They went up in the cable-car and stood for several minutes admiring the view. The mountain peaks rose through thick clouds everywhere, like a second level, a different world in the sky made entirely of peaks and clouds. It was indeed like another world up there, with huge salmon-pink pinnacles only metres away, and hills giving way to huge mountains even above, looking so small and close up in the clouds.
Then Daniel put his best foot forward with a handsome confidence, and they began on the long snaky path up the hill to where the real climb began. The path was narrow, and rocky, and steep, and at some points gave way to avalanches down the vertical slopes. There were few tourists at this time, the only people being meticulously-equipped hikers with packs and sticks. Daniel began to wish increasingly that he had a stick, or something to help him keep his balance. Vinzent panted a little, but managed well.
At the top of the mountain they sat down, both feeling a little light-headed with the level of progress they had made, and settled to eat a roll and an apple each and admire the astonishing view.
“I’m glad I wanted to climb the Hochiss,” Daniel mused. “But Rob would’ve hated it. He’s terrified of heights. We did the Ridgeway last summer, and you should have seen his face just on the Beacon, and that isn’t all that high. Nothing compared to this. You’re a better companion for this kind of thing. Aoife would come because she likes walking and would come with me, but she’s a girl, and she has to do what the other girls do. Besides, Blaise would never forgive her if she took me on this walk and refused to take her. And Blaise would probably ruin the whole expedition. Sorry; I’m rambling!”
“You think everything of Aoife, don’t you?”
Daniel gave Vinzent a shrewd look. “Well, yes. She’s been with us ever since I can remember, and she does everything now. Now we don’t have a mum, she tries to make up for it. She doesn’t take Mum’s place. She couldn’t try to do that, but she helps to make up for it.”
“Does she make up for it?”
“Yes and no. I think she does very well, considering she’s only nineteen, and a girl, and not long left school and all that.”
It was Vinzent’s turn to throw a look at Daniel.
“You’re not unobservant,” he said. “I think your cousin is amazing to do what she does. I couldn’t, I don’t think. But then I have no cousins or siblings. There was only me and my mother for many years.”
Daniel frowned, not knowing about the death of Mr Watersheen, but not liking to be inquisitive. “Aoife’s just like a sister, really. But there’s something more to her than a sister. She’s not exactly shallow.”
Vinzent nearly laughed. “No, she certainly isn’t shallow,” he agreed.
Daniel glanced at his companion, and stood up, gesturing for them to continue walking.
“How’s Aoife’s painting going?” Vinzent said conversationally.
“Well. She’s finished her sunset picture, and Rob replaced one of the lounge pictures with that. She’s started on a view of the Sonnjoch, and wants to do the Tristenkopf before the end of the month. Anyway, how do you know about her painting?”
Vinzent’s eye twitched. “She told me she paints. And from what I’ve seen of ‘Achensee Sundown’ I can only say that she is a very competent painter.”
“How do you know that’s what it’s called?” demanded Daniel.
“The same way I know that your name is Daniel and you are thirteen years old. She told me, of course.”
Daniel shrugged, and took a few mental photos of the scenery as he half-slid down a small dip.
“What do you think of Aoife?” he asked suddenly, fixing his green eyes on Vinzent. “I want to know. I know what she thinks of you.”
“And what does she think of me?” Vinzent sounded amused as his liquid brown eyes met the boy’s.
But Dan shook his head and avoided eye contact. “It’s obvious enough to me. I’ve known her for ten years, remember. I know exactly what she’s thinking when she butters the toast.”
Vinzent was frowning by this time. “What does she think?” he queried again.
Daniel half-smiled. “She likes you,” he responded, light and evasive.
“That doesn’t say much,” Vinzent said sharply.
“It’s okay,” Dan said seriously. “As you said yourself, I’m not unobservant.”
And that didn’t mean much to poor Vinzent at all, and he felt vaguely uncomfortable until they had stepped off the cable-car on the way down again, having completed the Hochiss and scaled the comparatively easy walk on the way back, despite a small cliff and rope ladder affair of twenty feet or so. There at the foot Rob was waiting with the car, and Vinzent was actually relieved when he could wave goodbye from the entrance of his hotel. He would not feel very at ease with Daniel until the younger boy had abandoned his cryptic mind-reading impression – as would we all, on further consideration!