Third part of my story following Evadne, Edgar and their family.
Parts 1&2 and the prequels Long Road Home and A Second Chance can be found in my stories.
Hope you enjoy!
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Future, SwitzerlandSchool Name:
Adventure, Domestic, Drama, Family, Friendship, Humour, Romance
Josie's Quintette Universe
20 Jan 2018 Updated:
16 Feb 2018
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
Scrabble nuzzled his mistress’s hand as she picked up the next album, and gazed up at her with reproachful eyes. Evadne looked down at him and laughed.
“It’s not time yet, old boy. I tell you what – I’ll finish this next year and then take you out, okay? It’ll be around two o’clock by then.”
Realising that he was not going to get a walk just yet, Scrabble sat himself down and curled up resignedly at her feet. Chuckling, Evadne opened the album and grinned at the first photograph. It showed Edgar and his friend Jonty Bown, standing proudly in front of the ‘Millicent’, as the Watsons’ boat had been renamed in memory of the now-departed ‘dog’.
Turning her head to gaze down at the lake, Evvy could see the boat herself, moored alongside the jetty where Thea had left her that morning. She had certainly served them well. All five children were proficient sailors, especially Henry, who spent every second he was allowed to out on the water when he was home from school. Looking back at the photo again, Evadne chuckled to herself. It was a pity the same could never be said about their father…
“Well you both look very smart, I’ll give you that.”
Evadne snapped the photograph and then turned to face Jonty’s wife Janice with a grin. “Let’s see how smart they look when it’s all over, shall we? Edgar may look the part, but that’s about as far as he goes!”
“Well excuse me!” An injured look appeared on Edgar’s face. “I’ll not share my winning goat with you if you carry on talking about me like that!”
Evadne’s eyes widened at his words. “Your winning goat? I thought the winners got a trophy?”
“They do,” Jonty replied nonchalantly, “but it stays in a cabinet in the Palais des Nations, so they also give the winning pair a goat each that they can take home to keep.”
Janice stared at Evadne in horror, and then turned to her husband. “Where, I ask you, are we going to put a goat?”
Evadne laughed. “I wouldn’t worry about it, Jan. With Edgar in the boat, they’ll be lucky to finish, let alone win!”
“You’ll eat your words when I return with old Nana in an hour’s time!” Edgar chuckled, bending to kiss his wife on the cheek.
“Of course you will! Just don’t drown out there, that’s all I ask!”
“I won’t, I promise. Here,” he added, handing over the new cinecamera that he had been given for his birthday the month before. “Guard it with your life.” Then giving her a peck on the cheek, he followed Jonty onto the boat.
Evadne slipped her hand through her friend’s arm, and the pair of them turned to make their way back to their families. “Honestly, you’d think it was his baby, the way he carries on about it!” she moaned, glancing down at the movie camera in her hands.”
Janice laughed. “Boys and their toys, I think you call that!” Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Bob Cranston, Kate’s father, as he finished rigging his boat along with his eighteen-year-old son, and a wicked grin crossed her face. “You know, I think Bob and Iain have far more chance of winning than our two bumbling fools. Do you think we should warn Alice about the goat?”
Evadne matched her friend’s grin with one of her own. “Well, we should…”
“But let’s not?”
“Exactly that! Her face’ll be a treat if they turn up with not one but two of the beasts!”
“You do realise she’ll be furious with us if she finds out we knew?”
“It’ll be worth it though!”
Janice laughed. “You’re an evil woman, Evvy Watson.” As she spoke, some childish yells reached their ears, she hurriedly quickened her step. “Sounds like Henry’s in the wars again!”
Evadne rolled her eyes as she matched her friend’s pace. “Well I can safely say that that’s nothing new!”
It was the last Saturday in July, and today the United Nations offices in Geneva were holding their seventh annual sailing regatta for their staff. There were to be ten races in all. Nine were for the more expert sailors among the UN’s numbers, and the final one of those was currently underway. It would then be followed by the ‘open’ race, in which anyone with a boat could take part.
A competent, if by no means distinguished sailor himself, Jonty Bown had taken one look at the ‘Millicent’ when he had been visiting the Watsons one day, realised she was far superior to his own craft, and had immediately set about talking Edgar into participating in this year’s race. For his part, Edgar was only too delighted to be persuaded. To say that he was a little competitive was something of an understatement, and he hated the fact that sailing was the one sport at which he was absolutely no good. Apart from anything else, his family ribbed him mercilessly, and he saw this as his chance to show them once and for all that he really was not as bad as they thought. He and Jonty had managed to practice in secret for the last few months, despite Marcia and Ann’s best efforts to see how their fathers were getting along, and now the two men were confident that their families would be in for a bit of a shock.
Jonty had also talked Bob Cranston and his son into entering for the regatta and so that morning, all three families had piled down to the small park between the Jardin Botanique and the lake, where everyone was gathering to watch the races. They had joined together for a picnic lunch and then whilst the men went off to prepare themselves and their boats for competition, the others readied themselves to go and cheer them on.
Now, as Evadne and Janice approached the picnic rugs, where the girls were busy packing things away in the hampers, they could see Alice Cranston sitting on one of the blankets, cuddling Henry in her lap. His face was bright red and screwed up in misery, and the Bowns’ seven-year-old daughter Emily was looking on with some concern.
“Will he be okay?”
Alice looked up at Emily and smiled. “It’s only a little bump, sweetheart, don’t look so worried. He’ll be right as rain as soon as his mummy gets back.” Glancing to her right, she saw Evadne hurrying towards her. “Look, here she comes now.”
“What a lot of noise you’re making, Henry Watson!” Evadne said cheerfully as she approached them, holding her arms out to take hold of her son. “Come along, come to Mommy.” Heaving him into her arms, she noticed a rapidly forming bump underneath a tiny red cut on his forehead. “What do we have here, then?” she asked, feeling the tender area gently with her fingertips to make sure the wound was merely superficial. “How did you do that?”
“He was chasing me and tripped and banged his head on a stick,” Emily answered nervously, and Evadne rolled her eyes at her son.
“Did he now? Well that’ll teach you to think you can keep up with someone seven times your age, won’t it young man?”
“It’s just a little graze, Evvy,” Alice put in, as she packed away the first aid kit. “I put some iodine on the cut, and I’m sure there’s no more harm done.”
“Thanks, Alice.” Evadne smoothed her hand over her son’s fine, fair curls and then dropped a kiss on his wound. “You, Mr. Henry, are the most accident-prone little boy in the world, did you know that?”
Henry sniffled and rubbed his face in his mother’s shoulder, and Alice laughed and got to her feet. “So, are they almost ready for the off, then?”
“Just about,” Janice grinned, as she came up behind them. Then, with a quick check of her watch, she looked around and clapped her hands together. “Come on you horrid lot, only twenty minutes to the start. Where are Rupert and Ned?”
“Gone to save us a spot down by the water,” Alice replied, jumping hastily out of the way as Thea and Kate whipped the blanket from under her feet. “Audrey’s with them too,” she added, referring to her elder daughter.
“Well let’s go join them, shall we?” Evadne said, lowering Henry to the ground, as he was starting to wriggle in her arms. “Thea, pass me Henry’s reins, will you? They’re in that basket just there. He’s a little too heavy for me to carry just now.”
“Do you want me to carry him for you?” Thea queried, as she did as she was asked.
Evadne smiled up at her and shook her head. “Thanks, sweetie, but it’s okay. He can go on his reins for now. I’ll let you know if I change my mind later on, though,” and attaching the harness to her son, she handed him his rabbit, heaved a small sigh and got back to her feet.
Now four months pregnant, she was finally blooming, after her initial few months of nausea. Carrying Henry around, however, was becoming something of a chore, especially as he was rapidly growing into a solid and boisterous little lad. She and Edgar had told their eldest three children about the new baby just a week ago and to Evadne’s delight, not only were they overjoyed, but they were proving to be godsends with their constant offers of help. And not just where Henry was concerned either…
“Mummy, do you want me to leave these out for you?”
Looking round, she saw a giggling Marcia holding up a can of pork sausages. Evadne grinned. “Yes please, sweetie. Would you open them for me as well?”
Janice pulled a face, as Marcia giggled again and pulled the tin opener out of the hamper. “I don’t know how you can eat those things!”
“Don’t ask me, ask Pebble in here!” Evadne retorted, pointing to her stomach where, on close inspection, the slight outline of her pregnancy bump was just beginning to show. “I wouldn’t have touched them for love nor money a few months ago, and now I don’t want anything else!” Then, feeling Henry tugging on the reins as he tried to head for the small area of beach on the shoreline, “Looks like someone wants to go for a paddle. I’ll see you all down there,” and with her son leading the way, she headed off across the grass.
By the time the others joined her, she had kicked off her shoes and was wading in the shallow water with Henry. The young boy had the legs of his dungarees rolled up to his bottom, and was giggling as he clung to his mother’s hands and splashed about with his feet.
“He’s a real little water baby, isn’t he?” Janice said, sas she and Emily came to join them.
Evadne grinned back at her. “Don't we know it! Bath-time is by far his favourite time of day. You know how most kiddos cry when you try and put them into the water? Well this one cries when you try to take him out! He threw a royal old tantrum on Edgar the other day – clung onto the side of the tub and everything. We thought we were going to have to leave him there for the night!”
As she spoke, the claxon sounded for the one minute warning, and glancing around to try and spot their husbands’ boat, Janice’s eyes fell on a sight on the grassy bank that made her laugh out loud.
“Evvy, look,” she chuckled, nudging her friend and pointing. “I think someone may have a little crush on your son!”
Looking up, Evadne saw Ned, Rupert and Audrey standing about ten metres away on the grassy bank. The two boys were scrapping and jostling each other, and Audrey was off to one side, gazing at an oblivious Ned with adoring eyes.
“Do you think the poor thing’s aware that he’s only interested in sport, not girls?” Evvy asked, grimacing a little.
Janice laughed and shook her head. “Well if she isn’t, I’m sure she’ll learn soon enough. According to Alice, she’s been rather sweet on him for a while now.” Then, turning her attention back to the water, she suddenly yelled, “Hey, what are you doing, you fools! You’re crossing the line too early!”
Just as she spoke, the blare of the claxon sounded across the water again and the race got underway. A moment later, a call through the loudspeaker, telling the Millicent to go around again, proved that Janice had indeed been right. In his eagerness to get a good start, Jonty had steered the boat through the buoys a few seconds too soon. From the shore, Edgar could clearly be seen waving his arms around as he gesticulated rudely to his crewmate, obviously disappointed at the false start, and Jonty was quite obviously saying something equally offensive back. Amid the cheers, as their children waved homemade banners and jumped up and down, Evadne and Janice exchanged glances and rolled their eyes.
“Well, that’s their race off to a good start!” Evvy said, with a resigned air.
After several slightly awkward looking tacks, the Millicent finally made it through the start line, now a good fifty metres behind the rest of the field, which was being led, unsurprisingly, by Bob Cranston and his son. Anxious to catch them up, Jonty decided to take an unusual line, out left from the rest of the field. His gamble paid off. Slowly but surely, as they neared the first marker in the triangular course, they were closing up on the rest of the fleet. By now, the spectators were cheering themselves hoarse. As they tacked round the buoy and began to head towards marker number two, they took the downwind line, gliding smoothly past three straggling boats, and were bearing down fast on two more.
Their wives stared dumbly at one another, astonished at the unexpected show of yachtsmanship that their husbands were displaying. Evadne was so surprised, she let go of Henry’s hands for a moment and had to hurry to grab hold of him again as he began to toddle further into the lake. Behind them on the bank, the children could sense that a comeback was on and were yelling their fathers on at the top of their voices. Marcia and Ann even dropped their banner into the water and just left it there, bobbing on the gentle waves, far more interested were they in jumping up and down.
By the time the boats reached the second buoy, the Millicent was up to sixth place in a field of fourteen and a slightly concerned Janice was starting to make mutterings about goats. And then suddenly, just when things were looking so promising, it all began to go wrong.
It started with a simple mistake. Edgar had been fairly good up to now, listening to everything that he was asked to do and doing it properly, but as they neared the front of the field, his excitement grew and he began to lose his head. Consequently, when Jonty shouted tack, Edgar readied the jib to gybe. In his eagerness to correct his friend’s error, Jonty forgot that he should be steering the boat and instead let go of the rudder and lunged forward to try and grab the rope from Edgar’s hands. The boat drifted to a halt and swayed dangerously, as Edgar backed up and pulled the sheet from him. As Jonty lunged once more, Edgar moved swiftly to one side and his skipper shot right passed him and over the side of the boat.
For a split-second, there was a deafening silence amongst the spectators and then a roar of laughter began, as Janice buried her head in her hands. For his part, Edgar just sat stock still in the boat, as if nothing had happened. Jonty resurfaced and began yelling, recalling to his senses and he turned to help him. The next second there was another terrific splash, as instead of pulling his friend back into the boat, Edgar followed him into the water, as Jonty tugged down hard on his hand. Edgar spluttered and resurfaced, then turned furiously towards Jonty and told him, in no uncertain terms, what he thought of him for pulling that stunt. Jonty began to yell back and a moment later, the two men were grappling with each other in the water, pulling at each other’s sleeves and splashing around.
By this time, the crowd on the shore had given up all pretence at watching the rest of the field and were merely howling with laughter at the sight of two grown men bobbing about in the water and fighting like a couple of five-year-olds. Evadne was laughing so hard that she choked on one of her tinned sausages and Thea had to hastily thump her on the back. Ned had purloined Edgar’s cinecamera from his stepmother so that he could follow the race, and the entire episode was being caught on film – something that was to cause much delight to the rest of the Watson family in the years to come. That was off in the future, however. Now, as the safety boat arrived to pick the two men from the water and help bring their boat back to the jetty, the claxon sounded for the end of the race, and the spectators suddenly realised that they had no idea who had won.
Still laughing, the three families made their way towards the landing stage to welcome the boats back in. The children had run on ahead, and suddenly Audrey came tearing back again, a huge grin on her face.
“Mum, you’ll never guess! Dad and Iain won!”
Alice stared at her in disbelief. “They won?”
“Yes, I just saw them getting off the boat. Hurry!”
Alice hurried off after her daughter, and Janice turned to Evadne and Henry with a grin. “Still think we shouldn’t have told her about the goats?”
“Absolutely!” Evadne grinned. Up ahead she caught sight of a sodden Edgar and Jonty coming towards them, their children walking behind them, pointing and laughing. Evvy nudged her friend in the ribs. “Have you ever seen two sadder, soggier specimens?” she asked with a laugh.
The two men were still squabbling as they made their way across the lawn.
“I can’t believe you pulled me in like that, you prize ass!” Edgar fumed, still in a filthy temper. “We could have both drowned and then where would we be?”
“Even wetter than we are now?” came the facetious reply from an equally angry Jonty. “And it’s all your own fault, so don’t even think about blaming me! If you’d just listened to a word I said, then we’d have won instead of making idiots of ourselves in front of everybody! So I don’t think it’s me who’s the prize ass!”
“Will you both please stop swearing?” Janice put in, sounding exasperated with the pair of them. “There are children around, including your own!” They had the grace to appear shamefaced, and Jan looked her husband up and down, a smile touching her lips. “Are you a little wet, dear?”
As Jonty glared back at her, Rupert added insult to injury by saying, “Nice one Dad! Ned got it all on film too!”
“He did what?” Edgar turned to his son, who was still clutching the cinecamera in his hand. “Well that’s being destroyed as soon as we get home. I could do without everyone in Geneva seeing that!”
“I think you’ll find most people have already seen it first hand, Edgar,” his wife put in, a trace of amusement in her voice. “Nice example you set for your staff!” Seeing his grumpy face, she grinned up at him. “Are you sulking there, baby?”
Refusing to dignify her with an answer, Edgar turned to his youngest son and as Henry smiled up at him and said ‘Dada’, Edgar bent to pick him up.
“You’ll get him all wet!” his wife admonished, nevertheless relinquishing her hold on his reins.
“He doesn’t mind, do you little man? You’re just pleased to see me, unlike those who are mocking me!” and he grimaced down at Marcia, who was trying to wring out his sleeve.
As Edgar cuddled his son to him and the little boy fingered his father’s face, Evadne stood back, glancing from one to the other with a smile on her lips. “Hey, look at that! You two have matching bumps on your heads!”
The others all turned to look, laughing, and sure enough they did. Grabbing the camera from her bag, Thea took a picture of the two of them, both staring blankly into the lens and looking uncannily similar, save for their size.
Before Edgar could think of a retort, the announcement sounded for the presentations and giving an indignant snort, he turned his back on the lot of them. “Come on, Henry. Let’s go and cheer on the winners, shall we?” Then with a sudden thought, he stopped and asked his wife, “Who won our race, anyway?”
“Bob and Iain,” she replied with a grin.
“Ha, did they really?” As Evvy nodded in return, the two men looked at each other and burst out laughing, their row forgotten. “Did you tell Alice?” Edgar asked
“Oh, she’s just going to love this!" Confused, the children all clamoured to know what he was talking about, but shaking his head, he simply replied, “You’ll see. Come along, let’s get over there before it’s all over,” and with that, he led the way across the grass.
They pushed their way to the front of the crowd, where the Cranstons were standing, waiting to cheer on Bob and Iain as they went up to collect their trophy. Standing to one side of the podium was a man holding two goats by rope leads and as she approached the Cranstons, Evadne heard Kate ask her mother, “Mummy, why’s that man got goats?”
“I’ve no idea, darling,” her mother replied with a smile. “Maybe they’re just for show,” and she turned to cheer her husband and son as their names were read out.
Making their way up to the podium, the two Cranston men were handed the trophy, which they held aloft to a huge round of applause. Then Bob put it back on the table and turned to the farmer, shaking his hand as that man handed over the two goats.
Alice watched on, open-mouthed. “That’s odd!” Hearing the sound of sniggering from behind her, she turned and glared at her two friends. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Janice replied, almost choking as she spoke.
“Yes there is, what is it?” Then as Bob and Iain appeared next to her, still clutching the goats, she stared at them with alarm. “Why do you have those?”
“Because they’re ours, Mum,” Iain replied, confused. “Why d’you think?”
“They belong to us,” her husband replied, as the Watsons and Bowns tried hard to contain their laughter. “We won them. We are now the proud owner of one billy and one nanny goat!”
“But I don’t want any goats!” Alice replied, sounding somewhat distressed. “Where will we keep them?”
“No idea, my love,” Bob replied with a grin. “How about the spare stable?"
Alice stared at her husband, too shocked to speak, and then turned suddenly to glare at Evadne and Janice. “Did you two know about this?”
“Urgh! And you call yourselves my friends!” Then swinging back to her face her husband, “I suppose you know they eat everything?” she snapped, the truth of which was being born out, as one of the goats nibbled on the end of Kate’s hair ribbon, whilst she shrieked and tried to get away.
Thoroughly excited at the sight of the animals, Henry started squealing and crying “Mama”, as he tried to reach down and touch them.
“Oh no you don’t!” Evadne cried, darting forward to stop him. “Edgar, hold him properly will you before they eat him too!”
“Daddy, can we have a goat?”
Hitching his son up in his arms, Edgar glanced down at Marcia with a smile. “No, poppet, I don’t think so.”
“You can have one of ours, if you like?” Iain offered, grinning.
“No she cannot!” Evadne put in quickly. “We already have a dog, a cat, an iguana, a horse, two goldfish and a penguin. We are not getting a goat as well!”
Seeing an opportunity for mischief, Ned joined in his sister's pleading, but their parents simply ignored them. Instead, as Alice and Bob continued arguing and the goats caused mayhem around them, Edgar bent down and whispered in his wife’s ear, “Bet you wish I’d won now?”
Evadne looked up at him and laughed. “Oh no – today you can lose for all you’re worth!”
Three days later, the Watson family were all gathered together on the large terrace that ran along the back of their house, enjoying their afternoon tea – or juice, cakes and ices, to be more precise, as the temperature in the shade was an uncommonly warm eighty degrees.
Under the shady pergola at one end of the terrance, Edgar was chatting with Anton Baertschi, their irrepressible next-door neighbour, who had an unerring sense of timing when it came to popping around for a visit just as the family were about to partake in whatever treat Guilia had cooked up that day. On the opposite side of the long wooden table, Ned was busy throwing chunks of biscotti in the air for Scrabble to leap up and catch in his mouth. Thea and Marcia were lying on two sunloungers in their swimsuits, juice in one hand and ice cream blocks in the other, soaking up the sun, and on their far side at small bistro-style table sat Evadne, who was studying a packing list on a pad in front of her, and occasionally glancing up to check that Henry was alright. The little boy was safely ensconced in his highchair, thoroughly enjoying his bowl of strawberry ice cream. Lifting his spoon towards him, he gave a squeal of delight as he smeared some on his cheek, and Edgar looked over and gave a deep chuckle.
“Well, somebody’s enjoying their tea, aren’t you little man?”
At the sound of his father’s voice, Henry babbled something unintelligible, giggled to himself and waved his spoon around, sending a large blob of ice cream sailing through the air. It landed squarely on Thea’s bare shoulder and that young lady sat up abruptly and yelled.
“What did you do that for?” she asked crossly, glaring at her sister.
“What did I do?” Marcia snapped back, understandably indignant. Then seeing the ice cream on Thea’s shoulder, “Wasn’t me!”
“Well who was it then?”
“It’s strawberry,” Marcia answered, examining the pink blob. Reaching out her hand, she scooped some up with her finger and put it in her mouth. “Thought so. It was Henry.”
Hearing his name, the young boy giggled and squealed again, sending another blob of ice-cream arcing through the air to land by Thea’s bed. “Fe,” he giggled, pointing to his eldest sister and kicking his legs so that his chair began to rock dangerously.
Evadne’s hand shot out to steady it. “That’s quite enough, you little tyke!” Noticing that he only had a tiny amount of food left in his bowl, she prised the spoon from his hand, scooping the ice cream up and feeding it to him herself, ignoring his protests and skilfully dodging his flailing arms. “Time to get you cleaned up, I think,” and lifting him from the chair, she picked up her napkin and began to wipe his mouth.
Edgar drained the last of his juice and put his glass down firmly on the table. “Right then, how much has everyone got left to pack? Marcia?”
“’Bout half left,” came the mumbled reply, as Marcia stuffed the rest of her ice cream block into her mouth.
“Jolly good. Ned, how about you?” Ned stared down at his empty glass and muttered something. “What was that? I didn’t quite catch it?”
“Haven’t started yet,” Ned repeated reluctantly.
“Then what have you been doing since lunchtime?”
“Reading boring aeroplane books, I bet!” Marcia interjected, pulling a face at her brother.
“Shut up, you brat!” Ned snapped back.
Before Marcia could reply, Edgar got quickly to his feet. “That’s quite enough of that, thank you. I want all three of you upstairs now and your cases are to be packed by dinner, or you’ll go hungry until they are. Come on, chop chop.”
“Race you!” Marcia cried to Thea, and the two of them tore through the patio doors at breakneck speed.
“If you break anything, it’ll come out of your pocket money!” their father called after them, as Ned sauntered through the doors in his sisters’ wake, still muttering under his breath. Shaking his head, Edgar rose from his seat and walked across to his wife. “How much more do you have to do?” he asked her, as he ruffled his son’s fair curls.
Evadne looked up with a smile. “Not much – just the last few things of Henry’s to find space for, and Scrabble’s bits and pieces to put in a bag. I’ll go finish it off as soon as Trouble here's all cleaned up. What are your plans?”
“I’m just going to run Anton into town so he can collect something and I need to top the car up with petrol, and then I’ll get the map out again, make sure we’ve picked the best route. The sooner we can get to Cap Ferrat, the more things we can get sorted out before Cassie and co arrive.”
“Sounds like an idea.”
“Right, well, I’ll see you in about an hour.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and then turned back to his guest. “Shall we make a move, Anton?” and the two of them disappeared inside.
Forty-five minutes later, having made a final check around her room to make sure she had not forgotten anything, Thea fastened the clasps on her suitcase, and then sauntered down the long first-floor landing, intending to make her way downstairs. As she passed Ned’s bedroom, she hcaught the sound of strangled noises emanating from within and, peering around the door frame, she caught sight of Ned, pushing down with all his might on the lid of an extremely over-full suitcase. His belongings were spilling out of the sides and he was doing his best to push them back in with one hand, whilst leaning heavily on the lid with the other as he tried to get the clasps to meet. Chuckling quietly to herself, Thea watched him struggling for a minute or so, before deciding to put him out of his misery.
“Want some help?”
Ned jumped at the sound of her voice and turned to her with an air of relief. “Yes please! I’m never going to get this blasted thing to shut on my own!”
Thea crossed the room and examined the offending item of luggage critically. “You’ve just shoved everything in, that’s why it won’t close. You should’ve-”
“I’ll sit on it,” Ned interrupted loudly, not interested in a lecture on his packing technique, “and you shut the clasps. That should do it.”
Good as his word, he clambered up onto his bed and sat down heavily on the lid of the suitcase. As he did so, two loud popping noises sounded from within.
“What was that?” Thea asked, looking at her brother with wide-eyed alarm.
There was a pause for a moment and then Ned shrugged. “Not a clue – and I’m not about to find out either ‘cause that’ll mean opening this thing up again.”
“Thea, just do the clasps up, will you, before it bursts open and sends me flying across the room!”
“Don’t, Thea! Then we can see him fly!”
Ned’s head snapped round to face the door and he glared at his youngest sister, who was surveying the scene with a wide grin on her face.
“’Spose you think you’re funny?”
Marcia smiled benignly back at him, and laughing, Thea fastened the clasps with a loud click. “Okay, they’re shut. Get off slowly, Ned, in case they break.”
“They’re not going to break!” came Ned’s scornful retort as he jumped down to the floor. “See? Told you so.”
“Why are you sitting on your case anyway?” Marcia queried, her head to one side as she regarded the pair of them with interest.
“’Cause he’s hopeless and can’t pack,” Thea replied, grinning.
Marcia nodded wisely. “That’s ‘cause he’s a boy.”
Ned’s face was a picture, but before he could reply, the sound of excited squealing and padding footsteps came from the hallway and Evadne’s voice called out urgently, “Someone stop him before he gets to the stairs!”
Darting back out of Ned's room, Marcia grabbed her baby brother as he toddled past the door, dressed only in a nappy, his little legs moving as fast as they could go. The young boy squealed and giggled as she swung him up off the ground, and Marcia laughed and said “Got you!” before blowing a raspberry on his bare stomach.
A harassed-looking Evadne appeared at the nursery door, her arms full of toys. “Thanks, sweetie, you’re a saviour. And as for you, you rotten little troublemaker, when I say stay here, I mean stay here!” she added sternly, as Marcia brought the still-squealing toddler back down the landing towards his mother. “You know I can’t catch you when my arms are full!” Henry looked back at her and smiled his charming, gappy smile, and Evadne rolled her eyes in a resigned fashion. “Why am I even bothering? Marcia, are you finished packing?”
“Yes, all done.”
“Then would you mind taking Henry downstairs until Daddy gets back? I’ve only one set of hands and I need at least three if I’m to pack and keep him in one place all at once! I promise I won’t be long, sweetie, it’s just quicker that way.”
“’S’okay, I don’t mind. We’ll have fun, won’t we Henry?”
In answer, Henry let out a loud squeal and wriggled to get down. Lowering him to the floor, Marcia took hold of his hand and walked him towards the stairs, and heaving a sigh of relief, Evadne turned back to the nursery to finish her task.
By the time Edgar returned from the city an hour later, he found them all sitting out in the garden, playing a game of snap and enjoying the afternoon sun without a care in the world.
“Did you get everything done?” Evadne asked, looking up with a smile as he walked towards them, a folded map tucked underneath his arm.
“Yes, eventually,” he replied, placing his hand on her head as he stood beside her. “Word of warning - never go shopping with Anton when you’re in a hurry. Honestly, the man’s a menace!” Evvy chuckled and he ran his hand across her fair curls. “Are you all packed?”
“As much as we’ll ever be!”
“Really? And there was me expecting to come back and find you all rushing around.”
“Ye of little faith!”
Edgar chuckled. “Right, well, in that case, what say we bring everything down and pack it all in the car now? We may as well get it out of the way before dinner, and then we can relax and have an early night. We do have to leave at four in the morning, after all!”
They all stared up at him aghast, with the exception of Henry, who said “Le-la,” and clapped his hands gleefully.
Edgar laughed. “Not sure what that means, little man, but I’m sure you’re right! And yes, we’re leaving at four o’clock. If we want to get to Cap Ferrat in time for tea, then we have to leave in plenty of time. Now come on, upstairs and get those cases, and then you can all do what you want for the rest of the evening. Ned, can you bring the bags down from our room, please? I’ll bring the car around to the front door.”
The three children did as they were told, and Evadne got to her feet, taking her small son by the hand, and followed her husband through to the hallway to supervise the whole operation.
Before long, Ned and Thea had brought all of their bags down to the entrance hall, and Edgar was busy packing them into the car.
“What on earth have you got in here?” Edgar asked Thea, as he tried to heave her big suitcase out of the front door.
“Books,” came the insouciant reply.
“Nine? Are you planning to spend all holiday reading?” Ned asked incredulously. “How boring can you get?”
“I’m a fast reader,” Thea retorted giving her brother a withering look. “And anyway, you’re bringing a rugby ball.”
“That’s not the same thing!”
“If you can take your hobby, I can take mine!” and with that, Thea deemed the subject closed.
Taking the hint, Ned glanced up and caught sight of Marcia descending the stairs, a bag in each hand. “What are they?” he asked, pointing at two holdalls in front of him, as his sister reached the entrance hall and dragged her bags across the floor. “I thought those two were yours?”
Marcia dropped the bags she was carrying, and looked up with a grin. “They are.” Then turning on her heel, she ran back up the stairs before her brother could say anything else.
Ned stared after her incredulously, and Thea began to giggle. A moment later, Marcia reappeared at the top of the stairs, three hats perched on top of each other on her head and dragging an enormous suitcase behind her, which she proceeded to bump down the stairs. She was half way down when Evadne and Henry appeared in the front doorway.
“Ned, where’s the-” Evvy broke off as she noticed Marcia descending the stairs. “What on earth?”
Marcia looked up, surprised at the reaction her appearance had caused. “It was the easiest way to carry them,” she returned, utterly unperturbed, as she dragged the case across the polished stone floor.
Evadne stared at her for a moment in astonishment, and then shook her head. “Whatever you say. Right, where are your bags?”
“Here and here.”
Marcia indicated the case in front of her and the four holdalls that stood next to Ned, and Evvy did a double-take as she counted them. “What the deuce is all this?”
“All what?” Edgar asked, as he appeared at the front door behind his wife. Looking around him, his opened his eyes wide as he took in Marcia’s abundant luggage. “Are they all yours?” he asked in amazement. Marcia nodded proudly. “What the devil have you got in them?”
“What do you mean, everything?”
“What I say.”
“You’ve packed everything you own?” came the startled reply.
Marcia nodded again, wondering quite what it was that her father was failing to understand. Thea and Ned exchanged glances and both burst into fits of giggles and Evadne emitted a strange snort, as she placed her free hand over her mouth, trying desperately not to laugh.
Edgar ignored them. “Why have you packed everything you own?” he asked, trying his best to remain patient.
“’Cause I might need it.”
“Marcia, we’re only going for four weeks!”
“I know, that’s a really long time.”
“Well I’m not having it.” Edgar replied firmly. “For one thing you're not taking up that much space the car, and for another it’s just plain stupidity. You’re to take them back upstairs and repack what you really need into two bags, no more.”
“I mean it. Now.”
Marcia glared at her father, and then realising he was serious, she hung her head and dragged her feet as she pulled her large case back towards the stairs. “Henry’s got more than two bags,” she muttered under her breath as she went.
“Yes, and one of them is full of nappies and changing things. Do you want to wear nappies again?”
“Then you don’t need an extra case, do you? Now stop whinging and do as you’re told.” Marcia heaved the case up the first three stairs and then paused for breath, and Thea made a move to help her. Edgar reached out a hand and grabbed her arm. “No, Thea. She can do it herself. You and Ned can take Pickle and Charlie round to Anton, and then go outside and amuse yourselves until dinner,” and leaving them to do as they were told, he picked up Scrabble’s bowls and bed, and returned outside to pack them into the car.
An hour later, just as Ned sounded the gong for dinner, Marcia reappeared, a case in one hand and a holdall in the other, and made her way down the stairs. Edgar emerged from the drawing room at the same time and gave her an approving nod.
“That’s better,” he said, as she pulled the case towards him and dropped her bag sulkily at his feet. “Now go and wash yourself up for dinner and take that sullen look off your face. You’re far prettier when you smile.”
He watched her go, chuckling to himself as she trudged towards the cloakroom, and then picking up the bags, he turned and made his way outside once more.
At quarter to four the following morning, the household was a hive of frenzied activity, as the whole family hurried to get ready to leave. Thea, who had been up and dressed since three o’clock, was sitting on the floor in the hallway, cuddling Scrabble, when Marcia suddenly appeared at the dining room door, a bag slung over her shoulder. She was looking extremely sprightly, considering her hatred of early mornings, and Thea gave her a suspicious glance.
“What are you doing?”
“Where’s Daddy?” came the hissed reply.
“In the sitting room. Why?”
Marcia merely shook her head and disappeared out of the front door. She returned a moment later, a look of satisfaction on her face.
“What are you up to?”
“Tell you later,” Marcia whispered, as Edgar suddenly emerged from the sitting room door.
“Oh good, you’re all here,” he said, as Ned appeared from the kitchen, a piece of bread in his mouth. “Where’s Mummy?”
“Coming!” came a disembodied voice from upstairs. “Can someone grab Henry’s pram? I almost forgot! It’s in the kitchen porch.”
“Ned, go and get it will you? Take it round the side and lock the outer door as you go,” Edgar asked, his eyes flitting to the clock in the hallway, which read three fifty-nine, and then back to the upstairs landing as he awaited the appearance of his wife. “You two," he added, waving a hand at his daughters, "go and get into the car.”
A few moments later, a somewhat dishevelled and hastily made-up Evadne came racing down the stairs, a very sleepy Henry cradled in her arms. As she reached the bottom, the grandfather clock chimed four.
“Made it!” she panted, grinning up at her husband. “Told you I would!” and as Edgar raised an eyebrow, she turned and hurried out of the front door.
Chuckling, he turned off the lights and followed her outside, locking the front door behind him. TAs his wife settled Henry in the back seat between Thea and Marcia, he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. Evadne slammed the rear door and climbed in beside him, and he turned to face her with a grin.
“You forgotten anything, you three? Last chance to go back in!”
“We’re all ready, Daddy!”
There was no reply from Ned, who was already drifting off to sleep, Scrabble lying across his feet.
“Right then, let’s get going,” and with a small toot of the horn that startled Ned awake again, they set off up the drive, bound for the South of France.
“Pleeeeease may we stop soon?”
Edgar frowned at the plaintive note in his daughter’s voice. “Why?”
“I need to go to the toilet.”
“Already? Why didn’t you go before we left home?”
“’Cause I didn’t need it then!” came the indignant reply.
Evadne raised an eyebrow at her husband’s words. “Be fair, Edgar, we left home almost four hours ago!”
Edgar glanced at his wife and gave a sigh of resignation. “Fine. I’ll pull over at the next stopping point and you can go behind a tree.”
“Daddy!” Marcia looked and sounded horrified. “I can’t go behind a tree – I’m ten and a half!”
“I’m a grown-up! Grown-ups don’t go behind trees!”
Evadne bit back a laugh at her stepdaughter’s words. “Surely there’s a town we can stop at?” she asked, consulting the map. “We’re not so far from Grenoble.”
“Marcia, can you hold on for twenty minutes or so?”
“Right, well, Grenoble it is then,” Edgar said decisively. “We can grab some breakfast there and stretch our legs whilst we’re at it.”
“I don’t see why we couldn’t just fly,” Ned moaned. “We’d have been there by now!”
“No we wouldn’t, we’d have only just arrived in Paris, and would have a four hour wait for the connecting flight. And anyway, that’s beside the point. We need a car with us in France, unless you want to be confined to the villa for the entire month.”
“Could have hired one,” Ned muttered under his breath.
Ignoring him, Edgar kept his eyes on the road, and there was silence for a good five minutes before Marcia began to wriggle in her seat. Henry, who was fast asleep against her side, murmured as the movement half-woke him.
“Marcia, stop wriggling!” Thea admonished, as she found herself jogged by Henry’s stirring.
“I can’t help it!” Marcia retorted, wriggling again. “I need to wee!”
Ned gave her a wicked grin. “Think about running taps, that should help you. And waterfalls, and swimming pools-”
“-and waves on the beach-”
“Ned, button it,” Evadne put in sternly from the front of the car.
“-and water wheels-”
“Stop it, you pig!”
Grabbing Thea’s book out of her hands, Marcia threw it at her brother, hitting Ned on the shoulder and scattering a couple of pages on the floor.
“Marcia! You’ve broken it!” Thea shouted, leaning across her to pick up the loose leaves.
“It’s Ned’s fault!”
“You threw the book!” Ned shot back at her.
“You both have to buy me a new one,” Thea said angrily, her eyes flashing, as she sat back up.
“’Cause you broke it, that’s why!”
“Marcia broke it, not me!”
“Stop it now, all of you!” Edgar’s stern voice brought all three of them temporarily to their senses. “These are narrow, windy roads and I’d rather we didn’t end up upside down at the bottom of the valley because you’re acting like babies and distracting me, if it’s all the same to you! You’ll be in a lot of trouble if that happens, let me tell you!”
“Won’t we be dead if that happens?” Ned piped up.
“He does have a point!” Evadne added, grinning at her husband.
Edgar glared at her out of the corner of his eye, but decided not to dignify the comment with an answer and turned his attention back to the road. Marcia, meanwhile, gave a violent wriggle, which finally woke Henry. The young lad started grumbling at his rude awakening, and Thea reached out and pulled him into her lap.
“Come and sit with me, Henry. We can look at the mountains and ignore Marcia,” she said pointedly, still cross with her sister for damaging her book.
Marcia pulled a face at her and then turned her attention back to the front seats. “Daddy, are we nearly there?”
“We’re five minutes nearer than last time you whinged.”
“Why don’t you try singing, Marcia,” Evadne interrupted hurriedly. “Take your mind off it a little.”
“Whatever you want.”
“Okay!” and with that she broke into the opening lines of ‘Little Donkey.”
“You can’t sing Christmas songs – it’s August!” Thea said scornfully.
“She can sing whatever she likes if it stops her moaning!”
At her father’s words, Marcia ignored the obvious insult, and turned to pull a face at her sister. “See?”
Thea grimaced in reply and turned her attention back to the window, muttering something about her book, and Marcia began singing again at the top of her voice. It was not exactly tuneful but it had the desired effect, as everybody stopped arguing and joined in, and fifteen minutes later, when Edgar pulled the car up in front of a cafe in Grenonble, the family were finally friends again – at least for now.
Once Marcia had made her required bathroom stop and a hearty breakfast had been eaten by all, Edgar sat back in his chair and slapped his chest with his hands.
“I do declare that’s much better!” he announced, a satisfied grin on his face. Then, taking a glace at the clock on the wall, he added, “Right, I need to take Scrabble for a quick walk. You can either stay here with Mummy and Henry, or come with me – your choice.”
“I’ll come,” Ned replied.
Marcia nodded her head in agreement. “Me too.”
Thea glanced up from the French guidebook she had taken from the car. “Can I go and see the Bastille please, Daddy?”
“No, sorry. It’s too far away, even with the cable car. And anyway, it won’t be open just yet.”
“Can I see the sundial then?”
Edgar’s brow furrowed as he considered this request. They were only around the corner from the Lycée Stendahl, where the clock was situated, and Thea was generally a responsible young girl. “Yes, okay. Just make sure you’re back at the car in half an hour or we’ll go without you!”
“No, you wouldn’t!”
“Just you try me,” he replied, with a wink, and as Thea took herself off, he bade farewell to his wife and marshalled the other two out of the café door.
When the three of them returned thirty minutes later, it was to find a few locals crowded around their table, all being charmed by Henry who, having decided that these new people were friends, was clinging to his mother's skirt with one hand and waving his rabbit at them with other, whilst flashing his cheeky smile.
“What are you up to, Trouble?” Edgar asked, stooping to pick up his son, as the little boy spotted him and toddled towards him. “Are you making lots of new friends?”
“You could say that!” his wife laughed, as the locals began to disperse. “He had himself quite an audience just then! Where are the other two?”
“Settling Scrabble back in the car.” He heaved Henry into a more comfortable position in his arms, and dropped a kiss on his forehead. “No sign of Thea yet?”
Evadne shook her head. “Not yet. Let’s all go get ourselves in the car anyway. She’ll be back by the time we’re done.”
Despite her confident prediction, however, Evvy was soon proved wrong, as the minutes ticked by with no sign of Thea. When she had still not returned twenty minutes later, Edgar’s patience was beginning to wear a little thin.
“Where is the stupid girl,” he growled, checking his watch for the umpteenth time. As Ned and Marcia secretly hugged themselves with glee that it was Thea in trouble for once, not them, their father opened his car door. “I’m going to go and find her. No-one’s to move from this car ‘til I get back. I don’t want to lose anyone else!”
With his dictum issued, he set off in search of his daughter, leaving his wife to frown at his retreating back as he disappeared round the corner. She could tell that he was getting himself worked up, and they still had several hours of driving to go yet. As she ruminated on this point, she was startled by a knock on her door, and turned to see a red-faced Thea staring in at her. Evadne fixed her with a baleful glare.
“Sorry I'm late, Mummy,” Thea muttered, hanging her head.
“So I should hope!” Evadne retorted, opening her door and climbing out. “Your father’s gone off looking for you! Where the deuce have you been?”
“The Lycée - I walked all around the gardens and it was so pretty and I forgot the time,” came the mumbled reply. There was a pause for a moment, as Thea stared into the back seat at her siblings, who were listening intently. “I’ll go and get Daddy.”
“Oh no you won’t!” Evadne caught her arm as she went to head off, and used her spare hand to open the rear door. “You’ll get in the car and jolly well wait until he gets back. He’s mad enough as it is, without us losing you again!”
Feeling rather subdued, Thea did as she was told and climbed into her seat beside Marcia, and an awkward silence descended on the car as they waited for Edgar’s return. Ten minutes later, they spotted him coming down the road towards them, looking thoroughly unamused.
“I can’t find her anywhere!” he fumed, catching sight of his wife standing on the pavement.
“She’s in the car.”
“She’s what? Oh for heaven’s sake, I'll-”
“Edgar, calm down, please!” Evadne gripped his arm firmly. “You've a long way still to drive, remember? No point in getting all het up, she’s here now.”
Seeing that his wife had a good point, Edgar took a couple of deep breaths in an effort to do as she suggested. Then climbing into the car, he twisted around in his seat to face his errant daughter.
“What is it you don’t understand about half an hour?”
Thea stared down at her lap. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry’s not really good enough, Thea. That’s the last time I let you go wandering off by yourself. I thought you were the responsible one. Clearly I was wrong.”
“There’s no point in pleading. That’s my final word on the subject,” and refusing to say anything else, he turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the kerb.
The next few hours passed peacefully, as a subdued Thea returned to reading her book, and Marcia soon got bored of trying to needle her elder brother and fell asleep.
She didn’t wake again until almost one o’clock, and stretching and giving a big yawn, she looked around her to find Thea still reading and Scrabble curled up on top of her feet. Henry had moved from his position between his two sisters, and was now sitting on Ned’s lap, watching the passing scenery outside the open window. As his brother pointed out some cows on the side of mountain, Henry giggled and tried to repeat the words that Ned was saying.
Evadne looked over her shoulder at them all with a smile. “You know I think we’ll need a bigger car when Pebble arrives,” she said in an undertone to her husband. “We can barely fit everyone in as we are.”
Edgar grinned. “You know, I was thinking that just the other day. We can start looking once they’ve all gone back to school, if you like?”
“Sounds good.” Then recognising the sound of her son’s cheeky giggles, which usually signified he was doing something he shouldn’t be, she turned her head sharply to find him hanging his rabbit out of the open window. “Henry! Ned, stop him doing that will you?”
Before Ned could react, however, the force of the breeze dragged the rabbit out of Henry’s grasp. As he began to squeal and cry ‘Babi’, his mother watched it sailing down the road behind them, straight under the wheels of another car.
“Now look what you’ve done! Edgar, stop!”
Edgar slammed on the breaks, causing the car coming up behind to sound its horn loudly and swerve to avoid them. Ignoring the rude gestures of the driver as it passed by, Edgar stared at his wife.
“Henry dropped his rabbit out of the window,” she replied, as she opened her door to go and retrieve it. Returning a moment later, the bedraggled toy in hand, she opened the rear door, brushed it down as much as she could and handed it back to her son. “Now you hold onto it, and no more dangling it out the window!”
Henry grabbed it from her hand, clearly not understanding a word she had said.
“You know, I think it’ll be safer with the windows closed in the back,” Edgar put in, reaching behind him to wind up the one next to Thea. “Come on, Ned, you too.”
“Daddy, it’s really hot!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. There’ll be plenty of breeze from ours in the front,” and refusing to listen to any more arguments, he started the engine again and they continued on his way.
They were only five minutes down the road when Thea looked up from her book, stretched and took a deep breath.
“Eeuuwww!” she cried, screwing her nose up and putting her hand hurriedly to her mouth. “What’s that smell?”
Ned sniffed hard and then quickly followed suit. “Erugh! Marcia!”
“Wasn’t me!” came the muffled reply, as that young lady clamped her hand over her nose. “Pooh, that’s horrid!” Looking down at her feet, she noticed Scrabble, his head resting innocently on his paws, his tail wagging. “It’s Scrabble. Eeuuw! He’s done it again! Poohey!” and she flapped her hand around, as another wave of the pong hit her nostrils.
“Poohey!” came the reply, followed by a babyish giggle.
Marcia grinned at Henry as he copied both her words and gestures. “Poohey!”
“Mummy, Henry’s learnt a new word!”
Evadne turned around and grimaced. “So I can hear! Thank you for that one, Marcia,” and she rolled her eyes, as Marcia grinned benignly back at her.
“Dad, we can’t keep the windows closed now, it stinks,” Ned pleaded, and Edgar, with his hand over his nose, acquiesced.
“Fine, you can open them. Just keep the rabbit away from them, that’s all I ask,” he answered, turning back to the road. Then glancing at Evadne, who looked as if she were about to gag, he added, “Time for lunch, I think. We’re almost at Digne, we’ll stop there.”
Following a brief stop for some baguettes and tea in a local café, they were back on the road, on the last leg of the journey to Cap Ferrat. It had been a very long day for everyone, and after an hour and a half of welcome peace and quiet, Marcia began to get restless again. She was feeling squashed sitting in the middle of the back seat, something which she complained about on a regular basis when back in Geneva, and as boredom set in on top of that, a little imp began to whisper in her ear.
Slyly, she slipped her right hand under her left arm and poked Ned in the ribs. Ned glared at her out of the corner of his eye, but decided to ignore her and went back to reading his book. Not to be put off, Marcia did it again…and again….and again. At the fifth time, Ned finally lost his rag.
“Get off me, you little pig!”
Marcia stared back at him, wide eyed and innocent. “What?”
“You know what! Just leave me alone,” and he turned back to his book again.
Marcia's imp refused to be silenced, however, and she poked him again, harder this time, causing him to cry out.
“Right, that’s it!” and twisting round to face her, he shoved her roughly into Thea, who looked up crossly.
“Don’t push me!” Marcia snapped, retaliating by shoving him into the door.
“You started it!” Ned retorted, pushing her again.
“Shut up, the pair of you!” Edgar put in, his patience being tried again. “I don’t want to hear another word from either of you!”
“Edgar, we need to take the next right.”
“No we don’t, it’s quicker this way.”
“Evvy, I studied the map last night! I know where we’re going!”
“Stop it!” Thea yelled at her siblings, as Henry, sick and tired of being pushed around, opened his lungs and began to yell. “Now look what you’ve done, you mooks!”
She put her arms around her little brother and tried to calm him, but to no avail. Evadne gave up trying to direct Edgar and twisted round in her seat.
“Shhh, come on sweetie, it’s okay. Henry, look at me. Look at Mommy.” Ignoring her, Henry rubbed his face in his sister’s shoulder and continued to scream. “Edgar, stop the car.”
“Evvy, he’ll stop crying in a minute-”
“Just stop the car, knucklehead! I’m not leaving him yelling - I have to sort him out.”
Heaving a sigh, Edgar pulled over to the side of the narrow road and turned off the engine. “Well hurry up about it then. We can’t stop here long, we’re blocking half the road.”
Pulling a face at him, Evadne climbed out and opened the rear door next to Ned. “Right you, get out and go sit in the front. Maybe that’ll stop you two behaving like babies!”
With a muttered "Blame Marcia" Ned did as he was asked, and his stepmother took his place on the back seat, reaching across Marcia to take Henry from Thea.
“Come along, precious, stop crying. Mommy’s here,” she cooed, cuddling him tight, as he squirmed in her lap.
Edgar waited until they were settled, and then started the engine again. “Right, let’s see if we can get there without any more silliness, shall we?”
As if he had not even spoken, Marcia leant forward and poked Ned in the back.
Looking up as she cradled her son to her chest, Evadne caught the movement from the corner of her eye and reaching out her free hand, she grabbed hold of Marcia’s arm. “Quit that now, or I swear to goodness you’ll be walking the rest of the way.”
Whilst this was going on, Edgar was doing a double-take as they passed a kilometre sign at the side of the road. “Why are we heading towards Fossano?” he asked, frowning. “That sign should say Grasse and Nice.”
Evadne rolled her eyes. “I told you we should have turned right but no, you knew better. Ned, the map’s just in the door there. Pass it here, will you please?”
Ned went to do as he was told, but Edgar snatched it from his hands before he could pass it back.
“Dad, Evvy wanted-”
“We can take the next right, and that’ll bring us back through Saint-Andre,” Edgar interrupted, as his eyes swept over the map, and then back up at the road ahead. “It’s not too far, we’ve just added a few more miles, that’s all.”
Evadne wasn’t so sure. “Edgar, shouldn’t we just turn round or ask someone?”
“Ask who? There’s nobody around! And anyway, we don’t need to, I know what I’m doing.”
“And I don’t want to be stuck in middle of nowhere when it gets dark!”
“We won’t be! Have some faith, I’m not about to get us lost!”
Forty-five minutes and some harrowing hairpin bends later, they had indeed, as Edgar had predicted, reached the small town of Saint-Andre-les-Alpes. The only problem was that now they were there, tit appeared that they were unable to leave.
“I’m sure we’ve passed that car before,” Ned said, rather unhelpfully, as they drove down the same street for the fourth time.
“And that boulangerie,” Thea put in.
Pretty though the town was, Evadne was fed up with going round in circles. “Edgar, do you actually know where we are?”
“Yes, we’re in Saint-Andre.”
“But do you know how to get out of here?”
“Yes, of course I do!” he said, as they passed the post office yet again.
“Then will you get us out now?"
Edgar muttered something under his breath, and Ned faced him with a wicked grin. “He doesn’t know how.”
“Yes I do!”
“I’m seriously starting to doubt that!” Evadne added, sounded distinctly unamused. “Will you just stop and ask for directions, please?”
“I don’t need to!”
“Yes, you do!”
“Why don’t you just leave the driving to me?”
“Because we’ll be spending a month in Saint-Andre if I do!”
“Daddy, can we stop for the toilet?” Marcia piped up.
“But I need it.”
"No, Marcia. You don’t need it, it’s all in your head.”
“I do, I’m desperate!”
“She might wet herself, Dad, imagine that?” Ned put in with a grin.
“Don’t you dare!”
“Then stop for her, for heaven’s sake!” Evadne said, exasperated with her husband’s stubbornness.
“Just shut up all of you and let me concentrate!”
All the arguing had woken Henry and he began crying again, and Thea slammed down her book with a sigh. “I can’t read with all this noise!”
At that, Edgar's patience finally snapped. “Right, that’s it, I’ve had enough!” He pulled the car over opposite a small pension and turned off the engine.
“What are you doing?” Evadne asked, over the noise of her screaming son.
“I’m getting out!” and good as his word, he climbed out, slamming the door behind him, and strode across the street towards the hotel.
Hurriedly passing Henry to Marcia, Evadne jumped out and ran after him. “Edgar, what the blazes are you doing?”
“I’ve had enough. We’re staying here tonight. I can’t listen to them all anymore!”
“Stop being an ass!”
“Why am I being an ass? I’ve spent half the day driving across France to take my family on holiday and all everyone’s done is moan and whinge! And now on top of that, we’re lost!”
“We’ll that’s your own fault!”
Edgar paused for a moment, glaring at her, and then turned on his heel to walk off. Before he could move more than a step, Evadne reached out and grabbed one of his elbow, staying him.
“Edgar, please, stop being so stupid. If we stop here then you’ll have to get up and drive again tomorrow. At least if we keep going we’ll be there in two hours time, and you’ll get to have a rest and relax. And Cassie and Andrew get into Nice at seven and are expecting us to pick them up from the airport. What'll they do if we're not there?”
Edgar simply stared at her, saying nothing, but she could tell that his temper was calming down a little.
“Please, Edgar? For me? I’m tired and pregnant and I just want to get there and see my friends.” She felt a little bit bad for using her pregancy that way, but it certainly seemed to work, as Edgar’s demeanour visibly softened at her words. “Why don’t you go for a walk and calm down, leave me to sort them all out, and then in thirty minutes we can get going again. Okay?”
“Okay, fine. I’ll see you in half an hour,” and turning on his heel, Edgar stalked off down the street.
Evadne stood where she was for a moment, watching him go, and then made her way back to the car.
“Right, Marcia, get in there and go to the bathroom, quickly,” she said, taking Henry back and pointing towards the pension. “And make sure you come right back. No wandering off.” Marcia did as she was told and Evvy picked up Henry’s rabbit and turned to Thea and Ned. “You two stay here whilst I go calm His Lordship down,” and leaving her stepchildren to their own devices, she set off down the road towards a small park they had just passed.
When Edgar returned, twenty-five minutes later, he found that peace had descended on his family. Marcia was sitting by one window, Henry in her lap as they played with one of his wooden cars. Ned was on the other side, concentrating on a crossword, and Thea sat between them, her head buried in her book. All three looked up as he approached the car, a chorus of apologies on their lips, and Henry said ‘Dada’ and clapped his hands.
Edgar looked from one to the other and nodded. “Apology accepted. Now, let’s see if we can have peace and quiet for the rest of the journey, shall we?”
“Jolly good,” and with that he shut the back door and turned to his wife.
Evadne waved a piece of paper at him. “Here, I have directions out of the town.”
“Thank you,” came the slightly sheepish reply. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re forgiven. Just don’t do it again or I won't be quite so good you! Now, how about you get driving, mister, and we get out of this godforsaken place? We've spent more than enough time here already.”
Edgar smiled and shook his head. “Yes, ma’am.” He watched her curiously, as she made her way around to the passenger door. “How did you shut them up, by the way?”
Evadne paused, her hand on the handle, and gave him a wicked grin. “I told them that if they didn’t behave, I’d drive the rest of the way. Seemed to do the trick!”
Edgar stared at her for a moment, and then threw his head back with a laugh. “Yes, I can see why that would do it!” and to the sound of his wife’s indignant exclamation of "You're not supposed to agree!", he opened his door and climbed, still chuckling, into the car.
Evadne’s threat to drive, despite being tongue-in-cheek, appeared to have the desired effect. For the remaining two hours or so of the journey, not a peep was heard from the back seat, save for Marcia pointing out things of note to her little brother, and Henry’s intermittent refrain of ‘poohey’ – now his new favourite word. It was almost five o'clock in the evening by the time they finally descended into the foothills behind Nice. As Edgar turned the car into a particularly tight corner, heading down towards the town itself, Marcia uttered a shriek that almost caused her father to lose his concentration.
“Marcia, don’t yell like that!” Edgar admonished, his heart racing as he clung to the steering wheel. “You almost sent us right over the edge then!”
“Sorry, Daddy,” she replied, sounding utterly unapologetic. “Look, Henry, it’s the sea!”
At her words, the whole family turned to look at the view - and what a view it was. Whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs stretched out for a couple of miles, narrow streets running between them like a maze. The tops of the big hotels were just visible along the Promenade des Anglais in front of the beach, and beyond them reaching out to the horizon, lay the Mediterranean Sea, still and calm, gleaming like a sapphire in the early evening sun.
“It’s so pretty!” Thea sighed, peering over Henry’s shoulder, trying to get a better view. “Will we be near the sea, Mummy?”
“Certainly will,” Evadne returned, laughing at her son who had suddenly picked up on the excitement in his family's voices, and was now rocking back and forth in Marcia’s lap, babbling away and thrusting his rabbit in her face, “it’s right there at the end of the backyard!”
“Are we staying down there then?” Ned asked.
Evadne shook her head. “No, that’s Nice. We’re going round the coast a little towards Italy. It’s every bit as pretty though, and not nearly so big.”
“Mummy, why do they call it Saint Jean in the book, not Cap Ferrat?” Thea queried, frowning down at the guidebook that was open in her lap.
“Cap Ferrat is the peninsula, and Saint Jean is the village that’s set on it. Henry, stop that now!” and Evvy reached behind her to grab the rabbit out of his hands. Henry set up a noisy protest and clung on tight. “Then quit pushing it in Marcia’s face, you hear me?”
As his mother let go again, Henry grizzled and pulled the toy to his chest, nuzzling his head into Marcia’s shoulder. His sister laughed and tightened her arms around him.
“What’s the villa like, Mummy?”
“It’s real pretty,” Evadne returned, smiling. “It’s all hidden behind a tall hedge, so it’s nice and private, and there’s a big old yard, and-”
“Does it have a pool?” Ned and Marcia asked in chorus.
“Mummy can we go to this big hotel? It says lots of famous people stay there!”
“Honestly, talk about curiosity killing the cat!” Edgar interrupted with a chuckle. “If you wait a few more minutes you’ll see all that for yourselves!”
“We’re only asking!” came the indignant reply.
Evadne laughed. “Yes, it has a pool. And I’m sure we can head to the hotel one day, Thea.”
Despite their father’s remonstrations, the three of them continued to fire questions at their stepmother for the remainder of the short drive down the hillsides, through Villefranche-Sur-Mer and onto the peninsula itself.
“Are we here now?” Thea asked, as they all gaped at the impressive buildings around them, nestled behind high fences and tall Cyprus hedges.
“Almost.” Then as her husband turned the car off the main road, she pointed out a pink villa, just visible at the far end of a very end of a narrow drive. “You see that pink house right down there? That’s where David Niven lives.”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “The actor? Really?”
“Will we meet him, Mummy?”
Evadne laughed at Marcia’s question. “I don’t know, sweetie, maybe. Miss Dene and I saw him in a restaurant last time I was here, and he smiled and said hello.”
Ned, in particular, looked very impressed, having recently seen Around the World in Eighty Days. “Cool! That’d shut Lloyd-Kitchen up if we met David Niven!”
“Nice to see your generosity of spirit!” Edgar said, rolling his eyes.
“He deserves it!”
“I’m sure he does, but it’s still not very nice.”
As he spoke, Edgar pulled the car up in front of some large, wrought iron gates, flanked by tall Cyprus trees. His wife climbed out to unlock and open them, and he drove down the short, curving driveway and pulled up in front of a white, Italian-style villa.
Turning off the engine, he leant back against his seat and heaved a sigh. “Phew! Here we are then – everybody out.”
There was a flurry of activity from the back seat, as all four children clambered out, stretching their legs and gazing around them, and Scrabble made a dash for the nearest fence. Marcia set Henry down on the gravel driveway, and set off at a run towards the front door, followed closely by her sister.
“Get back here now, you two! If you’re going in, you can jolly well take some bags with you as you go!”
“But Daddy, I need the toilet!”
Evadne laughed as she walked up behind them. “It’s okay, Edgar, I’ll let her in. In fact, why don’t we all go – we can come back for the bags in a little while.”
Edgar acquiesced with a resigned air. “Okay, fine. Let’s go and have look then, shall we?”
The three children cheered and towed their stepmother, laughing, towards the door, Scrabble barking and jumping around at their heels. Edgar paused only to pick up Henry, who was toddling off towards the gates again, before following on behind.
The villa was every bit as impressive inside as it was out. Two-stories high, there were terracotta floors throughout, covered here and there with colourful rugs - a stark contrast to the white stone walls. Off the hallway at the front of the house were a study, a drawing room and a downstairs cloakroom, and at the rear there was a kitchen and huge sitting room with windows that overlooked the terrace and the pool. Upstairs, two bright and airy bedrooms with ensuites stretched the entire width of the house, and between them, at the front, was a small box room in which the owners had set up a cot for Henry. To the side of the house, through an archway that led off the sitting room, a large glass-sided loggia ran along one side of the terrace, the centerpiece of which was an enormous solid-wood table. The huge glass windows offered a wonderful view out across the swimming pool and the beautifully-tended gardens, to the gleaming Mediterranean beyond. An archway on the far side of the loggia led to another, smaller, one-storey building, containing two more bedrooms and a bathroom. The decor throughout was of a rustic Italian style, and the place had a comfortable, lived-in air about it, from the squashy cushions adorning the well-used furniture, down to the bowl full of fresh lemons on the loggia table and the vases of purple, white and blue flowers scattered here and there on sideboards.
While the elder three children ran around, exploring and exclaiming with delight over their surroundings, Edgar made his way through the salon, Henry in his arms, to join his wife on the terrace. Hearing his footsteps behind her, she turned to face him with a smile.
“Well they seem impressed anyway,” she said, reaching out to run her fingers through Henry’s fine, fair curls.
Edgar, who had been down a few weeks previously to collect the keys and finalise some details with the owners, grinned in return. “Can’t say I blame them. I was pretty bowled over when I saw it myself.”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Evadne spoke with a wistful air, as she stared down the gardens at the sea. “It takes me back to staying here with Poppa. He did love the Riviera so.”
Edgar watched her for a moment, and then placing his free arm around her shoulders, he bent to kiss her on the cheek. “He was a man of very good taste!”
Evadne chuckled as she turned her head to look at her husband. “Yes, I guess he was.”
“Dad, this place is amazing!”
Turning towards the loggia, Edgar smiled as he saw Ned and Thea standing in the open doors. “Glad you like it.”
“Can you get to the sea?” Thea asked, staring down the garden in awe. “Do we have our own beach?”
Evadne turned to follow her stepdaughter's gaze and shook her head. “Not a beach, no. It’s all rocky cliff down there, though there’s a small place to moor a boat if you want to climb down. The beaches are across the other side from here.”
“Which bedrooms are ours?” Ned wanted to know.
“You kiddos are all in there.” Evvy nodded her head towards the smaller building. “Boys in one, girls in the other.”
“Speaking of which,” Edgar put in, handing Henry to his wife and heading towards the loggia, “how about we go and unpack all our stuff. Where’s Marcia?”
“On the toilet,” Thea replied with a grin, following her father back through the house. “She was so excited about the house, she almost forgot she needed to go and had an accident!”
“Well thank goodness she remembered in time, then! Marcia?” he called out, as he reached the front door. “Come out and collect your things once you’re finished please! No more larking around until you’re unpacked!” and taking the muffled response from the cloakroom as a yes, he made his way back out to the car.
Fifteen minutes later, he and Ned had almost finished taking all the bags out of the boot and setting them on the ground next to the car, when Evadne appeared at the front door.
“Edgar, can I get Henry’s diaper bag?” she asked, squeezing past Ned as he took his parents’ large suitcase inside. “He’s living up to his new favourite word and the smell’s something else altogether!” Then seeing her husband staring down at all the luggage, a frown on his face, she asked, “What’s bitten you?”
Edgar beckoned her over and pointed to the bags at his feet. “Notice anything strange about this lot?”
Evadne stared at them, wondering for a moment whether he had gone mad. Suddenly, it dawned on her what he meant. “When did she sneak those in?”
“No idea. Must have been this morning, I suppose.”
“Well you have to give her points for initiative I guess!”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “Yes, that’s one way of putting it.”
“What are you going do?”
“Not sure yet.”
Evvy bent to pick up Henry’s changing bag and then looked back up with a grin. “Make sure I’m there to see it, won’t you?”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” As she set off towards the house to see to Henry, Edgar called Thea over to him. “Right, you, come and get your bags please, and take them inside.”
Thea did as she was told, double-checking the number of cases as she did so, and giggling to herself as she realised what Marcia had been up to that morning.
“You ninny!” she hissed, as she passed that young lady in the hallway. “Daddy’s found them!”
Marcia stopped and stared at her. “Found what?”
“What d’you think?” her sister replied, dragging her case through to the sitting room, almost overbalancing with the weight of it.
Puzzled, Marcia screwed up her brow and made her way outside. Spotting the five bags lined up by the side of the car, she opened her eyes wide, as she suddenly remembered what she had done.
“Well come on then, what are you waiting for?” Edgar asked calmly, as he spotted her gawping at him. “Take them inside.”
Cautiously, Marcia picked up the first two, trying to rearrange her face into the most innocent expression possible, and turned to head back into the house. She was more than a little confused by her father’s affable tone of voice – had she really got away with it that easily?
She was just walking through the front door when Edgar called after her. “Make sure you leave them in the sitting room, won’t you? We need to have a little word.”
Marcia stopped dead and spun round to face him. “Daddy, I-”
“We’ll wait until they’re all inside, I think,” Edgar replied pleasantly, and shoulders slumped, realising she hadn’t got away with it after all, Marcia continued on her way.
By the time she had taken all five bags inside, Edgar was ready and waiting for her, sitting in an armchair with a congenial smile on his face. Marcia placed the final case down by the fireplace and perched herself on the end of a chaise longue, eyeing her father nervously. She had been wracking her brains trying to work out what sort of punishment he could come up with, and the only thing she could think of was a telling off. As her everyday life generally included one or two of those anyway, then that in itself would not be too bad, but she had a nagging feeling that it wouldn’t be all. Edgar simply stared at her, the smile not moving from his face, and after a minute of twisting her fingers together and staring around the room, Marcia couldn’t take it anymore.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she burst out, thinking that if she got an apology in first it might ease matters.
Edgar simply shook his head in return. “Let’s wait til Mummy gets here, shall we? In silence,” he added quickly, as she opened her mouth to speak again.
Marcia clamped her mouth shut and stared down at her feet. Another torturous few minutes passed by before Evadne appeared, and as she handed Henry over to Thea, and asked her to take him into the garden away from the pool, Edgar leant back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest.
“So then, Madam,” he began, as Evadne took a seat and tried not to grin at the bags lined up in front of the hearth, “I’m assuming these are all yours?”
Marcia stared down at the carpet and shuffled her feet.
“What was that? I didn’t quite catch it.”
“So, how many bags have you bought in all?”
“The same five I told you that you couldn’t bring yesterday?”
“Did you repack at all, when I asked you to?”
Marcia paused for a moment and glanced up at him, then shook her head.
“I see. So you simply went back upstairs, waited, and brought the same ones down again?”
Marcia gulped. “Yes.”
“And when did you put the other three in the car.”
“Right, well in that case, I’d like you to take the three extra bags that you added this morning and put them in mine and Mummy’s room. They can stay there until we go home.”
Marcia looked up, horrified. “But-”
“No buts, you must have plenty of things in the case and holdall.”
“But my summer things are in-”
“I don’t care where your summer things are,” he interrupted, his voice still calm and pleasant. “You should have thought about that before you decided to play this little trick. If you’d done as you were asked, then everything you need would be in the right place, wouldn’t it?” He got no reply. “Wouldn’t it?” he repeated, and his daughter swallowed hard and nodded.
“Well go on then, do as you’re told, and then you can take the other two through to your room and unpack. Off you go.”
Getting slowly to her feet, Marcia stomped over to her bags, dragging the three extra holdalls out of the room one at a time by their handles, a sulky look on her face, as her parents watched on. As soon as she was out of earshot, Evadne turned to her husband.
“You’re a hard man, Edgar Watson.”
Edgar shrugged. “She has to learn to do as she’s told somehow. Telling her off seems to make no difference, so if this is the only way to get through to her, so be it.”
Evadne shook her head as she got to her feet. “I suppose you’re right.” With a chuckle, she added, “I wonder what she’s got in those two bags.”
Grinning, Edgar stood up, stretching his arms above his head. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” he replied, stifling a yawn.
Doing the same, Evadne put her hand over her mouth. “Stop it, that’s catching!” Then checking her watch, she said, “I should get Henry fed and changed, I guess. And you’d best head off to the airport – Cassie’s flight lands in half an hour.”
“Gosh, is it that late already? I’ll see you in a little while then.”
As he turned to head back out to the car, Evadne glanced down at the table and laughed. “You may need these,” she called after him, picking up his car keys and holding them out.
Turning red, Edgar came back to retrieve them. “I was just about to pick them up!”
“Oh course you were.” Chuckling, Evvy handed them over and he took them sheepishly and bent to kiss her on the cheek, “Go on, be off with you, I’ve things to do,” and putting her hand on his backside, she pushed him towards the sitting room door and headed into the garden in search of her son.
Meal and bath times were never a speedy process where Henry was concerned, and by the time Evadne finally had him washed and changed into his new summer sleepsuit, almost an hour had passed. It was now eight o’clock, well past his usual bedtime, but as he still seemed wide awake, having had several naps on the journey down, she decided to keep him up a little while longer, so that he could meet her friends. Collecting up his rabbit, a book and a couple of his wooden cars, Evvy hitched him up on her hip and carried him back downstairs.
Laying his toys on a rug by the fireplace, she set the little boy down next to them and then made her way through the archway into the kitchen, where she found Thea, washed and changed and hard at work.
“Do you want a hand, sweetie?”
Thea smiled and shook her head, as she finished chopping some tomatoes and lifted up the chopping board, tipping them all into the salad bowl. “I’m all done, ‘cept for cutting the bread,” she replied, placing down the board and walking across to the fridge. “I boiled some eggs and chopped the ham and salami too, but I couldn’t find the cheese.”
Evadne grinned, surveying the food that she had picked up at a supermarché in Digne. “I decided not to buy any in the end – I wasn’t sure it would fit in the cool box.” Picking a piece of cucumber out of the salad, she popped it into her mouth. “Where are the other two?”
“Marcia took Scrabble outside to play, ‘cause he kept coming and begging and we almost tripped over him, and Ned’s having a bath.” Washing the board off with a cloth, Thea pulled the bread knife from the wooden knife-block, and then took a loaf of fresh bread out of a bag. “I found the washing machine and some soap flakes so I put his and my clothes in the wash too ‘cause we were all smelly after being in the car.”
“You’re a little angel, d’you know that?” Evadne smiled, putting her arm around her stepdaughter and kissing her on the cheek. “I don’t suppose Marcia had a bath too, did she?”
Thea grinned and shook her head. “She said she didn’t care if she was smelly,” she replied with a giggle. “You should see our room, Mummy. She brought all her ornaments and everything – even her bedside lamp! It looks just like her bedroom at home!”
Evadne laughed. “Why am I not surprised? I don’t suppose she actually had any clothes in those two bags, did she?”
“Some. Not the right ones though.”
“I thought as much.”
Evadne turned around as Henry toddled into the kitchen, holding one of his wooden cars out towards her. “O-no” was a phrase that had been acquired in the past few weeks, thanks to Ned, and it generally meant that either he had hurt himself, or something had been broken, spilled or put where it shouldn’t have been.
“What are you ‘o-no-ing’ for, little man?” she asked, crouching down and reaching out her hand for the car.
As she took hold of it, the back wheels fell off and dropped to the floor with a clatter. Henry looked down at them and brought both his hands up to his mouth. “O-no!”
“O-no indeed!” she frowned, picking them up and examining them. “What did you do? Look, it’s all broken! Now you can’t play with it any more.” Henry stared back at her, his eyes wide, his hands still over his mouth, and Evadne could not help but laugh at the expression on his face. “Come on you, let’s get you out of the kitchen shall we, away from all these sharp knives,” and standing up again, she took hold of his hand and walked him back through to the salon. “Now, what have you been up to?”
The tell-tale signs were all over the hearth. Bits of splintered wood were scattered around a point where he had clearly been throwing the toy down on the stone surface.
“Look at all this mess, you little terror! You know, if you keep on with this, you’ll have no toys left soon.”
Evadne bent down to collect up the splinters, and as she picked up the last piece of wood, she felt something sharp being thrust into her side. Turning, she found Henry, oblivious to the mess he had made, poking in her ribs with one of his books.
“D’you want a story, sugar-pie?” she asked, taking it from him and getting to her feet. “Come on then, let’s go sit down.”
Walking over to the dustbin, she tipped in the splinters, and then rapped on the patio doors to get Marcia’s attention. Once she had despatched that young lady to go and hunt Ned out of his room, she sat herself on the nearest sofa and reached out to pull Henry into her lap. Then, as Thea came through from the kitchen and curled herself up next to them, Evadne adjusted her son’s position to make him more comfortable, and opened the book to the first page.
“So then, who wants to hear about Babar and Celeste?”
“I do, please!”
At the sound of the new voice, Evvy gave a cry of “Cassie!”, thrust her son into Thea’s lap, causing him to protest loudly, and jumping up from her seat, she ran across the room and threw herself into her friend’s arms. “You’re finally here!”
Laughing, Cassie returned the embrace warmly. “I know, it’s been an absolute age since we last saw each other, hasn’t it?”
“I’ll say! Not since Poppa’s burial. Oh it’s so good to see you!” Pulling back, she turned to Lauren, who had followed her mother into the room and was busy saying hello to Thea and Henry. “And how’s my little goddaughter?”
Lauren grinned and gave her brevet-aunt a hug. “Good thanks, Aunt Evvy.”
“And not so little anymore!” Cassie put in with a grin. “Would you credit she’s thirteen and a half already and this one,” she added, reaching up and ruffling Sam’s hair as he came into the room, “just turned fifteen last week!”
“Mom, get off of me!” Sam protested, ducking away from his mother’s arm, and Cassie laughed.
“Too old for that, are we?” she teased, chuckling as Sam scowled back at her. Then spotting Henry standing on the sofa, clinging to his sister’s arm and looking around with wide eyes at the strangers, she smiled and said, “Hello there, you must be Henry?”
The little boy eyed her suspiciously and backed into Thea, and Evadne laughed and leant over the back of the sofa to pick him up. “It’s okay, sweetie, come and meet Aunt Cassie, she doesn’t bite!” Having none of it, Henry buried his head in his mother’s shoulder and clung onto her for dear life. “Sorry, Cass, he can be a little shy with strangers at first, especially when he's tired.”
Cassie smiled and dismissed her friend’s apology with a wave of her hand. “Not a problem. We’ve four weeks to get to know one another, haven’t we, Henry?”
As she spoke, the noise level suddenly doubled, as Scrabble raced in through the patio doors and began bounding around everyone’s feet, Marcia appeared from the loggia, and Edgar and Andrew finally made it inside with the Markhams’ luggage. Evadne handed Henry to Marcia and turned to greet Andrew. Setting two large suitcases down by the hearth, Edgar whistled loudly to get everyone’s attention.
“Can we get cases through to bedrooms before anyone gets too comfortable, please?” he asked, seeing Thea and Lauren about to head out onto the patio, Marcia chattering away to Cassie, and Sam playing with Scrabble on the floor. “Where’s Ned?”
“Here,” replied the young man himself, as he sauntered in from the loggia, looking clean and fresh after his bath. He said a nonchalant hello to Lauren, blushing slightly as he did so, and then walked over to greet his brevet-aunt.
“Pooh - you smell of perfume!” Marcia cried, covering her nose as he passed her.
Ned glared at her. “It’s not perfume, it’s aftershave!” he scoffed, giving Cassie a hug, and not noticing as that lady gave a slight cough and blinked her eyes rapidly.
“Whose aftershave?” Edgar asked suspiciously.
“Yours, at a guess,” Evvy put in, copying Cassie and waving her hand in front of her face. “It’s that awful stuff Aunt Harriet gave you last Christmas!” Then turning back to Ned, “How much did you put on?”
Ned coloured furiously. “Not much.”
“Smells like half the bottle to me!” Edgar said, lifting his hand to his nose. “And who said you could take it.”
“You never use it, I didn’t think you’d mind!”
“You should still have asked first. At the very least, I could have told you how to use it properly – you’re only supposed to put a few dabs on, not slather yourself in it!”
“I haven’t slathered myself in it. I didn’t put any on at all!”
“Ned, we can smell it-”
“The bottle broke in my bag!” Ned snapped, turning even redder, if that was at all possible. “It’s over all my things. It’s not funny, okay?” he added angrily, as they all burst out laughing.
“Is that what went pop in the case when you sat on it?” Thea asked, giggling.
“Yes. Stop laughing!” as another round of laughter filled the room.
Taking pity on him, Evadne disappeared into the kitchen, and returned a moment later with the laundry basket. “Here,” she said, handing it to her stepson, “go get all your clothes, and we’ll put them in the wash tonight. You’ll have to put up with the smell this evening, but at least we can get it out of everything else.”
Muttering his thanks under his breath, Ned took the basket and headed back to his room. Andrew called his children to order and instructed them to carry their suitcases through to their bedrooms, and Evadne took Henry from Marcia, holding him tight as his head nodded sleepily on her shoulder.
“I’d best go get this little man down in bed, I think, otherwise he’ll be a royal horror tomorrow,” she said, dropping a kiss on Henry’s fair head, as he gave a huge yawn. “Girls, will you take Sam and Lauren through and show them where they’re sleeping?” Then as the four youngsters headed off through the loggia, she added “Come with me, Cass, I’ll show you where your room is,” and leaving Edgar and Andrew to follow on with the luggage, the two women made their way upstairs, chatting away to each other as they went.
Leaning into the mirror, Ned rubbed a non-existent pimple on his forehead with one hand whilst brushing his teeth with the other, a trail of white toothpaste running down his chin and dropping onto his bare chest. Spitting into the sink, he rinsed out his toothbrush under the cold tap, swilled some water around his mouth, and dried it with a towel. Then wrapping the same towel tightly around his waist, he ran his hand through his thick, dark, wavy hair, causing it to stand messily up on end, and made his way back to his bedroom. There he found Sam still lounging in bed, his sheets pulled over his head and his legs dangling off the side.
“Quit making all that noise, will you?” Sam moaned, as Ned slammed the door behind him and then made his way across to his dresser and began noisily pulling out all the drawers. “Some of us are trying to sleep!”
Ned grinned as he took out his swimming trunks and beach towel, and forcefully pushed his underwear drawer shut, knocking over several things on the top of the dresser in the process.
“It’s almost eleven o’clock, you lazy oaf!” he retorted, pulling his trunks on and throwing the wet towel on the floor in a heap.
“And someone’ll be in to dig us out soon enough, so you may as well stop moaning and get up now or you’ll be in for it. They’ve only left us this long ‘cause it’s the first morning here!”
As if on cue, the door swung open and a fresh and lively-looking Lauren breezed into the boys' bedroom. “Mom says if you’re not up and outside in ten minutes, she’ll come drag you out herself,” she announced, walking directly across to her brother’s bed and pulling off the covers, revealing a pyjama-less Sam underneath.
“Hey!” As Ned burst out laughing, Sam grabbed the sheet from her hands and rearranged it to protect his modesty once more. “What d’you do that for, dumbkopf?” he exclaimed furiously. “And who said you could come barging in here anyway? Haven’t you heard of knocking? We could have been naked or anything!”
“Apparently you are!” Lauren returned with a grin. “What’s the big deal anyhow? I’ve seen you with no clothes on before, remember?”
“You’ve not seen Ned before, and he could have been changing!”
“Well he wasn’t, was he?” Ignoring her brother’s continued protests, she turned her back on him and fixed Ned with a wide smile. “We’re going in the pool – you gonna join us?”
For no accountable reason, Ned found himself blushing. “Yes, definitely!” he replied eagerly. Seeing Sam giving him a look of amazement, he coughed, doing his best to act nonchalantly, and quickly added, “I’ll maybe come in a bit. Sam and I haven’t decided what we’re doing yet.”
Lauren simply shrugged. “Please yourself. You’ve toothpaste down your front, by the way.” Then, as Ned’s face coloured again and he began furiously rubbing at the white mark on his chest, she turned back to Sam. “Mom’s serious, knucklehead. You’d best get up,” and shaking her head at what she saw as the strange behaviour of ‘boys,’ she turned on her heel and left the room, collecting up Ned’s wet towel as she went.
“Mom’s serious, knucklehead, you’d best get up,” Sam repeated childishly to her retreating back, throwing his pillow at her as she disappeared through the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Ned staring oddly at the open doorway, and gave him an incredulous look. “What’s got into you?”
His voice jerked Ned out of his reverie. “Nothing,” he retorted quickly, turning back to his dresser as a red flush crept slowly up his neck.
“Rot! You’ve gone all-”
“I’m going to get breakfast,” Ned interrupted quickly, and grabbing his beach towel off his bed, he made for the door. “See you out there,” and without waiting for a reply, he hurried into the corridor.
Edgar glanced up from his newspaper as his son appeared in the loggia, and fixed him with a broad grin. “Well, here’s lazy number one, anyway,” he teased. “What time do you call this?”
“It’s not that late!” Ned shot back, grimacing at his father and taking his place at the table, helping himself to a fresh, crusty roll as he did so.
“You think so?”
“Leave him alone, you bully!” Evadne admonished, entering the loggia in her swimsuit, a jug of freshly-squeezed orange juice in her hand. “Ignore him, Ned. He only put in an appearance himself twenty minutes ago.”
“So much for being a supportive wife!” her husband shot back, in injured tones.
Evadne laughed. “Awww, poor baby. Am I being mean to you?” Setting the jug down next to him on the table, she laughed as he pulled a disgruntled face, and stooped to peck him on the cheek. “You’ll get over it, I’m sure. Right, sunbathing for me, I think. Where’s Henry?”
“Outside in the sandpit. Marcia’s with him.”
“I’d best go relieve her then, she must be roasting by now in that get up,” and she turned to make her way outside.
“I was right, you can see it!” Cassie suddenly chipped in, watching her friend from the open glass doors.
“Your bump! It’s definitely there!”
Evadne and Edgar had told their friends the previous evening of their happy news, and once the congratulations were over, Cassie had argued determinedly, despite Evadne’s view to the contrary, that she was definitely beginning to show. Now, Evvy looked down at her stomach and raised a cynical eyebrow.
“Where? I just look fat!”
“That’s rot and you know it! Look, I’ll prove it to you,” and before anyone could ask her exactly how she planned to prove it, Cassie disappeared through the sitting room doors.
A minute later, she returned, a piece of paper and a pencil in her hands. Evadne stared at her suspiciously.
“What are they for?”
“To show that you have a bump, of course.”
“Come here and you’ll see,” and taking her friend by the arm, Cassie marched her over to the nearest wall and held the paper up at stomach height. “Now stand side on.”
“Oh, quit being a dolt!” Ignoring her protests, Cassie dragged Evvy into place, and holding onto her with one hand, she quickly drew around the outline of her stomach with the pencil. “There, see? I was right!”
Evadne stared at it sceptically. “All I can see is ‘fat’.”
“Oh please give over,” Cassie scoffed. “You couldn’t look fat if you tried. Here,” she demanded, walking over to the table and waving the piece of paper in Edgar and Andrew’s faces, “does she, or does she not, look pregnant?”
“Fat,” Ned chipped in with a wicked grin.
“I wasn’t talking to you, mister,” Cassie replied, clipping the back of Ned's head with her hand in jest and causing him to choke on his bread. Then marching back to Evadne, she said triumphantly, “Now you can’t argue – everyone agrees with me.”
“You know what you should do?” Andrew put in, leaning back in his chair and putting his hands behind his head. “Scotch tape it to the wall and then we can draw around her and check it every two or three days. See how much she expands over the month.”
“Excuse me!” Evadne retorted indignantly, as Cassie exclaimed delightedly at the idea. “I am not here to provide some sort of Markham family experiment, thank you very much!” and to much laughter from those around the table, she spun around, very much on her dignity, and stalked out onto the terrace with her nose in the air.
Outside, she found Marcia sitting on the floor next to the sandpit, helping Henry build a sandcastle. Well, in truth, she was building the sandcastle, whilst Henry giggled and knocked it down again. The owner of the house, an old business associate of Arthur’s, had had the sandpit installed for his grandchildren, and it was fenced in with a low security gate to separate it from the swimming pool. Edgar had remembered to bring his son’s small paddling pool along with them, and Henry was as happy as could be with his little arrangement.
Marcia, on the other hand, looked far from comfortable. That morning, before her stepdaughter could get dressed, Evadne had removed the dirty clothes that Marcia had worn the day before and put them in the laundry, and Edgar’s dictum regarding the extra suitcases had well and truly kicked in. Dressed in a thick, woollen winter skirt and an equally heavy roll-neck jumper, Marcia had gradually become more and more overheated as the morning had worn on, and now, as she played with her little brother, her face was scarlet and beads of sweat trickled down her forehead.
“Marcia, are you okay, sweetie?”
The young girl glanced up at her stepmother and gave a slight smile. “I’m a bit hot,” she replied, glancing enviously at Lauren and Thea, who were splashing about in the pool. Her swimming costume had been in another case, so she couldn't even follow them in.
“I’m not surprised. Why don’t you take that sweater off, and put your vest on instead.”
“Not in front of everyone!”
“It’s no different to having your bathing suit on, silly.”
“It is – it’s my underwear!”
“I’m not wearing my vest!”
Evadne sighed and shook her head. “Fine, have it your own way. Just don’t blame me if you’ve fried by mid-afternoon.” Unlatching the security gate, she made her way inside the pen. “Why don’t you go sit in the loggia, at least? It’s cooler in there.”
Glaring through the plate-glass windows at her father, Marcia scowled and shook her head. “Daddy’s in there.”
“I’d rather play with Henry.”
“Marcia, don’t be-”
“Please, Mummy. It’s shady here too.”
Evadne watched her closely for a moment and then gave up the argument. “So what are you playing then?”
“We’re building Windsor Castle.” Marcia indicated an impressive looking turret combination to her left. “‘Cept Henry keeps knocking it down again.”
As if to prove her point, Henry reached forward and pulled down the corner of the latest fortress with both hands. “O-no!” he shouted, pointing at it.
Evadne grinned and reached out to ruffle his fair curls. “Are you having fun there, little man?”
Henry giggled in return and babbled something unintelligible. Evadne laughed. “Well if you two are quite happy, would you mind if I go sunbathe for a while? I’ll be just over there if you need me,” and leaving her two children to continue on with their game, she headed back out of the gate, latching it behind her, and made for the nearest sunbed.
From the far end of the pool, Lauren caught sight of her brevet-aunt and swam down towards her. “Aunt Evvy, are the boys up yet?”
“Ned is – he’s having breakfast. I’ve no idea what your brother’s up to.” Sitting down on the bed, Evadne had just wriggled to make herself comfortable, when she suddenly realised that she had left her drink inside. “Darn it! Lauren, would you be a gem and go grab my glass of juice?”
“Sure.” Lifting herself effortlessly out of the water, Lauren got to her feet, twisted the excess water out of her long, red-brown hair, and headed towards the house.
“My book’s on the dresser too if you’re passing,” she heard Evvy call after her, and she shot that lady a grin of acknowledgement in return.
She arrived at the open glass doors just in time to see her mother finish tacking a piece of paper to the wall. “What’s that, Mom?” she asked curiously.
“Aunt Evvy’s baby bump,” Cassie answered, straightening up and surveying her handiwork critically. “And you stay where you are, young lady!” she added quickly, as her daughter tried to enter the room. “I’m not having you dripping all over this stone floor and causing someone to slip!”
Backing up hurriedly, Lauren tipped her head to one side and studied the paper, looking thoroughly confused. “Why is it on the wall?”
“So we can measure how much she grows whilst we’re here.”
“’Cause they’re crazy!” Ned put in through a mouthful of coffee, spraying it over the tablecloth as he spoke.
As Lauren giggled and Ned reached hastily for his napkin, Edgar shook his head in despair. “Why can’t you learn some manners? Anyone would think you were brought up in a barn!” In answer, Ned turned towards his father and opened his mouth wide to reveal a chunk of half-eaten bread. Edgar rolled his eyes. “Charming!”
Lauren pulled a face. “Eeuuw, that’s horrid!”
Ned flushed. “Sorry,” he mumbled, bringing his napkin back to his mouth, and hastily swallowing his food.
Surprised at his son’s rather coy reaction, Edgar glanced at him and raised his eyebrows, but decided not to pursue it for now. Oblivious, Lauren asked her mother to pass over Evadne's juice and book, and then turned her attention back to her friend.
“Do you and Sam want to come and play water polo with Thea and I? We could make it boys against girls.”
Ned nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, okay,” and cramming the last of his roll into his mouth, he choked as he tried to swallow too fast.
“Right,” Cassie said, handing Evvy's paperback and glass of orange juice to Lauren, “I’m off to drag my layabout son out of bed.”
“You needn’t bother – I’m here,” the young man himself interrupted, appearing in the doorway, dressed in a shirt and his swimming trunks, his black hair sticking up any-old-how.
Andrew looked up at the sound of his son’s voice. “Nice of you to join us.”
“Nice of you to put some clothes on!” Lauren chipped in, a wicked grin on her face.
Sam glared at his sister, and then choosing to ignore her comments, he walked across to the table and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot. “Uncle Edgar, did you say last night that there are cliffs at the end of the yard?”
“Small ones, yes. Why?”
“Want to go climb them?” Sam asked, turning his attention to Ned.
Mopping his streaming eyes, Ned nodded, as he finally stopped choking, and downed the remains of his orange juice. Lauren glared at him, looking affronted.
“You just said you’d play water polo with us!”
“I know, but-”
“Maybe he’s changed his mind!” Sam snapped, still upset at his sister for her earlier intrusion.
“I haven’t ch-”
“He said you’d play too!” Lauren chimed in.
“Well we don’t want to," Sam retorted.
“Actually, I do,” Ned replied in a quiet voice.
Sam snapped his head around to stare at his friend. “I thought you wanted to climb the cliffs?”
“I do, but we can play water polo first and do that later.”
Seeing the angry expression on Sam’s face, Andrew hastily got to his feet and made an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters. “Sounds like a good solution to me. In fact, I think I’ll come play as well. How about it, Edgar? Cass? More the merrier.”
“Right then, let's get to it. Don’t look so mopey,” Andrew added, glancing at his petulant son. “It won’t kill you to wait a couple of hours to go cliff climbing,” and leaving Sam muttering under his breath, he made his way outside, followed by Edgar, Cassie and Lauren, who pulled a triumphant face at her brother as she went.
Sam turned back to Ned. “Thanks a bunch! What d’you do that for?”
“’Cause I wanted to play water polo,” Ned replied, his voice a little distant as he stared through the window at the terrace.
“Yeah but now we’re stuck playing with Lauren!”
“So? What’s wrong with that?”
“I see enough of her at home, that’s what’s wrong with it! I’d like a day off, if it’s all the same to you. Surely you see enough of Thea too?”
"Not really,” Ned shrugged, still staring outside, a strange expression on his face.
Following his friend’s gaze, Sam saw that Ned was watching Lauren laughing and chatting with her father at the side of the pool. “What the heck's wrong you today?” he asked incredulously. “You go all queer every time Lauren’s anywhere near you. You were doing it last night as well.” He stared back and forth from his sister to Ned a couple of times, and then his eyes widened as comprehension suddenly dawned. “You like her!”
“’Course I do, she’s my friend, same as you are!” The red flush began to creep up Ned’s neck again, and his voice sounded just a little too defensive.
“I don’t mean you like her,” Sam returned, a wide, teasing grin on his face, “I mean you like her!”
“Don’t be an ass!”
“You do!” Sam laughed as the red flush crept further up Ned’s neck and onto his face. “I know you do, look at you!”
“Oh shut up!” Ned got hurriedly to his feet and made his way towards the door, “You don’t know anything!”
“Yes I do!”
“No, you don’t! I’m going in the pool,” and with that, he stormed out of the loggia and onto the terrace, Sam’s laughter ringing in his ears
The first few days of the holiday happened to be some of hottest that the Côte d’Azur had seen in many years. With temperatures soaring well into the nineties, the two families hardly left the villa, choosing instead to spend their time lounging around in the shady rooms in front of fans, or playing in and out of the swimming pool – anything to keep themselves cool. The person suffering the most was poor Marcia, who was still dressed in her inappropriate attire and spent most of her time lying on the stone floor of the dining room, it being the coolest place she could find. If her father had meant to find a punishment to teach her a lesson, he had most certainly succeeded.
It was now the fifth day since they had all arrived, and everyone was lazing around the house again on what was proving to be yet another scorching hot afternoon. Cassie was sitting in the loggia, drumming her fingers on the long, wooden table, lost in her thoughts. An hour previously, Sam had been running through the sitting room when he had slipped on a rug and crashed to the ground, his leg twisted awkwardly beneath him. He had instantly yelled out and clutched his swollen knee, his face twisted in pain. Edgar and Andrew had quickly carted him off to the hospital in Nice to get it checked out, and Cassie was left worrying about what injury her son might have done himself.
Suddenly the door through to the salon was pushed back with a creak, recalling her to her senses, and she looked up as Evadne and Henry entered the room.
“Wha…oh, it’s you. I thought it might be Sam back from the hospital.”
“No, only us. Sorry.” Catching sight of the anxious expression on her friend’s face, Evvy smiled sympathetically. “He’ll be okay, Cass. It’s likely just twisted, that’s all.”
Cassie heaved a sigh and sat back in her chair. “I know. And I know I’m being a dope, worrying like this, but I can’t help it – he is my baby after all, even if he does outstrip me by a good few inches these days! Guess you think I’m being a stupid fool?”
“Why on earth would I think that?” Evadne asked, seating herself on the opposite side of the table and watching as her son toddled towards his brevet aunt. “We all do it – I’m up half the night worrying if one of ours has so much as a bad cold! So’s Edgar, come to that. Not that he’d admit as much, of course.”
“I guess you’re right.” Cassie reached down to lift Henry into her lap. “Who’d be a parent, hey sugar-pie? You’re all nothing but trouble!”
Henry giggled and thrust his wooden car at her face. “Ka-na”
After his initial evening of shyness, the little boy had taken to the newcomers wholeheartedly and there was no doubt that in his brevet-aunt in particular, he had found himself a very willing new friend.
“Why, thank you!” Cassie took hold of the proffered toy and examined the dented side and loose wheel with a frown. “What have you done to it?”
“Oh, just thrown it at everything he’s come across,” Evadne put in, rolling her eyes and opening the book that she had brought into the loggia with her. “It’s as if now that he can throw things, he has to do it all the time! Would you believe he had four of those a month ago? One ended up in the lake, one got eaten by Scrabble, and a third got thrown on the hearth the day we got here. That’s the last one he has left – perhaps he wants to make it a nice even foursome. Henry, stop that please!” she added, as he banged the car down hard on the wooden surface. “Cass, take it from him, will you, before he damages the table?”
Chuckling, Cassie removed the car from his grasp, placing it just out of reach, and then handed him his rabbit in its place, stemming the inevitable yells of protest. “There you are, sweetie-pie, you play with him instead.” Seeing that he was happy, she turned back to Evadne and heaved a sigh. “I do miss having little ones around sometimes. Life seemed so much simpler when they couldn’t really answer back!”
“Don’t you believe it!” Evadne laughed, pulling a face across the table at her son, who had put his rabbit to one side again and picked up Cassie’s teaspoon instead. “This one answers back all the time – I just can’t figure out what he’s saying, that’s all!” She placed her book back down on the table and looked across at her friend thoughtfully. “Why is it that you only had two, anyway? I always had you pegged for more than that.”
Cassie chuckled and shook her head. “We only ever wanted two – though I think we stuck there more through luck than judgement, if I’m honest!” Then, as Evadne laughed, she added wistfully, “Every so often I do yearn for a baby around the place though. Sam and Lauren seem so grown up now.”
“Well you can have that one on a loan, if you like. I’m gonna have my hands well and truly full in under five months time!”
“Don’t tell me you two can’t afford a nanny, for I shan’t believe it!”
“Oh we can afford one alright, we just don’t want one. We’ve Monique, our au-pair, to help us out part-time, and that suits me just fine.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?” Cassie stared at her incredulously, whilst simultaneously trying to stop Henry banging the teaspoon on the side of her coffee cup. “I took all the help I could get and it still wasn’t enough. You are aware that you’ll have two kiddies under two years old, aren’t you? Not to mention the other three!”
Evadne grinned. “I can do math, you know, even if I did despise it at school! And I’ll manage somehow without the help, thanks all the same.”
“Why put yourself through it though?”
“Because Edgar and I both grew up in households brimming over with staff, that’s why, and we don’t want our home to be like that. Can you believe that Edgar’s poppa even had someone to run his bath and test the water for him?”
“But I thought that’s how you aristocratic types did things?” Cassie laughed in return.
Evadne shook her head. “Well, let’s just say we want to break the mould. Admittedly we had to get some domestic help after my sorry attempts to keep house, but that’s where it’s gonna end. Other folk manage well enough on their own and we shall too.”
“Well you’re quite loopy if you ask me!”
Shrugging her shoulders, Evadne put her hand over her mouth as she yawned, and turned to look outside at the terrace. The next moment, she’d turned back to her friend again, a wide grin on her face.
“Say, have you seen that?”
Leaning to one side, Cassie peered around Evvy’s shoulder and chuckled as she saw what had made her friend smile. For the past half an hour, a local young man named Yves, employed by the owners of the villa as pool boy, handyman and gardener, had been busy tending to a lose paving stone on the terrace. Close by, Lauren and Thea were lounging on sunbeds, soaking up the sun’s rays. Ostensibly, the pair of them were reading. From their vantage point at the table, however, their mothers could see Thea peering surreptitiously at the handyman from behind her book, shifting position slightly in order to get a better look. Lauren was far less subtle. She had abandoned all pretence of paying attention to her novel, and was staring blatantly at the tanned, handsome young man as he went about his work. Every so often the two girls would catch each other’s eye and giggle. The pair of them had been subjecting him to the same treatment all week, whenever he had been called upon to do a job around the villa. Yves appeared utterly oblivious to their attention, though he carried himself with the arrogance of someone who was fully aware how attractive he was.
Evadne laughed as they watched Lauren stand up from her lounger and wander over to sit on the edge of the pool, her eyes never leaving the object of her affection. “Poor Yves. I’ll bet he wasn’t expecting that all summer!”
“Oh, I dunno,” Cassie returned with a grin. “He may not be asking for the attention, but I get the feeling he’s enjoying it all the same! He reminds me of our pool boy when I was around Lauren’s age,” she added, chuckling to herself at the memory. “I used to spend all hours poolside when he was working, convinced that I was in love with him and that one day I would marry him. I scarcely even knew what having a boyfriend meant in those days! Of course, he was utterly disinterested in a simpering fourteen-year-old girl – other than getting a swell head from all the attention. Gee, was I devastated when Dad let him go!”
“Was he worried he might finally take notice of you?”
Cassie giggled and shook her head. “No, he caught him stealing from Mom’s purse! Of course, I was convinced my father had done it to spite me. I didn’t speak to him for a full three weeks, ‘til Ralph finally got through to me how dumb I was being.”
Evadne laughed. “The trials and tribulations of young love! Speaking of which, I reckon someone in there’s not so happy about the presence of young Master Yves,” she added, nodding her head towards the sitting room.
Through the open door, they could see Ned slumped in an armchair, peering at Yves over the top of his copy of ‘Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft' with a malevolent glare.
Before Cassie could reply, they were interrupted as the door through to the children’s bedrooms was thrown open, and Marcia sauntered into the loggia. She had spent all morning dressed in the summer skirt that she had worn to travel down from Geneva and a thick red rollneck jumper, and had made sure everyone knew just how uncomfortable she was feeling. Edgar had finally snapped at lunchtime, telling her to stop moaning and pointing out that if she was too hot, it was entirely her own fault. In a fit of pique, she had risen from the table and flounced off towards her bedroom, and none of them had set eyes on her since.
Now, as she crossed the room in front of her stepmother, Evadne’s eyes widened as she noticed what Marcia had on. She was still wearing her summer skirt, which looked exactly as it had done that morning. Her top half, however, was now attired in what looked like a red, sleeveless vest – and a crudely made one at that.
Pretending not to hear, Marcia carried on her path through to the kitchen. Quite used to this little trick, Evadne simply raised her voice.
Unable to ignore her stepmother twice, Marcia stopped and turned around to face her. Evadne looked her up and down.
“Where did you get that shirt?”
“Um…I made it.”
“And what happened to your red sweater?”
Marcia looked nervously down at herself. “I made this shirt out of it.”
Evvy nodded, her suspicions confirmed. “And who said it was okay to cut your clothing up like that?”
“Nobody.” Marcia hung her head and waited anxiously for a response, but none came. “I had to, Mummy!” she burst out eventually. “I was so hot. I couldn’t stand it any more.”
“I see.” There was a long pause, as Evadne sat back in her seat, and eyed her contrary daughter keenly. Marcia’s eyes darted around the room, looking at the floor, out to the terrace, up to the ceiling, and back down at her feet again. Anywhere but at her stepmother. Eventually Evadne heaved a sigh. “Okay, fine,” she added, with a wave of her hand, as Marcia listened in amazement from the doorway. “Go on, off you go.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the young girl walked uncertainly out of the room and Cassie turned to her friend, eyebrows raised. “You’re not letting her get away with it, surely?”
Evvy grinned. “I daresay I should’ve taken her to task, but it’s too hot for a row. And anyhow,” she shifted in her seat as she spoke, “in all honesty, I can’t say I blame her! I’m surprised she’s not toasted in all she’s had to wear these past few days. She was bound to snap at some point, and believe me when I say this is mild compared to what she’s capable of. It’s only an old sweater, after all.” Yawning widely, she put a hand over her mouth. “If Edgar wants a fuss made about it, he’ll have to deal with her himself.”
Cassie chuckled. “Well I guess you know what you’re doing. Henry, no sweetie, dont-”
But she was too late. Bored with playing with the teaspoon, Henry had decided to try and get hold of his car. Failing in his attempts to reach it with his hand, he had picked up the rabbit again and began flailing out towards his toy. At the fourth attempt he connected with it, sending it off the edge of the table and crashing down onto the terracotta floor. As it hit the ground, the loose wheel finally detached itself and bounced off across the room.
Evadne watched it go, as her son squealed and pointed at the car. “Well that’s that destroyed then.” Getting to her feet, she retrieved the pieces of toy, putting them on the table so that nobody would tread on them, and then bent to lift Henry out of Cassie’s lap. “Right, I think that’s enough of all that, don’t you? Time for you to have a nap.”
Unsurprisingly, Henry did not agree. As she heaved him up into her arms, he began yelling, kicking his legs violently and struggling against his mother’s grasp. Evadne, however, was more than used to these tantrums at nap times, and merely held him tightly in her arms, gathered up his rabbit, and marched out of the loggia.
As she walked through the sitting room, Ned glanced up from his book with an offer of help, which his stepmother turned down with a smile. The more people that were around, the less likely Henry was to settle. It was going to be a tough enough job anyway – the little boy’s screams could be heard in her wake, as she made her way upstairs to try and settle him down in his cot.
Ned watched his stepmother go, and then laying his book down in his lap, he turned his attention back to the terrace. Back to Lauren, who was still sitting on the edge of the pool, idly kicking her legs and making ripples on the surface of the water.
To say that he was confused was an understatement. He had been looking forward to this holiday for months now - looking forward to seeing Sam and Lauren again, to larking about and having fun as they always did when they were together, but somehow things were not quite working out as planned. Sam was just the same as he always was, there was no problem there. It was Lauren who seemed to have changed. Ned could not quite put his finger on it. She was just different - more grown up, somehow. He was noticing her in ways that he never had before. How deep and dark her eyes were. The dimples at the side of her mouth when she smiled. How she absently twisted her hair around her fingers when she was speaking. Her daredevil nature that meant she never shirked a challenge, however horrible.
Every time he had seen her, from the evening they had arrived, he felt himself getting a funny feeling in his stomach, had to fight hard to stop himself blushing when she spoke to him, felt a strange need to be around her as much as possible. Sam had been constantly ribbing him, saying that he liked her, but Ned knew that was nonsense. He did like her, of course, but not in the way that Sam meant. She was just Lauren, his good friend. To think that it was anything more was stupid. He simply had not seen her in a while, that was all. Of course he wanted to spend time with her. And for the first couple of days, it seemed as if she wanted to spend time with him too.
Then, on the third day, Yves had turned up. Lauren and Thea had both sat on their loungers, gazing at the handsome young Frenchman as he cleaned out the pool. As soon as he left, they had gone into a huddle together, giggling like fools, and after that, everything had changed. Lauren was supposed to be his friend and yet all she wanted to do was stare at stupid Yves. It wasn’t that Ned liked her of course. Not at all, not in that way. He just knew that Yves was not worth the attention, with his stupid perfect hair and his stupid tanned body and his stupid French accent. Stupid, stupid Yves.
Suddenly, Lauren pulled her legs up out of the water, tucking them round to the side of her and getting to her feet. Her movement recalled Ned to his senses, and as she said something to Thea and then turned towards the french doors, Ned hastily picked up his book again. By the time she came into the room, he was, to all appearances, engrossed in his aeroplanes, as if he hadn’t noticed her presence at all.
Lauren smiled as she caught sight of him sitting in the armchair. “Hey, Ned.” Ned grunted in return and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Sam not back yet?”
“Say, I hope he’s not done anything bad. He’ll be the worst grouch in the world if he has to miss the start of football next semester. I could live without that, let me tell you! He’s like Atilla the Hun if he can’t play ball!”
Laughing, she made her way through to the kitchen, still chattering away. Lowering his book slightly, Ned watched her through the arch as she made her way across to the fridge and opened it, pulling out an ice-cold jug of juice. Tall and slim, with a lankiness common in girls of her age, she had thick, shiny, red-brown hair that reached just below her shoulders, deep dark-brown eyes and a warm, wide smile that seemed to permanently light up her face. There was no doubt in Ned’s mind that she was a very pretty girl. Not that he was attracted to her, of course. He had just noticed it, that was all. Even that had been a shock, if he was honest. He had never really paid much attention to how a girl looked before.
Putting the juice back in the fridge, Lauren turned to face him, taking a sip of her drink and then holding it up.
“You want one?”
“No, thanks,” came the sullen reply, and Ned buried his head back in his book.
Lauren stared at him for a moment, a frown knotting her brow. Then, with a shrug of her slim shoulders, she simply said, “Please yourself,” and picking Thea’s drink up from the sideboard, she made her way back out onto the terrace.
Ned watched her go, the scowl returning to his face once more as he caught sight of the handyman. She was going back out to look at Yves, no doubt. Well if she didn’t want to be bothered with him, he thought to himself, hunching his shoulders and sinking further into the chair, then he wouldn’t be bothered with her either. See how she liked that.
Before he could think any more about it, the door through to the hall was thrown open, and Edgar came striding into the room, followed by Andrew and Sam, who was on crutches, his leg heavily bandaged below his shorts. Forgetting about Lauren for now, Ned threw his threw his book to one side and turned to his friend.
“Sam!” Cassie came running through from the loggia, drowning out Ned’s question. “Oh, sweetheart, look at you! What did they say? What have you done?”
“I’m okay, Momma, stop fussing!” Sam protested, as Cassie pushed her husband aside and began helping her son towards the nearest chaise longue. “It’s just twisted, that’s all.”
“He’s to keep it up as much as possible for the next few days, and not put any weight on it for a couple of weeks, maybe longer,” Andrew put in, helping his wife to lower Sam onto the seat. “The doc said he may even be on the crutches til we head home.”
“At least I’ll be okay for football in the fall,” Sam added, looking thoroughly fed-up as he shuffled back against the chaise longue and Cassie gently lifted his leg from the floor. Then frowning in Ned’s direction, “Guess it means no more cliff climbing though. Sorry.”
Ned grinned back, eager not to add to his friend’s miserable day. “S’okay – I’m sure we can find something else to do.”
“You’ll do nothing but sit here for the next day or so, young man!” Cassie interrupted sternly. “You’ve put us through enough worry already today without you adding to it by doing any more damage! And if you want to play ball when you get home, you’ll do as the doc says if you’ve any sense.”
“If who’s any sense?” came a fresh voice, and they all looked up as Evadne entered the room. She was rubbing the side of her stomach, and made hastily for the nearest chair, flopping herself down in it and heaving a sigh. “Ouff, that’s better! I thought I was never gonna get him to settle this afternoon – talk about a tantrum!” Then noticing Sam, she asked, “Hey, you’re back! What did they say at the hospital?”
“It’s twisted – he has to keep it up and be on these crutches for a few weeks," Cassie answered for her son.
“What’s wrong with your stomach?” Edgar asked his wife, with a frown.
Evadne shifted position to make herself more comfortable. “Nothing. Henry just took aim with a foot, that’s all.”
Edgar looked aghast. “I told you not to handle him when he’s having a tantrum! You should have asked someone to help you-”
“It’s easier to do it myself-”
“You need to be more careful! Where does it hurt? Maybe we should get it checked out by a doct-” `
“Edgar, I’m fine! He’s a baby, not a horse! He’s not done me any damage. Quit being such an ass.”
“No, Evvy, I’m not having it.”
Ignoring her protests, Edgar marched outside and called the two girls into the sitting room, and then shouted through to the dining room for Marcia to join them as well. When everyone was present, he leant against a wall and cleared his throat.
“Right, from now on, if anyone sees Evvy struggling with Henry you’re to give her a hand.”
“I asked her – she said no!” Ned put in, indignantly.
“That’s ‘cause I needed no help, that’s why!” Evadne said crossly. “I’m not made of china for he-”
“I don’t care, Evvy,” Edgar interrupted. “I’m not risking it. You’re pregnant, remember?”
“I know that, you great dope! That’s why most of my wardrobe doesn’t fit anymore!”
“Have you grown then?” Cassie asked, looking at her friend’s stomach appraisingly. “We’ll have to draw round the bump again.”
“Leave my bump alone!”
Ignoring them, Edgar looked around at the children. “Do you all understand?” He received a round of nods in return. Evadne shot him a look that said ‘I’ll deal with you later’, and he grinned back at her triumphantly.
At that moment, there was an interruption as Yves stuck his head around the patio doors to announce that he was done for the day. Edgar turned to thank him and to ask him to come back the day after tomorrow to see to the pool, and the young man took his leave.
“Au revoir, Yves!” Lauren called at his retreating back.
Ned pulled a face at her. “Au revoir, Yves,” he mimicked childishly, giving her a look of disgust.
Lauren glared at him. “What’s got your goat?”
“Why don’t you grow up, then?”
“Why don’t you grow up?”
“That’s enough, thank you!” Edgar put in hurriedly, before it descended into a full-scale row. “Now, I have some good news as well. We need to get out of the villa before we all go stir-crazy, and the temperature’s not looking like it’s going to drop, so on Monday, we’re all going up to the Gorges de Verdun for the day.”
“It’s really pretty there. We went on holiday, before Mummy and Daddy got married,” Thea hissed to Lauren.
Edgar smiled. “Thea’s right, it’s beautiful, and we thought you Markhams might like to go and have a look. There’s lots to do out on the lake, and there’s a great deal more shade than there is on the beaches here. It’s about a three hour drive and we’ll be leaving at six a.m. sharp on Monday morning, so it’ll be early nights all round on Sunday night. Any questions?”
“Can we try water skiing?” Ned wanted to know.
“Yes, if you like. And you can hire pedalos and small boats for sailing or you can go swimming too.”
“What about me?” Sam asked, his face looking even more miserable than before.
“You’ll still come with us, Sam, don’t worry – though I’m not sure how much you’ll be able to do. I’m sure we can hire a boat to take you out in at the very least. Or if you’d prefer, Auntie Evvy and Henry aren’t coming with us, so you can stay here with them, it’s up to you.”
Marcia listened to all this from her vantage point near the doorway, her eyes welling up with tears as they all asked questions about the various water sports they could partake. Suddenly, unable to take to anymore, she burst out, “I ‘spose that means I have to stay with Mummy and Henry too,” and before anyone could reply, she stormed off towards her bedroom.
Edgar heard a door slam and turned to his wife. Evadne glared back at him disapprovingly and shook her head. Heaving a sigh, Edgar got to his feet and with a quick, “Right, I guess that’s all then,” he followed in his daughter’s wake.
As Edgar left the room, Lauren turned to her father. “Dad, can Thea and I go and buy an ice cream?”
Andrew nodded. “Sure. Just put some clothes on first please – you’re not walking the streets in your bathing suits.”
“And you may want to cover up properly,” Evadne put in, looking from one to the other. “You’ve been out in the sun all day so far - you’re both looking a little pink.”
Thea twisted her head to look at her shoulder and then glanced over at Lauren. “No we’re not!”
“If we cover up then we won’t get a tan,” Lauren added, and Evadne shrugged.
“Please yourselves. Just don’t come moaning to me when you’re both hurting like sin this evening. And make sure you get Marcia an ice as well, won’t you? I think she’ll need one.” Then, as the two girls departed to find their dresses, the sound of Henry’s cries reached her ears and she resignedly got to her feet. “Can’t he go to sleep just once?”
Before she could move, Ned jumped up and headed for the door. “I’ll go.”
“Ned, it’s okay-”
“No it’s not – you heard Dad!” and not giving her a chance to protest again, he quickly ran out of the room.
Shaking her head, Evadne sat down again. “I can see I’m gonna be treated like an invalid for the next few weeks!”
Cassie laughed. “I’d make the most of it if I were you – it won’t last too long.”
Evvy shot her a mischievous grin. “I guess you’re right. And in that case I may as well put my feet up! Cassie, go fetch me a drink and a tin of my wieners please!”
Edgar, meanwhile, was trying to talk to his youngest daughter, who had shut herself in the children's bathroom. After knocking several times, with no response, he finally sat down on the floor outside the door.
“Go away!” came the muffled reply.
“Don’t you want to hear what I have to say?”
“I don’t care! I hate you!”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “Oh. Well okay, then. If you don’t want to hear that I’m giving you your summer clothes back…?”
This question was greeted by silence for a moment. Then a shuffling noise sounded behind the door and he heard the key click in the lock. Getting to his feet, he pushed the door open and found his daughter sitting with her back against the bath. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, and she stared up at him as he entered the room.
“Are you really giving them back to me?” she asked, sniffing and rubbing her eyes.
Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, Edgar handed it over to her and then sat down next to her with his back against the bath. “Yes, I really am.”
Marcia blew her nose and then looked up at him. “I thought I was going to be left out of the lake.”
“Do you honestly think I’d be that mean?”
“I…don’t know. Maybe.” She stared at her lap, twisting the handkerchief around her fingers, and Edgar smiled.
“I’m not a complete ogre, you know, despite what the rumours say.” Marcia nodded, and Edgar put a hand under her chin, lifting her face up to look at him. “Do you understand why I took them, though?” She nodded again. “And next time, when I tell you to do something, will you do it?”
“Well in that case, we’ll say no more about it. Come here,” and placing an arm around her shoulders, he pulled her towards him and gave her a hug. “Don’t stop being yourself, poppet. We love you for it and wouldn’t want you to change. You just need to learn when to rein the madness in, that’s all. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
Sniffing again, Marcia nodded as she pulled back and wiped her nose. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re forgiven. Just don’t do it again.”
“I promise I won’t. Cross my heart and hope to get scabies.” She paused briefly, and then added, “I don’t really hate you, Daddy.”
Edgar grinned. “I know you don’t, sweetheart. If I believed it every time one of you three threw that one at me, I’d be a nervous wreck by now! And I’ve still got Henry and Pebble to come yet too!”
Marcia giggled and scrubbed her eyes one last time, before handing his handkerchief back to him. Edgar tucked it into his pocket, and then getting to his feet, he held out a hand to pull her up.
“Interesting shirt you have on, by the way. Looks remarkably like your old, red jumper.”
His face and voice were expressionless, and Marcia was not quite sure what to say. “I was hot,” she mumbled lamely, staring down at her bare feet.
“Were you now? Well if you’ve been cutting your clothes up, I’m not sure you should have your cases back after all.”
“Daddy, that’s not fair! I…” Then, seeing the twinkle in his eye, she uttered an indescribably sound. “You’re not funny! I thought you really meant it!”
“Yes, well, hack any more of your clothes to pieces and I just might!” Opening the bathroom door, he turned back and placed his arm around her shoulders. “Come on, you. Let’s go and get those bags, shall we? Unless I miss my guess, you must be crying out for a swim!”
“Ooo – yes please!” and transformed back to her usual happy self, Marcia broke free of his arm and ran off down the corridor, leaving him to follow in her wake.
Much later that evening, after the children had gone to bed, the four adults were sitting out on the terrace, having a nightcap and welcoming the refreshing night breeze. A few hours earlier, as the sun had gone down, Evadne’s dire prediction regarding sunburn had been proved right. As the evening had worn on, Thea and Lauren, who had ignored all advice that they cover themselves up, had gradually become more and more pink. By the time dinner was served at eight p.m., the pair of them were looking more like ripe tomatoes than the bronzed beauties they had hoped. Despite the cold tea, carefully applied by Cassie and Evadne to try and take out the heat, they were both still very tender, and the whole situation had provoked much mickey-taking from their siblings, particularly as Lauren, who had burnt the back of her legs, had to sit on a cushion all the way through dinner.
Recalling Thea’s look of horror as she had passed a mirror and caught sight of the white panda eyes caused by her sunglasses, Evadne chuckled as she sipped her drink. “Well that’ll teach them to listen to me!”
“Teach who?” Edgar asked, looking up from the map he and Andrew were studying.
“Thea and Lauren.”
Edgar laughed. “Poor old things. That has to hurt something rotten.”
“Yes. Well, now they know that mothers always know best.”
Edgar grinned and reached out to take hold of her hand. “Yes, dear. Whatever you say.”
“I think Lauren was more upset about what Yves might think,” Cassie put in with a chuckle.
Andrew looked up, surprised. “Why would she care what Yves thinks?”
“Because she’s sweet on him, that’s why!”
“Just as I say - she’s sweet on him. Surely you’ve noticed that she and Thea become a couple of goggle-eyed fools whenever he’s around? Or are you completely blind?”
Edgar grinned. “Yves’ certainly noticed. He spoke to me this morning and assured me that he wasn’t in the least bit interested – I think he was worried that I’d let him go!”
Andrew looked utterly aghast. “But Lauren can’t have a crush on him – she’s not even fourteen yet!”
Cassie laughed. “Oh don’t be a dolt! All girls her age have crushes on older boys. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“But…she’s…okay, I guess you’re right." He looked far from impressed. "But he'd best keep well away from her. She’s far too young for that kind of thing!”
“I think you’ll be safe there,” Edgar put in. “By all accounts, he’s far too busy romancing our neighbour’s eldest daughter to be looking at anyone else – especially a couple of giggling young girls.”
“We were just the same,” Cassie chuckled. “Surely you remember the way I was with Eric the pool boy when we were kids?”
Andrew paused for a moment, and then shook his head as a wry smile crept across his face. “I sure do. I used to sit watching you, seething with jealousy and all the while pretending I didn’t care a jot about you!”
At this nugget of information, Cassie was rather taken aback. “You did?”
Andrew nodded, grinning at the surprise on her face, and Evadne laughed. “Sounds rather like young Ned now, if you ask me.”
“Yes, he has got it bad, hasn’t he?”
“Sure has. I'm not sure he knows what to do with himself if I’m honest – I reckon it’s the first time he’s ever noticed a girl in that way.”
Andrew chuckled. “I’m sure Sam’s not helping on that front either – any more than Ralph did with me.”
Cassie raised her eyebrows. “Ralph?”
“Yes, Ralph. He used to rib me something rotten and I'd just sit there flatly denying it! Then, when we got a few years older and I was still trailing after you like a lovesick puppy, he suddenly came over all brotherly and started warning me off you. Clearly I took no notice!”
“Why’ve you never told me this before?”
“Dunno, really. Guess it’s never come up.” As his wife stared at him in disbelief, he turned to Evadne. “So come on then, who were you sweet on back in those days?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” she chuckled. “My folks’ neighbours’ son in Salzburg. I must’ve been about fourteen or fifteen, I guess, and I used to find all kinds of excuse to go over there whenever I was home. Fritz, his name was - he was twenty-four, tall, blonde and ever so handsome. I was convinced I'd grow up and we'd go steady someday! Then he introduced me to his fiancée – I was crushed!” Turning to Edgar with a grin, she added, “Elsie went one better though. She had this crazy thing about Gottfried, one of the doctors at the San. He was married too – to one of the old girls – but it didn’t put her off. She used to blush something rotten whenever she saw him! It was priceless!”
Edgar laughed. “Remind me to bring that one up next time we see them!” Sitting back in his chair, he chortled again. “I can go one better than that though. Paul and I had a crush on our Matron at school, if you please!”
His wife burst out laughing. “Not Matron Jones?” Evadne asked through her giggles. "She's still Ned's Matron now," she added, for benefit of her friends.
“The very same!” Evvy doubled-up again, and Edgar grinned at her. “She was a little younger in those days, mind you. We used to make up endless mystery illnesses so we could go and see her. I remember Paul getting struck down with bad flu once and being in the San for two weeks. Instead of having sympathy for him, I was just insanely jealous! I even tried swapping my pillow with his in the hope I’d pick up some of his germs!”
Cassie laughed. “Did it work?”
“Sadly not, no. I didn’t speak to him for a week when he came out again. He was gloating horribly and I was convinced he’d only got sick to get the upper hand on me!” Draining his glass, he put it back down on the table and then stretched his shoulders. “Right, that’s me all in for today, I think.” He squeezed Evadne’s hand. “You coming?”
Evvy nodded. “Sure am. I’m gonna need cocktail sticks to keep my eyes open if I don’t get some sleep!” she replied, yawning widely as she got to her feet. “We’ll see you two tomorrow morning.”
Cassie and Andrew bade them goodnight, and Edgar placed his hand on his wife’s back and steered her in through the loggia and upstairs to their room.
It didn’t take him long to get changed and in between the sheets, and he sat with his back against the headboard, watching his wife as she brushed out her hair.
“I need you to promise me something.”
“You’ll have to tell me what it is first,” she returned, grinning at his reflection in the mirror. “I’m buying no pigs in pokes from you, Edgar Watson.”
But Edgar wasn’t laughing. “Please, sweetheart, will you try and be more careful with yourself? I know you think Henry can’t hurt you or the baby and you’re probably right, but all the same, I’d feel much better if you asked for help sometimes. And not just with him, either. You’re forever trying to carry heavy things and you know Dr. Schrieber said you should be careful.”
Evadne had stopped brushing her hair and watched him in the mirror as he spoke. Now, she placed her hairbrush down on the vanity and turned to face him. “Edgar, I know what I’m doing. I’m not a kid.”
“I know you’re not. And I know you think I’m fussing unnecessarily, but I’m worried about you – you and Pebble.” He paused for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. “The thing is…I never thought we’d be able to have this baby and now we can, and it’s incredible and wonderful and I still can’t believe our luck. I just don’t think I could bear it if anything happened to it. Or to you.”
He swallowed hard, and Evadne got up from the dresser and walked towards him. Sitting down on the bed, she shuffled up next to him, pulling her legs up under her and placing her arms around his neck.
“Nothing’s going to happen to me or Pebble, you big goop.”
“You don’t know that. Look what Corney and Mike went through.”
“But that wasn’t anything they did, it just happened.”
“I know. I’d just rather you didn’t tempt fate, that’s all.” He gazed up at her, his soft, green eyes full of concern. “Won’t you just humour me? Please?”
“Edgar, I can’t just stop carrying Henry around – he’s my baby!”
“I’m aware of that, Evvy. But please, if he’s having a tantrum and Monique or I or one of the children are around, will you ask for our help? And will you stop trying to lift heavy things?”
Evadne hesitated for a moment, and then heaved a sigh of resignation. “If I do, will you quit nagging me?”
“Yes, I promise.”
“Fine. In that case, I’ll stop and ask for help. Anything for a quiet life! But you have to quit going on at me too. It's driving me crazy!”
"You have a deal."
"So I should hope." But her soft tone belied her words, and she leant forward and kissed him gently on the nose. Then, pulling back, she gave him a wicked grin. “So – Matron Jones, eh?”
Edgar chuckled. “She’s a fine figure of a woman, I’ll have you know.”
Evadne laughed. “Are you sure it’s not just that clean, starched uniform?”
Edgar raised an eyebrow, and Evadne pulled a face and shook her head. “Don’t even think about it, Mister!”
“That’s me! You get me as I am or not at all.”
“Well, in that case…” Keeping his arms wrapped around her waist, Edgar tipped her backwards until she was lying back on the bed, her legs twisted awkwardly beneath her.
“Hey, watch it!” she complained, grimacing and wriggling into a more comfortable position. “Fragile pregnant lady here, remember?”
“Now you try and play that card!” and reaching across her to turn off her bedside light, Edgar lowered his head and covered her lips with his own.
As the second week of the holiday drew to a close, the sweltering weather had finally broken and turned to thunderstorms and rain, leaving the two families cooped up in and around the villa, the children getting restless and irritable. Sam had been fed up and grumpy, thanks to his twisted knee, and Lauren and Ned continued to niggle each other constantly, particularly when it came to Yves. The young American girl had taken to following the handyman around the villa whenever he was there, pestering him with questions and asking him to teach her French, whilst Ned sat brooding in an armchair, watching on. Edgar had tried to have a talk with his son about how he was feeling, but as Ned refused to admit that he was at all interested in Lauren as anything more than a friend, that conversation had not been a great success.
It was now the last day of the holidays. A few days previously, the bad weather had finally given way to sunshine again, and as a result, everyone was spending as much time outside as they possibly could. The previous day, Edgar and Evadne had taken all the children on an excursion to Nice, to give Cassie and Andrew some time on their own, and today the Markhams were returning the favour. Only Henry had remained at home with his parents, as he had tripped over some toys the evening before and fallen headfirst into a wall, grazing his forehead quite badly, and as he was still inclined to be grouchy, Evadne had opted to keep him with her.
The other five children had spent breakfast debating where they should go, and they had finally settled on the Grand Hotel du Cap, just down the road from where they were staying. All five had been pestering their parents to take them there since they had arrived four weeks previously – even more so once Evadne had informed them all that it was the hangout of many a famous person. Despite Ned and Thea’s best efforts, they still had not seen David Niven and they were rather hoping that he might be there.
On their arrival, the party seated themselves alongside the swimming pool, and Thea and Sam, who Cassie had forbidden from doing anything stupid so as to protect his knee, had wandered off, rug and books in hand, to find a shady spot under the trees.
In the pool itself, Marcia and Lauren were sitting on a shelf in one corner of the deep end, where Marcia was quizzing her friend about why she liked Yves. As Lauren finished explaining her reasoning - which largely consisted of the fact that Yves was handsome and French - Marcia screwed up her nose and shook her head vehemently.
"He looks old and hairy to me."
Ned, who swam up just in time to hear this particular sentiment, burst out laughing. "See, I told you!"
Lauren twisted around to face him and scowled. "You just don’t like him 'cause he’s handsome and a proper man, not a kid like you!"
"You're the kid, not me! He doesn’t care about you."
"He does too! He said 'bonjour' to me when he arrived this morning - he didn't say it to anyone else!"
"So what? It's only 'cause you pester him all day long!"
Lauren's eyes flashed with anger at Ned's words. "You’re so pathetic, Ned Watson. I don’t know why I ever thought you were my friend, you've been downright mean all vacation! You’re just jealous that's all. Yves' better than you at everything. He can even do a somersault into the pool - I saw him!"
"So can I!"
"No you can't!"
"I'll show you if you don't believe me!"
Marcia, who had been listening to all of this with wide eyes, saw an opportunity for some mischief. Giving Ned a wicked grin, she said, "Okay, show us."
"Keep your nose out, squirt, it's none of your business!" her brother flashed back.
Lauren leant back against the side of the pool and folded her arms across her chest. "Well it's my business, and I want you to show us too."
Ned hesitated, unsure quite what to do. Despite his boasting and hundreds of attempts, he had never yet managed to successfully turn a somersault from the side of the pool, and he really didn't want to show himself up in front of everyone.
Lauren raised her eyebrows at his hesitation. "Unless you're a chicken, of course."
This was like red rag to a bull, and with a snapped "Fine, I'll show you!", Ned swam across to the side, and pulled himself out.
Making his way along to where there was a clear patch of water, he stood looking down, his toes curled around the edge of the pool, wondering if there was any way that he could get out of this. Then catching Lauren’s eye and seeing the smirk on her face, he decided there was nothing else for it. Taking a deep breath, he counted to three and launched himself into the air.
Spluttering to the surface a moment later, he brushed the water out of his eyes and gave a small ‘whoop’. He had done it. For the first time ever, he had managed to turn a proper somersault from the edge of the pool, and to his mind, he could not have picked a better time to get it right. Turning towards Lauren and Marcia, he was about to say ‘Told you so’ when he noticed that the pair of them were pointing at him and doubled up with laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
Lauren sat up and wiped her eyes. “I think you’re missing something,” she managed to blurt out, before dissolving into giggles again.
For a split second, Ned looked a little confused. Then, glancing down, he suddenly realised what they were laughing at. In his excitement at completing his dive, he had failed to notice that he had lost his swimming trunks. Turning scarlet, he clamped one hand over his privates and began frantically searching for the missing piece of clothing, only to find that it was nowhere to be seen. Turning back to Marcia and Lauren, he noticed his sister was holding them up with one hand and pointing to them with the other.
“Give them back!” he demanded, treading water frantically, as he tried to reach the side and maintain what was left of his dignity at the same time.
Marcia grinned and shook her head. “You have to come and get them!”
“Give them back, you brat!”
“What’s it worth to you?” Lauren interjected, with a supercilious smirk.
“Just give them to me!” he shouted, as his sense of humour gave way altogether, and a few loud tuts sounded around the pool.
“What’s going on?”
All three children looked up as Cassie’s angry face appeared, looming over the edge of the pool.
“Why all the noise?”
Taking the trunks from Marcia, Lauren held them up with a grin. “Ned’s lost something.”
Cassie had a hard time correcting the smirk on her face. “Well give them back to him then and stop acting like a baby,” she said eventually to her daughter, after much biting of the side of her mouth. “And Ned, either you quit making so much noise, or we go home now and you get to explain to your folks why we’re early,” and without waiting for a reply, she turned and marched back to join her husband on their sunbeds.
Reluctantly, Lauren handed the trunks back to their owner, and trying his best to be discreet, Ned flattened himself against the steps as he pulled them back on. Then, hearing the two girls begin to snigger again, he snarled, “Oh, go boil your heads!”, and climbed out, flouncing back to his lounger and picking up a towel. Drying himself off, he pulled on his shirt and shorts, and then fished in his pocket for some money, as Cassie and Andrew looked on.
“Where are you off to?” Cassie asked, as he turned to leave.
“Anywhere I can’t see those two,” came the sulky reply, as Ned thrust his hands in his pockets.
Andrew gave him a quizzical look. “What’s the matter with you?”
“They’re the matter with me!”
“He dived in and lost his bathing suit!”
Hearing the voice behind him, Ned turned to see Lauren climbing out of the pool.
“Just leave me alone!” he snapped, feeling thoroughly put upon, and to the sound of laughter ringing in his ears, he turned and stropped off towards the hotel.
Making his way into the restaurant, he had just sat down at the table and ordered himself an ice cream sundae and a glass of iced tea, when Lauren and Marcia suddenly appeared at his side.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked angrily, a heavy scowl on his face.
“We wanted an ice cream, if it’s all the same to you?” Lauren replied haughtily, as Marcia pulled out the chair next to her brother and sat herself down. Lauren followed suit and then turned to her friend. “Yves says he’s going to the Sorbonne in the fall. He’s so clever.”
“Bully for him,” Ned muttered under his breath.
Lauren glared at him. “You’re just jealous-”
“He’s not interested in you – how many times do I have to say it before you get it through your thick skull!”
“How do you know?”
“’Cause he’s an adult and you’re a school kid, that’s why!”
At that moment, the waiter appeared at Ned’s shoulder with his iced tea, and pointedly informed them that if they did not keep their voices down, then he would have to ask them to leave. The three of them looked suitably contrite and fell silent, and the waiter took Lauren and Marcia’s orders and disappeared again, mollified for now.
They managed a full three minutes of quiet, before Ned mumbled, “He’s not interested.”
“He is too!” Lauren flashed back angrily. “He’s coming tonight, so you’ll see then and eat your words!”
“That’s what you think!”
“That’s what I know!”
Drawn by the noise, the waiter suddenly appeared from nowhere again. “I warned you!” he began in his perfect English, his face stressed and taut. “We will not put up with this behaviour in our hotel, I must ask you to-”
“Merci, Monsieur, for looking out for them” a heavily-accented American voice suddenly broke into the conversation, “but they’re with us. I can take it from here, if you like.”
As the waiter turned to thank the newcomer profusely and then scurried off, Ned spun round in amazement to find himself staring into the familiar, kindly face of a big, burly, grey-haired man. Forgetting his argument with Lauren for the moment, Ned jumped to his feet.
“Mr. Schulstad! What are you doing here?”
The big American smiled in return. “Mrs Schulstad and I are on vacation, as it happens. Thought we’d come and take in a bit of Europe. So young Ned,” he asked, his face and voice sobering, “this is how you behave in public, is it?”
Ned stared down at the floor, feeling rather ashamed. “No. Sorry.”
“Yes, I should hope you are.” Ned squirmed, and seeing that his words had hit home, Mr. Schulstad turned to the two girls. “Well I’d recognise your fair mop anywhere, young lady,” he said, grinning at Marcia.
“Hello, Mr Schulstad!”
“All of which means,” he continued, turning to Lauren, “you must be Thea?”
Lauren shook her head. “No, I’m Lauren.”
“She’s from the family we’re on holiday with,” Marcia explained eagerly. “Thea’s outside.”
“Ah, I see. That explains why I didn’t recognise you. I thought my memory was fading for a moment there! So, where are your folks?”
“At home with Henry.”
“Ah yes, the baby.”
“He’s one and a half now and Mummy’s having another baby." Marcia grinned up at him. "They told us when the holidays started!”
“Is she now? Well, that’s just wonderful. Now, why don’t y'all come on over and say hello to my wife? I know she’d love to see you,” and picking up Ned’s iced tea, he strode off across the restaurant, giving them no choice in the matter.
“Who’s he?” Lauren murmured to Marcia, as they followed him to a table on the far side.
“He’s Mr. Schulstad,” Marcia hissed back. “Ned met him on the plane when we flew to Boston before Mummy and Daddy were married, and then we went to see them at their big house when we were there and he owns his own plane and he writes to Ned and comes to England to take him up flying sometimes and he’s really nice and so’s Mrs. Schulstad.”
“Oh, okay,” Lauren returned, having lost track of her friend’s long sentence about halfway though.
The three of them greeted Mrs. Schulstad enthusiastically, although Lauren still had no idea who these people actually were, and then sat down to join their friends for ice cream. After about forty-five minutes, the two girls made their excuses and wandered off outside again, leaving Ned talking to Charles Schulstad about his ambition to join the R.A.F. Although he cwas still chattering away away, Ned’s eyes followed the two girls as they left the room, and noticing this, Mr. Schulstad allowed himself a small smile.
“So then, are you going to tell me what all that arguing was about,” he asked, changing the subject abruptly as soon as the two girls were out of earshot.
Ned looked awkwardly down at his lap. “Nothing.”
“Really? It didn’t look that way to me.”
Ned hesitated for a moment, and then gave a sigh. “Lauren thinks this boy Yves is interested in her, but he’s not and I was just telling her that, that’s all. He’s an idiot.”
Charles Schulstad raised his eyebrows and gave his young friend a quizzical look. “Is he indeed?”
“Yes. He thinks he’s so clever, strutting about with no shirt on, and going on and on about how he’s going to the Sorbonne.”
Mr Schulstad exchanged a knowing smile with his wife. “And you’re worried that she might get hurt?” he asked, turning his attention back to Ned.
“A bit,” came the mumbled reply. “I just don’t see why she likes him, that’s all. He’s horrible.”
“Ah, of course he is. And you’re you sure that you don’t feel like this because you rather like young Lauren yourself?”
Ned looked horrified. “No!”
There was a pause for a moment, and then Mr. Schulstad slowly nodded his head. “Right. If you say so.”
“I do say so!”
“Okay, fine. I believe you, though thousands wouldn’t!”
Before Ned could protest again, Lauren herself suddenly appeared again to let Ned know that it was time for them to pack up and head home. As he called back to say that he was coming, Ned blushed and Mr. Schulstad smiled to himself.
“Do you want to come back to the villa and see Dad and Evvy?” Ned asked, as he scrambled to his feet. “They’d really like to see you.”
Charles Schulstad glanced across at his wife. “Want to go, my dear?”
His wife, Penny, shot him a smile in return. “Yes, why not.”
“Well then, it rather looks like we’re coming along for the ride. Shall we meet you all in the foyer in twenty minutes?”
Ned grinned. “Cool. See you then!” and turning tail, he ran back outside, knocking a couple of chairs over as he went.
Meanwhile, back at the villa, Edgar was lounging in a deckchair on the terrace, reading a letter. A pile of correspondence lay on the table beside him, and a glass of cold, refreshing juice was set on the floor next to his shoes. His chair was angled in front of the gate to Henry's sandpit, blocking the way through to the swimming pool. The gate was open and Henry, who had perked up considerably as the day had gone on, was happily toddling back and forth to his sandpit with fistfuls of sand. Behind them, inside the loggia, Evadne was sitting at the long, wooden table, dressed in her swimsuit and watching the pair of them with a smirk on her face. This was because, from her vantage point, she could see exactly where Henry’s handfuls of sand were ending up.
Edgar finished reading the first page of his letter, and then laying the sheet on the table, he reached down and picked up his glass. He almost had it to his lips, when he heard his wife’s voice behind him.
“You may not want to drink that!”
Edgar’s hand froze and he turned to give her a quizzical look. “Why’s that?”
Evadne grinned as she wandered out to join them, and nodded her head towards his hand. “Henry’s been busy doctoring it!”
Furrowing his brow, Edgar turned back to look more closely at the glass in his hand. Clearly visible through the orange liquid was large mound of sand. Looking round, he saw his son standing at the edge of the sandpit, sand dripping through his stubby little fingers.
“I suppose you think that’s funny?”
At the sound of his father’s voice, Henry looked up and giggled, and Evade laughed. “I almost let you drink it then – your face would have been priceless.” She grinned unapologetically as her husband raised an eyebrow. “You may not want to put your shoes on either.”
“Why not?” Reaching down to his side, Edgar picked up a shoe, only to find it full of sand. “Oh for goodness sake!” He sounded exasperated as he tipped the sand on to the terrace and moved the shoe to the other side of the deckchair, then followed suit with the second one.
He pulled it out of the way just in time, as Henry appeared next to the chair with his fistfuls of sand. Seeing the shoe whip past his nose, he looked down at his feet and realised that he had nothing to tip his cargo into. As he stared at the ground, his top lip turned up, and dropping the sand, he looked up at his father and began to whine. Staring the little boy straight in the eye, Edgar shook his head, so Henry took his yells up another notch and cried ‘Da-dee’, whist hitting his father’s leg.
“Edgar, give them back to him, you big spoilsport!” Evadne pleaded, pouting down at him.
“No. He can have this instead,” and reaching behind him, he picked up an empty flowerpot and placed it at his son’s feet. Henry stopped crying for a moment, as he glanced down at it, and then deciding that it wasn’t good enough, he turned his top lip up again.
“Oh, just let him have a shoe, for heaven’s sake! He’s not doing any harm.”
Evadne dropped the said shoe over to the other side of the chair again, and Henry immediately stopped yelling and toddled back to his sandpit, happy once more.
Edgar frowned as he watched his son go. “Why my shoe and not the pot?”
“Because he’s not supposed to use the shoe, that’s why. You know how contrary he is!” Walking around the chair to stand in front of her husband, she pushed his hands up out of the way and sat down in his lap. “Who’s your letter from?” she asked, as Edgar wrapped one arm around her and then picked the sheaves of paper up again with his free hand.
“About time too! We’ve not heard from them in weeks. What does he say? How are they?”
“Things are mostly good, from what I’ve read so far,” Edgar replied, skimming his eyes across the last few paragraphs of Paul’s sprawling script. “Apparently getting around and about's not frustrating him nearly as much these days. The stump's still not healing quite as well as they'd hoped though, so it looks like they won't be able to start discussing a prosthesis any time soon."
"Oh no, that's horrible!" Evadne looked a little upset at this piece of news. "He was holding out for that too!"
"He sounds quite philosophical about it actually." Edgar placed the letter back down on the table, and pulled his wife further onto his lap. "You know, I'm so glad he took that job we offered him. It's keeping him so busy, he's not got much time to focus on anything else. Doug Richardson's been over there for the past month or so, and they’ve been burning the midnight oil going over budgets and projections, by all accounts. Oh, and he says they're coming over to see us in November, whether we like it or not," he added as an afterthought.
Evadne's face broke into a wide grin. "Oh goody! I miss seeing them – it’s been an absolute age!"
Edgar smiled and pecked her on the cheek. "It has, hasn't it?" As he spoke, he felt something being wiped on his side, and looked down to see Henry brushing his hands clean against his father's bare skin. "What are you up to now, Trouble?"
Laughing, Evadne took her arm from around her husband's neck, and reached down to heave her son up into her lap. Henry squealed and threw his arm out, hitting Edgar square in the face.
"You’re a little monster, you know that?" his mother said sternly, as Edgar lifted his hand to rub his smarting nose. In response, Henry turned towards her, babbled something incoherent, and grabbed hold of her left breast. "Ouch!" Evadne prised his fingers away, and sat him back against his father's arm, fending the little boy off as he tried to do it again. "You'd better treat your new brother or sister with more kindness when it arrives, young man!"
As Evadne rubbed her still-smarting chest, Edgar caught hold of his son's arm. "Henry. Henry, look at Daddy. Henry!" Henry finally looked up at him, and seeing that he had the young lad's attention, Edgar pointed to his wife's stomach, where her bump was now clearly visible. "Do you know what’s in here?" Henry stared down at his mother's stomach and then back up to his father's face. Edgar smiled down at him. "That's a baby - your little brother or sister. Can you say 'baby', little man?"
Evadne chuckled, and reached out to touch her son's tiny button nose. "No, sweetie, not 'babi'. 'Ba-by'."
Henry looked utterly confused, as he stared back at his mother's stomach and repeated the name of his favourite toy. "Babi."
"Oh well," Evadne shrugged. "Now he thinks I have his rabbit in my belly."
Edgar laughed. "I knew something was going on between you and that rabbit!"
She grinned back at him and then turned her attention to the swimming pool. "I think I'm gonna take a dip - it's roasting out here!"
"Why don’t you take Henry in with you? You know he loves water and it'll get some of that sand off him whilst you’re at it."
"What about his graze though?" she asked, gently touching the tender area on this forehead. "I'm not sure it should get wet."
Edgar gave her an incredulous look. "Are you planning on dunking his head under the water?"
"Of course not!"
"Well then, it's not going to get more than a tiny splash, is it?"
Evadne pulled a face at him, but got to her feet and lifted Henry into her arms nevertheless. "Come on, sugar-pie. Let's leave horrid Daddy on his own, shall we?" and to the sound of Edgar's chuckles, she walked across to the swimming pool and carefully made her way down the wide stone steps into the shallow end.
Seating herself on the bottom step, she adjusted Henry until he was sitting on her knee. Feeling the warm water lapping at his chest, Henry let out a squeal of delight and began kicking his legs and splashing with his arms.
Evvy laughed. "Look at you having fun, little man. Is this good? Is it?" Henry giggled, and smoothing back a blonde ringlet that had fallen into his eyes, she adjusted his position so that he was facing his father, and then lifted up one of his arms and waved it back and forth. "Say hi to Daddy. Hi Daddy!"
Edgar lifted his hand to wave back. As Henry giggled again and splashed his feet, a shout of "Coo-eee," sounded through the house, and all of a sudden, Marcia burst through the open french doors that led off the sitting room.
"Mummy, Daddy, guess who we met?” Then before they could reply, she told them anyway. “Mr and Mrs Schulstad! They were at the hotel and they’ve come back with us!"
As she finished speaking, the Schulstads themselves appeared behind her, accompanied by Ned. Edgar jumped to his feet, his hand outstretched, and Evadne climbed out of the pool, still holding Henry, to exchange greeting with their guests. Charles Schulstad kissed Evvy on the cheek, and then smiled down at the little boy in her arms.
“So, this is Master Henry, I presume?”
As the stranger’s booming voice rang out, Henry squealed and buried his head in his mother’s shoulder. Evadne laughed. “Stop being such a scaredy-cat! Mr. Schulstad’s a friend, silly.”
Ignoring her, Henry began to wriggle violently, so Evvy set him down on the floor, and he clung to her leg, his back to the newcomers, as she turned to say her hellos to her other guest. Charles Schulstad crouched down where he was and watched the little boy, without saying a word. He had to wait thirty seconds or so, but eventually Henry turned his head very slowly. He stared at the strange man for a moment, and then tentatively reached out a hand and poked him on the knee. Glancing down a moment later, Evadne was just in time to see Henry allow Mr. Schulstad to take hold of his hand.
“That was fast!” she exclaimed, crouching down herself and putting an arm around her son. “It usually takes him a good hour at least before he’ll let anybody do that. Doesn’t it, precious? Have you made a new friend?”
Charles Schulstad let out a deep chuckle, and Henry gave him a cheeky smile and pointed at his new friend’s rotund midriff. Then looking up at Evadne, he said ‘Babi’.
“No, sweetie-pie, not ‘babi’. Mr. Schulstad,” Evvy replied hurriedly.
“Mummy, why’s Henry calling Mr. Schulstad his rabbit?” Marcia wanted to know, as she appeared next to them.
Evadne flushed red. “We told him I was pregnant, and he thought we said ‘babi’, not ‘baby’,” she explained, and then shot her guest a remorseful look. “Sorry about that.”
Mr. Schulstad simply laughed and brushed off her apology with a wave of his hand. “That’ll be the huge belly! Perhaps you’re right, my dear,” he added, turning to his wife, “I should go on that diet after all!”
“Dad, can Mr. and Mrs. Schulstad come to the party tonight?” Ned interjected.
Edgar smiled down at his eldest son. “I don’t see why not. You’ll be most welcome,” he said to his guests. “Now, can I get anyone a drink?”
By eight-thirty that night, the party was in full swing. Strings of coloured fairy lights adorned the walls around the terrace, Sam and Ned were arguing over what music should be playing on the record player in the loggia, and a large trestle table that had been set up along one side of the pool groaned under the weight of the food that Cassie and Thea had spent the early evening preparing. They had invited everyone in the neighbouring villas, and other people with whom they had become friendly during their month’s stay, from the man who ran the local boulangerie, to the eccentric Parisian couple whom Ned had almost decapitated with a Frisbee on the first day they visited the beach. Almost everyone they had asked had turned up. The only person missing appeared to be Yves.
Charles Schulstad grinned at Evadne as he piled his plate high with helping number three. “Mighty fine spread you’ve put on here,” he boomed, waving a chicken leg in the air.
Evadne smiled and heaved Henry further up on her hip. “I’m not sure I can take credit for it, sadly. Though I did cut the sandwiches myself – it was all I was trusted to do!”
As her guest chuckled and took a bite of his chicken, she glanced down at her small son, and saw that his eyes were firmly closed, his head nodding on her shoulder. She had been trying to get him to sleep all evening, but sensing that something exciting might be happening, he had refused to settle. Eventually, tired of running up and down the stairs every time he began screaming, Evvy had given in and let him join the party, deciding that it was not all bad news. The longer he stayed up tonight, after all, the more likely he would be to sleep during the journey home the next day.
Mr. Schulstad followed her gaze. “Looks like he’s nodded off at long last.”
“So it would seem!” Evadne heaved a sigh of relief and dropped kiss on Henry’s fair curls. “Pardon me for running off, Charles, but I think I’m gonna go see if I can settle him. Make yourself at home, won’t you? Edgar’s just over there if you need anything. I shan’t be long,” and leaving him to wander back to his wife, she made her way inside the house.
Stepping through the french doors into the loggia, she was immediately accosted by an anxious-looking Lauren. “Aunt Evvy, did Yves say he was coming tonight?”
“I think so, sweetie, why?”
“Well where is he?”
“Not an earthly! Perhaps he had somewhere else to go first?” Then seeing Lauren’s disappointed face, she added, “He’ll be here soon, Lauren, don’t worry. Uncle Edgar still owes him some money, aside from anything else. He has to come tonight so he can collect that,” and leaving a far happier girl behind her, Evvy headed through to the sitting room, not giving Yves another thought.
As his stepmother left the room, Ned turned to Lauren with a look of disdain. “I don’t know why you care if he’s here or not.”
“He’s my friend, that’s why!”
“No he’s not. You just follow him around everywhere.”
“That’s not true!”
“Yes it is,” Sam laughed, as he pulled another record out of the box and removed the sleeve. “All you do is trail after him like a puppy dog. It’s pathetic!”
“Oh, get bent!” she shot back with a scowl.
Unfortunately for Lauren, her father had decided that the punchbowl was running dry, and entered the loggia just in time to hear this choice phrase. “Lauren! That’s quite enough, young lady! If I hear you say anything else like that, you’re going to straight to bed!”
As the two boys tried hard to stifle their laughter, Lauren turned bright red and mumbled an apology. Andrew accepted it with a nod of his head and a muttered “Well make sure you don’t it again”, then he collected the required mix of drinks from the dresser, and headed back outside. As soon as he was out of earshot, Lauren turned to glare at the two boys.
“Thanks a bunch.”
Sam shrugged and turned to place the record onto the player, and his sister fixed Ned with a malevolent.
“It’s all your fault!”
“How’s it my fault? You’re the one who said it, not me!”
“Only ‘cause you’re so mean about Yves! And he is my friend – you’ll see when he gets here!”
“Fine!” and deciding that the conversation had come to an end, Lauren stormed off onto the terrace in search of Thea and Marcia, who were busy playing with Scrabble on the lawn.
“I could have told you that!” Sam laughed as he lowered the needle onto the record and the first bars of ‘Long Tall Sally’ emanated from it.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” Ned exclaimed furiously. “It’s my turn and I said Chuck Berry!” and forgetting Lauren and Yves for now, the boys resumed their debtate where they had left off.
Twenty minutes later, Marcia and Lauren were still playing on the lawn. As they threw a rubber ball for Scrabble to go and fetch, Thea, who had gone inside to get them all some more cola, suddenly came running out of the sitting room, empty-handed and yelling for her friend.
“Lauren, he’s here!”
Lauren looked up, a wide grin on her face. “Yves is?”
Thea nodded as she approached them and stopped, pausing to catch her breath before she panted. “He just…got here. But he’s…”
“Oh my goodness!” Lauren squealed. “Quick, how do I look?”
“You look really pretty,” Marcia interrupted.
“You think so?”
Marcia nodded, but Thea grabbed her friend’s arm. “Lauren listen, he’s not alone.”
“What do you mean he’s not-”
As she spoke, Lauren turned towards the house and her voice cut off abruptly. Coming onto the terrace from the loggia was Yves, his arm around a beautiful, slender blonde. Lauren recognised her instantly as the daughter of the couple who owned the villa next-door. The pair of them were laughing and chatting away to Sam, and Ned was standing to one side, staring down the garden at the three girls.
“I was trying to tell you,” Thea mumbled anxiously, watching her friend’s stricken face.
Lauren stared in shock at the object of her affection. It was the very last thing that she had expected. Glancing to one side, she caught Ned’s eye, and the next moment, she turned on her heel and ran down the garden towards the cliffs at the far end.
Marcia went to follow her, but Thea caught sight of Ned walking towards them and she grabbed hold of her sister’s arm.
“Get off me!” Marcia tried to wrench her arm away. “I’m going to see if she’s alright!”
But Thea held on firmly. “No you’re not. Ned is.”
Ned was near enough to hear what she said and as Marcia tried to pull her arm free and berated Thea for bossing her around, he stared at his sister as if she had gone mad. “No I’m not!”
“Yes you are!” Thea’s voice was unusually angry. “It’s your fault too, so you should go.”
“I didn’t make Yves have a girlfriend!”
“I know that, but you’ve been really horrid to Lauren and teased her about liking Yves and that’s made her more upset.” Not really following his sister's logic, Ned opened his mouth to retort, but Thea didn’t give him the chance. “Now you have to go and say sorry. Come on Marcia,” and adjusting her grip on Marcia’s arm, she whistled for Scrabble to follow them and dragged her sister away, leaving Ned standing there, bemused.
How was Lauren being upset supposed to be down to him? Okay, so he had teased her and goaded her a little, but he hadn’t made Yves bring along a date! Sweeping his eyes across the terrace, he saw his father talking to Mrs. Schulstad, his brevet-aunt and uncle chatting away to some of the neighbours and Sam still talking to Yves. Stupid, stupid Yves. He had made Lauren like him, and then upset her by turning up with his girlfriend like this.
It did not occur to Ned, of course, that Yves had never returned Lauren’s affections.. He just felt anger towards the French boy bubbling up inside him, as his jealousy flared once more. Deciding that Thea was right, perhaps he should go and see Lauren, he gave Yves one more glance and then headed off across the lawn.
As he neared the sea, the light from the terrace began to disappear and he found himself walking almost blindly towards the cliffs. Stopping for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, he spotted Lauren, sitting a few yards away, her back to the house. Ned watched her as he pondered what to do next, and then giving a slight cough, he continued his way towards her.
Hearing his cough, Lauren turned to look at him as he approached. Seeing who it was, she quickly snapped her head back again. “What d’you want?” Saying nothing, Ned came to a halt next to her and looked down. “Suppose you’ve come to say I told you so?”
“Just go away, Ned. You were right, okay? I hope you’re happy. Just leave me alone.”
Ned hesitated for a second or two, and then seeing nothing else for it, he turned to walk away. A moment later, he heard a strangled sob as Lauren began to cry and he spun back around, horrified. What was he supposed to do now? He knew he shouldn't walk away and leave her, but he wasn’t very good with people who cried. Whenever Thea or Marcia were upset, he generally just ran away and fetched Evvy or his father. Maybe that was what he should do now? She really needed her mother or Evvy, not him. He was about to leave when Lauren’s breath caught and her shoulders began to heave. Disconcerted, he stopped in his tracks and looked down at her again. Perhaps he should stay after all. It wouldn’t be fair to leave her on her own.
His mind made up, he sat down next to her on the grass and patted her awkwardly on the arm. Before he knew what was happening, Lauren had turned towards him and buried her face in his shoulder. Ned could feel her tears seeping through his shirt as she continued to sob, and not knowing what else to do, he lifted a hand and haltingly rubbed her back.
It was a few minutes before Lauren managed to pull herself together. When she finally did stem her tears, she lifted her head and looked sheepishly up at him. Ned reached into his pocket, pulled out his handkerchief, and handed it over.
Lauren accepted it gratefully. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose noisily, and then folded it up and handed it back. “Thank you.”
Ned grimaced slightly as he took the damp bit of material from her and shoved it into his pocket again. “You’re welcome.”
They relapsed into silence, both sitting with their knees pulled up to their chests, as they stared up at the stars.
“It’s really dark,” Ned eventually pointed out, somewhat obtusely.
Lauren glanced at him, her brow knitted into a frown, and then returned her head to her knees. “You were right all along,” she murmured quietly, ignoring his previous comment, “and I’ve been such a beast to you, and you were only trying to look after me. I’m sorry.”
Conveniently forgetting the fact that most of his comments regarding Yves were motivated by jealously, as opposed to chivalry, Ned shrugged his shoulders. “S’okay.”
Lauren sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “You must hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“I’m so stupid. I thought he might like me and all the time he had that horrid girlfriend.”
Twisting round to look at the house, Ned could just make out Yves, standing by the buffet table, his beautiful girlfriend by his side. “She is horrid.” Lauren nodded. “And ugly,” he added, warming to his theme.
Lauren followed his gaze and frowned. “No she’s not. She’s pretty.”
“You’re prettier,” he replied carelessly, and then blushed furiously as he realised what he had said, thanking his lucky stars that it was pitch black and cursing himself inwardly for having said something so stupid. Lauren was watching him closely, and he could feel her eyes boring into his face. He was sure she could see that he was bright red, despite the dark night sky.
All of a sudden, she leant forward and pecked him on the cheek. “You’re nice, Ned. You’re such a good friend,” and without another word, she got to her feet and started to walk back towards the house.
Stunned, Ned turned to watch her go. Absently, he lifted his hand to his cheek and rubbed the spot where she had kissed him. That was it, he vowed to himself, he was never going to wash his face again.
The following morning, after long and protracted goodbyes, a taxi bore the Markhams off to Nice airport to catch their flight back to Paris, where they would stay the night before continuing on to New York. Then at midday, having checked and double-checked that they had left nothing behind, the Watsons all piled into their car and headed off down the drive. Ten minutes later they were back, as Marcia remembered that she had left her bedside lamp under the bed in the girls' room. With Edgar muttering under his breath, she ran in to retrieve it and they set off for home once more.
It was late in the evening before they crossed the Swiss border near Landecy and headed down towards Geneva and Lac Leman. As they entered the outskirts of the city, Evadne glanced behind her to find all four children and Scrabble fast asleep.
“They’re little angels really, aren’t they?” she murmured to her husband in low tones.
Edgar grinned. “Their halos just need a polish, that’s all.”
For the next week, the household was a frenzy of activity as the three eldest children prepared for the start of their new school terms. Thea and Marcia were in a high state of excitement about finally going to the Chalet School and wore their new uniforms at every opportunity, until Marcia spilt tomato juice down the front of one of her blouses and Evadne put her foot down. Edgar, meanwhile, had been giving his son endless lectures on the importance of working hard now that he was entering the first year of his O’Level studies, and had reiterated his point so many times that Ned just switched off and automatically nodded and said “yes Dad” at appropriate intervals.
It was now the last day of their summer holidays, and all three were at the Cranstons' large ranch-like home in Bellevue, on the northern side of the lake, spending the final afternoon of the summer with their friends. Ann Bown and her brother Rupert had joined them, and Ned was busy teaching Rupert some rugby tricks, whilst Audrey Cranston looked on admiringly. Rupert was determined to make his school’s Under 15 rugby team this term, and as he went to school not half an hour away from Harrow, he and Ned would be playing against each other in the coming year, should be successful.
Thea and Kate were taking their horses, Pilgrim and Longfellow, over some jumps in one of the Cranstons’ fields, and Marcia and Ann were sitting on the fence nearby, watching on and discussing Marcia’s forthcoming term at her new school.
“What’s Val like?” Ann asked, looking a little downcast.
In a few hours time, Evadne would be going to the airport to collect Cornelia and the two younger Pertwees, who were spending the night in Geneva before travelling to the Gornetz Platz with the Watsons the next day. Marcia had been chattering away about how she and Val would probably be in the same class, and Ann was a feeling a touch of the green-eyed monster at the idea of Marcia spending so much time with this girl that she didn’t know.
Oblivious to her friend’s feelings, Marcia grinned back at her. “She’s really fun and nice. Me and her were friends as soon as we met and we write to each other and everything. You’ll like her too,” she added decisively, with a nod of her head.
Ann stared down at her knees. “’Spose.”
Marcia gave her a quizzical look. “What’s wrong?”
“Rot! I can tell by your face.”
Ann swung her feet back and forth a few times, and then sulkily responded, “I don’t want you to go to another school.”
“’Cause you’ll make new friends and have adventures with Val and everything and I won’t be there.”
Marcia gaped at her. “But you’ll still be my best friend!”
“Will I?” came the sullen reply.
“But what about Val?”
“She’s my friend, but not the same as you!”
“Of course! Cross my heart and hope to get scabies.” Ann still looked unconvinced, and wanting to reassure her friend, Marcia tried desperately to think of something to say. “I know!” she cried suddenly, causing Ann to jump and almost overbalance off the fence. “We should make a pact that we’ll always be best friends, like Thea and Kate did.”
This idea cheered Ann up considerably. “Okay! What should we do?”
“Um…” Marcia searched her mind for an idea. “We could prick our fingers and put them together. Like a blood bond!”
“Eeuww!” Ann pulled a disgusted face. “That’s horrid.”
“Well you think of something then!”
Ann screwed up her face. “We could…” She glanced around her for inspiration, and her eyes fell on Marcia’s hair ribbons. “We could swap ribbons and always wear each others!”
Marcia thought hard for a second and shook her head. “That won’t work.”
“’Cause we might lose one and then the bond would break and we wouldn’t be best friends anymore.”
Ann looked horrified. “Not that then!”
They fell silent as they both tried to think of something else. Eventually, Ann looked up and asked, “What did Kate and Thea do?”
“Shook hands, I think.”
“We could do that?”
The pair of them thought hard for a moment. “Let’s do that then,” Marcia said, holding out her hand.
Ann shook it vociferously, and then folded her arms across her chest. “School won’t be the same with you not there.”
“I know. Ooo – well done Thea!” Marcia applauded as Thea cleared a particularly difficult jump on Pilgrim, and then turned back to her friend. “We have to think of a way to get your folks to let you come to the Chalet School!”
“Maybe if we did, I could come there next year?”
“Yes!” Marcia jumped down from the fence, pulling Ann with her, and the next moment, the two of them were on their backsides in the field.
“Ow! What d’you do that for?” Ann asked indignantly, as she stood up and brushed herself down.
Ignoring her, Marcia scrambled to her feet. “Come on, let’s go over there and plan!”, and grabbing her friend’s hand, she towed her off towards the large terrace behind the Cranstons home.
By the time the next morning came, however, Marcia’s cheerful enthusiasm had all but vanished, as the fact that she was leaving home and would not be back for the next five weeks began to sink in. She scarcely touched her breakfast, which was almost unheard of, and whilst Thea and the two Pertwee girls chattered excitedly about their forthcoming term, she pushed her food around her plate and hardly said a word. For his part, Edgar was not much better. Evadne was accompanying the two girls to the Platz, as her husband had to take Ned to the airport and then get on with some work, so he would be saying farewell to Thea and Marcia in under an hour’s time. He had found it very hard to say goodbye the first time Ned had left for boarding school, and he was realising that it did not get any easier the second time around. He was going to miss his daughters immensely.
As soon as breakfast was over, Evadne chased the girls upstairs to clean their teeth and have one final check around their rooms. By the time they re-emerged half an hour later, it was time for them to get going. Cornelia led her two charges out to the large staff car that was waiting to take them to the Platz, leaving the Watson girls to say goodbye to Edgar on their own.
Whilst Marcia said a prolonged farewell to the family pets, Thea gave her father a tight hug and then pulled back, dashing her hand across her eyes. Edgar looked up at her and lifted a hand to cup the side of her head.
“Now, young lady, you make sure you work hard and enjoy yourself.” Thea nodded, and Edgar gave her a warm smile. “And I want you to promise me, if anything happens that you need to talk to someone about, you make sure you do, okay? If you can’t talk to one of the teachers, you can always go and see Mrs. Maynard. She only lives next-door. And if you need Mummy or I, you only need to write to us and we will be there as soon as we can.”
“I promise, Daddy. I’ll write to you every week anyway.”
“I’ll look forward to it. Take good care of yourself, sweetheart. See you at half-term.”
He gave her another brief hug, dropped a kiss on the side of her head and then released her. Thea returned his kiss and then picking up her small shoulder bag, she ran out of the door to go and join Cornelia and the Pertwees in the car. Edgar watched her go and then turned his attention to his youngest daughter. Marcia had finished cuddling Scrabble and Pickle, and was now standing to one side, scrubbing her eyes hard with her fists. Edgar held out his arms and she ran across the hall towards him, throwing herself on him and bursting into tears. Her father gathered her into his arms and held her as she cried.
“idon’t want to g...go, Daddy,” she managed to blurt out between her sobs. “I w…want to stay here with you.”
Edgar hugged her tighter, smoothing his hand over her fair curls. “Oh poppet, come on, please don’t cry. It’ll all be alright, you’ll see.” Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he pulled back and wiped away her tears. “You’re going to have lots of fun, I promise you. You’ll be with Thea and Val and Ronny, and you’ll make lots of new friends. I’ll bet you anything you like that by the end of the week you will have forgotten all about not wanting to go!”
Marcia raised her fist to scrub her eyes and gulped down another sob. “Maybe.”
“Definitely. You just need to be brave and remember that half-term is only five weeks away.”
Returning his handkerchief to his pocket, Edgar kissed his daughter on the cheek and gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. Marcia stared down at him, her big green eyes filling with tears once more, and throwing her arms around her father’s neck again, she screwed up her face, willing herself not to cry.
Evadne emerged from the sitting room, where she had been saying farewell to Ned and Henry, and she stopped as she caught sight of her husband’s face. She was well aware how much he had been dreading this moment, and she could tell, from the way his eyes were tight shut as he rested his chin on Marcia’s shoulder, that he was struggling to keep his composure.
Walking over to join them, she placed a hand on her stepdaughter’s shoulder and gently eased her back. “Come on, sweetie, we have to get going.”
Edgar released the young girl and Evadne steered the her towards the front door, where Andreas, Edgar’s driver, was waiting to help her into the car. Then, turning back into the hall, Evvy reached out and took hold of her husband’s hand.
“Are you okay?”
“I-” Edgar coughed to clear his throat. “I’m fine. You have a safe journey.”
“We will. Make sure to kiss Henry goodnight for me tonight, won’t you, baby? Corney and I’ll be back around mid-afternoon tomorrow.”
Reaching up, she kissed him softly and squeezed his hand to let him know that she understood how he was feeling, and then made her way outside to join the others in the car. Edgar followed her out and watched as Andreas started the engine and drove up the long sloping drive to the top road. Glancing back, Evadne felt a twinge of sadness at the forlorn figure he cut, standing on the front step, waving until the car was out of sight.
Marcia remained tearful for most of the journey, curled up against Evvy’s side, and it was not until they were climbing the mountain road above Interlaken, some four hours later, that she began to perk up a little and join in the chatter of her sister and two friends.
Evadne and Cornelia's original idea had been to stay with the Maynards for a couple of days before heading home again. However, several things had conspired to ruin this plan, not least of which was the onset of measles among the Freudesheim small fry. So plans had been changed and the party checked into Villa Caramie instead, where the Watsons were welcomed back with open arms by the indomitable proprietor, Mme Renault.
The four children spent the afternoon playing around the Platz, whilst Cornelia and Evadne took the opportunity to catch up properly on each other’s news. Then at seven o’clock, the large gong summoned them all to dinner, where they were thoroughly spoiled by Mme Renault, who insisted that on top of a hearty meal, they try out all the recipes for her new desserts, much to the delight of the children and the envy of all the other guests.
Finally finishing her second plateful of chocolate and cherry torte, Cornelia sat back in her chair, feeling thoroughly overstuffed, and lifted a hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn. “Sorry! Yesterday’s flight’s still catching up with me.”
“I don’t think you’re the only one!” Evadne grinned, nodding towards Val, whose head was drooping dangerously close to her empty bowl. “You still with us there, Val?”
Val’s head jerked up as she heard her name and she stared around her, as if trying to work out where she was. “Whassat?”
Cornelia grinned and placed her hand on her young charge’s shoulder. “I reckon it’s time you headed to bed, sweetie. You too, Ronny,” she added, noticing the pale hue of that young lady’s cheeks. “It’s coming on for eight-thirty anyhow, so it’s not too early.”
The two girls were only too glad to agree and after saying their goodnights, they made their way upstairs, followed by Cornelia who decided that she may as well take her own advice before she fell asleep where she was. Evadne and her daughters remained only to finish their desserts and then decamped to Evvy’s room with a pot of cocoa and a box of chocolates, to spend their final evening together before the girls started school. Marcia was still inclined to be clingy, even though she had managed to stem her tears, and she curled up next to Evadne, leaning against her stepmother’s side. Thea stretched herself flat on her back at the end of the bed, her feet hanging over the edge.
“I can’t believe we’re going to be Chalet Girls tomorrow!” she exclaimed for what felt like the five-hundredth time that day.
“Well at least one of you’s looking forward to it anyway” Evadne grinned, as she took a sip of her cocoa and glanced at Marcia out of the corner of her eye.
Marcia looked indignant. “I am looking forward to it!” she protested, pouting. “I’m just going to miss you and Daddy and Henry, that’s all.”
“I know, sweetie, I’m only kidding.” Evadne put an arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss on her blonde curls. “We’re gonna miss you both too. We’ll be seeing you again before you know it, though.”
“Henry’s going to have grown lots when we next see him, isn’t he?”
“So’s Mummy!” Thea put in with a grin. “Remember what she was like with Henry? She could hardly get out of a chair!”
“Excuse me, young lady!”
Marcia giggled. “It’s true! You were as big as the garden shed!”
“Well I like that!” Evadne exclaimed huffily. “I was only the size of a kennel, not a shed!”
‘You were a very pretty shed,” Thea insisted, making her sister laugh even more. “Like one with climbing roses or wisteria.”
“If that’s the kind of thing you’re gonna come out with, then I’m only too glad to be leaving you both here tomorrow!” her stepmother retorted indignantly. “You’ll be pregnant one day, and then watch me laugh at you when you can’t get comfortable and it’s ninety degrees outside!”
“Not me! I’m not having any babies – it sounds like it hurts too much!”
Evadne grinned. “Mrs. Maynard used to say she wasn’t having any either.”
“Because it would hurt?”
“Well no, not for that reason. But that’s not my point. Look at her now – she has eleven! So don’t you go tempting fate, madam!”
Thea looked horrified at the mere idea of having eleven children, and Marcia sat up and grinned. “I bet you end up having twenty!” she put in, stifling a yawn.
Evadne ran a hand over her curls. “You sleepy?” Marcia nodded. “Why don’t you go to bed, sweetheart? You’ve a big day ahead of you tomorrow.”
Marcia yawned again. “Think I will. You coming, Thea?”
“In a minute. I want to talk to Mummy.”
“Okay.” Sitting up on her knees, Marcia put her arms around Evvy’s neck and kissed her on the cheek. “’Night, Mummy,” and clambering down off the bed, she ran out of the room.
As she disappeared, Evadne turned to Thea, who had rolled over onto her stomach and was busy studying the box of chocolates, deciding which one she wanted next.
“What can I do for you then?”
Thea chose a chocolate truffle and sat up properly, popping it into her mouth. “Can I tell you something?”
“Of course you can!”
“I’m really nervous,” she began quietly, twisting her fingers together. “What if there’s someone like Franny there?”
“Oh sweetheart, come here.” Thea crawled up the bed and gave her stepmother a hug. Evadne kissed her forehead and then sat back against the headboard. “It won’t be like that, I promise. Miss Annersley would never allow it, aside from anything else.”
“But she might not know. Mr. Kraus didn’t.”
Evvy heaved a sigh. “Well that’s true, I guess. But I don’t think it’ll happen, Thea. And if anyone tries it, you must promise to tell someone right away. It’s not sneaking if someone’s treating you that way.”
“I know.” Thea sat up again and gave her stepmother a weak smile. “I will tell someone, Daddy already made me promise”
“Well Daddy's right. Now,” Evadne continued in a brisker voice, “I have something for you. Go grab that brown paper bag there in my suitcase.”
Thea jumped down off the bed to do as she was told, returning with said bag and handing it over to her stepmother. Evadne opened it and fished inside, pulling out a large leather-bound book which she handed back to her daughter.
“This is for you, from Daddy and I. It’s a diary,” she explained, as Thea accepted it quizzically. “We thought you might be feeling just as you said you are, so we wanted you to have this. Sometimes it can help to write down your thoughts, especially when things aren’t going so well. I kept one all through school and it helped me out of some tight spots, let me tell you. Daddy’s put something in the front for you.”
Curious, Thea opened it up to find a piece of paper stuck to the inside front cover. In her father’s sprawling script, she read the words ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…’.
“It was Granny's favourite poem,” Evadne continued, as Thea read on. “Daddy thought you might like it too.”
Thea read the poem through in silence and then glanced up, her eyes bright, a big smile on her face. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Evvy hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. “You know, I think you’re gonna do real well at this school.”
Thea smiled. “I’ll try, I promise.” Returning her stepmother’s kiss, she jumped down from the bed, the diary clutched in her hands. “I will like it,” she said decisively.
“Glad to hear it,” Evadne grinned. “Now, off to bed with you, else you'll turn into a pumpkin!”
Thea laughed. “I’d better go then! Night, Mummy.”
“Night, sweetheart. Sleep tight.”
Evadne chuckled as Thea disappeared out of the door. Then, left alone in her room, she drained her cup of coffee, popped another chocolate into her mouth and lifted the receiver to telephone her husband and say goodnight.
“Marcia! Come here, at once!”
At her stepmother’s hissed words, Marcia stopped abruptly en route from Val’s room to her own, almost tripping up that young lady in the process, and made her way back down the corridor. As her daughter reached her, Evadne took hold of her arm and dragged her closer.
“How many times have I asked you to keep quiet already this morning?”
Marcia stared down at the carpet and shuffled her feet. “Don’t know,” she muttered.
“Well I do – it’s eight! Now, this is the last time I’m going to say this, so you listen up. It’s six forty-five and just because you choose to be up and about, doesn’t mean everyone else wants to be! I’d thank you to remember that people are still trying to sleep. Now, I suggest if you can’t go back to bed, you follow your sister’s example and go bathe and get dressed. If I hear one more word out of you before breakfast, then I’ll have you wearing a muzzle!”
“Same goes for you, Val,” Cornelia put in, appearing in her own doorway, her dressing gown wrapped around her. “I don’t want to hear your dulcet tones again for a good half hour!”
“And don’t you put your uniform on yet, Marcia Watson!” Evadne added, as Marcia made good her escape. “I’m not risking you throwing food down it. You can change when breakfast’s done.”
Marcia yelled an acknowledgement as the two girls ran off in opposite directions and Evadne grimaced at her friend. “You can’t tell me we were ever that bad!”
Cornelia laughed. “Not at all – we were ten times worse! Why do I get the feeling that they’re gonna be something of a handful in class?”
Evvy chuckled. “Oh – I reckon you’re right, but at least we don’t have to deal with them – that’s the school’s job! And on that note,” she added, glancing at her watch, “I’m off to follow my own advice and have a bath. See you for breakfast at seven-thirty,” and leaving a chortling Cornelia behind her, she disappeared back into her room.
All four girls had awoken at the crack of dawn, thoroughly excited about their first day at the Chalet School, or in the case of the Pertwees, their first day back after a long absence. Even Marcia, who was rarely voluntarily up and about before seven, had forgotten her woes of the previous day and whilst Ronny and Thea did the sensible thing and washed and dressed, she and Val had been running up and down the corridor, shrieking at the tops of their voices. Their efforts had woken not only Evadne and Cornelia, but every other occupant of the floor as well, and several irate guests had already stuck their heads out of their bedrooms to ask them to shut up.
Such was their excitement, in fact, that by nine o’clock, breakfast had been eaten, bags had been packed and all four were ready to go. They were summarily despatched outside to occupy themselves for a couple of hours whilst the adults finished getting themselves together, and then at eleven o'clock Andreas, the Watson’s driver, loaded up the luggage and everyone piled back into the big staff car for the short journey across the Platz.
As Andreas pulled up in front of the main building, Val wrenched the door open and jumped out, and Cornelia had to move swiftly to prevent her running straight inside.
“Don’t think you’re going in looking like that, madam,” she admonished, a look of panic on her face as she managed to grab hold of her charge's arm. “Matey would skin both of us alive! You pull your sleeves down and straighten your skirt!”
“She can’t be that scary!” Thea put in sceptically, as she bent down and rubbed a mark from one of her shining new shoes.
Evadne grinned. “You’d better believe it - just one glare will turn you to stone! She’s almost as bad as old Bill!”
“Would that be me you’re referring to, Lady Watson?”
Evadne froze and then slowly turned around, her cheeks scarlet, to find herself staring up into a pair of twinkling eyes. “I…er…no, of course not!” She stammered, clearly embarrassed, much to her daughters’ delight. “I was talking about…um…well…” Her voice tailed off and feeling like a naughty schoolgirl again, she hurried around to the rear of the car, where Andreas was unloading the trunks with the help of the school's handyman, Gaudenz.
As she disappeared, Miss Wilson laughed and turned to greet the others, asking the Watsons about their summer and welcoming the two Pertwees back into the fold. Then, after exchanging a few words with Cornelia, she issued an invitation to her former pupils to join her for a coffee before heading home, and set off on her way back to Welsen.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Evadne re-emerged from her hiding place. “I might have known she’d hear me!” she hissed to her friend, as they ushered the four girls towards the door where Rosalie Dene was waiting to greet them.
Cornelia giggled, but decided to keep her comments to herself. There would be plenty of time to rib Evvy later on. Instead, she held out her hand to greet her old friend. “Hello, Rosalie! Are we first?”
Rosalie smiled as she returned the greeting. “Almost. The Maynard girls and Ruey are here, but I’m not sure they count as they live next-door. The main rabble arrive later this afternoon.” Turning to the girls, she gave them all a warm smile, welcoming Ronny and Val back before asking, “Did you have a good trip?”
They all answered in the affirmative, Marcia adding in some detail the story of how she had not wanted to leave home the previous day but that now she was okay and excited about being there. As she finished her long tale, most of which had been uttered without taking a breath, a stunned-looking Rosalie raised her eyebrows at Evadne and then gave the young girl a smile.
“Well I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better now,” she said kindly, inwardly marvelling at just how much this child could talk. “So, are you Thea or Marcia?”
“Marcia. That’s Thea,” that young lady replied, pointing at her sister.
“Well welcome to the Chalet School, both of you. I hope you’ll be very happy here. I know your mother certainly was. Now let’s get down to business, shall we? Val, Ronny, can you still remember the way around?”
“Yes, Miss Dene.”
“Jolly good. Well, nothing much has changed since you were last here. Val, we’ve decided that you will be Marcia’s sheepdog, as you already know each other. Ask Robina or another of your old clan to help you out if there’s anything you’ve forgotten. Thea, yours, I believe, will be Sara Carlyon, but I’m sure Val will look after you until Sara arrives this afternoon.” Turning to Evvy, she asked, “Must you two rush off or have you time for a coffee and a natter?”
“We’ve time for lunch as well, if it’s going!” Evadne replied with a grin, and Rosalie laughed.
“I’m sure Karen won’t mind catering for two more.” Then, catching sight of Matey coming down the hall towards them, she turned back to the girls. “Now, I’ll leave you to Matron’s tender mercies whilst we grown-ups go and catch up on our news,” she said, as that indomitable lady reached them and exchanged a few words of greeting with Evvy and Corney. “Matey, I’m sure you remember Ronny and Val Pertwee? And these are Thea and Marcia Watson, who are new to us this term. I’ll leave them all in your care, if that’s alright with you? We’ll see you again at Mittagessen,” and as Matey agreed, Rosalie, Cornelia and Evadne took their leave.
“Why do they say Mittagessen not lunch?” Thea asked, as she watched them go.
Ronny gave a shrug of her slim shoulders. “No idea. They always have done, as far as I can remember.”
“It dates back to the early days in Tirol,” Matey informed them briefly, taking a list from the pockets of her skirt. “Now then, let’s get on, shall we? I’ve plenty to do and so have all of you. Ronny, you are up in Honeysuckle with a few familiar faces. None of the others have arrived yet but you should bump into the Triplets somewhere around. Gaudenz will have taken your trunk up by now, so you can begin unpacking. Do you remember where it is?” Ronny nodded. “Well, off you go then. You can take yourself off to the common room or outside once you're done.” Then, as Ronny headed off to do her bidding, she turned to the other three. “Val, you and Marcia are together in Gentian, so you can show her the ropes. Thea, you are in Lavender and I’ll start you off myself. Come along, follow me. There’ll be time to stare out of the window later, Marcia,” she finished, as she set off down the corridor at a brisk pace.
“Mummy’s right – she is scary!” Marcia hissed to Val, as they hurried to keep up.
“Yes, I most certainly am,” the lady herself replied sternly, with a glance over her shoulder, though anyone who knew her well would have picked up the trace of amusement in her voice at the look on Marcia’s face. “Now, how about less of the chatter until we get upstairs? Otherwise I’ve plenty of hems I can set you to sewing!”
Duly warned and not entirely sure whether to take the threat of hemming seriously or not, Marcia clamped her mouth shut and the four of them made their way silently up the stairs.
The remainder of the morning was taken up with unpacking, and by the time they had finished and dragged their trunks into the corridor to be taken away, Mittagessen was upon them. As soon as the meal was over, it was time for Evadne and Cornelia to leave. They said their goodbyes to Miss Annersley, Rosalie and others of the staff who were dotted about and then turned their attention to their charges. As Cornelia said farewell to both of the Pertwees and collected messages to be passed on to Yseult, her husband and the girls' friends back in Boston, Evadne crouched down and hugged both of her stepdaughters tight.
“Now, you both make sure you be good and work hard, or I’ll be hearing all about it!” she said, still clutching Thea’s arm as she looked from one to the other. To her relief, she saw that they were both smiling – even Marcia was winning the battle with her tears, though her eyes were suspiciously bright. Evadne had been worrying all day about leaving either of them in floods of tears, but it seemed her fears were unfounded. “Have you any messages for Daddy?”
“Tell him that it’s fun here,” Thea replied, grinning.
Marcia hugged her stepmother again and then kissed her on the cheek. “You have to pass that on to Daddy and Henry. Promise!”
“I promise,” Evadne smiled, returning the kiss.
Marcia beamed at her and then ran off to say goodbye to Andreas, and Evadne got to her feet, putting an arm around Thea, and they followed her outside.
“Keep an eye on her for the first few days, won’t you Thea? Just in case she gets teary again.”
Thea nodded, staring up at her stepmother as they walked along. “Daddy’s upset about us leaving too, isn’t he?” she asked astutely.
Evadne glanced down at her and squeezed her shoulder. “Yes, sweetie, he is, but he’ll be okay. He’s gonna miss you both, that’s all. So am I.”
They came to a halt next to the car, and Thea turned and put both her arms around Evadne’s waist. “We’ll be home again in five weeks though.”
“I know. And as you so politely pointed out last night, you won’t be able to hug me like that by then – this little one’s gonna be the size of a pony by the time he or she comes out!” Thea laughed and Evadne dropped a kiss on her smooth, dark locks. “Now, I think Aunt Corney and I had best get going, or you two will be getting home again before we do!” Releasing Thea, she gave Marcia a final hug and kiss and then climbed into the rear of the car.
As Andreas set off in the direction of Welsen, Evadne waved until she could no longer see her daughters and then sat back against the soft, leather seats with a sigh.
Cornelia watched her friend with a smile. “They seem happy enough.”
“Yes, thank heavens. That’ll be some good news for Edgar, at least. We shan’t be long at Welsen, Andreas, I promise,” Evvy called out to their driver.
Andreas glanced at her in the rear view mirror and smiled. “Take as long as you need, Lady Watson.”
“Can’t see we’ll need more than a half hour or so,” she replied with a grin. “Then would you mind if we stopped off in Interlaken on the way home?”
“Not at all.”
“Why Interlaken?” Cornelia interjected.
“I want to pick a few things up for Edgar. He’s in need of some cheering up.”
For Thea and Marcia, the afternoon and evening flew by in a jumble of learning new rules and customs, meeting new faces, sitting tests. school announcements and a welcome from Miss Annersley, and yet more delicious meals. By bedtime the pair of them were thoroughly exhausted. Meeting up with Thea in the common room, just as she was about to head up for bed, Marcia faced her sister with wide eyes and gave a huge yawn.
Marcia’s gleaming, blonde curls bounced as she nodded vigorously. “Tired and muddled. My head’s all squiggly. I’ll never remember everything, ‘specially not to talk slang!”
Thea laughed. “Mummy must have managed it and if she can, then you will.”
“Bet she didn’t. Bet she got fined all the time!” Marcia grinned back. “At least we learnt to talk French and German at the Ecole, though,” she added with feeling. “There’s another new girl Pamela who doesn’t know any at all – she’ll have to not talk ‘cept on English days!”
“I’m sure she’ll learn some soon enough. She’ll have to,” Thea chuckled, staring around the room at the various groups of girls. “It’s good here though, isn’t it?”
“Marvellous. Everyone's really nice. I miss Daddy and Mummy a bit already though,” Marcia replied, her face falling slightly. “I’m going to say goodnight to them in my head and maybe they’ll hear me telepatricly.”
“I think you mean telepathically,” Thea giggled, and Marcia gave her a confused look.
“That’s what I said!”
Before Thea could reply to the contrary, Val called across the room for Marcia to hurry up and that young lady ran off, shouting goodnight to her sister as she went. Feeling a tap on her shoulder, Thea spun round and found herself looking into her sheepdog’s smiling face. Sara Carlyon was a friendly, studious young girl who was hail-fellow-well-met with most people and had one or two closer friends. It had not taken Thea long to discover that her new aquaintance shared her love of animals, riding, literature and history and the two of them had been chattering away easily for most of the afternoon. Sara's easy-going, cheerful manner had already going a long way to allaying Thea’s fears that there might be a Franny-like situation all over again. Now, she had come to inform her charge that it was time for bed and relieved, as she felt she was about to keel over where she was, Thea readily followed her upstairs to the dormitory.
The pair of them chatted amiably about their respective horses as they changed into their nightclothes and then, just as Thea was brushing her hair, Sara’s head appeared through the curtains separating their beds, in strict defiance of the rules.
“Don’t forget you’re second after me for baths in the morning!” she hissed furtively. “I’ll yell when I’m going so you can get yourself ready. You really have to scram when it’s your turn or they’ll be an awful fuss. And remember it’s cold or luke-warm water only!”
Thea shuddered at the thought, as her mind recalled the lovely, long, hot bubble-baths she was used to at home. “It sounds horrid!” she whispered back.
Sara grinned. “You’ll get used to it. I’ll show you how to strip the bed and hump the mattress in the morning. Matey likes it done just-so. I’d better go before I’m caught. See you tomorrow. Sleep well,” and her head disappeared briefly before she reappeared to say, “You’ll get your test results tomorrow – I hope we’re in the same form!” Then she vanished again, this time for good.
Turning back to her locker, Thea hugged herself with glee, thinking that she hoped so too. Despite her outward cheeriness, she had been dreading this day even more than she had let on to her stepmother. Unlike Marcia, who was already palled up with Val, Thea knew nobody of her own age at the school and she had been worried for weeks that people might not like her. Now she was overjoyed that she seemed to have already made a new friend. Still smiling to herself, she knelt to say her prayers and then climbed into bed, snuggling down between the cool sheets. Ten minutes later, she was fast asleep.
Thanks to a longer than intended coffee break at Welsen and the unscheduled stop in Interlaken, it was gone seven o’clock by the time Evadne and Cornelia finally arrived home. They had eaten along the way and, thoroughly exhausted, Corney had taken herself off to bed almost as soon as they got in. She had a long flight back to Boston in the morning and was desperate for some sleep. Evadne, meanwhile, greeted her husband and then ran off to kiss her sleeping son goodnight. By the time she returned downstairs, Edgar was ensconced on one of the comfortable sofas, Pickle curled up on his lap. It was a warm night and through the open french windows, Evvy could see Scrabble stretched out on the stone patio, trying his best to keep himself cool.
Edgar watched her, a smile on his face, as she flopped down in one of the armchairs, kicked off her shoes and rested her feet on a pouffe. “Ouf, that’s better!" she sighed, wiggling her toes. “Did Ned get off okay?”
Edgar grinned. “Pretty much, though we had a tight call when he suddenly realised he’d left his rugger boots behind. We only just made it back to the airport in time!”
“Typical! He’d forget his head if it weren’t screwed on.”
“Too true! So, how were the girls?”
“Both in good spirits. Thea’s a little apprehensive, just as we thought, but she seemed happy enough when I left and Marcia was back to herself and full of beans. In fact that reminds me,” and getting up from her seat, she crossed the room and sat down next to her husband, hugging him around the waist and kissing him on the cheek. “That’s from Marcia. I promised to deliver it!” She gazed up at his face, as an indignant Pickle jumped down and ran outside, and Edgar gave her a sad smile in return. “So, how are you?”
Edgar shrugged. “The house seems so empty.”
“It’ll be half-term before you know it, Edgar, honestly,” she replied in sympathetic tones.
“I know. Ignore me. I’m just being a fool, as per usual.”
Evadne hugged him tight. “Yes, but you’re my fool and I love you for it. Here, I have something for you,” and jumping up, she retrieved her handbag from a nearby table and then flopped down next to him again. Fishing inside the bag, she pulled out several folded sheets of paper, flattened them out and put them in his hands. “These are all for sale in Interlaken. We paid a visit to an agent on the way home - I thought they might cheer you up.” Edgar began to leaf through the apartment details as she watched him closely. “We can go see them any time you like.”
Placing the papers on the low table next to him, Edgar wrapped his arms around her and gazed into her bright blue eyes. “You see, this is why I keep you so well – because you do things like this.”
Evadne laughed and reached up to peck him on the lips. The next moment, her sharp ears picked up the sound of childish wimpering from upstairs. “I think someone’s trying to fill the void his sisters have left!” she said resignedly. “I guess I’d better go see what’s up. You can make me a cup of tea while I’m gone if you like?”
Edgar rolled his eyes. “I suppose that can be arranged!”
“Why thank you!” Giving her husband a cheeky grin, she kissed him again, pulled out of his arms and headed off upstairs to see what was wrong with their son.
“It’s going to be so cool having you here. And in Park too! You’ll have to try out for Torpids – the trials are usually this weekend, though they watch you in eccer this week too, see how you do. I’ll recommend they keep an eye out for you. Your kicking’s top-notch now - they’d be crazy not to try you, at least.”
Ned shot all this out at breakneck speed as Elsie drove the car up the steep roads of Harrow-on-the-Hill towards the school, and Tom stared back at his friend, a little bemused.
“What’s Torpids again?”
“The house rugger team!” Ned replied in an exasperated tone, shaking his head. “I told you that yesterday!”
“You told me about five hundred other things yesterday too!” Tom shot back indignantly. “I can’t remember everything!”
“I know, but it’s rugby!”
Quite used to his friend’s reverential attitude to all things athletic, Tom merely rolled his eyes and Paul grinned over his shoulder at the two boys.
“Tom! How could you forget anything about the mighty game,” he teased, a twinkle in his eye.
Elsie and Tom laughed, and Ned ignored the lot of them and peered out of the window as they approached The Park, the boarding house that was his, and now Tom’s, term-time home.
“We get our own studies too, now we’re in the Third. You Shell’s have to share, but it’s not so bad if you get a decent chap.” Ned added, as Elsie pulled the car to a halt in The Park’s forecourt. He wrenched the door open the second the car stopped, and jumped out. “Come on, let’s go and take a decker at who you’re with!”
“Ned, slow down! It’s not a race!”
Ned halted as he was called back and turned to see Paul holding onto the door, using it as a crutch to pull himself up and out. Thanks to some intense physiotherapy, his remaining leg was now strong enough again to support him, with the aid of sticks, although he still used his wheelchair when he was tired or had simply had enough.
Watching his brevet-uncle struggling with his sticks, as Tom and Elsie disembarked in a more sedate manner and directed the porters to the trunks in the boot, Ned felt rather guilty, to say the least, and walked contritely back to the car to offer Paul a hand.
“Sorry, Uncle Paul. I forgot.”
Paul smiled, as he accepted Ned’s shoulder to steady himself on. “Don’t look so woebegone – I’m not angry. Just remember that we can’t all move as fast as you. The old bones don’t work as well,” he added, with a wink.
Ned laughed nervously, inwardly kicking himself for being so inconsiderate. As he and Paul began to make their way towards the boarding house, a large silver car drew up behind the Rodwells and Harry and his parents disembarked. The adults all greeted each other warmly and Harry ran over to Ned and Tom, yelling almost as loudly and excitedly as his friend had been just a minute before.
Once the greetings were over, they all occupied themselves with settling the three boys back at school. Paul insisted on hobbling around his former boarding house, to see, in his own words, whether the old place had changed, and Elsie was torn between trying to help her son and trying to keep an eye on her errant husband, who despite his disability was insisting on checking out the entire house, attic rooms and all. She tolerated his sense of adventure for about half an hour, before finally convincing him that if they didn’t leave for home right away, Lily would wonder what on earth had become of her parents. Deciding that he was really quite tired anyway, Paul reluctantly agreed. Tom’s ‘shepherd’, a tall, lanky second-year called Donaldson, had arrived to spirit his charge away about ten minutes previously, and satisfied that their son was in good hands, they bid Ned farewell and took their leave.
Ned stood at the door, waving as they drove off down the road, and then returned to the entrance hall where most of his year were gathered around one of the noticeboards, grumbling to each other. For some reason their study lists had not yet been posted, and anxious to see who had got the best rooms and to get on with their unpacking, they were more than a little.
“I don’t see what’s taking them so long,” Dan Burgess was moaning, as Ned approached the group. “Everyone else’s are up there, so why aren't ours?”
“Patience is a virtue, Burgess,” a familiar Scottish burr put in from behind them. “Surely you know that?”
Dan turned bright red and the entire group turned to see the Housemaster, Mr Stevenson, approaching them, a trace of amusement in his grey eyes.
“You’re all waiting for this, I believe,” he said, waving a sheet of paper in the air as he came to a halt in front of them. “Apologies that we’ve taken ‘so long’.” His eyes twinkled at Burgess as he spoke. “We had one or two things to iron out. Now, are you all here?”
“All except Laskar and Lloyd-Kitchen, Sir,” a stocky, fair boy by the name of Ashworth replied.
“Ah yes, I already know about them. So then, as neither will be back until a little later, let’s get down to business shall we? I think some of you remember that Wooller had to miss a great deal of last year through illness?”
Various nods went around the group at this. Gavin Wooller, a boy in the year above them, had been struck down with a bout of pleuro-pneumonia the previous November, and there had been worries at the time that he might not pull through.
Mr. Stevenson smiled. “Well, the good news is that he’s well enough to rejoin us this term. Now, because he missed so much of last year, a decision has been made that he will come down a form and join you lot.”
The boys all looked pleased at this. Wooller was a popular boy.
As a murmer went around the group, Harry frowned. “Is there bad news as well then, Sir?”
“Yes, Pepperell, in a manner of speaking. Though I’m not sure bad news is quite the term I’d use.” The group fell quiet again and Bill Stevenson paused and looked around them. “You all know that you are due to get your own studies this year. Well, as we didn't know whether Wooller would be back or not, we have a new boy assinged to Park in the year above you. And now with Wooller back and being kept down, we’re one too many, so I’m afraid two of you are going to have to share. We’ll alternate each term, though, so nobody will be in the double all year.”
The announcement was greeted with a stunned silence. They had all been looking forward to having their own space, and this news came as a bit of a blow.
Mr. Stevenson glanced down at his list. “We’ve picked the names out of a hat to make it as fair as possible. This term’s occupiers of the double will be Watson and Lloyd-Kitchen. They’ll be replaced next term by Ashworth and Harris, and then in the summer term by Young and Burgess. Any questions?”
As he finished speaking, a loud squeak sounded from the back of the group, and everyone turned to look at Ned. That young man was staring at the Housemaster in disbelief, seemingly unable to speak.
Mr. Stevenson raised his eyebrows. “You okay there, Watson?”
“You can’t! It’s not fair!” he burst out, finally finding his voice again. Mr. Stevenson stared at him and Ned reddened and added, “Sir.”
“I think you’ll find it’s perfectly fair, Watson. Someone has to share and as I’ve already explained, we pulled the names out of a hat. Can’t get much fairer than that.”
“What about him?”
“Can’t you swap him with someone?”
“No, we cannot swap him with someone!” came the stern reply, reminding Ned to whom he was speaking. “It’s only one term so you can jolly well stop moaning and put up with it. Unless you'd like a detention that is?" Ned shut his mouth abruptly. "I’m sorry if you don’t get along, but you’ll just have to grow-up and put your differences aside until Christmas. I’m sure you’ll have more than enough work to keep you busy. This is the first year of your GCE studies, after all.” His tone had silenced Ned completely, and seeing that his pupil had nothing else to say, Mr Stevenson pushed his way through the group, removed a drawing pin from the board and pinned up the piece of paper. “The rest of you, your study allocations are on that list. I suggest you hurry on and unpack if you want to be done before tea,” and with that, he took his leave.
“He knows I can’t stand Lloyd-Kitchen!” Ned fumed, as Harry and Dan rejoined him and the three of them made their way upstairs. “He’s done it on purpose!”
“Why would he do that?” Burgess asked, trying to look sympathetic, although in reality he was just relieved it wasn’t him.
“I don’t know!” came the sulky reply. “Everything’s ruined now. This was supposed to be the best year ever!”
“You said that last year,” Harry retorted with an irritating grin.
“And the year before that,” Burgess added.
Ned chose to ignore them. “Stupid Stevenson! It’s not fair and you know it!” he stropped, as he stomped up the stairs.
“What’s not fair?”
The three of them looked up to see Bronson and Weare, two of Ned’s rugby friends from the year above, coming down the staircase towards them.
Bronson grinned at the look on Ned’s face. “What’s bitten you, Watson? Bit early to be ragging on Stevenson, isn’t it?”
“He has to share a study with Lloyd-Kitchen til Christmas,” Harry told them.
Weare raised his eyebrows. “How’s that?”
“Wooller!” Ned grumbled.
The two elder boys laughed, rather heartlessly, it has to be said. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“Just think, all those stories about Mumsie and Father to look forward to!”
“Oh sod off all of you!” and with their laughter and shouts of “language!” ringing in his ears, Ned turned and stomped up the staircase to the second floor, refusing their efforts to get him to turn around.
An hour later, having finished his unpacking, he threw open the door of Burgess’ study to find his friend hanging up the last of his shirts and Harry sitting on the bed.
“Did you knock?” Dan asked sweetly, as Ned flopped down next to Harry and folded his arms crossly across his chest.
Ned just glared at him. Harry laughed and moved up to give him more room. “Is His Highness back yet?”
“Just heard him braying on the staircase. Why d’you think I’m hiding over here?”
Dan grinned. “Consider this your refuge!”
“So come on,” Harry put in, “forget about Lord-Dungheap for a minute and tell us about your summer. How was Cap Ferrat?”
Thus encouraged, Ned forgot all about his woes for a moment and launched into a detailed account of his family’s month spent on the Riviera, filling them in on everything, including his version of the saga of Lauren and Yves. He dwelt on that particular subject so much, in fact, that after twenty minutes of hearing how stupid Yves was and how he ‘tricked Lauren into liking him’, Dan and Harry exchanged amused glances, eyebrows raised. They knew their friend well enough, however, not to say anything about it. Not just yet, anyway. Instead, they just let him ramble on.
He was just reiterating his point about Yves being too stupid to go to the Sorbonne, when shouting from the hallway interrupted him in full flow. They could hear Piers’ unmistakeable drawl, as he laid into somebody, and all three got to their feet and made their way to the door to find out what was going on.
There they found a stunned-looking Tom staring up at Piers, as that young man berated him for all he was worth. Tom, for his part, was wondering what on earth was happening. He had only come to see Ned and having knocked on the door of his friend’s study, had found himself getting a mouthful from this complete stranger.
“Next time just watch what you’re doing, you stupid clod!”
“What's going on?” Harry interrupted.
“This idiot new boy stood on my foot!”
“I can’t have done!” Tom said, thoroughly confused, looking from Piers to Harry and back again. “You were the other side of the door!”
“Shove off and leave him alone, Lloyd-Kitchen,” Ned put in, glowering at his room-mate.
Piers raised an eyebrow and looked him up and down. “What business is it of yours what I say to some piffling first year?”
“He’s my friend, not that it's any of your business.”
A nasty sneer came over Piers’ face as he looked Tom up and down. “Well that explains a lot,” he said superciliously. “And while you’re at it, Watson, pick up your bric-a-brac, will you? I like my room to be spotless,” and he stalked off down the corridor, his nose in the air.
Tom stared at his friend, utterly bemused. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s an insufferable ass, that’s what!” Ned replied loudly, directing his reply to Piers’ retreating back. “And I’m not picking up my things, so you can go boil your head!” Then, taking hold of Tom’s arm, he steered him into the study, slamming the door behind him.
Harry turned to Burgess and heaved a sigh. “Well that’s that then.”
Dan grinned back at him. “I think this term's going to be quite fun!”
By the end of their second week at the Chalet School, the two Watson girls had forgotten all about their fears and their homesickness and were settling in wonderfully to their new home away from home.
Thea’s first night wish had been granted and she had duly been placed in LIVa. In stark contrast to her initial worries, she was fitting in like a duck to water. The staff were finding her a pleasure to teach. She was polite, attentive and more than competent at most subjects, in particular history, geography and English. The exceptions to the rule were art and science, the latter for which she had no aptitude whatsoever, but as her new friend Sara Carlyon had pointed out, she couldn’t be good at everything, or she "just wouldn't be normal".
Out of the classroom, although not interested in hockey or lacrosse, she was proving surprisingly good at netball despite her small, slight stature. She was fast and nimble, and those involved with the school’s physical education were already marking her out as one to watch. Mr. Denny too, had taken note of his pretty, dark new pupil. Although not as exciting a prospect as Upper Four’s new girl, Flavia Ansell, Thea possessed a sweet alto and ‘Plato’, as the music teacher was affectionately known by all and sundry, was thrilled to have another talented youngster on his hands.
The thing causing her the most happiness, however, was the relationships she was forming within her class, and in particular, her blossoming friendship with Sara. As Sara herself had put it just that morning, “I was really fed-up when Miss Dene told me I’d have to sheepdog – I was worried I’d be landed with all kinds of freak – and instead I’ve ended up with a brand new friend!”
As for Marcia, she was having an absolute whale of a time. Val Pertwee’s old friends had welcomed that young lady back into the fold with open arms and Marcia, with her bubbly manner and somewhat kooky outlook on life, had slotted right in alongside her. To have not one but two people in their midst with such a penchant for mischief was like manna from heaven for the rest of the Upper Third, and they were already looking forward to the fun that could be had in the weeks ahead
The staff, on the other hand, were finding Marcia something of a mixed bag. Her history, geography and English literature were mediocre, her domestic science and needlework skills were somewhat lacking and she had no interest whatsoever in anything to do with organised sport, declaring loudly to Val, much to Miss Burnett’s amusement, that “running around and hitting balls with a stick made her brain want to fall out!” As for maths and science, she already had the staff responsible for those subjects tearing their hair out at the appalling state of her work. On the other hand, she was talented storyteller, a proper little mimic when it came to languages, and Miss Yolland could not praise her art highly enough. Where some of the staff were frankly bemused by their new pupil’s slightly bizarre thought processes, the art mistress was already waxing lyrical about it all being the mark of a truly creative mind.
It was now the Friday at the end of the second week of term, and Marcia, Val and another of their coterie, Robina McQueen, were in the Splasheries at the end of their lunchtime break. Their last lesson before Mittagessen had indeed been art and Marcia, it seemed, had as much admiration for her art teacher as that lady had for her.
Robina screwed up her nose as Marcia finished singing her teacher’s praises. “She’s not always that nice. She told me I couldn’t paint a wall last term!” she yelled over the wall of her toilet stall.
“That’s ‘cause you couldn’t,” Marcia laughed. “Your flowers today looked more like balloons!”
Robina, whose talents lay more on the maths side of things, was not in the least peturbed. “Well I’ll swap you Miss Yolland for Miss Wilmot any day.”
Marcia made a disgusted sound at this, as she pulled the chain and opened the stall door. Val was already washing her hands, and a few sinks down from them, some members of UIV were listening intently to a raven-haired girl who was holding forth.
“You’re both nutty if you ask me,” Val said, as she turned off the tap and wiped her hands dry on her skirt. “Burnie’s the best teacher any day.”
Marcia was just about to contradict her, when a loud comment from the Upper Fourths caught her attention. The dark haired girl was announcing importantly to a red-headed chum that her aunts had once gone to the school.
“My mummy was at the school too!” the ever-ebullient Marcia interrupted.
The four elder girls turned to stare at her, and the dark-haired girl frowned. “So what? We didn’t ask you!”
“I…I was just saying, that’s all!” Marcia stammered, shocked at the response her innocent comment had received.
“Jack, don’t be mean,” a golden-haired maiden, whose accent betrayed that fact that English was not her first language, put in. Then turning back to Marcia, she added, “Maybe she knew Jack’s aunts?”
Encouraged, Marcia turned to Jack with a grin. “Were your aunts in Austria?”
“No, the Welsh branch,” Jack answered, still scowling. “So I doubt they’d have known your mother. Aunt Jacynth was Head Girl, her name’s on the honours boards,” she carried on, turning back to her red-headed friend again.
But the others surrounding Jack were intrigued. “What was your mother’s name?” asked a Dutch girl, who went by the name of Arda Peik.
Val pulled a face at her friend. “She means when she was at school, you goop!”
“Oh. Evvy Lannis. You probably won’t have heard of her though.”
To her surprise, the elder girls perked up at this. “As in Evvy Lannis & Corney Flower?” the golden-haired girl, one Wanda von Eschenau, asked with amazement.
Marcia frowned. “We have an Auntie Corney who Val lives with but she’s Mrs Van Alden.”
“She was Corney Flower at school though,” Val bubbled enthusiastically, understanding why others were so interested. This claim to fame had not occurred to her before now. “I know ’cause Grandpa Joe’s Mr Flower.”
Marcia still looked confused. “Why?”
“Because they’re legends, that’s why!” Arda replied, and her friends nodded enthusiastically. “For all the mischief they made. They were some of the naughtiest girls ever!”
“You can read about them in the Legends Book,” Wanda added, with a smile. "They were at school at the Tiernsee with my Aunt Frieda."
“In the library, I’ll show you!” Robina, who had just emerged from her stall, grabbed her friend’s arm. “Why didn’t you say before?”
“I didn’t know!”
You should ask Mrs Maynard about her,” Arda said. “She has lots of stories. You’ll meet her when you go for English tea.”
Marcia grinned back at her. “I already know her, she’s a friend of Mummy’s.”
Jack, who had remained silent throughout this conversation, glared at Marcia, furious that the younger girl had stolen her thunder. “You don’t get special treatment just because your mother went here, you know.”
“I never said you did!” Marcia flashed back, riled by the elder girl’s tone.
“Well just you remember that,” Jack retorted. Then deeming the conversation closed, she turned back to her friends. “Come on, Arda, Wanda, Copper, lets go,” and without another word, she marched out of the Splasheries, leaving her friends to follow on behind.
“Who was that?” Marcia asked, frowning.
Val shrugged. “Don’t know – she wasn’t here when I was before.”
“Her name’s Jack Lambert,” Robina said, wiping her hands on a towel. “She’s always like that to us. Her friends normally are too.”
“Well she’s horrid!” Marcia declared with feeling.
Val nodded her head in agreement. "I say let’s agree not to like her!”
The others heartily acquiesced, but before any further discussion could be had on the subject, the bell rang for afternoon lessons.
“We’d better scram!” Robina declared, throwing the towel back on the rail. “We’ve got geog – you know what Ferry’s like about being late!” and on that note the three of them made a run for it, Jack and her friends forgotten for now.
It was no great surprise to anybody in The Park, not even the housemaster himself, that it had taken precisely one evening in each other’s company for Ned and Piers to end up well and truly at daggers drawn. By the time they were three weeks into the term, the constant sniping, shouting and door slamming that seemed to be a permanent soundtrack on the third-year corridor was beginning to get on even the most patient person’s nerves, and Mr. Stevenson was on the verge of holding up his hands and admitting defeat.
Although he had not purposely put the two boys together in the room, when their names had been the first two to come out of the hat, he had not been sorry at all. In his professional opinion, forcing them to co-habit in this way could do them both a great deal of good. Down-to-earth, generous, honest, friendly, hard-working (occasional lapses notwithstanding) and full of life, Ned was in many ways as good a pupil as the staff at The Park, and indeed at Harrow School as whole, could wish for. Where he let himself down, in the eyes of his mentors at least, was his occasional petulance, stubbornness and impetuosity, and especially his tendency to refuse to listen to others, be it his peers or those in authority, if they held any other view but his own. It was this last, in particular, that Mr. Stevenson was keen to iron out, as he was only too aware that this character trait was not one that would sit well with Ned's desire to serve in the R.A.F. A term incarcerated with someone as objectionable as Piers Lloyd-Kitchen, the housemaster hoped, would force him to start learning how to deal with those with opposing views without the need for an argument or going off in a huff. As far as Lloyd-Kitchen himself was concerned, Mr. Stevenson just hoped that by the time Christmas came around, some of Ned’s character would have begun to rub off on young Master Piers. Anything else, he recognised, was probably a little too much to ask. Sadly, things were not working out quite as he had hoped.
Just as he was thinking that they would have to be separated for the sake of everyone else’s sanity, however, Ned suddenly changed tack and decided that rather than sulking and shouting whenever Piers annoyed him, he would just not talk to him at all. Not quite what the housemaster had been hoping for, but a vast improvement nonetheless.
It was now four weeks into the term, and having unwittingly sealed his own fate until Christmas by changing how he dealt with his roommate, Ned was sitting in Harry’s study with his three greatest friends. He had received a letter from Lauren that morning and was insisting on reading parts of it out loud and talking about her incessantly, much to the amusement of the others. Harry was even surreptitiously counting on his fingers the number of times Ned used the phrase “I don’t like her in that way, of course. She’s just a good friend.”
As he was busy reiterating this for at least the tenth time, there was a knock at the door and Piers appeared to let Laskar know that his father had arrived to take him out for tea. Laskar gathered his things together, asked to Ned to make his excuses at rugby practise and ran off, and once he was gone, the other three returned to their conversation – or rather, Ned’s monologue. It was a few minutes before they realised that Piers was still standing at the door.
“What do you want, Lloyd-Lichen?” Harry scowled.
Piers looked the three of them up and down with a supercilious sneer. “Nothing,” he replied, before turning and leaving the room.
“Get lost then!” Harry called to his retreating back.
“I think you’ll find he already has!” Burgess laughed.
“I know, but I had to have the last word!” Harry admitted candidly.
Ned grinned. “Speaking of which, I should really get lost too – I promised I’d get some kicking in with Bronson before Torpids practice.”
“Make sure you trip Lord-Dungheap up in practice, won’t you?” Harry pleaded, referring to Piers, who was on the house rugby team with Ned.
“I'll do my best! See you at tea,” and flashing his friends another wide grin, Ned took his leave.
Ten minutes later he was back upstairs again, having forgotten he needed clean rugby socks. Running down the corridor, he was about to push the door to his study when it opened anyway and he almost fell into Burgess. Dan jumped backwards out of his way, a startled look on his face.
“What’re you doing in here?” Ned asked cheerfully, as he pulled open his top drawer and began rifling around for a pair of socks.
“You left Lauren’s letter in Pepperell’s study,” Dan replied. “I’ve just chucked it on your bed.”
Ned finally found what he was looking for and shoved the drawer closed, leaving underwear strewn on the floor around his feet. “Cool, thanks!” he cried, as he dashed out of the door again. “See you later!”
Torquil “Lofty” Mcleod, the new House Games Monitor, was so determined to make ‘his’ team the best house rugby team the school had ever seen that he kept all his players in training well beyond the scheduled hour, and it was almost time for dinner when finally returned to the boarding house. As he sauntered up the lawn with his friends from the year above, Weare and Bronson, the three of them bemoaning Mcleod’s over-enthusiasm and Piers’ ball hogging, Ned noticed a couple of second years laughing and pointing at him, and turned to his friends with furrowed brow.
“What’s got into them?”
Bronson looked over at the two younger boys and shrugged. “Who knows? Perhaps they’ve a touch of hero-worship – you being the rugger star and all!” he added, tongue-in-cheek. Lately, a few of the first years had taken to trailing after Ned in wholehearted admiration after seeing him play in a school match, and Ned’s friends had been ribbing him mercilessly about it ever since.
“Better start practising that autograph of yours!” Weare added with a grin.
Ned pulled a face. “Oh shove off both of you!”
“Not sure that’s the way a folk-hero should talk!”
Ned scowled at the pair of them, refusing to dignify their comments with an answer, and stalked ahead of them through the changing room door. As he went, he noticed a few more boys staring at him and whispering, and wondered again what had got into everyone. He even went as far as checking himself in the mirror to see if he had anything strange on his face or stuck to his back but apart from a few mud-spatters, everything was exactly as it should be. Telling himself to stop being paranoid, he headed off to the shower room.
Afterwards however, as he made his way across to the dining room, the seemingly unwarranted attention he was attracting began to get worse. It was not all the boys, by any means. In fact, the vast majority of them were paying him no attention whatsoever. Without doubt, though, there were enough people who were staring and sniggering, chiefly boys from his own boarding house, to make him realise that he was not being paranoid after all. For the life of him, he could not work out what had got into everyone. Harry seemed as confused by the whole thing as he was, and Burgess was seated on another table, so too far way to ask. Eventually, as the main course plates were taken away and dessert was served, he decided enough was enough. Seeing Shadley and Beresford, two second-years, glancing at him and whispering, he was about to demand they told him what was so funny when he felt a sudden tap on his shoulder. Turning, he found himself looking up at Oliver Dunkels, a crony of Piers' and almost as objectionable a person as that young man himself.
“What’s all this we hear about your girlfriend, Watson?”
Ned glared up at him, confused and somewhat put-out. “I don’t have a girlfriend, not that it’s any of your business.”
A nasty smirk came over Dunkels’ face. “Really? Funny, must be someone else who spent all summer with a girl called Lauren, helping her to get over Yves.”
Ned turned scarlet and his jaw dropped. “How do you…I mean, who…” he stammered.
“How touching, you’re blushing,” came the sarcastic response. “Tell me, Watson, what’s it like to be second best?”
“I’m not second best!”
“Oh I’m sorry, third best then,” and laughing at his own joke, he turned and headed back towards his friends, making childish kissing noises as he went.
As everyone around him started sniggering, a dumbstruck Ned turned to Harry, his face still scarlet. “How does he know about Lauren? And why does he think she’s my girlfriend?”
Harry looked as confused as his friend was. “Beats me,” he replied, with a shrug. “I’ve not said a word.”
“Were you really third best, Watson?” asked David Livingstone, a fourth-year Park boy who had always been jealous and a little resentful of Ned and his friends, ever since Harry had beaten him to the part of Bottom in his very first term at the school. He was rather enjoying seeing one of them being humiliated this way. “Bet you’re not used to that, are you?”
“I’m not any best!”
“Oh dear, doesn’t sound much of a girlfriend to me!”
“She’s not my girlfriend!”
“Why?” another joker piped up. “Did she turn you down?”
“For the last time, she’s not my girlfriend and she never was! She’s just a family friend. More like my cousin, really.”
“Since when has that stopped you aristos?” someone quipped from further down the table.
“You should know, Webbley” Harry returned furiously, trying to stick up for his friend. “Didn’t your uncle marry his cousin?”
As another roar of laughter went around the table, Ned grabbed Harry’s arm. “Leave it, won’t you?” he muttered, his face burning up. “You’re making it worse.”
“I was trying to help!”
“Well you’re not!” Ned snapped back, and with his neck turning redder by the minute, he turned his attention to shovelling down his dessert, trying to ignore the jibes that were being thrown at him.
As soon as he was finished, he got to his feet and hurried out of the dining hall. He was rushing so fast that he had almost reached his boarding house when he heard the sound of running feet behind him and a shout of “Ned! Hey Ned, wait up!”
“Just ignore them!” Harry said, panting slightly as he and Burgess caught up with their friend. “It’s only a few of them and they’re all idiots anyway. Who cares what they’re saying?”
“Easy for you to say,” Ned retorted, as he continued to marched through the side door and down the corridor towards the common room.
“What’s does it matter even if you do have a girlfriend?” Burgess asked.
“She’s not my girlfriend!”
“I know that, I’m just saying-”
“And what’s wrong with it is that it’s my own private business!” Ned stopped abruptly and swung around to face them. “How do they even know? I only told you two and Laskar. And they know about things I didn't even tell you! How on earth…?” Suddenly he broke off, shocked, as he remembered finding Burgess in his room. “It was you!”
“It was me what?”
“Who told everyone about Lauren!”
Burgess looked stunned. “I did nothing of the-”
“I caught you, coming out of my room!” Ned interrupted, his voice getting louder and angrier.
“I was returning your letter, I told you!”
But Ned was not listening. “What did you do? Have a good read and tell everyone?”
“Of course not!” Burgess was getting angry himself now, and boys who were trickling back after dinner were turning to stare. “What do you think I am?”
“I thought you were my friend, but clearly not!”
“I am your friend!”
“Not as far as I’m concerned! No friend of mine would be so low!” and turning on his heel, he stormed off down the corridor and up the stairs towards his room.
“It wasn’t me, you ass!” Burgess shouted at his retreating back. Turning to face Harry, he caught sight of the look on that young man’s face and groaned in despair. “Not you as well! You know I just took his letter back – you were there!”
“I know you took it back to his room,” Harry replied quietly. “I’ve no idea what you did after that.”
“I didn’t read it, I promise!” Burgess pleaded, his voice taking on a desperate note. Harry simply stared at him. “Oh come on, Pepperell, you can’t think I did!”
There was a long pause before Harry shook his head. “I don’t know what I think. I’ve got work to do,” and leaving Burgess rooted to the spot, he followed in Ned’s wake.
Hurrying up the stairs, he caught sight of Ned in the third-year corridor and was about to call out to him when Tom suddenly appeared from the other direction, his friend Archie Dimsdale in tow.
“Ned, there you are!” Tom cried, his face breaking into a wide grin. “You never told me you were dating Lauren!”
“I’m not!” Ned snapped back.
“Well why are they saying you are then?”
“I don’t know! Ask Burgess!” and pushing past the two first years, he carried on his way down the hallway.
A little bewildered at the reaction to what he thought had been an innocent question, Tom turned to his friend. “What’s eating him? I was only asking!”
Dimsdale, who though very nice, was not known as ‘Dimbo’ for nothing, simply shrugged.
“I’d leave him alone if I were you.” Harry put in, coming up behind the pair of them. “He’s not in the mood for an inquisition.”
“Why? What's happened?”
“Never you mind.” Harry retorted, opening his study door. “You shouldn’t be up here anyway, you’ll get in a royal row if the Mons catch you,” and he disappeared, leaving a disgruntled Tom & Dimbo to make their way back downstairs.
Piers was seated at his desk, attempting to finish his history prep, and he looked up as the door slammed open and Ned entered the room. “Was that really necessary?” Ignoring him, Ned flounced across the room and flopped down on his bed, kicking his scattered clothes aside. “Was that you shouting out there?”
“What if it was?” Ned snarled.
“Some of us are trying to work, you could have some consideration!”
“Oh go boil your brains.”
Glaring at his roommate, Ned hauled himself to his feet, dragged his school bag from under his desk and started pulling his things out, slamming them down on his desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Piers watching him.
"Go on, say what it is you want to say!” he snapped. “Everyone else has.”
Piers looked him up and down. “Why would I want to say anything to you?”
“About my supposed girlfriend who took me on as her third choice? Surely you’ve heard? It’s not like you to pass up the opportunity.”
Piers raised an eyebrow, an unreadable expression on his face. “Frankly I couldn’t care less what you get up to in your spare time.”
Ned looked at him in surprise. It was the last reaction he had expected. “Oh. Right,” he mumbled. Unsure what else to say, he sat down at his desk and opened his copy of Macbeth.
Lloyd-Kitchen continued to watch him. “I very much doubt it’s true anyway,” he added after a few minutes of silence. “No self-respecting girl would give you the time of day!”
Ned glared at Piers, receiving a smirk in return. “Moron!” he muttered under his breath. Then sticking his hands over his ears, he stared down at book, his mind not taking in the scenes at all as it replayed the evening’s events over and over again.
“There you are, my wounded little soldier. All done.”
Evadne dropped kisses on her son’s grazed elbow and knee and then leaving him sitting on the kitchen sideboard, she cleared away the first aid kit and stored it back in the cupboard where it belonged. Henry, who had fallen whilst trying to chase Pickle across the terrace, continued to grizzle and after wiping his eyes and nose with her handkerchief, Evvy collected him up in her arms and hitched him onto her hip, just managing to fit him above her seven and a half months-worth of baby bump.
Henry nuzzled his head into his mother’s shoulder as they made their way through to the salon. Lowering herself onto the nearest sofa, Evadne moved him so that he was sitting on her lap, and then buried her face in his fair curls.
“Come on, you. Let’s have cuddles.”
Wriggling to make himself comfortable, Henry clutched his mother’s stomach, resting his head on the top of her bump. It was the same way that he had snuggled up to her ever since her belly had begun to grow large and despite Edgar telling her she was being ridiculous, Evvy was convinced that he was giving his little brother or sister a hug.
“How’s the invalid?”
Evadne looked up at the sound of her husband’s voice and ruffled Henry’s curls. “All better, aren’t you precious?”
“Cuddling his new sibling again, I see?” Edgar replied, a twinkle in his eye.
His wife pulled a face in return, and registering his father’s voice, Henry turned his head, holding out his hand with a cry of “Daddy!”
“Charming!” Evadne pretended to be hurt. “I patch you up and now you want Daddy’s love not mine!”
Chuckling, Edgar took a seat beside them, placed the letters he was carrying on the end table and pulled his son into his lap. “Aww, poor Mummy’s feeling neglected.”
“Mommy’s feeling fat and tired, that’s what Mommy is!”
“Poor old thing,” he laughed, pecking her on the cheek. “Only six weeks or so left and it’ll all be over.”
“Nice comfort, you are! And far from being over, mister, it’ll just be starting!”
Edgar grinned. “Don’t I know it. We have living proof right here,” and he jigged his son up and down on his knee.
Looking down, he saw his son thrusting up his wounded arm. “So I can see. Always in too much of a rush to get everywhere, that’s your problem, isn’t it?”
“Alright, I know. Let me see,” and clutching the grazed elbow, Edgar bent down to kiss it better. “There you are, little man.”
“Yes I know, who d’you think took care of you?” Evadne asked, deciding against the cumbersome task of leaning down, and kissing her fingers and placing them on Henry’s graze instead.
“Mummy!” Henry cried again, and then giggled, his woes forgotten, as Edgar blew a raspberry on his cheek.
Evadne laughed. “Does that feel funny?”
Henry nodded and turning to his father, he buried his head in that gentleman’s chest.
Grinning, Evvy nodded her head towards the envelopes that Edgar had set down on the table. “What do you have there?”
“Letters from the girls.”
“Oh excellent – I thought it had been an age since we last heard from them!” she replied, conveniently forgetting that they had received a letter from Thea just a week beforehand. “What do they say? Are they both alright?”
“I don’t know yet. I thought we could go through them together.” Edgar picked up the top letter and handed it to his wife. “Here, this one’s Thea’s.”
Taking the letter from the envelope and smoothing out the sheets of blue writing paper, Evadne cleared her throat and began to read.
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
I know it’s only a week until half-term, but I promised to write every week and anyway, I’ve so much to tell you! I told Marcia she had to write too. She didn’t want to but I told her that it wasn’t fair if she didn’t because you are home without us and we’re here having so much fun.
I have to start with my really exciting news. Mummy, you’ll really like this, I know. Guess who is working here in the school san? Nurse Solomons! Can you believe it?
“Oh, Edgar, did you hear that? Nurse Solomons!”
Edgar grinned at his wife. “I did indeed. I’ve wondered a few times what became of her.”
“So’ve I. Oh, I’m so glad she landed somewhere good! I’d have hated her to end up somewhere else like that horrid old U.N. school. You have to call in and say hello when you pick up the girls at half-term.”
“I will, I promise.” Edgar smiled and ran a hand over her fair, swept-back curls. “What else does Thea say?”
I haven’t had to go to the san all term, as you don’t go there unless you’re ill or know someone who is, so I didn’t know. Then last week, Therese, a friend of mine and Sara’s was in there with tonsillitis and we went to visit her and there was Nurse Solomons taking her temperature when we arrived! I was so surprised I cried out and she laughed. She said that she had heard that Marcia and I had come to the school and was hoping that she would run into us sooner or later.
She told me that she started here last term and really likes it and has made lots of friends already. I’ve been over to see her a few times since, and she’s said I can go and talk to her any time I need to, so you don’t need to worry about me having someone to look after me now.
I met a friend of yours the other day too, Mummy. Her name’s Mrs. Courvoisier and her husband is Dr. Courvoiser who works at the San with Dr Maynard. She says she was at school with you, in the ‘dark ages’ as she put it. That makes you sound so old!
“Charming!” Evadne interjected, pulling a face.
Ronny and her friend had to deliver something to her chalet and they could take two Middles, so they chose Sara and I to go with them. Mrs. Courvoisier’s so nice and jolly and she told us lots of stories about when you were all at school. We laughed so much, especially when she told us about you finding her when she was a little girl and her mother had died, and how you and Auntie Corney and Auntie Elsie kept her in the swimming hut until you were caught!
“You found a child and kept her in the swimming hut?” Edgar interrupted, astonished.
“We were trying to help! And we did, didn’t we? She had nobody and then we came along and next thing she knew, she had a whole school full of people. So nurts to you, Edgar Watson!”
Edgar laughed. “My wife the adoption service! At least I’ll be prepared now if I find any spare children hidden in the boathouse.”
Evadne simply grinned and returned her attention to the letter.
Marcia’s just the same as always and so funny. You’ll never guess what she did the other day? We had this fluffy blancmange sort of pudding that she hates and never wants to eat. It is rather horrid. A bit like your first ever shepherd’s pie, Mummy! We all thought she’d eaten it really quickly and were really surprised. It wasn’t until she stood up we all realised why. She had somehow found out it was on the menu and smuggled a paper bag into Mittagessen, and then put all the pudding in there and hidden it under her skirt. When she stood up the bag split and it all ran down her leg and onto the floor. Matey was so cross and was telling Marcia off and she was standing there in a big pool of blancmange! Marcia had to scrub and polish the Speisesaal floor and has to eat with the Upper Two’s until half-term, but she says it was worth it not to have to eat the pudding!
That’s almost all my news. I came top in history and English for our last essays and third for geog. and Mlle. Berne says she’s really happy with my work which is really good. Oh, and please may Sara come and stay at the end of the Christmas holidays? Then she can meet Kate. I really want her to. I know they’ll be friends! I thought I should ask now because if you say yes, then Sara can write and ask her parents too.
It’s Kaffee and Kuchen in ten minutes so I’d better finish this now so I can put it in the box for the post in the morning.
I can’t wait to see you next week, and Henry and Scrabble and Pickle too. It’s so much fun here and I do like it, I really do, but it’s not the same as being at home. Mummy, are you really big now? I bet you are!
Lots of love from
Giggling, Evadne folded the sheets of paper and returned them to their envelope. “I reckon we should ask Guilia to serve blancmange for the girls’ first meal home, see what Marcia says!”
Edgar joined in her chuckles and grinning his gappy grin, Henry looked from one of his parents to the other and clapped his chubby hands together. “Funny!”
“Yes, funny!” Edgar laughed, glancing down at his son and tickling him. “This is funny too, isn’t it?”
Henry didn’t think so. Wriggling violently, he squealed, “Daddy! Go-way! Go-way, Daddy!” Succeeding in freeing himself, he slithered to the floor, pushed his father’s hands away with a final, “Go-way!”, turned his back on his parents and toddled across the room to pick up his toy truck.
Edgar watched him go with a shrug. “Or perhaps not then!”
Still chuckling, Evvy set the envelope beside her and squeezed her husand’s arm. “You know, I’m kinda glad the Pertwees wanted to stay at school for half-term. It’ll be nice having just Thea and Marcia all to ourselves. And Thea sounds so happy!”
Edgar grinned down at her. “She does, doesn’t she?” Leaning back against the sofa he stretched his arms above his head and yawned. “You know something? Even though I miss them terribly, it was a good idea of mine to send them there,” he glanced at Evadne out of the corner of his eye as he spoke, “even though I do say so myself!”
“Excuse me, whose idea was it?”
Feigning a look of innocence, he asked, “What was that, darling?”
“You heard me!”
“Sorry, I appear to be going deaf!” he grinned. “Say again?”
Glowering at her husband, Evadne grabbed his elbows, preventing him from lowering his arms.“Whose idea?”
“You know you’ll be sorry if you don’t let go!”
“I’ll be sorry?”
“That’s what I said.”
“That’s what you think!”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. Then, freeing his arms easily from her grasp, he tickled her under the arms. Evadne shrieked, squirming to get away, but her bulk made that easier said than done.
“Stop! Edgar, okay, stop!” Taking pity on her, he did as she asked and she sat up straight and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “Do you want me to go into early labour?”
Edgar laughed and then grinned down at Henry, who had toddled back towards them, truck in hand, and was bobbing up and down in front of them, shrieking and giggling along with his mother.
“Mummy’s silly, isn’t she little man! Do you never learn?” he added quickly, grabbing hold of his wife’s hands as she tried to take advantage of his diverted attention. Evvy grimaced and he grinned maddeningly. “For what it’s worth, I acknowledge it was a stroke of genius on your part to send them to the school, my love,” and kissed her on the cheek.
Pulling a supercilious expression, Evadne straightened her creased clothing. “That’s all you had to say. Then I wouldn’t have had to show you the hard way.” Edgar guffawed loudly and ignoring him, she turned her attention to Henry, who was waving his truck back and forth. “What a handsome truck you have there!”
“You want me to come play, sugar-pie? Come on then,” and sliding off the sofa, she freed his second truck, that had somehow got wedged half under the sofa. “So what does Marcia have to say?” she asked, as Henry began crashing his truck into hers.
Picking up the letter from beside him, Edgar pulled out a single, small sheet of writing paper, with writing on one side. “Not much, by the looks of it! Though she has drawn us a very fetching picture of a St Bernard called Bruno.”
Evadne laughed. "He belongs to Joey & Jack. Come on, what does she say?”
“Alright, brace yourself,” Edgar winked.
Dear Mummy & Daddy.
School is still lots of fun. Well, not maths and science because they’re horrid, but everything else is. Miss Yolland has asked me to paint a picture for The Chaletian and I’m going to paint one of the school and Mrs Maynard’s house. Val and I went there for English Tea last weekend and we had lemon biscuits and drank hot chocolate and she told us lots of stories about Mummy and Auntie Corney and Auntie Else.
I’m not going to tell you anything else or I’ll have nothing to say at half-term but Thea said I had to write so I have. I can’t wait to see you in one week and give Henry lots of kisses from me.
Lots and Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of love
Evadne grimaced. “Wait ‘til I get my hands on Joey!”
“Hold your horses, she’s not finished yet.”
P.S. Val wants me to bring back a hundred and seven biscotti after half-term so please can you tell Guilia now so she has lots of time to make them.
“What do they think Guilia is?” Evadne muttered.
P.P.S. Mummy, me and Robina and Val and everyone have been reading all about you in the Legends Book and the jokes you played. Did you really boil the school clock?
Edgar’s eyes opened wide. “You boiled the school clock?”
“We may have done. And I’m not sure I’m so keen on all these old stories coming out! I’ll be having words with Joey and Biddy, and as for the legends book...”
Ignoring her last statement, Edgar shook his head. “Is it a stupid question to ask why you boiled a clock?”
“To put it right, of course.”
“You boiled a clock to put it right?”
“Margia read about it in a book!”
“Which one? Barnum and Bailey do physics?”
Evadne coloured. “No!” she retorted, pulling a face. “I don’t remember which one.”
Edgar’s deep chuckle rang out, and Evvy turned her attention back to Henry and the trucks.
“Don’t think you’re leaving it there!” her husband admonished. “Did it work?”
“Kind of.” Edgar raised an eyebrow. “It worked for a bit, then when it chimed it wouldn’t stop!” Evadne grinned at the memory. “Gee it was funny. It went on for so many chimes. Corney almost split her sides laughing and counting at the same time. Margia’s face was something else! Oh, stop laughing," she added, hitting his knee. "I’m sure you did things that were just as bad!”
“Touché.” Edgar kept chuckling as they watched Henry, who had got bored with his trucks and toddled over to the little rocking chair that Mike van Alden had made him as a gift the previous spring. “I always wondered why you were never a science student!”
“Excuse me, I’ll have you know I was pretty good at science – Bill said so!”
“Didn’t you blow up the science lab?”
“I did, and she still kept me on, so what does that tell you?”
“That she’s crazy?”
“For that, you’re sleeping in the spare room tonight!” Evvy replied huffily, heaving herself back onto the sofa.
Edgar pouted. “Aww, I’m only joking.”
“Don’t think you can get around me that easily!”
Sticking out his bottom lip further, Edgar turned wide, doe-like eyes on her and Evadne tried her hardest not to laugh. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the rocking chair tipping sideways dangerously as her son tried to climb over the arm.
Edgar jumped up and got there just in time to stop him hitting the ground. Turning up his top lip, Henry began to wail and collecting the little boy up in his arms, Edgar picked him up and cuddled him, as he walked back to the sofa.
“Honestly, you’re going to be the death of us, little man, with all your accidents!”
“If he’s not the death of himself first!” Evadne added, holding her arms out to take him. “Go fetch one of his cookies from the kitchen, will you baby? That’ll cheer him up. Come on, precious, it’s okay,” she cooed, holding Henry tightly as Edgar disappeared.
Returning a moment later, he passed the biscuit to his son, who grabbed it and started chewing on it, despite his wet, snotty face. Edgar patted Scrabble, who had padded in after him, then turned to sit down in the nearest armchair. Unfortunately, he was not quite square onto it and landing on the arm, he overbalanced and tipped onto the floor, to a peal of laughter from his wife.
“Well, at least we know where he gets it from!” Evvy giggled, as her red-faced husband picked himself off the carpet. “Like father, like son!”
Slamming his locker drawer shut, Ned walked across to his wardrobe and began rifling noisily through his clothes, scraping the wire hangers along the metal rail with a sound that would set anybody’s teeth on edge.
He had been slamming around the room for a good twenty minutes, and Piers, fed up with being disturbed while he tried to learn his repetition, threw his book angrily down on the bed. “I am trying to work here, in case you hadn’t noticed!”
Ned scowled at him and continued scraping the hangers around his wardrobe, seemingly looking for nothing in particular. “Go somewhere else if you don’t like it,” he growled.
“Why should I? This is my study as much as it is yours!”
“Not by my choice!”
“Well it’s not by my choice either!” Piers flashed back, with some justification. “But I have as much right to be here as you, so you could at least show some consideration. Kindly don’t take your frustration at having fallen out with your silly little friends on everybody else.”
Ned stopped what he was down and glared at his roommate. Then, without uttering a word, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the study, slamming the door behind him. Piers called something less-then-complimentary at his retreating back but Ned didn’t quite catch it and, frankly, he could not have cared less what it was. Just now, he did not care much about anything to do with school. It was half-term in three days time and, as far as he was concerned, it could not come soon enough.
Within a week of the whispers about Lauren being spread around the boarding house, most of the boys who had originally teased Ned tired of doing so, as other things happened that drew their attention away. There was a small element of boys, however, who had never really liked the fact that Ned and his friends were often at the centre of life in The Park, and they persisted with their goading, delighting in the fact that they were managing to rock the status quo.
Instead of ignoring them and letting it all die down, Ned let himself get more and more wound up every time one of them made a snide comment or whispered and laughed as he walked past. He was in a perpetually grumpy state these days, flouncing around like a bear with a sore head, and the angrier he got, the more he took it out on Dan Burgess.
This, in turn, was driving a wedge between himself and his three chief friends. Harry had slept on it and decided that he could not believe that Burgess would have done anything so underhand. Anthony Laskar, who had arrived back from dinner with his father in the middle of all the commotion, agreed with Harry. The four of them had been friends since starting prep school together seven years previously, and neither of them could imagine Dan doing anything of the sort to anyone, especially Ned. Both had tried to reason with Ned, but he was adamant. All the evidence pointed at Dan, and he was not prepared to discuss it any further unless Dan wanted to admit his guilt.
As a result, Ned was becoming increasingly withdrawn from the other three, choosing to spend time during the day with his rugby pals from other houses, and then on his own or with Tom Rodwell in the boarding house. He was missing his friends badly, especially Harry, but being far too stubborn for his own good, he refused to back down and was making himself thoroughly miserable in the process. It was, without doubt, turning out to be the worst term of school he had ever endured and for the first time since leaving home for prep school at the age of eight, he was feeling more than a little homesick.
Stalking down the corridor, he came to a stop outside Harry’s study door, took a deep breath and knocked. That morning, he had received a letter from Paul and Elsie asking him if he wanted to bring any friends with him for half-term. Knowing that Harry had to stay at school for the holiday, as his parents and sister were overseas, Ned had decided to put his pride aside and ask his friend to spend it with him instead.
Steeling himself, as Harry called “Come in,”, he tentatively pushed back the door. Harry was sitting at his desk, a maths textbook in hand. On his bed sat Burgess, also with his textbook open, as the two of them went through the questions they had been set for their prep.
Ned looked from one to the other, a scowl coming over his face. “I’ll come back later,” he muttered, and began to retreat from the room.
“Don’t be an ass!” Harry admonished, stopping his friend in his tracks. “What d’you want?”
Glaring at Burgess, who looked away sharply, Ned walked into the room and shut the door. “I was wondering if you wanted to come with me for half-term," he muttered in Harry's direction. "I know you’re staying here and Uncle Paul said I could bring some friends if I wanted to,” he muttered.
Harry stared at him for a second and then glanced at Dan. He knew that Ned was well aware Burgess also had to stay at school, as his mother was unwell and could not have her sons home with her. “Are you asking Burgess too?”
Ned’s eyes narrowed. “Uncle Paul said I could invite my friends,” he replied, a hard edge to his voice.
Slamming his book shut, Burgess got to his feet. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t come even if you asked,” he said coldly, unable to keep the hurt from his voice, and pushing past Ned, he stormed out of the room.
Harry stared at Ned, disgust written all over his face. Ned looked back at him and shrugged, trying to pretend that he didn’t care, though in truth, Dan’s obvious hurt had made him feel rather ashamed of himself. Harry placed his book on his desk and shook his head.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you, Ned," he said, contempt evident in his voice. “You’ve become an absolute brute, d’you know that?”
The comment stung and Ned felt his hackles rise. “How d’you expect me to be after what he did?”
“What you think he did!” Harry snapped back. “You don’t have a shred of evidence! You’ve just convinced yourself in your mind!”
“I know what I know! Just ‘cause you’re burying your head in the sand, doesn’t mean I’m blind too!”
“I’m not blind! Just ‘cause I don’t agree with you, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong!”
“So much for you being my friend!”
“I am you’re friend, you ass! But I’m also Burgess’ friend and I know he wouldn’t do that, and you should too!”
“You think so, do you?”
Harry stared at him for a second, then uttered a scornful sound and turned away. “Whatever you say, Ned.”
“I do say,” Ned muttered, sounding like a petulant child. Harry ignored him and a heavy silence descended on the room. Ned stood there, staring at his friend’s back for a good two minutes before finally asking, “So, are you coming at half-term or not?”
Harry’s voice was cold as he replied without turning round. “Thanks, but I think I’ll stay here with Burgess. He’s better company just now.”
Ned glared at him. “Please yourself!” he snapped back, and feeling thoroughly put-upon, he turned and stormed out of the room.
Come half-term, it took Paul Rodwell just one evening to work out that all was not well with his young charge. Ned’s quiet, sullen, brooding manner was about as far from his usual chirpy, chatty self as you could possibly get. After talking it over with Elsie, Paul decided that Edgar would want him to get to the bottom of things and set about doing just that. In the face of persistent questioning, Tom finally filled his father in on what had happened tpo Ned at school and on the penultimate evening of the holiday, Paul finally managed to corner Ned alone. Finding the two boys going through their cricketer cigarette cards in the front room, he sent Tom off to bed, citing an excursion the following morning as an excuse, and then stayed Ned as he got up to follow his friend.
“I was hoping we could have a quick chat before you headed up?” Paul stated, rather than asked, as he carefully lowered himself into an armchair and set his sticks to one side.
“Um, yeah, okay.” Surprised, Ned sat back down and looked quizzically at his brevet-uncle. “What about?”
“Oh, just this and that. I’ve not had much time to catch up with you this half-term. How’s everything at school?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course. We’ve lots of work with O’Level’s and everything, but it not so bad, and rugger’s going well. I’m Under 15 captain this year.”
“Yes, Tom told me. Congratulations.”
There was an awkward pause and Paul eyed the young lad keenly before asking, “What about everything else? How are your friends?”
Ned’s brow furrowed suspiciously. “They’re fine,” he replied shortly.
“You’re not a good liar, you know.” Ned remained tight-lipped and Paul sighed and shook his head. “Listen, Ned. I’m fully aware that I’m not your father and can’t force you to tell me, but he and Evvy have left us in loco parentis, so I’m jolly well going to follow that through to the letter. Now, I know your Dad well enough to know that he would not have let you go back to school in this frame of mind, so I won’t either. So why don’t you save us both some fuss and bother and just tell me what’s wrong?”
Ned stared defiantly at the carpet in silence, refusing to reply, and Paul waited a moment before picking up his newspaper and starting to read. Ned watched him, wrestling between his desire to spill out all his troubles and his feelings that adults never understood what being a young man was like so what was the point? Eventually, realising that his uncle had every intention of outstaying at him, he gave in reluctantly told him everything that had happened.
As Ned finished speaking, Paul frowned. “Haven’t you known this Burgess since prep school?”
“Yes. That just makes it worse.”
“Hmm. Has he ever done anything like this before?”
“Right. I see.”
Paul paused and Ned stared at him defiantly. “What do you see?”
“It’s just that in my experience, a chap doesn’t rag on his friend this way, not when they’re that close.”
“Well it had to be him. There’s no-one else it could have been.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Okay, well have you tried talking to him about it?”
“What’s the point?”
“The point is that if you did, you might find out why he did it. If he did at all.”
“I’m not talking to him!” came the stubborn reply. “How would you feel if Dad had done it to you?”
“Granted, I’d be furious. But I would have made an effort to find out why he’d done it before cutting him dead. It would have been completely out of character and I would have wanted to know why. And from what you’ve said of Burgess, it’s completely out of character for him too.”
Ned remained stubbornly silent, a look of defiance on his face.
Paul tried once more. “It’s not very gentlemanly to just drop your friends like that, Ned, and not give them a chance to defend themselves.”
“Well it’s not very gentlemanly to do what he did and not own up either!” Ned set his mouth in a firm line. “I’m sorry Uncle Paul, I know you’re trying to help, but unless he admits it and says sorry, I’m not interested.”
Paul stared at the young man for a moment and then sat back with a sigh. “Alright, fine. Well they’re your friends. I just hope you don’t live to regret it.” Glancing at the carriage clock on the mantle, he added, “Now, it’s about time you went to bed too. You can keep your light on until ten, but no later.”
Ned got up to do as he was told, turning back as he reached the door. “I’m sorry if I was rude, Uncle Paul.”
“You weren’t. Now go on, off with you. I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.”
Ned said goodnight and took his leave. Passing Elsie in hallway, he wished her a good night too and Elsie paused and watched him, as he made his way up the stairs. Once he was out of sight, she continued on her way through to join her husband in the front room.
“Any luck?” she asked, shutting the door behind her.
Paul shook his head. “Not unless he digests what I said overnight, but I’m not holding my breath.”
Elsie gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Well you tried, you can’t do any more.”
“I know.” Paul heaved a laboured sigh. “He gets more like his father every day. He was a stupid, stubborn fool at that age too. Still is, come to think of it!”
Elsie laughed. “That’s a nice way to talk about your friend!”
Paul grinned. “Oh, he’s well aware that I think that.”
“Well I can think of someone else like that too!"
“Touché.” Still grinning, Paul held out an arm and grasped one of Elsie's hands. “Now, enough of Ned. Come here, Mrs. Rodwell, and tell me about your day.”
“You were here for most of it!”
“I know that, but I was holed up in the study. I’ve hardly seen you. Humour me, won’t you?” he asked, giving her puppy dog eyes.
Elsie laughed, letting him pull her into his lap, and started telling him what she had been up to, Ned forgotten for now.
Back at Harrow, Harry ambled slowly down the stairs from the second floor and paused to stare out of the window at the teeming rain. It had been pouring non-stop since half-term had begun, leaving those who had remained at school trapped inside for almost the whole week. Harry was thoroughly fed up and part of him wished that he had accepted Ned’s invitation to Paul and Elsie’s. To make matters worse, Burgess, who was still upset by what had happened with Ned, had spent most of the week holed up in his study working. Harry knew he had done the right thing in defending Dan but truth be told, he was missing having Ned to lark around with. He had already made up his mind that when his friend returned to school tomorrow, he would do his best to make him see sense, whether Ned liked it or not.
Heaving a sigh, he muttered “stupid rain” under his breath and continued on his way. As he reached the entrance hall, he heard whispered voices and turned to see two of Piers’ cronies, Oliver Dunkels and Spencer Tickal, standing by the ‘racks’, the pigeon holes in which the post and messages were put for the boys to collect. Seeing Harry approaching, they stopped whispering abruptly and Dunkels hurriedly hid something behind his back. Then, pushing past Harry, they headed off down the corridor, giggling childishly. This kind of behaviour was nothing new on their part, and Harry simply rolled his eyes and turned his attention to his pigeon hole. Finding a postcard from his sister and a letter from his parents, who were staying with his aunt in Trinidad and Tobago, he took himself off to the peace and quiet of the common to read them.
Half an hour later, for want of something better to do, he decided he may as well go and make himself a cup of tea. The twelve younger boys staying at school over half-term had been given access to the sixth formers’ kitchen over the holiday and as Harry entered the small, narrow room, he saw Dunkels and Tickal holding something over the steaming kettle by the stove. They both started guiltily, Tickal’s elbow catching a mug that was standing on the sideboard, sending it crashing to the ground.
Harry frowned as he caught sight of the letter clutched in Dunkels’ sweaty hand. “What are you doing?”
“None of your business,” Dunkels tried to put the letter out of sight, but Harry was too quick for him and darting forward, he grabbed the taller boy’s arm and snatched the letter from his grasp.
“Hey! Give that back!”
Harry ignored him. Turning the soggy letter over, his eyes widened as he noticed the address on the front. “Where did y…don’t even think about it!” and he moved quickly to block their path as the two of them tried to make their escape.
“Get out of our way!”
Tickal tried to push Harry aside, but despite his diminutive stature, Harry held his ground. “No. Not until you tell me where you got this.”
“What’s it to you?”
“Tell me, you oaf, or I take it to Putter, let him get it out of you,” Harry demanded, referring to Dr. Putt, the House Tutor who was in charge of the boys for the holiday.
“Go on then, sneak,” Dunkels sneered nastily.
Harry flushed, but refused to drop his eyes. “I might just do that. I don’t think he’ll take too kindly to you stealing post.”
“Who’s stealing post?”
The three of them jumped at the sound of a new, familiar voice and turned to see their House Monitor, Hamish Stimpson, standing by the door with fellow prefect Oliver Burgess, elder brother of Dan.
“What’s going on, Pepperell?”
“Nothing,” Harry muttered, looking down at the ground.
Stimpson stared at the letter in Harry’s hand. “Whose letter’s that?”
“Why do you have it?”
Harry lifted his head. “I’m just returning his property,” he stated meaningfully, glaring at the other two.
Stimpson held out his hand and Harry reluctantly handed over the letter. “And what’s this got to do with you two?” the elder boy asked, turning to Dunkels and Tickal, as Oliver continued to stare at the letter in his friend’s hand.
“Nothing, he’s mad,” Tickal sneered nastily.
Oliver Burgess raised his eyebrows. “Really? That’s funny, because it looks remarkably like a letter I saw in Watson’s rack this morning.”
Stimpson glanced at Harry. “Did you pick this up, Pepperell?” Harry shook his head. “Well then, I don’t think it takes a genius to work out what happened, does it?” He looked from the kettle to the letter, noting the damp envelope and smudged ink. “Did you two take this and try to steam it open?” There was a heavy silence, during which Oliver Burgess’ expression became more and more furious and Harry glared at his peers. “I asked you a question! Dunkels, did you or did you not try and steam open Watson’s letter?”
Dunkels, who had little or no regard for the prefects, glanced at his friend and then shrugged his shoulders insolently. “We may have done.”
At this disrespectful attitude, Oliver Burgess saw red. “You snivelling little-”
“Pepperell, you can go,” Stimpson said loudly and firmly, interrupting Oliver in full flow. He knew that Oliver was well aware of what had happened between his brother and Ned and that this was related. Given the chance, he would tear strips off the two offenders and Stimpson didn’t think that having Harry there when he did so would help at all. As Harry reluctantly left the room, he heard Stimpson say, “You two, clear up this mess and then follow us. And make it quick.”
The following day, half-term came to an end and by five o’clock most of the boys had returned to the school. Ned had arrived back twenty minutes previously and had immediately gone straight to his study, thankful not to bump into any of his friends. He had been wrestling with his conscience ever since his chat with Paul. Part of him knew that his brevet-uncle was right. If he really believed that Dan had stared the rumours, then he should at least try and get to the bottom of why. But the other part, the one that spoke louder in his mind, was still smarting from the injustice of it all and his stubborn pride would not let him just push that aside. It was all serving to make him even more miserable and he really did not want to be back at school at all.
Running things over in his mind for the thousandth time, he hung up the last of his shirts, leaving only his underwear in his overnight case. Opening his bottom drawer, he picked up the bag and tipped the lot into the dresser.
“You really are a slum-child, aren’t you?” Piers said, screwing his face up in disgust as he folded his socks and placed them neatly into his top drawer.
Refusing to rise for once, Ned muttered something rude under his breath and threw his case under his bed. As he did so there was a knock at the door and glaring at Piers, who was still folding his underwear neatly, he went to open it, finding Harry on the other side.
“What do you want?”
“Pleasure to see you too,” Harry said sarcastically. “Any chance I can come in?” Ned shrugged and stood back to let his friend into the room. “Good half-term?”
“Was okay,” Ned muttered, staring at Harry’s hand. His friend was clutching a letter and the stamp on the envelope looked very familiar. “You?”
“Boring, thanks. Remind me not to stay at school again. Listen, I need to talk to you.”
Harry glanced across at Piers, who was watching them, amused. “Can we go somewhere else?”
“Whatever you need to say, you can say it here,” Ned retorted, his mouth drawn into a line.
Harry paused for a moment, looking from Ned to Piers and back again. “Fine,” and perching on the edge of his friend’s desk, he proceeded to fill Ned in on everything that had happened in the kitchen the previous day. “Stimper chewed them out and then marched them down to Putter,” he added, as Ned stared at him. “They admitted reading your other letter too. Apparently they came to see Lloyd-Kitchen when you two were at rugger and saw the letter on your bed and took it. Putter’s steaming. He’s sent them to the San for solitary and they have to go up in front of the Head tomorrow morning. Stimper reckons they might even get suspended ‘cause it was theft.”
As Harry finished speaking, he held out the letter and Ned reached out and took it, without saying a word.
“You can ask Stimper if your don’t believe me.” Ned shook his head dumbly. “Ned?”
Ignoring his friend, Ned stared at letter a moment more and then rounded on Piers. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you?”
Piers, who had been listening intently, raised eyebrows in a bored manner. “Actually no, I didn’t. Frankly it all seemed a little childish. I’m sure you’ll blame me anyway though. Innocence doesn’t seem to mean anything to you.”
Ned could feel his temper rising and tried in vain to get a hold on it. “So you admit you knew about it?”
“What if I did?”
“You knew it was them and you let me go on blaming Burgess, that’s what!”
Piers shrugged. “You didn’t believe your own friends, why would you have believed me?”
“You should have told me!”
“Why? I owe you nothing, Watson. You and your little friends are nothing but rude to me. Why should I help you out? I doubt you would have told me if the shoe had been on the other foot.”
“Actually I would have, cause it’s the decent thing to do. Though goodness knows why I’d expect anything decent from you!”
Seeing that Ned was about to explode with anger, Harry grabbed his friend’s arm to try and calm him down. "Ned-”
Piers gave a nasty laugh. “You see, that’s the funny thing about you, Watson. You make yourself out to be so moral and upstanding and decent but when it comes down to it, you’re not are you? Nobody made you blame Burgess, you jumped to that conclusion all by yourself. This whole affair has shown you up rather badly if you ask me.”
“Well I’m not asking you!”
Piers shut his dresser draw and turned back to his case. “Instead of bawling at me, why don’t you try apologising to your friend? Though if it were me, I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to forgive you.”
“You’re a loathsome wretch, Lloyd-Kitchen!” Ned yelled, as Harry dragged him from the room.
“Yes, well I won’t lose any sleep over it!”
Succeeding in manoeuvering Ned into the corridor, Harry slammed the door behind them before his friend could reply. “Ned, leave it!”
“What did you do that for?”
“To save you from your big mouth! And ‘cause right now Lloyd-Kitchen should be the least of your worries!” Ned, who had been about to open the door and throw another tirade at Piers, stopped and stared at him, and Harry looked him straight in the eye. “He’s right, you know. You owe Burgess an apology.”
There was silence for a moment, and then Ned looked down at his feet and muttered, “I know.” He paused for a second, and then glanced back up at Harry. “I suppose I owe you one too.” Harry shrugged. “I’ve been an utter clod, recently, haven’t I?”
“I can think of far less flattering names for you.”
Ned winced. “I’m sorry. I should have listened to you.”
“Well at least you admit it now.”
Ned shook his head, a wave of guilt sweeping over him. “I’m such an idiot.”
Harry watched him for a moment, and then gave him a wry smile. “True, but that’s nothing new!”
Despite himself, Ned gave a small grin, relieved that Harry was at least making jokes with him again. “I suppose I should go and find Burgess.” Then, after a brief pause, he added, “It’ll be good to have things back the way they were.” Harry raised his eyebrows, looking less than convinced. “What? I’m going to apologise!”
“I know I was a brute, but he’ll know I’m sorry. I mean, we’re friends, aren’t we? He’ll forgive me!”
There was a note of desperation in Ned’s voice and Harry shrugged. “In all honesty, I don’t know that he will,” he replied reluctantly. “You’ve been pretty awful.” Ned’s face fell and Harry felt a twinge of pity for him. “Listen, do you want me to come with you?”
Ned shook his head, looking thoroughly downcast. “S’okay. I’d rather go alone.” Then, trying to put on a brave face, he gave his friend a forced smile. “No time like the present, eh?” and turning, he made his way down the corridor, dragging his heels as he went.
Coming to a halt outside Dan’s study, Ned took a deep breath and knocked. As he heard the words, “Come in!” he felt a wave of nausea sweep over him, and had to steel himself to turn the handle and open the door.
Dan was sitting at his desk, poring over his history books, and he looked up as Ned entered the room, his smile turning to a frown as he saw who it was. “I suppose this means you’ve heard,” he asked, his voice cold.
Ned nodded and Dan turned back to his books. Taking a deep breath, Ned poured out a rambling apology, getting himself tongue-tied as he tried to explain himself. Even as he said the words, he realised how inadequate they sounded. Finally running out of words, he ground to halt and stood awkwardly by the door, twisting his fingers together, waiting for a reply.
What he got was a wall of silence, as Dan turned the page and kept his head down. Not knowing quite what to do, Ned stayed rooted to the spot. Eventually, after a few minutes, Dan turned his head, his face expressionless.
“Did you want something else?”
“I just…,” Ned faltered. “I thought you’d say something.”
“Like…I… I don’t know. I said sorry.”
“So? Is that supposed to make things better?”
Dan placed his pen down on his desk and glared at Ned. “I’ve known you since we were eight years old, and you thought I could do that to you. Does that sound like a friend to you?”
“Oh just save it, Watson. You know, you always go on about Lloyd-Kitchen, but in some ways you’re far worse.”
Ned looked stunned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that at least he doesn’t pretend to be a decent chap. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve work to do,” and picking up his pen again, Dan turned back to his books.
Ned was mortified. “Look, I know I was an ass, Burgess, but I really am sorry.”
“Fine, you’ve apologised,” came the cold reply.
“Do I have to spell it out?” Dan shot back, twisting to face him again. “I’m not interested. Just now we’re no longer friends. I’m not so sure we ever will be again,” and with that he turned his back firmly on Ned, his body language indicating that the conversation was over.
For a moment, Ned had no idea what to do. He had known that he would be made to pay - he deserved it after all - but he had never expected Dan to be quite so cold. Burgess really seemed to mean it. He no longer wanted them to be friends. But then wasn’t that what he had been saying to Burgess for the last few weeks? Suddenly, the reality of his recent behaviour hit home. He stared at his Dan’s rigid back for a minute, feeling an uncharacteristic pricking at the back of his eyes. Then, seeing nothing else for it, he turned on his heel and quietly left the room.
As captain of the Under-15 rugby team, Ned bade farewell to the visiting players from Wellington College and watched as they climbed onto the bus that would take them back to the school. Harrow had won the match by a whopping sixty-nine points to twelve, with Ned and his friend and teammate George Graydon both scoring hat-tricks, and the team were feeling thoroughly pleased with themselves.
As the visitors' bus drove round the forecourt and pulled out onto Church Street, Ned had just begun a conversation with Graydon and Anthony Laskar when they heard a shout, and turned to see Dan Burgess and Harry standing next to a minibus close-by, waving.
“Here, Laskar, get a shove on, will you?” Burgess yelled at the top of his voice. “We’re waiting! We’ve brought your bag with us from Park.”
The minibus was full of boys from their year, all jostling and joking with each other, and seeing Ned’s face fall, Laskar gave him a sympathetic smile before he headed over to join the others. Ned watched him go and then, catching Burgess looking at him, he hurriedly dropped his eyes and began to walk away.
Hearing his name, Ned turned back to see Harry running towards him. “Do you want me to bring anything back for you?” Harry asked, panting a little as he came to a halt in front of his friends. Ned smiled and shook his head, and an expression of guilt flashed across Harry’s face. “You’ll probably not miss much, you know. It’s November – it’ll probably rain and we’ll be stuck indoors the whole time.”
“Come on, Pepperell! Hurry up!”
Harry glanced back at Burgess, who was hanging out of the minibus door, yelling and gesturing frantically. “Look, have a good time with your Dad, won’t you? Say hello to him from me.” Ned nodded, staring down at his feet, and Harry hesitated for a second, unsure whether to say anything else. Then, deciding against it, he took his leave. “See you Monday, Graydon,” he called, as he ran off again.
Ned watched him go. He knew that Harry was just trying to make him feel better and it had not really worked, but he appreciated the effort all the same. “Pepperell?” Harry turned back as he reached the minibus. “You can bring me back a stick of rock, if you like.”
Harry grinned. “Will do!” he called back, as he climbed into the van and slammed the door.
“My, my, Watson, you are unpopular these days, aren’t you?”
As the minibus set off down Church Street, following the coach from Wellington College, Ned turned to see Piers loitering in the main doorway, a supercilious grin on his face as he leant against the doorframe.
“Shove off, Lloyd-Kitchen.”
“Now, now. You ought to be careful, you know. With the way you’re going, you may be begging for my friendship soon. Not that I’ll take you on, naturally, but it’ll be fun to see you try.”
Ned scowled but wisely refrained from saying anything in return, and laughing to himself, Piers headed off across the forecourt to the large car and driver that were waiting to ferry him home.
“Just ignore him, the stupid oaf!” George Graydon mumbled at Lloyd-Kitchen’s retreating back.
Ned gave his friend a slight smile. “Come on, let’s go.”
The two of them sauntered down Church Street in the direction of their boarding houses, chatting idly about the match they had just played. Wellington College were one of their fiercest rivals and a very good team, so the huge margin of Harrow’s victory had been something of a shock. Despite that, Ned found that he could not drum up much enthusiasm and he listened with half an ear as George waxed lyrical about one of his friend’s tries.
“The way you weaved round their winger was top class. You’ll be in the Firsts next year, no doubt about it!”
Ned smiled half-heartedly. “You’ll be in too. A hundred percent on goals and a hat-trick. Kennard’s never done that,” he said, referring to the First-XV full-back – the position that Graydon would be trying out for the following year.
George grinned. “I hope so. My father would be so chuffed.”
Ned smiled again but remained silent, scuffing his feet along the ground as they turned the corner into High Street and came to a halt outside Druries, Graydon’s boarding house. George frowned as he watched his friend.
“You shouldn’t let Lloyd-Kitchen get to you, you know. Burgess’ll come round eventually.”
“I’m sure of it. Look, I’d better scram – Ma and Pa are waiting. I’ll see you Monday. Have a terrific exeat.”
“Yeah, you too. And well played.”
As George ran off to join his parents, who were waiting impatiently by the front door of Druries, Ned continued on his way down the High Street towards The Park, idly kicking a stone ahead of him as he went. The last four weeks had been among the most horrible he could remember since his mother had died when he was a young boy. Dan Burgess was still refusing to have anything to do with him, refusing to even acknowledge his existence if at all possible, and to begin with he had not been the only one. Once word had spread about the suspension of the true culprits and how Dan had been completely innocent, several other boys with whom Ned had always been friendly had given him a wide berth, although this was gradually wearing off as time went on. Ned had tried apologising over and over again but Burgess was having none of it.
Then, to make matters worse, that young man had announced his exeat plans. The weekend was due to fall over his birthday and as his mother had been ill over half-term, she had decided to make it up to her son by giving him a treat and announcing that he could bring several of his friends to the Burgess’ home on the Suffolk coast for a party of sorts. Dan had, in turn, invited the whole of his year in The Park, with the exception of Dunkels and Tickal, who were confined to the school anyhow following their two week suspension, Piers Lloyd-Kitchen and Ned.
Ned was devastated by this pointed snub, but had been trying his hardest to put a brave face on things. Ever-loyal to his best friend, Harry had said that he wouldn’t go and that he and Ned could go to his parents instead, but Ned had refused, saying that it wasn’t fair for Harry to miss out on the treat on his behalf. He had felt slightly better when, a week ago, he had received a letter from Edgar saying that he was going to be in England for work and would extend his stay to take his son out for exeat. However, seeing his peers head off for their weekend by the sea had made Ned feel thoroughly miserable again. He knew that he had made his own bed, but it did not hurt any less to be left out of things in this way. If anything, being aware that it was all his own fault made it twice as bad. He had ruined everything with his stupid accusations and he knew it. As these thoughts ran through his mind, he kicked the stone harder and it rolled off the pavement and out into the road.
Standing next to his car in the forecourt of The Park, Edgar frowned as he watched his son walk down the street towards him. He had spent the past week with Paul & Charles, Evadne’s step-brother, going over preparations for the opening of AJL’s new London office, and Paul had made a point of filling him in on what had been going on with Ned at school. He had also arrived just in time to see the minibus depart, full of Ned’s friends. Now, seeing Ned’s bowed head and slumped shoulders, as that young man turned off the street and into the forecourt, it was clear that all was still not right.
Ned glanced up as he trudged across the gravel and Edgar put thoughts of his son’s troubles aside and waved eagerly. Ned gave him a half-hearted smile in return and quickened his step.
“You ready to go?”
Ned nodded. “I’ll just go and grab my bag, it’s in the common room. Won’t be long.”
Ned was as good as his word and half an hour later, they had left Harrow behind and were heading south through London’s outer suburbs.
Peering out of the window as they passed RAF Northolt, Ned asked, “Why are we going this way?”
Edgar glanced at his son from the corner of his eye and grinned. “Well, if it’s alright with you, I thought we might take a trip to Whitlingford rather than stay in Kensington? We’ve not been for a while and I thought we were long overdue a visit. I phoned them yesterday and told them to expect us.”
As Ned fell silent again and continued to stare out of the window, Edgar frowned. He had expected his son to be rather more excited about this trip to their old home. Ned loved the Wiltshire countryside and, among other things, a visit back to the village would afford him an opportunity to visit his mother’s grave – something he had made mutterings about wanting to do during the summer holidays. Clearly these problems at school were affecting Ned more than his father had first thought.
After almost three hours of monosyllabic conversation and grumpy retorts to his questions, Edgar finally had enough. As they crossed the Wiltshire county border and turned off the Marlborough Road towards Durley, he decided not to wait any longer and broached the subject of his son’s friends. It took a little coaxing out of him, but eventually Ned spilled out the whole story of the letters, the suspicions he had had about Dan and how Harry had found out who really started the rumours.
“So you see it wasn’t him, Dad. And now he won’t even give me the time of day. I’ve tried everything to say sorry but he won’t listen.”
“And you’re surprised about that?”
Ned stared down at his lap. “A bit…maybe…I don’t know.”
“Alright, answer me this. Would you have been so forgiving if he’d done it to you?”
“I might have been.”
“No you wouldn’t and you know it, Ned. You’d have been hurt and angry and justifiably so, and you can’t blame Burgess for feeling the same way. What you did was not very nice.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
“Well frankly, I’m jolly glad that you do. It’s not what I would have expected of you.”
“You don’t need to rub it in, Dad. Everyone else already has.”
“And I’m not sorry they have either.” As he spoke, Edgar turned off Whitlingford’s small high street, up past the church towards his land. “Perhaps it’ll teach you to listen to others a little and think about the consequences of your actions instead of always just assuming you’re right.”
Ned scowled at his father, feeling tears pricking at the back of his eyes. “Thanks a lot for the support.”
“Well what did you expect me to say?” Ned shrugged and Edgar heaved a sigh. “Listen-”
“Just leave it. Dad. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” and angry and upset, Ned turned his attention to his family’s farmland as it flashed passed the window and refused to say another word.
They drove past the fields in silence, Ned glaring out at the dark, wintry countryside, lit an eerie silver by the full moon, and Edgar concentrating on the winding road ahead. After a mile or so, they passed through a large gate in the imposing stone wall that surrounded the inner estate and drove down the long, sweeping drive towards the house.
As soon as the car came to a halt, Ned wrenched the door open and jumped out. “I’m going to my room.”
“Well then you can jolly well wait and take your bag with you. I’m not your slave and neither is anyone else here.”
“I never said you were!”
Choosing not to reply, Edgar unlocked the boot and passed over his son’s bag. Ned snatched it from his hands and without another word, he flounced up the steps and into the house, startling the housekeeper who had come out to welcome her boss.
Edgar heaved a sigh as he watched him go. Clearly Ned was feeling thoroughly put-upon and there was no point in discussing this now. Deciding to give him some time to calm down, Edgar pulled out his own suitcase, slammed the boot shut and made his way up to the house to greet his staff.
It was well over an hour before Edgar finished chatting to all the estate’s workers and taking a look around. Making his way up from the kitchen, where he had been having a word with the cook, he climbed the stairs to the first floor and headed down the long landing towards his son’s bedroom door. Ned was lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and did not move a muscle as Edgar entered the room.
“Cook says dinner will be ready in twenty minutes, if you’re interested.” Edgar’s comment was greeted with a stony silence. “You know, I’m sorry you think I’m not being supportive of you, Ned, and I’m very sorry you’re hurting, I don’t want to see that. But I would not be doing my job as a father if I didn’t try to make sure you knew when you’d gone wrong, now would I?”
Again, he got no response and Edgar stood at the doorway, eyeing his petulant son for a few moments before giving up.
“I tell you what, you let me know when you’ve decided to stop sulking and want to have a mature discussion about this. I’ll be in the dining room should you deign to come and join me.”
Hearing his father leave the room, Ned turned onto his side to face the wall, feeling thoroughly hard done-by. He knew that he had behaved appallingly to his friend, but he had been looking forward all week to his father’s visit, to seeing a friendly face and hearing some reassuring words. Instead, all he was getting was yet another lecture on what an idiot he had been. It wasn’t fair. As he felt his emotions begin to well-up again, Ned squeezed his eyes tight shut, trying his best to keep his tears at bay.
Edgar had just made a start on his steak and kidney pie when the dining room door opened and Ned appeared, looking somewhat contrite. Making his way round the table in silence, he sat down in his place and picked up his fork, poking at his pie without much enthusiasm. Edgar watched him for a moment, as he chewed on a mouthful, and then glanced down at his plate.
“You know, it’s funny, I used to love Cook’s food, but I’m so used to Guilia’s now that it seems a little bland. Not that I’d tell her that, mind you.”
He received no reply and deciding to leave his son to make the first move, Edgar turned back to his food.
Eventually, Ned looked up. “I really am sorry I did it, Dad.”
Edgar glanced at him and then laid down his knife and fork. “I know you are but you can’t expect it to be a simple case of I’m sorry, Ned. They were extremely unkind accusations you threw at your friend.”
Ned said nothing and Edgar had a sip of his wine and then took another mouthful of pie and mash. Ned watched him as he did so, turning things over in his head.
“You know the worst thing?” he mumbled, after a minute or so.
“Burgess said I was worse than Lloyd-Kitchen but I’m not Dad, I’m really not. I know what I did was wrong but I try to be good and honest and stuff, I promise. I’m not like him.”
Ned sounded like he was about to cry and for a moment, Edgar was not sure what to do. If it had been one of the girls, he would have given them a reassuring cuddle but he knew that Ned was unlikely to appreciate that. He thought hard and then put his fork back down on his plate.
“No, Ned, you’re not like him.”
Ned only half took in what his father was saying. “ I just made a mistake,” he continued, his jaw wobbling a little as he spoke. “You’ve made mistakes, haven’t you?”
Edgar gave him a wry smile. “Yes, many. I’ve had to dig myself out of more holes than I care to remember. Either that or your Uncle Paul’s had to drag me out kicking and screaming!” Despite himself, a slight smile twitched at the edge of Ned’s mouth. “Everyone makes mistakes, Ned. You’d be a frightful bore if you didn’t. But it’s how you learn from them that’s important.” He eyed his son keenly. “Listen, Ned, you’re a good lad, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my son. But you’re not perfect, nobody is. Any more than Piers Lloyd-Kitchen is an evil monster, however you like to portray him.” At this, Ned shot him a cynical look. “I’m serious. If you honestly believe that boy is nothing but a bad egg, then you’re sadly mistaken.”
“How do you know?” Ned asked, an incredulous note to his voice.
“Never you mind. The point is that there’s good and bad in everyone, it just depends which path you choose to go down and which path you are guided down. That’s what governs the sort of person you become. Do you understand?”
Ned stared back at him as if he had gone mad, so Edgar tried another tack.
“Alright, what I’m trying to say is that we’re all capable of doing stupid things and we all will at some point. It just depends whether you choose to learn from them or not, and unless I’m very much mistaken, I think that you have.” Ned nodded and stared down at his plate, and Edgar heaved a silent sigh of relief that he seemed to have got through to his son at last. “Listen, Burgess is still very angry at the moment and you really can’t blame him for that. You need to give him time to calm down. You were friends for so long for a reason – he’ll remember why in time, I’m sure.” Ned nodded again and Edgar reached out and briefly clutched his son’s arm. “Please just promise me that you’ll remember this lesson next time you’re tempted to jump to conclusions, okay?”
“I will I promise.”
Ned was quiet for a second as he pushed his food round his plate. “Thanks Dad.”
“You’re welcome. That’s what Dad’s are for.”
Ned glanced up and looked his father in the eye. “I’m glad you came to see me.”
Edgar smiled. “So am I. Sometimes you need your old Dad to knock some sense into that thick block of yours!”
Feeling as if a small weight had been lifted from his shoulders, Ned’s face finally broke into a grin. He knew he still had a long way to go before he and Dan were friends again, if that was even going to happen, but at least his father still believed that it would. And, more importantly, his father still believed in him. He picked at his food again and then took a mouthful, his appetite suddenly returned. “So how’s Evvy?”
“Huge and grumpy.” Ned laughed and Edgar grinned at him. “Poor old thing. She’s even bigger than she was with Henry and she can’t get comfortable however hard she tries. And Henry’s been playing up too, which isn’t helping. I keep trying to persuade her to increase Monique’s hours, but she’s adamant she wants to do it herself and well, you know what she’s like when she puts her foot down.”
“Surely you can insist though?” Ned asked, through his mouthful of mash and peas.
Edgar frowned. “I don’t want to push it. After all she’s the one who’s having to go through the pregnancy and I don’t want to make her more uptight, but I am worried about her. She’s exhausted.” He paused and shook his head. “Ah well, only two or three weeks to go now.” He paused again and took another sip of his wine. “Marcia and Thea are getting on well.”
Ned grinned. “Yes I know, I heard from them last week.” He shovelled in another mouthful and then sprayed pastry across the table as he spoke. “Marcia sent me a bar of Lindt in case I was missing Swiss chocolate and it got squashed in the post!”
“Yes, that sounds about right.” Edgar laughed, and then observed his son closely as he took his last mouthful and pushed his plate away. “Come on young man, eat up,” he said, smiling, “then we can head through to the drawing room. I fancy a stiff brandy and I think it’s about time I initiated you in the merits of France’s finest.”
Ned’s eyes widened in surprise at this coveted offer finally being made. “Cool! Really?”
“Yes really. Just don’t expect it to be something that happens too often. And don’t tell your stepmother I gave you any. She’ll hang, draw and quarter me!”
“If I promise, can I have two glasses?”
Edgar laughed at the twinkle in his son’s eye. “Nice try, sunshine. Now come on, hurry up before I rescind the offer altogether,” and at that, Ned ceased to talk and hurriedly wolfed down the rest of his food.
Edgar and Ned spent the following day in and around Whitlingford, taking a long walk around the grounds of their estate, paying a visit to Madeleine’s grave and having lunch at the vicarage with Reverend Furlong and his wife. The result of which was that a much happier Ned returned to Harrow that evening. After another long talk with his father, he had taken the advice about letting Burgess' anger die down and made a decision to just bide his time. If he and Dan were supposed to be friends again, they would be eventually. In the meantime, he hada mountain of GCE work and next term’s inter-school rugby tournament to think about, so he would concentrate his efforts on those for now.
Having dropped his son back at school, Edgar left his car at the family’s Kensington house and then rushed to the airport in a taxi to catch the last plane of the evening to Geneva. It was gone one in the morning before he finally arrived home and after kissing his sleeping son goodnight, he hurriedly changed and climbed into bed, careful not to wake his wife, and snuggled under the covers to catch a few hours sleep before his early morning meeting.
“I don’t see why you can’t work from home,” Evadne pouted, as she watched her husband put some papers in his briefcase. It was now seven thirty the following morning, the first of December, and Edgar was up, dressed and ready to head into the office, much to his wife’s chagrin. Henry had woken her at five o'clock, and between that and being fed up with trying to manoeuvre her considerable bulk to do simple tasks, she was not in the best of moods. “It’s all your fault I’m in this state anyway, you could at least be here with me.”
Edgar closed the briefcase and dropped a kiss on his small son’s head, as Henry clung to his mother’s skirt. Then, drawing himself up to his full height, he stooped to kiss his wife’s forehead. “I’m sorry darling. I’ll try and get home this afternoon, I promise. How’s that?”
“Suppose it’ll have to do.”
“Aw, come here.”
Reaching out, Edgar pulled her into a hug, or as best he could with her belly getting in the way, and Evadne wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him back.
“It’s not really all your fault,” she mumbled, burying her face in his shoulder.
Edgar pulled back and smiled down at her. “I know. But you’re allowed to be grumpy at the moment so that’s alright. Just no more after it’s born.” Evadne pouted again and Edgar laughed as he released her and reached for his coat. “What are your plans for today?”
“Jan’s coming over for lunch. I’ve not seen her for a couple of weeks, so we’ve a bundle of yarns to catch up on.”
“Send her my regards, won’t you?” Edgar finished buttoning his coat and kissed her on lips. “Now, go and put your feet up, and no doing anything silly while I’m not here. Remember, Monique’s here this morning so ask her if you need anything doing. I’ll see you later. You too, trouble,” he added, ruffling Henry’s fair hair.
Evadne smiled down at her son. “Say bye-bye to Daddy.”
Edgar grinned. “Bye-bye, little man. Have a good morning, sweetheart.”
“And you. Come home at lunch!” his wife called, as he disappeared out of the door.
“I’ll try, I promise!” and with that, he climbed into the waiting car. Evadne watched as it drove off up the long drive. Then, heaving a sigh, she turned back into the house and closed the door against the cold December air.
A few hours later, she was in the dining room entertaining Janice Bown, her friend and mother of Marcia’s friend Ann. The pair of them were tucking into their soup and bread with gusto, as it was a cold day outside, and in between mouthfuls they were chatting away for all they were worth.
Monique had just taken her leave following her morning looking after Henry, and the little boy was now firmly ensconced in his highchair, a bowl of lukewarm soup in front of him and a chunk of bread clasped firmly in his chubby little hand. He had eaten most of his lunch, but had now decided he was bored and was busy throwing the bread across the dining table in an effort to gain some attention.
Janice caught the bread deftly as it headed towards her, just preventing it from disappearing onto the floor. With a word of thanks, Evadne took it from her friend and handed it back to her son.
“Now, you little tyke, stop throwing that around and finish your soup or you’ll not get it back again.”
Henry snatched it off, her, giggled and threw it back on the table again.
“Right that’s it.” Picking it up, his mother tore it into tiny chunks and dropped it into what was left of his soup. “There, that’ll stop you throwing it, won’t it?” Henry set up a wail of protest. “It’s no good yelling, I warned you.” Then, turning back to Janice, she asked, “So Ann’s not so happy, then?”
Janice frowned and shook her head. “Oh, she’s alright at school, I suppose, but she’s missing Marcia terribly. In fact, Jonty and I have decided to give in and we’ll be sending her to the Chalet School next September.”
“Really?” Evadne’s pretty face broke into a broad grin. “Oh Marcia will be pleased!”
“Well don’t tell her yet, whatever you do. We’ve not spoken to the school as yet, so we don’t know if they’ll have room or not. We’re not going to tell Ann until we know for sure one way or the other, otherwise she’ll be terribly disappointed if it all falls through.”
“Too true. Well I’ll keep my fingers crossed it all comes good. Marcia’ll be thrilled if it does. She’s enjoying herself no end, but I know she wishes Ann could be there with her too.” Then turning to Henry, who was now banging his spoon on his highchair tray, “Henry, quit that please! Come on, look at this scrummy soup. It’s leek and potato, your favourite.”
Unimpressed, Henry hit the side of the bowl with his hand and it tipped up, covering his front in cold soup and soggy bits of bread. Looking down at himself, he giggled at the mess he’d created.
“Oh for heavens sake why can’t you just behave for Mommy, just once?” Placing her spoon in her bowl, Evadne pulled herself up from her chair and began to unfasten the strap holding Henry in place. “Sorry, Jan, I’d best go change him.”
“Do you want a hand?”
“No, we’ll be fine. Go on through to the family room and make yourself comfy if you’re done. I’ll be back in a few minutes and then we’ll get Guilia to conjure us up some coffee and cake.”
Heaving Henry out of his chair, she stood him on floor and pulled off his top as he tried to struggle free, so that he wouldn’t trail bits of leek and potato all through the house. “Come on you. Let’s go put some nice clean clothes on you,” and taking him by the hand, she walked him out into the hall. Janice smiled as she watched them go, popped her final piece of bread into her mouth and then took herself off to the living room to wait for their return.
She had been sitting in an armchair for twenty minutes, reading a magazine, when the door opened and Edgar appeared. He greeted her with a wide smile.
“Hello there! Has my wife abandoned you?”
Janice laughed and shook her head. “No, she’s just changing Henry’s clothes. He threw his lunch down himself.”
“Nothing new there then,” Edgar replied, with a roll of his eyes, as he threw his newspaper on the dresser, picked up the post Evadne had put aside, and began to leaf through it. “So how are things in the Bown household?”
“We’re all good thanks. That reminds me, I’ve some papers in the car for you from Jonty. I’d forgotten all about them until you walked in just then! I’ll go and grab them. Back in a tick,” and good as her word, she jumped up from her chair and headed out to her car.
Edgar finished sorting through the post, putting aside the ones that were for him and throwing a couple of circulars into the rubbish bin. Then, leaving the letters on the dresser for now, he turned and made his way back into the hall, with the intention of going to find his wife. Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, Evadne appeared on the landing, holding Henry's hand with one of her own, her other arm full of blankets and toys.
“There you are. I thought we’d lost you!”
Hearing her husband’s voice, Evvy’s face lit up with a warm smile. “Hey, you made it home!”
Edgar returned her smile and walked up the staircase towards her. “Told you I would, didn’t I?”
“Hi there, little man! You been causing havoc again?”
Evadne rolled her eyes. “Something like that! Did they mind you leaving?”
Edgar shook his head and grinned. “They let me out for good behaviour! Here, let me give you a hand,” and reaching down, he collected Henry up in his arms. “You okay with all that?”
“Fine and dandy thanks. Is Jan still in the lounge?”
“She’s just popped out to grab something from her car.”
Hitching Henry onto his hip, Edgar headed downstairs with the little boy, chatting to him as they went. Evadne adjusted the pile of Henry’s belongings, trailing a blanket on the stairs as she did so. Grabbing the end, she managed to tuck it back into the pile and carried on her way. She had not fastened the blanket securely, however, and as she neared the middle of the polished staircase, the end came free again and dropped onto the stair in front of her.
Edgar had just set Henry down on the living room floor when he heard several bangs and a piercing scream, and turning on his heel, he ran back out into the hallway just in time to see his wife descending the last few stairs on her backside, scattering Henry’s belongings all around her.
“Edgar!” Evadne screamed again as she hit her head on the bottom of the banisters. For a split second, she lay there, stunned, and then broke into hysterical sobs. “My baby! Edgar, help me! My baby!”
Edgar rushed forward as she lay clutching her stomach, a huge bump developing on her forehead where she had hit her head. The noise had brought Guilia running through from kitchen and she was standing behind them, waving her arms and exclaiming wildly. Scrabble was beside her, barking and trying to get closer to his mistress who was in obvious distress, and Henry, who had toddled out after his father, was clinging to the doorframe and yelling.
“Guilia, call an ambulance!” Edgar shouted over the din, as he crouched down and put his arms around his wife, trying to coax her up. “Evvy, sweetheart, come on you have to sit up.”
Evadne clung to him, tears streaming down her face. “Edgar, the baby!”
“Where does it hurt?” Evadne pointed to the base of her back, and Edgar swung around to face Guilia, who was still next to him, waving her hands in dismay. “Guilia, chiama un'ambulanza! Sbrigarti!”
“Edgar what on earth’s happened?”
Hearing the new voice, Edgar turned to see Janice standing at the front door, shocked. “Oh Jan, thank god. Call an ambulance! Tell them to hurry!”
“Evvy, fell down the stairs!”
“Oh my goodness!” Rooted to the spot, Jan clamped her hand to her mouth.
“For Christ’s sake, will someone call an ambulance!” Edgar bellowed, keeping tight hold of his wife. Brought back to her senses, Janice scurried through to the study to do just that, and trying to block out the sound of Guilia’s panic, Scrabble’s barks and Henry’s yells, Edgar turned back to Evadne, cradling her head against him. “Come on, darling, it’s okay.” Still sobbing hysterically, she buried her face in his chest. “Shhh, it’s alright. Guilia. Guilia!” Guilia finally stopped waving her hands about and looked at him. “Go and fetch a cold compress.”
Seeing her staring at him blankly, he repeated the request in his fluent Italian and as he finally got through to her, she bustled off to do as he asked, still exclaiming to herself as she went.
As she disappeared, Janice reappeared from the study. “They’re on their way. There’s one close-by apparently, they were dropping someone off home. Should be here any minute. I’ll take Henry & Scrabble through here out of the way,” she added, towing the still-barking labrador towards the sitting room.
Edgar nodded mutely, as he clung to his wife, his face sheet-white. A few seconds later, Guilia returned with a cold cloth and he took it and placed it on Evadne’s forehead, murmuring words of comfort as he did so. The next moment, he heard the wail of sirens as the ambulance, which by some miracle had only been two streets over, made it’s way down the drive. Holding Evvy closely, he stroked her hair and kissed her cheek, trying hard to keep his voice under control. “It’s alright darling, they’re here. The ambulance is here.”
Ten minutes later, Evadne had been examined and was being settled carefully into the ambulance for transfer to the hospital. Pausing only to grab his and his wife’s coat, Edgar hurried after them.
Leaving Henry with a Guilia for a moment, Janice followed him outside. “I’ll take Henry over to ours. Jonty can come and collect you later when you’re ready.”
His face still very pale, Edgar gave her a weak smile as she fell into step beside him. “Thanks Jan, you’re a saviour. I’m sorry I bellowed at you.”
“Nonsense! Now go on, quickly, they’re waiting. I’ll see to Guilia and lock up. Call as soon you have any news.”
Edgar nodded, flashing her a grateful smile, and then climbed into the ambulance. Janice watched as he sat down next to his still-sobbing wife, taking hold of her fingers with one shaking hand and stroking her hair with the other, as she stared up at him, terrified. Then the doors were closing and Jan stepped back as the vehicle began to move, and turned to make her way back into the house.
“Alright, thanks, Jonty. See you shortly.”
Edgar handed the telephone receiver to the nurse behind the desk with a word of thanks and then walked back down the long corridor towards his wife’s room. Pushing open the door, he found a nurse taking her temperature, whilst the doctor reapplied some ointment to the bump on her forehead. Evadne was sitting back against a mound of pillows, her face very pale and an enormous bruise developing round her right eye. As Edgar sat down beside her, the doctor finished applying the ointment, checked the bruising again to reassure himself that it was just superficial, and then picked up her board to write down his notes.
“Alors, there is not any lasting damage, as I said previously,” he stated, his Swiss accent rather stern and clipped. “You will be a sore for a while and you will have that magnificent black eye for a few weeks as well, but that is all. The swelling will go down after a two or three days. Now, I think it is time for you to rest. Your husband may come back tomorrow.”
Evadne reached out to grab Edgar’s hand. “Please, can’t he stay a while longer?”
Doctor Zulle was about to say no, when he caught sight of the tears glistening in his patient’s eyes and frowned. “He may stay half an hour longer,” he said abruptly. “Then he must go.”
As the doctor took his leave, the nurse placed the thermometer back in its case. “See, his bark is far worse than his bite, as you English say,” she said, smiling as she hung the chart on the end of the bed. Tucking in the edge of Evadne’s blankets, she added, “I shall leave you two to have some peace and quiet. I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Edgar smiled in thanks, as she bustled out of the private room, closing the door behind her. Then, turning back to his wife, he noticed a tear running down her cheek, and wiped it away with his thumb.
Evadne gazed back at him. “I’m so sorry, Edgar,” she whispered, as another tear escaped the corner of her eye.
“You silly old thing, you’ve nothing to say sorry for,” Edgar replied tenderly.
“But I might have hurt our baby.”
A couple more tears ran down her cheeks and he wiped them gently away. “Firstly, you didn’t do anything, it was an accident. And secondly, they said it will all be alright.”
Evadne shook her head. “They can’t be certain, Edgar, you know that.”
“I know, sweetheart, but both the doctor and midwife said that the fact that you went down on your bottom is a good thing. You did yourself far more damage than the baby.”
She leant against his arm, still a little weepy, and he stooped to kiss the top of her head, gently stroking her hair. After a couple of minutes silence, she sat up again and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. “How’s Henry?”
“Jonty said he’s fine, so don’t you worry. He wants his Mummy home though, he’s already missing her, so you get some rest tonight and come back tomorrow fighting fit, alright? Deal?”
Evadne looked up at him and gave him a ghost of a smile. “Deal.”
It was almost an hour later when Edgar and Jonty pulled up in front of the Bowns’ home on the edge of Choulex. As the car came to a halt, Janice, who had been watching for them to arrive, threw open the front door to greet them.
“You poor love, you look so drained! Come on in and warm up.”
Edgar shook the snow off his shoes and stepped into the hall. “How’s Henry?”
“He’s fast asleep. He was teary when he first got here - I think because he was more bewildered than anything else and he knew something had happened to his mummy - but he calmed down after a little while. Emily played with him for a bit and then he had some food and now he’s tucked up in bed.”
Edgar shot her a grateful smile. “I’ll just pop up and get him then, and we’ll be off.”
“Nonsense! Are you expecting any calls from the hospital?”
“No, everything’s stable just now. I’ll go back and see her in the morning.”
“Well then, you’re staying here for some dinner and that’s final. Isn’t that right, Jonty?” Janice asked her husband as he came in the front door, brushing the snow from his dark hair.
“Absolutely. We won’t hear otherwise. Henry’s fine upstairs for now and I’ll drop you both home later.” He could see the hesitation on Edgar’s face and added firmly, “Well come on, man, listen to the boss. You know she won’t take no for an answer. Take off your coat and I’ll go and pour us both a stiff drink. You look like you could do with one.”
Despite himself, Edgar chuckled and shook his head as Jonty headed through to the salon. “I don’t suppose I have much choice, do I?”
“None whatsoever,” Janice retorted, grinning. “Gerda’s made a marvellous stew and there’s plenty to go round.”
Edgar took off his coat and handed it over. “Thanks so much for everything this afternoon, Jan. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there.”
“You’re very welcome. I’m only too glad we were able to help. Now you go on through, sit by the stove and warm up. I’ll go and tell Gerda we’re ready to eat.”
Good as her word, she hurried off in the direction of the kitchen, and Edgar waited only to wipe his shoes thoroughly on the mat before heading through to the lounge. Ann and her younger sister Emily were already there, sitting at a large table doing a jigsaw puzzle and Emily jumped down from her seat as their guest came into the room.
“Sir Edgar, has Lady Watson had the baby?” she asked, staring up at him with excited eyes.
Edgar smiled and shook his head. “No, not yet sweetheart.”
“But Mummy said she was in hospital.” The young girl looked thoroughly confused.
“She’s not feeling too well, that’s all.”
“How’s Marcia?” Ann asked from her perch at the table and Edgar noted, as he crossed the room to stand by the stove, that her voice was quiet and subdued, far removed from her normal bright, cheery self.
“She’s very well. Hasn’t she written to you?”
Ann nodded. “She writes every week but it’s not the same as her being here.”
“Well she’ll be home in two and a half weeks and then you’ll have all of Christmas to catch up.”
Ann beamed back at him, clearly excited at the prospect of seeing her best friend again, but before she could reply, the door opened and Janice popped her head round.
“Grub’s up! Go and wash your hands, you two,” she ordered her children, and watched as they ran from the room. “Come on through to the dining room when you’re ready, Edgar, you know where it is.”
Edgar nodded his thanks as she retreated from the room. Rubbing his hands together in front of the heat, he felt his fingers thawing out a little. He had forgotten, in his panic, to pick up his gloves when they had dashed from the house, and it had been a cold ride back in Jonty’s car through the blizzarding snow. Finally satisfied that he was warm enough, he made his way through to the dining room to join the others, his stomach rumbling at the delicious smell of stew wafting through the house.
After dinner, Janice despatched the two girls upstairs to get ready for bed, under orders to be quiet so as not to wake Henry, and three adults remained around the table, drinking some hot drinks.
“I didn’t want to ask with the kids around but how is Evvy, really?” Janice asked, as she took a sip of her tea.
Edgar placed his cup back on the saucer and heaved a sigh. “Well, they say they think it’ll be alright. She fell down on her bottom, so she has a bruised tail bone but they think that the baby should be fine. It’s fairly well protected, after all. They’re keeping her in overnight, though, just to be sure – both for the baby and in case of concussion after she banged her head. She has a real shiner of a black eye. She’ll be mortified when she sees herself.” Janice laughed and Edgar smiled slightly as he continued. “I just hope they're right and it really is okay. She’ll never forgive herself if it’s not.”
“I’m sure it will be, old chap,” Jonty interjected, shooting his friend a sympathetic smile. “They know what they’re talking about, surely - they’re not likely to say all will be fine if they don’t think it will”.
“Yes, I suppose so.” Edgar drained his cup and then scraped his chair back. “Right, I’d better get my son and make tracks while the going’s still good. Thanks so much for dinner and for all you’ve done, both of you.”
“Don’t mention it. I know you and Evvy would do the same for us.” Jonty got to his feet and threw his napkin down on the table, turning to his wife. “You go and help Edgar with Henry, my dear, and I’ll go and bring the car around. See you out the front.”
The snow continued unabated as they made the slow drive back to Cologny, and Edgar almost slipped as he climbed out of the car outside his house. He opened the front door to be greeted by an over-exuberant Scrabble and heading back to the car again, he opened the rear door and carefully lifted out his sleeping son. Jonty waited to make sure that they got into the house alright and then, with a toot of the horn, he disappeared up the drive.
Henry hardly stirred as his father carried him up to his cot and tucked him in. Edgar stood beside him for a few moments, staring down at his chubby, peaceful face, reflecting on what had happened that afternoon and counting his blessings that things did not seem to be as bad as he had first thought. The house seemed so quiet without his wife there and he said a silent prayer, as he stood by his son’s cot, that both she and the baby really were going to be alright. Then, making his way back downstairs, he crossed the hall towards the kitchen, patting Scrabble’s head as he went. Just as he reached the kitchen door, the phone rang.
“No peace for the wicked, eh?” he said, scratching his dog’s ears once more, and then turned back to the dresser and lifted the receiver. “Cologny four-nine-one.”
The Bowns were just heading upstairs for the night when there was a terrific hammering on their front door, and turning back, Jonty opened it to find a very flustered-looking Edgar on the doorstep.
“Sorry, I know it’s late, but can you look after Henry?” Edgar burst out, as soon as he saw his friend.
“Yes, of course.” Jonty and Janice peered out at the wintry night and caught sight of Evadne’s Renault parked in the drive. “What’s going on?”
“Anton wasn’t in and I didn’t know where else to go. I have to get to the hospital – Evvy’s in labour! They’ve been trying to call me since about 6 o’clock this evening!”
As he spoke, Edgar ran back to the car, lifted the sleeping little boy out of the rear seat and thrust him into Janice’s arms.
“Do you want one of us to come with you?” she asked, as she cradled the young lad against her.
“No, it’s fine. I have to go.” Wrenching the car door open, he jumped into the driver’s seat, slamming it behind him, and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened. The engine simply turned over and then died again. He tried a couple more times but the same thing happened, and he slammed his hand down on the wheel.
Pushing the choke in, he pulled it out again and tried once more, but it made no difference and he swore under his breath. He had had to bring his wife’s car as his own Mercedes was being serviced, and he might have known that it would not stand up to the inclement weather.
As he tried once more, the was a loud rapping on the window and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Winding the window down, he grimaced at his friend.
“You’ll flood the engine if you keep doing that,” Jonty pointed out sensibly. “Let me get mine out, it’s more reliable than that Renault. I’ll take you there. We’re only twenty minutes drive away, it won’t take long.”
“No it’s fine, its…stupid piece of metal!” Edgar hit the dashboard again as the car still refused to start, and then leaning forwards, he put his head on the wheel.
“She’ll be alright, Edgar, she’s in good hands.”
“How do you know she’ll be alright?” Edgar snapped back, sitting up again. “She’s not due for two weeks, she fell down the stairs this afternoon, and now she’s in labour, what does that tell you?”
“That the fall probably hurried it along a bit. And you know as well as I do that the dates aren’t all that accurate. Emily was a couple of weeks earlier than we thought she’d be. Now why don’t you calm down. You’ll be no use to Evvy whatsoever if she needs you and you get to the hospital in this state.”
Edgar glared at him and for a second, Jonty thought his friend was about to hit him. Then a contrite expression came over Edgar’s face. “Sorry, Jonty.”
“No need to be sorry. Now why don’t you let me get my car out.”
“Yes, I suppose that…aha!” As he turned the key one more time, the engine suddenly sprang into action. “Finally! I’ll see you later!” and as he stepped on the accelerator, the wheels spun a couple of times in the fresh snow before the car finally took off up the drive.
Just two miles from the Bown’s house, he found himself in the most horrendous traffic jam he had ever seen. He had been stuck tfor what felt like hours, though in reality it was only twenty-five minutes, and his patience was wearing thin.
“Get out of my way!” he yelled, hitting the horn for the umpteenth time. Then, noticing that a few other motorists were out of the cars, milling about on the road, he wrenched the door open and climbed out himself. “What’s going on?” he called out in French, and the driver ahead of him turned to face him.
“There’s been an accident, it is blocking the whole road.”
“Oh for crying out loud!”
Getting back in the car, he tried to start it to turn around and go around the long way, but the cold had taken a grip once more and it wouldn’t start. He turned the engine over several times, his language turning the air more blue with each failed attempt. Finally, giving up again, he jumped out and kicked the wheel.
“You cursed pile of junk, why won’t you just start!”
“Say, can I give you a helping hand there?”
Hearing a broad American accent, Edgar turned to see the owner of a nearby house standing at the end of his driveway. “I need to get to the hospital. My wife’s giving birth and my wretched car won’t start. You couldn’t drive me, could you?”
“You'll get there faster if you walk in this weather. Else you have to go all up round the mountain road and that could take hours with all the snow. That’s if the road’s even open. You should make it in forty-five minutes on foot. You can cut down through the park.”
“What about my car?”
“We’ll see to that, don’t worry. You’ll help me, won’t you fellas?” he asked the drivers standing nearby, who had all been listening in to the conversation, and they readily agreed. “We'll shift if into my driveway and you can stop by and get it some other time. Now, you get off to your wife.”
Marvelling at the kindness of strangers, Edgar heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you so much!”
He set off down the road at a run, slipping over a couple of times in the icy conditions, and hauling himself determinedly back to his feet.
He arrived at the hospital almost an hour later and dashing down the corridors, he reached the maternity wing and almost ran slap-bang into the nurse who had been treating his wife earlier in the day. She was standing with to a woman who he recognised as Evadne’s midwife, and hearing him come crashing through the doors, they both turned to him with broad grins.
“We were wondering where you had got to!” the nurse said, as she put out a hand to steady him.
Edgar looked from one to the other, panic written all over his face. “Is she alright?” Then, registering the fact that the midwife was standing in front of him. “Is it over?”
The midwife smiled in return. “She’s fine. They both are.”
“She’s had the baby?”
The midwife nodded as the nurse departed to answer a call. “Yes, just over an hour ago. We will probably want to keep them in a little longer than usual for observation, just to make certain after her fall yesterday, but from what we have seen so far, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“They’re really alright? The baby…?”
“Has ten fingers, ten toes and very healthy lungs. Your wife wants to tell you the rest of the happy news. In fact, she was very insistent that she did so,” she added, a twinkle in her eye.
Edgar gave her a faint smile as she ushered him down the corridor to his wife’s room. Then, as the midwife discretely took her leave, he tentatively opened the door. Evadne was sitting propped up against back of bed, gazing lovingly at a bundle in her arms. She glanced up as he entered the room, an expression of absolute elation on her pale, tired face. She beckoned him closer, and he smiled as he crossed the room and perched on the side of her bed.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep? You must be exhausted.”
Evadne shook her head, her voice shaking, as she turned her gaze back to the precious bundle in her arms. “I don’t want to sleep, I want to hold her. I made them let me.”
Edgar smiled at her words, well able to imagine her forcing them to let her hold her baby. “Did you say her?” he asked and Evadne nodded, her eyes welling up.
“We have a beautiful little girl.”
Reaching out, Edgar peeled back the edge of the blanket and found himself looking at a tiny, ruddy, screwed up face, eyes tight shut, a tuft of very fair hair on the top of her head. “She’s perfect,” he murmured, mesmerised by the sight of his new daughter. Then, glancing up, he noticed the tears running down Evadne’s cheeks. “Sweetheart, it’s alright. The midwife says she’s fine.”
“What are the tears for then?”
Evvy sniffed and lifted a hand to scrub her eyes. “Not so many years ago I thought I’d be alone forever. Now I’ve all I’ve ever wanted. I just can’t believe it’s true.”
Her voice broke as she said the words and with an affectionate smile, Edgar reached up and used his fingers to wipe away her tears, carefully avoiding her bruised, black eye. “See, didn’t I tell you that good things happen to good people?” She nodded and he leant forward to kiss her. “And you’re the best person of all.”
Evadne gazed back at him, her eyes welling up again at his words, and mouthed, “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Edgar kissed her again and then took his handkerchief from his pocket. “Here, let me mop you up. You’ve been a regular waterspout all day!”
Evadne laughed as he dried her eyes. “What happened to you?” she asked, taking in his rather dishevelled appearance.
Glancing down at himself, Edgar realised just how much of a mess he looked and chuckled. “Long story. Let’s just say I’ll be buying you a new car. One that actually starts in the cold!”
Evvy smiled as she glanced down at the little bundle again. “Have you been abusing my Renault?”
Edgar grinned. “Would I?” Then, looking back down at his daughter, his voice softened as he said, “She’s so beautiful, darling. I’m so proud of you.”
“Would you like to hold her?”
“What do you think?” Taking his new daughter gently from his wife, he cradled her in his arms and spoke to her softly. “Hello there, little lady. I’m your Daddy. And you see this person here? That’s your Mummy. She’s a truly wonderful Mummy and you’re a very lucky girl.” Evadne smiled sleepily back at him, her eyelids starting to droop, and Edgar turned his attention back to the little girl. “Not that you’re listening to me, are you young lady? But you make sure you remember that. Anyway, none of the other four listen to me either so we may as well start as we mean to go on.”
He glanced up at his wife again and noticed that she had dropped off to sleep, upright against the pillows.
“Well, precious girl, it looks like your Mummy’s as tired as you are. It’s been a long day for you both, hasn’t it?” Gently, he ran a finger down his daughter’s smooth, ruddy cheek. “Welcome to the world, little one. It’s a scary place sometimes but we’ll look after you, I promise.”
For a few moments longer, he gazed lovingly down at the little bundle in his arms. Then turning back to Evvy, he kissed her softly on the cheek and then reached behind her and pressed the button that called the nurse.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.