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Author's Chapter Notes:


They managed to gain the ferry safely, and the family were soon raised and tempted to join them on deck for a picnic breakfast. As the crossing was a short one, they had to be relatively fast, but they all ate the sandwiches that Charlie had provided with a gusto that spoke of good cooking and excellent appetites, and at the same time they were introduced to Hilda, who had been sitting to one side watching them with a smile on her face.

It had been something of an anxiety to Charles to see how they would react to each other, but overall it went as well as could have been expected. Ashley and Stacia took it with all the excitement of two young children eager to be excused from their meal so that they could dangle precariously over the edge and watch the waves beneath them, where they were joined by Poppy as soon as she could grab John's hand and persuade him to join them.

Because of Charles' job, the children had always been kept away from politics until they were old enough to understand it properly, and John had still shown no interest in the subject and made no comment on their visit. But both Millie and Will had been looking askance at the collected lady since they had met her, and Charles could see that he was going to have to get them on their own as soon as possible and explain – he knew that he could trust them until then, and a crowded deck was not the place for explanations. He was starting to think that he should have told them in advance, however; Millie had been encouraged by both her parents to get involved now that she was older, and once she was eighteen Charles had promised to take her on a trip to the Houses of Parliament one day, and Will, too, was keen, though his was far more a theoretical interest based on the books he'd read to have long debates with his father one evening a week.

Already, Charlie was wondering where trouble would first come from, and she didn't have to wait long to find out. Just as she glanced across, Poppy leaned out just a little too far and one of her hands slipped. With her tiny feet she was hardly secure, and even as she teetered precariously on the edge it seemed as if she must fall; John, as ever, was there to wrap his arms around her, though, and lift her clear of the danger. Even though she tried to laugh it off as the sort of thing that happened every day – Poppy had already broken her arm twice climbing trees, and was well on the way to beating the record in the family, currently held by John himself with five broken bones – it was plain that Charlie's heart had leapt at that moment, and soon after she called them back to the main group – much to the disgust of Ashley and Stacia, though their pointed looks were lost on Poppy, who was enjoying a hug with her favourite sibling.

“She takes after her uncle Mike,” explained Charlie, once they were all settled back down and just waiting for land to hove into sight. “Mischief runs in Chas' family, I'm sure.”

“I remember when he went climbing down a cliff to look for some bird's eggs,” started Charles, but at exactly the same moment he and Charlie realised that the story would lead to mentioning Joey, still something of a taboo subject in casual conversation for them, and haste was made to decide that they should be getting back down to the vehicle.

Disembarking took a little longer than expected, thanks to a driver further up breaking down unexpectedly, but soon enough they were bowling along the French roads, Charlie now at the wheel to give Charles a chance to curl up and catch up on the sleep that he'd missed. With this in mind, Millie had dug out the cards before they set off and they were all thoroughly engaged in a game of 'Cheat', even Hilda joining in and comprehensively thrashing them all. Stacia was the usual winner, but on this occasion even she had to own herself beat, and it was a relief when Charles woke up again so that they could start to sing to pass the time instead.

Lunch was taken at the roadside, in a quiet backwater where they could remain undisturbed, but time was getting on and soon they were off again, Stacia still finishing her meal on the back seat. Hilda took her turn at driving, which left Charlie free to catch them all up on the latest family gossip and dole out letter duties for the month; they tried to keep some sort of rota so that their many aunts and uncles all heard from them on a regular basis, without keeping just one correspondent.

The final meal of the day was less formal, as they hadn't got on as quickly as they hoped and so the adults took turns to drive while the others ate. By now the long journey had worn down the children, and the three young girls were asleep by halfway through the fantastic story that Will told of fairy queens and goblins, though he kept going to the end at the insistence of his other listeners. It was, he protested, only something he'd thought up a couple of days ago and decided to save to occupy the triumvirate – as they were sometimes known to the family – through the journey; he'd inherited Joey's writing talents, though, and managed to keep even the adults enthralled. While they listened to him talk, they sped on through the night, towards their final destination.

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