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.