It was only some half an hour later that full and complete sanity was restored as fully as it could ever be to Freudesheim. Will, whose main role in the affair had been to stand quietly to one side and observe it all through stifled laughs – having been the first on the scene, almost, and seen what was happening – had gone almost straight back to bed, chortling to himself. Millie, the wielder of the torch, joined him soon afterwards, having done her best to soothe her father's injured arm and John's bruises, while Charlie did what she could for Mary-Lou.
Thankfully, it transpired that despite the amount of blood, the injuries didn't appear to be nearly as bad as they'd looked; her nose, Mary-Lou declared hopefully, didn't even seem to be broken. As for the rest of her, well, what, she asked, were a few scrapes and bruises to a seasoned Chalet girl? At this, with her accompanying Look at the younger fry, who were half scared and half excited by their night time adventure, they shifted uncomfortably, and Poppy tried an overenthusiastic yawn in the hope that she might be excused to bed. This led to a real one, and her eyes started to droop.
“No you don't,” said Charles firmly, seeing what was happening. He'd just brought in a tray of tea, furnishing Mary-Lou with a cup while his wife tidied away the first aid things, and then settling down with one himself. “You can go to bed in a minute, but first I want to know what on earth is going on.”
“We caught the kidnapper,” insisted Poppy, with a hearty sigh for adults who kept you awake with stupid questions that you'd already answered. “We didn't want to wake you up cause you've been so worried recently, so we thought we'd catch them and then you could call the police or Auntie Gus.”
“I might have known that she'd have something to do with this,” grunted Charles darkly. What with everything happening with regards to Hilda – and the fact that he'd had to alert not just Hilda's family, who were flying out the next morning to a hotel in the capital, but also several senior cabinet ministers who took quite a dim view of the way he was 'looking after her' and 'helping her relax' like he'd promised, just that evening – and also the way that none of the Emersons could seem to resist bellowing whenever they were around, he'd started to find he had something of a stubborn dislike towards his wife's latest friend. “You girls really do need to realise that if anything, anything like this happens you must come and fetch us! What about if it hadn't been Mary-Lou but somebody who'd really want to hurt you?”
“We're sorry,” tried Ashley, nudging the sister on either side of her to make them nod in agreement, in what would have been, in other circumstances, quite an amusing manner. “Really, we are.”
“Well,” pondered Charles, taking advantage of his wife being out of the room to veto what he was about to say. “For now you can apologise to Mary-Lou and take yourselves back to bed. This is almost certainly something to do with Ricky and Randa, though, and I don't want you spending so much time with them. From now on you're grounded, which means that you aren't to leave the house without either myself, your mother or Millie, and that lasts until I know you can be trusted not to do stupid things.”
The punishment was a hard one, when it was clear that it would mean not spending time with their new friends either, but they all took it rather stoically. At least dad hadn't threatened to send them home – little did they know that he was only waiting until he could find a safe escort to Britain to beg Con to take them back until the whole mess was sorted and he could be sure they were safe again – and apologising to Mary-Lou wasn't so bad, when she took it so graciously and they did honestly mean it.
They stopped just long enough to kiss Charlie goodnight, as she came back into the room and fixed straight away on the teapot, and say sorry to her as well, before they trooped up the stairs, even Poppy noticeably dampened. Deciding that it might be better not to mention the exact form of the punishment to his wife – who might not appreciate the slur on the name of her friend – he turned to his eldest son.
“As for you, I had thought that at your age you might have learnt something of that little thing called common sense, but evidently not. Honestly, wading in like that, did you not think that in any case it would be far more sensible for you to keep out and let us sort it, whatever was happening?”
“I thought that they were attacking mum,” murmured John in a subdued voice. “I'm awfully sorry, Mary-Lou, I didn't mean to hurt you.”
“No real harm done,” she murmured.
“Bed,” sighed Charles. “And in future, do try to think before you act, and don't go out of your way to embarrass yourself again.”
With which cutting remark, John flushed and escaped gladly. Left alone, the three adults looked at each other. Mary-Lou had certainly seen better days, and the worry and stress which had been telling on Charles for some time had finally taken its toll, with the culmination of the night's events, and he seemed to have aged ten years in as many minutes. Still, he turned to his guest, and asked the question that everybody wanted to know.
“What on earth brings you here?”