THE VILLAGE of Petit Pierre sits in a great bowl in the Laurentian hills. In the summer it is just a sleepy village, but with the first snow it comes to life. The air is musical with sleigh bells, the streets are alive with color, and the skis stand thick before every door. There comes a time in March when the sky is blue and the sun is warm and the snow is at its best, when the village suspends all lesser activities, hands itself over to be ruled by a committee and unites with its visitors in the festival of Ski Week.
Here is the beginning of another Ski Week, and the afternoon train is toiling up the grade under a billow of white smoke. Bones Martell. already browned by the spring sun and wearing the red rosette of the committee on his jacket, is on hand to welcome it. Somewhere in the mob ; disgorges is the girl friend. He catches a glimpse of a green habit, a flash of gold hair--and inside him a brass and strikes up.
“Hi, Cathy !”
“Hello, Bones. I want a burn like that. Gee, you’re most chocolate!”
“I’ll take vanilla,” remarked a passing stranger, for in Ski Week such pleasantries are rife.
“Come on,” said Cathy. She had her baggage on her back and her skis in her hands. “We’ll have time for the Big Hill before tea.” Considerably disrupting traffic, she flung her skis on the platform and stepped into the bindings. An elegant youth suddenly appeared beside her.
“Allow me,” he said and, stooping, snapped the heel rings taut. Cathy gave him her straight, shining glance lord, oh lord! thought Bones, another one!
“Bones,” she said, “this is Wally Godfrey and it’s his first visit to Petit Pierre. So give him the welcoming hand.”
“Bienvenu,” said Bones cordially. “There is the village and there are the hills—help yourself. Got a place to stay?”
“I have reservations at the Chateau.”
“Hurry then and change.” said Cathy. “We’ll meet you the Big Hill.”
“Who is this Godfrey blister?” asked Bones as they poled along the village street. “Did you pick him up on the ..in?”
"Certainly not. I met him at the Clarges. He’s been my shadow for the past week and doing pretty well at it. Good-looking, isn’t he?”
"I’ll bet you asked him to come here,” said Bones.
"Sure I asked him. I’d hate to have anyone miss Ski week at Petit Pierre. He spent last Season at St. Moritz. I hope he doesn’t find us too naif.”
"I should worry if he finds me naif” said Bones, “and Moritz better sit up and take notice. Do you know who is coming to Petit Pierre? Gloria Diamante, no less.”
“My rival!” said Cathy. “Hot dicketty!”
THEY stopped at the Snowlarks’ clubhouse, where Cathy was a member, long enough for her to claim a .. and then pushed on. The hills lay before them, huge and white, checkerboarded with stands of evergreen, colored dwarfs wound down their flanks, lifting spurts of snow from their turning skis. The cold air was like wine.
"Oh, Bones, isn't it wonderful?” cried Cathy. “What a week we’re going to have!”
"I've entered us for the roped slalom race. We’ve got to get hot.”
"There’s Wally,” said Cathy.
The newcomer wore the smartest of skiing clothes, his equipment was in the latest and approved style, and he had a smooth and expert technique. Cathy was a great admirer of good skiing. She watched him do a high-speed turn.
"Bones, he’s good. They do know something at St. Moritz.”
A cloud bigger than a man’s hand appeared in the blue Laurentian sky for Bones. It was generally this way. He had no copyright on the idea that Cathy was the sweetest thing. It was a doctrine shared with a number of his cronies. Besides the home competition, there was always some imported talent in there battling away. Just when Bones thought things were in the bag, the bag broke open in a new place. And the many duties of a committeeman were going to make it tougher.
"For goodness sake !” cried Cathy, "take off the lost St. Bernard look ! I’ll race you to the top of the hill. Well— I’ll race you to where my wind gives out.”
The Snowlarks gave a dance that night and Bones had promised to be panting on the mat at eight. But a meeting of the committee kept him late, and it was nearly midnight when he made a harassed and contrite appearance. And he had been weak enough to offer to lead the novice hike for the morrow.
Cathy listened rather absently to his tale of woe.
“Life on the committee is like that. Tough—for we’re getting up a party for the Sky Line Trail tomorrow.”
The Sky Line is an all-day trip, much favored by romantic couples, and suspicion shot through Bones.
"Who is the party?”
"Wally and I.”
SKI WEEK marched on. Each morning the sun seemed warmer and the snow whiter. Each day the novices working away on the foot of the Big Hill fell in less complicated falls, and slopes blossomed forth in the colored flags of the slalom courses. The trails through the deep, green woods were packed and made swift by laughing groups. And at night in the Hub, where everyone goes to sing, the talk was that the guy from St. Moritz was taking the play away from Bones and it looked as if Cathy, who had been that way about Bones, was reversing her field.
It was the matter of the treasure hunt which definitely raised an issue. The treasure hunt, a popular event, is held at night, and the clues may indicate the church steeple or an old oak tree in the woods four miles away. The contestants hunt in couples with a thoroughness which sometimes scandalizes those who are unfamiliar with the local tradition -- as, for instance, the unfortunate gentleman who happened to be taking a shower in the Chateau when the idea got abroad that a clue was hidden in the soap dish. Last winter, the treasure had been captured by Cathy and Bones, and Bones was all set for a repeat performance.
“We’ll do it on one leg, won’t we, Cathy?”
“I’m going to hunt with Wally.”
"Hey!" cried Bones. "Have you adopted that guy? Listen. Cathy, I’ve hardly seen you for a moment since he came. I know I’ve been busy, and I was glad you were having fun. But this is different—you knew that I wanted to run it with you."
"But you know every girl in the village and he only knows me.”
“There are dozens he could ask.”
"Don’t fuss. Bones I promised. And he says he’s pretty good at treasure hunts.”
"He’d better be," said Bones grimly.
He asked Kitty Hawks to be his partner. Kitty’s true love was a jumper who had jumped too far that afternoon and rendered himself hors de combat. She was a witch on skis and she had a bright eye for skulduggery.
The stars were hidden that night but the snow gave off a soft light, sufficient to show the shape of things. The hunters gathered a hundred strong, and with the reading of the first clue, went off in a shouting stream. Crisscrossing in and about the village, to the lighted lodges on the nearer hills, the pack strung out. dwindled and got lightheartedly lost. By custom, the last clues are hidden some distance from the village, so the last leg is a breakneck race over fields and fences back home. The second-last clues were discovered, and a whisper ran from partner to partner.
"It’s André’s Hill.”
Cathy and Wally, Kitty and Bones, and a half-dozen other couples of the bulldog breed, made the pace. The trail narrowed suddenly where it entered a grove of alders, and as they poured into it there was the crash of a fall.
“Sorry !” sang out Wally and sped on.
Bones turned back and flashed his torch. It was one of the village youngsters and he lay where he had fallen, tangled in the brush.
"Are you all right, Baptiste?”
"In a minute. My leg, she is twist’. Loose my ski, Bones.”
Bones unfastened the binding and lifted the boy to his feet. "The gentleman’s pole ring catch my ski point as he pass and, crack ! I go down.”
"That Godfrey is too keen to win,” put in Kitty with asperity. “He nearly set me on my ear.”
"Are you all right now?”
“Sure,” said the lad. "For a minute, I lose my breathe. But run on, Bones, you will catch him.”
“Okay. Get going then. You’re doing fine, Baptiste.”
At the foot of the hill, Bones left the trail and turned at right angles across its face.
"Hey!" cried Kitty. “You’ll kill me. That’s the steep way up!”
"Come on!” said Bones. "We’ve got work to do.”
AT THE farther edge of the wooded hill, they began to climb up by the down trail. Halfway up, Bones stopped and peered about him in the dimness. "Here we are.” A narrow track left the main route and angled off into the darkness. With his skis he began to throw a drift of snow across the way they had come.
"What’s the idea?” panted Kitty.
"Widen that track,” commanded Bones. “Stomp, Kitty, stomp.”
In a few minutes they had obliterated the junction and made a beaten entrance to the narrow track. Comprehension dawned on Kitty.
"But holy smokes, Bones, that track leads into André’s barnyard! They’ll come flying into it a hundred miles an hour and break themselves to bits.”
"I know a secret,” said Bones. "Come on.”
They herringboned strenuously to the top in a squall of flying flakes. The promised snow had come.
A check had occurred and they were just in time to see Wally, who had found it, throw the box containing the clues high in the air. There was a general scramble for the fluttering bits of paper. Everyone knew that the treasure would be found in the bar of the Pub, but the winner had to show a complete set of clues.
"Come on, Cathy!” cried Wally.
"Why, here’s old Bones!” said Cathy. “Better late than never. Gangway for the champs!”
She flashed over the edge of the hill after Wally.
"Wait!” shouted Bones, and at his tone the rest of the group halted. "Listen!”
André’s Hill is short and steep. They had not long to wait.
"But they’re in the barnyard!” cried little Baptiste.
"All clear, kids,” said Bones. "Keep close and follow in my tracks.”
He skimmed down the slope, and where fresh ski marks led off to the left he drove his own skis through the soft snow and found the right trail beyond. At the bottom of the hill, he whirled in a jump turn.
"Go on. Baptiste. Hit her up—right for the village!”
Kitty rooted for Baptiste’s partner, the fat Marie.
"Marchez, Marie! Marchez like the dickens!”
The runners were swallowed up in the flying snow.
“What’s your secret. Bones?”
"A haystack,” said Bones. “Brother André upset a load of loose hay right in his gateway this afternoon.”
“Crimminy !” said Kitty. "Let’s go and see.”
They rolled over a fence and something large and rounded loomed before them. Bones flashed his torch.
“Hi, champs!” said Kitty.
Protruding from the hay were two faces, as pale as water lilies. Wally, with hay in his hair and hay in his mouth, was having difficulty with what Baptiste called his breathe.
"It must be a straw ride," said Kitty.
“I wonder what they’ve done with the horses,” said Bones, and Wally made strangled noises.
“Look, he’s eating it!” said Kitty, fascinated.
“Perhaps that’s the horse.”
“It couldn’t be a horse,” objected Kitty. “I never saw a horse with skis on.”
“That’s so,” agreed Bones. "It must be them all right. Well, when you’re through with that hay, kids, come over to the village and try our oats.”
Cathy upheaved from the hay, unhurt and raging.
"Bones Martell, you did this! I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live.”
BONES awoke next morning and remembered that he was in the dog-house. But he found it hard to be depressed. The new snow had made the woods a crystal wonderland, and in Petit Pierre a new fall of snow heals all wounds. It was simple prudence to give Cathy a little time to get over her peeve, so he spent the day with other members of the committee, laying out the course of the men’s cross-country race. Still feeling full of vigor, he made a swing by himself about the farther hills. It was nearly dusk when he came zooming down the Tiger’s Tail toward home.
He took an elbow bend in a flat skid and next moment, with a startled grunt, he lifted himself on one pole, turning on his side in the air, his body almost parallel with the ground. His skis just cleared the dark form and, gouging laterally into the snow, threw up a drift and stopped him. He stepped around and went back.
“Never sit in the middle of the trail,” he said, “not even if you are dead. Are you hurt?”
She was a dumpy little figure of uncertain age, with big eyes in a scared face.
"I’m sorry. I fell and hurt my knee—and I’ve broken my fitting.”
Bones picked up the loose ski and examined the binding. "We can fix this.” He cut a number of branches from a near-by fir tree and piled them on the snow. “You squat there and unhitch your mind.” His pockets contained a small repair shop, and while he rivetted the broken leather he spoke to her severely.
“What’s your name?”
"Well, Miss Jones, didn’t your mother ever tell you never to ski alone in these hills?”
“I like being alone.”
"Okay—but I’ve warned you. Now, let’s have a look at that knee.”
The girl drew back with hauteur.
“Don’t be silly,” said Bones austerely. Carefully he felt the bone beneath the thick cloth. “Move it this way. Now that way . . . Nothing broken, I think. See if you can stand.” With his support, she rested her weight on it.
“Oh, it’s much better,” she said, and her face lighter with relief.
"A good night’s sleep will make it as right as rain.”
"But I can’t sleep up here,” said Miss Jones.
“Leave that to old Bones. Yas’m he’ll get you down.”
A trickle of laughter escaped her Bones stared at her puzzled. Whom did he know who laughed like that? And her voice, pleasantly accented, was vaguely familiar.
"I say, haven’t I met you somewhere?"
"I don’t think so. Surely I would have remembered old Bones.”
"Well, never mind. You’ve met me now and that should be enough for one small girl the size of a rabbit. This is the way we go.” He took his poles and one of hers in his left hand. His right arm went firmly about her waist and he put her left arm about his.
"Hang onto my belt with that hand. Put most of your weight on your good leg and just enough on the other to keep the ski tracking. All set?”
“I—I guess so.”
"Then off we go.”
Gravity seized them, and the slope dropped them powerfully downward. He felt her stiffen in fear. Her fall and the cold had made her feel brittle. He checked their speed with a series of easy stem turns. His control gave her confidence. She relaxed and, catching the rhythm of it, began to follow the sway of his body. They ran down through the trees to the brink of a great tilted sheet of white.
"Oh--I've never been down the Big Hill."
"You will be in one half minute," said Bones. "Atta Jonesy, let her rip."
He brought her down in swinging zigzags, straightening out near the bottom into a fast run that carried them to the edge of the village street.
Miss Jones laughed aloud with pleasure. "That was glorious!"
"We strive to please," said Bones. "Where are you staying?"
"At the Chateau. But please don't bother--"
"There's a Chateau sleigh now. We can catch it."
But Miss Jones did not run very well. They were on beaten snow now and, kicking off his skis, Bones snatched her up and galloped after the sleigh, shouting. They caught it at the main corner and he dumped her in, skis and all. She gave him a bright, warm smile.
"Thank you, Bones. You have been really wonderful."
The sleigh drove on, and a group on the corner hailed him with appreciative cries.
"Bones, who was that lady I seen around your neck?"
"Oh--hello Cathy," said Bones to Cathy passing swiftly.
"Hello, Wonderful," said Cathy, not stopping.
THE NEXT morning was wonderful too. Bones gazed rather glumly into its sparkling white and blue. It seemed that the dog-house was to be his permanent home. He decided to slip up to the Chateau and see how Miss Jones was getting along. She seemed to be a good kid and she didn’t know people. He left his skis in the rack and entered the lounge. The manager greeted him warmly.
"I looked for you last night. I wanted to thank you for bringing Miss Jones in.”
“That’s all right. I found her on the Tiger’s Tail and ticked her off for skiing alone. Where is she this morning?”
"She isn’t down yet.”
"Where is her room?” said Bones. "I'll rout her out.”
"Good heavens, no! She is in sixteen, but we have strict orders. The lady is not to be disturbed.”
"Not to be disturbed ! In Ski Week! Who does she think she is?”
Upstairs, he dealt the door of number sixteen an authoritative blow.
“Who is it?” called a voice.
“Me,” said Bones. He walked in and stopped abruptly. A small and very lovely lady was having breakfast in bed.
“Sorry, angel,” said Bones, backing away. "I’m in the wrong room.”
"Why, Bones!” said the lovely lady.
He uttered a cry of astonishment. “Jonesy! It is Jonesy! What a shock for poor old Bones." He dropped into a chair. “You are beautiful. Miss Jones, and you never told me.”
“I always think,” said the lady, "that it is so much nicer when they find out by themselves.”
“That’s what I always say too,” said Bones gallantly. “If I’ve said it once. I’ve said it a hundred times. How is your knee this morning—is it beautiful too?”
Miss Jones drew' the bedclothes firmly about her.
"It is quite all right, thank you. The doctor said it was only a slight wrench. It just needs rest.”
“Good! Some time you must give it a rest. But in the meantime—the sun’s in his heaven, the morning's at nine, ahd there is a special kind of powder snow which the committee ordered specially. Action, Miss Jones! Speed and movement !”
The lady raised her delicate eyebrows and patted away a small yawn.
"There is a picnic on the Dome. Everyone will be there."
“Not everyone, Bones.”
"Then how about lunch at the Half Way Hut? There is a fine practice hill there and we will have the place to ourselves."
"You know, I had planned to spend this morning safely in bed. But there is something about you. Bones—you are very dynamic."
"You’ll come then? Great stuff!” He leaped to the telephone. "I'll call the chef about lunch. Which kind of sandwiches do you prefer—ham or egg?"
Miss Jones shuddered.
“Now, don't make a scene--hello. I’m speaking for Miss Jones in number sixteen. Luncheon to go. She’ll have—”
The telephone burst into an excited crackling. Bones looked over his shoulder. “Gosh, you certainly rate around here. You are getting everything from clear soup to caviar— and white Bordeaux. Carry on, chef,” he said into the phone, "but make it two of the Bordeaux.”
“And, now, my fine gourmet. I’ll meet you downstairs in ten minutes.”
There was a whirl of frothy negligee as Miss Jones came into action.
WHEN SHE rejoined him on the porch, he stopped waxing her skis to utter an appreciative cry. She had abandoned the clumsy blanket habit of yesterday. From the tip of her visor to the heavy Norwegian boots, she was a model of what the well-dressed skier should wear. Her face, creamed and made up against the sun and wind, was a mask of sophisticated loveliness. He saw that she was older than he had thought. Bones decided he liked them older.
She proved to be an excellent companion. They put in a good morning’s work on the practice slope and had lunch in the open on the sunny side of the hut. Then Miss Jones did imitations. She could mimic all the well-known figures of the stage and screen. Bones liked best of all her imitation of Gloria Diamante. She could reproduce every tone of that clear, inflected voice.
"You know, she was to come up here at least there was a rumor to that effect — but she didn’t turn up.”
"Too bad,” said Jonesy. "It would have done the little nitwit a world of good.” Bones tipped her backward into the snow and sat on her.
"Listen,” he said, “no cracks. Miss Diamante is lovely to look at and delightful to hear, and my favorite actress. I'm strong for Gloria. Is that clear, or do I shove some snow down your neck?”
“Ouch! Eeeeee! Bones, stop it! She’s lovely-she’s wonderful--she’s anything you like—” She spilled him down the hill.
"I wish she had come,” said Bones. "To me, there is always something nice and genuine about her.”
Miss Jones was touched.
“Bones, when you came to the Chateau this morning, you expected to find a small, fat, awkward creature. Why did you bother to look her up?”
"Oh well,” said Bones, "you were skiing alone. I thought perhaps you didn’t know anyone—”
"That was charming of you. I gather from the salutations I overheard in the village last night that you know everyone. A popular young man. And I see pretty young girls on every side who will be at the picnic today. Why so indifferent, Bones?”
“I’ve been given the air.”
“Aha! Tell Jonesy.”
“A slicker from St. Moritz cut me out. I had no reason to be sore; I mean, I have no vested interest in Cathy—”
“Cathy? I noticed a girl called Cathy on the Hill. Slim, golden hair, and a glorious color.”
“That’s Cathy all right. Well, I played a dirty trick on them, and was she peeved ! And she still is. The trouble is. I’ve been struck on her since we were nippers. She’s used to me. Somebody new comes along and old Bones goes to the dog-house. I’ve no glamour.”
Miss Jones was amused. “You may not have glamour yet. Bones, but I think you have the makings.”
“Tomorrow,” said Bones. "I’m going to pull you out of bed early and we’ll do Wigglezip and the Ogo Pogo. They’re better than a tonic.”
Tomorrow and the day after and the day after that went by like winking. Miss Jones announced regretfully that she was leaving.
"But you mustn't miss the last day,” protested Bones. "All the best races are run off. There is jumping in the morning and the roped slalom in the afternoon. It ’s a riot; you shouldn't miss it.”
"I’m afraid I must.”
"I’m sorry. How about the do in the village tonight? It’s a sort of Amateur Night—-you know, songs and skits and great good fun. I’ve been trying for years to recite ‘Poor Jane Ray,’ but they always give me the bird. Will you come?'"
Amateur Night in Petit Pierre is a very impromptu entertainment. The skiers thronged the Pub and perched wherever they could find a perch. They kept time to the choruses with their feet. Between songs, anyone who felt a specialty bubbling inside, advanced to the centre of the floor and let fly. The Boswell Sisters harmonized, the Marx Brothers appeared on skis, and two college boys did an adagio dance and broke a table. Bones made his annual attempt to recite the tragic plight of poor Jane Ray who couldn’t play because her bird was dead, and was howled down. He returned unruffled to Miss Jones.
"They’ve no feeling for the belles lettres. No spirit of poesy. You couldn't get a pint of poesy out of this gang if you used an auger.”
“Never mind. It was awfully dramatic, as far as you went. There is Cathy over there, with your rival. She’s lovely, Bones.”
The chairman left his dais and approached their table. An expectant silence fell on the hall. Stammering and shy, he addressed Miss Jones.
“I expect you will think it’s frightful cheek we know that you are here as just Miss Jones, and we don't want to intrude. But we don’t often have such a distinguished guest — I mean, Petit Pierre would like it awfully if you would say a few words or sing--"
"This old ditherer,” said Bones, "is Dunc Trevanion. He is usually quite rational, but he seems to be having a little trouble with his syntax.” He turned to the blushing Trevanion. “Miss Jones’ forte is imitations you should hear her imitate Gloria Diamante--but if she wants to sing, why let the thing go on. I’ll fight any man who tries to stop her.”
Miss Jones smiled upon the chairman.
“Thank you, Mr. Trevanion. I have enjoyed myself so much in Petit Pierre and you have been so considerate, I should be glad to sing for you. What would you like?”
“Would you sing, 'Take a Letter to My Love’?”
“You know that one, don’t you?” asked Bones. "Gloria Diamante sings it in her last picture, where she falls in love with her secretary and dictates it to him.”
“I think I remember. Will you be the secretary, Bones?”
“Sure,” said Bones.
He was installed behind a small table, before an imaginary typewriter.
“Mr. Hemingway, take a letter,” said Miss Jones, walking up and down behind him. The piano gave out a soft chord and her clear, lovely voice arose in the lyric. She sang it as it has been heard in a thousand theatres. She sang it as only Gloria Diamante had sung it when she set a nation to humming it after her. If you have seen the picture, you will remember that at the end she sits on the secretary’s desk, says, “Yours Sincerely,” and kisses him. Miss Jones did just that a lingering, loving kiss and the house rocked.
“Curtain and exit, Bones,” said Miss Diamante, and with a smile and a gesture for the crowd, she went sedately. Bones, scarlet-faced, stumbled after her. Outside, away from the roar of applause -
“Oh, lord. I’m an ass! Will you ever forgive me. Miss Diamante?”
"Call me Jonesy,” said Miss Diamante.
“I said you were my favorite actress — and I never once tumbled --”
"Dear Bones, men in love are never particularly noticing. And it was rather nice to be liked as Miss Jones. And no one but us knows that you didn’t know.”
A sleigh was waiting for her. “Good-by, Bones, thank you for a lovely time. And about Cathy—remember you have a new character now. Notorious actresses are your dish—you will be hard to hold. There is glamour about you now, Bones.”
THE LAST day of Ski Week is race day. As the meet has no official standing, a pleasant irresponsibility pervades it. The downhill runners enter the jumping and the jumpers enter the downhill, and everyone who can stand goes into the slalom races. Bones took a bone-shaking toss in the morning jump and in the afternoon he won the senior downhill, as was expected, for he was zone champion in this event. He saw Cathy place fourth in the ladies’ downhill instead of the usual first or second and most surprising, she scratched in the ladies’ slalom.
“All out for the roped slalom !”
The cry echoed up and down the Big Hill and a stir of anticipation went through the spectators massed on its flanks.
As everyone knows now, a slalom race is a race against time through a twisting corridor of flags set out upon a slope. Control is the important element, If a runner fails to make his turns through the flags, he must climb back and come down again. The roped slalom is a frivolous variation of this theme. A boy and a girl are joined together by a rope about their waists. The length of the rope depends upon the judges’ sense of humor, but it is usually about twenty-five feet. At the signal, they take off from the top of the hill, the girl leading, and a good deal happens to them in the next few seconds. The boy has the more difficult part. He has discarded one pole and instead holds the slack of the rope and tries to prevent it from fouling his skis. He must try not to run her down when she is stemming for a turn, and he must prevent her from jerking him off his feet when he is making his. Above all, he must not fall on top of her when she falls, for then they become enmeshed in skis and rope and roll down the hill in a lunatic cocoon.
The starter’s whistle blew, the course judges stood to their flags and the first couple shot over the brink. Halfway down, the boy tripped on the rope, spilled forward into his partner, who sat firmly down upon him. The next couple, owing to circumstances over which they had no control, made a turn in opposite, directions, and were jerked off the snow like pencils on an elastic. The best time was made by Wally Godfrey and a girl from the Widgeons, who ran a cautious, prudent race and had only one fall.
Cathy was standing on the side lines. The fact that she had not paired with Wally was to Bones a welcome development. It looked as if the St. Moritz glamour had worn thin. He poled over to her.
“I put in our names for this at the beginning of the week. Like to go in?”
“I would as soon go hunting eels in my bare hands—but I suppose we must not disappoint your public.”
Seething, absolutely seething, noted Bones. They started up the hill. They were the last entry and the crowd amused itself in the interval. Someone shouted, “Hi, Bones, take a letter,” and a hundred voices took up the song, “Take a Letter to My Love.” At the top, the youngster who was helping the starter with the ropes, had a request to make. “Bones, when you write to Miss Diamante, will you ask for her autograph?”
“Sure,” said Bones, and Cathy made an odd gritting sound with her teeth.
“Did you see the jumping this morning?” he enquired conversationally.
“Do you call it jumping? I saw you falling about on your face, if that’s what you mean.”
"Is that so—” began Bones, nettled.
“Go!” cried the starter, and Cathy dropped straight down the hill and sped at the first curve of flags like an arrow. Zowie! thought Bones, she was going to make a race of it.
THEY wound through the first serpentine of flags at a speed not attained or even attempted by the other runners. She checked herself with a vicious jump turn— which nearly tore Bones in half—and set herself for the grapevine, where the flags are set in a single descending line and the runners must wind in and out between them. They made their close turns like clockwork, the rope almost taut between them. The next pair of flags was a “gate” set on the other side of the slope, below them. Dropping down the hill they picked up speed —too much speed, for Cathy, going full out through the “gate,” would have overrun the next flags had not Bones, turning short above her, jerked her off her feet. She rolled over with a flash of skis.
“Don’t sit there!” he yelped. “Is this a race or a wallow?” She was up again, furious. “I’ll show you !”
Toward the foot of the Big Hill there was a bluff made by an outcropping of rock under the snow. Below this, the remaining flags were set out in the form of the letter S. The other runners had taken a course which went around the bluff and entered the top of the S at its own level.
Cathy swung neither right nor left. Her purpose became clear—she was going to shoot over the bluff. Bones opened his mouth to shout—and shut it again. It would be faster, but it was reckless and doubly dangerous for him. He was going to need an awful lot of luck to make it.
She took off superbly, balanced like a jumper. He felt his skis lift on the edge, flung himself forward. As he flew through the air, the rope whipped up and snared a ski-point. He landed awkwardly, one ski stopped dead and flung him violently down. There was a distinct, ominous crack.
Cathy, thrown backward by the shock, scrambled wildly back to him. “Bones! Are you hurt? Bones!”
Bones said and did nothing. She lifted his head to her knees, whispering, “Bones, don’t be hurt—I didn’t mean to—forgive me. Bones!”
Bones stirred and shifted, disclosing a snapped ski-pole. Consciousness flooded back and with it a sense of grievance. Here was a new Cathy within arm’s reach, a darling Cathy with her defenses down— and this longed-for moment had to happen in the middle of a race with a million people looking on.
He got shakily to his feet.
“Come on—we still have time.”
“Darn the race!” cried Cathy. “Bones, do you really care for Gloria?”
“They’ll give us a cup for it.”
"I don’t want a cup.”
"It’ll look well on our mantel.”
"Bones!” cried Cathy. “Come on!”
They wound down through the final turns and staggered across the finishing line, to win by a very small split of a second.
“Of course,” said Bones, “there will be times when I’ll be pretty hard to hold.”
♦ ♦ + ♦ ♦