Friday was Basilie Atkins’ birthday, and as the Atkins’ had no other acquaintances in the country, they had invited the entire Thimble congregation, throwing in Vinzent Watersheen for good measure.
The Thimbles piled into the car on Friday afternoon and drove down into Jenbach, where they bought Basilie a selection of soaps and a bulging bag of pear-drops. Then Rob stepped on the accelerator again and they pulled up at the small holiday cottage at around half past five.
Violet-eyed Coralie was waiting by the gate, an expression of uncontained excitement on her face.
“Come on in,” she cried. “We’ve got loads of games set out, and dinner is at seven. Élodie is making…something special for dessert. I nearly told you then. It’s going to be fantastic. Everyone loves Élodie’s…desserts. Anyway, come in. Basilie is upstairs. She’ll be down in a second.”
The nine of them filed into the small chalet, which was pretty and quaint as their own was modern, though obviously cramped.
“Sorry about the squash,” Coralie said responsibly. “We only have three rooms on the ground floor, and one’s the store cupboard where we keep the bikes. Then we have three bedrooms and a bathroom, but that’s it. When Dad comes up I move into Basilie’s room. He’s up now. Hi, Dad. These are the Thimbles.”
A tall man stood up from his armchair when Blaise and Daniel entered the living room, and introduced himself in jovial tones.
“Hello, hello! I’m very pleased to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from my girls, particularly Coralie.” His brownish eyes twinkled as he shook hands with Blaise, and Daniel realised that the girls got their startling violet eyes from the French side of the family and their deceased mother.
Blaise, who scarcely knew the meaning of the word shy, smiled warmly. “Yes, Coralie does talk quite a lot, doesn’t she?”
Aoife clapped her hand to her mouth in shock, and Delia nearly giggled, but stopped herself in time. Daniel hissed sharply, “Blaise! What on earth?”
“What?” Blaise looked and sounded surprised. “I never said I didn’t talk more, did I?”
Mr Atkins burst into laughter at the girl’s serene innocence and at the horror of the others.
“I agree she does talk awhile,” he agreed with a distinct Kentish accent. “But she’ll grow out of it. I did myself when I reached my teens, as did my older girls. Now, you’re Mr and Mrs Thimble, aren’t you? With the little Serena?”
“It’s Rob and Lindy,” Lindy said with her warmest smile. “Serena’s two in eleven days.”
“Is she now? What a pretty youngster she is. Congratulations, miss. Nearly two years old, are you?”
Little Serena nodded her head, and Nathaniel looked up protectively.
“Who are you? Are you talking to my cousin Serena? She’s nice, isn’t she?”
“Very,” pledged Mr Atkins. It was obvious that he adored children. “Nathaniel, isn’t it? You look very like your brother.”
“My big brother Rob? Yes, when I grow up I’ll be just like him.”
“I’m sure you will,” Mr Atkins beamed at Nathaniel. “Who else is there to meet? I know Blaise, and Daniel, and Delia. I’m sure you are Aoife, who I’ve heard a lot about. All of my girls have been singing your praises all week.”
Aoife blushed. “That’s very kind of them,” she said. “But I’m really not worth it. Please don’t believe all you hear about me, Mr Atkins.”
“Oh, it’s all good,” the jovial man said.
“And this is Daddy,” Blaise cried, bringing her father forward. “Daddy, this is Mr Atkins.”
“So I gather.” The two men shook hands and then the three Atkins girls entered, Coralie having joined Élodie in the kitchen during the introductions.