“How did today’s expedition go, Aoife?” Sir Humphrey asked as Blaise, too, had trailed upstairs without so much as a half-hearted protest.
Aoife allowed her lips to relax into a resigned smile. She had known this would be coming. “Well, the first half was fine. But at around twelve-ish the fog came down, and it got quite hard going. We managed to get back to the Alpengasthaus, though, without losing ourselves, and the Kaiserschmarr’n picked us up no end.”
“Really? I didn’t see any fog at all. Maybe it was just up on the alms. Was Delia alright?” Delia was Sir Humphrey’s inevitable first concern, and Aoife knew it.
“She got quite tired towards the end of the walk but she was fine after the sweet meal. I think she’s fine – now.”
“That’s good. If I’d known I would have worried... Did you get very wet?”
“We wore our Macs.”
“That was sensible of you, though of course I can always trust you to be sensible. Was it very thick?”
“It was worse than anything I’ve seen in England, to be truthful, Uncle Humph. On the other hand, it didn’t settle, and was gone within the hour, and we were quite alright while we followed the path. I expect you could get a lot worse round here.”
“Was the view good?”
“Amazing. I might as well say now that Blaise wants to know why the Sonnjoch doesn’t look any closer at all there that here.”
“Goodness. I don’t have the faintest idea. Rob! Have you been listening? You’re the scientist.”
“Eh? Oh, I can’t remember if I ever learnt that. It’s probably just an illusion and there’s no scientific explanation. All sorts of rubbish we did learn, though. And even if I had learnt it and did remember it, she’d never understand it. She’s a bright enough kid, but I reckon A-level physics would be slightly beyond even her intellect.”
“Brightest of the lot of you, I’ve always said,” Sir Humphrey replied.
“Thank you, Dad, for the great confidence in us! Oh, I’m not contradicting you. Blaise is the only one of us likely to have anything in the way of a career. Everyone else takes what’s left, or marries someone with an already budding business.” Rob smiled at Lindy, who had been running a very successful garden centre in Pentingdon for the past four years, at first in partnership with a friend, now with her husband, who was truly invaluable when it came to the multitudes of lifting work at the prospering garden centre.
“What are we doing tomorrow?” Aoife asked her uncle.
“I thought we might go as a family up the Barenbad. We can take the cable-car up, walk to the alms and then I’ll take the tired people down in the cable-car, and everyone else can walk the way down.”
“Can’t you walk, Uncle?” Aoife said eagerly. “Please do. The children would be delighted.”
“I’ll see how I am tomorrow. My knees aren’t doing too well, you know, Aoife. I’m not sure if I can manage the walk down. Nathaniel and Serena can’t for definite. And it’s Lindy’s birthday, you remember? She won’t want to be walking. I’m told it’s quite a long walk on short legs. A couple of hours, I’d give it, but packed with good views of the Tristenkopf. I don’t know if Delia would be up to it.”
Aoife frowned. “Uncle, please let her. She feels it strongly when she’s left out. Unless she says quite distinctly she’s tired, please let her come with us.”
“No promises. If we get more fog, there’s no way anyone will be walking down a mountain through a forest. Now; it’s nearly ten, so I’m off to get a bit of sleep. Goodnight, Aoife, Rob, Lindy.”
“Goodnight,” they chorused.
Aoife followed him a couple of minutes later, and the other two weren’t far behind. But that night Aoife herself slept little. She was haunted by dreams of blinding fog, voices in an unknown language, and the lonely terror of a lost soul, who was responsible, but has betrayed herself and her loved ones. She woke up heavy-eyed and drowsy, but soon revived after a cool shower and a breakfast made peaceful by the fact that the children were still in bed.