Read CHAPTER III - THE LAST OF DEVON AND THE FIRST OF AMERICA. of In the High Valley, free online book, by Susan Coolidge, on

WITH the morrow came the parting from home.  “Farewell” is never an easy word to say when seas are to separate those who love each other, but the Young family uttered it bravely and resolutely.  Lionel, who was impatient to get to work and to his beloved High Valley, was more than ready to go.  His face, among the sober ones, looked aggressively cheerful.

“Cheer up, mother,” he said, consolingly.  “You’ll be coming over in a year or two with the Pater, and Moggy and I will give you such a good time as you never had in your lives.  We’ll all go up to Estes Park and camp out for a month.  I can see you now coming down the trail on a burro, ­what fun it will be.”

“Who knows?” said Mrs. Young, with a smile that was half a sigh.  She and her husband had sent a good many sons and daughters out into the world to seek their fortunes, and so far not one of them had come back.  To be sure, all were doing well in their several ways, ­Cyril in India, where he had an excellent appointment, and the second boy in the army; two were in the navy, and Tom and Giles in Van Diemen’s Land, where they were making a very good thing out of a sheep ranch.  There was no reason why Lionel should not be equally lucky with his cattle in Colorado; there were younger children to be considered; it was “all in the day’s work,” the natural thing.  Large families must separate, parents could not expect to keep their grown boys and girls with them always.  So they dismissed the two who were now going forth cheerfully, uncomplainingly, and with their blessing, but all the same it was not pleasant; and Mrs. Young shed some quiet tears in the privacy of her own room, and her husband looked very serious as he strode down the Southampton docks after saying good-by to his children on board the steamer.

Imogen had never been on a great sea-going vessel before, and it struck her as being very crowded and confused as well as bewilderingly big.  She stood clutching her bags and bundles nervously and feeling homesick and astray while farewells and greetings went on about her, and the people who were going and those who were to stay behind seemed mixed in an inextricable tangle on the decks.  Then a bell rang, and gradually the groups separated; those who were not going formed themselves into a black mass on the pier; there was a great fluttering of handkerchiefs, a plunge of the screw, and the steamer was off.

Lionel, who had been seeing to the baggage, now appeared, and took Imogen down to her stateroom, advising her to get out all her warm things and make ready for a rough night.

“There’s quite a sea on outside,” he remarked.  “We’re in for a rolling if not for a pitching.”

“Lion!” cried Imogen, indignantly.  “Do you mean to say that you suppose I’m going to be sick, ­I, a Devonshire girl born and bred, who have lived by the sea all my life?  Never!”

“Time will show,” was the oracular response.  “Get the rugs out, any way, and your brushes and combs and things, and advise Miss What-d’-you-call-her to do the same.”

“Miss What-d’-you-call-her” was Imogen’s room-mate, a perfectly unknown girl, who had been to her imagination one of the chief bug-bears of the voyage.  She was curled up on the sofa in a tumbled little heap when they entered the stateroom, had evidently been crying, and did not look at all formidable, being no older than Imogen, very small and shy, a soft, dark-eyed appealing creature, half English, half Belgic by extraction, and going out, it appeared, to join a lover who for three years had been in California making ready for her.  He was to meet her in New York, with a clergyman in his pocket, so to speak, and as soon as the marriage ceremony was performed, they were to set out for their ranch in the San Gabriel Valley, to raise grapes, dry raisins, and “live happily all the days of their lives afterward,” like the prince and princess of a fairy tale.

These confidences were not made immediately or all at once, but gradually, as the two girls became acquainted, and mutual suffering endeared them to each other.  For, in spite of Imogen’s Devonshire bringing up, the English Channel proved too much for her, and she had to endure two pretty bad days before, promoted from gruel to dry toast, and from dry toast to beef-tea, she was able to be helped on deck, and seated, well wrapped up, in a reclining chair to inhale the cold, salty wind which was the best and only medicine for her particular kind of ailment.

The chair next hers was occupied by a pretty, dark-eyed, and very lady-like woman, with whom Lionel had apparently made an acquaintance; for he said, as he tucked Imogen’s rugs about her, “Here’s my sister at last, you see;” which off-hand introduction the lady acknowledged with a pleasant smile, saying she was glad to see Miss Young able to be up.  Her manner was so unaffected and cordial that Imogen’s stiffness melted under its influence, and before she knew it they were talking quite like old acquaintances.

Imogen was struck by the sweet voice of the stranger, with its well-bred modulations, and also by the good taste and perfection of all her little appointments, from the down pillow at top of her chair to the fur-trimmed shoes on a pair of particularly pretty feet at the other end.  She set her down in her own mind as a London dame of fashion, ­perhaps a countess, or a Lady Something-or-other, who was going out to see America.

“Your brother tells me this is your first voyage,” said the lady.

“Yes.  He has been out before, but none of us were with him.  It’s all perfectly strange to me” ­with a sigh.

“Why do you sigh?  Don’t you expect to like it?”

“Why no, not like it exactly.  Of course I’m glad to be with Lionel and of use to him, but I didn’t come away from home for pleasure.”

“Pleasure must come to you, then,” said the lady, with a smile.  “And really I don’t see why it shouldn’t.  In the first place you are acting the part of a good sister; and you know the adage about duty performed making rainbows in the soul.  And then Colorado is a beautiful State, with the finest of mountain views, a wonderful climate, and such wild flowers as grow nowhere else.  I have some friends living there who are quite infatuated about it.  They say there is no place so delightful in the world.”

“That is just the way with my brother.  It’s really absurd the way he talks about it.  You would think it was better than England!”

“It is sure to be very different; but all the same, you will like it, I think.”

“I hope so” ­doubtfully.

Just then came an interruption in the shape of a tall girl of fifteen or sixteen, with a sweet, childish face who came running down the deck accompanied by a maid, and seized the strange lady’s hand.

“Mamma,” she began, “the first officer says that if you are willing he will take me across to the bows to see the rainbows on the foam.  May I go?  He says Anne can go too.”

“Yes, certainly, if Mr. Graves will take charge of you.  But first speak to this young lady, who is the sister of Mr. Young, who was so kind about playing ship-coil with you yesterday, and tell her you are glad she is able to be on deck.  Then you can go, Amy.”

Amy turned a pair of beautiful, long-lashed, gray eyes on Imogen.

“I’m glad you’re better, Miss Young.  Mamma and I were sorry you were so sick,” she said, with a frank politeness that was charming.  “It must be very disagreeable.”

“Haven’t you been sick, then?” said Imogen, holding fast the little hand that was put in hers.

“No, I’m never sick now.  I was, though, the first time we came over, and I behaved awfully.  Do you recollect, mamma?”

“Only too well,” said her mother, laughing.  “You were like a caged bird, beating yourself against the bars in desperation.”

Amy lingered a moment, while a dimple played in her pink cheek as if she were moved by some amusing remembrance.

“Ah, there’s Mr. Graves,” she said.  “I must go.  I’ll come back presently and tell you about the rainbows, mamma.”

“I suppose most of these people on board are Americans,” said Imogen after a little pause.  “It’s always easy to tell them, don’t you think?”

“Not always.  Yes, I suppose a good many of them are ­or call themselves so.”

“What do you mean by ‘call themselves so’?  That girl is one, I am sure,” indicating a pretty, stylish young person, who was talking rather too loudly for good taste with the ship’s doctor.

“Yes, I imagine she is.”

“And those people over there,” pointing to a large, red-bearded man who lay back in a sea-chair reading a novel, by the side of a fat wife who read another, while their little boy raced up and down the deck quite unheeded, and amused himself by pulling the rugs off the knees of the sicker passengers.  “They are Americans, I know!  Did you ever see such creatures?  The idea of letting that child make a nuisance of himself like that!  No one but an American would allow it.  I’ve always heard that children in the States do exactly as they please, and the grown people never interfere with them in the least.”

“General rules are dangerous things,” said her neighbor, with an odd little smile.  “Now, as it happens, I know all about those people.  They call themselves Americans because they have lived in Buffalo for ten years and are naturalized; but he was born in Scotland and she in Wales, and the child doesn’t belong exactly to any country, for he happened to be born at sea.  You see you can’t always tell.”

“Do you mean, then, that they are English, after all?” cried Imogen, disconcerted and surprised.

“Oh, no.  Every body is an American who has taken the oath of allegiance.  Those Polish Jews over there are Americans, and that Italian couple also, and the big party of Germans who are sitting between the boats.  The Germans have a large shop in New York, and go out every year to buy goods and tell their relations how superior the United States are to Breslau.  They are all Americans, though you would scarcely suppose it to look at them.  America is like a pudding, ­plums from one part of the world, and spice from another, and flour and sugar and flavoring from somewhere else, but all known by the name of pudding.”

“How very, very odd.  Somehow I never thought of it before in that light.  Are there no real Americans, then?  Are they all foreigners who have been naturalized?”

“Oh, no.  It is not so bad as that.  There are a great many ’real Americans.’  I am one, for example.”

“You!” There was such a world of unfeigned surprise in Imogen’s tone that it was impossible for her new friend not to laugh.

“I.  Did you not know it?  What did you take me for?”

“Why, English of course, like myself.  You are exactly like an English person.”

“I suppose you mean it for a compliment; thank you, therefore.  I like England very much, so I don’t mind being taken for an English woman.”

“Of course you don’t,” said Imogen, staring.  “It’s the height of an American’s ambition, I’ve always heard, to be thought English.”

“There you are mistaken.  There are a few foolish people who feel so no doubt, and all of us would be glad to copy what is best and nicest in English ways and manners, but a really good American likes his own country best of all, and would rather seem to belong to it than any other.”

“And I was thinking how different your daughter is from the American girls!” said Imogen, continuing her own train of thought; “and how her manners were so pretty, and did such credit to us, and would surprise people over there!  How very odd.  I shall never get to understand the Americans.  They’re so different from each other as well as from us.  There were some ladies from New York at Bideford the other day, ­a Mrs. Page and a Comtesse de Something-or-other, her daughter, and a Miss Opdyke from New York. She was very pretty and really quite nice, though rather queer, but all three were as unlike each other as they could be.  Do you know them in America?”

“Not Miss Opdyke; but I have met Mrs. Page once in Europe a good while since.  It was before her daughter was married.  She is a relative of my sister-in-law, Mrs. Worthington.”

“Do you mean the Mrs. Worthington whose husband is in the navy?  Why, that’s Mrs. Geoffrey Templestowe’s sister!”

“Do you know Clover Templestowe, then?” said the lady, surprised in her turn.  “That is really curious.  Was it in England that you met?”

“Yes, and we are on our way to her neighborhood now.  My brother has bought a share in Geoff’s business, and we are going to live near them at High Valley.”

“I do call this an extraordinary coincidence.  Amy, come here and listen.  This young lady is on her way to Colorado, to live close to Aunt Clover; what do you think of that for a surprise?  I don’t wonder that you open your eyes so wide.  Isn’t it just like a story-book that she should have come and sat down in the next chair to ours?”

“It’s so funny that I can’t believe it, till I take time to think,” said Amy, perching herself on the arm of her mother’s seat.  “Just think, you’ll see Elsie and her baby, and Aunt Clover’s baby, and Uncle Geoff and Phil, and all of them.  It’s the beautifulest place out there that you ever saw.  There are whole droves of horses, and you ride all the while, and when you’re not riding you can pick flowers and play with the babies.  Oh, I wish I were going with you; it would be such fun!”

“But aren’t you coming?” said Imogen, much taken by the frankness of the little American maid.  “Coax mamma to fetch you out this summer, and come and make me a visit.  We’re going to have a little cabin of our own, and I’d be delighted to have you.  Is it far from where you live?”

“Well, it’s what you would call ‘a goodish bit’ in England,” replied Mrs. Ashe, ­“two thousand miles or so, nearly three days’ journey.  Amy would be charmed to come, I am sure, but I am afraid the distance will stand in her way.  One doesn’t ‘step out’ to Colorado every summer, but perhaps we may be there some day, and then we shall certainly hope to see you.”

This encounter with Mrs. Ashe, who was, in a way, part of the family with whom Imogen expected to be most intimately associated in America, made the remainder of the voyage very pleasant.  They sat together for hours every day, talking, and reading, and gradually Imogen waked up to the fact that American life and society was a much more complex and less easily understood affair than she had imagined.

The weather was favorable when the first rough days were past, and after they rounded the curve of the wide sea hemisphere and began to near the American coast it became beautiful, with high-arching skies and very bright sunsets.  Accustomed to the low-hung grays and struggling sunbeams of southern England, Imogen could not get used to these novelties.  Her surprise over the dazzle of the day and the clear, vivid blue of the heavens was a continual amusement and joy to Mrs. Ashe, who took a patriotic pride in her own climate, and, as it were, made herself responsible for it.

Then came the eventful morning, when, rousing to the first glow of dawn, they found the screw motionless, and the steamer lying off a green island, with a big barrack-building on it, over which waved the American flag.  The health officer made his visit, and before long they were steaming up the wide bay of New York, between green, flowery shores, under the colossal Liberty, whose outstretched arm seemed to point to the dim rich mass of roofs and towers and spires of the city which lay beyond.  Then they neared the landing-stage, where a black mass of people stood waiting them, and Amy gave a cry of delight as she saw a gold-banded cap among them, and recognized her Uncle Ned.

The little Anglo-Belgian had been more or less ill all the way over, and looked pale and wan, though still very pretty, as she stood with the rest, gazing at the crowd of faces, all of whose eyes were turned toward the steamer.  Imogen, who had helped her to dress, remained protectingly by her side.

“What shall you do if he doesn’t happen to be there?” she asked, smitten with a sudden fear.  “Something might detain him, you know.”

“I ­I ­am not sure,” turning pale.  “Oh, yes, I am,” rallying.  “He have aunt in Howbokken.  I go there and wait.  But he not fail; he will be here.”  Then her eyes suddenly lit up, and she exclaimed with a little shriek of joy, “He are here!  That is he standing by the big timber.  My Karl! my Karl!  He are here!”

There indeed he was, foremost in the throng, a tall, brown, handsome fellow, with a nice, strong face, and such a look of love and expectation in his eyes that prosaic Imogen suddenly felt that it might be worth while, after all, to cross half the world to meet a look and a husband like that, ­a fact which she had disbelieved till now, demurring also in her private mind as to the propriety of such a thing.  It was pretty to see the tender happiness in the girl’s face, and the answering expression of her lover’s.  It seemed to put poetry and pathos into an otherwise commonplace scene.  The gang-plank was lowered, a crowd of people surged ashore, to be met by a corresponding surge from the on-lookers, and in the midst of it Lieutenant Worthington leaped aboard and hastened to where his sister stood waiting him.

“You’re coming up to Newport with me at five-thirty,” were his first words.  “Katy’s all ready, and means to sit up till the boat gets in at two-thirty, keeping a little supper hot and hot for you.  The Torpedo Station is in its glory just now, and there’s going to be a great explosion on Thursday, which Amy will enjoy.”

“How lovely!” cried Amy, clinging to her uncle’s arm.  “I love explosions.  Why didn’t Tanta come too? ­I’m in such a hurry to see her.”

Then Mr. Worthington asked to be introduced to Imogen and Lionel, and explained that acting on a request from Geoffrey Templestowe, he had taken rooms for them at a hotel, and secured their tickets and sleeping sections in the “limited” train for the next day.

“And I told them to save two seats for Rip Van Winkle to-night till you got there,” he added.  “If you’re not too tired I advise you to go.  Jefferson is an experience which you ought not to miss, and you may never have another chance.”

“How awfully kind your brother is,” said the surprised Imogen to Mrs. Ashe; “all this trouble, and he never saw either of us before!  It’s very good of him.”

“Oh, that’s nothing.  That’s the way American men do.  They are perfect dears, there’s no doubt as to that, and they don’t consider anything a trouble which helps along a friend or a friend’s friend.  It’s a matter of course over here.”

“Well, I don’t consider it a matter of course at all.  I think it extraordinary, and it was so very nice in Geoff to send word to Lion.”

Then they parted.  Meanwhile the little room-mate had been having a private conference with her “young man.”  She now joined Imogen.

“Karl says we shall be married directly, in a church, in half an hour,” she told her.  “And oh, won’t you and Mr. Young come to be with us?  It is so sad not to have one friend when one is married.”

It was impossible to refuse this request; so it happened that the very first thing Imogen did in America was to attend a wedding.  It took place in an old church, pretty far down town; and she always afterward carried in her mind the picture of it, dim and sombre in coloring, with the afternoon sun pouring in through a rich rose window and throwing blue and red reflections on the little group of five at the altar, while from outside came the din of wheels and the unceasing tread of busy feet.  The service was soon over, the signatures were made, and the little bride went down the chancel on her husband’s arm, with her face appropriately turned to the west, and with such a look of secure and unfearing happiness upon it as was good to see.  It was an unusual and typical scene with which to begin life in a new country, and Imogen liked to think afterward that she had been there.

Then followed a long drive up town over rough ill-laid pavements, through dirty streets, varied by dirtier streets, and farther up, by those that were less dirty.  Imogen had never seen anything so shabby as the poorest of the buildings that they passed, and certainly never anything quite so fine as the best of them.  Squalor and splendor jostled each other side by side; everywhere there was the same endless throng of hurrying people, and everywhere the same abundance of flowers for sale, in pots, in baskets, in bunches, making the whole air of the streets sweet.  Then they came to the hotel, and were shown to their rooms, ­high up, airy, and nicely furnished, though Imogen was at first disposed to cavil at the absence of bed-curtains.

“It looks so bare,” she complained.  “At home such a thing would be considered very odd, very odd indeed.  Fancy a bed without curtains!”

“After you’ve spent one hot night in America you’ll be glad enough to fancy it,” replied her brother.  “Stuffy old things.  It’s only in cold weather that one could endure them over here.”

The first few hours on shore after a voyage have a delightfulness all their own.  It is so pleasant to bathe and dress without having to hold on and guard against lurches and tips.  Imogen went about her toilet well-pleased; and her pleasure was presently increased when she found on her dressing-table a beautiful bunch of summer roses, with “Mrs. Geoffrey Templestowe’s love and welcome” on a card lying beside it.  Thoughtful Clover had written to Ned Worthington to see to this little attention, and the pleasure it gave went even farther than she had hoped.

“I declare,” said Imogen, sitting down with the flowers before her, “I never knew anybody so kind as they all are.  I don’t feel half so home-sick as I expected.  I must write mamma about these roses.  Of course Mrs. Geoff does it for Isabel’s sake; but all the same it is awfully nice of her, and I shall try not to forget it.”

Then, when, after finishing her dressing, she drew the blinds up and looked from the windows, she gave a cry of sheer pleasure, for there beneath was spread out a beautiful wide distance of Park with feathery trees and belts of shrubs, behind which the sun was making ready to set in a crimson sky.  There was a balcony outside the windows, and Imogen pulled a chair out on it to enjoy the view.  Carriages were rolling in at the Park gates, looking exactly like the équipages one sees in London, with fat coachmen, glossy horses, and jingling silvered harness.  Girls and young men were cantering along the bridle-paths, and throngs of well-dressed people filled the walks.  Beyond was a fairy lake, where gondolas shot to and fro; a band was playing; from still farther away came a peal of chimes from a church tower.

“And this is New York!” thought Imogen.  Then her thoughts reverted to Miss Opdyke and her tale of the Tammany Indians, and she flushed with sudden vexation.

“What an idiot she must have considered me!” she reflected.

But her insular prejudices revived in full force as a knock was heard, and a colored boy, entering with a tinkling pitcher, inquired, “Did you ring for ice-water, lady?”

“No!” said Imogen sharply; “I never drink iced water.  I rang for hot water, but I got it more than an hour ago.”

“Beg pardon, lady.”

“Why on earth does he call me ’lady’?” she murmured ­“so tiresome and vulgar!”

Then Lionel came for her, and they went down to dinner, ­a wonderful repast, with soups and fishes and vegetables quite unknown to her; a bewildering succession of meats and entrees, strawberries such as she had supposed did not grow outside of England, raspberries and currants such as England never knew, and wonderful blackberries, of great size and sweetness, bursting with purple juice.  There were ices too, served in the shapes of apples, pears, and stalks of asparagus, which dazzled her country eyes not a little, while the whole was a terror and astonishment to her thrifty English mind.

“Lionel, don’t keep on ordering things so,” she protested.  “We are eating our heads off as it is, I am sure.”

“My dear young friend, you are come to the Land of Fat Things,” he replied.  “Dinner costs just the same, once you sit down to it, whether you have a biscuit and a glass of water, or all these things.”

“I call it a sinful waste, then,” she retorted.  “But all the same, since it is so, I’ll take another ice.”

“‘First endure, then pity, then embrace,’” quoted her brother.  “That’s right, Moggy; pitch in, spoil the Egyptians.  It doesn’t hurt them, and it will do you lots of good.”

From the dinner-table they went straight to the theatre, having decided to follow Lieut.  Worthington’s advice and see “Rip Van Winkle.”  And then they straightway fell under the spell of a magician who has enchanted many thousands before them, and for the space of two hours forgot themselves, their hopes and fears and expectations, while they followed the fortunes of the idle, lovable, unpractical Rip, up the mountain to his sleep of years, and down again, white-haired and tottering, to find himself forgotten by his kin and a stranger in his own home.  People about them were weeping on relays of pocket-handkerchiefs, hanging them up one by one as they became soaked, and beginning on others.  Imogen had but one handkerchief, but she cried with that till she had to borrow Lionel’s; and he, though he professed to be very stoical, could not quite command his voice as he tried to chaff her in a whisper on her emotions, and begged her to “dry up” and remember that it was only a play after all, and that presently Jefferson would discard his white hair and wrinkles, go home to a good supper, and make a jolly end to the evening.

It was almost too exciting for a first night on shore, and if Imogen had not been so tired, and if her uncurtained bed had not proved so deliciously comfortable, she would scarcely have slept as she did till half-past seven the next morning, so that they had to scramble through breakfast not to lose their train.  Once started in the “Limited,” with a library and a lady’s-maid, a bath and a bed at her disposal, and just beyond a daintily appointed dinner-table adorned with fresh flowers, ­all at forty miles an hour, ­she had leisure to review her situation and be astonished.  Bustling cities shot past them, ­or seemed to shoot, ­beautifully kept country-seats, shabby suburbs where goats and pigs mounted guard over shanties and cabbage-beds, great tracts of wild forest, factory towns black with smoke, rivers winding between blue hill ridges, prairie-like expanses so overgrown with wild-flowers that they looked all pink or all blue, ­everything by turns and nothing long.  It seemed the sequence of the unexpected, a succession of rapidly changing surprises, for which it was impossible to prepare beforehand.

“I shall never learn to understand it,” thought poor perplexed Imogen.