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!”