Sir Humphrey Thimble found himself outside the room, stunned and breathless – but sad. He had got over that initial longing for his late wife, but it hit hard, and he was a lonely man without her. Oh, she had been such a wonderful woman! – no word could be superlative enough for her brilliance.
“Are you alright, Daddy? What’s going to happen? Can I go back to school yet?” Delia poured out in a lazy voice like thick dull syrup, sliding slowly from her chair in the foyer and shuffling towards him in that terribly languid way.
“I’m fine, sugarpie. But I’m afraid Doc says that you’re not quite fit to go back to school quite yet. How about a holiday?”
“Oh, but I’ve had a holiday now. I haven’t been to school in eight weeks. I’m bored, Dad. And though my friends are really nice and sending presents and stuff, I haven’t seen any of them except Erin since May. And she was only talking through the window because Aoife is fussy and inhospitable and thought I might be infectious. What’s going to happen? I hope we aren’t going anywhere. I’m too tired to go anywhere or do anything at all.”
“Exactly why you can’t go back to school. I’ll tell you what Doc and I have been plotting with the rest of the family this evening. It wouldn’t be fair to tell you first, would it? It concerns all of you.”
“Oh, goody. I hate things that only concern me, because I end up all lonely and bored at home while everyone’s enjoying themselves with their friends.”
“What about Apollo? Isn’t he company for you?”
“Yes, I suppose he’s company, and the best ever dog we could ever have. But he’s only a dog and that isn’t sufficient to make up for a human.”
Sir Humphrey looked down into the serious little face. Too serious, too thin, and far too pale. Delia was pale by nature, but her skin was positively pallid, the veins painted on her cheeks in watercolour. Let’s hope Austria will give back to her those pretty pink cheeks of hers, Sir Humphrey thought. Aloud, he said, “Let’s get ourselves home. I foresee a busy few days ahead of us.”
Delia shot him a questioning glance.
“What’s wrong?” Sir Humphrey asked, hoping to stimulate the girl into asking questions and offering opinions. She seldom spoke at home, letting the others drown her out with their rowdy discussion, till she was tired with the clamour and betook herself to bed.
Delia shook her dark head. “Never mind. I haven’t the breath to press the point.”
Sir Humphrey said nothing, though his silent words aroused a deeper train of thought for their absence. It was high time that Delia did get back to school and start talking like a small girl again and less like an adult. It was also high time that she regained her characteristic enthusiasm and became part of the family again. It was obvious she felt an outsider to everything, for she was sensitive and had felt the difference between her and her siblings the past couple of months.
“What about lunch at the new garden centre?” Sir Humphrey suggested jauntily.
“Okay, if you like.”
Sir Humphrey sighed inwardly. It would take a hard pull to restore his daughter to her former bubbly self. Those three questions shot at him as he came from Dr Kennedy’s office were about as talkative Delia had been in weeks.