Read CHAPTER V - ARRIVAL. of In the High Valley, free online book, by Susan Coolidge, on

THE train from Denver was nearing St. Helen’s, ­and Imogen Young looked eagerly from the window for a first sight of the place.  Their journey had been exhaustingly hot during its last stages, the alkaline dust most trying, and they had had a brief experience of a sand-storm on the plains, which gave her a new idea as to what wind and grit can accomplish in the way of discomfort.  She was very tired, and quite disposed to be critical and unenthusiastic; still she had been compelled to admit that the run down from Denver lay over an interesting country.

The town on its plateau was shining in full sunshine, as it had done when Clover landed there six years before, but its outlines had greatly changed with the increase of buildings.  The mountain range opposite was darkly blue from the shadows of a heavy thunder gust which was slowly rolling away southward.  The plains between were of tawny yellow, but the belts of mesa above showed the richest green, except where the lines of alfalfa and grain were broken by white patches of mentzelia and poppies.  It was wonderfully beautiful, but the town itself looked so much larger than Imogen had expected that she exclaimed with surprise: ­

“Why, Lion, it’s a city!  You said you were bringing me out to live in the wilderness.  What made you tell such stories?  It looks bigger than Bideford.”

“It looks larger than it did when I came away,” replied her brother.  “Two, three, six, ­eight fine new houses on Monument Avenue, by Jove, and any number off there toward the north.  You’ve no idea how these Western places sprout and thrive, Moggy.  This isn’t twenty years old yet.”

“I can’t believe it.  You are imposing on me.  And why on earth did you let me bring out all those pins and things?  There seem to be any number of shops.”

“I let you!  Oh, I say, that is good!  Why, Moggy, don’t you remember how I remonstrated straight through your packing.  Never a bit would you listen to me, and here is the result,” pulling out a baggage memorandum as he spoke, and reading aloud in a lugubrious tone, “Extra weight of trunks, thirteen dollars, fifty-two cents.”

“Thirteen fifty,” cried Imogen with a gasp.  “My gracious! why, that’s nearly three pounds!  Lion!  Lion! you ought to have made me listen.”

“I’m sure I did all I could in that way.  But cheer up!  You’ll want your pins yet.  You mustn’t confound this place with High Valley.  That’s sixteen miles off and hasn’t a shop.”

The discussion was brought to end by the stopping of the train.  In another moment Geoff Templestowe appeared at the door.

“Hallo, Lion! glad to see you.  Imogen,” shaking hands warmly, “how are you?  Welcome to Colorado.  I’m afraid you’ve had a bad journey in this heat.”

“It has been beastly.  Poor Moggy’s dead beat, I’m afraid.  Neither of us could sleep a wink last night for the dust and sand.  Well, it’s all well that ends well.  We’ll cool her off in the valley.  How is everything going on there?  Mrs. Templestowe all right, and Mrs. Page, and the children?  I declare,” stretching himself, “it’s a blessing to get a breath of good air again.  There’s nothing in the world that can compare with Colorado.”

A light carryall was waiting near the station, whose top was little more than a fringed awning.  Into this Geoffrey helped Imogen, and proceeded to settle her wraps and bags in various seat boxes and pockets with which the carriage was cleverly fitted up.  It was truly a carry-all and came and went continually between the valley and St. Helen’s.

“Now,” he remarked as he stuffed in the last parcel, “we will just stop long enough to get the mail and some iced tea, which I ordered as I came down, and then be off.  You’ll find a cold chicken in that basket, Lion.  Clover was sure you’d need something, and there’s no time for a regular meal if we are to get in before dark.”

“Iced tea! what a queer idea!” said Imogen.

“I forgot that you were not used to it.  We drink it a great deal here in summer.  Would you rather have some hot?  I didn’t fancy that you would care for it, the day is so warm; but we’ll wait and have it made, if you prefer.”

“Oh, no.  I won’t delay you,” said Imogen, rather grudgingly.  She was disposed to resent the iced tea as an American innovation, but when she tried it she found herself, to her own surprise, liking it very much.  “Only, why do they call it tea,” she meditated.  “It’s a great deal more like punch ­all lemon and things.”  But she had to own that it was wonderfully refreshing.

The sun was blazing on the plain; but after they began to wind up the pass a cool, strong wind blew in their faces and the day seemed suddenly delightful.  The unfamiliar flowers and shrubs, the strange rock forms and colors, the occasional mountain glimpses, interested Imogen so much that for a time she forgot her fatigue.  Then an irresistible drowsiness seized her; the talk going on between Geoffrey Templestowe and her brother, about cows and feed and the prospect of the autumn sales, became an indistinguishable hum, and she went off into a series of sleeps broken by brief wakings, when the carryall bumped, or swayed heavily from side to side on the steep inclines.  From one of the soundest of these naps she was roused by her brother shaking her arm and calling, ­

“Moggy, wake, wake up!  We are here.”

With a sharp thump of heart-beat she started into full consciousness to find the horses drawing up before a deep vine-hung porch, on which stood a group of figures which seemed to her confused senses a large party.  There was Elsie in a fresh white dress with pale green ribbons, Clarence Page, Phil Carr, little Philippa in her nurse’s arms, small Geoff with his two collies at his side, and foremost of all, ready to help her down, hospitable little Clover, in lilac muslin, with a rose in her belt and a face of welcome.

“How the Americans do love dress!” was Imogen’s instant thought, ­an ungracious one, and quite unwarranted by the circumstances.  Clover and Elsie kept themselves neat and pretty from habit and instinct, but the muslin gowns were neither new nor fashionable, they had only the merit of being fresh and becoming to their wearers.

“You poor child, how tired you must be!” cried Clover, as she assisted Imogen out of the carriage.  “This is my sister, Mrs. Page.  Please take her directly to her room, Elsie, while I order up some hot water.  She’ll be glad of that first of all.  Lion, I won’t take time to welcome you now.  The boys must care for you while I see after your sister.”

A big sponging-bath full of fresh water stood ready in the room to which Imogen was conducted; the white bed was invitingly “turned down;” there were fresh flowers on the dressing-table, and a heap of soft cushions on a roomy divan which filled the deep recess of a range of low windows.  The gay-flowered paper on the walls ran up to the peak of the ceiling, giving a tent-like effect.  Most of the furnishings were home-made.  The divan was nothing more or less than a big packing-box nicely stuffed and upholstered; the dressing-table, a construction of pine boards covered and frilled with cretonne.  Clover had plaited the chintz round the looking-glass and on the edges of the book-shelves, while the picture-frames, the corner-brackets, and the impromptu washstand owed their existence to Geoff’s cleverness with tools.  But the whole effect was pretty and tasteful, and Imogen, as she went on with her dressing, looked about her with a somewhat reluctant admiration, which was slightly tinctured with dismay.

“I suppose they got all these things out from the East,” she reflected.  “I couldn’t undertake them in our little cabin, I’m sure.  It’s very nice, and really in very good taste, but it must have cost a great deal.  The Americans don’t think of that, however; and I’ve always heard they have a great knack at doing up their houses and making a good show.”

“Go straight to bed if you feel like it.  Don’t think of coming down.  We will send you up some dinner,” Clover had urged; but Imogen, tired as she was, elected to go down.

“I really mustn’t give in to a little fatigue,” she thought.  “I have the honor of England to sustain over here.”  So she heroically put on her heavy tweed travelling-dress again, and descended the stairs, to find a bright little fire of pine-wood and cones snapping and blazing on the hearth, and the whole party gathered about it, waiting for her and dinner.

“What an extraordinary climate!” she exclaimed in a tone of astonishment.  “Melting with heat at three, and here at a quarter past seven you are sitting round a fire!  It really feels comfortable, too!”

“The changes are very sharp,” said Geoff, rising to give her his chair.  “Such a daily drop in temperature would make a sensation in our good old Devonshire, would it not?  You see it comes from the high elevation.  We are nearly eight thousand feet above the sea-level here; that is about twice as high as the top of the highest mountain in the United Kingdom.”

“Fancy!  I had no idea of it.  Lionel did say something about the elevation, but I didn’t clearly attend.”  She glanced about the room, which was looking its best, with the pink light of the shaded candles falling on the white-spread table, and the flickering fire making golden glows and gleams on the ceiling.  “How did you get all these pretty things out here?” she suddenly demanded.

“Some came in wagons, and some just ‘growed,’” explained Clover, merrily.  “We will let you into our secrets gradually.  Ah, here comes dinner at last, and I am sure we shall all be glad of it.”

Choo Loo now entered with the soup-tureen, a startling vision to Imogen, who had never seen a Chinaman before in her life.

“How very extraordinary!” she murmured in an aside to Lionel.  “He looks like an absolute heathen.  Are such things usual here?”

“Very usual, I should say.  Lots of them about.  That fellow has a Joss in his cabin, and very likely a prayer-wheel; but he’s a capital cook.  I wish we could have the luck to happen on his brother or nephew for ourselves.”

“I don’t, then,” replied his scandalized sister.  “I can’t feel that it is right to employ such people in a Christian country.  The Americans have such lax notions!”

“Hold up a bit!  What do you know about their notions?  Nothing at all.”

“Come to dinner,” said Clover’s pleasant voice.  “Geoff, Miss Young will sit next to you.  Put a cushion behind her back, Clarence.”

Dinner over, Imogen concluded that she had upheld the honor of England quite as long as was desirable, or in fact possible, and gladly accepted permission to go at once to bed.  She was fairly tired out.

She woke wonderfully restored by nine hours’ solid sleep in that elastic and life-giving atmosphere, and went downstairs to find every one scattered to their different tasks and avocations, except Elsie, who was waiting to pour her coffee.  Clover and Lionel were gone to the new house, she explained, and they were to follow them as soon as Imogen had breakfasted.

Elsie’s manner lacked its usual warmth and ease.  She had taken no fancy at all to the stiff, awkward little English woman, in whom her quick wits detected the lurking tendency to cavil and criticise, and was discouraging accordingly.  Oddly enough, Imogen liked this offish manner of Elsie’s.  She set it down to a proper sense of decorum and retenue.  “So different from the usual American gush and making believe to be at ease always with everybody,” she thought; and she made herself as agreeable as possible to Elsie, whom she considered much prettier than Clover, and in every way more desirable.  These impressions were doubtless tinctured by the underlying jealousy from which she had so long suffered, and which still influenced her, though Isabel Templestowe was now far away, and there was no one at hand to be jealous about.

The two rode amicably up the valley together.

“There, that’s your new home,” said Elsie, when they came in sight of the just finished cabin.  “Didn’t Lionel choose a pretty site for it?  And you have a most beautiful view.”

“Well, Moggy,” cried her brother, hurrying out to help her dismount, “here you are at last.  Mrs. Templestowe and I have made you a fire and done all sorts of things.  How do you like the look of it?  It’s a decent little place, isn’t it?  We must get Mrs. Templestowe to put us up to some of her nice little dodges about furniture and so on, such as they have at the other house.  She and Mrs. Page have made it all tidy for us, and put up lots of nice little curtains and things.  They must have worked awfully hard, too.  Wasn’t it good of them?”

“Very,” said Imogen, rather stiffly.  “I’m sure we’re much obliged to you, Mrs. Templestowe.  I fear you have given yourself a great deal of trouble.”

The words were polite enough, but the tone was distinctly repellent.

“Oh, no,” said Clover, lightly.  “It was only fun to come up and arrange a little beforehand.  We were very glad to do it.  Now, Elsie, you and I will ride down, and leave these new housekeepers to discuss their plans in peace.  Dinner at six to-night, Lionel; and please send old Jose down if you need anything.  Don’t stay too long or get too tired, Miss Young.  We shall have lunch about one; but if you are doing anything and don’t want to leave so early, you’ll find some sardines and jam and a tin of biscuits in that cupboard by the fire.”

She and Elsie rode away accordingly.  When they were out of hearing, Clover remarked, ­

“I wonder why that girl dislikes me so.”

“Dislikes you!  Clover, what do you mean?  Nobody ever disliked you in your life, or ever could.”

“Yes, she does,” persisted Clover.  “She has got some sort of queer twist in her mind regarding me, and I can’t think what it is.  It doesn’t really matter, and very likely she’ll get over it presently; but I’m sorry about it.  It would be so pleasant all to be good friends together up here, where there are so few of us.”

Her tone was a little pathetic.  Clover was used to being liked.

“Little wretch!” cried Elsie, with flashing eyes.  “If I really thought that she dared not to like you, I’d ­I’d ­, well, what would I do? ­import a grisly bear to eat her, or some such thing!  I suppose an Indian could be found who for a consideration would undertake to scalp Miss Imogen Young, and if she doesn’t behave herself he shall be found.  But you’re all mistaken, Clovy; you must be.  She’s only stiff and dull and horribly English, and very tired after her journey.  She’ll be all right in a day or two.  If she isn’t, I shall ‘go for’ her without mercy.”

“Well, perhaps it is that.”  It was easier and pleasanter to imagine Imogen tired than to admit that she was absolutely unfriendly.

“After all,” she added, “it’s for Miss Young’s sake that I should regret it if it were so, much more than for my own.  I have Geoff and you and Clare, ­and papa and Johnnie coming, and dear Rose Red, ­all of you are at my back; but she, poor thing, has no one but Lionel to stand up for her.  I am on my own ground,” drawing up her figure with a pretty movement of pride, “and she is a stranger in a strange land.  So we won’t mind if she is stiff, Elsie dear, and just be as nice as we can be to her, for it must be horrid to be so far away from home and one’s own people.  We cannot be too patient and considerate under such circumstances.”

Meanwhile the moment they were out of sight Lionel had turned upon his sister sharply, and angrily.

“Moggy, what on earth do you mean by speaking so to Mrs. Templestowe?”

“Speaking how?  What did I say?” retorted Imogen.

“You didn’t say anything out of the common, but your manner was most disagreeable.  If she hadn’t been the best-tempered woman in the world she would have resented it on the spot.  Here she, and all of them, have been doing all they can to make ready for us, giving us such a warm welcome too, treating us as if we were their own kith and kin, and you return it by putting on airs as if she were intruding and interfering in our affairs.  I never was so ashamed of a member of my own family before in my life.”

“I can’t imagine what you mean,” protested Imogen, not quite truthfully.  “And you’ve no call to speak to me so, Lionel, and tell me I am rude, just because I don’t gush and go about making cordial speeches like these Americans of yours.  I’m sure I said everything that was proper to Mrs. Templestowe.”

“Your words were proper enough, but your manner was eminently improper.  Now, Moggy,” changing his tone, “listen to me.  Let us look the thing squarely in the face.  You’ve come out here with me, and it’s awfully good of you and I sha’n’t ever forget it; but here we are, settled for years to come in this little valley, with the Templestowes and Pages for our only neighbors.  They can be excellent friends, as I’ve found, and they are prepared to be equally friendly to you; but if you’re going to start with a little grudge against Mrs. Geoff, ­who’s the best little woman going, by Jove, and the kindest, ­you’ll set the whole family against us, and we might as well pack up our traps at once and go back to England.  Now I put it to you reasonably; is it worth while to upset all our plans and all my hopes, ­and for what?  Mrs. Templestowe can’t have done anything to set you against her?”

“Lion,” cried Imogen, bursting into tears, “don’t!  I’m sure I didn’t mean to be rude.  Mrs. Geoff never did anything to displease me, and certainly I haven’t a grudge against her.  But I’m very tired, so please don’t s-c-o-ld me; I’ve got no one out here but you.”

Lionel melted at once.  He had never seen his sister cry before, and felt that he must have been harsh and unkind.

“I’m a brute,” he exclaimed.  “There, Moggy, there, dear ­don’t cry.  Of course you’re tired; I ought to have thought of it before.”

He petted and consoled her, and Imogen, who was really spent and weary, found the process so agreeable that she prolonged her tears a little.  At last she suffered herself to be comforted, dried her eyes, grew cheerful, and the two proceeded to make an investigation of the premises, deciding what should go there and what here, and what it was requisite to get from St. Helen’s.  Imogen had to own that the ladies of the Valley had been both thoughtful and helpful.

“I’ll thank them again this evening and do it better,” she said; and Lionel patted her back, and told her she really was quite a little brick when she wasn’t a big goose, ­a brotherly compliment which was more gratifying than it sounded.

It was decided that he should go into St. Helen’s next day to order out stores and what Lionel called “a few sticks” that were essential, and procure a servant.

“Then we can move in the next day,” said Imogen.  “I feel in such a hurry to begin house-keeping, Lionel, you can’t think.  One is always a stranger in the land till one has a place of one’s own.  Geoff and his wife are very kind and polite, but it’s much better we should start for ourselves as soon as possible.  Besides, there are other people coming to stay; Mrs. Page said so.”

“Yes, but not for quite a bit yet, I fancy.  All the same, you are right, Moggy; and we’ll set up our own shebang as soon as it can be managed.  You’ll feel twice as much at home when you have a house of your own.  I’ll get the mattresses and tables and chairs out by Saturday, and fetch the slavey out with me if I can find one.”

“No Chinese need apply,” said Imogen.  “Get me a Christian servant, whatever you do, Lion.  I can’t bear that creature with the pig-tail.”

“I’ll do my possible,” said her brother, in a doubtful tone; “but you’ll come to pig-tails yet and be thankful for them, or I miss my guess.”


Imogen remembered her promise.  She was studiously polite and grateful that evening, and exerted herself to talk and undo the unpleasant impression of the morning.  The little party round the dinner-table waxed merry, especially when Imogen, under the effect of her gracious resolves, attempted to adapt her conversation to her company and gratify her hosts by using American expressions.

“People absquatulate from St. Helen’s toward autumn, don’t they?” she remarked.  Then when some one laughed she added, “You say ‘absquatulate’ over here, don’t you?”

“Well, I don’t know.  I never did hear any one say it except as a joke,” replied Elsie.

And again:  “Mother would be astonished, Lion, wouldn’t she, if she knew that a Chinese can make English puddings as well as the cooks at home.  She’d be all struck of a heap.”

And later:  “It really was dreadful.  The train was broken all to bits, and nearly every one on board was hurt, ­catawampously chawed up in fact, as you Americans would say.  Why, what are you all laughing at?  Don’t you say it?”

“Never, except in the comic newspapers and dime novels,” said Geoffrey Templestowe when he recovered from his amusement, while Lionel, utterly overcome with his sister’s vocabulary, choked and strangled, and finally found voice to say, ­

“Go on, Moggy.  You’re doing beautifully.  Nothing like acquiring the native dialect to make a favorable impression in a new country.  Oh, wherever did she learn ‘catawampus’?  I shall die of it.”