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CHAPTER VI A LESSON UPON SKIS
The "ghost" had been seen by many of the guests in the Palace Hotel, but not by the "little widow," despite her wakefulness. For her the night was fruitful of other thoughts, and chiefly the thought of her own situation, of its difficulties and its dangers.

They had christened her the "little widow" down at Sierre, and the embarrassing distinction of a pardonable error had followed her to Andana. So much she had achieved by her desire to obliterate the past and to recall, if it were possible, the innocence and the freedom of her girlhood. But she knew now that the attempt had failed, and that she stood upon the brink of a discovery which must be attended by shame. Luton Delayne would come to Andana sooner or later, and all would know the truth.

It is true that she did not lack courage, and had the perception to see that worldly sympathy, so far as she cared to win it, must be upon her side; but the ordeal through which she must pass, in a sense the exposure, affrighted her and robbed her even of a desire to sleep. The morning of the day might bring the man to the hotel; the evening might send her upon her way again, a derelict upon a lonely sea which offered no safe harbourage.

There had been no child of her marriage, and thus no chain upon her desire for freedom. Her father, Sir Frederick Kennaird, had married again at the age of fifty-seven; and while the gates of the old home were not shut against her, she shrank from the thought of such a shelter. Her only brother, Harold, was with his regiment in India, and had already condemned her conduct in strenuous letters full of childish complaints. "Would she drag her story into the papers? Wash their dirty linen in public?"—and all that sort of thing. To these she made answer that she would be the arbiter of her own fortune, and that if the family honour depended upon her tolerance of such a man as Luton Delayne, she would not lift a finger to save it.

This was well enough as an expression of her promise, but more difficult as a practice. Enjoying an allowance of three thousand a year from her father, whose collieries brought him ten times that sum, she discovered presently that candour is a factor in the due enjoyment of life, and that the world has little love of anonymity. Go where she would, to remote cities of Europe, to the East, even to America, there were some who knew her story and would sell secrecy at a price. She made no friends, won no sure refuge, could find no sanctuary. Sometimes she regretted her determination to be known henceforth as Lily Kennaird, and wondered if her brother were not right when he described such a subterfuge as madness. Sacrifice carried her into a new world, and one with which she was unfamiliar. She missed the amenities of the state she had abandoned, its overt dignities, its influence and power. Mrs. Kennaird was merely the "little widow" to the multitude. It had been otherwise when she was Lady Delayne.

All this troubled her during the night, and the new day found her afflicted by apprehensions to which she had long been a stranger. Twice in as many years she had seen her husband, Luton, and upon each occasion at a crisis of his life. A wanderer like herself, he lived chiefly upon the allowance of one thousand a year which she made him, and when that was exhausted, upon his wits, which were considerable. The latter occupation was not unattended by danger and the curiosity of the police. Lily wondered sometimes at her patience.

And now he had followed her to Switzerland, and unquestionably would visit her at Andana. What shameful story lay behind the pursuit she could not imagine; but of the existence of such a story she was sure. Luton Delayne rarely troubled her unless his case were desperate—and desperate indeed it must be for him to abandon the purlieus of Monte Carlo at such a season. She resolved, upon her part, to refuse him audience if that were possible; and if it were not possible, then to summon all her courage and insist that this interview should be final. The day for compromise was past.

It had been her promise to the parson, Harry Clavering, that she would submit to the ordeal of the skis on this morning; and when, with Kavanagh, she met him on the veranda of the hotel, he reminded her pleasantly of her obligations.

Unwilling to disappoint, she professed her readiness to face the ordeal, and skis having been commanded from the hotel porter, the parson upon one side and Kavanagh upon the other set to work to imprison the smallest pair of feet in Andana and to tell the owner the news while they did so.

"You've heard that the ghost has been seen?" asked Clavering, a little excitedly. She shook her head incredulously.

"Oh, but it's quite true. Miss Nellie Rider saw it from her bedroom window and so did her sister. Sir Gordon Snagg is another. He declares it was a man in a flying machine. I shouldn't wonder if he were right."

Kavanagh was of this opinion.

"There are fools in the world who will do anything," he said. "Some idiot out of Hanwell may have brought his aeroplane here to scare the natives; and jolly well he's succeeded. I hope he may break his neck, that's all. He deserves to, that's sure."

He thought that the "little widow" would agree with him as a matter of course, and her answer rather astonished him.

"Then you think that pioneers are very wicked people?" she remarked; "you have no sympathy with them, Mr. Kavanagh?"

"Oh, I won't say that—good for science and all that sort of thing. What I mean is, let's keep the mountains anyway. We don't want ginger-beer bottles on our heads up here—do we now? I'm sure Mr. Clavering agrees to that."

The parson dissented altogether.

"I think it would be a brave thing to fly here," he said quietly, "a very brave thing. And I hope the day when we cannot admire courage is distant. If there had been no pioneers in the world, I should not be travelling through the Simplon Tunnel to Bellagio in three weeks' time, and you would not be smoking that excellent tobacco. If there is an aeroplane at Andana, it must be owned by one of the men who is about to fly for the great prize offered by the English daily paper. I hope he will win it."

"But you wouldn't go up in one yourself?" Kavanagh insisted.

"Not for a thousand sovereigns, poor as I am."

Kavanagh laughed, but found no support from Lily Kennaird. She, grown a little less pale in the glorious freshness of the morning, was more concerned with the difficulties of the uncouth implements they had strapped to her boots than with any question of flight and its consequences. How awkward she felt! How impossible it seemed to do anything at all with those great wooden skates, so much taller than she was, and so exceedingly slippery.

"Now," said the parson, who had fixed his own skis and become a little more anxious when he had done so, "just shuffle along without lifting your feet, if you can; it's quite easy to walk up—-the coming down is the difficulty. We'll go to the slopes by the Park Hotel and find a very gentle one. I'm sure you'll like it when you become accustomed to the balance. The great thing is not to be afraid."

Kavanagh seconded this, and was in the act of showing her exactly how to place her feet, when he sat down without warning, and having remained some moments in an attitude of despair, explained that he had done it to show the ease with which one can rise when the boots and straps are all right. This process he repeated at intervals on their way to the Park Hotel; indeed, he proved a paragon of good nature in the matter.

The fine weather of the previous day favoured them again, and the famous slopes were merry with the gambols of the players. Here there is a great basin of the snow with a lake at its depths and the white mountains towering high above it. The banks themselves are often gentle and rarely difficult; and hither go the inexperienced to be tutored by kindly masters, who are themselves but children at the game. On every side you hear the injunction not to be afraid—so pompously uttered, so difficult to obey. Elderly gentlemen, who would be more at home upon a rocking-horse, glide down gentle declivities and are proud of the success which follows them to the bottom. Spinsters, of far from mature aspect, sit down upon less than no provocation at all, and declare it to be glorious. The great white kindergarten is the merriest place in all the world—and the world is far distant from it.

Parson Clavering had an excellent eye for an easy slope, and he chose one just suited to his own capacities. It was about three hundred yards from the chalet which Benny had hired, and that excellent fellow, looking out of the window and blaming his hard luck, forgot the latter employment when he espied the "little widow." How he envied the cheery parson, who was holding her arm; how he detested that gilded popinjay (Benny had got the expression from a novel) who stood by her side and smoked a cigarette as though he had hired the parson to do the manual work of which he himself would reap the fruit. But Benny carried his arm in a sling to-day, and even his zeal prompted no thought of skis. He was lucky to be alive.

Meanwhile he could watch the lesson—and instructive it was. First Clavering would show his pupil exactly how to stand, with one leg slightly before the other and the arms, which carried the trailing sticks, held well behind the body. Then the amiable little man would proceed to slide down the slope himself, perhaps sitting hurriedly at the foot of it, or arriving triumphantly at his goal as a man who has achieved greatness. When his pupil essayed to do the same and sank immediately into the soft snow, he assured her that such a proceeding was correct, and that by tribulation only would perfection be attained.

"They tell boys who hunt that they must fall forty times before they can ride—anyone who skis must fall four hundred times," he said reassuringly. "Now don't be afraid—we are all in the same boat, and we sink together. You are not hurt, I hope?"

She told him that she was not hurt at all—though, as a fact, she had dashed a little wildly down the slope and fallen heavily upon her side at the bottom. A fine effort to save her upon Kavanagh's part resulted in that lordly person falling headlong and in such a position that his skis held him immobile, and he had to cry for help. When he was rescued and had brushed the snow from his immaculate collar, he asked her if she did not find it "rather rotten"; but being answered in the negative, he retired to the path again and watched her a little jealously. That "infernal parson" was having the time of his life—really it was too ridiculous.

In plain truth, Lily had begun already to enjoy herself exceedingly. The keenness of the air, the glorious sunshine, the delight of this new exercise drove all other thoughts from her head; and for the time being she was a child again with all a child's ardour. This ski-ing must be the most fascinating thing on earth, she thought, while she watched those experts, Bob Otway and Keith Rivers, sailing down the mountain-side with a dexterity which amazed her. Patience would teach her to imitate them, and then the heights would be open to her. A vain desire whispered that the mountains might be her safe refuge after all, and that they would harbour her—an altitude of dreams upon which Bob Otway's hard voice intruded painfully: "I say, Kavanagh," he roared, "come up and jump. Miss Rivers wants to see you do it; you aren't going to disappoint her?"

Kavanagh retorted by fixing his glass in his eye and turning upon that wild youth a glance which deserved the attribute "stony."

"I am not an acrobat," he snapped severely. "If you will tell me how much you require to begin, I will put something into your hat."

Bob Otway turned away with a laugh.

"By Jove, old chap, it would want a precious big hat to make you start," and with that for a shot he began to climb up the mountain-side toward the chalet where Nellie Rivers was waiting for him.

"Otway's a fine jumper," said the parson, "I believe he learned in Norway. It's quite impossible to do what he does unless you are caught young. Shall we watch him come down? It is really a fine thing to see."

She assented willingly, and they watched the "happy pair," who were now far up the slope by the Park Hotel and preparing to take the jump which has been fashioned about half-way down the valley. This was nothing more nor less than a kind of diving board of snow, from which the runners would take off as they dashed down the steep. "A clever performer," said the parson, "would jump ninety or a hundred feet before his skis touched ground again"; but the proceeding was hazardous, and some wonderful falls resulted. However, he had no fears about Bob Otway, and when that young gentleman started with a flourish, he followed him with expectant eyes. Alas for his hopes! Master Bob flew high into the air, missed his footing as he landed, and rolled over and over as though he would never stop. Then he sat motionless for many minutes—the situation required some thinking about, and Bob was rapidly becoming a philosopher.

Nellie Rivers was more successful. A graceful performer at Alpine games, there was no prettier figure upon skis then in the mountains. And her jumping was, as Bob would tell you, divine. Hardly seeming to leave the track, she shot through the air at a tremendous pace, and landed so evenly and with such perfect balance that the run was resumed as though it had never been interrupted. Then she skimmed by the parson, and raising one foot suddenly and bringing the other round, she "telemarked" most gracefully and stood laughingly before him.

"Bob always falls when I am coming down," she said, "I suppose it's to make a soft place for me. Mr. Kavanagh would not be so obliging—I can see it in his eye."

Kavanagh said that he would prefer to dig a hole with a spade; but he admitted that Master Bob was an obliging fellow enough.

"If nobody cut capers, this would be a rotten place. It's a man's duty to do something of the sort," he said, "but, of course—um—er—mere youth has the responsibility!"

"And the glory," said Clavering, who thought that the lesson might well be resumed upon so inspiring an example and immediately turned a somersault to demonstrate his aptitude as a pupil. The little man was wonderfully active from this time forth, and when half-past twelve came and they heard the bell calling them back to the Palace for lunch, he resolutely refused to go indoors. Had he not brought baskets packed with chicken and the mysterious sausage in which "Chic," the cook, delighted? They would bivouac up there in the woods—perhaps that generous person, Mr. Benjamin Benson, would permit them to use the table in the garden of his chalet—a suggestion which annoyed Kavanagh, but made an instantaneous appeal to Madame Lily. Yes, she would like it, she said, and having said it, repented immediately of the admission. What right had she to think with pleasure of any friendship of the kind?

Nevertheless, they went up to the chalet and received the warm welcome they expected. Benny himself, his arm in a sling and his sallow face paler than ordinary, busied about the place with amazing ardour directly he heard that Mrs. Kennaird was of the party. His brother, apologising for the black-handled knives and the forks which matched them, declared that the kitchen fire was at their service; but he did so rather knavishly and with a glance aside at the beautiful woman who had intruded upon their privacy. It remained for the Abbé Villari to join the party, and he cut the oddest figure of all, for his cassock was girdled high about his waist while the sleeves of it were tucked up to his elbow. Moreover, he was exceedingly black, and when Benny explained with a very red face that the abbé had a penchant for amateur mechanics, it was easy to believe him.

"The gospel of the hammer, I suppose," said Kavanagh, staring fixedly at them as he spoke.

Benny replied that some heads were very thick and that a corkscrew was the only implement to let a joke into them—a correct rendering of the great doctor's bon mot, which made but a poor appeal to his enemy. Then they all sat down to lunch, and a merrier meal was not known that day at Andana.

Lily could hardly believe in this sense of contentment which now came upon her. The magic power of the mountains as an antidote to ill had never been wholly understood by her before; she realised it as she sat there in the glowing sunshine and looked up to a sky infinitely blue. The great fields of the dazzling snow, the beauty of the woods, the grandeur of the prospect spoke of peace and rest as no other scene she could remember. And with it there came the idea that one man's good will contributed not a little to this gift of self-deception, and that in the humanity and good nature of such a personality as Benny the true secret was to be found. Much had the great world of artificiality and of false ideals taught her in her youth, but here was something different, something to be learned with gratitude, and being learned, not to be forgotten.

Benny, for his part, hovered about her as a shadow, and when she inquired with a woman's gentleness of his hurt, he blushed like any schoolgirl.

"It was nothing—nothing at all," he said—but his brother Jack muttered that it was everything—and as he said it, he glanced at the "little widow" and wondered what evil fortune had sent her to Andana.
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