Having not reached the chalet until nearly midnight, the only one who was up at a reasonable hour was Sphinx, who seemed able to survive on less sleep than the rest of the human race. They finished breakfast at around eleven and Augusta announced her intention of paying a surprise visit to her old friend.
“Are you people coming or have you got other plans?” she asked.
“I’m coming,” said Constance Rose. “I always feel I have a – a special connection with the Maynard family.”
“Really?” said Phoebe, looking interested. “Mum, you never told any of the rest of us that they worshipped the Egyptian gods. Do they follow the great wild cow too, or do they prefer some of the others?”
“I mean because of my name,” said Constance Rose, pouting.
“Oh, I see.” Phoebe gave her sister a grin, which that young lady ignored with the dignity she felt was due to her sixteen years. “I’ll come, Mum. We ought to try to get to know the locals or we’ll be bored out of our skulls. Except for Sphinx, of course, who has his Important Work to do.”
“I don’t mind coming to see your friends, Mum,” said Sphinx loftily. “Anyway, Granddad’s notes are all at the bottom of my suitcase and I haven’t unpacked yet. And I expect Amy’ll come, too.”
“Good,” said Augusta, rising and beginning to clear the breakfast table. “That’s all of us then.”
“I’m not coming,” said David.
“Yes you are,” said Augusta. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you wear anything respectable. They won’t care, anyway.”
It took her a few minutes, but by the time the table had been cleared David had reluctantly agreed to pay a call, slightly placated by the fact that he would not be prised out of his elderly, scruffy slacks and shirt, which were his favoured attire at all times.
Augusta had an excellent sense of direction, some of the time, and despite the fact that it was more than twenty years since she had last been on the Platz she had no difficulty in finding her way to Freudesheim.
“The Chalet School is just down that avenue,” she said, pointing. “Shame it’s the summer – it would have been fun to see how it’s changed. And this is Freudesheim.” She looked around with interest. The garden wasn’t quite so well-kept as it had been when she had last been here, and she rather thought the house was larger.
“Whose is the camper-van?” said Sphinx as they came up to the front door.
“No idea,” said Augusta. “They certainly didn’t have one last time I was here. Mind you,” she added, “I wouldn’t put it past Joey to take it into her head to travel the world in a camper-van, even at her age.”
“Are you sure you aren’t thinking of yourself?” said Amy, eying her sceptically. Augusta ignored this and beat a tattoo on the door knocker. They waited for a few minutes. Augusta performed another percussion solo on the knocker. This time, there was a pause, then a faint yelling from inside the house. A moment later the door opened and they saw a good-looking, middle-aged woman wearing a stylish pale blue suit, who looked out at them enquiringly.
“Oh, hallo,” said Augusta, recovering her equilibrium, which had been slightly shaken by this apparition who resembled no-one she could imagine being either a resident or an employee at Freudesheim. “I’m so sorry, but I’ve no idea who you are. We’re old friends of the Maynards and just dropped in to see how they were doing.”
“I see,” said the woman, allowing herself to smile. “Evidently the news of their arrival has spread fast! Do come in, I’m afraid the house isn’t quite –” She paused, apparently unable to find a word that would describe the present state of the house.
“That’s all right,” said Augusta, following her in and looking round with interest. “Ours never is. I think it’s having so many children that does it.”
“Everyone’s upstairs,” the woman explained, leading them there. “There seems to be a lot to do and we’re all working hard. Chas – you’ve got visitors.”
Augusta stopped on the threshold, suddenly bewildered and wondering whether she had stepped into a parallel universe. For these, though presumably Maynards, were not the Maynards she had been expecting to see.
A tall, dark man rose from where he had been kneeling on the floor and came towards them, his hand extended.
“Good morning,” he said with a polite smile. “I’m afraid you find us in a bit of confusion. We’ve only just arrived, you see. How can I help you?”
Augusta shook his hand firmly and studied his face.
“You’re a Maynard, aren’t you?” she said. “Charles, at a guess?”
“Yes – but how did you know?”
“We have met before, though I don’t suppose you remember. It was well over twenty years ago. My name’s Augusta Emerson.”
“The name rings a bell,” he said slowly. “Sorry, I don’t really remember. Still, come in and sit down – if you can find anywhere safe. This is my family, or some of it, at any rate. My wife, Charlie.” He indicated a slender woman with a mass of curls loosely tied back from her face, who gave them a friendly smile. “This is Millie, our eldest, and John, who comes next, and this young person is our youngest, Poppy. We’ve got three others, but you’ll meet them later.”
“How nice to meet you all,” said Augusta. “These are my youngest, Ricky and Miranda. They aren’t twins, though they look it at the moment. The oldest two are, though – Sphinx and Amy.”
“Sphinx?” echoed Poppy, staring at him, though Sphinx, who was looking at Millie, didn’t seem to notice. Augusta grinned down at her.
“I’m afraid our family has rather a lot of nicknames. Sphinx’s grandfather was called Ramses. We call Sphinx that because he’s not a chatterbox like the rest of us – he’s really Oswald Radcliffe, after my father and David’s grandfather. And Amy’s real name is Amelia. Anyhow, the other two are Phoebe and Connie. Sorry, Constance Rose. Oh, and my husband David, of course. Our other twins, Lottie and John, aren’t here.”
“Why don’t you all come downstairs and I’ll make us a coffee and see if I can find something to eat,” said Charlie. She led them back down, leaving Charles and his offspring to go on with their tasks. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Charlie turned to Augusta, a suddenly serious look on her face.
“Were you calling to see Jack and Joey?” she asked.
“Well, yes,” Augusta admitted. “I take it they aren’t here at the moment.”
“I’m afraid not,” said Charlie. “You see, Joey died a couple of months ago.”
Author's Chapter Notes: