“Where were you last night, Aoife?” Blaise asked as soon as Aoife appeared.
Aoife frowned. “Painting by the lakeside, as I said,” she replied.
“You weren’t back till ten,” Blaise continued accusingly. “I heard the door when you came in.”
“I’m sorry, Blaise; I tried to be quiet,” said Aoife. “And as for ten o’clock, am I not allowed to stay out painting? I was in bed at my usual time and earlier, Blaise – I promise.”
Blaise shrugged. “I just thought wouldn’t you get really bored, painting for three whole hours?”
“Well as we all know, you don’t exactly get bored reading for three hours,” Daniel intervened gruffly. “So I don’t see what you can say about someone else’s hobby.”
“And you get bored of anything in three hours,” Blaise smiled sweetly.
There was little conversation at breakfast that day. They were all tired, having been up and about all day the previous day, up the Feilalm and across the golf course. They were stiff and achy today, but in high good humour.
“How is Delia today, chicken?” Sir Humphrey asked when the silence threatened to become dull.
“I’m not a chicken, Dad,” Delia said with dignity, “or I’d be clucking like Blaise does. But I’m fine. I feel really good today after that walk. It’s such a refreshing, satisfying achiness, don’t you think?”
“I haven’t a clue what you mean,” said Dan. “Ache means ache and that’s the end of it.”
“That isn’t true!” Blaise flew up instantly. As Aoife declared, she was always spoiling for a squabble with her brother.
Aoife watched amusedly for a few moments before she took a hand. “I understand exactly what Delia means because I feel it myself, but it isn’t Daniel’s fault if he doesn’t, Blaise,” she said calmly, and the fight stopped immediately. “It just means he hasn’t a gram of imagination in him.”
“And he’s proud of it!” finished Daniel firmly, and Blaise, after muttering something about ‘a load of utter rubbish’, subsided. There was something different about Aoife this morning. But it was an inexplicable difference, an intangible and invisible difference which I cannot describe with words alone, and only Sir Humphrey caught the gist of it, and realised that Aoife had suddenly grown up more fully than ever before. She had been old before, he knew. Now she was matured, and, he felt, ready to make her own way in the world should she feel the compulsion to do so.
She was evidently quite content right now, taking the family’s lengthy orders for toast even as she spooned cereal into her own mouth.
“What are we doing today?” asked Delia. “I hope it’s something energetic – I feel great after yesterday.”
Aoife looked interested. “Really? Well, I’ll see if I can evolve an evil scheme,” she promised, looking thoughtful.
When they had all finished, Aoife abandoned the washing up momentarily and sat the younger party down at the table again.
“We’re going to have an educational day today,” she said, taking complete charge, and there were several groans. She ignored them. “We’re going to start with family washing up, which will be led by the washing up song. Later this morning we’ll go swimming in the lake, before it gets too hot. We’ll have packed a picnic earlier, which we’ll eat at the lakeside. This afternoon I will conduct a German lesson, then we’ll watch some German television, and look up words in our personal dictionaries. After that we’ll buy postcards and write them, seeing as we haven’t done any of that at all so far and have been neglecting our friends most shamefully, and this evening I’m going to see if I can get permission to build a campfire. Maybe if it’s warm enough we could camp outside.”
Cheers greeted this announcement, and she was bombarded with questions on all sides.
“Why do you need permission?”
“Does Nat sleep out too?”
“What’s the washing up song?”
“Whoa there, family!” cried Aoife. “Mercy! Now, one at a time. We need permission because we might burn down this whole place, which wouldn’t be too clever. I expect they’d make us pay some money to rent a particular place for the night where bonfires are allowed. No promises on that front or the sleeping out one, either. Nat isn’t included on this. Sorry to him, but he’s only five, and that’s just too young for us. He’ll be much better with Serena and company.”
“Can we ban adults?” the question was raised seriously by a solemn voice.
Aoife laughed. “Do I not count as an adult?”
“No,” Blaise was puzzled. “You’re Aoife.”
Aoife nearly burst into hysterics, but she bit her lips and controlled herself. “Well, I don’t expect I’d be allowed to let you sleep outside without another adult. I’m only nineteen. And Dan would be the only boy, which isn’t fair on him. No; I’d have to persuade Rob to help us.”
Three grunts greeted this. None of them knew Rob very well, seeing as he had left home six whole years ago, when Blaise had been three and even Dan had been a mere seven. Then Delia spoke.
“What does Dad say?”
“He approves. I was talking to him before breakfast. He says as long as I get permission for the campfire bit, he’ll back me up on the rest.”
“What’s the washing up song?” Blaise asked her original question.
“It goes like this,” Aoife said, opening her mouth and singing in a sweet clear voice.