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Author's Chapter Notes:


“Ladies first,” said Rix with a grin that somehow thawed a small part of a heart as hard even as Hilda's. Nevertheless, her glare never abated and she frostily turned her head from him to look at Augusta and David, intending to give her thanks in the most begrudging of tones. What actually came out as she opened her mouth, however, was something completely different. From upstairs, a window had opened unnoticed and, with her usual sense of timing, the person looking down interposed. Just as Hilda sucked her breath in, she suddenly seemed to announce,

“What on earth is going on down there? You're all worse than a bunch of Middles trying to organise a midnight feast. Honestly.”

Only Charles spared Matey a grinning look, having seen the humour in the whole situation now that he was reassured that neither his cousin nor his colleague were injured more seriously than a few bruises. The rest focused solely on Hilda, waiting to hear how an accident of such bizarre circumstances could have happened with both Charlie and Augusta in the house, with neither of them being involved.

“It was him,” she snapped. When it became apparent that this was all she would venture, Augusta muttered something about that really clearing things up, forgetting completely that she was a guest in the house. Even Sphinx had managed to look vaguely interested, in between glancing across at Millie just to see if she was looking at him.

“It was me, I'm afraid,” said Rix rather gallantly, brushing some grass from the kneecaps of his cream trousers and grimacing when this only made the stain worse. “I'm just back from night shift and not exactly awake, sorry. When I saw Hilda and didn't recognise her – Uncle Jack just said that you would be coming, not anyone else – I demanded to know exactly who she was.”

“Thought I was a burglar, no doubt,” snorted Hilda at this juncture, pointedly ignoring the choking cough that Charles almost managed to cover up his laughter with.

“Anyway,” Rix hastily continued, “I fear that I made her jump and, er, hadn't realised quite how close to the window she was. Apologies and all that, won't happen again now that I know you, promise.”

That seemed to be an end to the matter. Satisfied that the only treatment needed now was for Rix to go to bed and recover from the twelve hour shift including a major operation he'd just pulled – and certainly won him a lot of ground in Hilda's eyes when she heard of it – the adults prepared to move back into the house and plan the day's events. Keenly, Millie tagged on to them, pleased to be free of the unwanted house guests, though Sphinx was worryingly quick to follow.

Before they had even reached the front door, however, they were pulled up by a distant scream from the tree house, which had John sprinting away from them in a second. It was easily recognisable as Poppy, and whatever could have happened it sounded bad. With one accord, the adults followed his lead, Millie and Sphinx bringing up the rear.

Upon reaching the tree house, they were met by the sight of Poppy and Randa apparently wrestling mid way up the few flimsy wooden boards nailed to the trunk which served as a staircase to the den. They stopped short, and assessed the situation, Ashley and Stacia watching eagerly from above while Ricky hopped around impatiently below.

“I've got my foot caught in her hair,” explained Randa, when she caught sight of her mother below. Glancing down had made her dizzy, and she was pleased to look back up again.

“Well disentangle it, then,” shouted Augusta helpfully, even as John began to scale up to see if he could help solve the situation at all. Poppy was sporting an already rising bruise on one cheek from where she had been kicked as they both realised what had happened and started to wriggle, and Randa thought she might have twisted her ankle in her contortions, though she was plucky enough to hold her tongue on the matter for the present, somewhat scared of how Charles and Charlie were going to react to her carelessness.

The only people not present were Millie and Sphinx, though their absence had gone largely unnoticed. In running across the grass, Millie had tripped and would have gone headlong but for a steadying arm around her waist. She looked up only to freeze as she realised who it was holding her, and just as John started to scale the tree, she began to tell her would-be knight exactly what she thought of him.

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