“Well, it's nice to meet you too,” grumbled Matey, from where she was sat in her rocking chair under the window, watching the distant peaks that seemed to crowd around in a protective fashion, as if over them there was nothing but a blankness, they were the end of the world. It was certainly a breathtaking sight at this time of day. “I heard you arrive – thought it probably wasn't worth disturbing you until dinner.”
Her still beady eyes stopped, and she looked them all over again, cowing even Ashley, who had been on the verge of demanding to know who this strange old lady in her grandparents' house was. Even Hilda had rushed to the scene at Poppy's cry, and she was the first to regain herself enough to step forwards.
“Good afternoon,” she said, in the sort of cultured voice that could imply anything she wanted about the person to whom she was speaking. “Who, may I ask, are you?”
“This is Matey,” beamed Charles, having sufficiently recovered himself. The look she sent him was one that made him regress right back to age ten, when she'd caught him illicitly destroying one of Len's old dolls, and he made haste to correct himself. “Gwynneth Lloyd, former Matron of the Chalet School next door, and still Matey to anyone who knew her then. Sorry for the intrusion, dad did warn me that you'd be here but I'd completely forgotten!”
“We were just going for a walk,” exclaimed Charlie brightly, before Matey could make known her views on people who forgot about her. “Not very far, only ten minutes to clear the cobwebs. Care to join us?”
Most of her children looked at her as if she was completely mad to think that Matey could walk downstairs, let alone go on an, albeit short, ramble. Old as she was, she resembled nothing more than a stern robin as she sat in her chair, grey hair pulled neatly back into a bun and eyes glinting dangerously. Only Millie remembered her enough to realise that her mother was not merely being polite, and she waited with bated breath to see what Matey's response would be.
Silently, she stood up, with the help of the walking stick at her side, and then presumed to take Hilda's arm, so that she was thoroughly supported and could amble along quite nicely. What her human walking stick thought of being treated in so breezy a manner was unclear, but before she could raise any objection Charles, with a stifled laugh, ordered the children out of the way and downstairs to get their coats post haste.
Even as the rest got ready to go, they could hear Matey grilling Hilda on what exactly she did for a living, and then emphasising her certainty that she'd seen her in some newspaper or magazine before. But then, she recalled, she could remember the excitement Joey generated on the Platz the first time she'd spotted Charles on the front cover of one of the newspapers, in the background of the picture admittedly but there all the same.
“Ready to go?” called Charlie, after what seemed an age, and Hilda escaped thankfully with the excuse that she needed to find a cardigan to put on; as warm as the day had been, up here there was a light breeze that, with the sun setting for the evening, left it decidedly on the chilly side.
While they waited, Charles sent Poppy in to apologise to Matey for disturbing her earlier. He had completely forgotten that she would be at Freudesheim, though he'd remembered Jack warning him to stay out of the side suite of rooms if he knew what was good for him, and his shock had been as great as anyone else's, not least because she looked exactly the same as she had last time he saw her, albeit older now. Her presence could be a blessing in disguise, however, because if there was one person who could keep his family in check, he would have entrusted Matey to do it.
By the time they set off, it was almost time to turn around again, if they wanted dinner at a reasonable hour before Poppy went to bed, but the light jaunt did them all good. As they walked, Charles told them a story conjured up from his childhood about the time that Mike had climbed the large tree they passed and not been missed for five hours, during which he'd managed to drop tiny pine cones on the head of more than one passing person unnoticed. It was, he found, easier to talk about bygone days now that they were back.
Soon enough they were back at the house, and plaguing Millie and Charlie to know what they would be fed, all looking much better. Even Matey had gained some colour in her cheeks, and she demanded to be left alone in the dining room until the meal was ready - “Though Ashley can join me by laying the table,” she decided with a great finality that even that young lady obeyed. With this sorted, Will offered to take care of Stacia and Poppy by finishing the story that they'd missed the end of while they were driving, and the family dispersed for a quiet evening in.