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Author's Chapter Notes:


Hilda was borne back to Freudesheim in triumph the next morning. Her injury had turned out to be less severe than her lengthy fainting fit suggested and Rix frankly admitted that he would probably have discharged her that evening if she hadn’t been Margaret Thatcher.

She was received at the house with great acclaim, for she now bore the distinction among the children of having nearly become the world’s first live mummy.

“And when we’d pulled all your organs out,” said Poppy, scrambling onto the sofa where Hilda was safely ensconced. “We’d have put a thing – it’s called natron – all over you that dries you out, ‘cos if you don’t then the body goes rotten.”

“Maybe you could explain the process of mummification to Hilda some other time,” said Charlie hastily, though Hilda did not appear noticeably distressed by the graphic description of what the children had been planning to do to her.

“But Sphinx told us all about how you do it,” said Poppy. “And,” she added impressively, “he did it all on me and made me into a mummy.”

“Oh! How nice,” said Charlie faintly, and wondered whether she ought to reconsider allowing Poppy to spend quite so much with Sphinx. However, since it was evident that he had stopped short of removing her daughter’s major organs, she supposed the friendship was probably harmless. This was fortunate, since at that moment a large contingent of Emersons came wandering round the side of the house.

“There you are, Charlie,” said Charles, emerging from their midst. “Have you got any plans for this afternoon?”

“Well, I’d thought of starting to sort out the attics, but –” she spread her hands helplessly, indicating the recumbent Hilda, the still chattering Poppy, the mess in the room, and the gaggle of older and younger children who were now filling the room.

“I’ll help,” said Augusta, her face lighting up. “I like looking at old junk. Chas and David are off to visit an archaeological site up in the mountains somewhere, so that gets rid of them for a bit.”

“I thought it was Egyptology you people were into.”

“Yes, but David would rather excavate rubbish that’s come out from under a glacier than nothing at all,” said Augusta. “And he seems to have persuaded Chas that he wants to come too.”

“It sounds very interesting,” said Charles. “Some of the kids want to come – we’re taking John, Will and Ashley, and Ricky and Randa.”

“And me,” said Constance Rose.

“I thought you weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t connected to the great spirits in the sky,” said Phoebe, looking surprised. Constance Rose turned pink.

“I changed my mind, as it happens,” she said, tilting her chin. “I think it’ll be very interesting.”

“What she means,” said Phoebe in Charlie’s ear, “is that John said he wanted to go.” Her eyes were crinkled with amusement in a way that Charlie, despite the slight shock this gave her, found impossible to resist.

“John?” she echoed.

“I’m afraid so. She even seems to have lost interest in Egyptian goddesses – well, a little bit, anyway. Don’t worry,” she added, seeing the perturbation on Charlie’s face. “She’s not madly clever, but she’s probably the nicest of all of us, really.”

Charlie opened her mouth to reply to this, but was distracted as, through a lull in the general conversation, Poppy’s voice rang out clearly for a moment.

“And then you stuff linen into the places where the organs were, and you put false eyes in, only you have to be careful in case –”

She caught Phoebe’s eye and laughed suddenly.

“Why is it that children are always enchanted by the most hideous things? And,” she went on, after the two men had been waved off with assorted children, “I thought Chas and David were at daggers drawn.”

“Oh, Dad decided Chas wasn’t such a tedious, wet – I mean, he decided he was quite congenial really. In Dad’s view visiting an archaeological site is the highest pleasure anyone could wish for. This is the closest he’s ever likely to get to extending the proverbial olive branch. Luckily I think Chas understood.”

Charlie tactfully ignored Phoebe’s slip – indeed, she found it more amusing than offensive – and heaved a sigh.

“Well, I’d better try to persuade Millie that she wants to help me with making a start on the attics,” she said. 

“Do you want a hand? Of course, if you’d rather not have random strangers poking around in your family stuff that’s fine, though you’ll have to tell Mum, because there’s nothing she likes better. Still, she won’t mind if you think not.”

Charlie hesitated. It still didn’t seem long since Joey had died, and although they hadn’t got off to the best start, she missed her rather badly and she knew that Millie in particular felt the same way. It would feel odd and perhaps painful to have comparative strangers – people who had never known Joey – included in the business of sorting through the things that were left behind. On the other hand, she couldn’t help liking the Emersons. They might have a tendency to behave in rather startling ways, but they seemed to have quite a bit of sense which, although perhaps not common, was still sense. And, looking at Phoebe’s half-smile, she suddenly knew that she and Millie, and the others, would be entirely safe with these people.

“There’s an awful lot of rubbish in those attics,” she said. “Maybe you should see them before you commit yourselves.”

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