|"You're NOT funny, Chas!"|
The entire Mob, with, of course, the exception of Chas, voiced this complaint in clear, bell-like tones. The ferry was boring them all senseless.
Jack turned to his wife as his second son let out yet another farting noise, holding his hands to his mouth and blowing hard.
"Oh, I can't wait to introduce this rabble to my brothers."
Jo squeezed his hand. "I know." Then, she sat up with a jolt. "I'll tell you who you should really be worried about."
"Your rowdy, undignified wife!"
Jack kissed her. "You're not THAT bad, darling. Just a little...playful sometimes."
"You weren't going to say that. What were you going to say?"
"Childish." he admitted.
Jack put his arms round her, then drew her close and kissed her properly.
"Eeeeeww!" went everyone under the age of ten. The older ones joined in.
"Shush, now, everyone's staring." said Jo in the gentle tone she always adopted when speaking to the small fry, breaking away from Jack but remaining in his embrace.
They dried up obediently, but Margot did point out that they were probably staring at the parents.
Jo ignored her and went back to kissing Jack, completely at ease in the knowledge that their children were used to their random embraces.
It seemed to have taken years to get everything packed, all the cases, the forgotten articles, mostly stuffed toys which their various sons and daughters simply could not sleep without.
Then, there had been the exhausting journeys over Austria, through Switzerland, then France, to Cherbourg where they had boarded a ferry and here they were. Their train from Basle to Cherbourg had been a sleeper, but they still had not had enough rest, especially as the Mob had spent the night calling to one another across their bunks.
"Oh, look, you lot!" said Joey now as the first light crept over the horizon, bringing with it a fiery sun and beautiful amber-coloured rays stretching out over the sky, banishing the navy blue.
"If Josette were here, she would want to take a photo." said Eu admiringly.
"Can't take photos of sunrises, they don't come out." said Felicity from her comfortable perch on the back of a bench.
Jo just flashed the two a grin over her shoulder, then went back to gazing out of the window with her chin on her husband's shoulder.
Just then, a loudspeaker crackled into life and startled the Fifth Triplets, who had been playing Snap directly under it.
"We are now approaching Dover. Please prepare to disembark. Thank you for sailing with us. Goodbye."
Jo and Jack started gathering cases, aided and abetted by their older children.
"Come on now, my dears, time to go." said Jo, as she handed round the cases. She and Jack had ordained at the beginning of the journey that they were all to be responsible for their own cases and outdoor garments, even the really little ones. This gave them a sense of responsibility and encouraged them to be independent.
They got off the ferry and caught a bus to the train station. They had a couple of hour's ride before reaching the New Forest, and their destination.
As Con giggled as they boarded the train, most people seemed to think that they were running some sort of youth club or something. Jo looked a little uncomfortable at this, as she did at any reference to their abnormally large family. Seeing this, Jack drew their attention to other things by answering all their questions. However, when asked what their uncles and aunt would be like, he shook his head.
"Can't say. Haven't seen them in decades. However, in his letter, Jim warned me that you might want to keep a sharp eye out for your Aunt Lydia, she doesn't like children much."
"Why not?" asked Prim from her father's lap.
"Because...you had a cousin. He...he wasn't nearly as well-behaved as you lot. He...well...one day, he had an accident."
"Why would that make her hate children?" piped up Prissy, another of the Fifth Triplets. "We've all had lots of accidents, but Mamma doesn't hate us."
Jack sighed. All the older children put their heads in their hands - they had understood and they could tell that their father did not want to put it any more explicitly.
Jack silently cursed himself for loose wording. Of course - to the small fry, 'having an accident' meant going to the toilet on the floor.
"I didn't mean that sort of accident. One day, years ago-" he concentrated hard "oh, Lordy, Joey was just out of school," Jo blushed. "he was eleven, but he went to look for lost tennis balls in the grass, apparently, he'd been promised sixpence for every one he found-"
"We'd have done that for free." interrupted Len disapprovingly.
"Anyway, he spotted the garage door, he was bored, he'd broken his bike, he spotted the garage door, he wasn't meant to go in there, you see, but he went in regardless, and he found the car, a very big and heavy one, and he got in and pretended to drive it. Then, he found his bike and tried to fix it, but all his pulling of levers and pushing of buttons had loosened the brakes, and the car rolled forwards and trapped him between the workbench and the front of the car. He was crushed to death, and ever since, Lydia has always felt that no child has the right to live when Rolf is dead."
There was a stunned silence in the compartment when he had finished. Even Jo, who had known the story for years, felt her eyes stinging. Her arms tightened around the basket on her knee, in which lay her one-month-old adopted daughter, Letty.
"I don't want you to mention this to Lydia." Jack broke the silence. "I also don't want that story to marr our visit. Just be nice to her."
He smiled around at the stupefied faces. He trusted them, they did not need to go through the whole 'best behaviour' saga.
They finally got off the train, and took one more bus to the correct district. In the morning sunshine, they walked towards the house which Jack pointed out as being It.
The Mob were ecstatic. They were companionable people and loved the thought of meeting three new uncles and an aunt. Jack was happy to be back. Jo was feeling awkward. It was going to be pretty much that being introduced as Jack's wife and the mother of his children, rather than as a pupil of Miss Maynard's.
As they approached, they caught sight of a figure leaning against the doorway. The Mob recognised him from photos. Jo recognised him from previous visits. And I don't need to explain why Jack recognised him. The man had sandy-coloured hair and blue eyes that were familiar to all the Maynards: Jack too had inherited them. There was enough resemblance between the two men to pronounce them as brothers. It was the youngest brother, Joe.
Jack gave his wife's hand an encouraging squeeze as Joe straightened up.
"Jack, old man! Good to see you again! And this is your family?"
This was it!