Evadne returned to the terrace, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a plate of Guilia’s mouthwatering biscotti in another. She’d only had lunch a couple of hours ago, but she could always make room for her cook’s delicious biscuits, especially when they were warm out of the oven.
Pulling back her chair, she sat down at the table again, popped a biscotti in her mouth and picked up the 1955 album. She opened it to the first page, smoothing back the tracing paper. Seeing the first photograph, she started laughing, almost choking on her coffee, and turned her head to look fondly at the big, wooden wendy house standing near the long hedge that hid the view down to the tennis court. She had completely forgotten what that house had started out as…
“DAD, CAN WE GO NOW?”
Edgar stopped hammering and turned to face his son. “Did you say something?”
Ned put his hands on his hips and shook his head in despair. “I’ve been shouting at you for the last five minutes!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the hammer. What did you want?”
“Can we go and get the boat now? You promised we could pick it up today and it’s already two o’clock.”
Edgar looked at his watch and frowned. “I don’t know, Ned. I promised Evvy I’d listen out for Henry while she got some sleep. You know he’s been playing up for the last two nights.”
“He’s already screamed twice and she’s had to get up - you can’t hear anything out here with all that banging. She said your babysitting skills were ‘about as good as mudguards on a tortoise’!” Edgar winced and his son grinned back at him. “So can we go?”
“Okay, I’ll go and talk to her.” Putting his hammer down in front of the kennel that he was building, he got to his feet. “You go and get the ropes from the basement and put them in the boot of the car – they should have plenty, but you never know.”
As Ned ran off to do his bidding, Edgar surveyed the kennel quickly. There wasn’t much left to do now – just the last of the roof to fasten on and a quick lick of paint to apply to the front and that would be everything done. He had plenty of time to go and collect the boat and still get it all finished before dinner. Satisfied with his work, he made his way across the lawn, in through the side door, and upstairs to go and find his wife. She had been in bed since they had eaten lunch, an hour and a half previously, trying to catch up on some sleep as Henry’s incessant crying had kept her up for the two previous nights and she was feeling dead on her feet. As Edgar had slept through most of the din, she had told him in no uncertain terms that he was on Henry-watch this afternoon, but if his son was to be believed, he was not doing a very good job.
He opened the bedroom door as quietly as he could, poking his head inside to check up on her, and was relieved to see her lying in bed, her back towards him. He was just about to tiptoe out again when she suddenly spoke.
“You may as well come in – I’m wide awake anyhow.” Edgar gave her guilty smile as she sat up and glared at him. “Fat lot of use you are as a babysitter! You haven’t heard him once over that racket you were making out there!”
“I know, I’m sorry. I just wanted to get the kennel out of the way this afternoon,” he replied, walking across to sit down on the edge of the bed. “You did ask me to get it finished, after all.”
Evadne rolled her eyes. “Put it all on me, why don’t you! You’re the one who started the thing instead of getting a professional to do it! Have you finished it then?”
“Almost. No more than an hour’s work to do, I’d say. Ned wants to go and pick up the boat though.”
Edgar nodded. “I did promise them we’d go and fetch it today. Would you mind dreadfully if we went? We’ll be back by four at the latest.”
“I suppose not.” She heaved a sigh of resignation. “I’m not gonna get any sleep today anyway, at this rate.”
“Well Guilia and the girls’ll still be here. Maybe they can listen out for him?”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound entirely convinced. “Go on then, be off with you. Are you taking the Mercedes?”
Edgar shook his head and grinned. “I was thinking your Renault might be more suited to the job, seeing as it’s already got a few dents here and there.”
“Excuse me!” his wife replied indignantly, hitting him on the arm. “They’re not dents, they’re marks of character!”
“Whatever you say!" Pecking her on the cheek, he got to his feet. “Right, I’ll see you in a couple of hours tops. I’ll ask Guilia to keep an ear open for Henry - you try and get some rest.”
“Should have more success with you not here!” she muttered loudly, as she wriggled back under the covers, and chuckling, Edgar left the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Half an hour later, Thea, Marcia and their friend Ann Bown were playing in the back garden when through the open window of the nursery, they heard Henry start crying again. They could hear Guilia in the kitchen, singing loudly and banging pots and pans around, clearly oblivious to the noise that the baby was making, and mindful of her sleeping stepmother, Thea decided to take matters into her own hands. Running in through the open French doors, closely followed by the other two, she managed to reach Henry's bedroom before her stepmother awoke. Making her way over to the crib, she bent down and picked her little brother up in her arms.
She rocked him back and forth, cradling him gently against her shoulder, but it seemed to make little difference. His yells died down but he continued to wimper, and Thea, who of all the family was the one who generally had the most calming influence on the baby boy, looked at the other two confused.
“Why won’t he stop crying? He’ll wake Mummy soon!”
“Let me try.” Marcia held out her arms, but Thea shook her head and backed away.
“No, you might drop him,” she replied somewhat officiously and, it has to be said, unfairly as Marcia was extremely careful with her brother, whatever she may be like with everything else.
Unsurprisingly, Marcia was more than a little offended. “I won’t drop him!”
Before Thea could retort, Ann decided to step in and quell the argument that was clearly brewing. “Maybe he needs changing?”
This seemed to make sense. Forgetting her quarrel with her sister, Thea walked him across to the dresser that doubled as a changing table, stood on a stool that Ann pulled up, and laid him gently down on the towels spread out on the top. Then jumping off the stool, she bent and opened the bottom draw to pull out a nappy, only to find it empty.
“Marcia, go and get a nappy from the laundry,” she ordered, turning to face her sister.
Fed up with being bossed about, Marcia pulled a face at her. “Get it yourself!”
“I have to stay here with Henry!”
“No you don’t, Ann and me can stay here!”
Thea rolled her eyes. “Fine, watch him then, but don’t touch things – Mummy showed me how to do the changing.”
“She showed me too!” Marcia retorted, sticking her tongue out at her sister’s retreating back. Then walking over to the dresser, she climbed up on the stool and began to undo the pins on her brother’s nappy.
Ann watched her, a little concerned. “Shouldn’t we wait for Thea like she said?”
Marcia shook her head vigorously. “She thinks she knows everything! I’ve watched Mummy loads of times, it’s easy.” Ignoring the dubious look her friends was giving her, Marcia laid the pins to one side and pulled off the nappy, screwing her nose up at the stench. “Here, take this,” she said, hnding it to a horrified Ann, who took it gingerly, holding it out at arms length.
“It smells horrid!”
“That’s ‘cause it’s a number two,” Marcia friend replied knowingly. “Put it in that bag on the floor and we’ll take it downstairs when we’re finished,” then grabbing a flannel, she rinsed it under the nearby sink, and began to wipe her brother clean. That done, she picked up the talcum powder, turned it upside down and shook it hard, sending a cloud up in the air and causing herself to cough.
“Isn’t that too much?” Ann asked, regarding her sceptically.
Marcia shook her head. “Mummy always uses lots,” she replied, dusting herself down, as the front of her red pinafore was now speckled with white. “It stops rashes or something.” Then turning back to her brother, she placed the talc back on the dresser and surveyed him proudly. “See, told you it was easy – we just need the clean nappy now! That’ll show Thea for being a know-all.”
As if to prove her wrong, Henry suddenly decided that he was not quite done and sent up a graceful golden arc of pee, hitting his sister square on the forehead. She shrieked and toppled backwards off the stool, landing on her backside on the rug, as Thea returned with the clean nappy, just in time to see what happened. She and Ann stared at each other for a split second, and then both dissolved into fits of giggles.
Maria got to her feet and glared at the pair of them. “Shhh you ninnies, you’ll wake Mummy!” she hissed, reaching for a towel to wipe her face.
“Too late, Mommy’s already awake,” came a new voice from the doorway, and the three of them swing round to face Evadne. “What’s going on?” she asked, surveying the scene.
Marcia glanced at her brother, who was now gurgling happily on top of the dresser, waving his legs in the air, and then looked back at her stepmother with wide eyes. “Henry started crying so we tried to change his nappy, but then he sprayed me!” she responded honestly.
“So I can see,” Evadne replied, trying hard not to laugh. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“’Cause Daddy said you needed to sleep,” Thea put in, trying to stifle her giggles, “and we’ve watched you lots of times, so we thought we’d do it ourselves.”
“Well that’s very kind of you, but you should still have woken me or gotten Guilia to help you,” Evvy replied sternly. “You’re too young to do this on your own, and now you know what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing.” She looked Marcia up and down, a smile twitching at the edge of her lips. “You’re not to try changing him again without either me or Daddy here, understand?” All three nodded earnestly. “Right, Marcia, go and put that pinafore in the laundry and then go and run yourself a bath. I’ll come and help you wash your hair in a few minutes. And you two take that dirty diaper down to the trash," she added, turning to Thea and Ann, "and then go back outside and play.”
Marcia departed to do as she was told, Thea and Ann following behind, still giggling, and Evadne sighed and turned her attention to her son. By the time she had him cleaned and dressed, he was wide awake, and deciding to give sleep up as a bad job, she gathered a few of his things, put him in his basket and made her way downstairs.
And so, when Edgar returned an hour later, he found his wife and eldest daughter settled on a rug in the garden, Henry lying next to them in his basket, sucking on one of his toys. As it happened, he needn’t have worried which car he took to collect the boat, for the previous owners offered to sail it round to the Watsons’ jetty free of charge. Ned had clamoured to go with them, with the excuse of showing them which was the right house and as Edgar appeared in the garden, he saw the boat just coming in to moor.
“Boat’s here if you’re interested,” he called out with a grin, and Thea instantly jumped to her feet and ran off towards the lake have a look.
Edgar followed her down to the water and they stood on the jetty as they watched it approach. “Where are your sister and Ann?”
“Taken Scrabble for a walk,” Thea replied, staring open mouthed at the family’s newest acquisition. She had been imagining a small two-man dinghy, not the sizeable yacht that Edgar had decided would fit the bill. ‘Daddy, it’s really big – look at it next to the rowing boat!”
Edgar smiled. “Well there are lots of us to fit on if we want to go out all together. Good job we’ve got a big boathouse, eh?”
Thea nodded as the boat pulled alongside the jetty and Ned jumped off, a wide grin lighting up his face. “Dad, it’s so cool! It’s got a little room in there and everything! And they let me hold the ropes for a bit too – sailing’s so much fun! Can we go out in it now? Please?”
“Can we, Daddy?”
Their faces fell as Edgar shook his head. “Not today, Mummy’s too tired to take us out and I wouldn't have the foggiest idea where to start. There’s no point in grouching,” he added sternly, as they both began to complain, “I’m not changing my mind. If your mother agrees and the weather holds, we can go out tomorrow. There are plenty of other things to keep you occupied for now - why don’t you go and play tennis or something,” then ignoring what else they had to say, he turned to thank the previous owners and offer them a lift home.
They declined, stating that it was only a mile or so and they fancied the walk, so Edgar saw them out and then returned to join his wife. She looked up with a smile as he sat down next to her on the rug.
“I gather from the noise that the boat was a hit?”
“Something like that!” he replied with a grin. “I rather think I’ve volunteered you to take everyone out tomorrow though.”
“That’s fine – just so long as it’s not today. I don’t think my mind’s quite right just now!”
“How are you feeling?” he asked, a little concerned at the dark shadows below her eyes.
“Tired, but I'll be okay. Oh Edgar, you’ll never guess what happened to Marcia,” she said with a giggle, and recounted the story of Marcia’s attempt to change Henry, causing her husband to guffaw loudly.
“She never learns, does she? Sorry they woke you though. Do you want to go up and get some sleep now I’m home?”
Evadne shook her head. “It’s the weekend, I’d rather spend my day with you and then sleep tonight - providing this young man does so as well, of course,” she added, leaning over and glancing at her son.
Edgar smiled and shifted position so that his back was against the trunk of the large tree under which they were sitting. “Well why don’t you get some rest here now,” he said, patting his lap. “I’m not going anywhere else this afternoon, so I can watch him while you have a bit of a nap, at least.”
Evadne returned his smile and curled up on her side, her head resting on his legs. It didn’t take long for her to start drifting off in the peace and quiet of the late afternoon, where the only sounds were the birds singing, the quiet hum of activity on the lake and the odd distant yell from the tennis court where Ned and Thea were now playing. Edgar gazed around him for a while, soaking up the rare moment of tranquility and gently stroking his wife’s hair, and then for want of anything else to do, he picked up her copy of ‘Tender is the Night’ from where she had left it on the rug, and began to read.
He had just finished chapter three when there was a shout from the terrace and Scrabble came haring out of the french doors, closely followed by Marcia and Ann. As her friend followed the puppy down towards the lake, trying her best to catch him, Marcia came to a halt in front of her parents.
“Shhh!” Edgar hastily brought a finger to his lips and pointed to his now-slumbering wife and son.
His daughter stared at him for a second, and then continued in a whisper. “Daddy, Scrabble’s just piddled on Millicent Mary again!”
Edgar heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. For reasons unbeknownst to them all, Scrabble had recently decided that he could no longer tolerate Millicent Mary, and had taken to either barking viciously at her or cocking his leg on her at varying intervals. They had tried everything to deter him, with no success - Marcia was convinced that he was jealous of their original ‘pet' - and it was this that had prompted Edgar to begin building the kennel in the first place, as the girls were insistent that the dog would get cold if just left outside with no shelter, especially overnight.
“Right, that’s it." Gently lifting Evadne’s head, he slipped his legs out from under her, being careful not to wake her, and got to his feet. “Marcia, go and get some soapy water and clean it up, will you. Then you and Ann can come and help me finish painting the kennel. I’ve had about enough of this,” and striding across the lawn to far side of the terrace, he picked up his hammer and got back to work.
Evadne awoke a couple of hours later to see everyone crowded around the kennel hooting with laughter. Smiling to herself, she got to her feet, lifting her son out of his basket as the noise had woken him as well, and made her way across to join them.
“You finished then?” she asked her husband as she approached him.
Edgar looked round with a grin. “Certainly have! She’s in already, and very happy about it if Marcia’s to be believed,” he added with a wink.
At that moment the children moved aside, giving her a clear view of the owner ensconced in her new abode. Evadne burst out laughing. “I still can’t believe you’ve spent the last two weekends building a kennel for Millicent Mary,” she chuckled.
“The things we do for our children, eh?” he replied, raising an eyebrow, and then he started laughing as Scrabble sat down at his feet, tail wagging and what looked like a wide grin on his face. “Not to mention our pets!”