It is just as well, on the whole, that people are not able to read each other's thoughts in society.
"You've only just come to America, I hear," said Rose, taking a chair near Imogen. "Do you begin to feel at home yet?"
"Oh, pretty well for that. I don't fancy that one ever gets to be quite at home anywhere out of their own country. It's very different over here from England, of course."
"Yes, but some parts of America are more different than some other parts. You haven't seen much of us as yet."
"No, but all the parts I have seen seemed very much alike."
"The High Valley and New York, for example."
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of New York. I mean the plains and mountains and the Western towns. We didn't stop at any of them, of course; but seen from the railway they all look pretty much the same,—wooden houses, you know, and all that."
"What astonished us most was the distance," said Rose. "Of course we all learned from our maps, when we were at school, just how far it is across the continent; but I never realized it in the least till I saw it. It seemed so wonderful to go on day after day and never get to the end!"
"Only about half-way to the end," put in Clover. "That question of distance is a great surprise; and if it perplexes you, Rose, it isn't wonderful that it should perplex foreigners. Do you recollect that Englishman, Geoff, whom we met at the table d'hote at Llanberis, when we were in Wales, and who accounted for the Charleston earthquake by saying that he supposed it had something to do with those hot springs close by."
"What hot springs did he mean?"
"I am sure you would never guess unless I told you. The hot springs in the Yellowstone Park, to be sure,—simply those, and nothing more! And when I explained that Charleston and the Yellowstone were about as distant from each other as Siberia and the place we were in, he only stared and remarked, 'Oh, I think you must be mistaken.'"
"And are they so far apart, then?" asked Imogen, innocently.
"Oh, Moggy, Moggy! what were your geography teachers thinking about?" cried her brother. "It seems sometimes as if America were entirely left out of the maps used in English schools."
"Lionel," said his sister, "how can you say such things? It isn't so at all; but of course we learned more about the important countries." Imogen spoke quite artlessly; she had no intention of being rude.
"Great Scott!" muttered Clarence under his breath, while Rose flashed a look at Clover.
"Of course," she said, sweetly, "Burmah and Afghanistan and New Zealand and the Congo States would naturally interest you more,—large heathen populations to Christianize and exterminate. There is nothing like fire and sword to establish a bond."
"Oh, I didn't mean that. Of course America is much larger than those countries."
"'Plenty of us such as we are'" quoted the wicked Rose.
"And pretty good what there is of us," added Clover, glad of the appearance of dinner just then to create a diversion.
"That's quite a dreadful little person," remarked Rose, as they stood at the doorway two hours later, watching the guests walk up the trail under the light of a glorious full moon. "Her mind is just one inch across. You keep falling off the edge and hurting yourself. It's sad that she should be your only neighbor. I don't seem to like her a bit, and I predict that you will yet have some dreadful sort of a row with her, Clovy."
"Indeed we shall not; nothing of the kind. She's really a good little thing at bottom; this angularity and stiffness that you object to is chiefly manner. Wait till she has been here long enough to learn the ways and wake up, and you will like her."
"I'll wait," said Rose, dryly. "How much time should you say would be necessary, Clover? A hundred years? I should think it would take at least as long as that."
"Lionel's a dear fellow. We are all very fond of him."
"I can understand your being fond of him easily enough. Imogen! what a name for just that kind of girl. 'Image' it ought to be. What a figure of fun she was in that awful blue gown!"
The two weeks of Rose's visit sped only too rapidly. There was so much that they wanted to show her, and there were so many people whom they wanted her to see, and so many people who, as soon as they saw her, became urgent that she should do this and that with them, that life soon became a tangle of impossibilities. Rose was one of those charmers that cannot be hid. She had been a belle all her days, and she would be so till she died of old age, as Elsie told her. Her friends of the High Valley gloried in her success; but all the time they had a private longing to keep her more to themselves, as one retires with two or three to enjoy a choice dainty of which there is not enough to go round in a larger company. They took her to the Cheyenne Canyons and the top of Pike's Peak; they carried her over the Marshall Pass and to many smaller places less known to fame, but no less charming in their way. Invitations poured in from St. Helen's, to lunch, to dinner, to afternoon teas; but of these Rose would none. She could lunch and dine in Boston, she declared, but she might never come to Colorado again, and what she thirsted for was canyons, and not less than one a day would content her insatiable appetite for them.
But though she would not go to St. Helen's, St. Helen's in a measure came to her. Marian Chase and Alice made their promised visit; Dr. and Mrs. Hope came out more than once, and Phil continually; while smart Bostonians whom Clover had never heard of turned up at Canyon Creek and the Ute Valley and drove over to call, having heard that Mrs. Deniston Browne was staying there. The High Valley became used to the roll of wheels and the tramp of horses' feet, and for the moment seemed a sociable, accessible sort of place to which it was a matter of course that people should repair. It was oddly different from the customary order of things, but the change was enlivening, and everybody enjoyed it with one exception.
This exception was Imogen Young. She was urged to join some of the excursions made by her friends below, but on one excuse or another she refused. She felt shy and left out where all the rest were so well-acquainted and so thoroughly at ease, and preferred to remain at home; but all the same, to have the others so gay and busy gave her a sense of loneliness and separation which was painful to bear. Clover tried more than once to persuade her out of her solitary mood; but she was too much occupied herself and too absorbed to take much time for coaxing a reluctant guest, and the others dispensed with her company quite easily; in fact, they were too busy to notice her absence much or ask questions. So the fortnight, which passed so quickly and brilliantly at the Hut, and was always afterward alluded to as "that delightful time when Rose was here," was anything but delightful at the "Hutlet," where poor Imogen sat homesick and forlorn, feeling left alone on one side of all the pleasant things, scarcely realizing that it was her own choice and doing, and wishing herself back in Devonshire.
"Lion seems quite taken up with these new people and that Mrs. Browne," she reflected. "He's always going off with them to one place or another. I might as well be back in Bideford for all the use I am to him." This was unjust, for Lionel was anxious and worried over his sister's depressed looks and indisposition to share in the pleasures that were going on; but Imogen just then saw things through a gloomy medium, and not quite as they were. She felt dull and heavy-hearted, and did not seem able to rouse herself from her lassitude and weariness.
Out of the whole party no one was so perfectly pleased with her surroundings as the smaller Rose. Everything seemed to suit the little maid exactly. She made a delightful playfellow for the babies, telling them fairy stories by the dozen, and teaching them new games, and washing and dressing Phillida with all the gravity and decorum of an old nurse. They followed her about like two little dogs, and never left her side for a moment if they could possibly help it. All was fish that came to her happy little net, whether it was playing with little Geoff, going on excursions with the elders, scrambling up the steep side-canyons under Phil's escort in search of flowers and curiosities, or riding sober old Marigold to the Upper Valley as she was sometimes allowed to do. The only cloud in her perfect satisfaction was that she must some day go away.
"It won't be very pleasant when I get back to Boston, and don't have anything to do but just walk down Pinckney Street with Mary Anne to school, and slide a little bit on the Common when the snow comes and there aren't any big boys about, will it, mamma?" she said, disconsolately. "I sha'n't feel as if that were a great deal, I think."
"I am afraid the High Valley is a poor preparation for West Cedar Street," laughed Rose. "It will seem a limited career to both of us at first. But cheer up, Poppet; I'm going to put you into a dancing-class this winter, and very likely at Christmas-time papa will treat us both to a Moral Drayma. There are consolations, even in Boston."
"That 'even in Boston' is the greatest compliment the High Valley ever received," said Clover, who happened to be within hearing. "Such a moment will never come to it again."
And now the last day came, as last days will. Mr. Browne returned from Mexico, with forty-eight hours to spare for enjoyment, which interval they employed in showing him the two things that Rose loved most,—namely, the High Valley from top to bottom, and the North Cheyenne Canyon. The last luncheon was taken at Mrs. Hope's, who had collected a few choice spirits in honor of the occasion, and then they all took the Roses to the train, and sent them off loaded with fruit and flowers.
"Miss Young was extraordinarily queer and dismal last night," said Rose to Clover as they stood a little aside from the rest on the platform. "I can't quite see what ails her. She looks thinner than when we came, and doesn't seem to know how to smile; depend upon it she's going to be ill, or something. I wish you had a pleasanter neighbor,—especially as she's likely to be the only one for some time to come."
"Poor thing. I've neglected her of late," replied Clover, penitently. "I must make up for it now that you are going away. Really, I couldn't take my time for her while you were here, Rosy."
"And I certainly couldn't let you. I should have resented it highly if you had. Oh dear,—there's that whistle. We really have got to go. I hoped to the last that something might happen to keep us another day. Oh dear Clover,—I wish we lived nearer each other. This country of ours is a great deal too wide."
"Geoff," said Clover, as they slowly climbed the hill, "I never felt before that the High Valley was too far away from people, but somehow I do to-night. It is quite terrible to have Rose go, and to feel that I may not see her again for years."
"Did you want to go with her?"
"And leave you? No, dearest. But I am quite sure that there are no distances in Heaven, and when we get there we shall find that we all are to live next door to each other. It will be part of the happiness."
"Perhaps so. Meanwhile I am thankful that my happiness lives close to me now. I don't have to wait till Heaven for that, which is the reason perhaps that for some years past Earth has seemed so very satisfactory to me."
"Geoff, what an uncommonly nice way you have of putting things," said Clover, nestling her head comfortably on his arm. "On the whole I don't think the High Valley is so very far away."
"HAVE you seen Imogen Young to-day?" was Clover's first question on getting home.
"No. Lionel was in for a moment at noon, and said she was preserving raspberries; so, as I had a good deal to do, I did not go up. Why?"
"Oh, nothing in particular. I only wanted to know. Well, here we are, left to ourselves with not a Rose to our name. How we shall miss them! There's a letter from Johnnie for you by way of consolation."
But the letter did not prove in the least consoling, for it was to break to them a piece of disappointing news.
"The Daytons have given up their Western trip," wrote Johnnie. "Mrs. Dayton's father is very ill at Elberon; she has gone to him, and there is almost no chance of their getting away at all this summer. It really is a dreadful disappointment, for we had set our hearts on our visit, and papa had made all his arrangements to be absent for six weeks,—which you know is a thing not easily done, or undone. Then Debby and Richard had been promised a holiday, and Dorry was going in a yacht with some friends to the Thousand Islands. It all seemed so nicely settled, and here comes this blow to unsettle it. Well, Dieu dispose,—there is nothing for it but resignation, and unpacking our hopes and ideas and putting them back again in their usual shelves and corners. We must make what we can of the situation, and of course, it isn't anything so very hard to have to pass the summer in Burnet with papa; still I was that wild with disappointment at the first, that I actually went the length of suggesting that we should go all the same, and pay our own travelling expenses! You can judge from this how desperate my state of mind must have been! Papa, as you may naturally suppose, promptly vetoed the proposal as impossible, and no doubt he was right. I am growing gradually resigned to Fate now, but all the same I cannot yet think of the blessed Valley and all of you, and—and the happy time we are not going to have, without feeling quite like 'weeping a little weep.' How I wish that we possessed a superfluous income!"
"Now," said Elsie, and her voice too sounded as if a "little weep" were not far off, "isn't that too bad? No papa this year, and no Johnnie. I suppose we are spoiled, but the fact is, I have grown to count on the Daytons and their car as confidently as though they were the early and the latter rain." Her arch little face looked quite long and disconsolate.
"So have I," said Clover. "It doesn't bear talking about, does it?"
She had been conscious of late of a great longing after her father. She had counted confidently on his visit, and the sense of disappointment was bitter. She put away her bonnet and folded her gloves with a very sober face. A sort of disenchantment seemed to have fallen on the Valley since the coming of this bad news and the departure of Rose.
"This will never do," she told herself at last, after standing some moments at the window looking across at the peak through a blur of tears,—"I must brace up and comfort Elsie." But Elsie was not to be comforted all at once, and the wheels of that evening drave rather heavily.
Next morning, as soon as her usual tasks were despatched, Clover ordered Marigold saddled and started for the Youngs'. Rose's last remarks had made her uneasy about Imogen, and she remembered with compunction how little she had seen of her for a fortnight past.
No one but Sholto, Lionel's great deerhound, came out to meet her as she dismounted at the door. His bark of welcome brought Ah Lee from the back of the house.
"Missee not velly well, me thinkee," he observed.
"Is Missy ill? Where is Mr. Young, then?"
"He go two hours ago to Uppey Valley. Missee not sick then."
"Is she in her room?" asked Clover. "Tie Marigold in the shade, please, and I will go in and see her."
The bed-room door was closed, and Clover tapped twice before she heard a languid "Come in." Imogen was lying on the bed in her morning-dress, with flushed cheeks and tumbled hair. She looked at Clover with a sort of perplexed surprise.
"My poor child, what is the matter? Have you a bad headache?"
"Yes, I think so, rather bad. I kept up till Lion had had his breakfast, and then everything seemed to go round, and I had to come and lie down. So stupid of me!" impatiently; "but I thought perhaps it would pass off after a little."
"And has it?" asked Clover, pulling off her gloves and taking Imogen's hand. It was chilly rather than hot, but the pulse seemed weak and quick. Clover began to feel anxious, but did her best to hide it under a cheerful demeanor lest she should startle Imogen.
"Were you quite well yesterday?" she asked.
"Yes,—that is, I wasn't ill. I had no headache then, but I think I haven't been quite right for some time back, and I tried to do some raspberries and felt very tired. I dare say it's only getting acclimated. I'm really very strong. Nothing ever was the matter with me at home."
"Now," said Clover, brightly, "I'll tell you what you are going to do; and that is to put on your wrapper, make yourself comfortable, and take a long sleep. I have come to spend the day, and I will give Lion his luncheon and see to everything if only you will lie still. A good rest would make you feel better, I am sure."
"Perhaps so," said Imogen, doubtfully. She was too miserable to object, and with a docility foreign to her character submitted to be undressed, to have her hair brushed and knotted up, and a bandage of cold water and eau de cologne laid on her forehead. This passive compliance was so unlike her that Clover felt her anxieties increase. "Matters must be serious," she reflected, "when Imogen Young agrees meekly to any proposal from anybody."
She settled her comfortably, shook up the pillows, darkened the window, threw a light shawl over her, and sat beside the bed fanning gently till Imogen fell into a troubled sleep. Then she stole softly away and busied herself in washing the breakfast things and putting the rooms to rights. The young mistress of the house had evidently felt unequal to her usual tasks, and everything was left standing just as it was.
Clover was recalled by a cry from the bedroom, and hurried back to find Imogen sitting up, looking confused and startled.
"What is it? Is anything the matter?" she demanded. Then, before Clover could reply, she came to herself and understood.
"Oh, it is you," she said. "What a comfort! I thought you were gone away."
"No, indeed, I have no idea of going away. I was just in the other room, straightening things out a little. It was settled that I was to stay to lunch and keep Lionel company, you remember."
"Ah, yes. It is very good of you, but I'm afraid there isn't much for luncheon," sinking back on her pillows again. "Ah Lee will know. I don't seem able to think clearly of anything." She sighed, and presently was asleep again, or seemed to be so, and Clover went back to her work.
So it went all day,—broken slumbers, confused wakings, increasing fever, and occasional moments of bewilderment. Clover was sure that it was a serious illness, and sent Lionel down with a note to say that either Geoff or Clarence must go in at once and bring out Dr. Hope, that she herself was a fixture at the other house for the night at least, and would like a number of things sent up, of which she inclosed a list. This note threw the family into a wild dismay. Life in the High Valley was only meant for well people, as Elsie had once admitted. Illness at once made the disadvantages of so lonely and inaccessible a place apparent,—with the doctor sixteen miles distant, and no medicines or other appliances of a sick-room to be had short of St. Helen's.
Dr. Hope reached them late in the evening. He pronounced that Imogen had an attack of "mountain fever," a milder sort of typhoid not uncommon in the higher elevations of Colorado. He hoped it would be a light case, gave full directions, and promised to send out medicines and to come again in three days. Then he departed, and Clover, as she watched him ride down the trail, felt as a shipwrecked mariner might, left alone on a desert island,—astray and helpless, and quite at a loss as to what first to do.
There were too many things to be done, however, to allow of her long indulging this feeling, and presently her wits cleared and she was able to confront the task before her with accustomed sense and steadiness. Imogen could not be left alone, that was evident; and it was equally evident that she herself was the person who must stay with her. Elsie could not be spared from her baby, and Geoffrey, beside being more especially interested in the Youngs, would be far more amenable and less refractory than Clarence at a curtailment of his domestic privileges. So, pluckily and reasonably, she "buckled to" the work so plainly set for her, established herself and her belongings in the spare chamber, gathered the reins of the household and the sick-room into her hands, and began upon what she knew might prove to be a long, hard bout of patience and vigilance, resolved to do her best each day as it came and let the next day take care of itself, minding nothing, no fatigue or homesickness or difficulty, if only Imogen could be properly cared for and get well.
After the first day or two matters fell into regular grooves. The attack proved a light one, as the doctor had hoped. Imogen was never actually in danger, but there was a good deal of weakness and depression, occasional wandering of mind, and always the low, underlying fever, not easily detected save by the clinical thermometer. In her semi-delirious moments she would ramble about Bideford and the people there, or hold Clover's hand tight, calling her "Isabel," and imploring her not to like "Mrs. Geoff" better than she liked her. It was the first glimpse that Clover had ever caught of this unhappy tinge of jealousy in Imogen's mind; it grieved her, but it also explained some things that had been perplexing, and she grew very pitiful and tender over the poor girl, away from home among strangers, and so ill and desolate.
The most curious thing about it all was the extraordinary preference which the patient showed for Clover above all her other nurses. If Euphane came to sit beside her, or Elsie, or even Lionel, while Clover took a rest, Imogen was manifestly uneasy and unhappy. She never said that she missed Clover, but lay watching the door with a strained, expectant look, which melted into relief as soon as Clover appeared. Then she would feebly move her fingers to lay hold of Clover's hand, and holding it fast, would fall asleep satisfied and content. It seemed as if the sense of comfort which Clover's appearance that first morning had given continued when she was not quite herself, and influenced her.
"It's queer how much better she likes you than any of the rest of us," Lionel said one day. Clover felt oddly pleased at this remark. It was a new experience to be preferred by Imogen Young, and she could not but be gratified.
"Though very likely," she told herself, "she will stiffen up again when she gets well; so I must be prepared for it, and not mind when it happens."
Meanwhile Imogen could not have been better cared for anywhere than she was in the High Valley. Clover had a natural aptitude for nursing. She knew by instinct what a sick person would like and dislike, what would refresh and what weary, what must be remembered and what avoided. Her inventive faculties also came into full play under the pressure of the little daily emergencies, when exactly the thing wanted was sure not to be at hand. It was quite wonderful how she devised substitutes for all sorts of deficiencies. Elsie, amazed at her cleverness, declared herself sure that if Dr. Hope were to say that a roc's egg was needful for Imogen's recovery, Clover would reply, as a matter of course, "Certainly,—I will send it up directly," and thereupon proceed to concoct one out of materials already in the house, which would answer as well as the original article and do Imogen just as much good. She cooked the nicest little sick-room messes, giving them variety by cunningly devised flavors, and she originated cooling drinks out of sago and arrowroot and tamarinds and fruit juices and ice, which Imogen would take when she refused everything else. Her lightness of touch and bright, equable calmness were unfailing. Dr. Hope said she would make the fortune of any ordinary hospital, and that she was so evidently cut out for a nurse that it seemed a clear subversion of the plans of Providence that she should ever have married,—a speech for which the doctor got little thanks from anybody, for Clover declared that she hated hospitals and sick folks, and never wanted to nurse anybody but the people she loved best, and then only when she couldn't help herself; while Geoffrey treated the facetious physician to the blackest of frowns, and privately confided to Elsie that the doctor, good fellow that he was, deserved a kicking, and he shouldn't mind being the one to administer it.
By the end of a fortnight the fever was conquered, and then began the slow process of building up exhausted strength, and fanning the dim spark of life once again into a generous flame. This is apt to be the most trying part of an illness to those who nurse; the excitement of anxiety and danger being past, the space between convalescence and complete recovery seems very wide, and hard to bridge over. Clover found it so. Imogen's strength came back slowly; all her old vigor and decision seemed lost; she was listless and despondent, and needed to be coaxed and encouraged and cheered as much as does an ailing child.
She did not "stiffen," however, as Clover had feared she might do; on the contrary, her dependence upon her favorite nurse seemed to increase, and on the days when she was most languid and hopeless she clung most to her. There was a wistful look in her eyes as they followed Clover in her comings and goings, and a new, tender tone in her voice when she spoke to her; but she said little, and after she was able to sit up just lay back in her chair and gazed at the mountains in a dreamy fashion for hours together.
"This will never do," Lionel declared. "We must hearten her up somehow," which he proceeded to do, after the blundering fashion of the ordinary man, by a series of thrilling anecdotes about cattle and their vagaries, refractory cows who turned upon their herders and "horned" them, and wild steers who chased mounted men, overtook and gored them; how Felipe was stampeded and Pepe just escaped with his life. The result of this "heartening," process was that Imogen, in her weak state, conceived a horror of ranch work, and passed the hours of his absence in a subdued agony of apprehension concerning him. He was very surprised and contrite when scolded by Clover.
"What shall I talk to her about, then?" he demanded ruefully. "I can't bear to see her sit so dull and silent. Poor Moggy! and cattle are the only subjects of conversation that we have up here."
"Talk about yourself and herself and the funny things that happened when you were little, and pet her all you can; but pray don't allude to horned animals of any kind. She's so quiet only because she is weak. Presently we shall see her brighten."
And so they did. With the first breath of autumn, full of cool sparkle and exhilaration, Imogen began to rally. Color stole back to her lips, vigor to her movements; each day she could do a little and a little more. Her first coming out to dinner was treated as a grand event. She was placed in a cushioned chair and served like a queen. Lionel was in raptures at seeing her in her old place, at the head of the table, "better than new," as he asserted; and certainly Imogen had never in her life been so pretty. They had cut her long hair during the illness because it was falling out so fast; the short rings round her face were very becoming, the sunburn of the summer had worn off and her complexion was delicately fair. Clover had dressed her in a loose jacket of pale-pink flannel which Elsie had fitted and made for her; it was trimmed with soft frills of lace, and knots of ribbon, and Geoff had brought up a half-opened tea rose which exactly matched it.
"I shall carry you home with me when I go," she told Imogen as she helped her undress. "You must come down and make us a good long visit. I can't and won't have you left alone up here, to keep the house and sit for hours every day imagining that Lionel is being gored by wild bulls."
"When you go?" repeated Imogen, in a dismayed tone; "but yes, of course you must go—what was I thinking of?"
"Not while you need me," said Clover, soothingly. "But you are nearly well now, and will soon be able to do everything for yourself."
"I am absolutely silly," said Imogen, with her eyes full of tears. "What extraordinary things fevers are! I declare, I am as bad as any child. It is absurd, but the mere idea of having to give you up makes me quite cold and miserable."
"But you won't have to give me up; we are going to be neighbors still, and see each other every day. And you won't be ill again, you know. You are acclimated now, Dr. Hope says."
"Yes—I hope so; I am sure I hope so. And yet, do you know, I almost think I would go through the fever all over again for the sake of having you take care of me!"
"Why, my dear child, what a thing to say! It's the greatest compliment I ever had in my life, but yet—"
"It's no compliment at all. I should never think of paying you compliments. I couldn't."
"That is sad for me. Compliments are nice things, I think."
Imogen suddenly knelt down and put her arms on Clover's lap as she sat by the window.
"I want to tell you something," she said in a broken voice. "I was so unjust when I came over,—so rude and unkind in my thoughts. You will hardly believe it, but I didn't like you!"
"I can believe it without any particular difficulty. Everybody can't like me, you know."
"Everybody ought to. You are simply the best, dearest, truest person I ever knew. Oh, I can't half say what you are, but I know! You have heaped coals of fire on my head. Perhaps that's the reason my hair has fallen off so," with a mirthless laugh. "I used to feel them burn and burn, on those nights when I lay all scorching up with fever, and you sat beside me so cool and sweet and patient. And there is more still. I was jealous because I fancied that Isabel liked you better than she did me. Did you ever suspect that?"
"Never till you were ill. Some little things that you muttered when you were not quite yourself put the idea into my head."
"I can't think why I was so idiotic about it. Of course she liked you best,—who wouldn't? How horrid it was in me to feel so! I used to try hard not to, but it was of no use; I kept on all the same."
"But you're not jealous now, I hope?"
"No, indeed," shaking her head. "The feeling seems all burnt out of me. If I am ever jealous again it will be just the other way, for fear you will care for her and not at all for me."
"I do believe you are making me a declaration of attachment!" cried Clover, amazed beyond expression at this outburst, but inexpressibly pleased. The stiff, reserved Imogen seemed transformed. Her face glowed with emotion, her words came in a torrent. She was altogether different from her usual self.
"Attachment! If I were not attached to you I should be the most ungrateful wretch going. Here you have stayed away from home all these weeks, and worked like a servant making me all those lovely lemon-squashes and things, and letting your own affairs go to wrack and ruin, and you never seemed to remember that you had any affairs, or that there was such a thing as getting tired,—never seemed to remember anything except to take care of me. You are an angel—there is nobody like you. I don't believe any one else in the world would have done what you did for a stranger who had no claim upon you."
"That is absurd," said Clover, frightened at the probable effect of all this excitement on her patient, and trying to treat the matter lightly. "You exaggerate things dreadfully. We all have a claim on each other, especially here in the Valley where there are so few of us. If I had been ill you would have turned to and helped to nurse me as I did you, I am sure."
"I shouldn't have known how."
"You would have learned how just as I did. Emergencies are wonderful teachers. Now, dear Imogen, you must get to bed. If you excite yourself like this you will have a bad night and be put back."
"Oh, I'll sleep. I promise you that I will sleep if only you will let me say just one more thing. I won't go on any more about the things you have done, though it's all true,—and I don't exaggerate in the least, for all that you say I do; but never mind that, only please tell me that you forgive me. I can't rest till you say that."
"For what,—for not liking me at first; for being jealous of Isabel? Both were natural enough, I think. Isabel was your dearest friend; and I was a new-comer, an interloper. I never meant to come between you, I am sure; but I daresay that I seemed to do so, and I can understand it all easily. There is no question of forgiving between us, dear, only of forgetting. We are friends now, and we will both love Isabel; and I will love you if you will let me, and you shall love me."
"How good you are!" exclaimed Imogen, as Clover bent over for a good-night kiss. She put her arms round Clover's neck and held her tight for a moment.
"Yes, indeed," she sighed. "I don't deserve it after my bad behavior, but I shall be only too glad if I may be your friend. I don't believe any other girl in the world has two so good as you and Isabel."
"Don't lie awake to think over our perfections," said Clover, as she withdrew with the candle. "Go to sleep, and remember that you are coming down to the Hut with me for a visit, whenever I go."
Dr. Hope, however, negatived this suggestion decidedly. He was an autocrat with his sick people, and no one dared dispute his decisions.
"What your young woman needs is to get away from the Valley for a while into lower air; and what you need is to have her go, and forget that you have been nursing her," he told Clover. "There is a look of tension about you both which is not the correct thing. She'll improve much faster at St. Helen's than here, and besides, I want her under my eye for a while. Mary shall send up an invitation to-morrow, and mind that you make her accept it."
So the next day came the most cordial of notes from Mrs. Hope, asking Imogen to spend a fortnight with her.
"Dr. Hope wishes to consider you his patient a little longer," she wrote, "and says the lower level will do you good; and I want you as much as he does for other reasons. St. Helen's is rather empty just now, in this betwixt-and-between season, and a visitor will be a real God-send to me. I am so afraid that you will be disobliging, and say 'No,' that I have made the doctor put it in the form of a prescription; and please tell Clover that we count upon her to see that you begin to take the remedy without delay."
And sure enough, on the doctor's prescription paper, with the regular appeal to Jupiter which heads all prescriptions, a formula was enclosed setting forth with due professional precision that Miss Imogen Young was to be put in a carryall, "well shaken" on the way down, and taken in fourteen daily doses in the town of St. Helen's. "Immediate."
"How very good of them!" said Imogen. "Everybody is so wonderfully good to me! I think America must be the kindest country in the world!"
She made no difficulty about accepting the invitation, and resigned herself to the will of her friends with a docility that was astonishing to everybody except Clover, who was in the secret of her new-born resolves. They packed her things at once, and Lionel drove her down to St. Helen's the very day after the reception of Mrs. Hope's note. Imogen parted from the sisters with a warm embrace, but she clung longest to Clover.
"You will let me come for a night or two when I return, before I settle again at home, won't you?" she said. "I shall be half-starved to see you, and a mile is a goodish bit to get over when you're not strong."
"Why, of course," said Clover, delighted. "We shall count on it, and Lion has promised to stay with us all the time you are away."
"I do think that girl has experienced a change of heart," remarked Elsie, as they turned to go in-doors. "She seems really fond of you, and almost fond of me. It is no wonder, I am sure, so far as you are concerned, after all you have done for her. I never supposed she could look so pretty or come so near being agreeable as she does now. Evidently mountain-fever is what the English emigrant of the higher classes needs to thaw him out and attune him to American ways. It's a pity they can't all be inoculated with it on landing.
"Now, Clovy,—my dear, sweet old Clovy,—what fun it is to have you at home again!" she went on, giving her sister a rapturous embrace. "I wouldn't mention it so long as you had to be away, but I have missed you horribly. 'There's no luck about the house' when you are not in it. We have all been out of sorts,—Geoff quite down in the mouth, little Geoff not at all contented with me as a mother; even Euphane has worn a long face and exhibited a tendency to revert to the Isle of Man, which she never showed so long as you were to the fore. As for me, I have felt like a person with one lung, or half a head,—all broken up, and unlike myself. Oh, dear! how good it is to get you back, and be able to consult you and look at you! Come upstairs at once, and unpack your things, and we will play that you have never been away, and that the last month is nothing but a disagreeable dream from which we have waked up."
"It is delightful to get back," admitted Clover; "still the month has had its nice side, too. Imogen is so sweet and grateful and demonstrative that it would astonish you. She is like a different girl. I really think she has grown to love me."
"I should say that nothing was more probable. But don't let's talk of Imogen now. I want you all to myself."
The day had an ending as happy as unexpected. This was the letter that Lionel Young brought back that evening from Johnnie at Burnet:—
DEAREST SISTERS,—What do you think has happened? Something as enchanting as it is surprising! I wrote you about Dorry's having the grippe; but I would not tell you what a serious affair it was, because you were all so anxious and occupied about Miss Young that I did not like to add to your worries more than I could help. He was pretty ill for nearly a week; and though on the mend now, he is much weakened and run down, and papa, I can see, considers him still in a poor way. There is no chance of his being able to go back to the works for a couple of months yet, and we were casting about as to the best way of giving him a change of air, when, last night, came a note from Mr. Dayton to say that he has to take a business run to Salt Lake, with a couple of his directors, and there are two places in car 47 at our service if any of us still care to make the trip to Colorado, late as it is. We had to answer at once, and we took only ten minutes to make up our minds. Dorry and I are to start for Chicago to-morrow, and will be with you on Thursday if all goes well,—and for a good long visit, as the company have given Dorry a two months' vacation. We shall come back like common folks at our own charges, which is an unusual extravagance for the Carr family; but papa says sickness is a valid reason for spending money, while mere pleasure isn't. He thinks the journey will be the very thing for Dorry. It has all come so suddenly that I am quite bewildered in my mind. I don't at all like going away and leaving papa alone; but he is quite decided about it, and there is just the bare chance that Katy may run out for a week or two, so I am going to put my scruples in my pocket, and take the good the gods provide, prepared to be very happy. How perfectly charming it will be to see you all! Somehow I never pined for you and the valley so much as I have of late. It was really an awful blow when the August plan came to nothing, but Fate is making amends. Thursday! only think of it! You will just have time to put towels in our rooms and fill the pitchers before we are there. I speak for the west corner one in the guest cabin, which I had last year. Our dear love to you all.
Your affectionate JOHNNIE.
P.S. Please tell Mr. Young how happy we are that his sister is recovering.
"This is too delicious!" said Elsie, when she had finished reading this letter. "Dorry, who never has been here, and John, and for October, when we so rarely have anybody! I think it is a sort of 'reward of merit' for you, Clover, for taking such good care of Imogen Young."
"It's a most delightful one if it is. I half wish now that we hadn't asked Lion to stay while his sister is gone. He's a dear good fellow, but it would be nicer to have the others quite to ourselves, don't you think so?"
"Clover dear," said Elsie, looking very wise and significant, "did it never occur to you that there might be a little something like a sentiment or tenderness between John and Lionel? Are you sure that she would be so thoroughly pleased if we sent him off and kept her to ourselves?"
"Certainly not. I never thought of such a thing."
"You never do think of such things. I am much sharper about them than you are, and I have observed a tendency on the part of Miss John to send messages to that young man in her letters, and always in postscripts. Mark that, postscripts! There is something very suspicious in postscripts, and he invariably blushes immensely when I deliver them."
"You are a great deal too sharp," responded Clover, laughing. "You see through millstones that don't exist. It would be very nice if it were so, but it isn't. I don't believe a word about your postscripts and blushes; you've imagined it all."
"Some people are born stupid in these directions," retorted Elsie. "I'll bet you Phillida's back-hair against the first tooth that Geoffy loses that I am right."
THE ECHOES IN THE EAST CANYON.
LIONEL certainly did redden when Johnnie's message was delivered to him. The quick-eyed Elsie noted it and darted a look at Clover, but Clover only shook her head slightly in return. Each sister adhered to her own opinion.
They were very desirous that the High Valley should make a favorable impression on Dorry, for it was his first visit to them. The others had all been there except Katy, and she had seen Cheyenne and St. Helen's, but to Dorry everything west of the Mississippi was absolutely new. He was a very busy person in these days, and quite the success of the Carr family in a moneyed point of view. The turn for mechanics which he exhibited in boyhood had continued, and determined his career. Electrical science had attracted his attention in its earlier, half-developed stages; he had made a careful study of it, and qualified himself for the important position which he held under the company, which was fast revolutionizing the lighting and street-car system of Burnet, now growing to be a large manufacturing centre. This was doing well for a young fellow not quite twenty-five, and his family were very proud of him. He was too valuable to his employers to be easily spared, and except for the enforced leisure of the grippe it might probably have been years before he felt free to make his sisters in Colorado a visit, in which case nothing would have happened that did happen.
"Dear, steady old Sobersides!" said Elsie, as she spread a fresh cover over the shelf which did duty for a bureau in the Bachelors' Room; "I wonder what he will think of it all. I'm afraid he will be scandalized at our scrambling ways, and our having no regular church, and consider us a set of half-heathen Bohemians."
"I don't believe it. Dorry has too much good sense, and has seen too much of the world among business men to be easily shocked. And our little Sunday service is very nice, I think; Geoff reads so reverently,—and for sermons, we have our pick of the best there are."
"I know, and I like them dearly myself; but I seem to feel that Dorry will miss the pulpit and sitting in a regular pew. He's rather that sort of person, don't you think?"
"You are too much inclined to laugh at Dorry," said Clover, reprovingly, "and he doesn't deserve it of you. He's a thoroughly good, sensible fellow, and has excellent abilities, papa says,—not brilliant, but very sound. I don't like to have you speak so of him."
"Why, Clovy—my little Clovy, I almost believe you are scolding me! Let me look at you,—yes, there's quite a frown on your forehead, and your mouth has the firm look of grandpapa Carr's daguerreotype. I'll be good,—really I will. Don't fire again,—I've 'come down' like the coon in the anecdote. Dorry's a dear, and you are another, and I'm ever so glad he's coming; but really, it's not in human nature not to laugh at the one solemn person in a frivolous family like ours, now is it?"
"See that you behave yourself, then, and I'll not scold you any more," replied Clover, magisterially, and ignoring the last question. She marred the effect of her lecture by kissing Elsie as she spoke; but it was hard to resist the temptation, Elsie was so droll and coaxing, and so very pretty.
They expected to find Dorry still something of an invalid, and made preparations accordingly; but there was no sign of debility in his jump from the carriage or his run up the steps to greet them. He was a little thinner than usual, but otherwise seemed quite himself.
"It's the air," explained Johnnie, "this blessed Western air! He was forlorn when we left Burnet, and so tired when we got to Chicago; but after that he improved with every mile, and when we reached Denver this morning he seemed fresher than when we started. I do think Colorado air the true elixir of life."
"It is quite true, what she says. I feel like a different man already," added Dorry. "Clover, you look a little pulled down yourself. Was it nursing Miss What's-her-name?"
"I'm all right. Another day or two will quite rest me. I came home only day before yesterday, you see. How delicious it is to have you both here! Dorry dear, you must have some beef-tea directly,—Euphane has a little basin of it ready,—and dinner will be in about an hour."
"Beef-tea! What for? I don't need anything of the sort, I assure you. Roast mutton, which I seem to smell in the distance, is much more in my line. I want to look about and see your house. What do you call that snow-peak over there? This is a beautiful place of yours, I declare."
"Papa would open his eyes if he could see him," remarked Johnnie, confidentially, when she got her sisters to herself a little later. "It's like a miracle the way he has come up. He was so dragged and miserable and so very cross only three days ago. Now, you dear things, let me look at you both. Are you quite well? How are the brothers-in-law? Where are the babies, and what have you done with Miss Young?"
"The brothers-in-law are all right. They will be back presently. There is a round-up to-day, which was the reason we sent Isadore in with the carriage; no one else could be spared. The babies are having their supper,—you will see them anon,—and Imogen has gone for a fortnight to St. Helen's."
"Oh!" Johnnie turned aside and began to take down her hair. "Mr. Young is with her, I suppose."
"No, indeed, he is here, and staying with us. You will see him at dinner."
"Oh!" said Johnnie again. There was a difference between these two "ohs," which Elsie's quick ear detected.
"Please unlock that valise," went on Johnnie, "and take out the dress on top. This I have on is too dreadfully dusty to be endured."
Joanna Carr had grown up very pretty; many people considered her the handsomest of the four sisters. Taller than any of them except Katy, and of quite a different build, large, vigorous, and finely formed, she had a very white skin, hair of pale bronze-brown, and beautiful velvety dark eyes with thick curling lashes. She had a turn for dress too, and all colors suited her. The woollen gown of cream-yellow which she now put on seemed exactly what was needed to throw up the tints of her hair and complexion; but she would look equally well on the morrow in blue. With quick accustomed fingers she whisked her pretty locks into a series of artlessly artful loops, with little blowing rings about the forehead, and stuck a bow in here and a pin there, talking all the time, and finally caught little Phillida up in her strong young arms, and ran downstairs just in time to greet the boys as they dismounted at the door, and shake hands demurely with Lionel Young, who came with them. All three had raced down from the very top of the Upper Valley at breakneck speed, to be in time to welcome the travellers.
There is always one moment, big with fate, when processes begin to take place; when the first fine needle of crystallization forms in the transparent fluid; when the impulse of the jellying principle begins to work on the fruit-juice, and the frost principle to inform the water atoms. These fateful moments are not always perceptible to our dull apprehensions, but none the less do they exist; and they are apt to take us by surprise, because we have not detected the fine gradual chain of preparation which has made ready for them.
I think one of these fateful moments occurred that evening, as Lionel Young held Joanna Carr's hand, and his straight-forward English eyes poured an ardent beam of welcome into hers. They had seen a good deal of each other two years before, but neither was prepared to be quite so glad to meet again. They did not pause to analyze or classify their feelings,—people rarely do when they really feel; but from that night their attitude toward each other was changed, and the change became more apparent with every day that followed.
As these days went on, bright, golden days, cloudless, and full of the zest and snap of the nearing cold, Dorry grew stronger and stronger. So well did he feel that after the first week or so he began to allude to himself as quite recovered, and to show an ominous desire to get back to his work; but this suggestion was promptly scouted by everybody, especially by John, who said she had come for six weeks at least, and six weeks at least she should stay,—and as much longer as she could; and that Dorry as her escort must stay too, no matter how well he might feel.
"Besides," she argued, "there's all your life before you in which to dig away at dynamos and things, and you may never be in Colorado again. You wouldn't have the heart to disappoint Clover and Elsie and hurry back, when there's no real necessity. They are so pleased to have a visit from you."
"Oh, I'll stay! I'll certainly stay," said Dorry. "You shall have your visit out, John; only, when a fellow feels as perfectly well as I do, it seems ridiculous for him to be sitting round with his hands folded, taking a mountain cure which he doesn't need."
Autumn is the busiest season for cattlemen everywhere, which made it the more singular that Lionel Young should manage to find so much time for sitting and riding with Johnnie, or taking her to walk up the steepest and loneliest canyons. They were together in one way or another half the day at least; and during the other half Johnnie's face wore always a pre-occupied look, and was dreamily happy and silent. Even Clover began to perceive that something unusual was in the air, something that seemed a great deal too good to be true. She and Elsie held conferences in private, during which they hugged each other, and whispered that "If! whenever!—if ever!— Papa would surely come out and live in the Valley. He never could resist three of his girls all at once." But they resolved not to say one word to Johnnie, or even look as if they suspected anything, lest it should have a discouraging effect.
"It never does to poke your finger into a bird's nest," observed Elsie, with a sapient shake of the head. "The eggs always addle if you do, or the young birds refuse to hatch out; and of course in the case of turtle-doves it would be all the more so. 'Lay low, Bre'r Fox,' and wait for what happens. It all promises delightfully, only I don't see exactly, supposing this ever comes to anything, how Imogen Young is to be disposed of."
"We won't cross that bridge till we come to it," said Clover; but all the same she did cross it in her thoughts many times. It is not in human nature to keep off these mental bridges.
At the end of the fortnight Imogen returned in very good looks and spirits; and further beautified by a pretty autumn dress of dark blue, which Mrs. Hope had persuaded her to order, and over the making of which she herself had personally presided. It fitted well, and set off to admiration the delicate pink and white of Imogen's skin, while the new warmth of affection which had come into her manner was equally becoming.
"Why didn't you say what a pretty girl Miss Young was?" demanded Dorry the very first evening.
"I don't know, I'm sure. She looks better than she did before she was ill, and she's very nice and all that, but we never thought of her being exactly pretty."
"I can't think why; she is certainly much better-looking than that Miss Chase who was here the other day. I should call her decidedly handsome; and she seems easy to get on with too."
"Isn't it odd?" remarked Elsie, as she retailed this conversation to Clover. "Imogen never seemed to me so very easy to get on with, and Dorry never before seemed to find it particularly easy to get on with any girl. I suppose they happen to suit, but it is very queer that they should. People are always surprising you in that way."
What with John's recently developed tendency to disappear into canyons with Lionel Young, with the boys necessarily so occupied, and their own many little tasks and home duties, there had been moments during the fortnight when Clover and Elsie had found Dorry rather heavy on their hands. He was not much of a reader except in a professional way, and still less of a horseman; so the two principal amusements of the Valley counted for little with him, and they feared he would feel dull, or fancy himself neglected. With the return of Imogen these apprehensions were laid at rest. Dorry, if left alone, promptly took the trail in the direction of the "Hutlet," returning hours afterward looking beaming and contented, to casually mention by way of explanation that he had been reading aloud to Miss Young, or that he and Miss Young had been taking a walk.
"It's remarkably convenient," Elsie remarked one evening; "but it's just as remarkably queer. What can they find to say to each other do you suppose?"
If Dorry had not been Dorry, besides being her brother, she would probably have arrived at a conclusion about the matter much sooner than she did. Quick people are too apt to imagine that slow people have nothing to say, or do not know how to say it when they have; while all the time, for slow and quick alike, there is the old, old story for each to tell in his own way, which makes the most halting lips momentarily eloquent, and which both to speaker and listener seems forever new, fresh, wonderful, and inexhaustibly interesting.
In a retired place like the High Valley intimacies flourish with wonderful facility and quickness. A month in such a place counts for more than half a year amid the confusions and interruptions of the city. Dorry had been struck by Imogen that first evening. He had never got on very well with girls, or known much about them; there was a delightful novelty in his present sensations. There was not a word as to the need of getting back to business after she dawned on his horizon. Quite the contrary. Two weeks, three, four went by; the original limit set for the visit was passed, the end of his holiday drew near, and still he stayed on contentedly, and every day devoted himself more and more to Imogen Young.
She, on her part, was puzzled and fluttered, but not unhappy. She was quite alive to Dorry's merits; he was her first admirer, and it was a new and agreeable feature of life to have one, "like other girls," as she told herself. Lionel was too much absorbed in his own affairs to notice or interfere; so the time went on, and the double entanglement wound itself naturally and happily to its inevitable conclusion.
It was in the beautiful little ravine to the east, which Clover had named "Penstamen Canyon," from the quantity of those flowers which grew there, that Dorry made his final declaration. There were no penstamens in the valley now, no yuccas or columbines, only a few belated autumn crocuses and the scarlet berried mats of kinnikinick remained; but the day was as golden-bright as though it were still September.
"We have known each other only four weeks," said Dorry, going straight to the point in his usual direct fashion; "and if I were going to stay on I should think I had no right, perhaps, to speak so soon,—for your sake, mind, not for my own; I could not be surer about my feelings for you if we had been acquainted for years. But I have to go away before long, back to my home and my work, and I really cannot go without speaking. I must know if there is any chance for me."
"I like you very much," said Imogen, demurely.
"Do you? Then perhaps one day you might get to like me better still. I'd do all that a man could to make you happy if you would, and I think you'd like Burnet to live in. It's a big place, you know, with all the modern improvements,—not like this, which, pretty as it is, would be rather lonely in the winters, I should think. There are lots of nice people in Burnet, and there's Johnnie, whom you already know, and my father,—you'd be sure to like my father."
"Oh, don't go on in this way, as if it were only for the advantages of the change that I should consent. It would be for quite different reasons, if I did." Then, after a short pause, she added, "I wonder what they will say at Bideford."
It was an indirect yes, but Dorry understood that it was yes.
"Then you'll think of it? You don't refuse me? Imogen, you make me very happy."
Dorry did look happy; and as bliss is beautifying, he looked handsome as well. His strong, well-knit figure showed to advantage in the rough climbing-suit which he wore; his eyes sparkled and beamed as he looked at Imogen.
"May I talk with Lionel about it?" he asked, persuasively. "He represents your father over here, you know."
"Yes, I suppose so." She blushed a little, but looked frankly up at Dorry. "Poor Lion! it's hard lines for him, and I feel guilty at the idea of deserting him so soon; but I know your sisters will be good to him, and I can't help being glad that you care for me. Only there's one thing I must say to you, Theodore [no one since he was baptized had ever called Dorry 'Theodore' till now!], for I don't want you to fancy me nicer than I really am. I was horribly stiff and prejudiced when I first came out. I thought everything American was inferior and mistaken, and all the English ways were best; and I was nasty,—yes, really very nasty to your sisters, especially dear Clover. I have learned her worth now, and I love her and America, and I shall love it all the better for your sake; but all the same, I shall probably disappoint you sometimes, and be stiff and impracticable and provoking, and you will need to have patience with me: it's the price you must pay if you marry an English wife,—this particular English wife, at least."
"It's a price that I'll gladly pay," cried Dorry, holding her hand tight. "Not that I believe a word you say; but you are the dearest, truest, honestest girl in the world, and I love you all the better for being so modest about yourself. For me, I'm just a plain, sober sort of fellow. I never was bright like the others, and there's nothing in the least 'subtle' or hard to understand about me; but I don't believe I shall make the worse husband for that. It's only in French novels that dark, inscrutable characters are good for daily use."
"Indeed, I don't want an inscrutable husband. I like you much better as you are." Then, after a happy pause, "Isabel Templestowe—she's Geoff's sister, you know, and my most intimate friend at home—predicted that I should marry over here, but I never supposed I should. It didn't seem likely that any one would want me, for I'm not pretty or interesting, like your sisters, you know."
"Oh, I say!" cried Dorry, "haven't I been telling you that you interest me more than any one in the world ever did before? I never saw a girl whom I considered could hold a candle to you,—certainly not one of my own sisters. You don't think your people at home will make any objections, do you?"
"No, indeed; they'll be very pleased to have me settled, I should think. There are a good many of us at home, you know."
Meanwhile, a little farther up the same canyon, but screened from observation by a projecting shoulder of rock, another equally satisfactory conversation was going on between another pair of lovers. Johnnie and Lionel had strolled up there about an hour before Dorry and Imogen arrived. They had no idea that any one else was in the ravine.
"I think I knew two years ago that I cared more for you than any one else," Lionel was saying.
"Did you? Perhaps the faintest suspicion of such a thing occurred to me too."
"I used to keep thinking about you at odd minutes all day, when I was working over the cattle and everything, and I always thought steadily about you at night when I was falling asleep."
"Very strange, certainly."
"And the moment you came and I saw you again, it flashed upon me what it meant; and I perceived that I had been desperately in love with you all along without knowing it."
"Don't tease me, darling Johnnie,—no, Joan; I like that better than Johnnie. It makes me think of Joan d'Arc. I shall call you that, may I?"
"How can I help it? You have a big will of your own, as I always knew. Only don't connect me with the ark unless you spell it, and don't call me Jonah."
"Never! He was the prophet of evil, and you are the good genius of my life."
"I'm not sure whether I am or not. It plunges you into all sorts of embarrassments to think of marrying me. Neither of us has any money. You'll have to work hard for years before you can afford a wife,—and then there's your sister to be considered."
"I know. Poor Moggy! But she came out for my sake. She will probably be only too glad to get home again whenever—other arrangements are possible. Will you wait a while for me, my sweet?"
"I don't mind if I do."
"How long will you wait?"
"Shall we say ten years?"
"Ten years! By Jove, no! We'll say no such thing! But eighteen months,—we'll fix it at eighteen months, or two years at farthest. I can surely fetch it in two years."
"Very well, then; I'll wait two years with pleasure."
"I don't ask you to wait with pleasure! That's carrying it a little too far!"
"I don't seem able to please you, whatever I say," remarked Johnnie, pretending to pout.
"Please me, darling Joan! You please me down to the ground, and you always did! But if you'll wait two years,—not with pleasure, but with patience and resignation,—I'll buckle to with a will and earn my happiness. Your father won't be averse, will he?"
"Poor papa! Yes, he is very averse to having his girls marry, but he's somewhat hardened to it. I'm the last of the four, you know, and I think he would give his blessing to you rather than any one else, because you would bring me out here to live near the others. Perhaps he will come too. It is the dream of Clover's and Elsie's lives that he should."
"That would be quite perfect for us all."
"You say that to please me, I know, but you will say it with all your heart if ever it happens, for my father is the sweetest man in the world, and the wisest and most reasonable. You will love him dearly. He has been father and mother and all to us children. And there's my sister Katy,—you will love her too."
"I have seen her once, you remember."
"Yes; but you can't find Katy out at once,—there is too much of her. Oh, I've ever so many nice relations to give you. There's Ned Worthington; he's a dear,—and Cousin Helen. Did I ever tell you about her? She's a terrible invalid, you know, almost always confined to her bed or sofa, and yet she has been one of the great influences of our lives,—a sort of guardian angel, always helping and brightening and cheering us all, and starting us in right directions. Oh, you must know her. I can't think how you ever will, for of course she can never come to Colorado; but somehow it shall be managed. Now tell me about your people. How many are there of you?"
"Eleven, and I scarcely remember my oldest brother, he went away from home so long ago. Jim was my chum,—he's no end of a good fellow. He's in New Zealand now. And Beatrice—that's the next girl to Imogen—is awfully nice too, and there are one or two jolly ones among the smaller kids. Oh, you'll like them all, especially my mother. We'll go over some day and make them a visit."
"That will be nice; but we shall have to wait till we grow rich before we can take such a long journey. Lion, do you think by-and-by we could manage to build another house, or move your cabin farther down the Valley? I want to live nearer Clover and Elsie. You'll have to be away a good deal, of course, as the other boys are, and a mile is 'a goodish bit,' as Imogen would say. It would make all the difference in the world if I had the sisters close at hand to 'put my lips to when so dispoged.'"
"Why, of course we will. Geoff built the Hutlet, you know; I didn't put any money into it. I chose the position because—well, the view was good, and I didn't know how Moggy would hit it off with the rest, you understand. I thought she might do better a little farther away; but with you it's quite different of course. I dare say the Hutlet could be moved; I'll talk to Geoff about it."
"I don't care how simple it is, so long as it is near the others," went on Johnnie. "It's easy enough to make a simple house pretty and nice. I am so glad that your house is in this valley, Lion."
A little pause ensued.
"What was that?" asked Johnnie, suddenly.
"That sound? It seemed to come from down the canyon. Such a very odd echo, if it was an echo!"
"What kind of a sound? I heard nothing."
"Voices, I should say, if it were not quite impossible that it could be voices,—very low and hushed, as if a ghost were confabulating with another ghost about a quarter of a mile away."
"Oh, that must be just a fancy," protested Lionel. "There isn't a living soul within a mile of us."
And at the same moment Dorry, a couple of hundred feet distant, was remarking to Imogen:—
"These canyons do have the most extraordinary echoes. There's the strangest cooing and sibilating going on above."
"Wood pigeons, most probably; there are heaps of them hereabout."
Presently the pair from above, slowly climbing down the ravine hand-in-hand, came upon the pair below, just rising from their seat to go home. There was a mutual consternation in the four countenances comical to behold.
"You here!" cried Imogen.
"And you here!" retorted Lionel. "Why, we never suspected it. What brought you up?—and Carr, too, I declare!"
"Why—oh—it's a pretty place," stammered Imogen. "Theodore—Mr. Carr, I mean— Now, Lionel, what are you laughing at?"
"Nothing," said her brother, composing his features as best he could; "only it's such a very odd coincidence, you know."
"Very odd indeed," remarked Dorry, gravely. The four looked at one another solemnly and questioningly, and then—it was impossible to help it—all four laughed.
"By Jove!" cried Lionel, between his paroxysms, "I do believe we have all come up here on the same errand!"
"I dare say we have," remarked Dorry; "there were some extremely queer echoes that came down to us from above."
"Not a bit queerer, I assure you, than some which floated up to us from below," retorted Johnnie, recovering her powers of speech.
"We thought it was doves."
"And we were sure it was ghosts,—affectionate ghosts, you know, on excellent terms with each other."
"Young, I want a word with you," said Dorry, drawing Lionel aside.
"And I want a word with you."
"And I want several words with you," cried Johnnie, brightly, putting her arm through Imogen's. She looked searchingly at her.
"I'm going to be your sister," she said; "I've promised Lionel. Are you going to be mine?"
"Yes,—I've promised Theodore—"
"Theodore!" cried Johnnie, with a world of admiration in her voice. "Oh, you mean Dorry. We never call him that, you know."
"Yes, I know, but I prefer Theodore. Dorry seems a childish sort of name for a grown man. Do you mean to say that you are coming out to the Valley to live?"
"Yes, by-and-by, and you will come to Burnet; we shall just change places. Isn't it nice and queer?"
"It is a sort of double-barrelled International Alliance," declared Lionel. "Now let us go down and astonish the others."
The others were astonished indeed. They were prepared for Johnnie's confession, but had so little thought of Dorry's that for some time he and Imogen stood by unheeded, waiting their turn at explanation.
"Why, Dorry," cried Elsie at last, "why are you standing on one side like that with Miss Young? You don't look as surprised as you ought. Did you hear the news before we did? Imogen dear,—it isn't such good news for you as for us."
"Oh, yes, indeed it is. I am quite as happy in it as you can be."
"Ladies and gentlemen," cried Lionel, who was in topping spirits and could not be restrained, "this shrinking pair also have a tale to tell. It is a case of 'change partners all round and down the middle.' Let me introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Theo—"
"Lion, you wretched boy, stop!" interrupted Johnnie. "That's not at all the right way to do it. Let me introduce them. Friends and countrymen, allow the echoes of the Upper East Canyon to present to your favorable consideration the echoes of the Lower East Canyon. We've all been sitting up there, 'unbeknownst,' within a few feet of each other, and none of us could account for the mysterious noises that we heard, till we all started to come home, and met each other on the way down."
"What kind of noises?" demanded Elsie, in a suffocated voice.
"Oh, cooings and gurglings and soft murmurs of conversation and whisperings. It was very unaccountable indeed, very!"
"Dorry," said Elsie, next day when she chanced to be alone with him, "Would you mind if I asked you rather an impertinent question? You needn't answer if you don't want to; but what was it that first put it into your head to fall in love with Imogen Young? I'm very glad that you did, you understand. She will make you a capital wife, and I'm going to be very fond of her,—but still, I should just like to know."
"I don't know that I could tell you if I tried," replied her brother. "How can a man explain that sort of thing? I fell in love because I was destined to fall in love, I suppose. I liked her at the start, and thought her pretty, and all that; and she seemed kind of lonely and left out among you all. And then she's a quiet sort of girl, you know, not so ready at talk as most, or so quick to pick at a fellow or trip him up. I've always been the slow one in our family, you see, and by way of a change it's rather refreshing to be with a woman who isn't so much brighter than I am. The rest of you jump at an idea and off it again while I'm gathering my wits together to see that there is an idea. Imogen doesn't do that, and it rather suits me that she shouldn't. You're all delightful, and I'm very fond of you, I'm sure; but for a wife I think I like some one more like myself."
"Of all the droll explanations that I ever heard, that is quite the drollest," said Elsie to her husband afterward. "The idea of a man's falling in love with a woman because she's duller than his own sisters! Nobody but Dorry would ever have thought of it."
A DOUBLE KNOT.
THE next few days in the High Valley were too full of excitement and discussions to be quite comfortable for anybody. Imogen was seized with compunctions at leaving Lionel without a housekeeper, and proposed to Dorry that their wedding should be deferred till the others were ready to be married also,—a suggestion to which Dorry would not listen for a moment. There were long business-talks between the ranch partners as to hows and whens, letters to be written, and innumerable confabulations between the three sisters, in which Imogen took part, for she counted as a fourth sister now. Clover and Elsie listened and planned and advised, and found their chief difficulty to consist in hiding and keeping in the background their unfeigned and flattering joy over the whole arrangement. It made matters so delightfully easy all round to have Imogen engaged to Dorry, and it was so much to their own individual advantage to exchange her for Johnnie that they really dared not express their delight too openly.
The great question with all was how papa would take the announcement, and whether he could be induced to carry out his half promise of leaving Burnet and coming to live with them in the Valley. They waited anxiously for his reply to the letters. It came by telegraph two days before they had dared to hope for it, and was as follows:—
God bless you all four! Genesis xliii. 14. P. CARR.
This Biblical addition nearly broke John's heart. Her sisters had to comfort her with all manner of hopeful auguries and promises.
"He'll be glad enough over it in time," they told her. "Think what it would have been if you had been going to marry a Californian, or a man with an orange plantation in Florida. He'll see that it's all for the best as soon as he gets out here, and he must come. Johnnie, you must never let him off. Don't take 'no' for an answer. It is so important to us all that he should consent."
They primed her with persuasive messages and arguments, and both Clover and Elsie wrote him a long letter on the subject. On the very eve of the departure came a second telegram. Telegrams were not every-day things in the High Valley, the nearest "wire" being at the Ute Hotel five miles away; and the arrival of the messenger on horseback created a momentary panic.
This telegram was also from Dr. Carr. It was addressed to Johnnie,—
Following just received: "Miss Inches died to-day of pneumonia." No particulars. P. CARR.
It was a great shock to poor Johnnie. She and "Mamma Marian," as she still called her god-mother, had been warm friends always; they corresponded regularly; Johnnie had made her several long visits at Inches Mills, and she had written to her among the first with the news of her engagement.
"She never got it. She never will know about Lionel," she kept repeating mournfully. "And now I can never tell her about any of my plans, and she would have been so pleased and interested. She always cared so much for what I cared about, and I hoped she would come out here for a long visit some day, and see you all. Oh dear, oh dear! what a sad ending to our happy time!"
"Not an ending, only an interruption," put in the comforting Clover. But John for a time could not be consoled, and the party broke up under a cloud, literal as well as metaphorical, for the first snow-storm was drifting over the plain as they drove down the pass, the melting flakes instantly drunk up by the sand; all the soft blue of distance had vanished, and a gray mist wrapped the mountain tops. The High Valley was in temporary eclipse, its brightness and sparkle put by for the moment.
But nothing could long eclipse the sunshine of such youthful hearts and hopes. Before long John's letters grew cheerful again, and presently she wrote to announce a wonderful piece of news.
"Something very strange has happened," she began. "I am an heiress! It is just like the girls in books! Yesterday came a letter from a firm of lawyers in Boston with a long document enclosed. It was an extract from Mamma Marian's will; and only think,—she has left me a legacy of thirty thousand dollars! Dear thing! and she never knew about my engagement either, or how wonderfully it was going to help in our plans. She just did it because she loved me. 'To Joanna Inches Carr, my namesake and child by affection,' the will says; and I think it pleases me as much as having the money. That frightens me a little, it seems so much. At first I did not like to take it, and felt as if I might be robbing some one else; but papa says that she had no very near relations, and that I need not hesitate. Oh, my darling Clover, is it not wonderful? Now Lion and I need not wait two years, unless he prefers it, and can just go on and make our plans happily to suit ourselves and all of you,—and I shall love to think that we owe it all to dear Mamma Marian; only it will be a sore spot always that she never got the letter telling of our engagement. It came just after she died, and they returned it to me.
"Ned has his orders at last. He goes to sea in April, and Katy writes to papa that she will come and spend a year with him if he likes, while Ned is away. But papa won't be here. He has quite decided, I think, to leave Burnet and make his home for the future with us in the High Valley. Three different physicians have already offered to buy out his practice, and it is arranged that Dorry shall rent the old house of him, and the furniture too, except the books and a few special things which papa wishes to keep. He is going to write to you about the building of what he is pleased to call 'a separate shanty;' but please don't let the shanty be really separate; he must be in with all of us somehow, or we shall never be satisfied. Did Lionel decide to move the Hutlet? Of course Katy will spend her year in the Valley instead of Burnet. I am beginning to get my little trousseau together, and have set up a 'wedding bureau' to put the things in; but it is no fun at all without any sisters at home to help and sympathize. I am the only one who has had to get ready to be married all by herself. If Katy were not coming in two months I should be quite desperate. The chief thing on my mind is how to arrange about the two weddings with the family so scattered as it is."
This difficulty was settled by Clover a little later. Both the weddings she proposed should take place in the Valley.
"It is a case of Mahomet and mountain," she wrote. "Look at it dispassionately. You and papa and Katy and Dorry have got to come out here any way,—the rest of us are here; and it is clearly impossible that all of us should go on to Burnet to see you married,—though if you persist some of us will, inconvenient and expensive as it would be. But just consider what a picturesque and romantic place the Valley is for a wedding, with the added advantage that you would be absolutely the first people who were ever married in it since the creation of the world! I won't say what may happen in the remote future, for Rose Red writes that she is going to change its name and call it henceforward 'The Ararat Valley,' not only because it contains 'a few souls, that is eight,' but also because all the creatures who go into it seem to enter pell-mell and come out two by two in pairs. You will inaugurate the long procession at all events! Do please think seriously of this, dear John. 'Consider, cow, consider,—' and write me that you consent.
"We are building papa the most charming little bungalow ever seen,—a big library and two bedrooms, one for himself and one to spare. It is just off the southwest corner, and a little covered way connects it with our piazza; for we are quite decided that he is to take his meals with us and not have the bother of independent housekeeping. Then if you decide to put your bungalow on the other side of his, as we hope you will, we shall all be close together. Lion will do nothing about the building till you come. You are to stay on indefinitely with us, and oversee the whole thing yourself from the driving of the first nail. We will all help, and won't it be fun?
"There is something very stately and comforting in the idea of a 'resident physician.' Elsie declares that now Phillida may have croup or any other infant disease she likes, and I sha'n't lie awake at night to wonder what we should do in case Geoffey was thrown from the burro and broke a bone. I am not sure but we may yet attain to the dignity of a 'resident pastor' as well, for Geoff has decided not to move the Hutlet, but leave it as it is, putting in a little simple furniture, and offer it from time to time to some invalid clergyman who needs Colorado air and would be glad to spend a few months in the Valley. Who knows but it may grow some day into a little church? Then indeed we should have a small world of our own, with the learned professions all represented; for of course Phil by that time will be qualified to do our law for us, in case we quarrel and require writs and replevins or habeas corpuses, or any last wills and testaments drawn up.
"I have begun on new curtains for Katy's room already, and Elsie and I have all manner of beautiful projects for the weddings. Now Johnnie darling, write at once and say that you agree to this plan. It really does seem a perfect one for everybody. The time must of course depend on when Dorry can get his leave, but we will be all ready whenever it comes."
Clover's arguments were unanswerable, and every one gradually gave in to the plan which she had so much at heart. Dorry got a fortnight's holiday, beginning on the 15th of June; so the twentieth was fixed as the day for the double wedding, and the preparations went merrily on. Early in May Katy arrived in Burnet; and after that Johnnie had no need to complain of being unsistered, for Katy was a host in herself, and gave all her time to helping everybody. She sewed and finished, she packed and advised, she assisted to box her father's books, and went with Dorry to choose the new papers and rugs which were to make the old house freshly bright for Imogen; she exclaimed and rejoiced over each wedding present that arrived, and supplied that sweet atmosphere of mutual interest and sympathy which is the vital breath of a family occasion. All was ready in time; the old home was in exact and perfect order for its new mistress, the good-bys were said, and on the morning of the fifteenth the party started for Colorado.
Quite a little group waited for them on the platform of the St. Helen's station three days later. Lionel had of course come in to meet his bride, and Imogen her bridegroom; and Geoff had come, and Clover, to meet her father and Katy, and Phil was also in waiting. It was truly a wonderful moment when the train drew up, and Johnnie, all beautiful in smiles and dimples, encountered Lionel; while Dorry jumped out to greet Imogen, who was in blooming health again, and very pleased to see him.
"We have brought the two carryalls," Clover explained. "Geoff got a new one the other day, that the means of transportation may keep pace with the increase of population, as he says. I think, Geoff, we will put the brides and bridegrooms together in the new one. Then the 'echoes' from the back seat can mix with the 'echoes' from the front seat; and it will be as good as the East Canyon, and they will all feel at home."
So it was arranged, and the party started.
"Katy," cried Clover, looking at her sister with eyes that seemed to drink her in, "I had forgotten quite how dear you are! It seems to me that you have grown handsome, my child; or is it only that you are a little fatter?"
"I am afraid the latter," replied Katy, with a laugh. "No one but Ned was ever so deluded as to call me handsome."
"Where is Ned? It is such a shame that he can't be here,—the only one of the family missing!"
"He is on his way to China," said Katy, with a little suppressed sigh. "Yes, it is too bad; but it can't be helped. Naval orders are like time and tide, and wait for no man, and most of all for no woman." She paused a moment, and changed the subject abruptly. "Did I tell you," she asked, "that after I broke up at Newport I went to Rose for a week?"
"Johnnie wrote that you were to go."
"It was such a bright week! Boston was beautiful, as it always is in spring, with the Public Garden a blaze of flowers, and all the pretty country about so green and sweet! Rose was most delightful; and I saw ever so many of the old Hillsover girls, and even had a glimpse of Mrs. Nipson!"
"That must have been rather a bad joy."
"N—o, not exactly. I was rather glad, on the whole, to meet her again. She isn't as bad as we made her out. School-girls are almost always unjust to their teachers."
"Oh, come, now," said Clover, making a little face. "This is a happy occasion, certainly, and I am in a benignant frame of mind, but really I can't stand having you so horridly charitable. 'There is no virtue, madam, in a mush of concession.' Mrs. Nipson was an unpleasant old thing,—so there! Let us talk of something else. Tell me about your visit to Cousin Helen."
"Oh, that was a sweet visit all through. I stayed ten days, and she was better than usual, it seemed to me. Did I write about little Helen's ball?"
"She is just nineteen, and it was her first dance. Such a pretty creature, and so pleased and excited about it! and Cousin Helen was equally so. She gave Helen her dress complete, down to the satin shoes, and the fan and the long gloves, and a turquoise necklace, and turquoise pins for her hair. You never saw anything so charming as the way in which she enjoyed it. You would have supposed that Helen was her own child, as she lay on the sofa, with such bright beaming eyes, while the pretty thing turned round and round to exhibit her finery."
"There certainly never was any one like Cousin Helen. She is embodied sympathy," said Clover. "Now, Katy, I want you to look. We are just turning into our own road."
It was a radiant afternoon, with long, soft shadows alternating with golden sunshine, and the High Valley was at its very best as they slowly climbed the zigzag pass. With every turn and winding Katy's pleasure grew; and when they rounded the last curve, and came in sight of the little group of buildings, with their picturesque background of forest and the splendid peak soaring above, she exclaimed with delight:—
"What a perfect situation! Clover, you never said enough about it! Surely the half was not told me, as the Queen of Sheba remarked! Oh, and there is Elsie on the porch, and that thing in white beside her is Phillida! I never dreamed she could be so large! How glad I am that I didn't die of measles when I was little, as dear Rose Red used to say."
Katy's coming was the crowning pleasure of the occasion to all, but most of all to Clover. To have her most intimate sister in her own home, and be able to see her every day and all day long, and consult and advise and lay before her the hopes and intentions and desires of her heart, which she could never so fully share with any one else, except Geoff, was a delight which never lost its zest, and of which Clover never grew weary.