You’re a complete ass,” and picking his book up from his bed, he made for the door.
“Nice to know what a great friend you are!” Ned shot after him as Harry left the room, slamming the door behind him.
There was silence for a moment as Ned stared at the door, then he sat down on his bed and heaved a sigh. In truth, he was a little shell-shocked. He and Harry had been friends for four years now, and had never once had an argument like that. He looked around the room and swallowed hard, beginning to feel rather awful about what he had just said. Telling himself that they would no doubt sort it out later, he stood up again and went to his drawers to pull out his clean rugby kit, glancing guiltily at his satchel as he did so. He knew he had a great deal of work to do, but it really wouldn’t do to miss practice. He would sort his work out later as well, he decided, once rugby was done with and he had patched things up with Harry. Feeling a little better about things, he threw a clean pair of sports socks in his bag, just as his study door opened and Dan Burgess, another of their friends, stuck his head around it.
“Ned, Stevenson wants to see you, pronto.”
Ned pulled a face at him. “What does he want?”
“Well he’s hardly going to tell me, is he?” Burgess retorted. “Why don’t you buck up, and go and find out for yourself?”
Ned frowned. “I'm running late. Reckon he’ll mind if I go after rugger practice?”
Burgess gave him an incredulous look. “Are you completely crackers? He’ll skin you if you do that!” and shaking his head, he withdrew from the room.
Ned grunted, swung his sports bag over his shoulder and followed in his friend’s wake.
As he made his way down the stairs and approached the Housemaster’s office, he began to feel a little nervous. It did not take a genius to work out what this summons was all about. In his twelve year old wisdom, he had failed to take his talk a couple of weeks ago with Dr. Putt all that seriously at all. He had been forever getting similar lectures at prep school, but it had never been taken any further than that and he assumed it was bound to be the same at Harrow. Suddenly he was not so sure. Pulling himself together and taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door.
Ned slowly entered the room and found his Housemaster sitting behind his desk, and Dr. Putt, the House Tutor, standing to one side. Mr. Stevenson asked him to close the door and then gestured for him to approach the desk. As Ned did so, the Housemaster sat back in his seat, his hands together and the tips of his fingers touching his pursed lips.
“So, Watson, do you have any idea why you've been summoned?”
Ned looked from one master to the other, and then stared down at his lap. “Yes, Sir, I think so.”
“And do you have anything to say for yourself?” Ned kept his eyes firmly fixed on the ink pot on his housemaster's desk and remained silent. “Look at me please, Watson.”
Ned slowly raised his eyes to look at his Mr Stevenson, his insides starting to churn a little. He didn’t like the way this was going.
“So, have you any decent excuse as to why, despite several minor talkings-to and one official warning from Dr. Putt, you continue to do no work?”
“I...I’ve been busy,” Ned mumbled hesitantly, and Mr. Stevenson raised his eyebrows.
“Have you indeed? What with, may I ask?”
“Well I…er…I was playing rugby,” he stammered, “I’m in the house team and the Under 13’s and…” His voice trailed off as he began to realise just how ridiculous his excuse sounded, and he stared back down at his lap again.
“Watson, will you please look at me when I’m talking to you!” Ned’s head snapped back up again, and the housemaster continued. “Now, I’d like you to answer me a question. What do you think we consider more important - your academic work, or playing house rugby?” Ned said nothing. “I asked you a question!”
“Work,” Ned muttered, turning bright red.
“Precisely. And yet you’ve seen fit, despite several warnings, to put that work aside for the sake of your sport. So now it’s time to put the sport aside for the sake of your work.” Ned’s eyes widened at his words. “With the exception of games lessons, you are henceforth banned from all sport, be it school or house, until after half-term. We will then review the situation, and whether the ban will continue or not depends on whether you have pulled up your grades to our satisfaction. You will also study with Dr. Putt on Saturday afternoons, while the rest of the house have free time, in order to make up the work that you have failed to do.”
“But Sir, what about Torpids? They’ll not forgive me!”
“I don’t doubt they’ll be somewhat cross for a little while, but perhaps you should have thought of that before. I’ll leave you to tell them why you won’t be available to play, shall I? Oh, and I will be writing to your parents to inform them of what has been going on. That’ll be all.” Ned remained rooted to the spot, feeling like he was about to be sick. “I said you could leave, Watson.”
Ned walked slowly out of the housemaster’s office, his head hung low. Closing the door behind him, he turned on his heel and ran across the entrance hall, up the stairs, down the corridor and into his study, ignoring the calls of a couple of his friends along the way. He slammed his study door behind him and, thankful to find it empty, threw himself face-down on his bed and buried his head in his pillow. He could feel tears pricking the back of his eyes and he was trying desperately not to cry. The loss of sport was bad enough, but the fact that Mr. Stevenson was going to write to his parents was what was upsetting him the most. Though he rarely admitted it to anyone, he adored his father and his approval meant everything to him. What Edgar would say on receiving that letter just didn’t bear thinking about.
Almost an hour passed before Harry returned to the room. By then, Ned was feeling thoroughly undone and was only just able to keep his feelings inside. Tim Bennett, the house and school sports monitor, had come by to enquire why his scrum-half had missed practice, and Ned had decided to take the bull by the horns and give him the bad news. Bennett was predictably furious and after delivering a lecture of his own, had left to break the news to the rest of the team.
It didn’t take long for it to then spread to the rest of the house, and when it reached Harry, he immediately dropped his work and went in search of his friend. Whatever had been said between them previously didn’t matter. Harry knew just how much this punishment would be affecting him.
Opening the study door tentatively, he saw Ned sitting at his desk, his head in his hands and his writing case open in front of him. Ned looked up as he entered the room, and then stared back at his desk.
“I suppose you’ve heard. Bet you think it serves me right too?” he snapped defensively, waiting for Harry to say ‘I told you so.’ “Go on then, get it over with.”
Harry crossed the room to sit on his bed before replying. “What do you take me for, Ned? I’m your friend, remember. Don’t take it out on me.”
Ned turned his head to look at him for a moment, before staring down at the rug. “Sorry. And sorry ‘bout earlier too.”
“S’okay,” Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders. “So how long are you banned for?”
“'Til after half-term at least.”
“That’s tough. Is Bennett really mad?”
“Spitting feathers, I’d say. That’s not the worst of it though.” Ned paused and took a deep breath. “They’ve written to Dad.”
Ned shook his head. “I’m trying to write to him now – get my side in before I see him,” he said morosely, indicating the writing case on his desk. Then leaning his arm on the back of the chair, he rested his chin on it and closed his eyes. “He’s going to kill me.”
“Where are the girls?”
At the sound of her husband’s voice, Evadne looked up from her book and gave him a smile. “Upstairs playing with the dolls’ house. Ann doesn’t have one at home, so it’s their favourite game whenever she’s over. And it’s keeping them out of your hair!” She watched as he crossed the room and sat down in his favourite armchair. “Are you taking a break? Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
Edgar shook his head. “No thanks. I’ve had so many cups of coffee today, I feel like I’m drowning in the stuff! Guilia certainly keeps them coming, doesn’t she?”
Evadne laughed. “You’re too nice – you have to learn to say no. You must have worked at home at least a half-dozen times since we hired her and you still haven’t figured it out!”
“Well maybe I like being nice,” he retorted, pulling a face at his wife. “One of us has to be!” Evadne gave an indignant squawk and a cushion came hurtling across the room, flying over his head and hitting the dresser behind him. “Watch out! You’ll break something if you’re not careful.”
“Well it’d be your fault if I did.”
“How is it my fault that you’ve a lousy aim?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Then as Evvy picked up another cushion, he held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay, truce. Put that down and let’s pretend we’re adults for minute, shall we? I’ve got some news for you.”
“About school?” Edgar nodded, and Evadne placed the cushion back on the sofa, turning to face him with eager eyes. “Is it good news?”
“Part of it is, yes. I’ve had a letter from the Ecole Internationale. Someone’s had to leave in Thea’s year group, and they’ve given us the place. The girls can start there immediately after half-term.”
“Oh Edgar, that’s wonderful! Marcia’ll be over the moon – it’s where the Bowns are sending Ann. And Thea’ll be so much happier there, too.”
“Let’s hope so, eh? I won’t be convinced 'til I see it for myself, I have to be honest. Still, it’s certainly the best option we’ve got, so I suppose we should be glad it’s worked out.”
Evadne gave him sympathetic smile. “She’ll be okay, Edgar, I’m sure of it. She’s a tough little cookie, and she has her head screwed on right, even if things are a little messed up just now.” She shifted position on the sofa, tucking her legs underneath her. “So what’s the bad news – or don’t I want to know?”
Edgar sat back and gave a sigh. “That was Nurse Solomons on the telephone a few minutes ago…”
It was now ten days since the showdown in Mr. Anthony’s office. Edgar had submitted their complaints as soon as they had got home, taking them personally to the head of the school board, and they had been waiting ever since to discover what would happen.
The girls had been officially withdrawn from the school on the spot, and to begin with Marcia had been upset to leave her friends. However, after hearing the whole story from Evadne, Mr. and Mrs. Bown had withdrawn Ann from the school as well, and Marcia had clamoured ever since to join her friend at the International School, a wish that had just been granted with the letter to Edgar this morning.
They knew that the bullies themselves had been disciplined. Kate’s father, Bob Cranston, worked for Edgar at the F.A.O. and had come into the office two days previously full of apologies for his daughter’s behaviour. However, until now, there had been no word on the fate of Miss Langdon and Miss Hope.
Evadne stared at him. “Please don’t tell me they’ve let them off scott free?”
Edgar shook his head. “Not exactly. Miss Langdon’s been sacked…”
“Serve her right!”
“…but Miss Hope’s kept her job, albeit on a warning and under careful observation from the school board.”
“That’s not right!” Evadne’s face was a picture of disgust. “That catty old boot should be kicked from here to kingdom come, not allowed to keep her job!”
“It gets worse, I’m afraid.” He grimaced as Evadne raised her eyebrows at him. “Nurse Solomons has been forced to resign - something about a conflict of interest apparently.”
There was silence for a moment as Evadne stared at her husband, aghast. “But that’s not fair! How do that common little tramp and that useless lump of a headmaster get to keep their jobs over her? Edgar, we can’t let it happen – can’t you pull some strings or something?”
Edgar shook his head sadly. “I’ve pulled all the strings I’m able to already, I’m afraid – more than I should have done, to be honest with you. We were lucky that Mr. Anthony wasn’t bright enough to check up on how far my influence actually stretched, or I doubt he’d have even got rid of Miss Langdon. There’s nothing more I can do.”
Already tired and hormonal with her pregnancy, this news upset Evadne greatly, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes. “Oh Edgar, this is all my fault! I should never have agreed to let her come in with us, then this would never have happened.”
“Hey, come on, don’t cry.” Edgar rose hurriedly from his chair and sat down next to her on the large sofa, putting his arms around her. “As she said to me just now, she wouldn’t have changed how she went about things. So don’t go blaming yourself, she wouldn’t want you to. She knew how things lay when she offered to help.”
“But it’s all so wrong!”
“I know, sweetheart, I know. But she’s a strong woman and incredibly good at her job. Someone else would be crazy not to hire her. She’ll be snapped up in a second, you’ll see.”
At that moment the doorbell rang, and dropping a kiss on her forehead, Edgar got up to answer it, leaving her to dry her eyes. She had just put her handkerchief away again when he came back into the family room, followed by a short, dark, stocky man and a small girl who looked around the same age as Thea and Marcia.
“Evvy, this is Bob Cranston and his daughter Kate. Bob’s a colleague of mine.”
Bob Cranston came forward to shake her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Lady Watson. Sir Edgar’s told me a lot about you. I hope you don’t mind us barging in on you like this, we shan’t be long, only Kate’s got something she’d like to say to Thea.”
Evadne’s eyes widened as she realised exactly who these people were, and she gave her husband a querying look.
Edgar smiled in return. “I’ll go and get her, shall I?”
“Please, take a seat,” Evvy said, indicating a spare sofa on the far side of the room.
Bob walked Kate across to it and sat down, as Evadne returned to her seat, and an awkward silence fell over the room until Edgar reappeared with his daughter in tow. Thea physically baulked when she saw Kate sitting on the sofa, and would have run out of the room again, had her father not been holding onto her arm.
Kate hesitated for a moment and then, with her father’s encouragement, she rose from the sofa and walked across the room. She swallowed hard as she came to stand in front of Thea. “Thea, I…I’m sorry for what I did to you at school.” She paused, waiting for Thea’s reaction, but that young lady just stared back at her with a stony face. “It’s just Franny decided she didn’t like you, and then she told me not to and I believed her like I always did. But I know it was wrong and I don’t know why I did it. Franny’s horrid and she made me horrid too. I was so stupid and Daddy made me realise and I’m really, really sorry.”
Her voice petered out as she ran out of things to say, and she stared pleadingly at Thea, begging her forgiveness, evidently genuinely sorry for what she had done. Thea continued to stare at her, her emotions torn. Eventually her compassionate nature won out and she gave Kate a hint of a smile.
Kate swallowed hard again. “I know you might not want to, but maybe we could play sometimes – if you’d like that is,” she added nervously, seeing the hesitation on Thea’s face.
Thea looked up at Edgar, who put a hand on her head and gave her a smile. Looking back at Kate again, she nodded and put an arm around her father’s waist. “Maybe.”
Bob Cranston got to his feet. “Well we’d better be going – leave you to your day. Thanks for letting us interrupt your afternoon. It was a pleasure to meet you,” he said, walking over and shaking Evadne’s hand,” and you too, Thea.” Then putting a hand on his daughter’s back, he steered her towards the door.
Edgar followed to show them out, and Thea walked across to the sofa, sitting down next to her stepmother and resting her head against her arm. Evadne looked down at her with a smile.
“Are you okay, sugar-pie?”
Thea nodded. “Do you think I was wrong to say it was all okay, Mummy?” she asked, her voice sounding a bit choked.
Evadne put an arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “No, I don’t think it was wrong – I think it was very kind and very brave. Do you really think you’ll play with her sometimes?”
“Don’t know – maybe. I don’t have any friends ‘cept Marcia and Ann. It might be nice.”
Evvy gazed down at her for a moment, and then put her other arm around her, pulling her into a hug. “You’re a wonderful little girl, d’you know that?” Thea hugged her back, and Evadne kissed her on the head again before releasing her and pushing her up off the sofa. “Well you just let me know if you want her to come over and we’ll sort it out, okay? Now how about you head back up and carry on playing.”
Thea grinned and ran out of the room, just as her father returned, a thin, white envelope in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face.
“What’ve do you have there?” Evadne asked, noting his expression.
Edgar looked up with a frown. “Another letter – found it half-under the dresser, it must have got knocked there this morning. It’s from Harrow,” he said, holding up the envelope that bore the school crest. “Wonder what it’s about?”
“Well if you open it, you’ll find out!” his wife replied, stating the obvious. Ignoring the face that he pulled at her, she got to her feet and picked up her empty cup and saucer that were stood on the table next to her. “Right, I’m going to make a cup of coffee for myself. Are you sure you don’t want one?” Edgar nodded. “Fine. I’ll be back in a minute, then you can tell me all about what Harrow want,” and as he pulled the folder paper from the envelope, she walked across the room and out of the door.
She had made it two feet across the hallway, when a sudden exclamation from her husband brought her right back into the room. “Oh that stupid boy! I’ll wring his neck!”
Edgar put his head around the door of the room that his daughters had appropriated as their den, and gave them both with a grin. “I’m leaving now, you two. Do I get a kiss goodbye before I go?”
Looking round at the sound of his voice, Marcia jumped up and ran across the room, throwing herself into his arms. Edgar laughed and picked her up, cuddling her and kissing her on the cheek. “You’re getting too heavy to do that, young lady,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, as he lowered her back to the floor. “Must be all that food you’re always eating - you’re getting fat!”
“I’m not!” his daughter squealed indignantly, and putting her hands on her hips, she stalked huffily back to the game she was playing with her sister.
Thea laughed at her, and rose from the floor to bid her father goodbye. Edgar bent down to give her a hug and a kiss. “Right, you both be good, won’t you, and make sure you help Mummy all you can on the flight – and no following bags or disappearing down mysterious corridors,” he added with a wink at Marcia. “I’ll see you Friday,” and standing up, he ruffled Thea’s hair with his hand and left the room.
Heading downstairs, he found his wife waiting for him in the entrance hall, his plane tickets and passport in her hand. “I’m not sure you’re gonna get too far without these!” she said, holding them out towards him. Edgar took them sheepishly, and she grinned as he bent to tuck them into the outside pocket of his suitcase. “Don’t go losing them again now, will you?”
Edgar stood up and grimaced. “What would I do without you to nag me?”
“I dunno – miss your flight perhaps?” she retorted, giving him a supercilious grin. Then sobering a little, she added, “Listen Edgar, I know you want to deal with it your own way, but go easy on Ned, won’t you? He must've had a tough enough time as it is, you know that.”
It was now three weeks since the letter from Harrow had arrived, and Edgar was on his way to the school to meet with Ned’s housemaster, before collecting his son and joining the rest of the family in Paris for a week. Edgar had calmed down a little since reading the initial letter, but he was still angry and disappointed and not really inclined to make Ned's life any easier. He stared down into his wife’s pleading eyes, his face impassive.
Evadne put a hand on his arm and tried again. “None of us were exactly little angels at school, Edgar. I know for a fact you weren’t, for you’ve told me so before now.”
Edgar shook his head. “Maybe not, Evvy, but I never got myself into a mess like this. As I said to you the other day, practical jokes are one thing but this was downright idleness on his part. He’s been warned about this time and time again, even before he got to Harrow, and he’s not taken a blind bit of notice. You know, when Thea was going through all that trouble at school, she still managed to get all her work done, and it just makes me so cross that her brother thinks it’s okay to do nothing when he frankly has no excuse. He seems to think he can breeze through life and have everything handed to him on a plate, and that’s not how I bought them up.”
Evadne gave him a thoughtful look before replying. “But I’m not sure he means to be like that – it really doesn’t sound like him to act so spoilt. Isn’t he just being a twelve-year old boy?”
“If that’s the case, why aren’t Harry or any of his other friends in this situation?” Evvy shrugged her shoulders; she had no answer. Edgar looked down at her, lifting his hand to clasp her shoulder. “Look, darling, I’m not going to skin him alive, I promise, but he does need to realise the seriousness of all this.”
“I know that, Edgar, it’s just...well, don’t you think he knows that already? You read his letter, you know he does.”
“And how do I know that wasn't him trying to worm his way out of trouble?"
"That's not fair, Edgar, you know that's not like him."
"Honestly, I'm not sure I do know anymore. I suppose I’ll find out when I see him. Right, I’d better get going.” Hugging her to him, he bent to kiss her on the forehead. “I’ll see you on Friday. You and the girls have a safe flight.”
Evadne smiled and squeezed his arm. “You too. Send him my love, won’t you?”.
Edgar picked up his case. “I will. Take care, darling,” and he walked out of the door and climbed into the waiting car.
Ned looked up as the door opened and Harry came into their study, fresh from a dress rehearsal for Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was still dressed in his ‘Bottom’ costume, his donkey head tucked under his arm.
“You look like an ass!” Ned quipped, his face breaking into a grin.
“Ha, ha, very funny!” Harry retorted, throwing the head on his bed and sitting down next to it, shoving it out of his way. “I’ll be lucky if I don’t suffocate in that dratted thing before this play’s over! How’s work going?” Ned shrugged his shoulders and turned back to his desk without answering. Harry watched him for a moment, then stood up and pulled off his costume shirt and trousers. “Look, Burgess and Laskar and I are going into town for a bit - why don’t you come?”
“Can’t - I’ve got to get this finished,” Ned replied, a resigned look on his face. “Dad gets here tomorrow so I have to make sure everything’s done.”
“You still not heard from him yet?” Harry asked, pulling his school jumper on over his head and belting up his trousers.
“Only the letter to say he’s coming.”
Sitting down on his bed again, Harry began to pull on his socks. “It’ll be okay, Ned, surely. Your Dad’s a good sport – he’ll see how much you’ve done to make it all up, I’m sure of it.”
“Dunno ‘bout that. He’s never been like this before, even when he used to get dragged up to Dragon.”
A depressed look came over his face and Harry glanced at him sympathetically, not knowing what to say. Ned had been working his heart out ever since the ban had come into effect. He had written to his father after a couple of days after his dressing down, to apologise and to promise to work hard, thinking that it would somehow ease the situation, but it had not worked quite as he hoped. A few days later, he had received a short, sharp letter from Edgar, obviously crossing with his in the post, telling him he was disappointed in him and that they would discuss it at half-term. After that, he had heard nothing from home for almost two weeks, other than a chatty, friendly letter from his stepmother, full of all the family news. Then yesterday, a further missive had arrived from his father mentioning nothing about the whole affair, only saying that he would be arriving the day before half term to see Mr. Stevenson, and that he would then take his son out for the afternoon.
Ned returned his attention to his books, his head down and his back to his friend. Harry finished lacing his shoes and stood up. “Are you sure you won't come? Just for half an hour or something?” Ned shook his head. “Okay, well see you later then,” and picking up his blazer from the back of the chair, he walked out of the room.
As his friend left, Ned laid down his pen and put his head in his hands. He was dreading tomorrow more that he could possibly say.
Edgar strolled into White’s and spotting Paul in their usual chairs, his head buried in a newspaper, he grinned and made his way towards him.
“Well, well, fancy finding you here!”
Paul jumped and clutched his hand to his chest. “God, you almost gave me a heart attack then!” he exclaimed, getting to his feet and holding out his hand. Edgar shook it warmly. “It’s good to see you, old man, it’s been a while.”
Edgar grinned as he took a seat opposite him. “Hasn’t it just! I was beginning to wonder if I’d even recognise you!”
“Your jokes haven’t improved, I see,” Paul retorted rolling his eyes and sitting down again. Then looking around, he signalled to a waiter to get them a couple of drinks. “So, you’re over to see the reprobate son then?”
“Glad you find it so funny,” Edgar replied with a frown. “This is actually serious, you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry. So what are you going to do?”
Edgar shrugged and sat back in his chair. “No idea. I’m still furious with him, but Evvy’s been nagging on at me to go easy on him, and even I can see that he must have been having a hard time.” He sighed and thanked the waiter, as that gentleman arrived with their drinks. “I’m worried more than anything, to be honest. What if this hasn’t got through to him?”
Paul watched him for a moment before speaking. “You know, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble there.”
“What makes you say that?” Edgar asked, eyebrows raised.
“Edgar, he worships you. He adores all of you, in fact, but he’s especially keen to impress you. When he came to us for exeat, just before all this hit the fire, he was going on and on about how he’d made this team and that team, and how pleased you’d be and how excited he was to tell you. Your approval means a great deal to him. It must have been torture for him these past few weeks, knowing you were getting that letter. He’s a good lad who happens to have made a mistake - don’t forget that.”
Edgar shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Paul. And this is the last thing we needed after everything with Thea.”
Paul took a sip of his drink, and then placed the glass on the table in front of him. “How is she, anyway?”
“Better than she was, but still rather fragile. I’m really quite anxious about her starting her new school, if I'm honest. She’s made friends with one girl now, which is helping, but I’m worried how she’s going to react when she’s thrown into a classroom again. What if she withdraws into herself and won't talk to anyone? It could set off a whole new set of problems. She must be terrified about going.”
“You know she has to though?”
“Yes I know, but it doesn’t stop me worrying about her.”
Paul picked his drink up again and sat back in his seat. “You’ve not had the easiest of times these past few months, have you?”
Edgar smiled and shook his head. “Oh it’s not all been bad by any means. We had a wonderful summer, and the new job’s going rather well. And I have to say, we do love it in Geneva. The lifestyle suits us no end.”
“And married life?”
“Honestly?” Edgar replied, a broad grin on his face. Paul nodded. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Don’t tell Evvy that though – you’ll swell her head!”
Paul laughed. “How is she?”
“Very well. Very well indeed.”
He had a complacent smile on his face and Paul stared at him suspiciously. “What?”
“Are you sure you’ve no news for me?”
Paul was far from convinced, but he decided to let it go for now. “Elsie misses her something rotten, you know. When are we going to see you all?”
“Soon, I promise,” his friend replied apologetically. “I’m sorry we’ve been so caught up in everything.” Edgar took a sip of his drink as a thought occurred to him “Hey, I’ve an idea. The in-laws are coming for Christmas, but why don’t the four of you come over for New Year? We’d love to have you.”
Paul smiled. “That’s a splendid idea. I’ll have to talk it over with Elsie, of course, but I can’t for a moment imagine her objecting.”
“Excellent!” Edgar raised his glass, took another mouthful, and then placed it back on the table. “So tell me, how’s work going then?
The next morning Ned was staring out of his study window, his nose pressed against the glass, when he saw his father’s car pull up in front of the house. He watched as Edgar climbed out and walked across the recreation ground and up the steps to the front entrance.
From his perch on his bed, Harry saw his friend's back stiffen. “Is he here then?”
Ned nodded, turning around and sitting down, his back against his pillows. Staring up at the ceiling, he swallowed hard and then closed his eyes. “I feel sick.”
The door to Mr. Stevenson’s study opened and Edgar emerged into the entrance hall, followed by the Housemaster himself.
“Roper,” Mr. Stevenson called, as a lanky, red-haired boy walked past him towards the common room, “run upstairs and grab Watson, will you? Tell him he’s wanted down here.”
As Roper ran off to do as his bidding, Mr. Stevenson turned back to his visitor. “He’ll be down in a minute or two, no doubt. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should be getting on. Will you be alright to wait here?”
Edgar smiled. “Yes, of course. I’ll have a look at the boards for old times' sake.”
“Ah yes, I keep forgetting you’re an old Park boy.”
“Longer ago than I care to admit, sadly.” Edgar held out his hand. “Well thanks again, Mr. Stevenson. My son’s lucky to have you looking out for him.”
Mr. Stevenson shook the proffered hand and gave him a smile. “You’re very welcome. I’m just glad he’s started to pull his socks up. He’s a good lad, and he should be an asset to this house once he settles down. Ah, talk of the devil,” he added, as they heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up to see Ned making his way down. “Well, we’ll be seeing you soon no doubt."
As the housemater returned to his study, Ned walked slowly across the entrance hall towards his father, his feet dragging, his nerves written clearly on his face. Edgar nodded, giving him a slight smile. “Come along, let’s get going, shall we? How about a stroll down towards the woods?”
Ned watched with curiosity as his father walked across to a large table and picked up two copies of the school newspaper. Edgar tucked them under his arm, and then walked back towards his son, placing a hand on his shoulder and steering him down a corridor that led to the back of the house. In silence, they walked through the french doors, across the wide terrace, and down the grassy slope towards the edge of Newlands Woods. They were halfway down the hill, out of earshot of the few boys who were outside, when Ned finally broke the silence.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” he said, his voice shaking a little as he looked up at his father.
Edgar stopped walking and glanced down at him. Then handing him one of the newspapers, he opened the other, spread it on the damp grass and sat down. Ned hesitated for a second, then followed his example. They sat in silence for a few moments, looking out across the woods, and then Edgar turned to face his son. “Why did you do it, Ned?”
“I…” Ned swallowed hard and stared at the ground. “I don’t know.”
Edgar stared at him. “What were you thinking?” There was no reply. “Come along Ned, answer me please.”
Taking a deep breath, Ned looked up at his father. “It’s just I was too busy doing sport and I didn’t have time to…” Edgar raised his eyebrows at his son’s words, and Ned subsided under his glare. “I didn’t think.”
“Clearly. Tell me, do you want to be asked to leave the school? Because if you carry on the way you have been, then that’s what’s going to happen.” Ned said nothing, but his face gave away his feelings of horror at the mere thought. Edgar watched him closely as he continued. “I was furious when I got that letter – you’re lucky your stepmother was there to stop me boarding the first plane over here to tell you exactly what I thought of you. Now I’m frankly just disappointed, that any child of mine could act so spoilt and be so downright idle.”
“I wasn’t being spoilt…”
“Well what do you call it then? Thinking that allowances would be made for you and you can just swan through school doing nothing, without a care in the world when everyone else is working hard?”
“It doesn’t make you a very nice person, does it?” Ned stared down at the ground, feeling ever more upset as his father went on. “If you don’t work hard now, then what are you going to do later? You say you want to be an RAF pilot, but you won’t get into Cranwell without good grades and exemplary school record.”
Ned lifted his head to look his father in the eyes. “You think I don’t know that, Dad?”
Edgar’s face wore a sober expression as he stared back at his son. “Do you? Because from your behaviour this term, I’m not convinced that you do.”
“But I said in my letter - didn’t you get it?”
“Yes, I got it. But how do I know you were being sincere? That you weren’t just trying to worm your way out of trouble with me?”
“I wasn’t, I meant it!” Ned was starting to feel choked up and, determined not to cry, he took several deep breaths before he spoke again. “I’m not spoilt and idle, I’m…I’m not. I meant it that I was sorry. I was stupid and I’ve worked so hard to make it all up since and…and I’m just sorry, Dad.”
His voice broke slightly as he finished his sentence, and he turned his head away from his father to try and pull himself together. Edgar glanced at him from the corner of his eye. They sat in silence for a few moments, Ned with his head bowed, waiting desperately for his father to reply.
Eventually Edgar nodded his head. “Okay.”
Ned looked up at him. “Really?”
"Yes, really. Mr. Stevenson has told me how hard you’ve knuckled down and how your marks have improved since it all happened. I gather you’re regularly in the top half of the form nowadays?”
Ned nodded and hesitated a moment, before saying, “Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Can I…I mean, do you know if…well, did Stevenson say if I could play rugby again after half term?”
“Well that’s really up to you. Mr. Stevenson is inclined to let you, but he’s asked me to make the final decision in the matter.” Ned swallowed hard, as Edgar paused and watched him carefully. “If were to say yes, could you promise me that you would keep on working to the same standard as you have been these past few weeks?”
“Yes, I will - I really will, Dad, honest,” came the eager reply.
“Well in that case you can start again after half term. But if your marks drop off or if there’s any sign whatsoever that you’re not paying attention to your studies, then you’ll be in serious trouble. Mr. Stevenson and Dr. Putt will be getting weekly reports from all your masters and reporting them back to me, and believe me, none of us will be so lenient second time around.”
To his mind, Ned did not think they had been lenient this time around, but he didn’t dare say so. Instead he gave his father a broad smile. “Thanks Dad, you’re the best. Harry said you were a sport and he was right.” Edgar had to work hard to prevent himself chuckling at that statement, but Ned was too wrapped up in what he was saying to notice. “I’ll work really hard, Dad, I promise.”
“I hope so.” Edgar turned to face him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve always been so proud of you, Ned, and it was not a nice feeling being so disappointed in you these past few weeks. Please don’t give me cause to feel like that about you again.”
“I won’t, honestly.”
Edgar smiled. “I believe you won’t. Right, well let’s leave it there shall we? Are you hungry?”
"Well how about lunch at The Castle? It’s been a good few years since I was there – it’ll be a nice trip down memory lane.”
“Jolly good. A slap up meal it is then. I have to have dinner with Aunt Harriet tonight,” he added with a grin, “and you know how awful her cooking is!”
Ned laughed. “I know how awful she is!”
“Really, young man, how dare you talk of your great aunt in that manner! You should have more respect!” Edgar replied, a twinkle in his eye. Then, feeling a drop of water on his hand, he looked up at the heavy, grey skies and quickly got to his feet. “Come on, we’ll have to make a dash for it!” and as Ned scrambled up, the heavens opened.
They dashed back up the grassy slope, using the newspapers to shield them as best they could, and ran in through the terrace doors, shutting them firmly behind them as they went. Edgar paused for a moment, leaning against the wall to catch his breath.
“Good lord, I thought I was a bit fitter than this!” he panted, holding his sides. “I must start doing some proper exercise when I get home again!”
Ned wasn’t listening. He had wandered up the corridor towards the entrance hall, and was now standing staring up a the board above him. “You’re here, Dad.”
Edgar looked up, puzzled, to see his son pointing up at the wall. Then as the penny suddenly dropped, he walked down the corridor towards him, a wide grin lighting up his face. “You know, I remember writing that as if it were yesterday,” he said, looking up at the spot where his name was carved in the edge of the board in his tidy script. “Lot of water’s passed under the bridge since then. Look, here’s Uncle Paul, too,” he added, pointing to a name a few spaces below his. “And Matthews and Vialou-Clark – they both died in the war – and Collins. No idea what happened to him. And there’s Hooper and Lloyd-Evans and…”
Ned listened, enthralled, as Edgar reeled off little anecdotes about his former schoolmates. When he finally finished, he turned to his son with a grin.
“Where’s your name then?”
“Over here,” Ned replied, taking his father’s elbow and towing him a few feet further along. “See?”
Edgar looked down at him and smiled. “You know something? I’ve a feeling you’ll do both me and this house very proud one day.”
Ned stared back up at him, swallowing to clear the lump in his throat. “I won’t let you down, Dad, I promise.”
Placing a hand on the young boy's head, Edgar replied, “I know you won’t, son. Now come along, let’s get a move on or there’ll be no tables left and that won’t do at all! Ready to make a dash for the car?”
Ned grinned. “Race you!” and he tore off across the entrance hall and out of the front door, leaving his father trailing in his wake.
For anyone who's read the hardback of Ruey, this post fits around the bit when Joey & Co bump into Evvy in Paris, when they're on the way back to England for Peggy's wedding.
“I still can’t believe you invited her!” Evadne muttered, as she spread marmalade on her toast. “And now you’re leaving me to go meet the old coot too – thanks a bunch!”
Edgar chuckled and took a sip of his tea before he answered. “It’s not exactly easy to say no to her, you know – you met her at the wedding, you’re well aware of what she’s like.”
“The dullest, most pompous old dragon in the world – I know. Why do you think I’m so cross at you for asking her here? Pops and Veronica arrived back last night and I wanted a nice few days with them, and now we’ll have to lug her around everywhere we go!”
“She is horrid, Dad” Ned put in, between shovelling spoonfuls of cereal into his mouth.
At the same time, Marcia leaned over to whisper in Thea’s ear. “Who is she?”
“That thin, mean old lady who wouldn’t go home after the wedding, remember?” Thea whispered back loudly, and a horrified look came over Marcia’s face.
“Why d’you invite her, Daddy?”
Edgar glared around at them all. “First of all, I’d like to point out that I didn't invite her here,” he began in injured tones, “she invited herself! Secondly, I’m well aware she’s a ghastly old trout, but I’d like to see any of you trying to talk her down…”
“Just give me the opportunity,” Evvy interrupted.
“…and thirdly,” Edgar continued, giving his wife a stern look, “there’s nothing we can do about it now, so stop complaining, you load of old whingebags!”
The three children giggled and Evadne pulled a face at them. “It’s all very well for you to laugh – you three get to escape to Grandpa and Grandma’s for today at least. And you get to go to work,” she added mournfully to her husband. “I’m going to have to make nice with her all on my own. I hope you’ve at least filled the tank up - I don’t want to be running out of gas halfway to the airport and end up stuck on the side of the road.”
“I’ll be finished by mid-afternoon so I’m not abandoning you. And you don’t need to worry about petrol. Frederic’s driving you so you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the view.”
“Why’sh Fred’ic drivin’ me?” Evvy asked in surprise, her mouth full of toast. She swallowed before continuing. “I’m perfectly capable of driving myself.”
“Not in Paris, you’re not,” her husband replied, complacently.
“I beg your pardon! Why am I not capable of driving in Paris? I drive in Geneva perfectly fine.”
“Yes, and Geneva is a civilised, gentile city, full of drivers who have very good road sense. Paris, on the other hand, is a city full of people who drive like you!”
Ned spluttered with laughter, spraying orange juice across the table as he did so, and the two girls bit their lips and watched Evadne nervously as she sat there open-mouthed.
“There’s no point staring at me like a stranded codfish,” Edgar continued, “it’s not going to make me change my mind.”
“Well of all the cheek!” Evadne spat out, recovering herself sufficiently enough to reply. Then scraping her chair back, she stood up and stalked off into the bedroom.
There was silence at the table for a few moments, and then Marcia piped up with, “I think Mummy’s really cross.”
“She’ll calm down, don’t worry.” Popping the last mouthful of toast in his mouth, Edgar drained his teacup, wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up. “You three hurry up and finish eating, and then make sure you’ve all your things together to go to Grandpa Arthur’s. I don’t want you holding Mummy up with last minute rushing around,” and leaving them to do his bidding, he followed his wife into their bedroom.
Evadne was sitting at her vanity, putting the finishing touches to her make-up, and she looked up with a scowl as he came into the room, shutting the door behind him. “Come to patronise me a little more?”
Edgar sat down on the bed. “I didn’t mean to patronise you, Evvy, and I’m sorry, but I’m not having you driving in Paris and that’s that.”
“Just where do you get off, telling me what to do?” she retorted, spinning around properly to face him. “Just ‘cause I’m married to you, doesn’t mean I have to take orders from you!”
Heaving a sigh, Edgar replied, “I know that, and I’ve never ordered you to do anything before, as you well know. But I’m sorry, this time I’m putting my foot down…”
“Well, we’ll see about that!” she replied icily, and rising from her seat, she started to walk out of the room.
Edgar caught hold of her hand as she passed him and held her back. “Evvy, please just hear me out.”
She glared at him for a moment, then stopped trying to free herself and sat down on the bed beside him. “Fine! Say your piece so I can go and get on with everything I have to do.”
He shifted round so that he was facing her and took a deep breath. “Look, darling, you know you’re not the world’s greatest driver…”
“So?” she interrupted indignantly. “It’s not like I’ve ever had an accident – well not a real one anyhow,” she added, remembering the times her car had ended up in various parts of Edgar’s gardens back in Wiltshire and in her father’s front gates in Long Island.
“Yes I know, and if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to keep it that way.” Reaching out and taking hold of her other hand, he went on. “You know how people drive in this city, Evvy, and you’ve never driven here before. And on top of that, it’s teeming with rain out there and there’s a lovely storm brewing on the horizon. You and little Baby Watson are far too precious to me to risk on these roads. That’s why I’d like Frederic to take you to the airport and back – he knows the streets like the back of his hand and he’ll get you there safely.” Evadne swallowed and Edgar saw her expression soften at his words. “I’m sorry I’m ordering you around, but please will you go with me on this one?”
Evvy looked up at him and relented at the affection she saw in his eyes. “Suppose so.”
“Thank you. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” Leaning forward, he kissed her on the forehead and stood up. “Right, I’d better get going or I’ll be late for my meeting. I hope Aunt Harriet’s not too ghastly. I’ll get home as soon as I can,” and with that he walked back into the salon, and picked up his briefcase. “See you three later on,” he added to his children as he walked out of the apartment door.
Three hours later, having deposited the children with her parents for the day, Evadne was standing in the arrivals hall at Le Bourget, waiting for Aunt Harriet to arrive. Her plane had landed thirty minutes previously, but the final few passengers were still trailing out, and Evadne was thinking how typical it was that Edgar’s aunt should be one of the last to sort herself out.
When she still hadn’t appeared twenty minutes later, and passengers who had been on the next arrival from Basle were beginning to come out into the hall, Evvy began to get a bit concerned. Looking around her, she spotted a member of the airline staff behind a desk and made her way across to where he sat.
“How may I help you?” he asked, as he looked up and gave her a smile.
“I was wondering if there was anyone left to come through from the flight from London?” she queried, in her prettiest French. “I was waiting for someone and they haven’t yet appeared.”
“But no, Madame, everybody is through,” he replied. Then with an afterthought, he added, “but some passengers chose to remain in London when they saw the stormy weather. Perhaps your friend was one of those?”
Evadne nodded, feeling very relieved. Much as she disliked Aunt Harriet, she didn’t want anything to have happened to her and she could just imagine the elderly woman kicking up a fuss back in England about flying in a storm.
“I think perhaps you are right. Thank you,” she said to the clerk, and then turned back to leave with a smile on her face. Aunt Harriet was fine, and even better, still in London.
Checking the time, she saw that it was just gone midday. Plenty of time to get home before lunch. She began to walk towards the exit to find Frederic, when suddenly a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Yes; but it’s not the tourist season.”
Spinning around, she saw a tall, slim woman with jet black hair styled into earphones on either side of her head, surrounded by a gaggle of children ranging from teens down to tiny babies. To one side stood four other women whom she instantly recognised as Rosalie Dene, Miss Wilson, Miss Annersley and Mlle. Lachenais. Forgetting all about Frederic and the car, she cried “Joey, Rosalie! What in the world are you all doing here?” and throwing her dignity to the wind she ran towards them, her arms outstretched in welcome.
“So is her father really going into space?” Evadne asked in astonishment, as Joey finished telling her the story of the Richardsons.
They were back at the Watsons’ apartments in the city, having had lunch at the airport, and the two women had been gossiping for a good hour or so while Maeve and Sybil read magazines and occasionally listened in, and the younger children played with some old toys that Evadne had managed to find.
“He must be completely mad!”
“Oh quite the maddest, I’d say,” Jo replied, an eye on her elder twins who were showing signs of scrapping over a wooden horse. “He certainly seems bent on this whole space idea – it’s his entire life.”
“But to just dump his children and everything!” Evadne exclaimed, shaking her head. “Thank heavens you were at Tiernsee when you were.”
“I know – I hate to think what might have happened if we hadn’t come along.” Joey paused for a second, reflecting on Professor Richardson’s behaviour and then heaved a sigh. “Anyway, enough of them. Where’s your brood? Still in Geneva?”
Evadne shook her head. “They’re at Pops and Veronica’s for the day. I figured it would be bad enough trying to deal with getting Aunt Harriet back from the airport, without those three in tow as well. They’re not her biggest fans, and Ned, in particular, wouldn’t be able to help himself winding her up.”
Joey grinned. “How familiar that sounds! He and Stephen would get on a treat. Pity we couldn’t meet them, but maybe next time. Jack and I are in Geneva in January for a few days – barring accidents and illness of course - Jack’s got some big conference or other, so perhaps we can catch up with you then?”
“Yes, we must. You’ll have to come and stay.”
At that moment a key sounded in the lock, and everyone looked round as the door opened. Edgar, who had been expecting to find his wife and Aunt at daggers drawn, stopped in surprise at the seven pairs of eyes that were fixed upon him, and then looked at his wife with a grin.
“Well Aunt Harriet’s certainly looking better than she did last week!” he joked, as he walked across the room to where Evadne was sitting.
Laughing, she tilted her head up for his kiss, and then gestured to her visitors. “Edgar, this is my friend Joey, who you’ve heard so much about, and these are Maeve and Sybil, two of her nieces, and Felix, Felicity and Cecil, three of her children. Her newest two are asleep in the kids' bedroom. Everyone, this is Edgar, my husband,” she finished, with great pride.
“Pleased to meet you, Sir Edgar,” Joey said, rising to shake his hand. “I’ve certainly heard a lot about you!”
“Call me Edgar, please,” he said, returning the handshake and sitting down next to his wife. “I do hate all that ‘Sir’ business, especially among friends.”
“Comes in useful sometimes though!” Evvy put in, and he looked down at her with a grin.
“That it does. So where’s Aunt Harriet, anyway?”
“She never showed. The airline think she stayed in London ‘cause of the storms. I met Joey and a whole heap of other people there though, and Jo and all this lot came back with me for a while. We’ve been gossiping all afternoon!”
“I’m sure you have! So what brings you to Paris, Joey?” he asked, turning his attention to their guest.
“Just a quick stop over – we’re really on our way to England for Maeve’s sister’s wedding. We flew in from Basle this morning and meant to go on by boat, but the crossing would be too rough for the small fry in this weather so we let the others go on ahead and Jack’s booked us tickets on the afternoon flight.”
“Where is your husband? Did he go on too?”
Joey shook her head. “No, he’s visiting an old friend - he’ll meet us at the airport later.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, I’d have liked to have met him. I’ve heard a great deal about the pair of you too, as Evvy said – it’s nice to finally put a face to the name! Right then, I’m just going to get changed, and then how would everyone like some afternoon tea?”
They all answered enthusiastically, and chuckling, Edgar got to his feet to do as he said.
It wasn’t long before tea arrived from the hotel kitchens, and they soon settled down to a flowing conversation, Edgar finding himself a new friend in Cecil, who sat on his lap and refused to move.
Joey picked the last crumbs of pastry off her plate, and then putting it down on the side, she looked at her watch. “Heavens, it’s almost half past four already!” she exclaimed, jumping up. “We’d better think about making tracks – our flight leaves in an hour! Get your things together, you lot. Evvy, can we call for a taxi?”
“No need,” Edgar said, setting Cecil down on the floor and standing up. “I’ll drive you out there, and then Evvy and I can go to Arthur’s on the way back.”
“If you’re sure?” Joey said gratefully, as she bent down to put Cecil’s coat on.
“Of course, it’ll be my pleasure,” he replied with a grin. “Come on, Evvy, let’s give them a hand to get ready.”
With two extra pairs of hands to the deck, they were ready in no time, and while Edgar went to bring the car round to the front, Evadne hustled them all into the lift and down to the hotel lobby.
The weather had cleared up a little as the afternoon wore on, and with the roads clearer, they made it to the airport in good time. Jack was waiting for them, a little impatiently, in the departures hall when they arrived. There was just time for he and Edgar to get acquainted, and to agree that he and Jo would stay with the Watsons in Geneva in January, and then the Maynard party said their goodbyes and rushed off to get their flight.
Evadne and Edgar watched them go, and then turned to make their way back to the car. Evadne had suddenly gone very quiet once they had all departed, and as they climbed into their seats and shut the doors, Edgar turned to her, a little concerned.
“Evvy, is everything alright? You don’t quite seem yourself.”
Evadne glanced at him and shook her head. “You’ll think I'm an idiot.”
“More than usual, you mean?” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. Then as his wife glared at him, he relented. “No I won’t, I promise. Come on, tell me what’s up.”
“Well it’s just I’m worried…” she began hesitantly, and then took a deep breath. “When we first got back to the apartment earlier, I was helping Joey feed her new twins, and it made me realise how little I know about everything,” she said anxiously. “Jo pointed out how much I have to learn and she’s right. Edgar, I’m worried I’m going to be a terrible mother.”
“Oh sweetheart, come here,” Edgar replied, reaching out and pulling her towards him. “Of course you’ve lots to learn, but so does every parent the first time around. Joey may seem like an expert, but she’s had eleven, remember? This is your first. Do you really think she had any idea what she was doing when the triplets first came along?"
“But she was always so good with them,” his wife responded, getting more upset as she went on. “And Corney and Cassie and Elsie were so good with theirs too. I’m horrible with babies – you saw how Meg hated me when we were in Boston that summer.”
“Well I can’t speak for Cassie and Corney, but I can tell you that Elsie was just as scared about being a mother before Tom arrived, and she didn’t know any more than you do now. I’d bet any money the others felt just the same too, but they all managed just fine, and so will you.” Hugging her tighter, he lifted her chin so that she was looking up at him. “And remember, you have me, and I’ve been through this three times already – I’m sure even I must have picked something up from that!” Evadne chuckled and he bent his head to kiss her on the lips. “You already are a wonderful mother, Evvy, and you’re going to be just as wonderful when Baby Watson comes along.”
Evadne smiled as she gazed into his eyes, then sitting back upright, she turned to face him. “Edgar, I’ve something to tell you,” she began sheepishly, and he raised his eyebrows at her tone. “I told Joey about Baby.”
Edgar’s face broke into a broad grin. “Did you now?”
She nodded. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking and it just kind of came out. Are you cross?”
“Of course I’m not cross!” he replied, laughing at his wife’s worried face. “I was happy to keep it our secret, but I’m just as happy to shout it from the rooftops whenever you’re ready. You’re having our baby, and I want everyone to know it.”
Evadne stared at him for a second, and then leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek. “I really did marry the right man, didn’t I?” she said, smiling at his beaming face.
“Well I jolly well hope so,” he retorted, “because it’s a bit late to trade me in now!” Evadne laughed, and he turned to put his key in the ignition. “So, Lady Watson, how do you fancy going and announcing the news to the grandparents-to-be then?” and as she replied with a resounding ‘yes’, he started the car, and they drove off in the direction of the city centre to do just that.
Driving into the city against the rush-hour traffic, they made good time to the Rue de Faubourg. As they approached the front door of the apartment block where her parents lived, Evadne glanced up and saw three faces pressed against the window, staring down at the road below, and she tugged her husband’s arm.
“I think we’re being watched!” she said, pointing up at the windows above.
Edgar’s eyes followed her arm and he grinned as Marcia waved down at them. “I think they’re on Aunt Harriet watch,” he replied with a chuckle, waving back at his daughter. “Let’s go and break the happy news to them then!”
Laughing, Evadne put her hand through his arm, she led him into the building and across to the lift. As they stepped out on the top floor and approached the Lannis’ flat, the front door flew open and Ned appeared in the hallway.
“Where is she? Did you leave the old bat behind?”
“No, she’s just getting out of the lift behind us," Edgar replied with an innocent air.
Ned turned bright red and peered around Evadne at the empty hallway. Then looking back at his father suspiciously, he noticed the twinkle in his eyes. “You’re not funny!” he retorted stroppily, flouncing back into the flat.
Evvy laughed. “Well somebody’s in a good mood today! Wonder what’s got his goat?”
“Me, probably,” Edgar replied, grinning. “What I want to know is where’s our welcome party?”
As if on cue, Arthur appeared in the doorway, a somewhat-undersized floral apron tied around his waist and a teatowel in this hand. “Thought I heard your dulcet tones!” he exclaimed, coming forward to catch his daughter in a bear hug.
She returned his embrace and then, as he turned to shake Edgar's hand, she looked him up and down, her eyebrows raised. “Nice skirt, Poppa!”
Arthur peered down at the apron, and looked back at her with a grin. “I’m helping out in the kitchen, I’ll have you know! Apparently I don’t do enough around the house – can you believe the cheek of it? This is me proving my good wife wrong!”
“Erm – have you ever actually cooked before, Pops?”
“That, kiddo, is a moot point!” he replied, waving them into the apartment. “All I seem to have done so far is wash dishes. Honey, they’re here!” he called to his wife as he headed back to the kitchen again.
“Mummy, where’s Aunt Harriet?"
Evadne turned and saw Marcia standing by the door of the master bedroom. “She’s still in England, sweetie. She didn’t want to fly in the stormy weather.”
“D’you mean she’s not coming?”
“No, she’s not.”
“Ned, Thea, Aunt Nasty’s not coming!” Marcia cried, running back into the room again, and they heard excited exclamations coming from the other two.
Edgar chuckled. “Aunt Nasty, eh?” he whispered, winking at his wife. “It's a good job she didn't come, if that's her new moniker - you just know one of them would have slipped up and said it to her face!"
Evadne grinned. “Can you imagine?" she replied, pulling a face, "That would have been fun and games!"
“Come on through to the salon,” Arthur interrupted, coming out of the kitchen again, minus his apron this time. “Veronica’ll be through in a minute – she’s just adding the finishing touches to some masterpiece or other. Can I get either of you a drink?”
“Scotch for me, please, straight up.” Edgar replied, seating himself in a leather armchair and stretching out his legs
“Coming right up!” Arthur retorted.
Evadne raised her eyebrows questioningly at her husband, and Edgar nodded his head. “I’ll come give you a hand, Pops. We can have a catch-up while Edgar has a rest for a minute or two,” and she followed him out of the room and down the hall to the dining room, where the drinks cabinet was kept.
“So how’s my girl then?” he asked, as he opened the door and took out the whiskey. “Scotch for you too?"
“No thanks, I’ll just have a coffee or something,” she replied, perching herself on the dining table and watching him pour out the drinks. “And we’re terrific thanks – especially now Thea’s on the mend and Ned seems to have settled down.” She filled him in on everything that had been going on in the past few weeks, and as she finished, she heaved a sigh. “It does seem to have been one thing after another these past couple of months.”
“Ah, the trials and tribulations of family life,” Arthur said, putting the scotch away and turning back with a grin. “I remember it only too well! There may have only been one of you, but you were at least three kids’ worth of work at any one time!”
“Well excuse me! I was never that bad!” she retorted indignantly. Then as her father raised his eyebrows, she caved. “Okay, maybe I was. And the kids may be work,” she added with a smile, “but they’re worth every minute of it.”
Arthur gazed at her affectionately and leant back against the cabinet. “That’s a perfect little family you have yourself there, sweetheart.”
Evvy grinned. “Yes, I rather think so. I certainly wouldn’t trade them for the world.” She paused for a second, thinking before she went on. “Pops, guess what?” she said, changing the subject, “I saw Joey Maynard today - she was at the airport when I was waiting for Aunt Harriet. She had her family with her, and I helped her out feeding the new twins. They’re so ducky – you’d adore them.”
Arthur studied her face carefully as he replied. “I guess you kinda missed out on all that, didn’t you?” he asked, giving her a sympathetic smile.
A blush came over Evadne's cheeks as she stared back at him. “Well…maybe not.”
Arthur raised his eyebrows. “Are you and Edgar trying for a baby, then?”
"Not trying, exactly…” she replied, her cheeks flushing a deeper pink.
She watched him as he processed what she had just said, and then his eyes widened as the penny dropped. “You mean…?”
Evadne nodded, her eyes shining with happiness. “We’re having a baby – it’s due end of April! What do you think of that?”
A broad smile spread across Arthur’s face as he rushed towards her. “Oh sweetheart, that’s wonderful!” he exclaimed loudly, throwing his arms around her and wrapping her in a bear hug. “You’re really having a baby!”
“Shhhh!” she said hissed hurriedly, as she hugged him back. “The kids don’t know yet!” She pulled back and looked up at him. “You’re the first person we’ve told, other than Joey - I accidentally let slip to her this afternoon. We don’t want to tell the kids just yet. We’re not too sure how they’ll take it, especially Ned, so we’re gonna wait 'til Christmas when he’s home for a while and has longer to get used to the idea. I shouldn’t show too much before then.”
Arthur nodded. “That certainly makes sense.” He ran his eyes over her face and then looked her up and down. “How are you feeling? Have you been sick at all? Are you eating properly? I hope you’re taking care of yourself!”
“Of course I am! Edgar would have something to say if I wasn’t. Both Baby and I are in wonderful health, thank you very much.” She grinned, as she added. “I do keep weeping and flying off the handle at the slightest thing though - my moods are all over the place. Poor old Edgar’s getting the brunt of it!”
“So I imagine!” Arthur chuckled. “I remember your mother when she was pregnant with you. She harangued some poor fellow in a restaurant when they ran out of the dish she wanted and then burst into tears on him – I had to hurry her out of the place with some excuse or other!”
Evvy smiled. "So d’you reckon you’re ready for another baby in your life then?”
“You bet your bottom dollar I am! This is the best news I’ve had in a long while!” he exclaimed, leaning in to hug her again.
“I see she’s told you then?” Arthur looked up to see Edgar grinning at him from doorway.
“You bet she has!” He hurried forward and grabbed Edgar’s hand to shake it, and then said, “Oh, rats to that!” and pulled him into a hug, thumping him on the back so hard that Edgar almost choked. “Wonderful, really wonderful.” Turning back to the drinks cabinet before Edgar could reply, he grabbed the tumblers off the sideboard and pressed one into his son-in-law’s hand. “Here’s to you all!” he cried, and downed his drink in one.
Evadne watched, amused, as Edgar paused for a second, and then decided he may as well follow suit. Arthur, meanwhile, was busy rifling though the drinks cabinet. “Aha – here she is!” he proclaimed, standing up straight and brandishing an expensive bottle of whiskey. “Forget that swill – let’s crack open this little beauty!”
At that moment, Veronica appeared in the doorway. “Arthur, what on earth are you doing? They must be able to hear you in the street! Evvy, how are you?” As she came forward to greet her stepdaughter with a peck on the cheek, she noticed the bottle of scotch in Edgar’s hand and raised her eyebrows. “What’s going on?” she asked, looking around them all. “You never break that stuff open!”
“We, my dear, are going to be grandparents again – my little girl is having a baby!” Arthur announced at the top of his voice, flinging his arm around his wife's shoulders.
“Pops – shhhhhhhh!” Evvy exclaimed, glancing warily at the open door. “They’re gonna to hear you! Edgar, shut the door won't you, before he bellows again!”
As Arthur looked sheepish, Veronica gave them both a congratulatory hug and Edgar shook his head. “Don't worry - I sent them down to Pierre’s to get some cakes for dessert, so they won’t hear a thing.”
“Well in that case, here you are!” Arthur began handing out drinks to each of them, and Evvy held up her hand. “No thanks, Pops, I’m fine, honestly.'
“Nonsense – it’s not even a finger-full!” he retorted, pressing it into her hand, and she accepted it with a roll of her eyes. He picked his own glass up off the counter and held it up. “To the new baby Watson!”
As they all repeated his toast and took a sip, Edgar moved across to perch on the table next to his wife, and she leant towards him and whispered in his ear. He smiled and nodded in reply, and she turned to her stepmother. “Veronica, do you mind if I ask a favour?”
“Not at all,” that lady replied, looking up with a smile. “What can I do for you?”
“Well we were wondering if after Baby’s born, you’d come down and stay awhile – help me out. I know lots of women have their mom to help them out at the beginning, and I’d kinda like that too.”
Veronica’s eyes welled up. “Oh Evvy, of course I will!” she replied, and walking over to the table, she gave her stepdaughter another hug.
Her emotion set Evadne off, and she started to sniff, tears escaping down her face as she hugged Veronica back. Edgar laughed and pulled out his handkerchief. “Here you are, weepy, mop up!” he said, handing it over, as she pulled back and accepted it with a watery smile.
Arthur watched on with a grin, as his wife pulled out her own handkerchief and came back to stand by his side. “I hope you two realise that if my wife’s coming, I’m coming too – if only to spoil my grandchildren and get in the way!” As they laughed, they heard a key in the front door, and it opened to the sound of Marcia’s voice talking about cakes. Arthur looked at Veronica and inclined his head towards the door. “We’ll see to them,” and they left the room, leaving Evvy and Edgar alone.
Evadne wiped her eyes and handed the handkerchief back to her husband. “Well I think Poppa was pleased!”
“I can’t think what gave that away!” Edgar laughed. Then placing one arm around her shoulders and another on her belly, he asked, “You feeling a little better about things now?”
Evvy smiled and nodded, gazing up into his soft, green eyes. “Thank you for putting up with me, Edgar. I know I’m silly, what with all the crying and all, and the fuss earlier. I’ve been a regular waterspout lately.”
“Well it just so happens I’m very fond of waterspouts,” he replied, returning her gaze. “Especially those that are carrying my child.”
“You mean I’m not the only one?” she returned, a mischievous grin on her face as she raised her arms and slipped them round his neck.
“Damn it, you’ve found me out!” he quipped back. “But you’re the most beautiful, I promise!”
“So I should hope!” Lifting a hand and running it through the back of his hair, she whispered, “I love you,” and reached up to kiss him.
When they finally broke apart, he released her and stood up, holding out a hand and pulling her off the table and onto her feet. “Come on you, I think we should go and rescue your poor parents. They’ve had those three under their feet all day.”
Opening the door, they heard shouting coming from the master bedroom, and hurrying down the hall, they found Marcia standing with her hands behind her back, squealing while Ned held on to her, yelling at her as he tried to grab whatever she was holding, and Thea tried to break the pair of them apart.
“Give me it back now!”
“No - finders keepers, losers weepers!” Marcia retorted, sticking her tongue out at her brother.
Rolling his eyes at his wife, Edgar strode forward and took hold of Marcia’s shoulders. Reaching down, he grabbed the book from her hands, returning it to his son, and then picked her up, swinging her over his shoulder. “Right, madam, if you can’t play nicely, you can jolly well sit with me for the rest of the evening. You two behave yourselves, or the same will happen to you,” he added to Ned and Thea, and turning, he carried a protesting Marcia out of the room, startling Veronica as he went.
“Is everything alright?” she asked Evadne, “I heard shouting.”
“Oh everything’s fine!” Evvy replied with a giggle. “Nothing we don’t get every day! Come on, let’s go join them,” and slipping her hand through her stepmother’s arm, they made their way back to the salon.
The next few weeks seemed to go by in a flash. They had a wonderful last few days in Paris, spending time with Arthur and Veronica and heading out on day trips to places like Amiens and Versailles. Then, when Ned returned to Harrow for the second half of his term, the rest of the Watson family flew back to Geneva, ready for the two girls to start their new school.
This had proved to be a resounding success. Marcia, of course, had Ann starting with her, and settled in like a duck to water. Thea had been understandably anxious, but after a nervous start, she had settled in and made some new friends, much to her parents' relief. She still was not quite back to her old herself, but she was slowly getting there with time and the love and support of her family.
It was now three weeks since they had returned to Geneva, and Evadne was sitting with her feet up on a chaise longue in the family room, embarking on her latest quest – to learn how to knit. Truth be told, she really wasn’t very good and the little blanket that she was knitting had holes here and there, but she was surprisingly enthusiastic about the whole thing, and with Guilia to help her, she could now occasionally manage a whole row without dropping a stitch. She had just placed her work down on the table and was about to go and make a cup of tea, when the door opened and Edgar appeared.
“Evvy, I’ve been thinking...”
“Did it hurt much?”
She giggled as she spoke, and Edgar looked back at her with a frown. “You know, it’s very bad form to laugh at your own jokes – especially one as unfunny as that was!”
“What’s got you?” she asked in surprise, eyebrows raised at his tone. “Did you lose your sense of humour since lunch?”
“No of course not, don’t be stupid,” he answered testily. “I’ve just got a lot of things on my mind, that’s all, and you sitting around making fatuous comments isn’t exactly helping.”
“Hey, that’s not fair! What did I do?”
Realising he was being unfair, Edgar sighed and shook his head. “You didn’t do anything, darling, I’m sorry. I’m just not having the best of days.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” he replied, bending down to kiss the top of her head, before seating himself in the armchair opposite her. “Now as…”
“Edgar, don’t do that!” she interrupted, a little indignantly. “Clearly something’s wrong, so rather than take it out on me, why don’t you talk about it? I’m not completely useless – I may actually be able to help!”
He stared at her for a second, and then getting to his feet, he walked out of the room again. Evadne was just about to follow to berate him for walking out on her, when he returned, a letter clutched in his hand. He handed it to her, and then sat down again with resigned air.
Full of curiosity, she pulled the typewritten sheets out of the envelope, unfolded them, and began to read. It was from the Head of a small, private school, currently based just outside Shrewsbury who, due to problems with their current landlords, would be looking for new accommodation come the Spring term. He had heard through an old friend, one Mrs. Symington, that Whitlingford Hall was currently uninhabited, and wondered whether Edgar would consider renting it to them, at a reasonable cost of course.
Evadne finished reading, and then placing the letter back in the envelope, she turned to her husband, intrigued. “What are you going to say?”
Edgar shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. I mean, part of me wants to say no, just keep it as our English home, but on the other hand the place costs a small fortune to run and the money from the rent would come in very handy with the upkeep.” He paused for a moment. “What do you think?”
“Well how long do they want it for? I notice this Mr. Bell doesn’t say. I guess if it’s only for six months or so, that’d make a difference."
“I’m not sure, to be honest. I tried to contact him to find out, but he just wired back to ask if there was any way I could go and meet him.”
“And will you?”
“Yes, I think so. It might help me make up my mind. That’s what I came in to talk to you about in the first place, actually. I thought that maybe we could combine it with a trip to go and see Ned play rugby – if we make it exeat weekend too, he could spend his break with us instead of having to go to Paul and Elsie. How does that sound to you?”
“Fun!” Evadne returned with a grin. “Any chance we could see Paul and Elsie too? I know you’ve seen Paul, but I've not seen them at all and I miss them! We could tell them about Baby instead of waiting for New Year.”
Edgar smiled. “I don’t see why not. I’ll go and start making arrangements shall I? Where are the girls by the way?” he asked, getting to his feet.
“Next door with Anton. He has some new lizard or other he wanted them to see. I was just about to go make some tea when you came in – d’you want some?”
“Yes please. Can make it rather than Guilia though? You know just how I like it!'
“Of course!” she replied, getting to her feet and feeling rather pleased at his comment. “You go get on with booking flights and doing arrange-y things,” she added, putting her hands on his bottom and pushing him towards the door. “I’ll bring it through to you when I’m done.”
And so a week later, early on the Saturday morning, they found themselves seated in the Rodwells’ kitchen in Hampshire, having flown in from Switzerland the previous day. They had stayed the night with Paul and Elsie, and all four of them were heading to Harrow to watch Ned's rugby match, as Paul and Edgar had decided that it would be fun to return to their old school together and reminisce. The two girls had remained in Geneva, so as not to miss any school, and were being looked after by their next door neighbour for the weekend, a prospect that excited them greatly, as the eccentric Mr. Baertschi was always a great deal of fun.
Elsie was standing by the stove, dishing up some scrambled eggs for breakfast. The previous evening, the Watsons had broken the news that Evadne was expecting and, Elsie had got thoroughly over-excited. Now, as she placed everybody’s plate in front of them and returned to the grill to check how the toast was coming along, Evadne surveyed the mountain of eggs on the plate in front of her and then looked up at her friend with a grin.
“Elsie, are you trying to make me fat?”
As their husbands laughed, Elsie turned to face her with a frown. “What?” she replied in injured tones. “You need feeding up now you’re eating for more than one! Lily, don’t slop your food!” she added to her daughter, who was busy spilling her eggs on the tablecloth.
Evvy looked down at her plate, and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, but how many babies d'you think I’m having? There’s enough here to feed a small platoon!”
“Oh stop moaning and just eat it! I’m sure Edgar and Paul will finish it if you can’t. Since when have you ever complained about being given too much food before, anyway?”
“I’m still stuffed from the five gallons of stew you served me last night!” Evvy retorted, giving lie to her words as she shovelled a forkful into her mouth.
“So we can see!” her husband put in with a grin.
“It’s important I’m stoked up against the cold fall weather!” she retorted, swallowing a mouthful. “I’m in a delicate state as you well know!”
“I’m really looking forward to today, you know,” Paul interjected, changing the subject as his wife stuck her tongue out at her friend and sat down with her own plate. “I’ve lost track of how many years it is since I went back to the old school – a good ten years at least! Has it changed much?”
Edgar shook his head. “Not really. Different faces, and some new houses have sprung up, but you’ll recognise it alright!”
“Daddy, I want to go! I want to see Ned!”
Five-year-old Lily was staying with Paul’s sister for the day and she had been protesting about missing out on the trip to Harrow ever since waking up that morning. Paul turned to his daughter with a smile and shook his head.
“Lily, we’ve been through this about ten times already. You’re staying with Auntie Clare, and that’s that. You can see Ned at New Year when we go out to Geneva.”
“No buts – that’s my final word on the matter. Have you finished your breakfast?” She nodded, a sulky expression on her little face. “Good girl. You can get down if you like. Auntie Clare will be here shortly – why don’t you find your new doll to show her?” Lily jumped down and stropped out of the kitchen, and Paul grinned. “Kids, eh? Who’d have ‘em?”
Edgar smiled. “They don’t grow out of it either,” he said, as Evadne nodded in agreement. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve got a thirty-four year old in my home who still sulks like that!”
Elsie snorted with laughter and then choked as tea came out of her nose. Evadne’s jaw dropped and she had to open and close her mouth a few times before she found her voice again. “Just you wait ‘til I get you on your own, Edgar Watson!”
“No time now, my dear,” he replied, with a wink. “We have to get going shortly and you’ve still got that mountain of food to get through. Want a hand?”
“Not from you, no! Paul – you still hungry?” she asked, turning to her host. Paul answered in the affirmative and she shovelled half of her eggs onto his plate. He promptly exchanged plates with Edgar and gave her a complacent smile. Evadne glared at the pair of them. “Urgh, you're both just rotten pigs!” she exclaimed, and refused to speak to either of them for rest of the meal, only serving to prove Edgar’s point.
It was just gone nine o’clock when they finally arrived in Harrow-on-the-Hill. With the match due to kick off at ten and with no morning school, it being exeat weekend, there was ample time for Ned to give Evadne and Elsie a tour of his boarding house, while Paul and Edgar took themselves off on a trip down memory lane. By ten o’clock, all four of them had reconvened beside the school playing fields, ready to cheer the Under 13’s rugby team on against the visiting side from Berkhamsted School. The match ended in a resounding victory for the home side, and as Ned scored one try and set up two more, his little band of supporters cheered themselves hoarse.
Despite not having the first idea what was going on, Evadne was the most enthusiastic of all. Just after half-time, as Ned was making a dash down the left wing, heading for the try line, he heard a familiar voice cry “Go Harrow! Show the brainless chumps what you’re made of!”, and he was so surprised, he looked around, slowed down, and was promptly tackled into touch. Everybody on the sidelines and even most of the players began to laugh, and as Ned picked himself off and slunk back onto the pitch, a mortified Edgar clamped his hand firmly over his wife’s mouth and told her in no uncertain terms that that sort of thing really wasn’t on. After that, she gave somewhat more sporting, though no less enthusiastic encouragement, and the rest of the match passed without incident, much to her stepson’s relief.
Following the end of the game, Ned had to attend the match tea - or in this case lunch - and some house business before going home, so Edgar suggested that the four of them head to The Castle inn for lunch, which was near enough for Ned to walk to when he was done. They had a riotous meal, during which Edgar and Paul sank several pints of bitter and tried desperately to outdo each other in recounting tales of their school days, while Evadne and Elsie sipped their glasses of water and watched their husband’s get steadily more drunk as time went on.
Once they had finished eating, the two men moved onto scotch, with the result that by two o’clock they were three sheets to the wind, had come full circle with the stories and were now starting to tell the first ones all over again. As Edgar finished arguing that they had definitely used a sheet bend and not a reef knot to tie together the sheets they had used to climb down from their study window at night, Paul got to his feet and lurched off towards the toilets, and Edgar turned to his wife.
“It was defin’ly a beet-shend,” he slurred, putting an arm around her shoulders and leaning heavily against her. “You b’lieve me, don’t you.”
Evadne looked across at Elsie and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Edgar, of course I believe you,” she replied, smiling and patting his knee. She watched as she picked up his glass and drained it. “Can I get you a glass of water now?”
Edgar shook his head vigorously. “Another scotsh. Paul!” he bellowed, as that gentleman emerged from the toilets and looked around bewildered, wondering who had called his name. “Two more scotsh, ol’ chap!"
Paul located them, waved to show that he understood, and made his way to the bar, tripping over a non-existent bump in the carpet as he went. Thankfully, he simply fell against the counter and gurning at the barman, he ordered two more drinks.
Edgar turned back to his wife, and leaning down, he whispered in loudly in her ear, “You’re my wife!”
Evadne looked at him in amusement. “I am? You sure about that?”
He nodded. “You are. You’re my wife, an' I love you,” and so-saying, he planted a large, sloppy kiss on her cheek.
“I love you too, baby,” she replied, using her handkerchief to wipe her cheek.
Edgar sat up straight again, looking very pleased with himself, as Paul returned with their drinks. He set them down in the table and then went to sit down next to Elsie. Sadly he aimed a little to the left of the stool and ended up on his backside on the floor. As Edgar guffawed with laughter and Evadne giggled, Elsie heaved a sigh and stood up, putting her hands under her husband’s arms and helping him back up again.
“Right, this is the last one you’re having and then we’re going home!” she stated, as she sat back down, and Paul and Edgar became embroiled in yet another debate. “Evvy, any idea what time Ned was going to be ready?”
“Any moment now I reckon,” she said checking her watch, then as the outside door opened and Ned and Harry, who was joining them for the weekend, walked in, she grinned. “Talk of the devil!”
Ned smiled as he spotted his parents, and the two boys made their way over to join them. “We’re ready when you are!” he announced as he reached the table, “our stuff’s outside next to the car. We couldn’t be bothered to haul it all in here for five minutes.”
Edgar looked up at the sound of his son’s voice. “Ned!” he shouted, as if that young man were at the other end of the street and not standing next to him, “My shon the rugby star!” he announced to the pub at the top of his voice, as Ned gaped at him in amazement and turned bright red.
“He scored a try!” Paul confided loudly to the couple sitting at the table behind them, and they nodded politely in return.
Ned turned horrified eyes on his stepmother, as his father reached up and thumped him on the back and then raised his glass in a toast to his son’s achievements, much to Harry’s amusement. “What’s got into him?”
“I believe it’s called beer and scotch!” Evadne replied, and Ned grinned back at her.
“You mean he’s drunk?” She nodded. “Brilliant! I’m proud of you, Dad!” he said, returning Edgar’s thump on the back and causing his father to spill his drink all over his trousers.
Edgar looked up, confused, and Evadne got to her feet, deciding it was time to take things in hand. “Okay, it’s time we were all going. Edgar, car keys please,” she said, holding out her hand. Edgar fished in his pocket and handed them over, and she looked over at Elsie as her friend followed her example and hauled Paul to his feet. “Elsie, you gonna be okay taking him home on your own?”
Elsie smiled, pushing her husband in the direction of the door. “I’ll be fine. If he doesn’t get out at the other end, I’ll just leave him in the car for the night!”
“Are you driving?” Ned asked Evadne, as they walked out of the pub and up the road towards the car. When Evadne nodded, he pulled a face and turned to Harry. “Better get your crash helmet out, Evvy’s a terror in charge of a car!”
Evadne turned to face him as she stopped and put her keys in the driver’s door. “Who would you rather have drive you right now – me or your drunk skunk of a father?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“Good point! Where is he anyway?”
They all turned to look back in the direction from which they came, and saw Elsie trying hard to hold Paul up with one hand, and prise Edgar away from the pub wall, against which he was leaning, with the other.
“Ned, go help Aunt Elsie will you?” his stepmother asked, shaking her head. “Else we’ll be stuck here for hours.”
Ned ran back to do her bidding and fifteen minutes later, they had succeeded in getting both men to stop saying farewell and get in their respective cars. Evadne hugged her friend goodbye, promising to write soon, and then climbed behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. She was just pulling out from the parking space, when she heard a sound like a misfiring motorbike engine and, looking round, she saw her husband, head back against the headrest, fast asleep and snoring like a trooper. As Ned and Harry began to laugh in the backseat, she grinned at the pair of them in the rear view mirror.
“Well that’ll save us having to hear the same tales all the way home,” she stated, and with that she pulled away from the kerb.
Edgar slept the entire way back to Wiltshire, and when they arrived at Whitlingford Hall, he awoke to find his hangover already kicking in. He greeted the staff who kept the house running when the family were not around, and then took himself off to the drawing room to lie down. Evadne made her way to the kitchen, where she fixed him her father’s hangover cure of a Bloody Mary with a raw egg, and then left him to himself. By dinner he was feeling vaguely human again, and was at least able to spend some time with his son and Harry before it was time to go to bed.
The following morning, he was up and about bright and early, despite his still throbbing head, as the head of the Shrewsbury school was due to pay a visit. That man duly arrived at eleven o’clock and an hour later, once he had left again, Evadne found her husband sitting on the low wall surrounding the terrace, overlooking the gardens. Wrapping her arms around her chest, for it was a cold November day outside, she made her way across the flagstones and sat down next to him.
“Penny for ‘em?”
Edgar turned his head towards her and smiled. “Not sure they’re worth that much.”
Evadne studied his face closely, before asking, “How’s the head today?”
“A little better, thanks. Sorry we were such louts yesterday. I’ve not been like that in for an asbolute age.”
“Oh rats to that – don’t be sorry, you had fun!” she replied. “No skin off my nose for you to let your hair down once in a while. Anyhow, it was kinda interesting hearing the same story fifteen times over!” Edgar cringed and she decided to take pity on him. “So what did Mr. Bell have to say?”
“Pretty much what he said in his letter. They need to move the school immediately after Christmas, and they’re looking for somewhere for at least a couple of years. It would certainly mean we wouldn’t have to worry about the upkeep here.”
Edgar shook his head. “Oh I don’t know, I’m probably just being stupid.”
“Well…” He glanced up at her, and seeing the empathy in her eyes, he heaved a sigh. “It’s just the sentiment, I suppose. This was my childhood home, however cold and impersonal I found it at times. And then it was our family home for so many years, and all the children's memories are tied up here, and Madeleine and Amelia and my parents are all buried in the churchyard.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I’m just not sure I can bear the idea of someone else taking it over, even it’s only for a few years.”
Evadne stared at him for a moment, noting the trouble and worry etched on his face, and reaching out, she placed her hand over his. “Then don’t do it, Edgar.”
“But the money and…”
“Forget about the money. You earn a decent wage, and I’ve my money from Pops – that’s more than enough for us to live on. Your inheritance can take care of this place for now.” She could see that he was still unconvinced and tried another tack. “Look, your commission with the U.N. is for five years, right?” He nodded. “Well then, let’s not make any decision til that's up. Who knows, we may end up coming back and living here after all. And if not, and you’re still worried about the cost of it all, we can think about what to do when we get there. Don’t let this school coming along force your hand.”
Edgar stared across the gardens again for a minute or so, as she watched him nervously, and then he smiled, taking her hand in his. “You’re right.”
“Course I am – what did you expect?” she retorted, a twinkle in her eye. “So you’re gonna say no to the school?”
Edgar nodded. “I know they’ll think me incredibly selfish, but it just doesn’t feel right.” He gave her a wry grin. “I imagine Mrs. Symington’ll have a thing or two to say.”
“Oh phooey to her!” his wife replied, waving her hand in the general direction of the village. “She’s just bitter she didn’t get you and I did!”
Edgar laughed, and jumping down from the wall onto the grass below, he turned and reached his arms up to her. “Well come on then, Lady Watson, let’s go spend the afternoon with our son before we have to take him back to school! I think they’re practising their throwing down in the bottom field.” Evadne grinned and carefully lowered herself down, and he caught her in his arms as she landed.
“Thanks, Evvy,” he said, smiling down at her. Then pulling back slightly, he ran a hand over her stomach. “Elsie was right, you know, you can definitely see the bump when you wear those slimmer dresses. And there was me thinking she was imagining it in her excitement!"
“I know - I was admiring it in the mirror this morning! Thankfully it’s not so big that Ned’ll start asking questions just yet. He'll probably just think I've overeaten! We’ll have to tell them as soon as he gets home for the holidays though.”
“Agreed. Now, come along and learn the rules of rugby – it’s about time you did!” and taking hold of her hand, they walked across the manicured lawn towards the field at the far side of the grounds, where the boys’ voices could be heard as they threw the rugby ball to and fro.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Bir…ouf!” Marcia’s singing was halted abruptly as a pillow hit her square in the face, and she glared at her sister. “Why d’you do that? I was only doing Happy Birthday!” she asked indignantly as she threw it back.
Thea caught it and, tucking it behind her, she sat up properly and pulled her knees up to her chest. “’Cause it’s Saturday and it’s half-past six, that’s why!”
“Mummy and Daddy are still asleep, you ninny! They’ll be really cross if we wake them up.”
“Oh!” Comprehension dawned on Marcia’s face, and she made her way across the room and sat down on her sister’s bed, clutching a wrapped box in her hand. Grinning, she whispered, “Happy Birthday, dear Thea, Happy Birthday to you! Here, this is your present from me! I couldn’t wait for Mummy and Daddy to give it to you – I want you to have it now.”
Thea smiled as she took hold of it, pulling off the card and opening that first. She set it down on her bedside table, and then turned back to the parcel, ripping the wrapping paper off to reveal a box. She held it up to her ear and shook it.
Marcia couldn’t wait any longer. “Come on, open it!”
Grinning, Thea, lifted the lid. Inside was a smart, black riding hat. “Oh Marcia, thanks!” she cried, hugging her sister tight.
“D’you like it?”
“I love it! It’s exactly what I wanted!” Thea replied, her eyes shining with delight. Not long after half-term, Kate Cranston, with whom she had indeed become friends, had invited her to go riding, and ever since then she had been obsessed with horses. She had pestered her parents almost every day for the past six weeks to be allowed riding lessons, so far eliciting no better response than “We’ll see.” Now Marcia had bought her a riding hat. She felt like she was finally on her way.
“Try it on, see if it fits,” Marcia said.
Grinning, Thea pulled it on her head, doing up the strap under her chin, and when she finished, she lifted her head to look at her sister. “Well?” Marcia giggled. “What?”
“You look funny wearing a riding hat with your nightie!” She leant forward and tapped Thea on the head.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Checking it works of course!”
Thea laughed, and stretched out her leg under the covers to kick her little sister playfully. She kicked a little harder than she meant to, however, and not expecting it, Marcia overbalanced, shrieking as she fell off the bed and onto the floor.
“Shhhh! You’ll wake Mummy and Daddy!” Thea hissed, as well as she could for her giggles, as her sister rolled over on the floor, consumed with laughter.
“Mummy and Daddy are already awake!”
The sound of a new voice brought them both to their senses, and Marcia got to her feet hurriedly as Evadne came into the room. “Sorry, Mummy, I fell off the bed.”
“So I gathered!” Evadne replied, a twinkle in her eye. “Sounded like a baby elephant! How about you run downstairs and find Daddy? He’s gone to put the kettle on.” She crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to Thea, as Marcia ran out of the door. “Happy Birthday, sweetie,” she said, kissing Thea on the cheek. “Do you feel old now you’re ten?”
Thea nodded. “I feel grown up! Mummy, did you see what Marcia gave me?” she asked excitedly, pointing to her head.
“Very smart! Looks very good with your nightgown too!” Thea giggled again, and Evadne grinned. “It’s a good job she got you something, ‘cause Daddy and I forgot!”
“No you didn’t!” Thea retorted.. “I know you got me something – Daddy never forgets!”
“Okay, you've rumbled me. Do you want it now, after breakfast, or after your friends come for lunch?”
Still somewhat fragile from her experiences at her first school, Thea had decided against having a birthday party, as she had convinced herself that people might not want to come. Instead she was having Kate, Ann and her two new friends from school, Lucy and Celine, over for lunch. A family birthday tea had then been arranged for the evening, as Ned was due home mid-afternoon for the start of his Christmas holidays.
Thea beamed back at her stepmother. “Now please!”
“Alright then,” Evvy fished in her dressing gown pocket and handed over a pink envelope. “There you go.”
Thea gave her a quizzical glance and ripped it open. Inside, she was disappointed to find nothing but a card and a picture of a horse, cut out from a magazine. She peered into the envelope again to double check, and then gave her stepmother a frown. “That’s not fair!”
“You said you wanted what we’d bought you!”
“That’s not what I meant! You’re mean!”
Evadne grinned and relented. “Well in that case, I suggest you head down to the family room, see what your father’s been up to!”
Thea did not need telling twice. Scrambling out of bed, she quickly took off her hat, thrust her feet into her slippers, and ran out of the room, trailing her dressing gown behind her. She took the stairs two at a time, sped across the hall, not noticing the sheet that had been draped over Millicent Mary, and burst into the living room to find her father sitting in a chair, reading a book and sipping a cup of tea.
He looked up with a smile. “Happy Birthday, darling. How does it feel to be so grown up?” he asked, putting his tea down and holding out his arms.
“Nice!” she replied, glancing around her as she walked across to give him a hug. “Daddy, have you been doing my present?”
“What present?” he queried innocently, picking up his tea and taking another sip. “Didn’t Mummy give you our card?”
Thea nodded. “Yes, but she said you had my present!”
“Did she? How extraordinary!”
Thea glared at him for a second, then noticing the edges of his mouth twitching as he tried to keep a straight face, she gave a whoop of excitement and ran to look behind the nearest sofa. Finding nothing there, she ran across to the large corner sofa, only to find the space behind there empty too. Not to be defeated, she continued her search, looking behind curtains, in cabinets and under tables. Eventually, when she had exhausted everywhere she could think of, she turned back to her father with a frown.
“Where did you hide it?”
“Where did I hide what?”
“Daddy, stop teasing!”
Suddenly there was a noise from the hallway, and the door was pushed fully open to reveal Evadne towing Millicent Mary, who had had her wheels reinstated in honour of the special occasion. On top of her sat Marcia, a big grin on her face and a shiny, new saddle clutched in her arms. Thea gave a yell of joy and ran forward, taking the saddle from her sister and admiring it with shining eyes.
“Is this really mine?”
Evadne smiled and nodded. “Sure is – and so is the rest of what Marcia is holding and Millicent Mary is wearing.”
Thea turned and noticed that Millicent Mary was wearing a bridle and reins. Marcia jumped down and reached back up onto the wooden dog’s back, pulling down a riding jacket and jodhpurs. “There’s some boots out in the hall too, but I couldn’t carry them, they’re all from Mummy and Daddy, and a crop too, which is from me as well as the hat. Mummy had to help me buy it ‘cause I didn’t have enough pocket money even though I’d saved” she gabbled, handing them over.
Thea took them mutely, staring at them, unable to speak at first. Then dropping the saddle and flinging the clothes onto Millicent Mary’s back, she cried, “Thank you!” and threw herself first on Evadne, and then on her father, who laughed and hauled her up into his lap.
“Did we get it all right?”
She nodded, bouncing up and down in her excitement. “It’s all terrific, Daddy!”
“There’s just one more thing,” Evadne said, coming forward and holding out Thea’s birthday card. “Have a closer look at the picture.”
Full of curiosity, Thea took the envelope, pulled out the picture of the horse and studied it, reading the writing underneath. “It’s Pilgrim, Kate’s other horse,” she said, looking up, confused. “Are they selling him?”
Edgar smiled. “Not any more. We bought him yesterday - now he’s your horse.”
Thea’s mouth fell open. “Mine?”
“Yes, yours,” her father replied with a grin. “We’re keeping him stabled at the Cranstons, and you’ll be having riding lessons with Kate as soon as the weather warms up again. In the meantime, Mrs. Cranston has said you can go over and visit him whenever you like.”
Utterly overwhelmed, Thea stared at her parents and then burst into tears, burying her head in her father’s shoulder. He hugged her tightly, smiling up at his wife. “Are you alright, sweetheart?” he asked his daughter, handing her a handkerchief as she pulled her head back. She nodded, gave him a watery smile and blew her nose loudly.
“Thea, what’s wrong?”
Thea turned to look into the concerned face of her younger sister. “Nothing,” she said, laughing as she scrubbed her eyes. “I’m really happy.”
“Oh.” Marcia looked thoroughly confused as to why this should make her sister cry, but she decided to let it go, saying instead, “Do you like your new horse?”
Thea looked down at the picture still clutched in her hand, and nodded her head. “Very much! You can ride him too, Marcia.”
“No fear!” Marcia replied, her eyes wide in horror at the thought. “Don’t like horses – their teeth are too big! Let’s take your things upstairs and you can try them on,” she added, holding out her hand.
“Okay!” She was about to scramble down from her father’s knee, when she suddenly turned back and gave him another hug. “Thank you, Daddy, this is the best present ever!”
“You’re welcome, darling,” he returned, hugging her back.
She jumped down from his lap, giving her stepmother a quick hug and kiss, and then tore out of the room after her sister, collecting her new clothes as she went.
“Breakfast will be in half an hour!” Evadne called, as they heard them clattering up the stairs. “Well, she seemed to like it all! I’m glad we decided to go ahead with it - it’s nice to see a real smile back on her face.”
Receiving no reply from her husband, Evadne turned to see why and found him staring after his daughter with very bright eyes. “Hey, what’s wrong with you?”
Edgar swallowed hard and blinked to hold back his tears. “I was just thinking how wonderful it was to see her happy again” he replied quietly, still gazing past Millicent Mary into the empty hall. “You know, that’s the first time she’s really been herself since all that rubbish started back in September.”
Evvy perched on the arm of his chair, putting her arm around his shoulders and kissing the top of his head. “She’s gonna be okay, Edgar. It’s just gonna take a little time, that’s all.”
“I know.” He gazed up at her with a smile and squeezed her knee. “I’m just being a sentimental old fool.”
Evadne grinned. “Yes, but that’s part of your charm! And that sounds like Guilia,” she added, getting to her feet, as the sound of the side door slamming indicated the arrival of their indomitable cook. “I best to go talk to her about lunch,” and good as her word, she dropped another kiss on her husband’s head and left the room.
In the end, Thea need not have worried - the lunch party went with a swing. Her friends enjoyed themselves immensely and exclaimed excitedly when Thea told them about Pilgrim, and by time for everyone to leave, the birthday girl was beaming from ear to ear. By three o'clock it was time for everybody to leave, and as Edgar set off for the airport to collect his son, Evadne bundled her daughters and Kate into her car and headed off to the Cranstons, to drop Kate home and visit Thea’s new pet.
When they arrived back an hour and a half later, they found Ned waiting for them in the entrance hall.
“Happy Birthday, sis!” he cried, giving Thea a one-armed hug and keeping the other firmly behind his back. “Hi Squirt!” he added, grinning at Marcia, as that young lady took off her coat and scarf.
“Don’t call me Squirt!” she retorted, hotly.
“Ned, that’s enough!” Evadne exclaimed, hanging her coat up in the closet and coming forward to give him a hug. “Did you have a good flight?”
“Yes thanks.” As Ned pulled back, he gave his stepmother a curious look. Instead of being clothed in her usual chic couture, she was wearing a very uncharacteristic loose-fitting smock dress and cardigan. His eyes lingered on her belly for a moment, and then he shook his head, as if clearing his mind, and turned back to Thea. “I suppose you’d like your presents then?”
“Yes please! Oh Ned, did you hear Mummy and Daddy got me a horse? He’s called Pilgrim!”
He nodded and grinned. “Something like that,” he said, handing over two small parcels. Thea tore off the wrapping paper to reveal a grooming brush and a small book on horses. “Dad said you’d like something for it, so I thought that might come in handy. The book’s from Harry.”
“Come on, let’s all move out of this hallway, it’s cold enough to make all your toes fall off!” Evadne said, as Thea thanked her brother. “Into the salon, all of you. Daddy should have the fire lit by now.”
She shepherded the two girls into the room, where Edgar had set a roaring fire in the large grate and was now busy stoking it, trying to release as much heat as possible. Ned followed, still watching Evadne curiously, his eyes drawn back to her belly. Though her bump was still fairly small, being not quite five months into her pregnancy, she was so slim that it was getting harder and harder to disguise. Harry’s younger sister had been born not two years beforehand, and so Ned was well aware of the signs. As Evvy reached behind her to adjust her cardigan at the back, her dress tightened around her stomach and Ned gasped, his suspicions confirmed.
“Evvy, are...are you having a baby?”
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