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Author's Chapter Notes:


After reassuring the children repeatedly that there really wasn't anything to worry about, and that the powder was simply something that Mary-Lou used for her job – dusting down bones, Charlie had improvised, trying to think quickly – and making them promise not to mention that matter again, Charlie had left them to their play and go down to find Charles, who was just finishing his tea with Millie.

“I told dad,” said that young lady, as Charlie came in to join them – Augusta had joined the rest in the salon. 

“Will's suspicious, still,” confirmed Charlie, “but the younger children seem quite happy to forget. It's all this kidnapping business, it isn't good for them at all. Do you know, I'm more tempted than ever to fly back with everyone and leave you to deal with the house.”

“I could stay and help,” added Millie quickly. “If you took Poppy and Ashley and Stacia, that would leave Will and John and I to help dad do everything, and I know as much as you do. It might be better, and there's really nothing that we can do for Hilda that the police aren't already doing.”

“But I have to stay until the investigation is complete,” said Charles stubbornly, though his voice was gentle. Both women noted how carefully he avoided contemplating Hilda not being found again. “That could be a while yet, and there could be all sorts of paperwork before I have to return. Certainly it could go on long past you lot going back to school.”

“Surely they'll call you back for Parliament starting again, anyway?” interjected Charlie. “And in any case, that doesn't mean you couldn't keep the elder children with you until we'd planned to go back. As long as you stick them on a flight at this end, I'll arrange for someone to meet them at the other, and I think we can trust them by now to manage a flight on their own. I hope so, anyway, or I'll start to wonder if they're my children!”

Quietly, Millie sat quite still and watched her parents look each other over. It would be a rare victory indeed if her father would agree to such a plan, for he spent so much time in work that he tended to surprise himself when he realised how close to adulthood some of his children were coming. In his eyes, she knew, even if she looked like a young woman now, she was still thought of as the six year old girl who used to hold his hand as they walked down the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, chattering excitedly while his colleagues smiled on her.

“It really would be much safer for the younger children,” added Charlie after a moment of silence. Much to Millie's amusement, Charles carefully looked down at her stomach, in what he evidently hoped was a casual way, before opening his mouth to say something that never came. Instead, Charlie filled the gap with, “Yes, dear, your little pregnant wife can't possibly be caught up in any sort of excitement either. I mean, having a baby, that's nature warning us that women are weak and helpless females who must be wrapped in cotton wool at all times. Not that I was hoping to save our other children from unnecessary danger or anything.”

“Well, when you put it so movingly,” he grinned, unmoved by the cutting sarcasm in her voice, “what can I say? We're going to have to clear with a few bodies to get you back in the country – you may not have realised it, but there are three guards watching this place at all times, in case Hilda turns back up or anything else happens – so I don't know how long it will take, but I agree. Most of the stuff from the house is done, isn't it?”

“Few more rooms left to go, but it should all be reasonably simple. Once I'm back in the country I'll arrange for everything to be shipped over, as well, so that you can see it loaded at this end.”

“And the drugs?” asked Millie, recalling them to the topic which had originally been at hand, and which she rather feared had been forgotten.

“I'll talk to Mary-Lou,” promised Charles. “There's not really a lot we can say, she's a grown woman and what she does is her choice, but I'll tell her that I want it all out of the house by tomorrow, and never around the children again. If only mum were still alive – would she have something to say!”

“Well, then,” said Charlie, “you'd better get on to organising our trip home, while I go and inform the girls and get them to start thinking about packing again. I can already see how popular I'll be! And they're sure to want to take that bloody dolls' house back in the van, as well. That'll take up valuable room that could be used for the mound of stuff here various people want. Why you had to have magpies for siblings, I don't know!”

“One last thing,” Charles called after her. “You're only going back on condition you stay with Con until I get home.”

Seeing Charlie's face as she raced back to the study to make her views on this dictum known, Millie decided that the wisest course of action would be to break the news to the children herself and then just cross her fingers that she'd still be allowed out with the Emersons on the morrow.

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