"Do." She tried it out (and found herself singing 'a deer, a female deer' to herself). She'd always been Dot or Dorothea, or, forbiddingly, Miss Callum, whenever one of her form mistresses had caught her daydreaming or scribbling a bit of story into an exercise book meant for maths or history or French. And she probably always would be Dot to Dick and the Swallows and Amazons. But Do, on its own, sounded older, more sophisticated, she thought - while placed next to Callum, it seemed to run together, 'docallum', like one of the scientific names for things Dick was always using.
Clearly, when she was eventually published, she would have to be D.O. Callum - which was not precisely elegant on the face of it, but could at least be signed with a flourish.
Still, it would do for a girl who was about to become a WREN. Which was what had brought her to her old school trunk, to sort through her old exercise books. She meant to find all the partially filled ones to take with her, as there would be no getting new ones in which to record the experience, not with the war on. And, oh, here was a mostly unused one! Aside from a few pages of housekeeping lists at the front and, what else…? Ah, her attempt at recording the scene following Mrs. Blackett's return and the Amazons' release from martyrdom. She couldn't help but settle in to read it.
We are Picts no longer -, it began. Mrs. Blackett and Captain Turner have returned, and, oh, what a to-do there was. Nancy and Peggy had hoped to keep the full extent of our adventures in their absence from them entirely, but ...
Dorothea had somewhat bobbled along in the wake of all the collected Blacketts and Turners, fetching up on a footstool in the parlor. It gave an excellent view of Nancy and Peggy bookending their mother on the sofa - and Captain Turner in his usual armchair off to one side. Timothy was sat in the one opposite, while Dick took possession of the hearth-rug, she knew, but they weren't where the show would be.
Mrs. Blackett, who had charge of the letter from the Great Aunt, waited until the tea had been poured (with Peggy being 'Mother'), and she, herself, had finished her first cup, to unfold it and begin reading aloud, "My dear Mary - On hearing, by the merest accident, that you and James had thought fit to make a voyage for purposes of pleasure, leaving your daughters, my great nieces, alone at Beckfoot, I felt it my duty to take charge of them in your absence. I have no doubt that you would yourself have suggested this arrangement had your not been unwilling to inconvenience me."
Captain Turner snorted quite audibly at this. "No doubt at all."
"I do wonder who would 'by merest accident' have informed her of our plans - but," Mrs. Blackett said, and here she looked ruefully at Nancy and Peggy, each in turn. "Obviously she is just as prone to drawing whatever conclusion suits her prejudices as she ever was."
Nancy almost smiled at that, while Peggy relaxed into her mother's side a fraction more - but it was clear to Dorothea that neither of them would be truly at ease until the entire hurdle of the letter reading had been cleared, and they, of course, knew what was still to come.
"I should like to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the notable improvement in both Ruth and Margaret. They were, I may say, most attentive and obedient, and in every way did all they could to make my visit pleasant. They have, besides keeping up their practice on the pianoforte, made remarkable progress in their holiday tasks, so that they will be the better able to enjoy your companionship on your return," Mrs Blackett continued. "Well. More likely the better to enjoy the rest of your holiday in peace."
"We are, of course, overjoyed at your return - and looking so much better," Nancy said.
"But as I see, so far, no mention of sailing, or camping, or any of your other usual amusements, I feel it a certainty that you will soon be lured away from my side," Mrs. Blackett answered her, smiling.
Nancy looked sheepish at that, but did not deny it. Aside from saying, "well, here I am."
Captain Turner, who'd been watching this exchange with amusement, looked suddenly keen "No mention of the Ds, yet - what, did you spend the visit hiding in the walls? Or, oh-ho, maybe you set to sea with poor Timothy? I would think they'd get top billing if Nancy wasn't up to her usual tricks."
Suddenly, Dorothea thought, the show was with Timothy and Dick, after all - which, given Timothy, might mean the game was up, though he'd been a good egg about the Great Aunt. But all he did was say, mildly, "no need to worry - I wasn't overrun with pirates. Nor even more than the occasional visitor, aside from Dick, here, about the ores."
Whether he'd meant it as such, it proved an excellent distraction for Captain Turner, who now looked entirely torn between asking after their progress with the ores and hearing his sister read out the rest of the letter.
Not that she gave him much of a choice in the matter, as she continued, just then, "Ruth, in particular, at a moment when a slight misunderstanding on my part had brought about circumstances that might have been embarrassing to me, showed that she possesses much of the tact that was characteristic of your grandfather."
"Tact? From Nancy? Whatever will the world come to next?"
Nancy, Dorothea could see, was bursting to say that it was strategic, but restrained herself to saying, "She never gave anyone a chance to say anything otherwise. She was so certain she was right."
Captain Turner has "Which does sound entirely spot-on for our dearest Aunt, but what on earth could she have been so wrong about as to require you to exercise formidable amounts of tact?"
Peggy, who'd stayed mostly quiet thus far, seemed to feel it her turn to speak. "Well, a window slammed itself shut in the night, so first she thought there'd been a burglary - and then she thought, if it wasn't that, it must be that we'd been sneaking off to see the Swallows at night. Which, of course we hadn't. But she was certain, so the day she was leaving she went off and played detective. And found out how entirely wrong she'd been after getting herself stuck on Uncle Jim's houseboat."
Which all, Dorothea thought, was a masterful piece of telling the truth without telling any of the important bits - and perfectly timed, given the next bit of the letter.
"Ah," said Captain Turner, "is this where the Ds take her sailing, then?"
"Well," Dick said, "we were sailing, and saw her waving from the houseboat, when no-one had any idea she was there - so we sailed right up alongside and brought her safely aboard. And then we brought her straight back to Beckfoot, so she'd be in time to meet her car to the station."
"Well done, Ds," Captain Turner said, approvingly. "We'll make true sailors of you yet."
And then Mrs Blackett was reading aloud, again, and shaking her head. "I wish I could give as good a report of the person to whom, it seems, James had unwisely lent his houseboat. I hope James took the precaution of having an inventory made of his possessions before he left them in the hands of a man who is not above breaking into the house at night to obtain something that I suppose he thought I might otherwise have denied him."
"People always are mistaking you for a shady character, old boy," Captain Turner remarked fondly, then. "Why, do you remember that time in _____?"
Dorothea found herself smiling, remembering it - and how they'd learned the story of that time, and many others, several summers later. Just as the rest of the story of the Ds' sojourn in the stone hut had been revealed, before the end of tea, that day, since neither Mrs. Blackett nor Captain Turner could be put off forever.. But here Dorothea was commenting on Timothy's reaction at the time:
Timothy, old Squashy Hat himself, was like a magnet that couldn't make up its mind - or so it seemed to me. There could be no doubt that he'd been glad to see Captain Turner return, the way he'd smiled fit to split his face in two, and I don't doubt that if he could have skipped ahead to the part where they could go off, just the two of them and Dick, to talk nothing but samples and test results and every other kind of mining thing he had to report at the end of Captain Turner's two weeks away - well, he would have done it in a heartbeat, he was so bursting with the news. But also, at the very same time, it seemed to me that if there had been a convenient wall or hedgerow for him to have hopped over or ducked behind, he would have done exactly that in a trice.
- now, she could not help but think of what more there had been to those reactions. The same summer they'd had that story, Nancy had reported that Timothy was to be treated just like one of the family, properly, as he'd been to Christmas at Beckfoot every year running since the summer of the Great Aunt's visit. And it had been plain for all to see that old Squashy Hat and Captain Flint intended on keeping house together indefinitely. Which fit neatly in with the last bit of the letter, it seemed to her now. She hadn't thought of that day in years, but it seemed clear as yesterday now, the way Mrs. Blackett had read it out:
"I leave today to rejoin my dear old friend, Miss Hutchinson," she continued, the emphasis clear and precise. "Who, in accordance with her usual summer routine, is to take the waters at Harrogate. I should otherwise have been glad to prolong what I undertook as a duty but found to be a most delightful visit."
Dorothea was now no more able to imagine the Great Aunt having a truly dear old friend - such as she had in Titty - than she had been able to then. But given she was, in part, following Titty into the WRENs, she thought she could imagine a future where she also followed Titty to take the waters at Harrogate or Bath or Brighton. Or back to where it all began, there on the dear old lake. Not that she'd be following, so much, if they chose that for their destination. But first they had to survive being WRENs.
Titty would be splendid, Dorothea was sure - and she should at least come away with a handful of new stories, but perhaps more, even if she had to beat against the wind to do it.