Sir Humphrey, who had not shown himself till now, opened the door from the sitting room and shuffled into the room. He had strained his back a few days ago, and in consequence was nastily handicapped. But a broad smile lit up his solemn love-softened face as he embraced the tall dark man.
And then it was shy little Dee’s turn, and she ran lightly down the stairs, seized the shoulders of the surprised eight-year-old boy, and yelled, “I know who you are! You’re my cousin!”
There was instant pandemonium. The others from the sitting room had crowded in at the doorway, and fond family bonds were renewed and created. For at least half an hour the twelve Thimbles were occupied, Apollo adding his quota to the general mêlée and barking at his loudest.
It was ten years since any of them had met, and Aoife’s parents, being absent-minded people who needed instruction on matters of any other topic than painting, had made no effort to keep in touch with even their daughter.
But it was Aoife who got the most out of that half an hour. It had been a long day for her. Besides the excitement of that morning, she discovered she had a brother ten years younger than she, re-discovered her parents, and finally she felt properly assured that her parents did love her as other parents loved their children. She knew in that first warm embrace that whatever she might say or do, her parents did love her, and they loved her very much. She sat close by her mum for a whole hour, holding her hand as if she’d never let it go again, until they finally came down to business, Serena and Nathaniel quietly disposed of in bed, and Blaise, Delia and Daniel introducing their new cousin Lion, as they swiftly learned to call him, to the game of Ludo in the dining room.
“So are you here for a particular reason?” Sir Humphrey asked his younger brother when they had finally exchanged the most significant headlines in family news.
Mrs Thimble looked embarrassed. “Well, we are actually. Lionel is nine tomorrow, and we suddenly realised that we hadn’t seen our daughter in ten years to this day. We felt we couldn’t possibly delay our visit a moment longer, so we packed our bags and departed to England. The Caribbean wasn’t suiting Lionel anyway, and we’d always meant to return to England briefly and settle Lionel in a school where we wouldn’t have to move him round with us all the time. It’s the same as with Aoife: he’s just a little too big to cart around with us now.”
Aoife’s heart sank tangibly. Her parents were not staying for good. Oh, no! They were offloading her brother onto his uncle’s family just as they had done with her, then going off for ten years and not returning, not ever even contacting anyone in all likeliness. It was just too bad, and scarcely to be believed in the midst of her newfound happiness.
“Well, if you’d like to leave Lionel with us he’d be very welcome as far as I’m concerned, especially if he’s as valuable as our Aoife is. We don’t know what we’d do without her. But that does depend on her. Aoife does all our cooking and cleaning at home, and all our dirty work too. Although lately she’s installed the washing up song, which has recently grown to seven verses, and the children delight in that particular ritual after breakfast – more than can be said for the listeners! We don’t allow them to sing it more than once a day, and I’m sure when we go back Rob and Lindy will be grateful to be rid of it.”
Mrs Thimble laughed a ringing laugh very like Aoife’s, but it sounded a little forced, and her brow was creased nervously. There was none of her daughter’s carefree confidence about her.
“What do you say, Aoife?” Sir Humphrey said gently. He knew that Aoife would have a little difficulty in controlling her feelings over such a matter. His warning was well-thought-of, but it only brushed over Aoife, who suddenly felt a surge of anger and stress that no well-meant caution could check.