Shutting the back door behind her, Evadne bent down to check Scrabble’s paws for any mud and laughed at the hopeful expression in his puppy-dog eyes.
“It’s not dinner time yet and you know it! You’ll get it at five, just as you’ve always done. Nothing’s changed for thirteen and a half years and it’s not going to change now!"
Scrabble shot her what could only be described as a reproachful look and then mooched off into the kitchen, his tail between his legs. Chuckling to herself, Evadne hung up his lead, took off her walking boots and then checked her watch. It was quarter to three. Plenty of time to go through some more photographs before it was time for tea.
Making her way through the kitchen, pausing a moment to have a few words with Guilia and her son Paulo, who now came in to help her two or three times a week, she hung her coat up in the hallway and then headed back out onto the terrace. Scrabble was already there, sitting beside her chair, his tail wagging to let her know that she had been forgiven. Crouching down, she scratched his ears.
“You’re a good old boy, really, aren’t you? I’m so glad we got you all those years ago."
Scrabble wagged his tail harder, clearly returning the sentiment, and Evadne scratched his ears once more, stood up and then lowered herself into her seat.
“Right then,” she said, picking up the album she had placed ready on the table, “let’s see what this year has in store for us, shall we?
The spring of 1957 had melded into summer with no real alarums and scarums to speak of – most definitely a record in Watson family terms.
Henry’s second birthday came and went, and as the weeks passed he began to blossom into a proper little boy in front of his parents’ eyes, becoming very independent and insisting on shouting everything at the top of his voice. Not long after Easter, Milly finally stopped crying her way through each and every night and instead spent her time rolling from front to back - a newly acquired skill - her eyes bright and alert as she took in her surroundings, and always ready with a smile and a giggle for her two-year-old brother, who was the one person in the family who could really make her laugh. The pair of them were changing so much, in fact, that Evadne was heard to bemoan more than once that she must be getting old, as her babies were growing up so fast.
Summer term at the two schools saw all three elder children kept busy, both in terms of exams and play. Much to his great relief, Ned managed to get through all his third year exams, even his French - languages not being his strong point - and, to his great delight, was made captain of Harrow’s U15 cricket XI, leading his team on an unbeaten run. At the Chalet School, meanwhile, celebrations commenced for the Silver Jubilee and there was added excitement when, in the middle of a fierce storm, a lightening bolt hit one of the cricket pitches, causing a large hole that became a talking point for many weeks to come.
Before anyone knew where the time had gone, the end of June was upon them, bringing with it Edgar’s fortieth birthday. He had not wanted any fuss to be made, so there was no big party, but with Janice Bown’s offer to have the two youngest Watsons for the night, he and Evadne were able to spend a precious evening together, just the two of them, for the first time since Milly had been born. Evadne even tried to bake a cake, without any help from Guilia, and though the results were somewhat interesting, her husband declared that the fact she had even tried just made him love her all the more.
A week later saw June turn into July, the schools break up for the summer holidays, and the entire Watson family head to England, or the Hampshire village of Kilmeston, to be exact, to spend a month with Elsie, Paul and their clan.
They set off early the day after Thea and Marcia finished school, leaving Scrabble to be spoilt by Anton, stayed the night in their London house, and then drove down to Kilmeston the following day, arriving at the Rodwells' house mid-afternoon. Ned had been collected from Harrow by Elsie a few days previously, when she had gone to pick up Tom, and he was watching from the dining room window when Edgar’s big old car drew up in the driveway of the whitewashed, red-roofed cottage, the gears grinding as it slowed to a halt. Laughing to himself as he saw who was driving, he made his way through to the hallway and opened the front door, just as his father emerged from the front passenger seat, his face a little ashen.
“You okay, Dad?”
“I am now we’re on terra firma!” he replied, opening the back door and reaching in to let Henry out of his seat. “It was rather an…er…eventful journey, shall we say!”
“It was scary!” Thea hissed to her brother in a stage whisper, pulling a face as she and Marcia disembarked and greeted him with a hug.
Climbing out of the driver’s seat, Evadne shot them all an indignant look. "Well it would have been alright if all those people had quit honking their horns and let me sort myself out!”
“It was those people’s right of way!” her husband retorted.
Evvy muttered something inaudible to anyone more than a foot away from her and stalked around to the rear of the car to open the boot. Deciding wisely not to bother asking her what she had just said, realising it was unlikely to be anything that should be repeated in present company, Edgar took Henry’s hand and helped the him down from the car. The little boy looked around in wonder at the strange surroundings, as if wondering where on earth he was. Spotting Ned with his sisters, he was about to run over to greet him, when he suddenly stopped and grabbed his father’s trousers. A whole group of strangers had appeared at the doorway, including a man in a funny chair with wheels. Henry turned and hid his face against his father’s leg.
Edgar chuckled and stooped to pick him up. “You feeling shy, little man?”
As his elder sisters joyously greeted their friends and brevet-aunt and uncle, Henry kept his fair, curly head buried firmly in Edgar’s shoulder. Laughing, Elsie came towards them.
“Hi there, Henry! You won’t remember me but I’m your Auntie Elsie.”
Henry turned his head slightly, and then quickly whipped it back again as he saw his brevet-aunt looking at him. Edgar laughed and bent to greet her with a kiss on the cheek.
“Just ignore him – he’ll snap out of it in a few minutes. It’s this little ritual we have to go through every time someone new appears on the scene. It never lasts long, does it, trouble?”
Henry moved slightly, catching Edgar’s left hand with one of his legs and causing his father to wince. Noticing for the first time that his hand was bandaged up, Elsie frowned. “What have you done to yourself?”
“Caught a nail in my palm. I was helping Anton to set up the tank for his new lizards and I caught it on a crate. It’s almost healed now, but it’s still too painful to do things like drive, unfortunately – the gear stick’s a bit more than I can handle – hence why old Sterling Moss back there had to chauffeur us from the airport.
Evadne’s head appeared around the back of the car as she glared at her husband, and Elsie laughed. “Surely she’s a bit better by now?”
“Oh she is – in Geneva anyway. As long as there aren’t too many hairpin bends. She’s only knocked the gatepost twice in the last year or so, which isn’t bad at all! Unfortunately it’s been a while since she last drove in England and she kept forgetting to use the left hand side of the road. Not to mention thinking the horn was the indicator. Still, we just about made it here alive!”
At this, Evadne stepped out from behind the car. “Well I like that! I can actually hear you, you know! Next time I’ll just leave you behind and it will serve you right, mister!” Chuckling to himself, Edgar shook his head and turned to greet Paul, and forgetting her grievances, Evadne came forward and enveloped her old friend in a hug. “Oh Elsie, it’s so good to see you!” she said, squeezing that lady tight. “I can’t believe it’s been so long!”
Elsie returned her hug with an affectionate one of her own. “Almost eighteen months, to be exact. So much for our husband’s declaration that we’d still see enough of each other when you all moved away!”
“I think that may be our fault, what with me getting pregnant and then us being in France most of last summer.”
“I don’t think we’ve been much better. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it out last November. The infection in Paul’s stump just wouldn’t heal and the doc didn’t think he should travel. And then he’s been so busy since, what with the office opening and everything, we haven’t had time to go anywhere. I can’t believe we’ve not even met Milly yet.”
“Well then come and meet her now!” Evadne took hold of Elsie’s arm, towing her over to the back door of the car, and then reached inside. A moment later she straightened up, Milly in her arms, blinking at the bright light from the afternoon sun. “She’s not long been awake, so she’s a little drowsy still.” Evadne dropped a kiss on the side of her daughter’s head, as she straightened the little girl’s pretty yellow dress, and then turned her attention to their host. “See here, sweetie, this is your Aunt Elsie! Are you gonna say hello?”
“Aren’t you precious?” Elsie stooped, taking Milly’s hand as she cooed at her. The next second she straightened up as a pungent smell reached her nostrils. “I think someone needs her nappy changed! Or is that your way of saying hello?”
Evadne laughed. “Only to people she really likes!” She gave her daughter another kiss. “Edgar, can we start getting unpacked? Milly needs seeing to and I don’t know where the changing bag’s buried.”
Edgar turned from his conversation with Paul and waved an acknowledgement, then began marshalling the troops to remove everything from the boot. Before long they had everything out on the driveway and ready to go.
“Right, chief, where’s all this going?”
Elsie turned to Edgar with a grin. “You and Evvy are in mine and Paul’s old room, Thea and Marcia are next door in the spare room and I’ve put Henry’s cot in the box room, if that’s okay? There’s another one in your dressing room for Milly. Ned’s in with Tom.”
“I don’t see why I have to share when Lily doesn’t,” Tom grumbled, as he dragged one of the heavy suitcases towards the front door.
“Well you can go in with Lily if you like and let Ned have a room to himself?” his mother retorted.
“Then stop whinging and take those in, please. And when you’re done you can get on with your own unpacking. You and Ned have been here three days and your trunks are still full. You’re living in a pit.”
Evadne grinned. “Ned lives in a pit all on his own so I can’t imagine what they’re like together!”
“I don’t live in a pit, I live in organised chaos!” Ned retorted, as he walked past with another case. He wrinkled his nose as he got too close to Milly. “That one really stinks!”
“Speaking of which, where’s that bag, Edgar? I need to change her before I can unpack.”
“I’ll change her, if you like?”
Evadne turned back to Elsie. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely! I’m pretty sure I can remember what to do, and it’ll give us a change to get acquainted, won’t it, Milly?”
“Well in that case, I won’t say no!”
Elsie took the little girl from Evadne, picked up the bag that Edgar had put beside them, and then turned to go into the house. “Come on then, little one, let’s go and sort you out. We’ll be in the kitchen when you’re all done. Then we can start thinking about tea.”
Three quarters of an hour later, Evadne appeared in the kitchen, her arms full of toys and blankets, to find Elsie and Milly sitting at the table, Milly holding a small rag doll tightly in her arms. Elsie looked up with a grin as her friend pulled out a chair and sat down, dropping her load on the table.
“You all done?”
“Well, I am and Thea is. Paul and Edgar are in the study doing heavens only knows what – getting out of unpacking if you ask me – and Marcia’s still at it as she was looking after Henry while Thea finished and then they swapped over. Goodness knows what the boys are doing. How long does it take to empty a trunk?”
Elsie laughed. "I’m not so sure there’s much trunk emptying going on! I heard Tom yell something about cricket cards not long ago, so I suppose they’ve got their albums out.” Pushing her chair back, she got to her feet. “I hope you don’t mind, but I found Milly’s food in the bag and opened it. If you take her, I can heat it up if you like?”
“Oh thanks, Elsie, you’re an absolute poppet! We don’t mind a bit, do we, Milly?” Evadne held her hands out for her daughter and Elsie passed her over. “Have you had fun with Aunt Elsie, sugar-pie? What do you have there?” she asked, noticing the doll clutched tightly in Milly’s fists.
“It’s an old one of Lily’s. She brought it down with her a few minutes ago and said that she wanted Milly to have it.”
“Is she sure?”
“Perfectly. She was never that fond of it – you know how funny children can be about toys. At least we know it’s going to a good home. Milly certainly seems to like it, anyway.” Hearing shrieks from outside, Elsie turned to look out of the window at the back garden, where Thea and Lily were playing with Henry on the lawn. “He’s grown so much, hasn’t he? How can we have missed it all? He’s a proper little boy now!”
“Well he is almost two and four months!”
“Oh, you know what I mean!”
Evadne grinned. “I know. It kinda crept up on us too. I suddenly noticed one day that he wasn’t toddling anymore – it was such a shock!”
“I remember that with our two. And there’s no mistaking he’s yours with those fair curly locks. What a head of hair!”
“Marcia has them too, remember, and she’s not mine.”
“True, but hers are dark blonde and more of a mop. Henry's so fair and he has proper ringlets, and they are definitely yours!”
“Touché!” Evadne laughed. “If you ask me, he looks far more like Edgar, to be honest.”
“You think so?”
“I do. He has the same lips and eyes, even though his are blue-grey and Edgar’s are green. And Doc Schreiber says he’s already tall for his age, and that’s definitely his father not me!”
Elsie grinned. “True.” Turning from the window, she gently heated Milly’s food on the stove and smiled at the baby girl in her mother's lap. “This little one, on the other hand, is your absolute image!”
“Everyone keeps saying that. I don’t see it, myself.”
“It’s true! She looks just like you. And she’s so wee!”
“You don’t need to tell me! To begin with I was worried I’d break her – she seems so delicate, especially as Henry was such a little Michelin Man! The doc says she’s growing at a normal rate though. She’s just petite, that’s all. She’s our dainty little doll, aren’t you darling? Yes you are!”
Milly stared blankly up at her mother and Elsie laughed. “You know she’s thinking you’re quite mad, don’t you? Mind you, she wouldn’t be far wrong!”
“I’ve been here one hour and already you’ve insulted me!” came the huffy reply. “I’ve not missed you, Elsie Rodwell!” Elsie simply laughed again and Evadne jigged Milly on her knee. “Don’t you listen to Aunt Elsie, Milly-Moo. She’s the one who’s mad, not Mommy.” Then, looking up at Elsie again, “You know it’s amazing how different she is from Henry. He was so happy and smiley, even as a babe, whereas Milly’s so much more clingy and serious. I know she’s not screaming all night now but she still cries if I’m out of sight for too long.”
“She seems quite smiley to me.”
“Oh she’s smiley alright, just not all the time like her brother. In fact the only person who can really make her giggle is Henry. It’s so cute to see, he adores her so!”
Spooning Milly’s food into a bowl, Elsie checked the temperature before handing it over to her friend. “You make a good mother, you know.”
“Well thanks a bunch! What did you expect me to be?”
“I didn’t mean it that way, don’t get huffy,” Elsie retorted, as she put the kettle on to boil. “I simply meant what I said. It suits you. I’ve not really seen you with either these two, remember? Not since Paul’s accident anyway, and to be honest I wasn’t really concentrating on your parenting skills then.”
Evadne looked up and gave her friend a warm smile. “No, I know. He seems so much better though?”
“Oh he is, so much so. It’s just…” Elsie's voice trailed off.
“I think he’s pinning too much on this new leg, that’s all.”
Evadne frowned. “Edgar mentioned you were worried about that.”
Heaving a sigh, Elsie pulled out her chair and sat down again. “I’m rather hoping that Edgar can get through to him, to tell you the truth. He won’t listen to me at all. He seems to think that it’s going to be a case of strap it on and off you go. I just don’t think he wants to admit to himself how hard the road ahead’s going to be and I’m so worried he’ll be disappointed and get frustrated. And if that happens then he’ll shut down again, I know he will. It took me so long to get him back properly, Evvy. I don’t want to lose him again - not any part of him.”
Placing her daughter’s spoon back in the bowl, Evadne reached out to clasp Elsie’s arm. “I’m sure it’ll be all right, Elsie, you’ll see.” Elsie smiled and Evvy squeezed her arm. “Edgar’ll get through to him.”
“Edgar will get through to who?”
The two women jumped at the sound of Paul’s voice.
“Ned,” Evadne replied quickly, hoping her face didn’t give her away, “if he doesn’t sort out his trunk once and for all!”
Paul gave the pair of them a funny look, as he wheeled himself into the room. “It’s only a trunk, ladies. He’s got all summer to unpack it.”
Relieved that he had clearly not heard their conversation, Elsie relaxed and gave him a look of mock-despair. “You would say that! We’ve been married thirteen years and you’ve yet to find the laundry basket!”
Paul feigned a look of surprise. “You mean the laundry doesn’t walk there itself?”
“Oh…ugh, you!” Getting to her feet, Elsie picked up the tray containing a large chocolate cake and a malt loaf, and thrust it at him. “Make yourself useful and take that outside! Evvy, come on, bring all that too. You can finish feeding Milly in the open air. Where’s Edgar, by the way?”
“Just checking over the last of the figures from the office,” Paul replied over his shoulder, as he carefully lowered himself down the ramp leading from the back door to the patio, the tray resting on his lap. “He’ll be through in a moment.”
Evadne rose from the table, heaving Milly into her arms and collecting up her bowl and spoon, and Elsie waited only for the kettle to finish boiling, before filling the teapot, grabbing a jug of juice and following them outside. Once they were settled at large wooden table on patio, underneath a pergola covered in climbing roses, Elsie began cutting the cake while Paul called out to Thea, Lily and Henry to come and get their tea.
“You hold that tight, Henry, or you’ll be sitting in your highchair!” Evadne warned, as she handed her son a small slice of chocolate cake on a melamine plate. “Here’s his juice, Thea. Keep an eye on him, won’t you?”
With his sister walking beside him, Henry made his way across the grass, clutching the plate very tightly in both hands, intense concentration on his young face.
Paul laughed as he watched him go. “You’ve got him well trained, I must say!”
“Don’t you believe it! He’s being exceptionally well-behaved. Generally that would have been either down his front, on the grass or both by now. He’s the most accident-prone child I’ve ever come across! It’s twice as bad now he’s getting older – he moves so fast these days! It’s all we can do to keep him away from the lake. We've hired some men to come in whilst we’re away and build a fence along the shore. At least that will keep Henry on dry land until he’s old enough to open the gate!”
“He’s still a real water baby then?” Elsie asked.
“He’s positively obsessed! Ned bought him a new paddling pool for his birthday and if he had his way he’d be in there all day. You should see the tantrums when we try and take him out!”
“Perhaps he was a fish in a previous life?
“Maybe. Edgar’s setting his sights on him being an Olympic swimmer when he grows up!” Evadne chuckled. “Who knows? Perhaps he will be. Whatever he ends up doing, I’ll bet my hat it will be to do with water in some way.”
Taking a huge bite out of his slice of malt-loaf, Paul heaved a satisfied sigh and leant back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head. “So come on then, Evvy, how’s life treating you in Geneva? I’ve only had your husband’s version of things so far. I need to make sure yours tallies up!”
Evadne grinned back at him. “Why, don’t you trust him?”
“I just know that he’d say that everything was wonderful even if it wasn’t.”
“Well everything’s wonderful, thanks.” Evadne paused for a moment and frowned. “You know, I could swear we’ve not stopped for a moment these last few months, but when I try and think what we’ve been up to, I can’t recall a thing! Why does that always happen?”
Paul chuckled. “One of the laws of sod, I believe! But you still enjoy living out there?”
“So much! It feels completely and utterly like home these days. I think we all feel the same. The lifestyle’s just marvellous, the pace is nice and relaxed and we’re near the girls’ school so we can get to all their plays and shows and things. The only downside is that we don’t get to see Ned as often as we’d like, but he’s only three more years at Harrow and then he’ll be out in the big wide world.” A horrified look crossed her face as she spoke. “Goodness, that makes me feel old!”
“You and me both! I remember him being born!”
“But you are old, my love,” Elsie put in, with an air of complete innocence, as her husband took another large bite of his cake. “What else do you think turning forty is?” Then, before Paul could swallow his mouthful, she turned back to Evvy. “Is Edgar still enjoying his job?”
“He loves it. Well, except for the long hours sometimes, but he’d rather be working out in Geneva than stuck in some office in Whitehall, that’s for sure.”
“I realise I should probably know this, but what exactly is his job again?” Paul asked, through his mouthful of malt loaf.
“Don’t ask her, she hasn’t a clue!”
The three of them looked round to see Edgar strolling across the patio, a wide grin on his face as he winked at his wife. Evadne puffed up with indignation.
“I do so!”
Still grinning, Edgar took a seat and nodded his thanks to Elsie as she passed him over a slice of cake. “Go on then, what do I do?”
“You do…farming and…and other things!”
Edgar’s deep chuckle rang out as he shook his head in mock despair. Before Evadne could think of a sufficient retort, however, a cross little voice rang out from somewhere above them.
“Thea, what have you done to my clock?”
Glancing up, they saw Marcia hanging from an upstairs window, her pretty, pink travel clock in her hand and an irate expression on her face.
From her seat in the middle of the lawn, Thea put down her glass of juice and looked at her sister as if that young lady was mad. “I haven’t done anything to your clock!"
“Well why has it stopped ticking then?”
“How should I know?”
“You unpacked it!”
“So?” came the incredulous reply. “Just ‘cause I unpacked it, it doesn’t mean it’s my fault! Have you actually wound it?”
“Durr, of course I have!”
Seeing Thea’s hackles starting to rise, Edgar decided to intervene. “Marcia, come down if you want to talk, stop yelling out of windows.”
“But my clock doesn’t work!”
“Well if you bring it down here then we can have a look at it, can’t we?”
However, Marcia wasn’t listening. “It was working okay this morning,” she grumbled, shaking it hard as she spoke. “Stupid, useless thing.”
The next moment, her arm caught the edge of the windowsill, causing the clock to fly out of her hand. For a split second there was silence, as it arced gracefully through the air, and then it crashed onto the patio, just below the window, sending shards of glass, springs and other inner workings flying off in all directions.
“Oh for heavens sake!” Furious, Edgar pushed back his chair and got to his feet, as a guilty-looking Marcia stared down at her smashed possession with wide eyes. “Get down here now and clean up this mess before someone does themselves an injury.”
“Well I don’t think that’s fixed it!” Evadne quipped to her hosts, earning herself a black look from her husband in the process. “I suppose that means we’re going clock shopping tomorrow.”
She flashed a grin at Paul and Elsie, who were trying their hardest not to laugh, and then glanced down at her daughter, only to find that young lady had been using her fingers to shovel orange paste from her bowl to somewhere in the vicinity of her mouth and was now covered in food.
“Look at you, Miss Moo! Did you enjoy that?”
Milly looked up at the sound of her voice, gave happy gurgle and lifted a hand, placing it squarely on her mother’s chest and leaving a perfect orange handprint on Evadne’s pale blue dress.
Evadne grimaced. “Thank you for that, madam. Just what I wanted.”
Gathering the last of the food onto a spoon, she fed it to her daughter and then wiped the little girl’s hands and face with her napkin.
Elsie smiled as she watched on. “Good thing orange and blue are in vogue this summer – you’ll fit right in”
“And very fetching I look, I’m sure! Milly, no!” Evadne reached out to snatch the bowl out of Milly’s grasp, but not before her daughter had managed to put her hand in the tiny amount of paste that was left and then wipe it in her fair, wispy hair. “Right, that’s it. Come on you, let’s go and get both of us cleaned up.” Getting to her feet, she hitched the little girl up in her arms, earning her dress another sticky palm print as she did so. “Sorry about all this. We’ve not even been here a couple of hours and we’ve already caused chaos!”
“Don’t mention it,” Paul replied airily, a deadpan expression on his face. “We wouldn’t expect anything less!”
Evadne grinned back at him over her shoulder, just as Marcia appeared, broom in hand, followed by a very stern-looking Edgar. “Never a truer word spoken in jest, Paul Rodwell!”
“Who said I was joking?”
She waved a hand, not deigning to look back as she disappeared through the kitchen door, and Paul chuckled to himself, as he popped the last bit of his malt loaf in his mouth and brushed the crumbs from his front. From the corner of his eye, he caught Elsie watching him and reached out to squeeze her forearm.
“Marvellous cake there, I must say.”
“Miss Webber made it,” Elsie replied, referring to a well-known elderly denizen of the local W.I. “She said she thought you might like it – apparently you told her at your birthday that malt loaf is your favourite.”
“Gosh, so I did! I can’t believe she remembered that!”
“Well if you will try and charm all the ladies!” Her eyes searched his face, and she gave him a smile full of affection. “How are you feeling?”
“Never better, my love. Two days to go and counting!”
“Uncle Paul!” Elsie had barely started her sentence when Thea came haring up the long, thin garden, a tennis ball clutched in her hand. “Uncle Paul, have you got a bat we can use to play french cricket?”
Paul turned to his brevet-niece with a grin. “I think I can rustle one up from somewhere, In fact, why don’t we all play?” Wheeling his chair back from the table, Paul looked up and cupped his hands to his mouth. “Ned! Tom!”
Tom’s head appeared at an upstairs corner window. “What?”
“Come on down and play french cricket.”
His son turned back into the room, obviously discussing this idea with Ned. Then he reappeared again at the window. “Coming! Want me to bring my pads?”
“Yes, that’s not a bad idea. Where’s your cricket bat?”
“In the shed next to yours,” came the yelled reply, as Tom disappeared again.
“Why can Tom shout out of windows but I can’t?” Marcia grumbled, as Paul steered around her and headed towards the shed.
Edgar shot his daughter a stern look from his vantage point near the back door. “Do you really want to be drawing attention to yourself just now, young lady?” Ignoring the muttering she was making under her breath, he studied the ground around him and bent to pick up a small spring. “Are you almost finished?”
“Well hurry up, then. Look, there’s a piece of glass over by the tomato plants.”
“Aha! Here it is!” A loud clattering sounded from the shed, as something was knocked over, and a moment later, a somewhat-dusty Paul emerged, his old school cricket bat clutched in his hands. “I don’t believe this has been moved for many a moon – about time it had an outing! Here you are, Thea. You take it off down the garden while I round up the troops. Ah, never mind, here they are,” as Tom and Ned appeared through the open patio doors, the younger boy with his pads tucked under one arm.
With a word of thanks, Thea grabbed the bat and ran off down the garden, followed by the two boys, to where Lily was chasing Henry round in circles, the little boy shrieking his head off every time he was caught. Paul turned back to the house with a grin.
“You coming to play, Edgar?”
“Yes, why not. If you can play one-legged, I don’t see any reason why I can’t play one-handed!”
“Ah, but you forget, I have my speedy wheels.”
“Please can I play too?” a small voice interjected.
“Are you finished clearing up?” Marcia nodded and Edgar quickly swept his eyes around the patio to check. “Then yes, you can play as long as you don’t break anything else.”
“Wasn’t going to,” came the sulky reply, a sullen look clouding her pretty face, and she stropped into the house, still clutching the dustpan.
“Make sure you wrap that in newspaper before you throw it away!” her father called after her. “I’ve put some out on the table.”
“Dad, come on!" Ned yelled from across the lawn. "We need your help. Lily can’t get the pads to stay on.”
“Alright, alright. Hold your horses, I'm coming!”
Leaving Marcia to her own devices, ignoring the questionable wisdom of doing just that, Edgar headed off down the garden, his long, loping stride carrying him quickly across the grass. For once fortune favoured him, however, and having done as she was told, Marcia came charging out of the back door to join in the fun.
Paul grinned to himself as he watched his friend bend down and try and help Lily attach the far-too-large cricket pads to her short thin legs. Then, turning his chair, he wheeled himself back to the table and his wife.
“You coming to play, Mrs. Rodwell?”
Elsie stared at him for a moment, a mix of affection and concern showing in her violet eyes. Then her face broke into a wide smile. “Absolutely!” She bent to kiss him softly on the cheek, and then taking hold of the handles at the back of the chair, she turned him and began to push the chair across the grass with a shout of “Ahoy there! Wait for us!”
To say that Paul was excited at the prospect of getting his new leg was an understatement of huge proportions. He talked happily all through dinner about how much he was looking forward to being able to walk again in a few weeks’ time and making jokes about being back on his feet rather than his foot.
Listening as he talked about making a bonfire out of his walking sticks as soon as he was able, Elsie found that she couldn’t take it anymore and getting to her feet, she grabbed Marcia’s empty plate, despite the fact that Paul was still eating, piled it on top of her own and walked out of the dining room without another word. Slamming the plates down in the sink, she stared out of the kitchen window, gripping the draining board hard and willing herself not to cry.
It was not long before the door opened and Evadne came into the room.
“I’ve cleared the rest of the plates,” she said, setting them on the kitchen table. “Even your slowcoach of a husband has finished at last!”
Elsie turned to face her. “You see what I mean now? He just won’t listen!”
Evadne nodded, and tears sprung to Elsie’s eyes at the look of sympathy on her friend’s face. Evadne hurried forward to comfort her, but Elsie held out her arm to keep her at bay.
“Don’t, Evvy, please. I’m okay,” and stepping aside, she picked up the oven gloves and bent to take a pie from the oven.
“Elsie you don’t have to-”
“Make yourself useful and take this through for me,” Elsie interrupted, a no-nonsense tone in her voice. “I’ll just heat up the custard. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
It was clear that she was not willing to discuss things any further, and not knowing quite what to do, Evadne picked up the second pair of gloves, took the cherry pie from her friend and made her way back to the dining room. Elsie bit her lips and turned towards the stove. A saucepan full of custard stood on one of the back rings, and after lighting the gas, she picked up a wooden spoon and began to stir, staring out of the window as she did so. Her mind was miles away, as she absently dragged the spoon through the thick, yellow liquid, and before long before the smell of burning reached her nostrils. Hurriedly, she took the pan off the heat, scalding her hand as she did so, and scraped the spoon along the bottom, watching as chunks of brown rose to the top. It was the final straw, and as a tear ran down her cheek, followed swiftly by another, she turned off the ring, pulled out a chair, sat down and put her head in her hands.
She had no idea how long she had been sitting there before the kitchen door opened again and Lily burst into the room.
“Mummy, Daddy sent me to ask what was taking so…” She broke off as she caught sight of her mother hurriedly wiping her eyes, and stopped and stared, open-mouthed. “Mummy, why are you crying?”
Her daughter’s sudden appearance served to stem Elsie's tears, and giving the young girl a smile, she held up her right palm. “I just burnt my hand, sweetheart, that’s all.” A look of horror crossed Lily’s face – she knew only too well how painful burning yourself could be, having touched a hot plate the week before. “It’s alright, Lily, it’s only a little one. I’ll be okay.” Elsie held out her arms. “Come here and give me a hug. That will soon make it better.”
Lily ran across the room, into her mother’s arms, and squeezed her hard. “Is that better?”
“Much!” Elsie grinned down at her concerned little face and dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Let’s keep it our secret though, shall we? Otherwise Daddy and Tom will just say I was being silly. You know what boys are like.”
Lily nodded earnestly, knowing just what boys were like. “Secret.”
“Good girl. Now, you run back in and tell them I’m just coming, and I’ll pop the custard into a bowl.”
Lily skipped off to relay the message, happy now that her mother was smiling again. As the door closed behind her, Elsie sat for a moment, deep in thought. Then, heaving a huge sigh, she made her way over to the stove and stared down at the custard. It didn’t look all that nice, if she was honest, and a quick mouthful confirmed her suspicions – the burnt taste had permeated all the way through. ‘Well that’s that, then,” she thought to herself, as she emptied the congealed mess into the sink and turned on the tap to wash it down. ‘Edgar and Paul will have to do without their custard. Ice cream it is, and if either of them complains, they’ll get it straight in their lap!’
With dinner over, Paul poured himself and Edgar a small brandy and the two of them retired to the terrace. It was a balmy summer’s evening; the air heavy with the scent of sweet peas and lavender, butterflies and bees flitting from bloom to bloom, the sun just beginning to set in a golden haze behind the tall trees that framed the garden. At the end of the long lawn, the elder children were playing with badminton rackets and a shuttlecock, shrieking with laughter as they tried to keep the shuttle in the air for as long as they could.
Looking around, taking all of this in as he packed his pipe, Edgar heaved a sigh of satisfaction. He loved evenings like this, when despite one’s troubles, simple acts of nature made the world seem like a joyous place to be. Striking a match against the small silver match-case that Evadne had bought him for his birthday, he lit his pipe and then turned his attention away from the garden and towards his friend. Talking of troubles…
“So, this leg of yours…”
Paul looked up from the rosebush that he was examining for greenfly and gave him a smile. “What about it?”
Edgar paused for a moment, taking a puff and exhaling before he replied. “Well…you do know it might not all be plain sailing, don’t you? It’s going to take some getting used to before you’re up and about properly.”
Paul turned his chair back towards the house and frowned. “Aren’t you just a regular mother’s comfort?”
“I’m just being realistic, Paul, that’s all.”
“Oh come off it, Edgar, it’s a leg. I’ve been walking most of my life, for goodness sake, and I manage just fine with the other one. How hard can it possibly be?”
Edgar opened his mouth to answer this, but deciding that he meant it to be a rhetorical question, Paul hastily cut him off.
“Now, how about I go and see to another tot to go with our coffee?” he asked, hastily downing what was left in his glass. “The girls’ll be out any minute and they’ll be chomping at the bit for their own. Same again?” and not waiting for Edgar’s reply, he picked up his friend’s empty tumbler and wheeled himself back towards the house.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Evadne was finishing the last of the drying up while Elsie filled the kettle for a pot of coffee. They had gone about their chores more or less in silence; Elsie not wanting to talk, embarrassed as she was about her earlier outburst, and Evvy not wanting to intrude on her friend’s train of thought.
Elsie lit the hob and put the kettle on to boil. Then, picking up the dishcloth, she began to wash down the sink, watching Evadne from the corner of her eye as she did so.
“Evvy, I’m sorry about earlier.”
Evadne looked up with a heartfelt smile. “You don’t need to apologise, Elsie. We’ve known each other long enough by now.”
They relapsed into silence, as Elsie stared down at the sink, swishing the cloth half-heartedly around the edges. “Life seemed so simple back then, didn’t it?” she said eventually. “When the most we had to worry about was another school turning up at the lake or a fluffy-headed matron who needed taking down a peg or two.”
Evadne nodded, not quite sure what to say, and Elsie threw the dishcloth down on the draining board and turned to face her.
“I just want him back the way he was, Evvy. You remember how he used to be?”
“He’s almost there.”
“I know, but if he doesn’t stop this stupid carry-on about his leg, he’s going to go right back down again.” Pulling out a chair, she sat down, indicating for Evvy to do the same. “You know,” she continued, once Evadne was seated, “I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but when I first met him, he was so cocksure that I really couldn’t abide him.”
Evadne looked surprised. “Really?”
“I know, can you believe it? Clare, his sister, was one of my friends at Royal Holloway, and she more-or-less dragged me along to this cocktail party one night. She had rather a crush on her brother's handsome best friend, as it happens, and was trying to impress him, even though he was already taken.” Elsie smiled. “You know that Edgar and Madeleine met when they were still at school, don’t you?”
“Yes, he’s told me before. They were married almost as soon as he left Oxford.”
Elsie nodded, more to herself than to her friend – she seemed to be in a dream world of her own, her voice distant as she continued. “Yes, that’s right. I suppose he never needed to worry about building up an income to support his future family so they just went ahead and did it. Anyway, we arrived at this party and Claire introduced me to her brother and then disappeared to find Edgar, leaving me alone with Paul. It was just awful, Evvy. I didn’t want to be there as it was, and then the only person I knew had run off and left me with the village idiot!” She laughed as she remembered. “He was the life and soul of the party, of course, charming everyone and making them laugh, but for some reason it didn’t work on me. He just seemed thoroughly over the top, as if he was trying to make himself out to be something he wasn’t. I thought he was a complete and utter fool, and I told him so too!”
Evadne grinned. “What did he say?”
“Nothing! Can you believe it? It just went in one ear and out of the other. I found out later that he liked me from the moment he saw me and he suddenly felt shy, which wasn’t exactly something he was used to. And he didn’t know what to do with that, so he became a larger than life version of himself. I didn’t know that at the time, of course. It just felt like complete and utter torture to me. In the end I left and went home. There didn’t seem to be anything else to do. It didn’t put him off though and he spent the next few days turning up everywhere I went. It only took him a week to wear me down and then that was it - I was smitten! Suddenly all those things that had annoyed me at the very beginning just made me love him all the more. I was so proud that he had chosen to be with me and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else ever again. I still can’t.” She paused for a moment, staring down at her hands and twisting her fingers together. “I can’t bear to see him broken again, Evvy.” Her voice cracked as she continued. “It’s just not him at all.”
Pushing back her chair, Evadne jumped to her feet and hurried around the table, putting her arms around her friend and giving her a hug. Elsie reached up and took hold of her hand, and Evadne squeezed it in return.
“You won’t lose him again, I promise.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because we won’t let it happen, that’s why.”
The kettle suddenly whistled, making them both jump, and pulling out of her friend’s embrace, Elsie got to her feet, her manner suddenly brisk and falsely-jolly. “Grab those coffee cups and take them out for me, will you?” she asked, pouring boiling water into the pot.
Evadne placed the cups and saucers on a gaily-painted tray, her eyes never leaving Elsie for a second as that lady bustled around the kitchen. Reaching out, she grabbed her friend’s arm as she passed, stopping her in her tracks.
“For what it’s worth, Elsie, he’ll always be that person. If he got through last year then it will never go away.” She looked Elsie straight in the eye, and Elsie dropped her gaze to look down at her feet. “You just need to chip away some of the other stuff sometimes, that’s all. And we’ll do all we can to help you do that.”
There was a long, heavy pause, and then Elsie reached out, collecting her friend in a hug. “Thank you.”
Evadne smiled as she returned the embrace. “Anytime. Now come on,” she said cheerily, as she pulled back, “let’s go join our husbands before they send out a search party. They’ll be chomping at the bit for their coffee by now!”
Later that night, Evadne perched on the edge of the bed next to her husband, a troubled look on her face. Edgar placed his book down on the nightstand and rested a hand on her knee.
“You alright there, darling?”
Evadne stared back at him, placing a hand over his. “Edgar, I think Elsie’s rather worried about Paul.”
Edgar frowned. “Yes, I know. And with good reason too.”
“Do you think it’s going to be awful?”
“I hope not.” He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I think he’s going to be in for a bit of a shock, though.”
Evadne looked a little sheepish. “I promised her we’d pull him through it. We will be able to, won’t we?”
Edgar smiled again and clasped her knee. “If I have any say in the matter we will. I’ll do everything I can, sweetheart, I promise you.”
“I know you will.” Leaning forward, she pecked him on the lips and then got to her feet to go and open the curtains, now that they were both changed for bed. “So I have a question…”
“What is it you do exactly?”
“Hah! I knew you didn’t know!” She stuck her tongue out at him and he gave a deep, rolling chuckle. “Do you really want me to tell you?”
“I just said so, didn’t I?”
“Okay.” Edgar spoke slowly, raising a doubtful eyebrow.
Evadne sat down on the vanity stool looking eager, however, so he launched into an explanation of what his job entailed. It took him precisely two minutes to realise that his doubt had been well-founded, as he watched her picking at a knot in her hair, her eyes glazing over as they nearly always did when he talked in any great detail about his work. Grinning, he began to add in some rather spurious details here and there, such as the three Jersey cows that he kept in a room off his office, the remote African tribe who had made him their king, and his twice-yearly visits to New Zealand to help out with the sheep-shearing.
Evadne nodded absently, picking up her hairbrush to try and get rid of the troublesome knot, and it was a few seconds before she realised that he had finished speaking. She sat up straight and tried to give the impression that she had been listening all along.
“So you got all that?”
Evadne nodded, as she rose to take off her robe. “Yes, now I know.”
Edgar smirked. “Jolly good.”
Catching his expression, his wife frowned. “What?”
“Nothing, darling.” He grinned at her and she shot him a suspicious look. Edgar patted the bed beside him “How about you turn out that light and come here.”
Doing as he suggested, she crawled up the bed until she was lying on her stomach beside him. “What are you grinning at?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does! Tell me!”
Edgar laughed as he stared into her eyes, lifting his hand to play with her curls.
“What? Edgar stop be-”
Before she could finish her sentence, he pulled her head down towards him and planted a kiss square on her lips. Pulling back again, he grinned up at her. “You were saying?”
Evadne narrowed her eyes for a second, and then returned his grin with a mischievous smile. “Never mind,” and lowering her head towards him, she covered his lips with her own.
To no-one’s great surprise, except perhaps his own, Paul did not find his new leg easy to get used to at all. As the days went by and he failed to take more than a couple of steps unaided, he became more and more frustrated and, of course, the more frustrated he got, the longer it was taking for him to make any progress. It was a vicious circle that he was finding it difficult to break.
In turn, he was taking his frustration out on the doctors at the hospital, on his family and friends and even on his new leg. He seemed to be in a permanent grump, his cheerful, friendly demeanour all but disappearing as he mooched around, snarling at anyone who crossed his path.
By the end of the second week, Evadne and Edgar made a decision that it would be best if Evvy went to Whitlingford, taking all the children, Lily and Tom included, with her. Elsie had protested at first, but was finally forced to admit that much as she wanted her friend around to support her, having less people under Paul’s feet might be a good idea.
It was now the evening before they were due to leave, and the two women were with the elder children in the sitting room, playing a game of Cheat. Paul and Edgar, were outside on the terrace, just the other side of the open patio windows, having a discussion, the tone of which was becoming increasingly heated.
Following a particularly difficult day at the hospital, Paul had been surly and uncommunicative all through dinner, snapping whenever anyone asked him a question. Finally reaching breaking point with his friend’s hair-trigger temper, Edgar was now trying to have it out with him while Evadne and Elsie did their best to distract everyone else – not a particularly difficult task, as Evadne was absolutely terrible at cheating, causing much hilarity all round.
As yet another failed attempt at lying about which cards she had put down saw her finally go out, she got to her feet and announced that she was going to make cocoa for all and sundry. She enlisted Thea, who was already out herself, to come and help her and the two of them made their way through to the kitchen. Paul and Edgar were still hammering it out, their voices becoming louder, and as she poured milk into a large saucepan, while Thea hunted for the cocoa powder, Evadne grimaced.
“Idiot men! I wish they’d keep their voices down – they’ll wake Henry and Milly if they’re not careful.”
“I think Uncle Paul’s really different.”
Thea’s comment caught Evadne by surprise, and she placed the mugs on the countertop and glanced over at her stepdaughter with a frown. “What makes you say that, Thea?”
“He never used to be so cross.” She handed the cocoa powder to her stepmother and then perched on the corner of the solid, pine table, drawing her feet up onto a chair and resting her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands. “Even when we were naughty he never really shouted at us, but now he shouts all the time. And he used to be so much fun and he’s not anymore. I don’t think I like him like this.”
Evadne placed the cocoa down on the counter and turned around to face her. “He’s not really different, sweetheart,” she replied slowly. “Frustration can do funny things to people. You remember how cross Marcia got when she broke her arm and couldn’t do all the things she wanted to?” Thea nodded. “Well, imagine what it’s been like for Uncle Paul since he lost his leg, not being able to walk properly anymore and having to miss out on things. He’s been so looking forward to getting his new leg, and now it’s proving so much harder than he thought it would to get going – he’s just finding it very hard to accept, that’s all.”
“But why does he have to shout at everyone? He was so horrid to Tom when he asked if we could go and play tennis, and Tom didn’t do anything wrong.”
“He doesn’t mean to horrible, Thea, but sometimes when things aren’t going right, you take it out on people you’re close to, even if you don’t mean to. We’ve all done it before, yourself included.”
Thea did not look entirely convinced, but before she could ask anymore questions, Edgar’s raised voice came floating through the window, informing Paul that he had no right to treat everyone as if it was all their fault. Paul replied in an equally heated tone, and Evadne grimaced as she spooned cocoa into the mugs and mixed in the hot milk.
“I reckon it’s a good a job we’re off to Whitlingford tomorrow. With all of us and Tom and Lily out of their hair, perhaps your Dad and Aunt Elsie can concentrate more on helping your Uncle Paul. Here,” She loaded a tray with all but two cups of the steaming hot drink and then passed the other two to Thea. “You take those two in and I’ll follow on behind with the tray.”
The background noise of the argument accompanied them on their way back to the sitting room, and as they entered, it seemed to be reaching fever pitch as Paul yelled, “I’m sick and tired of being told to do this and don’t do that. You and Elsie have been bleating on and on and on like a couple of squawking parrots! And most of all I’m sick to death of your bloody wife trying to run my home!”
“You leave Evvy out of this.”
Edgar sounded furious but Paul didn’t seem to care. “Why? She’s the one who’s been interfering in my family’s business!”
In stark contrast to the shouting going on outside, a stunned silence filled the room as they all turned to stare at Evadne. She smiled back at them, trying hard to pretend she hadn’t heard. “Here you are, everyone. Cocoa all round.”
“-swanning around like Lady Muck, always fussing, sticking her nose in where it’s not wanted-”
“So who won?”
“She thinks she knows everything-”
Evvy smiled a forced smile and looked around at their shocked, uncomfortable expressions. “Come on, surely someone must have won?”
Ned glanced at his brevet-aunt, as if trying to ask what to do. “Marcia did,” he replied slowly.
“Just because she henpecks you, it doesn’t mean she can come here and do the same thing to me!”
Evvy turned to Marcia. “Well done, you!”
“She’s trying to help you, you selfish bastard!”
“Well we don’t need her help! My household has run quite well up to now without her sodding interference-”
Everyone in the room was still staring at Evadne, and she swallowed hard, the forced smile still on her face. “I think I’ll just go and check that Henry and Milly are still asleep.”
Elsie got hurriedly to her feet. “Evvy-”
“You deal out another game,” Evvy replied quickly, cutting her friend off. “I’ll join in when I come back down,” and turning, she hurried from the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
She could still hear the screaming match as she made her way upstairs, peeking into Henry’s room and then checking on Milly, and finding them both still fast asleep. Gently shutting the door to the dressing room, doing her best not to wake her daughter, she sat down on the edge of the bed with a sigh and put her head in her hands. The next moment, the bedroom door flew open and Edgar stormed into the room. Without saying a word, he grabbed the remaining unpacked suitcase from the top of the wardrobe and threw it on the bed. His wife looked up and watched him, open-mouthed.
“What are you doing?”
“Packing.” He yanked open his top draw and pulled out a handful of underwear, tossing it any-old-how into the case. “”I’m coming with you tomorrow and we’re leaving Tom and Lily here.”
“No you’re not!”
“Yes I am! I’m not staying here to listen to that sod talk about my family the way he just did.”
“Edgar, don’t be so stupid…”
“You wouldn’t think me so stupid if you’d heard what he just said!”
“I did hear what he just said!”
Edgar stopped in his tracks, midway through folding a sweater, and stared at his wife.
“We all heard what he said,” Evvy continued in a quieter voice. “It was hard not to, the way you were carrying on.”
Edgar’s eyes filled with concern. “Oh god, Evvy, I’m sorry.”
“I’m fine, it’s okay.”
“I didn’t think-”
“I said I’m fine, Edgar!”
Her tone was harsher than she meant it to be, and there was silence for a moment as they stared at each other. Then Edgar continued throwing things into his case. “Well then, you know why I’m leaving as well!”
“Actually, no, I don’t!”
“Now who’s being stupid?”
“I‘m not-” At that moment, Milly began crying, finally woken by the disturbance. Evadne got up from the bed with a furious sigh and headed into the dressing room. “Now look what you’ve done!”
“Don’t start blaming me… What now?” Edgar asked furiously as there was a tap at the door. It opened tentatively and Elsie’s ashen face appeared. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Is Evvy okay?”
“She’s in there with Milly.” Edgar waved his had towards the dressing room door as he pulled a shirt from the wardrobe.
Elsie entered the room, closing the door behind her, but instead of going through to find Evadne, she perched on the edge of a large, squishy armchair in the far corner. “Edgar, please don’t go tomorrow.” Her voice shook as she spoke and her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Paul didn’t mean it, not really.”
“Yes he did, Elsie, and you know it.”
“He’s in a state, you know that.”
“That’s no excuse for what he just said!”
“I know, but he needs you here. And he’s sorry, you know he is. He’s just not thinking straight. Please don’t go.”
Edgar continued throwing his shirts and trousers into his suitcase. “Look, I know you think I’m letting you down but I’m not having that ungrateful bastard lay into my family as he just did. I’m leaving tomorrow with Evvy and that’s the end of it. I’m not having him think he can talk that way about my wife.”
“Sorry, Elsie, that’s my final word on the subject.”
Elsie stared at his back for a moment, as he turned back to the wardrobe, and then as her eyes welled up, she hurried out of the room.
“Sometimes you can be an utter ass, do you know that?”
Edgar turned to see Evadne standing at the dressing room door, Milly in her arms. “I beg your pardon?”
She shoved Milly at him with a, “Here, you look after her. You woke her up.” Then, walking around the bed, she took the top shirt out of his suitcase and placed it back on a hanger. “You’re staying here and that’s final.”
“But…” Reaching out his spare hand, he clasped it over hers, stopping her from picking up anything else in the case.
“But nothing.” Evadne yanked her hand out of his grasp. “You can go if you like, but if you do then me and the kids are staying instead. End of argument”
“I thought you heard what he said about you?”
“I did, but you know what? I don’t care! I’m big enough and ugly enough to let it wash over me and I know he didn’t mean it, not really. And who knows, maybe he’s right, maybe I have interfered…”
“That’s hardly the point, Evvy.” She raised her eyebrows and he shook his head impatiently. “Oh, that’s not what I meant and you know it.”
She looked down at him for a moment, and then took a seat beside him on the bed. “Edgar, you’re not going anywhere because Elsie needs you to be here,” she began, lowering her voice so as not to disturb her daughter again, as despite the noise, the little girl was dropping back off to sleep.
“You can’t tell me what to do!”
“No, I can’t, but if you’re the person I thought I married then you’ll damn well get there yourself! You once told me about everything Paul did for you when Madeleine died, despite the way you treated him, so you know what, mister? Time to repay the favour.”
“It’s not the same thing, Evvy.”
“Maybe not, but it’s not far off.”
“It’s miles off, and you know why? Because no matter what I said and did back then, I have never and would never speak about Elsie in the way that he spoke about you tonight.”
Evadne simply stared back at him. She had exhausted all the arguments that she had thought of when making her way back up the stairs and she had no idea what else to say. Anyway, she wasn’t sure in her heart of hearts that she was really feeling all that charitable towards Paul. She just wanted to help Elsie.
Edgar watched her as she looked at him, studying her face, his lips drawn into a straight line. Then he got to his feet. “I’m going for a walk,” he announced flatly, his voice devoid of any emotion, and handing Milly over to his wife, he marched out of the room.
By the time he returned, some two hours later, the cottage was in darkness. Feeling his way down the dark hallway towards the staircase, he tripped over the umbrella stand and stopped, listening guiltily, hoping he hadn’t woken anyone up. When nobody emerged, he carefully set the stand upright again and continued tiptoeing down the corridor. He had just reached the bottom of the stairs when he heard a voice from the sitting room hiss, “Dad, is that you?”
Pushing back the door, he switched on the light and saw Ned sitting up on the sofa, blinking and bleary-eyed. “What are you doing down here?” Edgar asked, taking in his son’s sheets and pyjamas.
“Auntie Elsie was going to sleep on the sofa, so I said she could have my bed. She had a row with Uncle Paul,” he added, pre-empting the question on his father’s lips.
“Is everyone else in bed?”
“Almost everyone. Evvy’s on the terrace.”
Edgar frowned as he looked towards the patio doors. “What’s she doing out there?”
“She said she needed some space to think. Dad, do you think she’s upset? About what Uncle Paul said, I mean? She said she wasn’t but I’m not so sure.”
Heaving a sigh, Edgar sat down on the arm of a nearby chair. “Yes, I do. She’ll never admit it to you, though, that’s for sure.” He smiled at his son. “We parents like to pretend we’re tough as old boots in front of our children. You’ll learn that when you have some of your own one day.”
“Not for a long time, I hope!”
“Well that makes two of us! Plenty of time for all that in the future!” Edgar feigned a stern expression and then winked as he got to his feet. “Now then, you get back to sleep. You’ve Evvy’s driving to cope with in the morning, remember? You’ll need all your wits about you!”
Chuckling at the expression on his son’s face, he turned off the light and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
He found his wife sitting in one of the large wooden chairs under the pergola, her knees curled up to her chest as she stared down the garden into the darkness. She glanced up as she heard her husband approaching and, in the light from the moon, Edgar could see tears glistening on her cheekbones, which she hastened to wipe away.
Pulling up a chair, Edgar sat down next to her. “I knew you were telling fibs when you said you were fine.” Evadne looked up at him, her head resting on her knees, and he swept his eyes across her shadowed face. “I see Ned’s on the sofa.”
Evvy nodded. “He found out Elsie was going to sleep there and insisted she have his bed instead. It was all his own idea too, Edgar. He’s such a good lad.”
“Yes. Yes, he is.”
“So how was your walk?”
“Very dark.” She gave a slight chuckle at his words, and he returned it with a smile. “It gave me time to think though. You were right, I have to stay, at least for a while.”
“I’m glad. They need you here, Edgar.”
“I know.” Edgar heaved a huge sigh and sat back in his chair. “I know.”
They lapsed into silence, both staring out at the darkness, lost in their thoughts. Eventually, Evadne turned her gaze back to her husband’s face.
“Edgar, can I ask you something?”
Tearing his eyes away from the night sky, he looked down and gave her a smile. “You may indeed.”
“Do I…” She paused and took a deep breath, her throat catching slightly as she did so. “Do you feel like I nag you all the time?”
“No, of course not! Evvy, you don’t nag me at all - at least, not when I don’t deserve it, anyway! Please don’t go listening to Paul, sweetheart, he’s talking absolute nonsense.”
“But you would tell me if I did, wouldn’t you?”
“In a heartbeat.” His warm green eyes were soft with concern. “But you don’t, darling, I promise you.”
Evadne stared up at him, unshed tears glistening in her eyes once again. Then, nodding slowly, she reached up a hand and cupped the side of his face. “You look exhausted.”
Edgar watched her for a moment and then turned his head, planting a kiss on her palm. “Come on. You’ve a long drive ahead of you tomorrow. Let’s go to bed.”
Taking hold of her hand, he pulled her to her feet and then placing an arm firmly around her shoulders, he dropped a kiss on her curls and steered her towards the house.