|The afternoon was spent unpacking by Jo and Jack, but frequent help from siblings lightened the Mob's load considerably, and they were soon done.|
Joe Maynard was very fond of children and when the Mob came downstairs to say that they had finished unpacking but their parents were still fully occupied, he suggested a game of hide-and-seek which srarted off around the house and garden, but when torrential rain began to pour down, they confined the game to the house.
Joe soon learnt that Jack had trusted the entire family with the story of Rolf's death, when he asked eight-year-old Gladys why she was so terrified of the garage door. He was happy that his brother was not like his father, whom he barely remembered, but who had had a reputation for telling his children as little as he could get away with.
Jack surfaced a while later to find his youngest brother showing Marie-Claire, now a dignified young lady of nine, how to spell out a difficult word in a story-book. The word 'enamoured' always required an older sibling, or parent, to help.
He sat down next to his children, and his brother grinned at him. "Clever lot, this." Jack just smiled, a little unsure how to respond.
"Where's Mamma?" asked Len.
"Letty woke up and wanted feeding. She'll be down in a minute."
After the Mob had run off to clean themselves up in time for supper, Joe turned to his eldest brother.
"Why do you have so many adopted children? You have plenty of your own."
"They all come with their own stories." said Jack guardedly.
One thing that had taken Jo so long was to get changed, and she wore a soft yellow evening dress when she came downstairs. It suited her well, and made her look more dignified. Lydia, who was still wearing the same blouse and skirt, scowled, but this went unnoticed.
Supper was an enjoyable meal for everyone except Lydia. Suppertimes before Rolf's death were characterized by his long lectures about his day's doings, when he was home from school. The discussion now was about the game of hide-and-seek, the journey, and the Mob's home life, flavoured by morsels of information about St. George's School for Young Men, which Stevie and Chas had left, and Mike, Felix and Geoff all attended, their younger brother Will having a place at St. Nicholas', and the Chalet School, including St. Nicholas'.
After the meal, the entire family went into the drawing-room and sat quietly, chatting, reading, sewing, and in Len's case, drawing, all the adults drinking tea. Jo hated tea, but she politely had three cups, not wanting to draw attention to herself. Jack raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
A while later, the dodectuplets and some of the older small fry started getting fractitious. Jo took them upstairs to bed, and, tired out by the journey, Reg proposed that they all go. This was met with acclaim and within a minute, the entire Mob had vacated the room.
Jo came downstairs while Jack finished saying goodnight to all his children. She put her hand on the doorknob, but a voice from inside - Jim's voice - said her name and made her freeze.
"So, what do you think of Joey, then?"
"She's all right." responded Joe "But I don't really like her."
"Too much of a schoolgirl. I just can't see why Jack fell for her."
"I believe her to be vain." said Lydia.
"Why?" chorused Jim, Joe and Bob.
"She changed for supper, and after the journey. She also seems to be wearing make-up."
Jo was puzzled at this. Her lips were naturally red, and the white pallor of her skin required no cream. She had no need of make-up, and, even if she had, she would have scorned to wear it.
"It could just be her upbringing." said Joe. "The changing, I mean."
"Snooty upbringing." Lydia replied.
"She seems down-to-earth enough." said Joe.
"Hmm." Bob put his oar in. "I'm with Joe. I can't understand what Jack sees in her. Yet, he seems very...well, he seems quite...it looks to me as though he feels the need to look after her a lot. He does seem to make quite a big show of her. She doesn't object."
Jo, who's catchphrase, according to Reg, was 'Don't FUSS, Jack!", wasn't sure whether to laugh or get angry.
"Training." sniffed Lydia.
"What do you mean?" asked her husband.
"I mean, she expects him to do that and he knows it."
"So," Jim summarised "all in all, quite an advantageous match for Jo - we forgot to mention, Jack's very rich-"
"That'll be how she can afford all those wonderful dresses that she has to change every two minutes." sneered Lydia.
"So, what you're saying is, she's frittering away all our parents' life savings?" said her husband. Lydia nodded.
"Anyone know if she works?" asked Joe.
"Don't think she does." said Bob. "Meaning she's financially dependent on Jack."
"Let me finish." said Jim irritably. "Anyway, an advantageous match for Joey, actually quite a dangerous one for Jack."
"There's a large age gap." said Lydia, who had been reading too many romance novels of the scandal type. "She's probably using that as a lure. She might even have a few men her own age on the go."
"There was something a while ago about a Dr. Hunter." said Joe.
Joey's cheeks were burning, her eyes stung with tears. How could she have fallen so low in the eyes of her husband's family? She stood rooted to the spot as they concluded their discussion.
"So, to conclude." said Bob. "We really ought to warn Jack off her."
There were murmurs of agreement. Jo turned and ran, straight into her husband's arms.
"Oh, Joey, do watch where you're going!" he smiled as he dusted her down. She had hidden her tears well, and Jack had no idea that there was anything the matter. She said nothing to enlighten him, either.
"I'm going up to bed. The journey tired me out as well."
Jack noted the purple smudges under her soft black eyes.
"Then I'll go too." He stuck his head round the drawing-room door. Everyone gave a start. "Joey and I are just off to bed. Goodnight."
There was a guilty murmur. Jack took no notice of this, and began to climb the stairs.
Jack fell asleep quickly, but Jo stayed awake for a long time, thinking about what had been said. Then, with a jolt of horror, she remembered that these were the people Jack had grown up with, the people he had lived with longer than her, even as their marriage reached its twenty-fifth year. He might stick up for her. Or he might side with them, and cast her aside as a false lover, a woman who felt nothing for him, who merely used him to her advantage. The thing she most feared was losing her shelter within Jack's love.
This was a nightmare come true.