SKY-HIGH

LLOYD ROBERTS February 15 1924

SKY-HIGH

LLOYD ROBERTS February 15 1924

SKY-HIGH

LLOYD ROBERTS

NEIL RICHARDS left the group without a word, reached the foot of the decline with a few long strokes, transferred his skis from his feet to his shoulder and began to clamber upward. He moved very deliberately under his friends’ eyes. The hillside was steeper than the average roof, bristled thickly with spruce and hemlock to right and left, but was bare down the centre. Where he climbed the snow was deep, but farther out it was beaten as smooth and hard as a cinder-path. The hill was topped by an intense, purple-blue sky, against which the ski tower spindled to unimaginable heights. It wras so cold that his breath played about his lips like tobacco smoke and rimed the throat of his sweater.

A twelve-foot ladder leaned against the lower platform of the tower. Neil mounted this to the take-off, toiled up a narrow cleated way to the half-way platform and thence to the summit. Five men and boys were there ahead of him. One poised an instant on the lip of the chute, slipped over and shot downward. Neil for the first time lifted his eyes, followed the dwindling figure through its rush, its swoop, its coming to earth, its arrow-like flash across the pond and into the alders.

“Hill’s in great form, eh?”

Neil withdrew his gaze with an effort.

The four were watching him.

“Yes—yes, I suppose so,” he murmured.

“Go ahead, Mr. Richards. We’ve all been down already,” continued Charron graciously.

“Think I'll get my breath first. Don’t wait, boys.”

Neil leaned his skis against the rail and beat his mittened hands together. They continued to watch him with grave interest.

“I only heard this morning that you were coming in. You haven’t jumped here before, I believe?”

“No.”

Neil blew on his fingers, stamped his feet, kept his eyes on the distant mauve hills, searching desperately in his mind for a plausible excuse for delay. If the others would only leave him, give him a chance to collect his wits! But his reputation held them expectant. They wanted to see his start, the start that had given him the extra three feet and the championship of Canada.... He must go through with it and as quickly as possible, or he was lost.

He laid down his skis, slipped his feet into the straps, fumbled with the catches. Charron helped him. He stepped cautiously to the edge of the slide and looked down. The narrow alley dropped away almost perpendicularly from his feet, bent out to a shelf, beyond which, a hundred feet below, lay the frozen swamp. On either side the course were straggling groups, different colors, silent, waiting. Diana’s scarlet toque and reefer were farthest out. He saw her lift an arm to him .He took a long breath, stooped forward, stroked with his left foot—and suddenly his right twisted directly across his path, stopping him dead. Sky and snow and trees were blurring into a blue and white and green mist before his eyes. He wanted to clutch at the supports to keep himself from falling .... Very slowly and cautiously he regained the platform, unfastened his skis unaided, slung them over his shoulder and descended. Not a word had been spoken.

ON REACHING the level of the swamp he struck off to the right so as to avoid his acquaintances, not even pausing to don his skis. But presently Diana’s voice was behind him, compelling him to stop.

“How dare you run away from me, sir!” she panted.

He turned. She was alone on her skis—a radiant snowpixie in breeks and boots.

“Dian-Dian!” he groaned.

“Neil, what's the matter, boy? Are you sick?”

“Yes, no—worse, far worse, I’m afraid!”

The girl burst into a merry peal of derision.

“Neil Richards afraid! That is a joke!”

“It’s the truth. Listen, Dian, I’m coming around after supper. I’ve got something to tell you. It’s not an excuse, but it’s the truth, and I want you to know it—even if you don’t believe it. May I come?”

“Of course you may. What’s more I’ll believe it—unless it’s something real nasty about yourself,” she conditioned.

II.

IANA MURRAY was distinctly pretty in a classical straight-lined way. Her hair was shorn off level with the lobe of her ear. She was dressed in smoke-blue crepe,

short in sleeve and skirt. She suggested vitality, initiative, daring, what in truth she was, a wholesome outdoor girl who judged life by standards neither mid-Victorian nor late-Wilsonian. She put her black-slippered feet on the fender and stared into the jazzing flames.

“What were you afraid of, Neil?”

“Height. My nerve is gone. I knew I couldn’t do it, but I tried, and made a fool of myself. That’s why I’ve been refusing to jump. They couldn’t understand. I hadn’t even the nerve to tell them I was afraid. They know it now.”

“But you’ve been jumping for years, breaking records. We’ve been counting on you to win the international championship to-morrow.”

“I’ve told them a hundred times I wasn’t entering. Perhaps now they’ll be convinced. . . Listen.”

■yOU remember, the last international tournament was 1 held at Montreal. Earlier in the season I had captured the Canadian title, on the Rockcliffe chute—that’s when I first met you—and I felt I had a good chance of winning the big cup. I worked hard. Every afternoon that I could get away from the bank I was out on the skis, taking long hikes or practising the jump. As long as ten days before the meet the fellows began to arrive: Omtvedt, Sundberg, Berger, Monsen, the finest skiehs this side the Atlantic, and it was plain that it was going to be a tough battle. I never saw Montreal so stirred up over a sporting event. Everybody was wearing a club color so there would be no doubt about the location of his sentiments. Ski fans had accompanied their champions all the way from Chicago, New York, the Adirondacks, Quebec and Ottawa. There was a good deal of quiet betting going on. at the different clubs. I was surprised to hear that there was even money between Omtvedt and myself, and some of the local sports were offering to back me to the limit.

My hikes were usually in the same direction, that is north into the Laurentian hills, west along the foot of Mount Rouge, a swing south to the river and back. There were some nice coasts on the route, no farms, wild country, and I could get back before dark. Once in a while I would meet someone on my trail, not often. It was a bit too strenuous for most. But the Tuesday before the

event I noted that a.novice, and a mighty clumsy one, had been using my tracks. Every few yards the walls of snow were broken down and sometimes the trail was messed up by a tumble. I thought nothing of it, until Thursday. That day I happened to get away early and about three, miles from the city met the beginners face to face. There were two of them, wearing black overcoats, bowler hats, gloves. They were the surliest, coldest couple of misfits I have ever seen. There was snow in their low boots, in the cuffs of their trousers, up their sleeves and down their backs I guess. It was a clear day, around zero, and they were dressed for Broadway. No wonder their jowls were purple.

“Good-day, gentlemen,” I said as I swung out to pass them.

They stared at me rather queerly, I thought.

“What’s yer hurry, Mister?” growled the first.

I stopped.

“You’re Neil Richards, eh?”

I admitted it.

“Wanted to meet Canada’s starjumper We’re from across the line—putting a few dollars up on yer. Think yer a sab

bet, eh?”

“Omtvedt’s a tough proposition,” I re minded them.

“Yer just right, sonny. But Roy am me are willin’ to risk it. That’s what we’n here for.”

They started on, their skis crossing o trying to part company at every stroke It seemed more of a penance than pleasure and I wondered at them keepin it up. It wasn’t as though they had t know how to ski in order to bet.

T HREE miles farther, where I usuall turned west, I noticed that they ha kept on into the hills and out of curiosit decided to follow their marks. For tw miles or more they wound among t~ pines and spruces, dodging boulders an the steeper hills, but climbing always UI ward, until I realized that they were mal ing for the plateau above Mount Roug It is a fine route, with a magnificent vie at the end, for those who can ski, but

tough proposition for those who can't. No wonder th4 were all in. But scenery wasn't the attraction. The tn did not go near the cliff but made straight for the cli camp at the back of the plateau. The place is always ope They had made a fire in the stove, eaten a lunch, smoki a dozen cigarettes, emptied a flask of Holland gin. struck me as a cheerless sort of way of putting in a day. Friday I spent at the chute, ahd Saturday took a la run over my course. The trail was more broken than ev showing that my city touts had the courage of their co victions, whatever those were. And I was soon to find ot As I approached the bend in the trail I could see t~ black figures waiting for me. Their collars were up, th 1i~~nd~in

“Getting on to the trick?” I cried.

There was no reply until I was within a few feet. Th both drew out a hand and an ugly-looking gun.

“Come with us!” ordered the taller.

“What the devil—I began.

“No fuss, or by—” and he stuck the muzzle in my fa

“Sorry, but I haven’t a sou on me.” I took for grant it was a plain hold-up.

'T'HE shorter led off into the hills while the otl prodded his gun into my ribs. I could have ma short work of one, but the other would have got me. G I was mad! I had to go slow to keep from running or the skis in front. I thought of tripping Roy up and maki a break for it. I also thought of letting him gain a f rods and turning on my back escort. One push and o he’d go. But they were too wise to give me a chance didn’t know yet what they were after, but they should have it, that much was certain.

We climbed all the way back to the camp, and it wD deuced slow trip. Before we arrived the sun was setti in fiery gold and crimson, pinking the snow-weigh I branches and turning the shadows all the shades of vio There had been no attempt at conversation—no n e except the hush-hush of our skis and an occasional oh when one of them stumbled. Roy soon got the fire roai g in the sheetiron stove while Jimmy sat on a bench near e door with his pistol on his knee. I perched on the edg >f the bunk, indifferent—outwardly.

“Have a fag?” said Roy at last, as they drew closeno the stove.

“No, thanks. Never smoke before a competition.” “Then help yourself, Neil,” leered Jimmy. “There won’t be no competition, not this time.”

I made no reply.

“Do you get me?”

“Can’t say I do,” I admitted.

“You and us are keepin’ company till it’s over, see?” “What’s the bright idea?” I yawned.

“There’s a bunch of guys who can’t afford to lose out to-morrow.”

“Got their money on Omtvedt, I suppose?”

“Sure.”

I gazed at the reddening stove and decided to win that tournament if it was my last act on earth.

“Roy and me won’t lay a finger on yer, not if we can help it,” continued Jimmy. “Try any funny work—well, I wouldn’t, see! We’ve got orders to see yer don’t turn up till it’s over. A jerk of me finger here and you’d have a leg you’d not jump on for a long time, get me?”

For an hour or so they sat in the twilight exchanging Bowery witticism, smokes, drinks. Then Roy lit a lantern and went out and returned with a snow-covered bag, from which he took cold meat, bread and a couple of bottles. Jimmy hacked up the food with a big-bladed jack-knife and shoved some toward me. There is never anything wrong with my appetite. But my mind was working overtime, you may guess.... Neither ever came close enough for me to grab his gun and most of the time kept the stove between us. Early in the evening I stretched out, muttered “Good-night, fellows,” and pretended to sleep. My only chance lay in getting them careless. I hoped that the liquor would help considerable. Later Roy lay down on the bench by the stove and Jimmy leaned his back against the far wall with his gun and bottle beside him.

TIMMY failed to show the slightest tendency to heaviness. Sometimes he hummed or whistled catchy tunes, sometimes he took to pacing the floor for warmth, cursing softly over his sins or his dreams of the Great White Way. When there was nothing else to do he would light another fag or take a drink. I finally dozed off myself, for when I looked again the lantern was smelling badly and the end window was a queer greeny-gray. By its light I saw that the guard had been changed during the night. I felt pretty disgusted. I had planned to make my get-away in the darkness.. This was the big day—three in the afternoon to be precise—and if I wanted to make it I must start by two at the latest. There was no chance of anyone looking me up. If I wasn’t at my own apartment I would be with my friend Mitchell. The bank wouldn’t miss me of course till Monday morning. No, it was entirely up to me and I was growing more exasperated every hour.

We ate the remainder of the supper for breakfast. It was cold in the camp and I suggested a walk outside.

They muttered together and agreed. For ten minutes I was exercised like a race horse up and down in front of the cabin, one on either side with drawn pistol and not a ghost of a chance for escape. The sun was glinting from the snow crystals enough to hurt the eyeballs. The plateau sloped south an'd west toward the edge of the precipice, without a tree or rock to break the glare. Behind the cabin it humped steeply, and I could see that the only way out on skis was by the trail in. The snow was too deep to foot it. I must have my skis, and these were standing in a drift not six feet from the corner of the camp. By the time they ordered me indoors I had a rough plan of action.

But I must be left alone for a minute. There was the rub. It did not take two to go for fuel, and the one left always kept me at a polite distance. My don’tcare manner didn’t seem to react on them. But luckily it was a bitterly cold day and the wood-pile finally gave out. That meant a trip of a hundred yards or so to the edge of the forest. There was an old axe for the purpose but neither gun-man knew much about handling such a weapon. My offer of service only brought a curse. I stood by the window and enjoyed his troubles. There was a mild slope in the direction of the trail and Jimmy’s blades tried to run away with him. He only saved himself from crashing into a trunk by sitting down hard. Then he had the devil’s own time picking himself up again, with one foot out of

harness, snow in his gloves and the axe nowhere to be found. He gave up the search, broke a few dead limbs from the nearest trees and returned, blue and vicious.

“Them tooth-picks won’t last a minute,” scoffed Roy.

“Go to ’ell!” retorted the other.

“I’d prefer it to this place in another hour. Where’s the axe?”

“Were I left it.”

Jimmy removed his hands from the stovepipe and tried the bottle. It was empty.

Roy put off going as long as possible, but at last pocketed his gun and went out. He made the grade in better style and looked in vain for the axe. Presently he commenced yelling for directions. Jimmy stepped outside and closed the door behind him.

TVT OW was my opportunity. I yanked a line from over the stove, made a slip-noose and ran to the end window. It came open easily. I leaned out and after a couple of attempts dropped the noose over my skis and drew them into the lee of the camp. I could hear the two reviling one another in the sweetest fashion. I wriggled out, dropping on my hands in the drift. I have snappéd my feet into harness a few thousand times but never in better time. Then I paused to think. Roy was the problem. If he would start back I could skirt around the cabin and gain the trail behind him. But if Jimmy should miss me while I waited—! And then my straining ears heard the latch rattle and I knew the game was on.

I stroked to the corner, snatched up my ski sticks and glided swiftly south into the open. My first aim was to get out of point blank range. A shout and a pistol shot from the window showed that I hadn’t been any too quick. Roy started back from the woods as fast as possible, but far too slowly to please me. Soon he tripped and lost a ski, wallowing about in the trail and dishing my chances of getting around him. In the meantime Jimmy had run from the door with smoking pistol and was making after me through snow to his knees. The surface was wind-packed and what with the slope I had to snub to keep from gaining too much on him.

Jimmy was soon puffed. I saw him stop and wait for Roy. Then he retrieved his blades and both came on, spreading out until they were fifty yards apart and making escape impossible or at least suicidal. The plateau was a long, tapering tongue of rock, growing steeper and narrow as it approached the brink. I had but three courses open to me; break through, go over the cliff, or surrender. It is easy enough to say now which I should have done, but honestly I never gave the last a thought. This being kidnapped and shot at had knocked common sense clean out of me. The first way they were all but certain to get me; the second at least thei wouldn’t get

me and, who knows—? The position was desperate.

In my many runs along the base of Mount Rouge I had stirred my imagination over such a jump, even appraising the chances of success. It towers up for a couple of hundred feet, like the rusty, bulging prow of a gigantic ocean tramp. The shale and soil peeled from its sides by time have formed a great wave about its base, the crest of this wave licking a third way up the steep. Trees, boulders have long been buried or swept away, only a few rampikes and gnarled cedars fringing the lower edge of the debris. All winter the snows drift down the face of the cliff, capping the wave with foam to an incredible depth Yes, it had seemed possible—terribly possible, just as Poe’s nightmares seem possible, but never to be translated into experience. And here I was, heading straight for the brink!

T GAVE one more look back. The gunmen were following cautiously, fearful of losing control, swerving rightangles to the slope to reduce speed and evidently certain of their quarry. They made two ugly black blobs in the dazzling expanse. And then I dismissed them. I had but a short distance left in which to gain momentum. Stroking vigorously, thrusting with all my strength on the sticks, aided by a steep dip in the decline, I was soon going at a fast clip—faster—faster—. The unfathomable blue of sky was all about me, only cut by the sharp line of the cliff. My,eyes were fixed on this. It rushed toward me. I bent my knees, leaning forward. It was directly under me. I straightened my legs and launched into space. I soared out and up and up, the white world falling away from me. I looked down the clear depths, seeing open spaces, tiny cottages, black ribbons of wood, spires, dead river. I seemed to be poised there, standing upright, crucified against the pitiless blue. And then at last I pitched forward, dropped—dropped with the violence of a blow.— choking, blind, numb, I seemed to be falling, falling through eternity.... Why do I attempt to describe it?

• ... At last I became conscious that something was under my feet. My muscles, my brain, instinctively began to function. I was no longer falling, but hurtling ahead at almost as great a pace. My eyes began to clear, my breath to return. Black objects whirled past to either side—trees. I must avoid trees. I caught up the threads of reason and began to take control. Heavy forest confronted me. I pressed down on the edge of my blades, swung sharply to the right—and stopped.

My first thought ousted all reactions, emotions. Would I be too late? It must be after two. I had five miles to go. It would be a race against time, but I couldn’t be beaten now. I hurried forward, over fences, through farm-yards, straight as a crow could fly, panting at every stroke

Yes, I arrived in time. While still far off I could see the boys clustered on the top of the tower and following one another down like marbles in a slot machine. When I gained the foot of the chute the megaphone was bellowing. “Sanderson, New York,”—number seven on the second round. I was twelve, so wasted no time in mounting the tower. As I appeared on the take-off platform there was a stir through the multitude below, pointing of fingers, catcalls from the youngsters. After all I was their chief hope of bringing the championship to Canada, though for some unaccountable reason I had not jumped in the opening round. I thought I heard an oath from someone in the little knot of officials and photographers on the platform, as I started up the long railed slope to the half-way level. Tom Mitchell was here and squeezed my hand excitedly.

“Good old boy!” he cried. “You gave me the scare of our lives. Go to it—beat ’em.”

“What are they doing?” 1 asked.

“Omtvedt started with 14S. The others are way back. You can do it.”

“By heck, I will, if only —” But I did not wait to explain. There was not the slightest doubt but I would do it. I had often made 140-41 in practice, and now —no, there was no doubt about it. McKinnon, Anderson, Monsen shot past me as I mounted. Sundberg (eleven) was poised on the brink waiting for the megaphone to cease its bellowing. I stepped in behind him. A horn brayed. He threw himself forward, stroking out with both feet as though he were skating, lying flat on the air, dwindling in an instant from six feet to the size of a doll. He left the take-off with his arms flapping like featherless wings hit the hillside far down, recovered his balance, swept through the mob and stopped abruptly in a cloud of snow. Twenty thousand people waited in breathless silence.

“Sundberg—CHffside—139," roared the trumpet.

A burst of applause marked their appreciation of their former champion. Perhaps next time—.

Continued on page 55

Continued from page 15

AS THE echoes were still beating back from the Mountain I moved into place. There was no number on my sweater. But a concerted roar went up from that vast concourse blacking the hillside and level. If their encouragement could help me, it was all mine. I waited, following that all but perpendicular gray thread down the narrow scaffolding to where it broke and ran on again below.

“Richards, Montreal," trumpeted from the sky. The horn brayed. I straightened up, lifted my arms—and stared straight out into that pitiless blue void... Suddenly, like a blow, the sensations I had just experienced crashed back upon me. I was whirled aloft—an atom poised in space, about to fall into the abyss. My vision went black, my breath stopped, the universe reeled dizzily.... My God! I turned and clung desperately to the rail!

That’s all. They unclasped my hands, took off my skis, led me down—led me home. Tom stayed with me all night. I didn’t sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes I saw blue, began to fall, awoke clutching at the pillows. I told him about it next day. He made inquiries, but of course the thugs had skipped. He visited the cabin. The wind had obliterated marks, but he found empty bottles, the open window, and believed me, I guess. But no one else would have believed such a wild story. Most people thought I had been taken suddenly sick—the newspapers called it that—but some gave it a worse name— “bought.” The atmosphere about the cluh was decidedly chilly. I stopped going there. Why should I? My jumping days were over. Soon afterwards I managed to get myself transferred to Ottawa. But of course my reputation persists. The boys here cannot understand why I have dropped out and both clubs are after me. Even those who have heard the rumors can't see why I shouldn’t be straight the next time. Finally Tom turned up here for the tournament and battered down my opposition. And you witnessed the result!

^UEIL had been talking with his eyes on ’ the fire. Now he looked at Diana, but her face was in shadow.

“Think of going over Mount Rouge! VV ho else would have done it!” She mused aloud. “I wouldn’t worry over what people say, Neil. Tom was a fool to have forced, your hand. Why, it’s just like shell-shock. It’ll wear off in time. You mustn’t worry over it.”

“If the boys didn’t think me a pup for refusing to jump after winning the national cup—”

“They’re so keen over to-morrow! But we’re not so badly off. There’s Sundberg and there’s Tom Mitchell. Did you see how he jumped this afternoon?—splendid, simply splendid! He phoned me tea-time to say he’d made a new record for Fairy

Lake after we’d left. Oh, no, our chances are pretty rosy if you ask me.”

“Tom’s a coming star,” admitted Neil without warmth.

“It’ll be a wonderful exhibition—no end of excitement. You’ll be there of course?”

“No, Dian—not after to-day. I’m not thin-skinned, but there’s a limit.”

She tried to persuade him, but without success. Presently he excused himself and left her. She saw him to the door and returned to stare into the flames with unseeing eyes.

III.

T WAS Sunday morning.

Neil turned to the sporting page of the Record, noted the two-column heading the records of the contestants, the order in which they would jump. He ran down the list, recognizing former rivals, dwelling on their “form,” their possibilities: Anderson, McKinnon, Sundberg, Olsen, Mitchell. He paused at thirteen. Thirteen had a dash after it. It would have been his number. Likely the list had been set up some days before and they could only delete the name. The blank line blared out at him. Nobody could fail to note it and ask for an explanation. “Neil Richards—lost his nerve!” Everybody would be whispering it. Diana would hear them and know it for the truth. She had been whole-heartedly sympathetic, and yet a girl so wholesome, so fearless in sport herself could scarcely fail to pity him a little as a weakling. And to-day’s tournament was the event in her outdoor life. It was not surprising that she had turned the conversation almost immediately to Tom Mitchell and Canada’s chances of victory. No, he must expect to crawl into a corner and hide until it was all over. ... If it wasn’t for Dian! What a hero Tom would be if he should defeat Omtvedt!.... Nerves—a paltry thing like nerves could keep him from the international championship—and Dian! Damn the championship—-but Dian?....He paced his room all morning, wrestling as did Jacob with the angel, and the longer he struggled the surer and the crueller seemed his loss....

He glanced at the clock. It was after two. He hung up his dressing-gown and began to get into ski togs—breeches, sweater, high boots, wool cap and gloves. He moved deliberately, grimly. There was not a vestige of melodrama in Neil’s constitution. He had simply decided that it would be preferable tojlose Diana through a broken neck than a broken nerve. He would pitch himself down the chute, headfirst if necessary!

By four o’clock the twenty-five contestants had been down the chute twice, and the vast crowd scattered through the swamp and blotting out the little lake was on hair-trigger with excitement. Although the great Omtvedt of the Norge Ski Club had the lead, it was only by a couple of feet over Mitchell of Ottawa and Monsen of New York. As the Chicago champion climbed the tower for the third time the hills rocked to the people’s enthusiasm. But even louder was the roar, that followed Mitchell, their own new star Surely he could squeeze out another foot or two! He wore a debonair, even an impudent manner that lent confidence to their hopes. Before he started downward he kissed his hand to the crowd.

Continued on page 57

Continued from page 55 Omtvedt of the Norge

“One-three-one," announced the megaphone a minute later. It was not as good as his first. The cheer sounded like a groan.

Monsen also dropped back. Sundberg, Canada’s last hope, jumped with his usual grace, gaining every inch possible but not enough to lift him beyond fourth place. Then came number twelve—the stocky, darkclothed figure of Omtvedt. He got away with seemingly no effort, took the jump without fuss and landed a foot beyond his own record. Well, if he was to retain the championship it was because he had fairly won it. They had never seen such form, and clearly advertised the fact.

The rest of the entries were juniors— younger, lighter youths aspiring to championship honors—and the interest flagged.

"Thirteen," came the voice from the sky.

People glanced at their slips, looked again, and then stared upward curiously. Thirteen had not jumped before—was a blank in fact. Someone in the mob shouted Richards. The name travelled like wildfire. Soon it was on every tongue, with questions, explanations; wonderment. A girl in red, standing beside Mitchell at the very edge of the swamp, began to tremble like a leaf.

“Good boy—good boy,” Tom was repeating over and over. She did not hear him. She was staring upward, shaking with fear, her mittens clenched.

Neil had arrived too late for the second round and had kept in the background until his third turn drew near. Then he had mounted the tower unnoticed amongst a bunch of other jumpers, stood at the back of the landing, and advised the megaphone man of his presence as he was about to call fourteen. Charron opened his mouth in amazement and then closed it over the mouth-piece.

"Thirteen—Richards—Ottawas.' '

NEIL moved to the lip of the chute with his eyes fixed on the points of his skis. It was just such another day as yesterday—bitter cold, still, bright. The purple-blue void walled him round, but he refused its challenge. The scaffold seemed to loe swaying back and forth. Far off, as in a dream, he heard the bugle’s warning cry—drowned in the roaring of his ears. Suddenly came the blow—things went black, he felt himself falling, and at the same instant threw himself headlong down the pitch. The mob gasped, a girl shrieked—but his skis caught up with his falling body before it struck the take-off, his knees straightened like a sprung trap and soaring in a wide arc he landed near the very base of the hill. The crowd repressed its emotions with an effort, tense, its eyes now on the markers. Twice the tape-line was stretched on the course, and then:

"One-four-nine!' ' bellowed over the winter world, and the mob went mad.

Neil kept his feet to the end of the roped-off lane, glided on into the swamp and collided sharply with a tree. That and a violent thump on the back from Tom seemed to restore his wits.

“By George, what a start! Never saw anything so reckless in my life. It’ll take some beating, by George! Look out, here comes the whole blame shooting-match!” But Neil saw only Diana. She had both his hands now and was gazing through a mist that threatened to congeal into rain.

“You dear, dear boy! I knew you would get back your nerve—I knew it!”

“I didn’t, Dian,” he answered gravely. “That’s my last jump. I couldn’t do it again—even for you.”

“Then, thank God, you won’t have to do it again—for me!”

The crowd tossed him onto its shoulders and went roaring cityward.