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Author's Chapter Notes:


By the time that they'd got both him and everyone else down safely, Millie had joined them and was doing her best to get a story out of Poppy, who was cuddled more firmly than ever into Sphinx and looked like staying that way for a long time. She didn't, however, have much choice in the matter; as soon as she was assured that the rest of her brood was on terra firma and likely to stay there for the immediate future, Charlie turned her attention to her youngest, wrestling her firmly from Sphinx's arms.

“Come on,” she said cheerfully, setting her down and holding her hand to help keep her steady while she walked. “We'll get you all back and tidy you up. What you two -” she turned to Ashley and Stacia “-were doing, I don't suppose you'll ever tell us, but you certainly need a change of clothes, if nothing else. As for you, Poppy, we'll bathe your cheek and I suppose we'll have to cut your hair to even it out a bit as well. You can't go around looking like that!”

Seeing that Poppy was about to set up another wail, Sphinx decided that his role was to say something reassuring. He got the distinct impression that he'd made a fan that morning, and if he could help it might look good if he did. The family as a whole didn't seem to have received them all that well so far, but they clearly all adored Poppy. Before John could even open his mouth to say what he had planned to, Sphinx therefore declared,

“I think that you'll look much better with shorter hair, and think how much cooler you'll be in this heat.”

In truth, young children were not his strong point, and he wasn't sure that he'd said the right thing at all, but it seemed to calm Poppy down, as she stared up at him, just a hint of shyness about her. John glared at his rival, then turned pointedly to Millie, who had joined them at this point. She was usually able to be politer than her brother, at least, but on this occasion she was still smarting about having to be caught by Sphinx, and she gladly took the opportunity to talk loudly to him about a school project that she'd been helping him with. 

Phoebe rolled her eyes at her older brother, careful that nobody else saw. Already she could tell that her mother had decided this was going to be a jolly good holiday with another family, it wouldn't do to cause trouble; and, as well as the adults, the younger children seemed to be getting on well. Ashley and Stacia had run on ahead with Ricky to show him around the house, and the old nursery where their father had grown up and which was a veritable trove of old toys, including a rocking horse.

“What are we planning to do today?” asked Charlie, as the rest trooped in. Only Hilda was not in some way dishevelled, her appearance somehow maintaining its usual meticulousness, despite her recent fall. She was also the first to answer.

“I need to stay in and make a few important phone calls, but I'm sure that I shall see you all this evening.”

“How about the Auberge?” suggested Charles at this point. He and David had tried to stay back when the children had been in trouble, a muttered conversation about politics having sufficiently entertained them to this point. “Millie might remember the secret, but the rest of our brood won't – have you ever seen it?”

“Not us,” said Augusta, to whom he had turned, cheerfully. “Well, I might have done, but I don't remember if so, and the rest certainly won't have done. Is it far? We're used to scrambling and all that, but it strikes me that we've had enough excitement so far, without risking any more.”

“Oh, no, quite easy,” promised Charles, as Charlie excused herself to take Poppy and Randa upstairs to one of the numerous bathrooms and tidy them both up. “We could take lunch and have a picnic there, then meander back for afternoon tea in the garden, if you will. This is the first day we haven't been travelling, so we were just going to take it easy.”

After some more discussion, Augusta decided that they would need to go back and make their own lunch, and that they could meet again outside the gate to Freudesheim in an hour, ready for the trip. Ricky and Randa were to stay behind, as they seemed quite content to play with the younger fry, but the rest quickly decided that they would need to change before they went anywhere, and had best accompany their parents home.

Seeing that the rest of his family had disappeared – Will with his book, and Millie and John into the sitting room, still talking amongst themselves – Charles was left to the honours of saying farewell, and shut the door behind them with a sigh of thankfulness. They seemed like nice enough folk, but he rather got the impression that his holiday would be far from peaceful while they were around.

Setting the problem to one side for the present, he ran up the stairs to tell Charlie what was happening, and then went to sort out the picnic, calling Millie to help him. At the same time, he tried to have a quiet talk with her about not excluding the visitors but letting them know that they were welcome in the house.

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