Sonya would never succeed on her own!
But for her father's sake she had to keep on trying. "`Sonya had been raised in the world of figure skating. Her parents were famous before the accident that claimed her mother's life and left her father crippled. Now all that Eliot Vincent lived for was to see his daughter become a champion.
Then Sven Petersen, a star in his own right, asked Sonya to partner him in his return to pairs skating. It was a chance she couldn't afford to turn down.
"Didn't they tell you I'm a fraud?"
Sonya asked Sven Petersen. "Daddy thinks because I'm his daughter, I must be exceptional,' she went on desperately, "but I'm not. You must find another partner."
"Thank you." Sven took her arm and led her to the settee. "But don't you think I'm capable of judging for myself?"
"That's just it." She raised tear-filled eyes to his. "Tomorrow you'll realize how inadequate I am. I lack spontaneity. And who can teach me that?"
"I can," he told her. "You have the physique for a skater, and grace and balance. As for the spirit to make your work come alive, it cannot be taught, but I can
it into you!"
There was something mesmeric about Sven's intent gaze, and his grip on her hands was possessive.
Two men were in conversation at the barrier of the Estelle Sports Centre's private skating rink. One was a Dutchman in his middle years, blond and square-headed; an inclination to portliness restrained by constant hard exercise. He was a skating instructor, but of late years he had been engaged to train almost exclusively the girl who was in the middle of the ice, painstakingly figuring loops and brackets. He was wearing skates and supported himself casually against the barrier while he talked. The other man, also blond, wearing a black sweater and narrow pants, was on the further side where the seating was, and he too was watching the young skater.
The sports centre had been built to commemorate Estelle Vincent, a brilliant skater, who had died young. Her grieving husband had put up most of the money for it and had insisted upon two rinks, the private one mainly for the benefit of his only child, Sonya, who he was determined should follow in her mother's footsteps, and the larger public one for the use of all the members.
The man in black was saying:
'So that is Eliot Vincent's daughter. With that parentage she should be something remarkable.'
'So her father hopes,' the Dutchman told him. 'He was crippled, you will remember, in the same accident in which his poor vrouw was killed. He is set upon her becoming a world champion and he has engaged me at a quite phenomenal salary to train her to become one.'
'If anyone can do it, you will, Jan, but will she?'
Jan van Goort shrugged his shoulders. 'That is to be seen, mynheer,' he said carefully. 'She works hard, she is conscientious, and she has the right build. She is desperately eager to please her father, for whom she has a great devotion, but...'
'You do not think she is star material?'
'I think, mynheer, the father has been too obsessive. The girl has been kept as secluded as a nun. He has a big old house standing in its own grounds near Hampstead Heath which might as well be a convent. He does not entertain and she has no companions of her own age. Until she was over seventeen she was always accompanied by a governess, who sat where you are standing throughout her lessons. Then I believe she rebelled, for the chaperone disappeared, and she was given her own car, but he is still very strict with her. He dominates her and she eats, talks and sleeps with skating, but I do not believe she is truly dedicated to the sport. She skates because he expects her to do so, but there is something lacking, the divine spark, as you might put it, which is the difference between the great performer and the merely adequate. She had been too repressed, but I am hopeful that now she has been permitted to mingle with the club members her work will come alive and be less mechanical.' He indicated the distant figure. 'As you can see, she is too anxious, too tense.'
They both looked towards the white-clad figure gyrating on the ice.
'She is an ice princess,' Jan said softly. 'She needs to melt.'
'Very apt,' his companion drawled, 'for it seems she has been brought up like old-fashioned royalty. As you say, she is too tense, she lades self-confidence?' Jan nodded. 'She is an intriguing proposition. I would like to meet her—oh, not now,' as Jan made a movement towards the ice. 'I must not interrupt her practice session, and I do not want to make a thing of it. I have, as possibly you have heard, been inveigled into giving a display this evening, so perhaps you will introduce us then?'
Both men spoke English perfectly, but their careful phrasing suggested a foreign element, occasionally when excited Jan became guttural. He said drily:
'Sonya Vincent is not allowed out at night.'
'Really? That seems somewhat tyrannical.'
'Ach, but it is so.' Jan made a grimace. 'I imagine the father fears romantic entanglements which might divert her from her goal.'
'Poor kid!' the other exclaimed. Then he grinned mischievously. 'They can play the devil with one's concentration, but human nature cannot be suppressed for ever.' He lifted his fair head arrogantly. 'I wish her to be present tonight. You could ring this despotic papa and tell him an expert skating exhibition would be beneficial to his daughter's training. You may mention my name, which he will recognise if he keeps abreast of modern skating events.'
'I will do that,' Jan promised, 'and he knows much can be learned from watching. Sonya has attended skating exhibitions when they are in the afternoon.'
'I am afraid I cannot alter my schedule to suit her father's fads. It must be tonight or never.'
'That I will tell him, but ach, he is difficult, that one.
He has the bee in his bonnet about late nights.'
'They are best avoided when in training,' the other admitted, 'but tonight is exceptional. It will not be very late and you say she has her own car, I see no problem.'
'Only Mynheer Vincent's obstinacy.'
'I am sure you can persuade him. I will see you later, Jan, but now I must go. Au revoir.'
He moved away along the gangway between the seats with lithe grace. Jan van Goort watched him go with a slight frown between his grizzled brows. He was flattered by the man's interest in his pupil but wondered if it ought to be encouraged. He might present the very threat that Eliot Vincent wanted to avoid. Young girls were impressionable. Then he shrugged his shoulders and skated out into the middle of the ice. Sooner or later Sonya would have to come to terms with the realities of life, and he was her coach, not a watchdog. As he stooped to look at her tracings Sonya asked without much curiosity:
'Who was that man you were talking to?'
'That was Sven Petersen,' he informed her. 'European, Canadian and world champion skater.'
'And winter sports gold medallist, etc., etc.,' Sonya said scornfully. Jan looked surprised, and she went on: 'Daddy is always holding him up as a shining example, but I've never seen him skate.'
'I may be able to arrange that,' Jan said severely. 'It is time you did,' and he proceeded to point out the flaws in her work.
The lesson over, Sonya went to change in the cubicle reserved for her, discarding the white tights and minimal skirt she was wearing for trousers and sweater.
After combing her dark curls she went into the canteen for lunch. This was a very superior place, with its wicker chairs and small flower-decked tables, more like a restaurant, though they all called it the canteen. There was a bar counter along one wall with well stocked shelves behind it, and high stools in front for those who required only a snack. There was waiter service at the tables. Sonya's presence there was the result of a battle with her father when she had turned seventeen. Prior to that she had been escorted to and from the club by the current governess and had taken her midday meal in the manager's private room.
'It's ridiculous being treated as if I was still a little girl,' she had declared. 'I'm almost grown-up and too old for a governess. I've learned all I need to do and you're making me a laughing stock at the rink. They think there's something wrong with me.'
To her surprise her father gave in. She had made her protest with some trepidation, because Eliot Vincent had a weak heart and opposition was bad for him. She adored her father, they had no near relatives and he was all she had in the world. The accident which had crippled him and deprived her of her mother had occurred when she was eleven, but the shock was not as devastating as it might have been if they had lived an ordinary family life, because her parents had always been remote. As they were a famous skating pair the sport came first with them and she did not see a great deal of them. She had been taught to skate herself at an early age but showed no great aptitude, which did not seem important then. But with her father's disablement her life changed drastically. She was taken away from school and educated by tutors and governesses, her lessons being arranged to fit in with her intensive skating training, and Eliot became her constant companion and mentor, himself living the life of a recluse. She was overwhelmed with pity for him, for he, who had once been so fleet and agile, could only walk with the aid of two sticks.
When he began to instil into her that her destiny was to follow in his footsteps, she was ready to sacrifice her own inclinations to do what he expected of her. Eliot absorbed himself in her career, sublimating his own frustration and despair in the prospect of her success. He was determined she should become a world champion and to that end allowed her no other distractions. When a childish fit of rebellion resulted in giving him a heart attack Sonya was shocked and dismayed and vowed she would never oppose him again. Eliot Vincent was a very wealthy man and she lacked nothing in material comfort. As Jan had told Sven, he was mainly responsible for financing the Estelle Sports Centre, public subscription and grants being but a tithe of the expense. It was a memorial to his wife, but after the grand opening ceremony he never went to it again, but Jan had to report weekly to him upon his daughter's progress, a task he found difficult, for it became more and more apparent that Sonya had no natural ability for skating. Unwilling to disappoint the invalid, he glossed over her deficiencies, though he could not disguise that she took longer than normal to pass her tests. Eliot could not believe that his and Estelle's offspring could be less than a genius, and invented excuses for her.
By the time she was seventeen, Sonya had by painful concentration managed to reach the gold medal which was a necessary standard before she could be eligible to enter for championships. She enjoyed free skating, but the intricacies of figure skating bored her. At first she accepted her father's insistence that she would become a champion, but as she grew older and more discerning, she began to secretly fear that she would never be competent to reach the goal he had set for her, but she dared not mention her doubts to him in case she provoked a heart attack. Jan did his best for her, but she knew without him saying so that he too was dubious about her chances. Her recurring nightmare was that she would find herself placed last in one of the big sporting events, and she had little hope of being selected for an Olympic team.
Once free of her governess and promoted to the public rink for part of her free skating, Sonya hoped that the stimulation of the company of the other members would improve her work, but her emancipation proved a disappointment. The other young people were not friendly. They mistook her painful shyness for superiority and the general opinion was that Sonya Vincent was stuck up. They all knew her father had endowed the club and that she had private training with the very exclusive Van Goort.
But one young man saw beneath the surface and pitying her isolation sought to alleviate it. Derek Barnes was a fresh-faced, well set up young man, brown-haired, brown-eyed, who came frequently to the club. Being totally without experience of young men, Sonya greeted his initial advances with reserve, so that half serious and half in fun he called her by the soubriquet Jan had used—the ice princess.