“Wake up, Dee. Not far now,” she said in an aside to the drowsy figure leaning on her left side. Then, as a short spark lighted between the two redheads in front, as they found some topic for debate, “I did German when I was thirteen, Blaise, as a matter of fact – the year we came here the first time. I don’t remember much of it, but I can get by quite adequately. Daniel will do it next year, I presume, unless he wants to do Spanish instead. Your father is very advanced at German, did you know? He lived in Hamburg for a while before Rob was born.”
“Yeah, but Dad isn’t here, and I haven’t learnt any German yet,” said Daniel practically. “Oh, look – here are some people.”
A large party of hikers emerged from the mist, and greeted the quartet in German.
“Excuse me,” said Aoife. “But is this the way to the Alpengasthaus?”
“You speak German please?” said one of the hikers. It was obviously the limit of his English.
“Wir gehen auf die Alpengasthaus?” Aoife managed, hoping her genders and tenses were vaguely correct to the possibility of comprehension, though she knew that the ordering of her words was likely to be abysmal.
“Ja, ja,” the chorus came, and the first hiker added something else in quick unintelligible German.
“Danke sehn,” said Aoife.
When they had gone and were out of earshot, Blaise arched her pink lips and spoke, her ordinarily clear tones muffled in the thick clouds.
“What did they say?”
“They said ‘ja’ which means yes,” said Daniel with an air of intellect-in-passing. “So we’re going the right way, aren’t we?”
“If only I knew,” muttered Aoife.
“Hm? Hi, Aoife, what did that guy say after? Something about children, wasn’t it?” said Blaise. “I’ve been studying a bit of German, you see. There are German books in the chalet sitting room. I’ve been trying to translate them but it’s really slow and it doesn’t always make sense.”
“Really, Blaise? I wouldn’t bother if I were you, to be honest. It’ll take you years. Even your father can’t read German books without an army of dictionaries.”
“Yeah, but what did the man say?”
Aoife locked her eyes with her young cousin’s. “To be truthfully honest, Blaise, I haven’t the faintest idea what he said. It’s a while since I’ve done any German at all, and how you picked out that children part I don’t know.”
“She probably imagined it,” Daniel said with a grin, drawing an indignant squawk from his sister. “Oh, look. The pines are finished. Is that black shape the Alpen-place?”
“What black shape?” Blaise said sweetly, looking about her with a pretentious expression of surprise. “Don’t worry, Aoife. He probably imagined it.”
“It might be, actually,” said Aoife, craning into the whiteness, ever-wary of the weight on her left side, which was slower and slower by each minute. “No; it’s a cow hut of some such. Now, how’s Delia? You two have been talking and arguing since we started off, and Delia’s said about three words.”
Delia said nothing.
“Come, on, Dee,” Aoife said, shaking the girl slightly.
Dee pulled herself together, and walked on. But Aoife had felt her sway a little as she straightened up, and she kept a supporting arm firmly around her cousin’s shoulders.
“I remember this hut,” Blaise cried as they passed the black shape. “It was about five minutes from the Alpengasthaus, wasn’t it, Dan?”
“I don’t remember it,” Daniel said frankly. “Do you think we should all study up on German so that won’t happen another time?”
“That’s a brilliant idea, Daniel!” Aoife cried, with an excess of brilliant enthusiasm as was her wont.
“Of course, that’s what I’ve been doing,” Blaise said snootily.
“Hi! That was a joke,” Daniel chipped in, looking as alarmed as a startled rabbit.
“It was a serious joke, then,” said Blaise. “Let’s adopt it!”
Daniel’s jaw fell open, but before he could reply, he gave an unmanly yelp. “Wow! Apollo wants to bolt. I think he smells food. Come to that, I can smell food, too!”
“What did I tell you?” Blaise said smugly as the Alpengasthaus loomed up in the already-thinning mists. “Yippee!” she cried with her arms flung out in all directions, and she scampered up the steps and yanked open the door.