“At just three o’clock? Really?” Then, as Delia didn’t reply, Aoife stepped over and held her hand to the girl’s forehead. Delia was burning hot.
“Go and undress in the bathroom. Wash your face and hands in cold water, and I’ll see if I can unearth your pyjamas,” Aoife said, resisting the urge to panic with a cool calmness borne only from three years of intense practice. “Come on, I’ll take you there.”
Ten minutes later, Delia, feeling much cooler, was lying down in her bed in her pyjamas, already drowsy.
Aoife drew the curtains, anxious about her young cousin. Delia had been the worry of the family since she had been born. Having started her short life in an incubator, being a tiny weak baby, and almost absurdly early, she had been gradually nursed back to health through immaculate care. But at just eight months old she caught measles off Daniel, Rob and Geoff, the second Thimble boy who at seven years old had died of the disease. He, also, had been delicate, and after that instance, everyone strived to take the utmost care of Delia.
All had gone well till she was seven, and missed a year of school through consecutive chicken pox and scarlet fever in one term, topping off the whole picture with a season of violent fits of shaking and worse at Christmas. She had been left so weak after this that she missed a whole year of school. The next year had brought the death of Lady Thimble, and Delia had been so upset that she was vulnerable to a long sniffly cold, keeping her off school four days out of five for a term.
Since then she had experienced no major illnesses until the pneumonia of that May, spurred by a spontaneous walk home from Brownies in the rain. Unfortunately Aoife had been delayed on that occasion, because a good friend had fractured her wrist and Aoife had been unable to collect her cousin until she had sorted installed the friend safely with her parents at the local hospital. Though she had contacted the Brown Owl as she waited for the ambulance, and the dutiful lady had informed Delia of the situation immediately, Delia, with a great lack of common sense and a longing for independence and worth, decided to take matters into her own hands and walk home herself.
After the occasion, she had not been lectured on the logic of this decision because she had been too ill, but it was certain that Delia realised how stupid she had been. Her long history of illness had made Delia quieter than her fellows, shyer and more nervous, and given to stuttering when faced with strangers. She was also a lot more matured in mind, though she was far behind in schoolwork, lacking so much important groundwork she had missed over the years.
Delia awoke from her siesta a couple of hours later, and, prompted by Aoife, rejoiced in a refreshing shower, so that she came down to dinner much revitalized, and, for the first time in months, in a relaxed mood.
Aoife, who had a lot of unpacking before her, left the meal preparation to a minimum, buttering a few pieces of bread from the cases until she could do some proper shopping down in Jenbach or in Maurach the following day.
“How about a stroll down to the lake before bed?” suggested Sir Humphrey as Aoife and Blaise cleared away.
Daniel groaned with a fantasia of feeling. “Do we have to?” he said.
“No!” decided small Nathaniel, though it is to be debated as to whether he understood the nature of the question being asked.
“That would be very nice,” Lindy accepted with her customary smile. “Have the buggies emerged?”
“Ages ago,” Rob replied from beside her, gazing at his wife with undisguised adoration.
Sir Humphrey noted the look with a trace of sadness. It was well to be fond of one’s partner, but he sincerely hoped that Rob would never be forced into the intense sorrow of bereavement of his beloved spouse – not while he was still young. What I would give, Sir Humphrey thought, to ensure that my son does not feel such pain in his lifetime.
He was not the only one to see the look of husband to wife. Aoife saw it, and felt an inexplicable pang she could not understand, though she said nothing, and her face was as impassive as always. She had been known in her junior days as the only girl who did not blink or flinch in injection season, as the needle pierced her skin and found its way into her blood.
“Oh, I’ll come!” Blaise cried, rudely interrupting their ruminations. “How about you, Dee?”
Delia considered with quiet deliberation. Then she nodded to herself. “I’d like to,” she said at last, and Aoife felt a spring of delight well up in her heart. Here it was, nearly seven o’clock, and Delia agreeing to go on an evening walk! Of course, the nap had helped; yet the day had been long and irregular with the wearies of travel, and she had wound up with a full-scale faint just earlier that day.
“Right, then. Someone find Apollo and let’s go,” Sir Humphrey said. “It’s nearly seven already.”
“How long must we be gone for?” Daniel queried, exhaling resignedly and forcing his legs to bear his weight.
“Half an hour would do it, and then it will be bedtime for the younger people. The rest of us can unpack,” his father replied, unconcerned.
Daniel grunted unconvincingly, flexing his arms. As the eldest of the four siblings who still lived in the manor, he liked to appear strong and superior, and often succeeded, in appearance.