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CHAPTER IV THE MAN WHO KNEW
"Oh," she exclaimed, recovering herself, though her heart still drummed the echoes of a panic, "oh, I thought you were the ghost."

Benjamin Benson was immensely tickled.

"I've been taken for many things in my life," he said, "but never for a ghost. I wonder if it would be nice to be that? We always think of it from the mortal point of view. We never ask if the ghost has a good time—and yet I don't see why he shouldn't. There might be sociable ghosts—now don't you think so, Mrs. Kennaird?"

She did not feel disposed to argue it.

"They tell me the peasants have seen a great bird in the sky. Everyone up at Vermala is looking for it. Of course they will not find it. I am not a least bit superstitious, but I must say that the idea of a great bird pleases me—even if it's untrue."

"Then you are quite sure it is untrue, Mrs. Kennaird?"

"Now, could it be anything else? You are not serious."

He laughed a little nervously.

"It would be a splendid thing to fly over the mountains, wouldn't it? If I have a spirit, I would sooner it played about here than in an old vault, as most of them do. Why, how it suggests power—power above men, doesn't it?"

And then almost with an apology:

"But I suppose you think all this is just nonsense? I'm not the kind of man who ought to be ambitious, am I? Everyone tells me that."

"But you do not lose your ambition because of them?"

He drew himself up—Benny could be a tower of dignity when he chose.

"Yes," he said, with real earnestness, "I am ambitious, and some day I shall attain my goal."

They walked a little way down the hillside in silence after that. There was no sign of Ian Kavanagh, who had taken a bad "toss" at the last of the bends above Andana and was trying to get the snow out of his hair at that very moment. Benny had a toboggan with him, but it was different from the others, much longer and made of steel. He trailed it behind him indifferently, thinking that his companion wished to walk down to the hotel; but when he discovered her own luge anchored in the snow he understood the situation.

"Halloa!" he said, "a derelict."

She told him with some shame that it was hers.

"A case of bolting—I suppose it wanted the curb. And now I shall have to drag it back to the hotel."

"Don't do anything of the kind. We leave these things all over the place—the hotel sledges pick them up as far down as the Sanatorium sometimes. Just let it lie there. I'll take you down if you like—there's plenty of room for two, and—and—I should like it, Mrs. Kennaird; I should think it an honour."

It was so simply said, the blunt words of a schoolboy speaking to the mature woman, that she forbore to smile. It would have been absurd, however, to respond in a similar vein, for the idea of a flirtation with Mr. Benjamin Benson was quite out of the question. So she accepted without any compliment at all.

"It's very good of you—and really I am beginning to feel the cold. Will you show me where to sit? I am absolutely ignorant, and it is so many years since I played games."

He understood that.

"Life's a game all through. We all say it, but what else can we say? We're in the long field most of the time, and when we get an innings, Fate goes and bowls us a curly one. I've never had an innings in my life, and I've been fielding for fifteen years—since I was seventeen—and my poor old father played on in Mark Lane and lost his house the 'ashes.' That's my story, and I don't tell it to everyone. Perhaps I have no right to tell it to you—but you seem so different, Mrs. Kennaird; I feel I can talk to you, and that's what I feel about very few people."

"You pay me a great compliment," she said, and then, "But we are both quite strangers here. This is my first visit to Switzerland in the winter; I know nobody."

He nodded his head.

"But I thought that I knew you directly I saw you—I shall remember where we met by and by. Had you relatives down Newmarket way, I wonder—people who used to live at Holmswell?"

She shook her head.

"Then I'm quite wrong; now let's get going. You sit in front and I'll steer—don't be afraid, I shan't upset you. They laugh at me in the hotel, but I'm going to have some fun with them before I get through. Are you quite ready—shall we let her rip?"

She said "Yes," and he pushed the toboggan off the bank. Had he been less nervous, he would have said that the "little widow" trembled; but Benny was anxious to make a fine run and had no idea how many would have envied him his burden. And truly it was wonderful how he steered on that dark and tortuous road. To the woman the whole thing was an ecstasy, a mad rush down the mountain-side; a wonderful journey into fairyland; a magician's leap through the realms of darkness to the enchanted vales of the fables. When they stopped, Benny had steered them right down to the cross roads by the Sanatorium, and they must tramp ten minutes through the woods before they reached the hotel again. It was here that he harked back to the dangerous topic.

"It's odd about those Newmarket people—I could have sworn Lady Delayne was your sister," he said; "really the likeness is wonderful. I went to Holmswell from Norwich when I was in the motor shops trying to make myself an engineer. The electric light engine went wrong over at the house, and Sir Luton—that was his name—Sir Luton Delayne sent to our people. I remember him well, a little rat of a man whose temper used to go off like a cracker. It makes me laugh when I remember that he tried to bully me, until I said a word or two in my own way. He was very civil after that and showed me over the house. There was a picture of a lady in the drawing-room as like you as two peas. I thought of it directly I saw you to-day. 'She'll be a relative,' I said. You quite surprised me just now when you said you were not."

She merely rejoined, "Indeed?" A problem involving tremendous issues had presented itself suddenly to her mind, and she had not the remotest idea how to deal with it. But she felt that her previous answer had been a mistake and one that was almost irreparable. Why had she made it? She did not quite know.

Benny, on his part, was a little puzzled by her silence. He thought that he had pursued a subject which could be of no interest to her; and he would not have mentioned it again but for the question she put to him just before the Palace Hotel came into sight.

"Have you heard of Sir Luton Delayne since that date?" she asked. He replied as one greedy for the opportunity to tell her.

"Why, everyone in Switzerland has heard of him. He's been staying at Grindelwald, painting the place red. There was a regular row there the other night. Some fellow in the Fusiliers accused him of cheating at bridge, and Sir Luton knocked him down in the hall. They say he wouldn't fight it out, and bolted next morning. Now the police are after him, and there'll be a pretty to do if he's caught. I wonder you didn't hear of it?"

She tried to smile, but the effort was vain. "I have been on a steamer, from Egypt, you know. Women do not read the papers as men do. I don't think they understand the meaning of the word 'news,' unless it concerns their own circle. When I arrived at Brindisi I was naturally anxious to get on here. I see that I am very much out of date."

"Of course you are. The hotel talked about nothing else yesterday. There was a rumour that the man intended coming on here. I guess there would have been some moving if he had. But the people won't have him. The little French secretary Ardlot, who runs the Palace, told me this morning they would have no vacant room if Sir Luton Delayne presented himself."

"Then he has left Grindelwald finally?"

"I should think he has, and wisely too. Barton of the Fusiliers would have shot him if he had stayed. Luton Delayne's the kind of man who doesn't like playing tame pheasant. He gets out of the wood before the beaters are in. I shouldn't wonder if he is a hundred miles the other side of Pontarlier this morning."

"Wisdom in this case being the better part of valour—but is not this the hotel? I hope it is, for I am deadly tired, and thank you so much for your great kindness."

Benny said that the evening had been the best he had ever spent at Andana—and he meant it.

"I'm not staying at the Palace, you know," he ran on; "my brother and I took the chalet up by the Park. I come in to lunch and dinner, that's all. I'm not a sociable person, Mrs. Kennaird. Sometimes I think the best thing in life is being alone. But, of course, I didn't think that to-night. Will you let me bring you down from Vermala again? I hope so. It's been a happy opportunity for me, I assure you."

She smiled very sweetly and held out her hand. They were at the hotel door by this time, and Ian Kavanagh, hearing her voice, came forward with those expletives of apology which suited an unceremonious occasion. He was "most frightfully sorry," but how had he managed to miss her? The "little widow" declared as frankly that she did not know.

"I am a dreadful bungler," she said, with some reserve; "undoubtedly it was all my fault; please don't think any more about it, Mr. Kavanagh."

"Oh, but I couldn't help it—I shall dream about it all night."

"Then Dr. Orange must prescribe a sleeping draught for you," and with this for his consolation she left him and went to her room.

How foolish she had been; how poor her courage to persist in a foolish denial which might cost her so much.

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