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Author's Chapter Notes:


The next day saw them setting out early, as they had to drive across London to pick up Charles' colleague before setting out for the ferry to Europe, and then on to Switzerland. It was hoped that the next night would see them all tucked safely into their beds once again – they had been promised that all the rooms would be made up for them on their arrival – but given the ability of certain members of the family to cause trouble (here Charlie sent a pointed glare at two of her children, who wriggled and tried to smile sweetly) they weren't going to say for certain that that would be the case.

Nobly, Charles had volunteered to do the first stretch of driving, and had been inclined to mention repeatedly how generous he considered himself until Charlie pointed out crushingly that he was the only one who knew the way and he was always up this early for his job in any case. Now she was curled up on the front seat, a pillow under her head, eyes shut and resolutely ignoring the increasingly loud whispering and giggling behind her. The three youngest had been told that they, at least, must try and sleep for at least the first hour, or they would be exhausted by the time they arrived at the Platz. This, of course, only made them more determined not to, and although Poppy was still tired enough to be largely out of it, she was still heard to contribute something sleepily every few minutes.

“Guys,” said Charles softly, looking back during stoppage at one traffic jam. “Others are trying to sleep you know. If you really aren't tired, please try and keep it down.”

His glance took in both his wife and John, who was spread over two seats, having made sure that he was the first in to claim them. The three girls, who were squashed together, took one look at their father and decided to obey – he was gentle enough, as a rule, but he ruled with an iron rod of discipline when he chose - so that John could continue his sleep in peace, and Millie, who had been looking listlessly out of the window, started to drift off.

With the quietening down also came weariness, and half an hour later when Charles pulled up outside a non-descript town house, only Will was still awake, scribbling furiously in the notebook that he kept with him at all times. What he wrote he wouldn't divulge, and both Charles and Charlie had warned the rest off trying to tease it out of him, but it certainly kept him engaged for most of the time.

Before Charles could even think to ask, he was out of his seat, leaving his notebook carefully closed on the seat, and winching open the side door, which he was next to. Checking that he'd got the right house he disappeared, knocked on the front door, and was speedily joined by a middle aged woman in a trig green suit, hair carefully styled and with just a little make-up on. She strode over to the car, beaming and looking as fresh as it was possible to be despite the fact that the sun was still barely rising over the tall buildings, Will following behind and trying to drag her suitcase along. By the time he'd put it in the boot and climbed in, she'd taken his seat and was looking round with a delighted air.

“How very neat,” she exclaimed, ignoring John's grunt as Will slid his feet off the chair so that he could sit down. “You really must find this a boon and a blessing, Chas. Now,” with a glance around at the still sleeping occupants of the van, “suppose that you introduce me during our first stop.”

“Good idea,” he grinned, as he eased the van out of the parking space he'd miraculously managed to find – and which he rather suspected had been saved specially for him – and into the steady flow of traffic at the end of the road. “We agreed to push on for the ferry, but I rather suspect that most of them will want to be woken up to go on deck once we get there, and I can do the rounds then. Sorry about that, they aren't as used to early hours as we poor folk.”

Such amiable chatter was kept up until Charlie awoke, half an hour later, when she sat up and turned around with a lazy grin to greet their guest. The two had met once before, at an important meal Charles had forced her to attend and at which she had certainly been a shining and noted star, despite her repeated insistence to the contrary, and were soon deep into a political discussion. As this left Charles free to concentrate on his driving, he contributed little, though he would glance behind himself from time to time to smile at his slumbering family, and perhaps catch Will's eye through his scribbling.

Poppy was the first to wake as they drew to a halt ten minutes from the ferry. Rubbing her eyes sleepily, she sat up carefully around Ashley, then, seeing as she was nearest to the window and couldn't get out that way, she crawled underneath the seats to emerge triumphant and run to Charlie for her customary morning hug. Smiling, even as she was scolded fondly for not staying still as she was told to do explicitly before they set off, she started to suck her thumb, then looked around and saw the newcomer.

“This is Hilda,” explained Charlie, at her inquisitive gaze, and added to the older woman, “my youngest, and sometimes most troublesome, daughter, Poppy. You'll have to excuse her running around, I rather fear she's going to take after her brother and be one of the sporty ones when she's a bit older. You've met Will of course – the lump next to him is John, slightly older but far less mature.”

Thankfully, John was still asleep and oblivious to this slur on his name, but she was rewarded with a grin from Will for her troubles and sat back well satisfied. Derogatory as she might be about her own children, woe betide anyone who crossed them, for they unleashed a lioness – as Hilda could guess straight away. After murmuring a greeting to Poppy, she asked Charles something about a piece of work he'd been doing for her, while Charlie tried to convince Poppy that they couldn't possibly fetch breakfast from the boot yet.

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