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CHAPTER III CONCERNING A DISOBLIGING GHOST
The "little widow" had come to Andana under the mistaken notion that it was a nook in the backwoods of Switzerland where none might discover her. She was very much astonished and not a little dismayed to discover a middle-class society of an exuberant order and a noisy frivolity which could not but amuse her.

In such a company it was hardly possible for her to remain undiscovered, and she had not been in the hotel many hours when that Admirable Crichton, Dr. Orange, invited her to his own table. There she speedily began to reign to the satisfaction of a little coterie of the elect. If she, in her turn, shrank from the greatness thus thrust upon her, she was grateful for the compliment, and hastened to accept it. She had been alone so many months—she who was but seven-and-twenty, and had the heart of a child.

It was a great dinner that night, and merry the mood of the company. The "little widow" herself wore a dress of black velvet with a glorious "what-do-you-call-it" of white silk beneath it, as Bob Otway told his sister when describing it. Her diamonds were undoubtedly magnificent. Obviously a woman of fashion and of the world, she racked the animosities of prim misses from the suburbs and positively exasperated their mammas. These were of the "blouse" order, and obviously sober both in the matter of habit and of fashion. They dined with their eyes upon the "little widow" and their ears bent to every breath of gossip which stirred in an atmosphere odorous of dinner and cheap scents.

Dr. Orange, meanwhile, was hardly conscious of the envy he excited. He had not heard the rhapsodies of the males or the conviction, general when the fish was served, that her eyes were divine. He saw a charming woman, with a skin that Greuze would have copied, a mouth that a suburban poet would have likened to a "rosebud," and hair so fine and silky and bewitching in its play of browns that another woman would have been tempted to ask immediately for the name of the hairdresser who supplied it. Her nose was retroussé and just a little flat; her forehead spoke of intellect; her neck and arms of a figure which an artist alone might have criticised. And so back to the eyes again—those eyes divinely blue, which looked into a man's soul (if he had one) or sent the devil flying out of him as though holy-water had been sprinkled round about.

The doctor was aware of all this, and so was Bess, who really rather despised middle-class folk and consorted with them merely because her uncle, the Cabinet Minister, was a Radical. But despite their knowledge, the usual conversation was eschewed altogether, and they discussed neither the magnificence of the latest production at His Majesty's, nor the fashionable intelligence from Monte Carlo. Andana and its excitements were topic enough—for was not this a day of prize-giving, and was not the doctor at his wits' end to find a prize-giver?

"I would like you to do it," he said to the beautiful woman at his side, "but they will have a title here. I suppose it must be that amusing person, Lady Coral-Smith—her husband made his money out of red herrings, and we shall have to draw one across the scent. All this kind of thing devolves upon me. I have to run everything: the hotel, the races, the invalids—and even Miss Elizabeth here. Do you wonder I am growing older?"

"No one should grow older in the company of a clever woman," said Miss Bessie, pouting. "It is only the consciousness of intellectual inferiority which can say such a thing. I am angry with you, Dr. Orange. Pass me the chocolates immediately."

"You see," said the doctor, appealing to them generally, "she covers me with scorn and then dies for my sake. I shall have to prescribe for her to-morrow."

"But I shall leave an imperishable memory behind me, and if anyone remembers that such a person as Dr. Orange lived, they will say that he was my doctor. Thank you, sir—your chocolates are beastly. I shall keep them for the ghost."

Here was a new topic, and one to which they turned with gusto. Andana was not so well amused that it had not a corner to spare for this particularly disobliging phantom, who had scared the peasants out of their wits and had actually appeared to a party coming down from Vermala at midnight. Miss Bessie told the story with a sense of drama all admirable; but she prefaced her narrative with the assurance that she would as soon believe in it as in the doctor at her side.

"There isn't any ghost, and so we are going out to look for it," she said; "the doctor wouldn't dress because he thinks he looks nicer in the green tie. The ghost might be feminine, you know. Perhaps she wants votes for women, and so appeals first to the weaker intelligence. They say that no end of people have seen her, including the Swan; but he doesn't count. Do you know the Swan? Oh, he's a dear, and he thinks he's swimming when he waltzes. He went up to Vermala to dinner the other night and saw the ghost as he came down. It's a great big black bird and makes a noise like a windmill. Dr. Orange says that it is troubled by asthma, but Mr. Benny says that its bones want greasing. He is an engineer, you know. He told me so yesterday. He is an engineer in principle, but in practice they won't have him, for he cannot pass the exams. Some men are so unlucky, while others—well, no one knows how they manage to get through. There is Dr. Orange, for instance; I think they must have passed him because they couldn't stand the green bow. There could not be any other reason. Well, as I was saying—what, are you going to begin already, and I haven't finished my ice? Monster!"

But the doctor had risen and now announced very briefly that Lady Coral-Smith had kindly offered to present the prizes to the winners in the various competitions held during the past week; so that brisk little woman, dressed like a Grecian shepherdess, with little white daisies all over her gown, came nodding and smiling to the table and began to hand out various ridiculous presents to the winners in question. Of these, the most conspicuous were the Rider girls, now resplendent in muslin dresses with bright blue bows, and their frequent appearances at the table gave rise to resounding cheers, not unaccompanied by kindly comments of an amiably derisive order.

Ian Kavanagh, that golden youth with the flaxen hair, had conducted his conversation chiefly in monosyllables during dinner; but he was a trifle more condescending at this stage, and declared it to be a pity that these accomplished young ladies had not to get their living at the Coliseum!—or other popular resort where acrobatic performances were properly rewarded. He thought that Andana was unworthy of them.

"They came here to win pots," he said scornfully. "The man who marries them is sure of a hundred or more objets d'art—to say nothing of virtue—all bought in the bazaar for one franc fifty. That ought to console him—"

"Is he going to marry them both?" Miss Elizabeth asked.

The golden youth smiled.

"Two go to a pattern, I suppose. I shouldn't know one from the other in the dark."

"But you'd have to know the one you married!"

"Ah, so I should! Why don't you write a story about it: 'The Bride Who Wasn't,' or something of that sort? Kipling would do it finely."

"Well, but I'm not Kipling—and here's Mr. Rivers. Why, of course, we won the doubles together. And is it poor little me they want?—Oh, dear!"

There were loud cries for Miss Elizabeth, and she rose, blushing very much at the outburst of cheering which attended her appearance—and obviously a great popular favourite. When she had received one Teddy Bear upon skis from the fat hands of the mayor's relict, she returned to the table and implored them to make plans for the ghost hunt.

"You're all coming, of course," she said. "We'll take luges and have coffee at Vermala. If the ghost does not appear for me, he will never appear at all. Now don't you think so, Mr. Kavanagh?"

"Oh, I think whatever the ladies think. Is Mrs. Kennaird coming?"

He turned to the "little widow," and the doctor joined in the appeal. She would accompany them, of course. It would be a beautiful moonlight night, and they would come down on luges. It was the very thing to do: and as the amiable doctor said emphatically, so very much better than the outside edge backwards in the ball-room with a partner who could not dance. There could be but one answer to such unanimity.

A brief interval for the securing of the necessary wraps and the party was away. Mrs. Kennaird had changed her dress hurriedly, and when she reached the hall she found the whole hotel restless and awakened to nomadic instincts. No one seemed to care at all for the wretched bandsmen who were, as Bob Otway put it, blowing the "Merry Widow" into three keys in the ball-room upstairs. Rather, the guests turned with expectant interest to the exquisite scene without, the snow plateau gleaming in the moonlight, the mellow radiance of the heights, the silent moonlit woods. Few of the men had dressed for dinner, and many were now garbed in the heavy sweaters and hobnailed boots indispensable to the climb. The girls were dressed as practically, and with their white woolly caps, their short skirts and heavy boots, looked like so many madcaps just let out from a seminary for young ladies where hockey was the chief study.

Miss Bessie had invited the "little widow" to be of her party; but being an impulsive young lady, she herself ultimately sought the society of Mr. Robert Otway; and somehow, but not of her own will, Mrs. Kennaird found herself enjoying a tête-à-tête with Kavanagh, and mounting slowly with him toward the heights. She had hoped that the old parson would have espied her and made one of the party; but he was playing bridge with a trio of matrons when she came down, and certainly Kavanagh showed no disposition to release her from her promise. He followed her like a dog, and they had not walked a hundred yards before she became aware that it was his intention to make love to her.

And why not? as he himself would have asked. Could the scene have been matched in all Switzerland? The sweet stillness of the bewitching night; the glory of the full round moon in the azure sky; the great white peaks standing out in majestic solitude; the stillness of the woods—what purpose could they serve so well as that of an amiable and meaningless flirtation with a pretty woman, who was already the well-desired of the whole community? Kavanagh had been greatly smitten at dinner, though his silence might not have been so interpreted. Who was she, and whence did she come? Upon his part, he had not spoken twenty sentences to her on the hillside before he managed to let her know that his father was Sir John Kavanagh, of Bolton, and that the heir to that ancient baronetcy now stood before her.

"You meet a very weird lot in these places," he began in a patronising tone. "I don't know what kind of an ark lets them loose. When at Rome, don't do as Bayswater does is my motto. It's astonishing how the nice people sort themselves, though. Why, I saw you before you got out of your sleigh, and I said, 'Thank Heaven.' We wanted reinforcements, and you came just in time. Kennaird's a name I couldn't help but know. Yorkshire, isn't it?—we're neighbours so to speak, for my old gov'nor's Sir John Kavanagh, of Bolton, and poor little me is all he's got in the world. You do come from Yorkshire, don't you?"

She said that she did, and happily the darkness of the way hid the blush upon her cheek when she spoke. Oblivious of the dangerous nature of the subject, Kavanagh plunged on.

"I came out here just to see what this ice rot is all about. I suppose you did the same? One has to put up with something to learn, and we're paying our footing. Mine's pretty dicky on anything but good honest skates; but it's no good skating here in the 'village pond champion' style. I tried skis and resigned. It makes a fellow feel an awful fool to have one of his legs round his neck and the other at the bottom of a crevasse. All right at twenty-one, perhaps; but I'm no chicken, and I don't like to make a fool of myself for nothing. If you skate, we might have some good times here—and we can always go down the Vermala run in the afternoon—or at night if you like. I call it top notch at night, and you'll do the same, I hope. Just look at the old Weisshorn—looks like a Chinese god on a fancy ottoman, doesn't he? We can't beat that in Yorkshire, can we? Well, I'm glad you're a neighbour, anyway, and we must find out all the people we know. Do you hunt, by the way?—I've got twenty nags at home, and what they're doin' Heaven only knows. Eatin' their heads off, I suppose."

She remembered that he had told her the same thing earlier in the day, and looked at him curiously from the depths of her blue eyes, grown black here in the solitude of the woods. What an amiable imbecile he was, and how odd that her lot should be cast with him. Possibly he was the only Yorkshireman in all the company, and fate had thus thrown them together at the very beginning. And with this thought there was just another, passing as a flash upon the white ground of memory, of one whose face had flushed when she spoke to him that morning, the butt of an amiable company, the derided Benny. She knew not why she wished for Mr. Benjamin's company, here upon the hillside; but the fact that she did wish for it could not be kept back.

"Is it far to the hotel at Vermala?" she asked presently—any question served to turn the dangerous talk. Kavanagh answered with the pride of knowledge acquired some sixty hours ago.

"It's just above the clump of pines there. They make top-notch coffee and have got some decent cigarettes. We've climbed about a thousand feet since we started. You'd never think it, would you; and doesn't the old show look just like the White City?—eh, what? Upon my life, I never saw such a resemblance. We might be up in the flip-flap."

She smiled at his preposterous imagery, and yet words might well have failed such an intellect upon such a scene. The place where they stood was a little thicket of trees at the last bend below Vermala. All around were the frozen pines, magic in their suggestion of fairyland, enchanting in the infinite variety of their matchless tracery. Below them Andana lay like an oasis of light upon a bleak hillside. Great arc-lamps waned and waxed upon the narrow road by the skating rink and again downwards toward the village. The hotel itself blazed with radiance and suggested the antithesis to this solitude of the woods. Far, far down in the black hollow of the valley there were the lamps of Sierre and the railway; and high above them, as though uplifted to the heavens, the moonlit peaks, a very forest of them running in unbroken majesty to the great flat dome of Mont Blanc.

The human side of this entrancing picture was voiced by the ripples of laughter, the joyous cries which came floating up on the still night air. A romancer would have espied lovers in the thickets, and heard the whispers of their sighs. By here and there stragglers were to be perceived upon the great plateau of the snow or plodding upward to the heights. In sharp contrast to this leisure of the climb would come the swift descent of a luge towards Andana, the loud cry, "Achtung!" the passing of the prone figure, and the lantern jolting at every rut. These cries became more frequent as the climbers neared Vermala. Some of the toboggans were bedecked gloriously with Chinese lanterns, which gave a rare splash of colour to the monotony of silhouettes, or turned the snow blood red. And dominating all was the eternal spirit of youth; the joie de vivre; the consciousness of the present; the will to blot all else but this fulness of life which ran in the veins like fire.

There was a fine crowd of people up at the little hotel at Vermala, and conspicuous among them the Rider girls and Bess Bethune. Bess, in fact, furnished the place, as someone remarked—it must have been Bob Otway—and her high spirits were so infectious that the doctor sat down to the piano and played a magnificent fantasia upon "Our Miss Gibbs," arranged as a sonata in the fashion of Schubert. Everyone took coffee, and the ladies sipped crême de menthe under protest. The ghost received less attention than he merited—and when the best part of the company trooped out to look for him, and did not find him, not a few took advantage of the opportunities presented by Japan (in the form of screens) and Africa (in the matter of palms) to continue discussions of a momentous nature. The "little widow," however, found herself once more with Ian Kavanagh at the head of the path, and she realised that she must make her first run on a luge or be derided by the company.

How ridiculous it all seemed to her, that she should be playing a girl's part, she whose life had been so tragic and so womanly. She had the will to forget, God knows; and if the mountains had any message for her, the silent woods their consolation, it was that forgetfulness might be won, and upon forgetfulness, peace. Let there be a truce, however brief the day of it. The kingdom of a joyous childhood called her with a sweet voice—she tried to believe that she had become a child again.

"I have never done this before," she said to Kavanagh almost pleadingly, when he offered her the luge he had dragged up from Andana and showed her what she must do with it. "Is it so dreadful? Shall I really be able to manage it?"

He assured her that it was the easiest thing in all the world.

"Just guide yourself with your feet. Lean over when you come to the corners and round you go. I'd better get on ahead, for I shall be faster. I'll wait at the path where we go down to the rink. You can't hurt yourself—it's just like falling into an iced blanket—now see me do it."

He squatted on the luge, and going with as much dignity as he could command—which was not a great deal—he set off down the path and rounded the first of the corners successfully. Great flat hands pushed him off from the banks; his progress, if not melancholy, was certainly slow, and in the end became remote. The "little widow" heard him calling to her to "come on," and at last she seated herself and essayed to obey his interjectory instructions. But the dazzle and glory of the thing seemed less when she had started, and she reflected with irony that she could have walked much faster. Then the luge was so uncomfortable; just a few bars of wood, a cushion and two steel runners. And "the thing" would go up the banks in the most shameless way—first to the right, then to the left, now half round, now frightening her by a sudden plunge. At the corner she failed altogether, and ran high over the bank and into the soft snow upon the other side. Her white gloves were wet through by this time, her shoes full of snow, and her general condition one of misery. She picked herself up and laughed with a truer note than she had done for years. Yes, she had become a child again, and had a child's sense of irresponsibility.

Kavanagh had disappeared altogether by this time. Other tobogganers came flying down the mountainside; but none pulled up because of the lonely little woman standing between the trees at the "hairpin" bend. She heard voices above and below; the wood might have been full of the spirits of dead children rejoicing. But she had lost all taste for the miserable contraption which behaved so shabbily, and it had become a burden to her. Trying to set it going again, she ran a little way and lost hold of it; and then, as a horse which has lost its rider in a steeple-chase, it went on gaily, rounding the corners upon its own account, and disappearing as her guide and philosopher had done. She was quite alone now, and very pleased to be so—at least, she thought so until she espied a black figure creeping up between the trees, and, as it were, stalking her in the shelter of the wood. This frightened her a little and she tried to go on; but her heart beat fast and she was really quite afraid. Why did the man not speak? Was he a Swiss or one of the guests at the hotel? She was just about to shout for help when the crouching figure cried out:

"Mrs. Kennaird, is that you? Well, I'm Benson—you remember me?"

She burst out laughing.

As though anyone who had known him could forget "Benny."
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