By the time Charlie had received an explanation that satisfied her, and roundly scolded all concerned – including Millie for not looking after them when she knew what a hectic time it was – John had arrived to demand to know what was going on and could he not take the younger fry off to the park and out of the way? At this they looked rather indignant, and would normally have hastened to reassure him that they were not little, but were still somewhat subdued on this occasion.
If Charles had been there he would have refused, on the grounds that people who carelessly broke vases didn't deserve treats, but Charlie was wise enough to see that it would get them out of trouble for all of half an hour, and sent them off forthwith, Poppy hanging off of John's hand and watching him adoringly. Left alone, Millie insisted on sitting her mother down, unruffled by the caustic comments directed at her.
“Deep breaths,” she urged, demonstrating by holding hers for a full thirty seconds before she let it out again. “Honestly, Mum, just relax. There'll be almost everything we need at Freudesheim, so if something's overlooked it won't be the end of the world, and you don't need to be so stressed. Look, Will isn't doing anything urgent, I'll get him in and we'll tidy all this up then come and help you pack. My things are just about done, and the only problem with Will's will be to stop him taking too many books. It will all be fine, you'll see.”
“But it's such a big thing for your father,” insisted Charlie, impatiently sweeping her hair from her eyes – it was a good day if she didn't threaten to have it cut off at least three times, before giving in at the howls of horror which greeted this. “After all, he's got to sort out everything for the rest of the family, and you know how upset they'll be if he gets it wrong. Everyone's still so raw over Nana, and I tried to tell him that it could wait but he won't have it. Then there's this colleague of his who wants to come along – who she is, I have no idea, he won't tell me yet.”
“Well, then, think of it this way,” retorted Millie brightly. “No matter how much we try, there's yet to be a holiday where something doesn't go wrong – we have Ashley to make sure of that! - so there's no point in getting worked up over it, you might as well just relax and enjoy it. Remember the time Will fell in the lake and tried to haul himself out only to bring John in with him?”
At the memory of John's face as he tumbled over the edge of the boat, Charlie giggled, then suddenly pulled her daughter into a fierce hug. She wasn't demonstrative as a rule, though she and Charles had left their children in no doubt as to how much they loved them, but it sufficed as an apology for her unfair comments of earlier, and the two stood up much brightened by the conversation. They hadn't always been close, but Millie's new found maturity of the past year had helped to build bridges that promised friendship as well as love.
With the air cleared, Charlie decided to start packing the food that they would need for the next day's journey, leaving Millie to fetch her brother from the garden and enlist his help. The house seemed bizarrely quiet without Ashley and Stacia constantly fighting, or John shouting for something because he'd managed to lose it, and in the hour that they had the three managed to get a fair amount done, even Will waking up long enough to help load all the luggage into the camper-van that they'd been forced to invest in when both Stacia and Poppy became too old to sit on people's laps any longer.
The calm was broken by the return of the four, preceded by an awful smell that made Millie grimly predict exactly what had happened. In the event she was proved right. Poppy, so the story they were told afterwards went, had been helping Stacia to try and find twigs in the rushes at the edge of the river to race under the bridge when she'd stumbled. Luckily for all concerned, the water wasn't fast-flowing, or even particularly deep, and at worst her clothes were a sorry sight that would never be quite the same again, but John had been absorbed in a conversation with Ashley about growing up and had only realised when Poppy screamed. They'd returned post haste to get her out of her wet clothes.
A bath was the first thing that was ordered, once she'd been stripped down to knickers on the doorstep so as not to drag through the house any of the foul smelling mud that her bottom half was caked in. In a fit of mercy, and considering the weather, Charlie let her take it lukewarm, while she went to interrogate her oldest son about what had gone wrong, before towelling her down and telling her that she would just have to spend the rest of the day in her pyjamas, as all her other clothes had been packed.
“Something,” she said pointedly to her husband, once he returned from work and they were hiding in the kitchen for the vociferous game of cheat taking place between the rest of the children, “tells me that this holiday is not going to go smoothly.”
Wherein she spoke more truthfully than she realised.