Upstairs was agog with the news of the new arrivals. Although they were a man down, Will having already decided that the mountains were too good to miss and he would be back by lunch once he'd written a few things down, they were getting through the jobs fast, and it shouldn't be long, Charles promised, before they were free to go out exploring properly. He doubted that he would be joining them, before lunch at any rate, as he wanted to start going through the study and ring Jack to make sure of what he was wanted to do.
After Joey's death, the family had been plunged into something of a depression, but Jack most of all. Although he didn't know it, Jem had been getting David to send him weekly reports of how his uncle was doing; as Jack felt more and more keenly the grief and loss of Joey in his life, he spiralled into a depression so bad that in the end Madge and Jem had insisted that he come and stay with them until he felt better. Charles had volunteered to come to Freudesheim to sort out all the loose ends of the business and work on dividing up all the small gifts that Joey had left in her will to various people.
Knowing how sensitive the subject was for her father – she still remembered the night that she'd wandered down in her dressing gown to get a glass of water and ended up falling asleep on the sofa next to him, because he'd been crying so hard that she just had to hug him – Millie moved conversation swiftly on before Poppy the curious could ask what exactly he would do in the study.
“What do you think of the new arrivals?” she demanded. “Who are they?”
“If I remember rightly,” said Charles, “though I'm not entirely sure that I do, Mrs Emerson was an old girl of the school, she used to feature in one of those tales that mum always told about the old days. I couldn't tell you anymore than that, though – but she seems to have arrived en masse, so no doubt we'll find out soon enough!”
“Sphinx seemed nice,” said Poppy at that point, her head tipped to one side consideringly. “He has an odd name, but he looked like Will's hero. Perhaps we should show them the holiday diary,” she added, in a sudden fit of inspiration. “Then they'd know who we all were and things.”
The diary in question was a small book, kept by Millie for each holiday. This year it was black, with a red stripe down one side, and in time honoured tradition they had all come to write their name and age on the front cover. So far she had only got as far as giving it a title – 'Fish Swim But Don't Laugh', after the conclusive line of one of Will's stories which was popular with the younger fry at the present – and writing up the start of their journey as they drove through Germany. She had a sneaking suspicion, however, that Will would have misappropriated it when he went out walking, to write the next update; with the time for her to leave home starting to dawn over the horizon, it was being passed more and more onto him to keep tradition alive.
“I'm sure that they won't want to be bothered with such nonsense,” she said quickly, blushing despite herself. She, too, had noticed Sphinx's not unattractive looks, and she decided there and then that if this odd family were to be involved in even the smallest way in their holiday, he would not think of her as childish enough to keep a diary. After all, she was the mother hen of the brood and she intended to stay that way!
Luckily, before she could work herself up any further about how he would clearly come and try and take over, when it was her job to look after the little ones, John inserted the question that they were all dying to know the answer to – just why they'd had such an oddball family landed on them anyway.
“I don't know,” protested Charles, when they turned to him for an answer. “Probably your Nana acting from beyond the grave to send them all to us and provide some adventure – she never could resist a bit of excitement. Or meddling in other folk's business for that matter. Now, I have to go to the study; why don't you go and try and find Ashley and Stacia and offer to take our guests out for a quick walk around the grounds?”
Millie declined, saying that she had to sort out her own unpacking, but John slipped his hand through Poppy's and induced her to join him in luring Ashley away from tormenting Hilda with a plague of questions about her job, and then gathering Stacia from where she had hidden herself away in a corner with a book in the hopes that she'd be overlooked for any work.
They, when approached, were as mystified as the rest by the arrival of the new family, but were decided that they must get to know them better before they could decide. Blithely ignoring John's uneasiness - he, like Millie, wasn't exactly comfortable with what he had seen of them all, though he shook himself mentally with an admonition not to be so judgemental – they ran down to the kitchen and burst in on the party, to invite them on a walk around the grounds.