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Author's Chapter Notes:


It transpired, when they talked to Poppy over breakfast the next morning, that in actual fact Hilda had been wearing her coat when she was taken. In an attempt at entertaining the young girl, who had latched very firmly on to this new source of amusement while Sphinx was gone, Hilda had sent her to fetch various articles and then started a game where Poppy got to play at being the prime minister.

Wearing Hilda's hat, her high-heeled, business like shoes and her coat, Poppy had paraded up and down the room, inventing people or making Hilda name them for her to talk to, shouting at those she didn't like and praising those she did, so that on occasion the Labour leader would be congratulated on his new child while Hilda's deputy was thoroughly scolded for bringing the wrong cup of tea that morning.

When it looked as if Poppy would be quite content to go off on a tangent and tell them all about everyone who had visited her at Freudesheim during her afternoon of power, Charlie gently prodded her back into telling them what had happened to the coat. She tipped her head to one side for a moment, remarkably like a robin eyeing up a sultana, before she explained with the perfect logic of a small child,

“Auntie Hilda went to sleep while I was shouting at Arthur, and you always say we can't sleep without our blanket case we get a cold. Only I didn't think I could carry one all the way down the stairs, so I draped the coat over her, she looked all peaceful and nice. It was a bit silly anyway cause even when you're Prime Minister you don't get to wear your coat indoors. Then daddy came to my office and I had to shout at him.”

“Am I forgiven now?” pouted Charles, and swung his youngest daughter up into his lap when she nodded happily. In an attempt at keeping her occupied, so that she wouldn't think too much about what had happened, he started to ask her about her ministerial ambitions, while the rest, having finished breakfast, decamped to the other room.

General consensus seemed to be that although they couldn't rule out the coat having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the kidnapping, that seemed more unlikely given Poppy's story. This lent a whole new angle to things, and in the end Sphinx and John offered to go and search the area again, with Millie and Phoebe to help them this time.

“This isn't the Famous Five,” frowned Charlie, at her son's enthusiasm. “We're talking about the prime minister being kidnapped, a bunch of children aren't going to solve it. We should tell the police and let them look for clues properly.”

“We did,” replied John, carefully omitting to mention that they might not have passed on all their ideas. “They didn't seem to think that it meant anything, so I'm sure that they won't mind us searching the area now.”

It took a little more persuasion, from Augusta in particular, but in the end Charlie conceded gracious defeat. She knew that they would all be out searching within the hour anyway, she would have been herself if she was allowed, and that once they left the house she could hardly control where they went. All the same, she wasn't happy about it, and she made them all promise to be careful and not get into any more trouble.

While the two women were making lunches for the search parties to take with them, so that they wouldn't need to return again until evening, Augusta offered to have the younger children with her. She could guess that Charles and David would want to go off together, if just to be able to argue in peace for a while, and if Ashley and Stacia were there it might keep Ricky and Randa occupied so that she could search more easily.

“Someone has to look after them,” she explained, buttering bread enthusiastically. “And you've got all the things here to sort out and box up so that they can be sent to various people. You mustn't forget why you really came on holiday! I'll tell them that we're climbing up the mountain for a picnic, it'll take Poppy's mind off things, and I can search at the same time.”

“It would be wonderful if you could,” replied Charlie with enthusiasm. She was aware, even if Charles had allowed himself to forget so that he could get caught up in Hilda's drama instead, of just how much work there was to be done, and nobody else seemed all that keen to do it. Anyway, the police were going to be the ones who found Hilda, or the media knowing them, and this was just an easy way to keep all other parties occupied.

With this in mind, she finished organising food, made sure that they all had a first aid kit and similarly necessary items, kissed the children firmly, grabbed Charles and kissed him more firmly, and bade them all a fond farewell, waving from the doorway until they had all split up their separate ways. Then, sinking into one of the comfortable chairs in the Saal., she began to plan her day.

The first thing to do would probably be to ring Con, so that word could be passed around the family that packing up had begun and items should begin to be doled out in the near future, as well as making sure that nothing terrible had happened while they were away. Then she might start in on the bedrooms; if she could find any personal effects from various people's childhoods that had been left behind when they moved out, these would be easy enough to sort, and it would give her a starting pile for people to add to it all the things that they'd asked for.

Pleased with the plan, she hauled herself up and went to find the telephone, humming to herself, launching into things in her own inimitable way.

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