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It all began at breakfast!
Jill was trying to decide whether she would eat a croissant first, and then fill up the chinks with bread; or eat bread first and save the croissant to the end. If you eat a croissant first when you are very hungry, it just seems to melt in your mouth and disappear before you've tasted it, and if you eat bread first then there isn't always enough room left to enjoy the croissant properly. She sighed - it was really very difficult - perhaps the best thing would be to do one thing one day and the other the next!
Robin, sitting opposite her and sipping his coffee, sighed too as he gazed at his plate. He was having the same trouble over honey versus Marmite.
Only Bunkle at the end of the table seemed quite happy, for he had taken half a roll and half a croissant and a spoonful each of honey and Marmite, and was quietly playing a sort of foursome with them.
Suddenly there was a clatter in the passage, and in burst Bonjour with a bang. It was his second burst that morning and, as he had said "bonjour" the first time when he brought the breakfast, he now beamed on them and said breathlessly:
"Pardon, Messieurs Dames! Une depeche pour Madame! S'il y a une reponse le facteur attend . . . je reviens de suite.". . . "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. A telegram for Madame. If there is a reply the postman waits. I will return."
On the last words he vanished as suddenly as he had come and the children could hear him rushing down the corridor with breakfast for No. 67.
"Good old Bonjour," said Robin, helping himself to honey.
"Who's it for, Mummy?" asked Jill, reaching for a croissant.
Bunkle said nothing, but he put a dollop of Marmite and honey together by mistake, and looked a little anxiously at his mother as she ripped open the flimsy envelope.
Mrs de Salis skimmed through the telegram quickly, frowned, and read it through again; then she said "Oh dear," in a worried sort of voice.
"Daddy!" remarked Bunkle, and tried to separate the Marmite from the honey.
"How do you know?" whispered Jill.
"Quand Mums dit 'Oh dear' ca veut dire presque toujours Daddy," . . . "When Mummy says 'Oh dear', it's almost always something to do with Daddy," said Bunkle.
"Talk English, you little pip squeak, showing off at breakfast!" hissed Robin angrily, and kicked his younger brother hard under the table.
"Ow! Cochon! Laisse-moi tranquille veux-tu," . . . "Pig, leave me alone, will you," yelled Bunkle.
Mrs de Salis held her head, "Children, children," she said in rather a distracted sort of voice, "be quiet, please! How can I think when you make a noise like that?"
"It's Bunkle that's making the noise."
"Robin hacked my shin."
"Serve Bunkle right, showing off at breakfast!"
The three children all spoke at once.
But Mrs de Salis wasn't really listening. Instead she frowned, read the telegram through again, and said:
"It really is rather tiresome: I don't know what to do!"
"Who's it from, Mummy?" asked Jill again.
"It's from Daddy."
"I told you so!" said Bunkle in a complacent voice.
"And I don't know what to do about it," Mrs de Salis went on, looking at the wire rather as if it might bite her.
Jill got up and went behind her mother's chair, then, leaning her chin on Mrs de Salis's shoulder, she read out slowly, "Hush, Hush, fortnight ahead stop meet me Paris usual Saturday stop love to brats and whom do you think stop Jim."
"But what does it mean?" said Jill wrinkling her forehead.
"Anyhow you can't go," said Robin. "It's the children's and parents' tournament tomorrow and Monday and . . ."
". . . meet me Paris usual Saturday stop . ." read out Jill again - "it doesn't make sense!"
"Not read like that, darling," said her mother, "but I think I know what it means. Daddy has got some job on where he thinks it would be possible for me to join him, and he wants me to meet him in Paris. 'Paris usual' must mean the little hotel where we always stay."
"But Mummy! Saturday is tomorrow! You can't go tomorrow! It'll spoil everything!" wailed Robin.
"I know, darling, and I hate to disappoint you, but what can I do? I don't want to disappoint Daddy either."
"Send Daddy a wire saying you'll go later, he's always mucking things up!" said Robin angrily.
Mrs de Salis's cheeks turned pink. "That's not the way to speak about Daddy, Robin," she said sternly, "it evidently doesn't occur to you that I might enjoy a little trip with Daddy when I haven't seen him for months."
"Well, he might have let you know in time. We're always making all our plans and then having them upset," said Robin sulkily.
"Darling that's not fair!" said his mother firmly; "you know that in Daddy's job he can't plan ahead. In the Secret Service you have to do things on the spur of the moment." Then she saw that Robin's lip was quivering and she put her hand on his shoulder.
"Why, darling," she said, "does the tennis tournament mean so much to you?"
Robin shook off her hand and went over to the window where he stood looking out with his shoulders hunched.
"We were certs for it," he muttered, "and I don't see why you have to go tomorrow. You couldn't have gone if you were ill or anything. Why can't you send him a wire?"
"Yes, why not, Mums?" echoed Jill, "Say you'll go on Tuesday instead."
"That's just the trouble, darling. I don't see how I can let him know."
"Why not?" asked Robin.
His mother handed him the telegram.
"Where was it sent off?" she asked.
Robin stared at it. "I can't read the name," he said sulkily, "it's all z's and s's."
"Well, I think it's probably somewhere in Poland, but I don't know and in any case Daddy doesn't give the name of his hotel; - if he is staying in a hotel, which is very unlikely."
"Bon! C'est formidable! C'est tout a fait Daddy,". . . "Hurray, that's Daddy all over," remarked Bunkle, who, finding that no one was seriously ill or dead, was quietly going on with his breakfast.
"Speak English, or I'll scrag you afterwards," whispered Jill fiercely, but aloud she said, "Why couldn't you wire him to the Metropolitain, Mummy? He'd get it there."
"Yes, I suppose I could do that," said her mother doubtfully.
"Of course you could," said Robin, all smiles again.
"Just say 'Have important engagements here tomorrow and Monday, will join you Tuesday."
"I'm afraid that it isn't quite as easy as that, darling."
"Daddy says, 'Hush, hush, job ahead.' That means he can't say where he is going in a wire or a letter, and I don't suppose it is in Paris. He probably only wants me to meet him there. If I don't join him tomorrow so that he can take me with him I shan't be able to go at all; still I suppose it can't be helped."
Mrs de Salis's cheeks lost their pretty pink flush and she looked rather wistfully out of the window.
Jill gazed at her for a moment, then she drew Robin aside.
"Don't be a selfish pig, Robin," she whispered. "Can't you see Mummy is simply dying to go and have a beano with Daddy, only she is too decent to say so. After all it can't have been very thrilling being here just with Bunkle and Mademoiselle for three months, and there'll be all the rest of the hols for us to have her."
"You'd far better go Mummy," she said out loud, "Robin and I can go in for the golf monthly medal instead of the tennis tomorrow."
"But what about Billy, darling, I thought that you were playing with him?"
"So she was playing with me," said Bunkle calmly, "but I'll play in the tennis tournament with Madame Fieve instead; if she hasn't got a child and I haven't got a parent they're sure to let us enter together."
Jill stared at him. "Bunkle you can't," she protested, "Madame Fieve is enormous, everyone will laugh. Besides I didn't know she'd asked you."
"She hasn't, but she will," said Bunkle complacently, "and if we lose she'll give me a box of chocolates. Madame Fieve m'adore."
Jill turned to her mother.
"You know you really ought to do something about Bunkle," she said gravely. "He'll be exactly like some horrid little French boy soon, he's getting more and more like them every day. We can't even get him to talk English properly now."
Her mother smiled.
"I wish I could get you and Robin to talk French," she said. "I haven't been having Mademoiselle all these months in order to make Billy speak English, you know. By the way, where is Mademoiselle?"
"Elle a la migraine,". . . "she has a headache," said Bunkle in a tone of deep satisfaction.
Mrs de Salis looked at him severely.
"Billy," she said, "there are moments when I think you really are rather a horrid little boy. You said that as if you were thoroughly pleased that poor Mademoiselle has a bad headache. Poor thing, she does seem to get them badly. If she is feeling ill I really don't think that perhaps I ought to go away."
"Oh, go, Mummy," said Jill, "it will be quite all right honestly. Mademoiselle's headaches never last more than a day, I expect she'll be perfectly all right tomorrow, and . . ."
There was a bang on the door and in burst Bonjour.
"Pardon, Madame, la depeche, y a t'il de reponse?" . . . "Pardon, Madame, the telegram, is there a reply?"
"Pas de reponse, Henri, merci.". . . "No reply, thank you."
"Service, Madame," . . . "At your service, Madame," and biff-bang the door was shut again.
"Do you know, Mum," said Bunkle, "the other day Bonjour banged into Madame Fieve's room, Biff! Bang! Bonjour Madame! like he does without ever waiting for an answer, and what do you think?"
"I don't know, darling."
"Well, Madame Fieve was standing right in the middle of the floor and . . . what do you think?"
"She had nothing on but her combinations!" and Bunkle began to giggle helplessly.
"Billy, darling! What a dreadful story! Who told you?" said his mother trying to look severe and not succeeding very well.
"Personne," said Bunkle, "I was in the passage and I saw."
"And what happened?" asked Jill and Robin together.
"Nothing. Madame Fieve, elle etait formidable!" . . . "Madame Fieve was marvellous." "She just stood there and said, 'Bonjour Henri, le plateau ici, s'il vous plait, et fermez bien la porte.' " . . . "Good morning, Henri. The tray here please, and close the door well when you go out." "I say, Mums, what would you do if Bonjour burst in on you and you had . . ."
Jill saw her mother beginning to frown, so she didn't give her time to reply, but said hurriedly, "Bunkle, you are the limit! What were you doing in the passage outside Madame Fieve's room anyhow? I don't believe you learn any French from Mademoiselle really, you learn it all gossiping with Bonjour."
"I wasn't gossiping, I was working," said Bunkle virtuously.
"Working? What at?" asked his brother unbelievingly.
"I was helping with the trays."
"Helping with the trays! Why you couldn't even carry a cup without upsetting it!"
"Well, I wasn't exactly carrying anything, I was just opening the doors."
Jill gave her young brother a scornful glance, "And you call that working!" she said. "Come on Mums, I'll help you pack. You'll have to catch the 3.39, won't you?"
"But really, darling, I don't know about leaving you, with Mademoiselle in bed."
"Oh, Mummy, she'll be all right tomorrow, she always is, besides what could happen to us here? We needn't go outside the hotel grounds for anything and we can always telephone you if anything goes wrong."
"You can't telephone me if you don't know where I am, darling."
"Well, we could wire Granny or Aunty Kitty, or somebody, but we shan't have to. After all I am fifteen next month."
Jill led her mother, still faintly protesting, through the door into her bedroom, and Bunkle and Robin could hear snatches of their conversation as they moved about the room.
"What will you want? Shall I ring for Marie and say you'll want your trunk, or will suitcases do?"
"It is so like Daddy: I don't know what sort of clothes to take - I suppose I shall have to be prepared for everything."
"I expect you'll want all your evening frocks. Shall I put them out on the bed?"
Then there was a crash and,
"Oh, Mums! I'm sorry! I've broken your pot of cleansing cream. Shall I run over to Marcel's and get you another?"
"I'll go, Mum," yelled Bunkle. "I'll go, I know the kind."
Mrs de Salis reappeared in the sitting room.
"I think you'd better all go out now, darlings," she said firmly. "I can't have you hanging about in here while I'm trying to pack."
"But I only wanted to help you," protested Jill in an injured voice.
"I know, my pet, and it's sweet of you to offer, but it's such a lovely day it's a pity for you to be indoors. I can manage quite easily, I've got the whole morning."
"But Mummy . . ."
"Now run along darlings and don't argue. You and Robin had better go down to the golf links and put your names in for the competition tomorrow. Billy, you can take the lid of this pot and run over to Marcel's. Ask him to give you another exactly like it."
As she spoke, Mrs de Salis shepherded the children towards the corridor and started to walk in the direction of the lift.
"Where are you going, Mummy?" asked Robin when they reached it.
"I'm going up to see Mademoiselle. I must make sure that it will be all right to leave you with her before I go and tell the concierge to get my ticket. Now then, off you go, I'm going up in the lift."
"We'll wait for it to come down."
"Oh no you won't, you lazy monkeys. What's the good of having young legs if you never use them? Now then, run along, only no racing on the stairs, mind."
Mademoiselle was lying in bed with the curtains drawn and a handkerchief soaked in Eau de Cologne across her forehead. When she saw Mrs de Salis come into the room she tried to sit up and smile, but the effort evidently sent such a stab of pain through her head that she could only make a sort of grimace instead, and sank back against the pillows.
"Don't try to sit up Mademoiselle," said Mrs de Salis sympathetically, "I can see that you have the most dreadful headache. I wouldn't have disturbed you, only I have just had a wire from my husband who wants me to join him in Paris for a little holiday. The only thing is that I don't quite know about leaving the children. If I do go I shall have to catch the 'rapide' this afternoon. I can see that they have something to do to keep them out of mischief until tomorrow, and Jill is really quite sensible about looking after Billy but . . . " she paused doubtfully.
Mademoiselle was looking very white and ill, but she assured Mrs de Salis that she would be quite all right by the next day.
"Ca ne durera pas, chere Madame," she said bravely. "Ces migraines ne durent jamais plus de vingt quatre heures et celle-ci a bien commence hier soir. Partez donc, chere Madame, n'inquietez-vous pas. Demain tout ira bien, partez donc et amusez-vous bien, je garderai fidelement votre petit Billy. Pour les autres, ils sont connus de tout le monde et rien ne peut leur arriver de mal." . . . "It won't last, dear Madame, these headaches never last more than twenty-four hours and this one was already bad last night. Go, dear Madame, and do not worry. Tomorrow all will be well, go then and enjoy yourself, I will look after your little Billy carefully. As for the others, they know everyone and cannot come to any harm."
To order your copy of Four Plus Bunkle see our online shop, or order from one of our Stockists.