“You're all mad as badgers,” declared David, sitting down rather heavily on the bench. “I get dragged away from Egypt, where we could make some fascinating finds, to come to a deserted ski resort in the middle of summer, so that you can see someone you remember from years ago who turns out to be dead. Now you tell me that alcohol has to be kept a secret up here! Is there anything to bloody do?”
“Language,” said Augusta mildly. She turned to the two herdsmen with rather more enthusiasm and asked, “Have you got any drugs at the moment?”
“Sadly not,” wheezed Piper, cackling again. “Not long back one of the bigger gangs came to hear about us – some girl called Mary-Lou, or something ridiculous, got reminiscing about her school days to the wrong people – and moved in. They're too far up the chain, so all we've got now is the alcohol.”
While they were talking, Charlie had wandered over to the edge of the Auberge, her eyes dimmed slightly. The sudden reminder of her younger days had brought back to her a lot of memories, of the fun that they used to have, and the struggle when Millie was born. Her mother had been furious, and Charles wasn't best pleased either, though he'd been overjoyed once the baby was born. There had been days when she felt like the only one holding it all together, and a lot of her youth had been lost in such a short time.
She was startled out of her reverie by a hand on her arm, and she turned to see Millie stood next to her. It was hard to believe how fast time had gone, when it seemed like only yesterday that she would be cuddling her baby to her breast and murmuring all her problems to the sleeping form that only puckered its lips and clenched its fist a little more tightly.
“Did nana never really guess the secret of the Auberge?” asked her daughter, watching the panorama as well, neither of the two looking at each other.
“Oh, I'm sure that she did really,” laughed Charlie. “She always played that role for the rest of the family, though – granddad would have had a fit if he thought that she'd found out. Certainly everybody else did. And more than once I was sure that there was a twinkle in her eye when she started saying about how Charles always wanted to visit the Auberge before we left and it must be his favourite place in the world.”
“You miss her, don't you?” whispered Millie, slipping an arm around her mother's waist. Charlie smiled at her eldest daughter. They had always tried not to put too much pressure on her to be completely responsible for the younger ones, but she was such a help, especially now that she was older.
“I think I do, despite myself. We never really got on completely, and we didn't have the best start at all, but she was always good to us. I just wish that we could have been closer, for your father's sake.”
“Nah, he wouldn't give up his politics,” said Millie easily. “And can you imagine what he'd say if nana had insisted on coming to some grand state opening of parliament or the like and then had been her usual self and embarrassed him?”
Before Charlie could answer this, rather fair, accusation, Charles himself joined them. The two herdsmen had gone back to their pipes, reminiscing over, and Augusta and David were involved in a lengthy argument about something which had happened ten years ago, after a perfectly innocuous remark on his part. Sensing trouble, he had escaped to join his own, suddenly much saner seeming, family.
“Have you seen Hilda?” he asked, turning directly to Charlie. She shook her head, but it was Millie who spoke.
“Dad, you don't have to call her that around me. I know who she really is!”
“All the more reason to find her, then,” he replied grimly. “Adult she may be, and I'm sure she's fine, but I don't want to try explaining how I lost her half way up a mountain.”
As it was more than time for them to be leaving anyway, Charlie suggested that they should start to meander back to the chalet, finding the children en route and hoping to bump into Hilda also. Night would be drawing in, soon, and she didn't know the area at all well.