Chapter Nine [IV]

In just ten minutes the Thimbles had made fast friends with Mr Atkins, whose caring, cheerful ways won the hearts of the younger party and at once put the elders at ease. A minute later Vinzent Watersheen appeared, and was received with fervour by Blaise’s gang.

“How about a round of Consequences?” Coralie suggested in a lull, and her suggestion was met with great enthusiasm.

“Consequences? We know that game! Mummy used to play it with us,” Delia said, prised from her rather noiseless reverie.

“I remember that,” Daniel said, searching his memory. “It’s a hilarious game, isn’t it?”

“I remember too,” thought Aoife softly, wondering why she hadn’t had the inspiration to play it again before. She knew why. She hadn’t wanted to remind herself of Lady Thimble. It had not even been for the children’s benefit that she hadn’t thought of it since. It was because she herself had been scared of being touched by the past. She had kept the game sacred to her aunt in her own mind. But now she felt a great release in playing it again. You couldn’t kill a good game because you were scared of your own emotions. And Aoife got more laughs out of one round of Consequences than she had got in three years.

Consequences was followed by Book Reviews, another howling favourite, and then with Bulls and Cows, another rowdy game proposed by Blaise, who knew a good many from some unspecified quarter – probably a book, Daniel guessed contemptuously.

Dinner was salmon, Basilie’s favourite, and salad, with some delicious French cakes that Coralie claimed were meant to be eaten for a main course. Then the momentous dessert arrived, and Dan and Blaise looked up eagerly as two large glass bowls were carried in and set down on the table. Élodie glanced round at the party, eyes sparkling at their expectant faces, and removed the lid of the first bowl to reveal a huge mousse of six different flavours, all stirred in like a marble cake – chocolate, raspberry, vanilla, lemon, mango and cucumber!

Coralie heaved a sigh of pure satisfaction. “Don’t worry, it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she assured Delia, who was looking daunted.

“I’ll bet!” cried Blaise, and Daniel had good cause for remarking “Dustbin!” in an everyday tone.

The second bowl contained a big chocolate birthday cake with fourteen candles and fancy icing only Élodie knew how to do.

“Gracious!” Lindy said. “Did you ice that cake?”

“Why, yes. I’d love to be a cook, but I must have a more gainful job, so I am going to be a primary school teacher. That I will enjoy too.”

“It’s brilliant.”

“Élodie makes good cakes,” Basilie explained – in her delicate French accent, but with characteristic accuracy.

“Aoife does good trifles.” Blaise instantly retaliated to defend her beloved cousin and ally, and Mr Atkins roared with laughter.

“Talk about loyalty! Young Blaise is certainly a strong loyalist. You’ll go far, young lady.”

“Thank you,” Blaise replied composedly. “I mean to be a very successful lawyer, and I will not base my cases on money. I’m going to be like Mummy – she took a law degree – except I’m not going to get married and have loads of children before I get round to practising my career.”

“That’s a strong aspiration,” commented Mr Atkins, “and I hope you get your wish, unless you decide otherwise.”

“Oh, I won’t,” Blaise assured him seriously. “I’m disgustingly stubborn.”

Mr Atkins treated her with as much solemnity as she gave him. “It’s as well to be a bit stubborn, but you must know where to stop,” he said, looking at her but hardly seeming to register her presence. He was looking back into the past, it seemed to Aoife, who was watching observantly. She knew that look, for she had seen it on the face of her Uncle Humph many a time. She wondered if Mr Atkins was thinking of his late wife Ophélie. Perhaps she had been stubborn.

Blaise frowned in remembrance of her latest jaunt born of extreme obstinacy, and the conversation dropped.

The End

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