It was three days after the end of term at Transcendental Academy, and most of the professors were savouring the respite from being surrounded by a crowd of young people for several hours a day. This was not an option open to Dr. Davison, as he had taken it upon himself to be a surrogate father to a number of youths. He had developed an unfortunate habit of rescuing young people, and unlike many of his colleagues, he took an interest in their lives post-peril. In this manner, he had acquired far more of a family than the bachelor had ever expected or intended. Still, he was hardly about to ship any of them off just to simplify his life, even if he could possibly choose one to leave.
The younger girl was probably furthest from the top of that particular list, if for no other reason then most of the trouble Nyssa got into wasn’t the result of her saying something smart or doing something foolish. The youngest, Adric, had just turned fifteen and was extremely touchy about being mistaken for any other age, while his eldest, Tegan, was just touchy in general.
Lastly, there was Turlough. Vislor Turlough, but he never answered to his Christian name, when he deemed to answer at all. He was comparatively new to the group, and as of yet he offered very little information about where he had been before Dr. Davison came across him in a home for boys displaced by war.
Of course, there was also the Fifth Ward, but that hardly counted towards his brood. That was a machine, merely called a ward because of Dr. Davison’s habit of surrounding himself with children. True, he did think that this holiday would be the perfect situation to examine it, and true, he did chuckle to himself that it would have been so much easier to prepare for the holiday if he could as easily pack each of his children in a steamer trunk and ship them to Wisteria Bay in the cargo. He didn’t say this aloud, as this is not the sort of thing one says if one is interested in continuing to either raise or teach children.
The past three days would have tried the patience of a saint, and Dr. Davison was many things, but sainted was certainly not one of them. True, it was often remarked that he was one of the most kind-hearted and pleasant members of the club he frequented; but those unfamiliar with the other members would have missed that was a subtle dig at the other members. In reality, it was quite easy to upset Dr. Davison and set him off squeaking like an offended Pomeranian. But at least his mental bill of health was far cleaner than that of many of his colleagues.
Unfortunately for Dr. Davison, he had committed to letting one of these men share his holiday. While he did wish to extend his hospitality to a young woman he very nearly adopted, it simply didn’t do to not invite her husband along, and thus Dr. Davison was going to spend the next three months in a beach house with all of his children and Dr. Baker, who was a rather lot like another child, except that he was eleven years his senior.
The Bakers had only been married for three years at this point, but some people find themselves squabbling like old married couples on the day that they met, and on occasion, these people set to becoming them in reality as well as figurative speech as quickly as possible. They certainly seemed to age the other by their shared presence and the open frustration that seemed to constantly flow between the two. They were not the sort of couple that most people would choose to spend their holiday with, particularly someone as in desperate need of unwinding as Dr. Davison. It hardly occurred to him that they would accept his invitation until it was too late. What was worse was that he then had to appear gracious as Dr. Baker completely rewrote his plans for the holiday. While it was true that the guest rooms in the Baker’s country house would be far better accommodations than the seaside hotel Dr. Davison had been considering, and unlike the hotel, free of charge, the presumption frustrated Dr. Davison to no end. Other than Nyssa, who quite sensitive to other’s moods, his wards didn’t seem to notice, however, as mild frustration was his default emotion. Then again, he hadn’t abandoned the possibility that Nyssa wasn’t actually unusually sensitive unless held in comparison to the rest of the family.
The Davison family, such as it was, milled around the train station somewhat aimlessly. Neither the train nor the party they expected to meet with were on time. Which, while to be expected, was still dreadfully annoying.
In the centre, the de facto father’s head bobbed about like a blond buoy attempting to keep track of four teenagers, three luggage trolleys, and a large steamer trunk all at once. For once in his life, Adric was actually the easiest to keep track of. Someone, Dr. Davison wasn’t sure who, had deeply insulted the boy and he was now sulking on top of the steamer trunk with his chin in his hands and his feet barely skimming the floor. He was not a tall lad and he looked even younger than his fifteen years sitting on top of the trunk like a doll, particularly given that an unmarried college professor with four children could hardly replace each child’s wardrobe with every growth spurt and this left Adric in a rather childish mustard-yellow sailor tunic noticeably too short in the wrists and knickerbockers that now had to be buckled above the knee.
The elder children, sixteen at the youngest and nineteen at the eldest, were moving around the train station as if they were trying their dead-level best to get lost in the holiday crowd. Dr. Davison could have hardly reined in their interest if he tried, which he was not liable to do because at least then they usually got into trouble one at a time.
While Tegan was comparing every aspect of trains to airbuses and explaining them to someone, Dr. Davison couldn’t see who, Nyssa had wandered off to examine some of the clockwork in the automated ticket-taker, and Dr. Davison’s knowledge of Turlough’s location was limited to the fact four wards had left the cab with him when they reached the train station. Still, he would have been more comfortable knowing Nyssa’s precise location, as carrying smelling salts hardly did her any good if he wasn’t there to use them when she swooned. Dr. Davison wasn’t entirely sure if crowds were among the things that would cause Nyssa to faint, but he wasn’t ready to rule it out.
There was a sudden nudge at the young professor’s side. He turned and nearly jumped when he saw how close Turlough was standing to him. He had little time to wonder how long the lad had been there, as the young man immediately started talking.
“What does Dr. Baker look like? And Mrs. Baker?” asked Turlough.
“You shall know them when you see them.” said Dr. Davison charitably. “Dr. Baker has a… a rather distinctive sense of fashion.”
“That’s very vague, doctor.”
“Well—it suffices to say that the Bakers are not themselves vague. They are… loud. That’s it. In their dress, their voices, and their behaviour; the Bakers are loud.” Dr. Davison explained. Turlough was clearly perplexed.
“How does one behave loudly?” he asked. Dr. Davison did not answer this question himself, but an interruption from halfway across the platform ensured he did not have to.
“We should have taken your brother’s car!”
“You speak as if he would have lent it to me!”
“You could have at least asked!”
“I have my own means, Perpugilliam! Half the lands are mine, half the house is mine, half the country estate is mine, and I will not beg a thing off of him.” finished the louder of the two rather loud voices. Dr. Davison and Turlough turned rather slowly in place and faced the source of the argument. There were two trolleys stacked to precarious levels with trunks, hatboxes, and carpetbags, and behind them were two people who looked at each other like they were the only people in the world, and therefore the only people who could hear their argument.
Mrs. Baker wore a dress that only looked demure in comparison to what her husband was wearing. She had about as much bosom exposed as the rest of the station combined, though to be fair, Dr. Davison’s wards were not the only ones with high collars. She was undoubtedly a very beautiful woman, and it was likely people would have been staring at her even if she weren’t shouting. Walking slightly more ahead of than beside her, Dr. Baker strode elegantly through the crowd as if he were not pushing a trolley, having a domestic, and just generally being a spectacle.
If Dr. Davison had been hoping that Dr. Baker would appear in a better mood or suit than he came to work in, he would have been sorely disappointed. No, it wasn’t even that it was a bad suit. It was beautifully cut and did everything for his ample frame that it could, but someone had the brilliant idea of saving fabric by using the scrap ends of a half a dozen different projects and sewing them into a single suit. His coattails flapped behind him like some sort of tropical bird.
As the Bakers approached, Dr. Davison’s girls pulled out of the crowd in order to properly frame him, not quite hiding behind their chaperone but definitely not standing in front of him. Adric even took his head out of his hands and gawped at the newcomers. Turlough nervously rebuttoned his jacket but other than that did his best to appear unflapped. The couple continued to yatter angrily at one another with no apparent care for who heard them.
“But if we took the car, then you wouldn’t have had the argument with the cab driver.”
“He attempted to overcharge us!”
“By what… two cents?”
“It’s not the tuppence, it’s the principle of the matter! I’d have tipped as much if he hadn’t tried to swindle us.” Dr. Baker huffed. “And for that matter, it’s not two cents, it’s tuppence. You’ve lived in England for how many years now? One would think that in half a decade you would have learned something of our currency!”
“Yeah, one would think that, if I was allowed to do the shopping.”
“Oh yes, I forgot. I starve you and keep you hidden away in rags with none of the comforts of home. If I can offer you nothing beyond not having to arrange your next meal yourself I’d be a very poor sort of husband, wouldn’t I?”
“I’m not complaining about that! I just don’t know when I was supposed to learn how to sound as stuck up as you.”
“We can argue about this on the train.” Dr. Baker groused. “We’re probably holding up Davison’s party at this rate.”
“Not quite yet, I’m afraid.” Dr. Davison called. He did not so much wave a handkerchief in the air to get Dr. Baker’s attention as raise his hand after covering his cough with one. It was the idea of the thing, really. Besides, this was one of the handkerchiefs monogrammed with a red question mark. Precisely twelve men, with one man who had purposely returned his, owned this style of handkerchief. The handkerchiefs themselves were not secret as such, but it didn’t do to wave the sign of a rather exclusive club above one’s head in a crowded railway station.
The Bakers increased to that polite sort of run that doesn’t speed one up at all but does indicate to whoever watches that one isn’t dawdling; the run employed by someone crossing in front of a stopped vehicle or when approaching a friend. Or in this case, a coworker. As soon as the trolley was at a complete stop, Dr. Davison offered Dr. Baker his hand.
“It’s good to see you again.” he said. It wasn’t quite a lie, Dr. Davison wasn’t unhappy to see the Bakers, just somewhat concerned that he would be a good deal happier when the whole lot of them were on their return trip. It was a brief, unemotional handshake that both men seemed eager to release.
“Yes, indeed.” said Dr. Baker with just enough formality to hide the irony. “Good to see you as well, Dr. Davison.”
“Please. We’re on holiday. Call me Peter.” said Dr. Davison with that very British smile that communicated “please for the love of God never call me Peter.”
Peri gave a much warmer smile to Dr. Davison, then passed it around the entire group. It ended on her husband, where it hardened into the expression that wasn’t a smile so much as a notification that a wife was smiling and that a husband was going to start doing the same or else be very sorry. Dr. Baker obediently smiled.
“It’s good of you to join us.” she said.
“Yes.” Dr. Davison coughed politely. “Yes, of course it was good of you to have us. It can be such a trouble organising a party of this size.”
“We don’t mind at all.” said Mrs. Baker, slipping a hand into the crook of her husband’s elbow. “It’s an embarrassingly big house and it gets lonely really quickly. And honestly, he’ll do anything not to be in the house at the same time as his brother.”
“Perpugilliam!” he hissed.
“Well, we all know about annoying brothers, don’t we?” Tegan offered. She gave Adric a smile he did not return.
“Ah. Yes. Have you met my children?” Dr. Davison offered as a change of subject.
“I’m nearly twenty years old.” Tegan pointed out crossly. This comment was ignored. Dr. Davison clapped a hand onto Adric’s shoulder and vaguely pointed him at the Bakers.
“This is Adric, my youngest. He’ll be a bit more personable after lunch, I imagine. And there’s Nyssa, darling girl, clever, gets on with everyone, wish they were all a bit more like her, Tegan’s introduced herself in her own way, I suppose. And Turlough… Turlough’s only been with us for a month, but he’s getting on well. Well, he’s getting on. Aren’t you, Turlough?” Dr. Davison asked. In response, Turlough proved himself a master of the dark glare that makes teenage boys look like murderers.
“Of course, Dr. Davison.. Peter.” said Turlough. The look of resigned disgust Dr. Davison exchanged with Turlough actually stopped off the boy’s glare. Tegan regarded Mrs. Baker curiously. Yes, she was quite pretty indeed, and she must have had the patience of a saint under her snide comments. If Tegan had been forced into marrying Dr. Baker, he would probably find himself in some dreadful, inexplicable accident by the end of the year, or Tegan would have disappeared like smoke, never to be heard of in society again. She preferred to think that the second scenario was more likely, but what few conversations with Dr. Baker she had made her unwilling to rule out the first one just yet.
Both just under twenty, pretty, orphaned, foreign, and with a mouth that a dowager would credit with the downfall of society, the first difference that society would notice between Perpugilliam and Tegan was that Mrs. Baker was married and miss Jovanka was not. Of course, some would argue that there was a distinctive difference between Americans and Australians, but to the truly academic, they were all just foreigners from barely civilised countries who murdered the English language.
“It’s very good of you both to open your country home to us for the summer.” said Dr. Davison politely. There was a pause as if he was expecting something to follow this. “Isn’t it, children?” There was a vague grumbling through the collection of wards which didn’t actually contain much by way of words but communicated a sort of grudging loyalty to their guardian, frustration at being referred to as children, and a half-hearted attempt to hide the dread of spending three months with a couple who were gauche enough to willing to argue about money in a public railway station. Hopefully the whole situation would be less profoundly awkward when there was no longer the opportunity to run across the station, board another train, and avoid the entire holiday tempting everyone. It could hardly become more awkward.
“I think we’d all best get on.” Dr. Baker huffed, resettling his coat. “There’s a lot of trunks to get into the luggage car, and a lot of us for the riders. We can… continue this scintillating conversation once we’re all settled, I think.”
The was a general murmur of assent from the group, and Adric only exclaimed softly when Tegan pushed him off the steamer trunk so they could move the trollies. Dr. Davison and Mrs. Baker, the most adamant that this was going to be an enjoyable journey even if someone died in the process, took the lead in the ragged little caravan of travellers.
“We haven’t been to Wisteria Bay since we were first married.” said Peri. “I think it will be an adventure for all of us.”
“Adventure, yes.” Dr. Davison smiled. “I do like the sound of that word.”
“I never have.” Turlough added, breezing past them.