Elsie had time to set the room in beautiful order, and Clover had nearly finished her hemming, before the sound of hoofs announced the return of the two husbands from their early ride. They came cantering down the side pass, with appetites sharpened by exercise, and quite ready for the breakfast which Choo Loo presently brought in from the new cooking-cabin, set a little one side out of sight, in the shelter of the grove. Choo Loo was still a fixture in the valley. He and his methods were a puzzle and somewhat of a distress to the order-loving Clover, who distrusted not a little the ways and means of his mysteriously conducted kitchen; but servants were so hard to come by at the High Valley, and Choo Loo was so steady and faithful and his viands on the whole so good, that she judged it wise to ask no questions and not look too closely into affairs but just take the goods the gods provided, and be thankful that she had any cook at all. Choo Loo was an amiable heathen also, and very pleased to serve ladies, who appreciated his attempts at decoration, for he had an eye for effect and loved to make things pretty. Clover understood this and never forgot to notice and praise, which gratified Choo Loo, who had found his bachelor employers in the old days somewhat dull and unobservant in this respect.
"Missie like?" he asked this morning, indicating the wreath of wild cranberry vine round the dish of chicken. Then he set a mound of white raspberries in the middle of the table, starred with gold-hearted brown coreopsis, and asked again, "Missie like dat?" pleased at Clover's answering nod and smile. Noiselessly he came and went in his white-shod feet, fetching in one dish after another, and when all was done, making a sort of dual salaam to the two ladies, and remarking "Allee yeady now," after which he departed, his pigtail swinging from side to side and his blue cotton garments flapping in the wind as he walked across to the cook-house.
Delicious breaths of roses and mignonette floated in as the party gathered about the breakfast table. They came from the flower-beds just outside, which Clover sedulously tended, watered, and defended from the roving cattle, which showed a provoking preference for heliotropes over penstamens whenever they had a chance to get at them. Cows were a great trial, she considered; and yet after all they were the object of their lives in the Valley, their raison d'etre, and must be put up with accordingly.
"Do you suppose the Youngs have landed yet?" asked Elsie as she qualified her husband's coffee with a dash of thick cream.
"They should have got in last night if the steamer made her usual time. I dare say we shall find a telegram at St. Helen's to-morrow if we go in," answered her brother-in-law.
"Yes, or possibly Phil will ride out and fetch it. He is always glad of an excuse to come. I wonder what sort of girl Miss Young is. You and Clover never have said much about her."
"There isn't much to say. She's just an ordinary sort of girl,—nice enough and all that, not pretty."
"Oh, Geoff, that's not quite fair. She's rather pretty, that is, she would be if she were not stiff and shy and so very badly dressed. I didn't get on very much with her at Clovelly, but I dare say we shall like her here; and when she limbers out and becomes used to our ways, she'll make a nice neighbor."
"Dear me, I hope so," remarked Elsie. "It's really quite important what sort of a girl Miss Young turns out to be. A stiff person whom you had to see every day would be horrid and spoil everything. The only thing we need, the only possible improvement to the High Valley, would be a few more nice people, just two or three, with pretty little houses, you know, dotted here and there in the side canyons, whom we could ride up to visit, and who would come down to see us, and dine and play whist and dance Virginia reels and 'Sally Waters' on Christmas Eve. That would be quite perfect. But I suppose it won't happen till nobody knows how long."
"I suppose so, too," said Geoff in a tone of well-simulated sympathy. "Poor Elsie, spoiling for people! Don't set your heart on them. High Valley isn't at all a likely spot to make a neighborhood of."
"A neighborhood! I should think not! A neighborhood would be horrid. But if two or three people wanted to come,—really nice ones, you know, perfect charmers,—surely you and Clare wouldn't have the heart to refuse to sell them building lots?"
"We are exactly a whist quartet now," said Clarence, patting his wife's shoulder. "Cheer up, dear. You shall have your perfect charmers when they apply; but meantime changes are risky, and I am quite content with things as they are, and am ready to dance Sally Waters with you at any time with pleasure. Might I have the honor now, for instance?"
"Indeed, no! Clover and I have to work like beavers on the Youngs' house. And, Clare, we are quite a complete party in ourselves, as you say; but there are the children to be considered. Geoffy and Phillida will want to play whist one of these days, and where is their quartet to come from?"
"We shall have to consider that point when they are a little nearer the whist age. Here they come now. I hear the nursery door slam. They don't look particularly dejected about their future prospects, I must say."
Four pairs of eyes turned expectantly toward the staircase, down which there presently came the dearest little pair of children that can be imagined. Clover's boy of three was as big as most people's boys of five, a splendid sturdy little Englishman in build, but with his mother's lovely eyes and skin. Phillida, whose real name was Philippa, was of a more delicate and slender make, with dark brown eyes and a mane of ruddy gold which repeated something of the tawny tints of her father's hair and beard. Down they came hand in hand, little Phil holding tightly to the polished baluster, chattering as they went, like two wood-thrushes. Neither of them had ever known any other child playmates, and they were devoted to each other and quite happy together. Little Geoff from the first had adopted a protecting attitude toward his smaller cousin, and had borne himself like a gallant little knight in the one adventure of their lives, when a stray coyote, wandering near the house, showed his teeth to the two babies, whose nurse had left them alone for a moment, and Geoff, only two then, had caught up a bit of a stick and thrown himself in front of Phillida with such a rush and shout that the beast turned and fled, before Roxy and the collies could come to the rescue. The dogs chased the coyote up the ravine down which he had come, and he showed himself no more; but Clover was so proud of her boy's prowess that she never forgot the exploit, and it passed into the family annals for all time.
One wonderful stroke of good-luck had befallen the young mothers in their mountain solitude, and that was the possession of Roxy and her mother Euphane. They were sister and niece to good old Debby, who for so many years had presided over Dr. Carr's kitchen; and when they arrived one day in Burnet fresh from the Isle of Man, and announced that they had come out for good to better their fortunes, Debby had at once devoted them to the service of Clover and Elsie. They proved the greatest possible comfort and help to the High Valley household. The place did not seem lonely to them, used as they were to a still lonelier cabin at the top of a steep moor up which few people ever came. The Colorado wages seemed riches, the liberal comfortable living luxury to them, and they rooted and established themselves, just as Debby had done, into a position of trusted and affectionate helpfulness, which seemed likely to endure. Euphane was housemaid, Roxy nurse; it already seemed as though life could never have gone on without them, and Clover was disposed to emulate Dr. Carr in objecting to "followers," and in resenting any admiring looks cast by herders at Roxy's rosy English cheeks and pretty blue eyes.
Little Geoff ran to his father's knee, as a matter of course, on arriving at the bottom of the stairs, while Phillida climbed her mother's, equally as a matter of course. Safely established there, she began at once to flirt with Clarence, making wide coquettish eyes at him, smiling, and hiding her face to peep out and smile again. He seized one of her dimpled hands and kissed it. She instantly pulled it away, and hid her face again.
"Fair Phillida flouts me," he said. "Doesn't baby like papa a bit? Ah, well, he is going to cry, then."
He buried his face in his napkin and sobbed ostentatiously. Phillida, not at all impressed, tugged bravely at the corner of the handkerchief; but when the sobs continued and grew louder, she began to look troubled, and leaning forward suddenly, threw her arms round her father's neck and laid her rose-leaf lips on his forehead. He caught her up rapturously and tossed her high in air, kissing her every time she came down.
"You angel! you little angel! you little dear!" he cried, with a positive dew of pleasure in his eyes. "Elsie, what have we ever done to deserve such a darling?"
"I really don't know what you have done," remarked Elsie, coolly; "but I have done a good deal. I always was meritorious in my way, and deserve the best that is going, even Phillida. She is none too good for me. Come back, baby, to your exemplary parent."
She rose to recapture the child; but Clarence threw a strong arm about her, still holding Phillida on his shoulder, and the three went waltzing merrily down the room, the little one from her perch accenting the dance time with a series of small shouts. Little Geoff looked up soberly, with his mouth full of raspberries, and remarked, "Aunty, I didn't ever know that people danced at breakfast."
"No more did I," said Elsie, trying in vain to get away from her pirouetting husband.
"No more does any one outside this extraordinary valley of ours," laughed Geoff. "Now, partner, if you have finished your fandango, allow me to remind you that there are a hundred and forty head of cattle waiting to be branded in the upper valley, and that Manuel is to meet us there at ten o'clock."
"And we have the breakfast things to wash, and a whole world to do at the Youngs'," declared Elsie, releasing herself with a final twirl. "Now, Clare dear, order Marigold and Summer-Savory, please, to be brought down in half an hour, and tell old Jose that we want him to help and scrub. No, young man, not another turn. These sports are unseemly on such a busy day as this. 'Dost thou not suspect my place? dost thou not suspect my years?' as the immortal W. would say. I am twenty-five,—nearly twenty-six,—and am not to be whisked about thus."
Everybody went everywhere on horseback in the High Valley, and the gingham riding-skirts and wide-brimmed hats hung always on the antlers, ready to hand, beside water-proofs and top-coats. Before long the sisters were on their way, their saddle-pockets full of little stores, baskets strapped behind them, and the newly made curtains piled on their laps. The distance was about a mile to the house which Lionel Young and his sister were to inhabit.
It stood in a charming situation on the slope of one of the side canyons, facing the high range and backed by a hillside clothed with pines. In build it was very much such a cabin as the original hut had been,—six rooms, all on one floor, the sixth being a kitchen. It was newly completed, and sawdust and fresh shavings were littered freely about the place. Clover's first act was to light a fire in the wide chimney for burning these up.
"It looks bare enough," she remarked, sweeping away industriously. "But it will be quite easy to make it pleasant if Imogen Young has any faculty at that sort of thing. I'm sure it's a great deal more promising than the Hut was before Clarence and Geoff and I took hold of it. See, Elsie,—this room is done. I think Miss Young will choose it for her bedroom, as it is rather the largest; so you might tack up the dotted curtains here while I sweep the other rooms. And that convolvulus chintz is to cover her dress-pegs."
"What fun a house is!" observed Elsie a moment or two later, between her hammer strokes. "People who can get a carpenter or upholsterer to help them at any minute really lose a great deal of pleasure. I always adored baby-houses when I was little, and this is the same thing grown up."
"I don't know," replied Clover, abstractedly, as she threw a last dustpanful of chips into the fire. "It is good fun, certainly; but out here one has so much of it that sometimes it comes under the suspicion of being hard work. Now, when Jose has the kitchen windows washed it will all be pretty decent. We can't undertake much beyond making the first day or two more comfortable. Miss Young will prefer to make her own plans and arrangements; and I don't fancy she's the sort of girl who will enjoy being too much helped."
"Somehow I don't get quite an agreeable idea of Miss Young from what you and Geoffrey say of her. I do hope she isn't going to make herself disagreeable."
"Oh, I'm sure she won't do that; but there is a wide distance between not being disagreeable and being agreeable. I didn't mean to give you an unpleasant impression of her. In fact, my recollections about her are rather indistinct. We didn't see a great deal of her when we were at Clovelly, or perhaps it was that Isabel and I were out so much and there was so much coming and going."
"But are not she and Isabel very intimate?"
"I think so; but they are not a bit alike. Isabel is delightful. I wish it were she who was coming out. You would love her. Now, my child, we must begin on the kitchen tins."
It was an all-day piece of work which they had undertaken, and they had ordered dinner late accordingly, and provided themselves with a basket of sandwiches. By half-past five all was fairly in order,—the windows washed, the curtains up, kitchen utensils and china unpacked and arranged, and the somewhat scanty supply of furniture placed to the best advantage.
"There! Robinson Crusoe would consider himself in clover; and even Miss Young can exist for a couple of days, I should think," said Elsie, standing back to note the effect of the last curtain. "Lionel will have to go in to St. Helen's and get a lot of things out before it will be really comfortable, though. There come the boys now to ride home with us. No, there is only one horse. Why, it is Phil!"
Phil indeed it was, but such a different Phil from the delicate boy whom Clover had taken out to Colorado six years before. He was now a broad-shouldered, muscular, athletic young fellow, full of life and energy, and showing no trace of the illness which at that time seemed so menacing. He gave a shout when he caught sight of his sisters, and pushed his broncho to a gallop, waving a handful of envelopes high in air.
"This despatch came last night for Geoff," he explained, dismounting, "and there were a lot of letters besides, so I thought I'd better bring them out. I left the newspapers and the rest at the house, and fetched your share on. Euphane told me where you two were. So this is where the young Youngs are going to live, is it?"
He stepped in at the door and took a critical survey of the interior, while Clover and Elsie examined their letters.
"This telegram is for Geoff," explained Clover. "The Youngs are here," and she read:—
Safely landed. We reach Denver Thursday morning, six-thirty. LIONEL YOUNG.
"So they will get here on Thursday afternoon. It's lucky we came up to-day. My letters are from Johnnie and Cecy Slack. Johnnie says—"
She was interrupted by a joyful shriek from Clover, who had torn open her letter and was eagerly reading it.
"Oh, Elsie, Elsie, what do you think is going to happen? The most enchanting thing! Rose Red is coming out here in August! She and Mr. Browne and Roeslein! Was there ever anything so nice in this world! Just hear what she says:"—
BOSTON, June 30.
MY DUCKY-DADDLES AND MY DEAR ELSIE GIRL,—I have something so wonderful to tell that I can scarcely find words in which to tell it. A kind Providence and the A. T. and S. F. R. R. have just decided that Deniston must go to New Mexico early in August. This would not have been at all delightful under ordinary circumstances, for it would only have meant perspiration on his part and widowhood on mine, but most fortunately, some angels with a private car of their own have turned up, and have asked all three of us to go out with them as far as Santa Fe. What do you think of that? It is not the Daytons, who seem only to exist to carry you to and fro from Burnet to Colorado free of expense, this time, but another batch of angels who have to do with the road,—name of Hopkinson. I never set eyes on them, but they appear to my imagination equipped with the largest kind of wings, and nimbuses round their heads as big as shade-hats.
I have always longed to get out somehow to your Enchanted Valley, and see all your mysterious husbands and babies, and find out for myself what the charm is that makes you so wonderfully contented there, so far from West Cedar Street and the other centres of light and culture, but I never supposed I could come unless I walked. But now I am coming! I do hope none of you have the small-pox, or pleuro-pneumonia, or the "foot-and-mouth disease" (whatever that is), or any other of the ills to which men and cattle are subject, and which will stand in the way of the visit. Deniston, of course, will be forced to go right through to Santa Fe, but Roeslein and I are at your service if you like to have us. We don't care for scenery, we don't want to see Mexico or the Pacific coast, or the buried cities of Central America, or the Zuni corn dance,—if there is such a thing,—or any alkaline plains, or pueblos, or buttes, or buffalo wallows; we only want to see you, individually and collectively, and the High Valley. May we come and stay a fortnight? Deniston thinks he shall be gone at least as long as that. We expect to leave Boston on the 31st of July. You will know what time we ought to get to St. Helen's,—I don't, and I don't care, so only we get there and find you at the station. Oh, my dear Clovy, isn't it fun?
I have seen several of our old school-set lately, Esther Dearborn for one. She is Mrs. Joseph P. Allen now, as you know, and has come to live at Chestnut Hill, quite close by. I had never seen her since her marriage, nearly five years since, till the other day, when she asked me out to lunch, and introduced me to Mr. Joseph P., who seems a very nice man, and also—now don't faint utterly, but you will! to their seven children! He had two of his own when they married, and they have had two pairs of twins since, and "a singleton," as they say in whist. Such a houseful you never did see; but the twins are lovely, and Esther looks very fat and happy and well-to-do, and says she doesn't mind it a bit, and sees more clearly every day that the thing she was born for was to take the charge of a large family. Her Joseph P. is very well off, too. I should judge that they "could have cranberry sauce every day and never feel the difference," which an old cousin of my mother's, whom I dimly remember as a part of my childhood, used to regard as representing the high-water mark of wealth.
Mary Strothers has been in town lately, too. She has only one child, a little girl, which seems miserably few compared with Esther, but on the other hand she has never been without neuralgia in the face for one moment since she went to live in the Hoosac Tunnel, she told me, so there are compensations. She seems happy for all that, poor dear Mary. Ellen Gray never has married at all, you know. She goes into good works instead, girls' Friendlies and all sorts of usefulnesses. I do admire her so much, she is a standing reproach and example to me. "Wish I were a better boy," as your brother Dorry said in his journal.
Mother is well and my father, but the house seems empty and lonely now. We can never get used to dear grandmamma's loss, and Sylvia is gone too. She and Tom sailed for Europe in April, and it makes a great difference having them away, even for a summer. My brother-in-law is such a nice fellow, I hope you will know him some day.
And all this time I have forgotten to tell you the chief news of all, which is that I have seen Katy. Deniston and I spent Sunday before last with her at the Torpedo station. She has a cosey, funny little house, one of a row of five or six, built on the spine, so to speak, of a narrow, steep island, with a beautiful view of Newport just across the water. It was a superb day, all shimmery blue and gold, and we spent most of our time sitting in a shady corner of the piazza, and talking of the old times and of all of you. I didn't know then of this enchanting Western plan, or we should have had a great deal more to talk about. The dear Katy looks very well and handsome, and was perfectly dear, as she always is, and she says the Newport climate suits her to perfection. Your brother-in-law is a stunner! I asked Katy if she wasn't going out to see you soon, and she said not till Ned went to sea next spring, then she should go for a long visit.
Write at once if we may come. I won't begin on the subject of Roeslein, whom you will never know, she has grown so. She goes about saying rapturously, "I shall see little Geoff! I shall see Phillida! I shall see Aunt Clovy! Perhaps I shall ride on a horse!" You'll never have the heart to disappoint her. My "milk teeth are chattering with fright" at the idea of so much railroad, as one of her books says, but for all that we are coming, if you let us. Do let us!
YOUR OWN ROSE RED.
"Let them! I should think so," cried Clover, with a little skip of rapture. "Dear, dear Rose! Elsie, the nicest sort of things do happen out here, don't they?"
THE train from Denver was nearing St. Helen's,—and Imogen Young looked eagerly from the window for a first sight of the place. Their journey had been exhaustingly hot during its last stages, the alkaline dust most trying, and they had had a brief experience of a sand-storm on the plains, which gave her a new idea as to what wind and grit can accomplish in the way of discomfort. She was very tired, and quite disposed to be critical and unenthusiastic; still she had been compelled to admit that the run down from Denver lay over an interesting country.
The town on its plateau was shining in full sunshine, as it had done when Clover landed there six years before, but its outlines had greatly changed with the increase of buildings. The mountain range opposite was darkly blue from the shadows of a heavy thunder gust which was slowly rolling away southward. The plains between were of tawny yellow, but the belts of mesa above showed the richest green, except where the lines of alfalfa and grain were broken by white patches of mentzelia and poppies. It was wonderfully beautiful, but the town itself looked so much larger than Imogen had expected that she exclaimed with surprise:—
"Why, Lion, it's a city! You said you were bringing me out to live in the wilderness. What made you tell such stories? It looks bigger than Bideford."
"It looks larger than it did when I came away," replied her brother. "Two, three, six,—eight fine new houses on Monument Avenue, by Jove, and any number off there toward the north. You've no idea how these Western places sprout and thrive, Moggy. This isn't twenty years old yet."
"I can't believe it. You are imposing on me. And why on earth did you let me bring out all those pins and things? There seem to be any number of shops."
"I let you! Oh, I say, that is good! Why, Moggy, don't you remember how I remonstrated straight through your packing. Never a bit would you listen to me, and here is the result," pulling out a baggage memorandum as he spoke, and reading aloud in a lugubrious tone, "Extra weight of trunks, thirteen dollars, fifty-two cents."
"Thirteen fifty," cried Imogen with a gasp. "My gracious! why, that's nearly three pounds! Lion! Lion! you ought to have made me listen."
"I'm sure I did all I could in that way. But cheer up! You'll want your pins yet. You mustn't confound this place with High Valley. That's sixteen miles off and hasn't a shop."
The discussion was brought to end by the stopping of the train. In another moment Geoff Templestowe appeared at the door.
"Hallo, Lion! glad to see you. Imogen," shaking hands warmly, "how are you? Welcome to Colorado. I'm afraid you've had a bad journey in this heat."
"It has been beastly. Poor Moggy's dead beat, I'm afraid. Neither of us could sleep a wink last night for the dust and sand. Well, it's all well that ends well. We'll cool her off in the valley. How is everything going on there? Mrs. Templestowe all right, and Mrs. Page, and the children? I declare," stretching himself, "it's a blessing to get a breath of good air again. There's nothing in the world that can compare with Colorado."
A light carryall was waiting near the station, whose top was little more than a fringed awning. Into this Geoffrey helped Imogen, and proceeded to settle her wraps and bags in various seat boxes and pockets with which the carriage was cleverly fitted up. It was truly a carry-all and came and went continually between the valley and St. Helen's.
"Now," he remarked as he stuffed in the last parcel, "we will just stop long enough to get the mail and some iced tea, which I ordered as I came down, and then be off. You'll find a cold chicken in that basket, Lion. Clover was sure you'd need something, and there's no time for a regular meal if we are to get in before dark."
"Iced tea! what a queer idea!" said Imogen.
"I forgot that you were not used to it. We drink it a great deal here in summer. Would you rather have some hot? I didn't fancy that you would care for it, the day is so warm; but we'll wait and have it made, if you prefer."
"Oh, no. I won't delay you," said Imogen, rather grudgingly. She was disposed to resent the iced tea as an American innovation, but when she tried it she found herself, to her own surprise, liking it very much. "Only, why do they call it tea," she meditated. "It's a great deal more like punch—all lemon and things." But she had to own that it was wonderfully refreshing.
The sun was blazing on the plain; but after they began to wind up the pass a cool, strong wind blew in their faces and the day seemed suddenly delightful. The unfamiliar flowers and shrubs, the strange rock forms and colors, the occasional mountain glimpses, interested Imogen so much that for a time she forgot her fatigue. Then an irresistible drowsiness seized her; the talk going on between Geoffrey Templestowe and her brother, about cows and feed and the prospect of the autumn sales, became an indistinguishable hum, and she went off into a series of sleeps broken by brief wakings, when the carryall bumped, or swayed heavily from side to side on the steep inclines. From one of the soundest of these naps she was roused by her brother shaking her arm and calling,—
"Moggy, wake, wake up! We are here."
With a sharp thump of heart-beat she started into full consciousness to find the horses drawing up before a deep vine-hung porch, on which stood a group of figures which seemed to her confused senses a large party. There was Elsie in a fresh white dress with pale green ribbons, Clarence Page, Phil Carr, little Philippa in her nurse's arms, small Geoff with his two collies at his side, and foremost of all, ready to help her down, hospitable little Clover, in lilac muslin, with a rose in her belt and a face of welcome.
"How the Americans do love dress!" was Imogen's instant thought,—an ungracious one, and quite unwarranted by the circumstances. Clover and Elsie kept themselves neat and pretty from habit and instinct, but the muslin gowns were neither new nor fashionable, they had only the merit of being fresh and becoming to their wearers.
"You poor child, how tired you must be!" cried Clover, as she assisted Imogen out of the carriage. "This is my sister, Mrs. Page. Please take her directly to her room, Elsie, while I order up some hot water. She'll be glad of that first of all. Lion, I won't take time to welcome you now. The boys must care for you while I see after your sister."
A big sponging-bath full of fresh water stood ready in the room to which Imogen was conducted; the white bed was invitingly "turned down;" there were fresh flowers on the dressing-table, and a heap of soft cushions on a roomy divan which filled the deep recess of a range of low windows. The gay-flowered paper on the walls ran up to the peak of the ceiling, giving a tent-like effect. Most of the furnishings were home-made. The divan was nothing more or less than a big packing-box nicely stuffed and upholstered; the dressing-table, a construction of pine boards covered and frilled with cretonne. Clover had plaited the chintz round the looking-glass and on the edges of the book-shelves, while the picture-frames, the corner-brackets, and the impromptu washstand owed their existence to Geoff's cleverness with tools. But the whole effect was pretty and tasteful, and Imogen, as she went on with her dressing, looked about her with a somewhat reluctant admiration, which was slightly tinctured with dismay.
"I suppose they got all these things out from the East," she reflected. "I couldn't undertake them in our little cabin, I'm sure. It's very nice, and really in very good taste, but it must have cost a great deal. The Americans don't think of that, however; and I've always heard they have a great knack at doing up their houses and making a good show."
"Go straight to bed if you feel like it. Don't think of coming down. We will send you up some dinner," Clover had urged; but Imogen, tired as she was, elected to go down.
"I really mustn't give in to a little fatigue," she thought. "I have the honor of England to sustain over here." So she heroically put on her heavy tweed travelling-dress again, and descended the stairs, to find a bright little fire of pine-wood and cones snapping and blazing on the hearth, and the whole party gathered about it, waiting for her and dinner.
"What an extraordinary climate!" she exclaimed in a tone of astonishment. "Melting with heat at three, and here at a quarter past seven you are sitting round a fire! It really feels comfortable, too!"
"The changes are very sharp," said Geoff, rising to give her his chair. "Such a daily drop in temperature would make a sensation in our good old Devonshire, would it not? You see it comes from the high elevation. We are nearly eight thousand feet above the sea-level here; that is about twice as high as the top of the highest mountain in the United Kingdom."
"Fancy! I had no idea of it. Lionel did say something about the elevation, but I didn't clearly attend." She glanced about the room, which was looking its best, with the pink light of the shaded candles falling on the white-spread table, and the flickering fire making golden glows and gleams on the ceiling. "How did you get all these pretty things out here?" she suddenly demanded.
"Some came in wagons, and some just 'growed,'" explained Clover, merrily. "We will let you into our secrets gradually. Ah, here comes dinner at last, and I am sure we shall all be glad of it."
Choo Loo now entered with the soup-tureen, a startling vision to Imogen, who had never seen a Chinaman before in her life.
"How very extraordinary!" she murmured in an aside to Lionel. "He looks like an absolute heathen. Are such things usual here?"
"Very usual, I should say. Lots of them about. That fellow has a Joss in his cabin, and very likely a prayer-wheel; but he's a capital cook. I wish we could have the luck to happen on his brother or nephew for ourselves."
"I don't, then," replied his scandalized sister. "I can't feel that it is right to employ such people in a Christian country. The Americans have such lax notions!"
"Hold up a bit! What do you know about their notions? Nothing at all."
"Come to dinner," said Clover's pleasant voice. "Geoff, Miss Young will sit next to you. Put a cushion behind her back, Clarence."
Dinner over, Imogen concluded that she had upheld the honor of England quite as long as was desirable, or in fact possible, and gladly accepted permission to go at once to bed. She was fairly tired out.
She woke wonderfully restored by nine hours' solid sleep in that elastic and life-giving atmosphere, and went downstairs to find every one scattered to their different tasks and avocations, except Elsie, who was waiting to pour her coffee. Clover and Lionel were gone to the new house, she explained, and they were to follow them as soon as Imogen had breakfasted.
Elsie's manner lacked its usual warmth and ease. She had taken no fancy at all to the stiff, awkward little English woman, in whom her quick wits detected the lurking tendency to cavil and criticise, and was discouraging accordingly. Oddly enough, Imogen liked this offish manner of Elsie's. She set it down to a proper sense of decorum and retenue. "So different from the usual American gush and making believe to be at ease always with everybody," she thought; and she made herself as agreeable as possible to Elsie, whom she considered much prettier than Clover, and in every way more desirable. These impressions were doubtless tinctured by the underlying jealousy from which she had so long suffered, and which still influenced her, though Isabel Templestowe was now far away, and there was no one at hand to be jealous about.
The two rode amicably up the valley together.
"There, that's your new home," said Elsie, when they came in sight of the just finished cabin. "Didn't Lionel choose a pretty site for it? And you have a most beautiful view."
"Well, Moggy," cried her brother, hurrying out to help her dismount, "here you are at last. Mrs. Templestowe and I have made you a fire and done all sorts of things. How do you like the look of it? It's a decent little place, isn't it? We must get Mrs. Templestowe to put us up to some of her nice little dodges about furniture and so on, such as they have at the other house. She and Mrs. Page have made it all tidy for us, and put up lots of nice little curtains and things. They must have worked awfully hard, too. Wasn't it good of them?"
"Very," said Imogen, rather stiffly. "I'm sure we're much obliged to you, Mrs. Templestowe. I fear you have given yourself a great deal of trouble."
The words were polite enough, but the tone was distinctly repellent.
"Oh, no," said Clover, lightly. "It was only fun to come up and arrange a little beforehand. We were very glad to do it. Now, Elsie, you and I will ride down, and leave these new housekeepers to discuss their plans in peace. Dinner at six to-night, Lionel; and please send old Jose down if you need anything. Don't stay too long or get too tired, Miss Young. We shall have lunch about one; but if you are doing anything and don't want to leave so early, you'll find some sardines and jam and a tin of biscuits in that cupboard by the fire."
She and Elsie rode away accordingly. When they were out of hearing, Clover remarked,—
"I wonder why that girl dislikes me so."
"Dislikes you! Clover, what do you mean? Nobody ever disliked you in your life, or ever could."
"Yes, she does," persisted Clover. "She has got some sort of queer twist in her mind regarding me, and I can't think what it is. It doesn't really matter, and very likely she'll get over it presently; but I'm sorry about it. It would be so pleasant all to be good friends together up here, where there are so few of us."
Her tone was a little pathetic. Clover was used to being liked.
"Little wretch!" cried Elsie, with flashing eyes. "If I really thought that she dared not to like you, I'd—I'd—, well, what would I do?—import a grisly bear to eat her, or some such thing! I suppose an Indian could be found who for a consideration would undertake to scalp Miss Imogen Young, and if she doesn't behave herself he shall be found. But you're all mistaken, Clovy; you must be. She's only stiff and dull and horribly English, and very tired after her journey. She'll be all right in a day or two. If she isn't, I shall 'go for' her without mercy."
"Well, perhaps it is that." It was easier and pleasanter to imagine Imogen tired than to admit that she was absolutely unfriendly.
"After all," she added, "it's for Miss Young's sake that I should regret it if it were so, much more than for my own. I have Geoff and you and Clare,—and papa and Johnnie coming, and dear Rose Red,—all of you are at my back; but she, poor thing, has no one but Lionel to stand up for her. I am on my own ground," drawing up her figure with a pretty movement of pride, "and she is a stranger in a strange land. So we won't mind if she is stiff, Elsie dear, and just be as nice as we can be to her, for it must be horrid to be so far away from home and one's own people. We cannot be too patient and considerate under such circumstances."
Meanwhile the moment they were out of sight Lionel had turned upon his sister sharply, and angrily.
"Moggy, what on earth do you mean by speaking so to Mrs. Templestowe?"
"Speaking how? What did I say?" retorted Imogen.
"You didn't say anything out of the common, but your manner was most disagreeable. If she hadn't been the best-tempered woman in the world she would have resented it on the spot. Here she, and all of them, have been doing all they can to make ready for us, giving us such a warm welcome too, treating us as if we were their own kith and kin, and you return it by putting on airs as if she were intruding and interfering in our affairs. I never was so ashamed of a member of my own family before in my life."
"I can't imagine what you mean," protested Imogen, not quite truthfully. "And you've no call to speak to me so, Lionel, and tell me I am rude, just because I don't gush and go about making cordial speeches like these Americans of yours. I'm sure I said everything that was proper to Mrs. Templestowe."
"Your words were proper enough, but your manner was eminently improper. Now, Moggy," changing his tone, "listen to me. Let us look the thing squarely in the face. You've come out here with me, and it's awfully good of you and I sha'n't ever forget it; but here we are, settled for years to come in this little valley, with the Templestowes and Pages for our only neighbors. They can be excellent friends, as I've found, and they are prepared to be equally friendly to you; but if you're going to start with a little grudge against Mrs. Geoff,—who's the best little woman going, by Jove, and the kindest,—you'll set the whole family against us, and we might as well pack up our traps at once and go back to England. Now I put it to you reasonably; is it worth while to upset all our plans and all my hopes,—and for what? Mrs. Templestowe can't have done anything to set you against her?"
"Lion," cried Imogen, bursting into tears, "don't! I'm sure I didn't mean to be rude. Mrs. Geoff never did anything to displease me, and certainly I haven't a grudge against her. But I'm very tired, so please don't s-c-o-ld me; I've got no one out here but you."
Lionel melted at once. He had never seen his sister cry before, and felt that he must have been harsh and unkind.
"I'm a brute," he exclaimed. "There, Moggy, there, dear—don't cry. Of course you're tired; I ought to have thought of it before."
He petted and consoled her, and Imogen, who was really spent and weary, found the process so agreeable that she prolonged her tears a little. At last she suffered herself to be comforted, dried her eyes, grew cheerful, and the two proceeded to make an investigation of the premises, deciding what should go there and what here, and what it was requisite to get from St. Helen's. Imogen had to own that the ladies of the Valley had been both thoughtful and helpful.
"I'll thank them again this evening and do it better," she said; and Lionel patted her back, and told her she really was quite a little brick when she wasn't a big goose,—a brotherly compliment which was more gratifying than it sounded.
It was decided that he should go into St. Helen's next day to order out stores and what Lionel called "a few sticks" that were essential, and procure a servant.
"Then we can move in the next day," said Imogen. "I feel in such a hurry to begin house-keeping, Lionel, you can't think. One is always a stranger in the land till one has a place of one's own. Geoff and his wife are very kind and polite, but it's much better we should start for ourselves as soon as possible. Besides, there are other people coming to stay; Mrs. Page said so."
"Yes, but not for quite a bit yet, I fancy. All the same, you are right, Moggy; and we'll set up our own shebang as soon as it can be managed. You'll feel twice as much at home when you have a house of your own. I'll get the mattresses and tables and chairs out by Saturday, and fetch the slavey out with me if I can find one."
"No Chinese need apply," said Imogen. "Get me a Christian servant, whatever you do, Lion. I can't bear that creature with the pig-tail."
"I'll do my possible," said her brother, in a doubtful tone; "but you'll come to pig-tails yet and be thankful for them, or I miss my guess."
Imogen remembered her promise. She was studiously polite and grateful that evening, and exerted herself to talk and undo the unpleasant impression of the morning. The little party round the dinner-table waxed merry, especially when Imogen, under the effect of her gracious resolves, attempted to adapt her conversation to her company and gratify her hosts by using American expressions.
"People absquatulate from St. Helen's toward autumn, don't they?" she remarked. Then when some one laughed she added, "You say 'absquatulate' over here, don't you?"
"Well, I don't know. I never did hear any one say it except as a joke," replied Elsie.
And again: "Mother would be astonished, Lion, wouldn't she, if she knew that a Chinese can make English puddings as well as the cooks at home. She'd be all struck of a heap."
And later: "It really was dreadful. The train was broken all to bits, and nearly every one on board was hurt,—catawampously chawed up in fact, as you Americans would say. Why, what are you all laughing at? Don't you say it?"
"Never, except in the comic newspapers and dime novels," said Geoffrey Templestowe when he recovered from his amusement, while Lionel, utterly overcome with his sister's vocabulary, choked and strangled, and finally found voice to say,—
"Go on, Moggy. You're doing beautifully. Nothing like acquiring the native dialect to make a favorable impression in a new country. Oh, wherever did she learn 'catawampus'? I shall die of it."
IMOGEN'S race-prejudices experienced a weakening after Lionel's return from St. Helen's with the only "slavey" attainable, in the shape of an untidy, middle-aged Irish woman, with red hair, and a hot little spark of temper glowing in either eye. Putting this unpromising female in possession of the fresh, clean kitchen of the cabin was a trial, but it had to be done; and the young mistress, with all the ardor of inexperience, bent herself to the task of reformation and improvement, and teaching Katty Maloney—who was old enough to be her mother—a great many desirable things which she herself did not very well understand. It was thankless work and resulted as such experiments usually do. Katty gave warning at the end of a week, affirming that she wasn't going to be hectored and driven round by a bit of a miss, who didn't well know what she wanted; and that the Valley was that lonesome anyhow that she'd not remain in it; no, not if the Saints themselves came down from glory and kivered up every fut of soil with shining gold, and she a-starving in the mud,—that she wouldn't!
Imogen saw her go with small regret. She had no idea how difficult it might be to find a successor, and it was not till three incompetents of the same nationality had been lured out by the promise of high wages, only to decide that the place was too "lonely" for them and incontinently depart, that she realized how hard was the problem of "help" in such a place. It was her first trial at independent housekeeping, and with her English ideas she had counted on neatness, respectfulness of manner, and a certain amount of training as a matter of course in a servant. One has to learn one's way in a new country by the hardest, and perhaps, the least hard part of Imogen's lesson were the intervals when she and Lionel did the work themselves, with only old Jose to scrub and wash up; then at least they could be quiet and at peace, without daily controversies. Later, relief and comfort came to them in the shape of a gentle Mongolian named Ah Lee, procured through the good offices of Choo Loo, whom Imogen was only too thankful to accept, pig-tail and all, for his gentleness of manner, general neatness and capacity, and the good taste which he gave to his dishes. In fact, she confessed one day to Lionel, privately in a moment of confidence, that rather than lose him, she would herself carve a joss stick and nail it up in the kitchen; which concession proves the liberalizing and widening effect of necessity upon the human mind. But this is anticipating.
The cabin was a pleasant place enough when once fairly set in order. There was an abundance of sunshine, fire-wood was plenty, and so small a space was easily kept tidy. Imogen, when she reviewed her resources, realized how wise Lionel had been in recommending her to bring more ornamental things and fewer articles of mere use, such as tapes and buttons. Buttons and tapes were easy enough to come by; but things to make the house pretty were difficult to obtain and cost a great deal. She made the most of her few possessions, and supplied what was lacking with wild flowers, which could be had in any quantity for the picking. Lionel had hunted a good deal during his first Colorado years, and possessed quite a good supply of fox, wolf, and bear skins. These did duty for rugs on the floor. Elk and buffalo horns fastened on the walls served as pegs on which to hang whips and hats. Some gay Mexican pots adorned the chimney-piece; it all looked pretty enough and quite comfortable. Imogen would fain have tried her hand at home-made devices of the sort in which the ladies at the lower house excelled, but somehow her attempts turned out failures. She lacked lightness of touch and originality of fancy, and the results were apt to be what Elsie privately stigmatized as "wapses of red flannel and burlaps without form or comeliness," at which Lionel jeered, while visitors discreetly averted their eyes lest they should be forced to express an opinion concerning them.
Imogen's views as to the character and capacities of American women underwent many modifications during that first summer in the Valley. It seemed to her that Mrs. Templestowe and her sister were equal to any emergency however sudden and unexpected. She was filled with daily wonder over their knowledge of practical details, and their extraordinary "handiness." If a herder met with an accident they seemed to know just what to do. If Choo Loo was taken with a cramp or some odd Chinese disease without a name, and laid aside for a day or two, Clover not only nursed him but went into the kitchen as a matter of course, and extemporized a meal which was sufficiently satisfactory for all concerned. If a guest arrived unexpectedly they were not put out; if some article of daily supply failed, they seemed always able to devise a substitute; and through all and every contingency they managed to look pretty and bright and gracious, and make sunshine in the shadiest places.
Slowly, for Imogen's mind was not of the quick working order, she took all this in, and her respect for America and Americans rose accordingly. She was forced to own that whatever the rest of womankind in this extraordinary new country might be, these particular specimens were of a sort which any land, even England, might be justly proud to claim.
"And with all they do, they contrive to look so nice," she said to herself. "I can't understand how they manage it. Their gowns fit so well, and they always seem to have just the right kind of thing to put on. It is really wonderful, and it certainly isn't because they think a great deal about it. Before I came over I always imagined that American women spent their time in reading fashion magazines and talking over their clothes. Mrs. Geoff and Mrs. Page certainly don't do that. I don't often hear them speak about dresses, or see them at work at them; and both of them know a great deal more about a house than I do, or any other English girl I ever saw. Mrs. Geoff, and Mrs. Page too, can make all sorts of things,—cakes and puddings and muffins and even bread; and they read a good deal as well. The Americans are certainly a cleverer people than I supposed."
The mile of distance between what Clarence called "the Hut and the Hutlet" counted for little, and a daily intercourse went on, trending chiefly, it must be owned, from the Hut to the Hutlet. Clover was unwearied in small helps and kindnesses. If Imogen were cookless, old Jose was sure to appear with a loaf of freshly baked bread, or a basket of graham gems; or Geoff with a creel of trout and an urgent invitation to lunch or dinner or both. New books made their appearance from below, newspapers and magazines; and if ever the day came when Imogen felt hopelessly faint-hearted, lonely, and over-worked, she was sure to see the flutter of skirts, and her pretty, cordial neighbors would come riding up the trail to cheer her, and to propose something pleasant or helpful. Sometimes Elsie would have her baby on her knee, trusting to "Summer Savory's" sure-footed steadiness; sometimes little Geoff would be riding beside his mother on a minute burro. Always it seemed as though they brought the sun with them; and she learned to watch for their coming on dull days, as if they were in the secret of her moods and knew just when they were most wanted. But they came so often that these coincidences were not so wonderful, after all.
Imogen did appreciate all this kindness, and was grateful, and, after her manner, responsive; still the process of what Elsie termed "limbering out Miss Young" went on but slowly. The English stock, firm-set and sturdily rooted, does not "limber" readily, and a bent toward prejudice is never easily shaken. Compelled to admit that Clover was worth liking, compelled to own her good nature and friendliness, Imogen yet could not be cordially at ease with her. Always an inward stiffness made itself apparent when they were together, and always Clover was aware of the fact. It made no difference in her acts of good-will, but it made some difference in the pleasure with which she did them,—though on no account would she have confessed it, especially to Elsie, who was so comically ready to fire up and offer battle if she suspected any one of undervaluing her sister. So the month of July went.
It was on the morning of the last day, when the long summer had reached its height of ripeness and completeness, and all things seemed making themselves ready for Rose Red, who was expected in three days more, that Clover, sitting with her work on the shaded western piazza, saw the unwonted spectacle of a carriage slowly mounting the steep road up the Valley. It was so unusual to see any wheeled vehicle there, except their own carryall, that it caused a universal excitement. Elsie ran to the window overhead with Phillida in her arms; little Geoff stood on the porch staring out of a pair of astonished eyes, and Clover came forward to meet the new arrivals with an unmistakable look of surprise in her face. The gentleman who was driving and the lady beside him were quite unknown to her; but from the back part of the carriage a head extended itself,—an elderly head, with a bang of oddly frizzled gray hair and a pair of watery blue eyes, all surmounted by an eccentric shade hat, and all beaming and twittering with recognition and excitement. It took Clover a moment to disentangle her ideas; then she perceived that it was Mrs. Watson, who, when she and Phil first came out to Colorado, years before, came with them, and for a time had been one of the chief trials and perplexities of their life there.
"Well, my dear, and I don't wonder that you look astonished, for no one would suppose that after all I went through with I should ever again— This is my daughter, and her husband, you know, and of course their coming made it seem quite— We are staying in the Ute Valley; only five miles over, they said it was, but such miles! I'd rather ride ten on a level, any day, as I told Ellen, and—well, they said you were living up here; and though the road was pretty rough, it was possible to— And if ever there was a man who could drive a buggy up to the moon, as Ellen declares, Henry is the—but really I was hardly prepared for—but any way we started, and here we are! What a wild sort of place it is that you are living in, my dear Miss Carr—not that I ought to call you Miss Carr, for— I got your cards, of course, and I was told then that— And your sister marrying the other young man and coming out to live here too! that must be very— Oh, dear me! is that little boy yours? Well, I never!"
"I am very glad to see you, I am sure," said Clover, taking the first opportunity of a break in the torrent of words, "and Mrs. Phillips too,—this is Mrs. Phillips, is it not? Let me help you out, Mrs. Watson, and Geoffy dear, run round to the other door and ask Euphane to send somebody to take the horses."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Phillips. "Let me introduce my husband, Mrs. Templestowe. We are at the hotel in the Ute Valley for three days, and my mother wished so much to drive over and see you that we have brought her. What a beautiful place your valley is!"
Mrs. Phillips, tall, large-featured, dark and rather angular, with a pleasant, resolute face, and clear-cut, rather incisive way of speaking, offered as complete a contrast to her pale, pudgy, incoherent little mother as could well be imagined. Clover's instant thought was, "Now I know what Mr. Watson must have been like." Mr. Phillips was also tall, with a keen, Roman-nosed face, and eye-glasses. Both had the look of people who knew what was what and had seen the world,—just the sort of persons, it would seem, to whom a parent like Mrs. Watson would be a great trial; and it was the more to their credit that they never seemed in the least impatient, and were evidently devoted to her comfort in all ways. If she fretted them, as she undoubtedly must, they gave no sign of it, and were outwardly all affectionate consideration.
"Why, where is your little boy gone? I wanted to see him," said Mrs. Watson, as soon as she was safely out of the carriage. "He was here just this moment, and then—I must say you have got a beautiful situation; and if mountains were all that one needed to satisfy—but I recollect how you used to go on about them at St. Helen's— Take care, Ellen, your skirt is caught! Ah, that's right! Miss Carr is always so—but I mustn't call her that, I know, only I never— And now, my dear, I must have a kiss, after climbing up all this way; and there were gopher holes—at least, a man we met said they were that, and I really thought— Tell me how you are, and all about— That's right, Henry, take out the wraps; you never can tell how— Of course Miss Carr's people are all— I keep calling you Miss Carr; I really can't help it. What a beautiful view!"
Clover now led the way in-doors. The central room, large, cool, and flower-scented, was a surprise to the Eastern guests, who were not prepared to find anything so pretty and tasteful in so remote a spot.
"This is really charming!" said Mr. Phillips, glancing from fireplace to wall, and from wall to window; while his wife exclaimed with delight over the Mariposa lilies which filled a glass bowl on the table, and the tall sheaves of scarlet penstamens on either side the hearth. Mrs. Watson blinked about curiously, actually silent for a moment, before her surprise took the form of words.
"Why, how pretty it looks, doesn't it, Ellen? and so large and spacious, and so many— I'm all the more surprised because when we were together before, you wouldn't go to the Shoshone House, you remember, because it was so expensive, and of course I— Well, circumstances do alter; and it is a world of changes, as Dr. Billings said in one of his sermons last spring. And I'm sure I'm glad, only I wasn't prepared to— Ellen! Ellen! look at that etching! It's exactly the same as yours, which Jane Phillips gave you and Henry for your tin wedding. It was very expensive, I know, for I was with her when she got it, and so—at Doll's it was; and his things naturally—but I really think the frame of this is the handsomest! Now, my dear Miss Carr, where did you get that?"
"It was one of our gifts," said Clover, smiling. "There is a double supply of wedding presents in this house, Mrs. Watson, for my sister's are here as well as our own. So we are rather rich in pretty things, as you see, but not in anything else, except cows; of those we have any number. Now, if you will all excuse me for a moment, I will go up and tell Mrs. Page that you are here."
Up she went, deliberately till she was out of sight, and then at a swift, light run the rest of the way.
"Elsie dear," she cried, bursting into the nursery, "who do you think is here? Mrs. Watson, our old woman of the Sea, you know. She has her son-in-law and daughter with her, and they look like rather nice people, strange to say. They have driven over from the Ute Valley, and of course they must have some lunch; but as it happens it is the worst day of the whole year for them to choose, for I have sent Choo Loo into St. Helen's to look up a Chinese cook for Imogen Young, and I meant to starve you all on poached eggs and raspberries for lunch. I can't leave them of course, but will you just run down, my darling duck, and see what can be done, and tell Euphane? There are cans of soup, of course, and sardines, and all that, but I fear the bread supply is rather short. I'll take Phillida. She's as neat as a new pin, happily. Ah, here's Geoffy. Come and have your hair brushed, boy."
She went down with one child in her arms and the other holding her hand,—a pretty little picture for those below.
"My sister will come presently," she explained. "This is her little girl. And here is my son, Mrs. Watson."
"Dear me,—I had no idea he was such a big child," said that lady. "Five years old, is he, or six?—only three! Oh, yes, what am I thinking about; of course he—Well, my little man, and how do you like living up here in this lonesome place?"
"Very much," replied little Geoff, backing away from the questioner, as she aimlessly reached out after him.
"He has never lived anywhere else," Clover explained; "so he cannot make comparisons. Ignorance is bliss, we are told, Mrs. Watson."
Euphane, staid and respectable in her spotless apron, now entered with the lunch-cloth, and Clover convoyed her guests upstairs to refresh themselves with cold water after the dust of the drive. By the time they returned the table was set, and presently Elsie appeared, cool and fresh in her pretty pink and white gingham with a knot of rose-colored ribbon in her wavy hair, her cheeks deepened to just the becoming tint, the very picture of a dainty, well-cared-for little lady. No one would have suspected that during the last half-hour she had stirred and baked a pan of brown "gems," mixed a cream mayonnaise for the lettuce, set a glass dish of "junket" to form, and skimmed two pans of cream, beside getting out the soup and sweets for Euphane, and trimming the dishes of fruit with kinnikinick and coreopsis. The little feast seemed to have got itself ready in some mysterious manner, without trouble to any one, which is the last added grace of any feast.
"It is perfectly charming here," said Mrs. Phillips, more and more impressed. "I have seen nothing at all like this at the West."
"There isn't any other place exactly like our valley, I really think. Of course there are other natural parks among the ranges of the Rockies, but ours always seems to me quite by itself. You see we lie so as to catch the sun, and it makes a great difference even in the winter. We have done very little to the Valley, beyond just making ourselves comfortable."
"Very comfortable indeed, I should say."
"And so you married the other young man, my dear?" Mrs. Watson was remarking to Elsie. "I remember he used to come in very often to call on your sister, and it was easy enough to see,—people in boarding-houses will notice such things of course, and we all used to think— But there—of course she knew all the time, and it is easy to make mistakes, and I dare say it's all for the best as it is. You look very young indeed to be married. I wonder that your father could make up his mind to let you."
"I am not young at all, I'm nearly twenty-six," replied Elsie, who always resented remarks about her youth. "There are three younger than I am in the family, and they are all grown up."
"Oh, my dear, but you don't look it! You don't seem a day over twenty. Ellen was nearly as old as you are before she ever met Henry, and they were engaged nearly two— But she never did look as young as most of the girls she used to go with, and I suppose that's the reason that now they are all got on a little, she seems younger than— Well, well! we never thought while I was with your sister at St. Helen's, helping to take care of your poor brother, you know, how it would all turn out. There was a young man who used to bring roses,—I forget his name,—and one day Mrs. Gibson said— Her husband had weak lungs and they came out to Colorado on that account, but I believe he— They were talking of building a house, and I meant to ask— But there, I forgot; one does grow so forgetful if one travels much and sees a good many people; but as I was saying—he got well, I think."
"Who, Mr. Gibson?" asked Elsie, quite bewildered.
"Oh, no! not Mr. Gibson, of course. He died, and Mrs. Gibson married again. Some man she met out at St. Helen's, I believe it was, and I heard that her children didn't like it; but he was rich, I believe and of course— Riches have wings,—you know that proverb of course,—but it makes a good deal of difference whether they fly toward you or away from you."
"Indeed it does," said Elsie, much amused. "But you asked me if somebody got well. Who was it?"
"Why, your brother of course. He didn't die, did he?"
"Oh dear, no! He is living at St. Helen's now, and perfectly well and strong."
"Well, that must be a great comfort to you all. I never did think that he was as ill as your sister fancied he was. Girls will get anxious, and when people haven't had a great deal of experience they— He used to laugh a great deal too, and when people do that it seems to me that their lungs— But of course it was only natural at her age. I used to cheer her up all I could and say— The air is splendid there, of course, and the sun somehow never seems to heat you up as it does at the East, though it is hot, but I think when people have weak chests they'd better— Dr. Hope doesn't think so, I know, but after all there are a great many doctors beside Dr. Hope, and— Ellen quite agrees with me— What was I saying."
Elsie wondered on what fragment of the medley she would fix. She was destined never to know, for just then came the trample of hoofs and the "Boys" rode up to the door.
She went out on the porch to meet them and break the news of the unexpected guests.
"That old thing!" cried Clarence, with unflattering emphasis. "Oh, thunder! I thought we were safe from that sort of bore up here. I shall just cut down to the back and take a bite in the barn."
"Indeed you will do nothing of the sort. Do you suppose I came up to this place, where company only arrives twice a year or so, to be that lonesome thing a cowboy's bride, that you might slip away and take bites in barns? No sir—not at all. You will please go upstairs, make yourself fit to be seen, and come down and be as polite as possible. Do you hear, Clare?"
She hooked one white finger in his buttonhole, and stood looking in his face with a saucy gaze. Clarence yielded at once. His small despot knew very well how to rule him and to put down such short-lived attempts at insubordination as he occasionally indulged in.
"All right, Elsie, I'll go if I must. They're not to stay the night, are they?"
"Heaven forbid! No indeed, they are going back to the Ute Valley."
He vanished, and presently re-appeared to conduct himself with the utmost decorum. He did not even fidget when referred to pointedly as "the other young man," by Mrs. Watson, with an accompaniment of nods and blinks and wreathed smiles which was, to say the least, suggestive. Geoff's manners could be trusted under all circumstances, and the little meal passed off charmingly.
"Good-by," said Mrs. Watson, after she was safely seated in the carriage, as Clover sedulously tucked her wraps about her. "It's really been a treat to see you. We shall talk of it often, and I know Ellen will say— Oh, thank you, Miss Carr, you always were the kindest— Yes, I know it isn't Miss Carr, and I ought to remember, but somehow— Good-by, Mrs. Page. Somehow—it's very pretty up here certainly, and you have every comfort I'm sure, and you seem— But it will be getting dark before long, and I don't like the idea of leaving you young things up here all by yourselves. Don't you ever feel a little afraid in the evenings? I suppose there are not any wild animals—though I remember— But there, I mustn't say anything to discourage you, since you are here, and have got to stay."
"Yes, we have to stay," said Clover, as she shook hands with Mr. Phillips, "and happily it is just what we all like best to do." She watched the carriage for a moment or two as it bumped down the road, its brake grinding sharply against the wheels, then she turned to the others with a look of comically real relief.
"It seems like a bad dream! I had forgotten how Phil and I used to feel when Mrs. Watson went on like that, and she always did go on like that. How did we stand her?"
"Ellen seems nice," remarked Elsie,—"Poor Ellen!"
"Geoff," added Clarence, vindictively, "this must not happen again. You and I must go to work below and shave off the hill and make it twice as steep! It will never do to have the High Valley made easy of access to old ladies from Boston who—"
"Who call you 'the other young man,'" put in naughty Elsie. "Never mind, Clare. I share your feelings, but I don't think there is any risk. There is only one of her, and I am quite certain, from the scared look with which she alluded to our 'wild beasts,' that she never proposes to come again."
THORNS AND ROSES.
"GEOFF," said Clover as they sat at dinner two days later, "couldn't we start early when we go in to-morrow to meet Rose, and have the morning at St. Helen's? There are quite a lot of little errands to be done, and it's a long time since we saw Poppy or the Hopes."
"Just as early as you like," replied her husband. "It's a free day, and I am quite at your service."
So they breakfasted at a quarter before six, and by a quarter past were on their way to St. Helen's, passing, as Clover remarked, through three zones of temperature; for it was crisply cold when they set out, temperately cool at the lower end of the Ute Pass, and blazing hot on the sandy plain.
"We certainly do get a lot of climate for our money out here," observed Geoff.
They reached the town a little before ten, and went first of all to see Mrs. Marsh, for whom Clover had brought a basket of fresh eggs. She never entered that house without being sharply carried back to former days, and made to feel that the intervening time was dreamy and unreal, so absolutely unchanged was it. There was the rickety piazza on which she and Phil had so often sat, the bare, unhomelike parlor, the rocking-chairs swinging all at once, timed as it were to an accompaniment of coughs; but the occupants were not the same. Many sets of invalids had succeeded each other at Mrs. Marsh's since those old days; still the general effect was precisely similar.
Mrs. Marsh, who only was unchanged, gave them a warm welcome. Grateful little Clover never had forgotten the many kindnesses shown to her and Phil, and requited them in every way that was in her power. More than once when Mrs. Marsh was poorly or overtired, she had carried her off to the High Valley for a rest; and she never failed to pay her a visit whenever she spent a day at St. Helen's.
Their next call was at the Hopes'. They found Mrs. Hope darning stockings on the back piazza which commanded a view of the mountain range. She always claimed the entire credit of Clover's match, declaring that if she had not matronized her out to the Valley and introduced her and Geoff to each other, they would never have met. Her droll airs of proprietorship over their happiness were infinitely amusing to Clover.
"I think we should have got at each other somehow, even if you had not been in existence," she told her friend; "marriages are made in Heaven, as we all know. Nobody could have prevented ours."
"My dear, that is just where you are mistaken. Nothing is easier than to prevent marriages. A mere straw will do it. Look at the countless old maids all over the world; and probably nearly every one of them came within half an inch of perfect happiness, and just missed it. No, depend upon it, there is nothing like a wise, judicious, discriminating friend at such junctures, to help matters along. You may thank me that Geoff isn't at this moment wedded to some stiff-necked British maiden, and you eating your head off in single-blessedness at Burnet."
"Rubbish!" said Clover. "Neither of us is capable of it;" but Mrs. Hope stuck to her convictions.
She was delighted to see them, as she always was, and no less the bottle of beautiful cream, the basket full of fresh lettuces, and the bunch of Mariposa lilies which they had brought. Clover never went into St. Helen's empty-handed.
Here they took luncheon No. 1,—consisting of sponge-cake and claret-cup, partaken of while gazing across at Cheyenne Mountain, which was at one of its most beautiful moments, all aerial blue streaked with sharp sunshine at the summit. It was the one defect of the High Valley, Clover thought, that it gave no glimpse of Cheyenne.
Luncheon No. 2 came a little later, with Marian Chase, whom every one still called "Poppy" from preference and long habit. She was perfectly well now, but she and her family had grown so fond of St. Helen's that there was no longer any talk of their going back to the East. She had just had some beautiful California plums sent her by an admirer, and insisted on Clover's eating them with an accompaniment of biscuits and "natural soda water."
"I want you and Alice Perham to come out next week for two nights," said Clover, while engaged in this agreeable occupation. "My friend Mrs. Browne arrives to-day, and she is by far the greatest treat we have ever had to offer to any one since we lived in the Valley. You will delight in her, I know. Could you come on Monday in the stage to the Ute Hotel, if we sent the carryall over to meet you?"
"Why, of course. I never have any engagements when a chance comes for going to the dear Valley; and Alice has none, I am pretty sure. It will be perfectly delightful! Clover, you are an angel,—'the Angel of the Penstamen' I mean to call you," glancing at the great sheaf of purple and white flowers which Clover had brought. "It's a very good name. As for Elsie, she is 'Our Lady of Raspberries;' I never saw such beauties as she fetched in week before last."
Some very multifarious shopping for the two households followed, and by that time it was two o'clock and they were quite ready for luncheon No. 3,—soup and sandwiches, procured at a restaurant. They were just coming away when an open carriage passed them, silk-lined, with a crest on the panel, jingling curb-chains, and silver-plated harnesses, all after the latest modern fashion, and drawn by a pair of fine gray horses. Inside was a young man, who returned a stiff bow to Clover's salutation, and a gorgeously gowned young lady with rather a handsome face.
"Mr. and Mrs. Thurber Wade, I declare," observed Geoffrey. "I heard that they were expected."
"Yes, Mrs. Wade is so pleased to have them come for the summer. We must go and call some day, Geoff, when I happen to have on my best bonnet. Do you think we ought to ask them out to the Valley?"
"That's just as you please. I don't mind if he doesn't. What fine horses. Aren't you conscious of a little qualm of regret, Clover?"
"What for? I don't know what you mean. Don't be absurd," was all the reply he received, or in fact deserved.
And now it was time to go to the train. The minutes seemed long while they waited, but presently came the well-known shriek and rumble, and there was Rose herself, dimpled and smiling at the window, looking not a whit older than on the day of Katy's wedding seven years before. There was little Rose too, but she was by no means so unchanged as her mother, and certainly no longer little, surprisingly tall on the contrary, with her golden hair grown brown and braided in a pig-tail, actually a pig-tail. She had the same bloom and serenity, however, and the same sedate, investigating look in her eyes. There was Mr. Browne too, but he was a brief joy, for there was only time to shake hands and exchange dates and promises of return, before the train started and bore him away toward Pueblo.
"Now," said Rose, who seemed quite unquenched by her three days of travel, "don't let's utter one word till we are in the carriage, and then don't let's stop one moment for two weeks."
"In the first place," she began, as the carryall, mounting the hill, turned into Monument Avenue, where numbers of new houses had been built of late years, Queen Anne cottages in brick and stone, timber, and concrete, with here and there a more ambitious "villa" of pink granite, all surrounded with lawns and rosaries and vine-hung verandas and tinkling fountains. "In the first place I wish to learn where all these people and houses come from. I was told that you lived in a lodge in the wilderness, but though I see plenty of lodges the wilderness seems wanting. Is this really an infant settlement?"
"It really is. That is, it hasn't come of age yet, being not quite twenty-one years old. Oh, you've no notion about our Western towns, Rose. They're born and grown up all in a minute, like Hercules strangling the snakes in his cradle. I don't at all wonder that you are surprised."
"'Surprised' doesn't express it. 'Flabbergasted,' though low, comes nearer my meaning. I have been breathless ever since we left Albany. First there was that enormous Chicago which knocked me all of a heap, then Denver, then that enchanting ride over the Divide, and now this! Never did I see such flowers or such colored rocks, and never did any one breathe such air. It sweeps all the dust and fatigue out of one in a minute. Boston seems quite small and dull in comparison, doesn't it, Roeslein?"
"It isn't so big, but I love it the most," replied that small person from the front seat, where she sat soberly taking all things in. "Mamma, Uncle Geoff says I may drive when we get to the foot of a long hill we are just coming to. You won't be afraid, will you?"
"N-o; not if Uncle Geoff will keep his eye on the reins and stand ready to seize them if the horses begin to run. Rose just expresses my feelings," she continued; "but this is as beautiful as it is big. What is the name of that enchanting mountain over there,—Cheyenne? Why, yes,—that is the one that you used to write about in your letters when you first came out, I remember. It never made much impression on me,—mountains never seem high in letters, somehow, but now I don't wonder. It's the loveliest thing I ever saw."
Clover was much pleased at Rose's appreciation of her favorite mountain, and also with the intelligent way in which she noted everything they passed. Her eyes were as quick as her tongue; chattering all the time, she yet missed nothing of interest. The poppy-strewn plain, the green levels of the mesa delighted her; so did the wide stretches of blue distance, and she screamed with joy at the orange and red pinnacles in Odin's Garden.
"It is a land of wonders," she declared. "When I think how all my life I have been content to amble across the Common, and down Winter Street to Hovey's, and now and then by way of adventure take the car to the Back Bay, and that I felt all the while as if I were getting the cream and pick of everything, I am astonished at my own stupidity. Rose, are you not glad I did not let you catch whooping cough from Margaret Lyon? you were bent on doing it, you remember. If I had given you your way we should not be here now."
Rose only smiled in reply. She was used to her little mother's vagaries and treated them in general with an indulgent inattention.
The sun was quite gone from the ravines, but still lingered on the snow-powdered peaks above, when the carriage climbed the last steep zigzag and drew up before the "Hut," whose upper windows glinted with the waning light. Rose looked about her and drew a long breath of surprise and pleasure.
"It isn't a bit like what I thought it would be," she said; "but it's heaps and heaps more beautiful. I simply put it at the head of all the places I ever saw." Then Elsie came running on to the porch, and Rose jumped out into her arms.
"I thank the goodness and the grace That on my birth has smiled, And brought me to this blessed place A happy Boston child!"
she cried, hugging Elsie rapturously. "You dear thing! how well you look! and how perfect it all is up here! And this is Mr. Page, whom I have known all about ever since the Hillsover days! and this is dear little Geoff! Clover, his eyes are exactly like yours! And where is your baby, Elsie?"
"Little wretch! she would go to sleep. I told her you were coming, and I did all I could, short of pinching, to keep her awake,—sang, and repeated verses, and danced her up and down, but it was all of no use. She would put her knuckles in her eyes, and whimper and fret, and at last I had to give in. Babies are perfectly unmanageable when they are sleepy."
"Most of us are. It's just as well. I can't half take it in as it is. It is much better to keep something for to-morrow. The drive was perfect, and the Valley is twice as beautiful as I expected it to be. And now I want to go into the house."
Elsie had devoted her day to setting forth the Hut to advantage. She and Roxy had been to the very top of the East Canyon for flowers, and returned loaded with spoil. Bunches of coreopsis and vermilion-tipped painter's-brush adorned the chimney-piece; tall spikes of yucca rose from an Indian jar in one corner of the room, and a splendid sheaf of yellow columbines from another; fresh kinnikinick was looped and wreathed about the pictures; and on the dining-table stood, most beautiful and fragile of all, a bowlful of Mariposa lilies, their delicate, lilac-streaked bells poised on stems so slender that the fairy shapes seemed to float in air, supported at their own sweet will. There were roses, too, and fragrant little knots of heliotrope and mignonette. With these Rose was familiar; the wild flowers were all new to her.
She ran from vase to vase in a rapture. They could scarcely get her upstairs to take off her things. Such a bright evening followed! Clover declared that she had not laughed so much in all the seven years since they parted. Rose seemed to fit at once and perfectly into the life of the place, while at the same time she brought the breath of her own more varied and different life to freshen and widen it. They all agreed that they had never had a visitor who gave so much and enjoyed so much. She and Geoffrey made friends at once, greatly to Clover's delight, and Clarence took to her in a manner astonishing to his wife, for he was apt to eschew strangers, and escape them when he could.
They all woke in the morning to a sense of holiday.
"Boys," said Elsie at breakfast, "this isn't at all a common, every-day day, and I don't want to do every-day things in it. I want something new and unusual to happen. Can't you abjure those wretched beasts of yours for once, and come with us to that sweet little canyon at the far end of the Ute, where we went the summer after I was married? We want to show it to Rose, and the weather is simply perfect."
"Yes, if you'll give us half an hour or so to ride up and speak to Manuel."
"All right. It will take at least as long as that to get ready."
So Choo Loo hastily broiled chickens and filled bottles with coffee and cream; and by half-past nine they were off, children and all, some on horseback, and some in the carryall with the baskets, to Elsie's "sweet little canyon," over which Pike's Peak rose in lonely majesty like a sentinel at an outpost, and where flowers grew so thickly that, as Rose wrote her husband, "it was harder to find the in-betweens than the blossoms." They came back, tired, hungry, and happy, just at nightfall; so it was not till the second day that Rose met the Youngs, about whom her curiosity was considerably excited. It seemed so odd, she said, to have "only neighbors," and it made them of so much consequence.
They had been asked to dinner to meet Rose, which was a very formal and festive invitation for the High Valley, though the dinner must perforce be much as usual, and the party was inevitably the same. Imogen felt that it was an occasion, and wishing to do credit to it, she unpacked a gown which had not seen the light before since her arrival, and which had done duty as a dinner dress for two or three years at Bideford. It was of light blue mousselaine-de-laine, made with a "half-high top" and elbow sleeves, and trimmed with cheap lace. A necklace of round coral beads adorned her throat, and a comb of the same material her hair, which was done up in a series of wonderful loops filleted with narrow blue ribbons. She carried a pink fan. Lionel, who liked bright colors, was charmed at the effect; and altogether she set out in good spirits for the walk down the Pass, though she was prepared to be afraid of Rose, of whose brilliancy she had heard a little too much to make the idea of meeting her quite comfortable.
The party had just gathered in the sitting-room as they entered. Clover and Elsie were in pretty cotton dresses, as usual, and Rose, following their lead, had put on what at home she would have considered a morning gown, of linen lawn, white, with tiny bunches of forget-me-nots scattered over it, and a jabot of lace and blue ribbon. These toilettes seemed unduly simple to Imogen, who said within herself, complacently, "There is one thing the Americans don't seem to understand, and that is the difference between common dressing and a regular dinner dress,"—preening herself the while in the sky-blue mousselaine-de-laine, and quite unconscious that Rose was inwardly remarking, "My! where did she get that gown? I never saw anything like it. It must have been made for Mrs. Noah, some years before the ark. And her hair! just the ark style, too, and calculated to frighten the animals into good behavior and obedience during the bad weather. Well, I put it at the head of all the extraordinary things I ever saw."