“You won’t be in this family forever, Aoife, dear. What about a career? Or do you want to be idle all your days?”
Aoife blushed. “I’m sorry, Uncle. But I’m at such a loose end at the moment. I don’t want to go to university at all. I want to be an artist, which I can do fine at home. But it’s such a chancy profession. My parents have enough money to do what they do, but I just don’t know about myself.”
“You could take something up, if it was just temporary, just to earn a little. But there isn’t any need at the moment. I’m sorry. I’m just a silly old worrier.”
“I really don’t know. I could get a part-time job in a shop, but it would take half an hour to cycle to the nearest shop in any case, and I can’t drive the car.”
“I’ll teach you when we get back, if you like. I should have done it years ago, but it never crossed my mind.” He caressed his chin, as men do when they check for stubble. “Anyway, you have all summer to think about it.”
“That’s not leaving troubles behind, although I quite see that I really must do something with my life, and not be relying on you forever. I just can’t go away, though, and leave you to cope with the family alone, Uncle.”
“That’s sweet of you, dear, but if it happens, I’ll just cope. Who knows? You may meet that someone special and be married before Christmas.”
“At nineteen, Uncle? That’s just a bit young, I think.”
Sir Humphrey smiled warmly at she who had become his help and standby these past three years, and Aoife blushed again, uncomfortable under astute scrutiny.
“Dymmie and I were married when she was only just twenty, though Rob didn’t arrive until she was twenty-seven, I will admit. And it was another ten years until Daniel came along.”
Aoife bobbed her head, and remembered the remainder of the washing up.
“Anyway, that’s all I wanted to know. Thank you, Uncle Humph,” she said with a sweet smile, long legs striding from the mantelpiece as she cast a final pensive glance at her aunt’s peaceful image, and closing the door again with a soft click.
Sir Humphrey shook his head. She was young in age, yes. But numbers weren’t everything. Mentally she was far older than her cousin Robert, who was twenty-three years old. In three years she had had to grow up by a vast scale factor, take over the whole house, work for her A-levels and keep up her own artistic impulses in her free time. Running a household took time, consideration, care and tact, and these things Aoife had developed so well. It was plain that she was born to be a housewife – but for all that, Sir Humphrey hoped he would not lose her just yet.
The clock chimed six, reminding him of his duties and the fact that he had to start packing for Saturday. He could safely leave most of it to Aoife herself, but there were certain things he must be responsible for, such as lifting the cases from the attics and chasing Daniel to sort his clothes from the creased piles adorning his bedroom. Two months was a long time, and it would probably be necessary to send a proportion of cases to the continent in advance to ensure that they arrived safely. The plan consisted of flying to Salzburg and drive to Pertisau, and to do that they needed as little luggage as possible. Perhaps they could engage a luggage company.
He raised himself slowly to his feet with a resigned sigh. The children were going to school tomorrow for their last day that year. There was a good deal to be done.