CHAPTER ELEVEN: Apollo Goes Rabbiting
The day of Serena’s second birthday, which was the day after the boat race, in fact, dawned foggy and humid, and as the day warmed, the fog lifted just enough to be looming heavily halfway up the Sonnjoch. There it stayed, and the sky remained white all morning, putting Blaise, who was sensitive to weather changes, and especially the grey oppressive type, in rather a foul mood. Aoife too was weather-sensitive, but she possessed more self-control than the nine-year-old and did not show her depression.
The children were all feeling flat after the excitement of the previous day, and the birthday of their small niece didn’t interest them beyond the initial anniversary greetings. Beyond giving her a doll or two and some cards and a set of plastic plates and cups, there was little to occupy them in small Serena.
The meal took place that evening, and they had invited the four Atkins to dinner. Vinzent had not returned yet, and Aoife tried to conquer the gloomy feeling that he might not be back for several more weeks. He had only been gone a week, and though it had felt to Aoife like forever, she knew she must come to grips with going on without him for another few weeks at least. She hadn’t realised it till then; she had come to lean a good deal on the handsome half-German man, and she missed his playful presence with the children as much as their calm confidential talks. That was just one of the things she loved about Vinzent: he understood better than anyone else she had ever met, and, having grown accustomed to his supportive company, and spilled out her heart to his sympathetic ears, she found it difficult to return to the humdrum routine of keeping strong and fresh for the amusement of her cousins.
The Atkins arrived at precisely three o’clock, to allow for talking time before the meal, which Aoife, Lindy and Rob would combine to prepare.
Sir Humphrey got on very well with Mr Atkins. They were both clever Englishmen, and both had lost their pretty perfect wives. They had common passions in travel, culture and economy, and had a similar sense of humour.
Aoife and Élodie, more or less the same age, retired into a corner. They did not share many interests, but in the few weeks since they had met, they had become firm friends and honest sympathisers.
As for Blaise, Coralie and Delia, they got on very well indeed and were soon chasing Apollo all over the garden, even in the stuffy heat trapped by the clouds. Basilie, who, at fourteen, would not run about with children of nine, ten and eleven, respectively, sat on the balcony railings and chatted to Daniel. These two were also on excellent terms, being old enough to be friendly without being silly about it, though both got teased by their younger and more ‘ignorant’ siblings.
There much to speak about, beginning with the boat race of the previous day, which provided an almost inexhaustible topic for conversation.
“I am wondering how you won that race,” Basilie said laughingly in her stilted English. “You have had a boat for less than a week!”
“Well it wasn’t so much that. I was captain, remember, and that probably made all the difference,” Daniel said airily.
“You are a good captain,” Basilie condescended, “but you were very fortunate.”
“I thought there was no such thing as luck,” Dan said, imitating and improving her words of the previous day.
“There is no thing that is luck,” assented Basilie. “But good fortune: that is real and true.”
“Isn’t luck and good fortune the same thing?”
“No; it isn’t. You ask your cousin Aoife. She looks like the sort of person to understand. Élodie and Coralie don’t – they are too fond of maths and science. And a factual logical person can not contemplate matters of that nature.”
“Well people say I’m matter-of-fact; I say I’m sensible,” Dan said. “I’m a realist. You can’t be too creative, because you end in making things up which just aren’t true, but fool people because they sound good.”
“You can’t be too creative,” agreed Basilie mildly, and Dan took a moment to work out that she meant it in a different sense than he did. As she slid down from the railings and ran to Apollo, he gazed after her with a certain amount of awe, wondering how she could be so quick and calm even in a foreign language.