Sir Humphrey did not cry. His eyes were dry and soft as he saw the undivided joy glowing in his niece’s eyes. She was happy, and that was all that mattered.
Delia and Blaise were a different story. They cornered their cousin the first chance they got in the parish room, just before the cake was to be served, and had their say with a vengeance.
“Aoife! I can’t believe you aren’t going to be living with us any more,” Delia cried, tears in her eyes.
“You’ve been prepared for three months,” said Aoife, a mixture of amusement and tenderness in her pleasantly textured voice.
“But I’ve only just realised that we’ll have to do without you forever now,” said Delia.
“I know, Dee,” said Aoife, smiling at her with ardent affection. “But you won’t have to do without me forever. I’ll be less than a mile away. I’ll be always there for you when you need me.”
“I mean,” said Delia, thinking hard, “I mean I know it sounds really selfish, but it means we aren’t first any more.”
“You won’t be first,” acknowledged Aoife, “but you’ll be second, and if ever you need me, I will be there instantly. You can look closer for help, too, you know. You know your mother is there for you, and always will be, and she can get to you quicker than ever I can.”
Delia nodded; she knew what Aoife meant; she didn’t trust herself to speak.
“But Mummy’s dead,” Blaise chimed in. “How can she be there?”
“Mummy’s body is dead, but her soul is there if you look for it,” Aoife said gently. “And your memories of her are far more precious than any other possessions you own. She can help you far better than ever I could if you were really in trouble.”
Blaise nodded speechlessly. “I just wish you weren’t going anywhere.”
“Would you deny me my happiness if you knew there was nowhere else I would rather be?”
“No,” sighed Blaise; “I just wish you could stay with us.”
“Cheer up,” Aoife said. “You’ll be over at the island every day of the Christmas holidays, and you know it. Remember Coralie and Basilie and their dad are coming to live in one of the cottages just before Christmas, and after New Year there will be another family with a girl your age. Don’t despair. You’ll find everything is fine, really, and the sun will be shining soon. All will be well.”
“Probably you’re right,” admitted Blaise. “You’re always right. But just at the moment it’s a damp foggy morning before dawn, and I feel cold and in the dark.”
“Oh, Blaise! Give me a hug!” Aoife cried, throwing her arms around both her cousins and holding them tightly. “The sun will rise soon enough. Now, I must help my husband cut the cake or he’ll spoil it. You saw the mess he made of my birthday cake last week! I’m going to have to teach him to wield a knife for domestic uses. Did you know he used to juggle knives when he was your age, and make pennies on the streets for it?”