Chapter Eight [V]

Blaise, who hid behind a nearby bush which was more transparent than usual, especially with her flame-coloured top, was caught first, and easily, but good-natured Vinzent promised ‘not to be too mean’ when she was on next turn. The others he found easily, only fast Daniel nipping through the gap between two trees and ‘saving’ himself.

During the next rounds the four ‘runners’ hid in completely different directions, and Daniel, using an especially ‘evil’ technique, to quote his frankly unimpressed sister, showed himself early in the proceedings. Blaise, not one to miss an opportunity, raced to catch him, and by the time she had returned, having been led in a wide circle through the trees, all four were standing in a cheery group by Base.

The third round didn’t go nearly so smoothly, as unconsciously Dan, Aoife, Vinzent and Delia all found themselves hiding in the same area. They scattered; Vinzent up an oak tree, and Aoife, who didn’t want to be thought ‘soft’, renewed an old skill and scrambled up after him with surprising ease. Daniel and Delia found bushes, but as they were so close together, three of four were caught.

Next Dan was ‘on’, and he went off in search of Blaise almost at once, she being the one he most wanted to capture. Aoife, Vinzent and Delia were back at the tent almost as soon as he red head went off into the pines towards the Sonnjoch. They waited there for at least ten minutes, and Aoife grew worried.

“It’s a quarter past seven. They won’t have gone far. I don’t expect Dan would be such an idiot, at least, and Blaise should be clever enough not to go off. I think we’ll go and look, though, because it might relieve my mind if we could only see them.”

“Shall I stay with our things?” Delia asked. “Someone ought to stay.”

“Are you sure? I don’t like to leave you.”

“I’ll be fine with Apollo. Leave your phone with me.”

“Alright. Are you completely sure?”

“Yes. I’m quite tired now.”

“Tell Rob whereabouts we’ve gone if we don’t get back.”

“Hey, you aren’t going to be that long, are you?” Delia looked alarmed.

“Probably not. Just to make sure. See you in a bit,” Aoife smiled, hiding the engulfing anxiety that was festering in her breast.

“It’ll be alright. They won’t have gone far. They’ll probably turn up back at the tent when we’re looking for them.” Vinzent squeezed her shoulder as they strode through the trees.

Aoife forced a smile. “I’m responsible for them, you see. And Blaise is a big responsibility. She doesn’t stop to think. She just does things. Dan used to be a bit like that, but he’s grown up a lot over the past year. They don’t have a mum to straighten things out for them, you know.”

“Neither do I, and neither do you at the present. But they do have you, Aoife. You’re quite adequate.”

“No, I’m not. I’m only nineteen,” Aoife sighed. “I couldn’t try to take the place of Auntie if I tried. I do the best I can so they have someone, even if it’s just me, but I know I can’t match up to Auntie, and I would never try to take her place. I guess it isn’t so bad for you and me. But they’re in the growing stages, which is partly why I try so hard. They must grow up properly. Uncle Humph is good, and tries his best, but there’s some things only a mum or a very close relation like Auntie ‘Nymph’ can be good for. A girl needs a woman’s help, for example.”

“I suppose. I don’t know all that much about girls, naturally, but I can guess.”

“Why are you here at the Achensee?” Aoife inquired suddenly. “I thought you were from Vienna.”

“I am, and I live there, but I contracted influenza the day after my mother’s funeral. Hence I set off and came here to recuperate when I had thrown off the worst of it. I’ve been here four weeks now – but don’t worry. I wouldn’t have approached you the first time at the lakeside if I had still been infectious. You’ve been here for a week and a half, haven’t you?”

“That’s right – is it really so short a time? Is there any business to attend to after, or is your father doing that? I remember Uncle Humph never being home because of the business for such ages.”

Vinzent paused. “I’m doing that when I go back. Next Tuesday I must go back to Vienna.”

“Oh, no!” Aoife lamented with true regret. “We’ll all be so sorry to lose you. Will you come back before September? We were hoping to invite you to Serena’s birthday meal in eleven days. What a shame.”

“It is a shame, but I have to go back. I must do everything. I have no father, either.”

Aoife slammed her head against an invisible wall without moving her neck. How could she have been so naïve to the sorrows and tragedies of others’ lives? How could she not have known, or even have guessed? “Really? Oh, Vinzent, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that either. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay. He died when I was eleven, in England, and so, having no links left there, we came back to Vienna.”

Aoife stared into oblivion. She recalled her breakdown of the night before, and she blushed purple. What must he think of her? He was far worse off than she was. At least she had parents, and an uncle, and, of course, her cousins. Vinzent had no one.

“Isn’t there anyone?”

Vinzent gave a wry smile. “Some Australian cousins of Dad’s. It’s just me over here in Europe. Though my lawyer is one of my best friends, and I’m hoping I can find a future somewhere. I studied history at university till I got flu. It won’t help me now, and I wasn’t doing very well at it with having to visit my mother all the time, but I’ll get a job in a bank. I can find a future.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will!” cried Aoife. “You’re clever and friendly and good-looking. Why shouldn’t you have a future?”

Vinzent blushed at the keen praise – the first blush since she had met him, no less – and Aoife, seeing this, kicked a stone with the childish instinct that comes to all youthful individuals when they have betrayed more than they set out to say.

Vinzent’s head was up before hers, and his sharp eyes fixed on something.

The End

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