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   Chapter 2 MISS OPDYKE FROM NEW YORK.

In the High Valley / Being the fifth and last volume of the Katy Did series By Susan Coolidge Characters: 23484

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


HE next week was a busy one. Packing had begun; and what with Mrs. Young's motherly desire to provide her children with every possible convenience for their new home, and Imogen's rooted conviction that nothing could be found in Colorado worth buying, and that it was essential to carry out all the tapes and sewing-silk and buttons and shoe-thread and shoes and stationery and court-plaster and cotton cloth and medicines that she and Lionel could possibly require during the next five years,-it promised to be a long job.

In vain did Lionel remonstrate, and assure his sister that every one of these things could be had equally well at St. Helen's, where some of them went almost every day, and that extra baggage cost so much on the Pacific railways that the price of such commodities would be nearly doubled before she got them safely to the High Valley.

"Now what can be the use of taking two pounds of pins, for example?" he protested. "Pins are as plenty as blackberries in America. And all those spools of thread too!"

"Reels of cotton, do you mean? I wish you would speak English, at least while we are in England. I shouldn't dare go without plenty of such things. American cotton isn't as good as ours; I've always been told that."

"Well, it's good enough, as you'll find. And do make a place for something pretty; a few nice tea-cups for instance, and some things to hold flowers, and some curtain stuffs for the windows, and photographs. Geoff and Mrs. Geoff have made their house awfully nice, I can tell you. Americans think a deal of that sort of thing. All this haberdashery and hardware is ridiculous, and you'll be sorry enough that you didn't listen to me before you are through with it."

"Mother has packed some cups already, I believe, and I'll take that white Minton jar if you like, but really I shouldn't think delicate things like that would be at all suitable in a new place like Colorado, where people must rough it as we are going to do. You are so infatuated about America, Lion, that I can't trust your opinion at all."

"I've been there, and you haven't," was all that Lionel urged in answer. It seemed an incontrovertible argument, but Imogen made no attempt to overthrow it. She only packed on according to her own ideas, quite unconvinced.

It lacked only five days of their setting out when she and her brother walked into Bideford one afternoon for some last errands. It was June now, and the south of England was at its freshest and fairest. The meadows along the margin of the Torridge wore their richest green, the hill slopes above them were a bloom of soft color. Each court yard and garden shimmered with the gold of laburnums or the purple and white of clustering clematis; and the scent of flowers came with every puff of air.

As they passed up the side street, a carriage with three strange ladies in it drove by them. It stopped at the door of the New Inn,-as quaint in build and even older than the New Inn of Clovelly. The ladies got out, and one of them, to Imogen's great surprise, came forward and extended her hand to Lionel.

"Mr. Young,-it is Mr. Young, isn't it? You've quite forgotten me, I fear,-Mrs. Page. We met at St. Helen's two years ago when I stopped to see my son. Let me introduce you to my daughter, the Comtesse de Conflans, and Miss Opdyke, of New York."

Lionel could do no less than stop, shake hands, and present his sister, whereupon Mrs. Page urged them both to come in for a few minutes and have a cup of tea.

"We are here only till the evening-train," she explained,-"just to see Westward Ho and get a glimpse of the Amyas Leigh country. And I want to ask any quantity of questions about Clarence and his wife. What! you are going out to the High Valley next week, and your sister too? Oh, that makes it absolutely impossible for me to let you off. You really must come in. There are so many messages I should like to send, and a cup of tea will be a nice rest for Miss Young after her long walk."

"It isn't long at all," protested Imogen; but Mrs. Page could not be gainsaid, and led the way upstairs to a sitting-room with a bay window overlooking the windings of the Torridge, which was crammed with quaint carved furniture of all sorts. There were buffets, cabinets, secretaries, delightful old claw-footed tables and sofas, and chairs whose backs and arms were a mass of griffins and heraldic emblems. Old oak was the specialty of the landlady of this New Inn, it seemed, as blue china was of the other. For years she had attended sales and poked about in farmhouses and attics, till little by little she had accumulated an astonishing collection. Many of the pieces were genuine antiques, but some had been constructed under her own eye from wood equally venerable,-pew-ends and fragments of rood-screens purchased from a dismantled and ruined church. The effect was both picturesque and unusual.

Mrs. Page seated her guests in two wide, high-backed chairs, rang for tea, and began to question Lionel about affairs in the High Valley, while Imogen, still under the influence of surprise at finding herself calling on these strangers, glanced curiously at the younger ladies of the party. The Comtesse de Conflans was still young, and evidently had been very pretty, but she had a worn, dissatisfied air, and did not look happy. Imogen learned afterward that her marriage, which was considered a triumph and a grand affair when it took place, had not turned out very well. Count Ernest de Conflans was rather a black sheep in some respects, had a strong taste for baccarat and rouge et noir, and spent so much of his bride's money at these amusements during the first year of their life together, that her friends became alarmed, and their interference had brought about a sort of amicable separation. Count Ernest lived in Washington, receiving a specified sum out of his wife's income, and she was travelling indefinitely in Europe with her mother. It was no wonder that she did not look satisfied and content.

"Miss Opdyke, of New York" was quite different and more attractive, Imogen thought. She had never seen any one in the least like her. Rather tall, with a long slender throat, a waist of fabulous smallness, and hands which, in their gants de Suède, did not seem more than two inches wide, she gave the impression of being as fragile in make and as delicately fibred as an exotic flower. She had pretty, arch, gray eyes, a skin as white as a magnolia blossom, and a fluff of wonderful pale hair-artlessly looped and pinned to look as if it had blown by accident into its place-which yet exactly suited the face it framed. She was restlessly vivacious, her mobile mouth twitched with a hidden amusement every other moment; when she smiled she revealed pearly teeth and a dimple; and she smiled often. Her dress, apparently simple, was a wonder of fit and cut,-a skirt of dark fawn-brown, a blouse of ivory-white silk, elaborately tucked and shirred, a cape of glossy brown fur whose high collar set off her pale vivid face, and a "picture hat" with a wreath of plumes. Imogen, whose preconceived notion of an American girl included diamond ear-rings sported morning, noon, and night, observed with surprise that she wore no ornaments except one slender bangle. She had in her hand a great bunch of yellow roses, which exactly toned in with the ivory and brown of her dress, and she played with these and smelled them, as she sat on a high black-oak settle, and, consciously or unconsciously, made a picture of herself.

She seemed as much surprised and entertained at Imogen as Imogen could possibly be at her.

"I suppose you run up to London often," was her first remark.

"N-o, not often." In fact, Imogen had been in London only once in the whole course of her life.

"Dear me!-don't you? Why, how can you exist without it? I shouldn't think there would be anything to do here that was in the least amusing,-not a thing. How do you spend your time?"

"I?-I don't know, I'm sure. There's always plenty to do."

"To do, yes; but in the way of amusement, I mean. Do you have many balls? Is there any gayety going on? Where do you find your men?"

"No, we don't have balls often, but we have lawn parties, and tennis, and once a year there's a school feast."

"Oh, yes, I know,-children in gingham frocks and pinafores, eating buns and drinking milk-and-hot-water out of mugs. Rapturous fun it must be,-but I think one might get tired of it in time. As for lawn parties, I tried one in Fulham the other day, and I don't want to go to any more in England, thank you. They never introduced a soul to us, the band played out of tune, it was as dull as ditch-water,-just dreary, ill-dressed people wandering in and out, and trying to look as if five sour strawberries on a plate, and a thimbleful of ice cream were bliss and high life and all the rest of it. The only thing really nice was the roses; those were delicious. Lady Mary Ponsonby gave me three,-to make up for not presenting any one to me, I suppose."

"Do you still keep up the old fashion of introductions in America?" said Imogen with calm superiority. "It's quite gone out with us. We take it for granted that well-bred people will talk to their neighbors at parties, and enjoy themselves well enough for the moment, and then they needn't be hampered with knowing them afterward. It saves a lot of complications not having to remember names, or bow to people."

"Yes, I know that's the theory, but I call it a custom introduced for the suppression of strangers. Of course, if you know all the people present, or who they are, it doesn't matter in the least; but if you don't, it makes it a ghastly mockery to try to enjoy yourself at a party. But do tell me some more about Bideford. I'm so curious about English country life. I've seen only London so far. Is it ever warm over here?"

"Warm?" vaguely, "what do you mean?"

"I mean warm. Perhaps the word is not known over here, or doesn't mean the same thing. England seems to me just one degree better than Nova Zembla. The sun is a mere imitation sun. He looks yellow, like a real one, when you see him,-which isn't often,-but he doesn't burn a bit. I've had the shivers steadily ever since we landed." She pulled her fur cape closer about her ears as she spoke.

"Why, what can you want different from this?" asked Imogen, surprised. "It's a lovely day. We haven't had a drop of rain since last night."

"That is quite true, and remarkable as true; but somehow I don't feel any warmer than I did when it rained. Ah, here comes the tea. Let me pour it, Mrs. Page. I make awfully good tea. Such nice, thick cream! but, oh, dear!-here is more of that awful bread."

It was a stout household loaf, of the sort invariable in south-county England, substantial, crusty, and tough, with a "nubbin" on top, and in consistency something between pine wood and sole leather. Miss Opdyke, after filling her cups, proceeded to cut the loaf in slices, protesting as she did so that it "creaked in the chewing," and that

"The muscular strength that it gave to her jaw

Would last her the rest of her life."

"Why, what sort of bread do you have in America?" demanded Imogen, astonished and offended by the frankness of these strictures. "This is the sort every one eats here. I'm sure it's excellent. What is there about it that you don't like?"

"Oh, everything. Wait till you taste our American bread, and you'll understand,-or rather, our breads, for we have dozens of kinds, each more delicious than the last. Wait till you eat corn-bread and waffles."

"I've always been told that the American food was dreadfully messy," observed Imogen, nettled into reprisals; "pe

pper on eggs, and all that sort of thing,-very messy and nasty, indeed."

"Well, we have deviated from the English method as to the eating of eggs, I admit. I know it's correct to chip the shell, and eat all the white at one end by itself, with a little salt, and then all the yellow in the middle, and last of all the white at the other end by itself; but there are bold spirits among us who venture to stir and mix. Fools rush in, you know; they will do it, even where Britons fear to tread."

"We stopped at Northam to see Sir Amyas Leigh's house," Mrs. Page was saying to Lionel. "It's really very interesting to visit the spots where celebrated people have lived. There is a sad lack of such places in America. We are such a new country. Lilly and Miss Opdyke walked up to the hill where Mrs. Leigh stood to see the Spanish ship come in,-quite fascinating, they said it was."

"You must be sure to stay long enough in Boston to see the house where Silas Lapham lived," put in the wicked Miss Opdyke. "One cannot see too much of places associated with famous people."

"I don't remember any such name in American history," said honest Imogen,-"'Silas Lapham,' who was he?"

"A man in a novel, and Amyas Leigh is a man in another novel," whispered Miss Opdyke. "Mrs. Page isn't quite sure about him, but she doesn't like to confess as frankly as you do. She has forgotten, and fancies that he really lived in Queen Elizabeth's time; and the coachman was so solemnly sure that he did that it's not much wonder. I bought an old silver patch-box in a jeweller's shop on the High Street, and I'm going to tell my sister that it belonged to Ayacanora."

"What an odd idea."

"We are full of odd ideas over in America, you know."

"Tell me something about the States," said Imogen. "My brother is quite mad over Colorado, but he doesn't know much about the rest of it. I suppose the country about New York isn't very wild, is it?"

"Not very," returned Miss Opdyke, with a twinkle. "The buffalo are rarely seen now, and only two men were scalped by the Indians outside the walls of the city last year."

"Fancy! And how do you pass your time? Is it a gay place?"

"Very. We pass our time doing all sorts of things. There's the Corn Dance and the Green Currant Dance and the Water Melon pow wow, of course, and beside these, which date back to the early days of the colony, we have the more modern amusements, German opera and Italian opera and the theatre and subscription concerts. Then we have balls nearly every night in the season and dinner-parties and luncheons and lectures and musical parties, and we study a good deal and 'slum' a little. Last winter I belonged to a Greek class and a fencing class, and a quartette club, and two private dancing classes, and a girls' working club, and an amateur theatrical society. We gave two private concerts for charities, you know, and acted the Antigone for the benefit of the Influenza Hospital. Oh, there is a plenty to pass one's time in New York, I can assure you. And when other amusements fail, we can go outside the walls, with a guard of trappers, of course, and try our hand at converting the natives."

"What tribe of Indians is it that you have near you?"

"The Tammanies,-a very trying tribe, I assure you. It seems impossible to make any impression on them or teach them anything."

"Fancy! Did you ever have any adventures yourself with these Indians?" asked Imogen, deeply excited over this veracious resumé of life in modern New York.

"Oh, dear, yes-frequently."

"Do tell me some of yours. This is so very interesting. Lionel never has said a word about the-Tallamies, did you call them?"

"Tammanies. Perhaps not; Colorado is so far off, you know. They have Piutes there,-a different tribe entirely, and much less deleterious to civilization."

"How sad. But about the adventures?"

"Oh, yes-well, I'll tell you of one; in fact it is the only really exciting experience I ever had with the New York Indians. It was two years ago; I had just come out, and it was my birthday, and papa said I might ride his new mustang, by way of a celebration. So we started, my brother and I, for a long country gallop.

"We were just on the other side of Central Park, barely out of the city, you see, when a sudden blood-curdling yell filled the air. We were horror-struck, for we knew at once what it must be,-the war-cry of the savages. We turned of course and galloped for our lives, but the Indians were between us and the gates. We could see their terrible faces streaked with war-paint, and the tomahawks at their girdles, and we felt that all hope was over. I caught hold of papa's lasso, which was looped round the saddle, and cocked my revolving rifle-all the New York girls wear revolving rifles strapped round their waists," continued Miss Opdyke, coolly, interrogating Imogen with her eyes as she spoke for signs of disbelief, but finding none-"and I resolved to sell my life and scalp as dearly as possible. Just then, when all seemed lost, we heard a shout which sounded like music to our ears. A company of mounted Rangers were galloping out from the city. They had seen our peril from one of the watch-towers, and had hurried to our rescue."

"How fortunate!" said Imogen, drawing a long breath. "Well, go on-do go on."

"There is little more to tell," said Miss Opdyke, controlling with difficulty her inclination to laugh. "The Head Ranger attacked the Tammany chief, whose name was Day Vidbehill,-a queer name, isn't it?-and slew him after a bloody conflict. He gave me his brush, I mean his scalp-lock, afterward, and it now adorns-" Here her amusement became ungovernable, and she went into fits of laughter, which Imogen's astonished look only served to increase.

"Oh!" she cried, between her paroxysms, "you believed it all! it is too absurd, but you really believed it! I thought till just now that you were only pretending, to amuse me."

"Wasn't it true, then?" said Imogen, her tardy wits waking slowly up to the conclusion.

"True! why, my dear child, New York is the third city of the world in size,-not quite so large as London, but approaching it. It is a great, brilliant, gay place, where everything under the sun can be bought and seen and done. Did you really think we had Indians and buffaloes close by us?"

"And haven't you?"

"Dear me, no. There never was a buffalo within a thousand miles of us, and not an Indian has come within shooting distance for half a century, unless he came by train to take part in a show. You mustn't be so easily taken in. People will impose upon you no end over in America, unless you are on your guard. What has your brother been about, not to explain things better?"

"Well, he has tried," said Imogen, candidly, "but I didn't half believe what he said, because it was so different from the things in the books. And then he is so in love with America that it seemed as if he must be exaggerating. He did say that the cities were just like our cities, only more so, and that though the West wasn't like England at all, it was very interesting to live in; but I didn't half listen to him, it sounded so impossible."

"Live and learn. You'll have a great many surprises when you get across, but some of them will be pleasant ones, and I think you'll like it. Good-by," as Imogen rose to go; "I hope we shall meet again some time, and then you will tell me how you like Colorado, and the Piutes, and-waffles. I hope to live yet to see you stirring an egg in a glass with pepper and a 'messy' lump of butter in true Western fashion. It's awfully good, I've always been told. Do forgive me for hoaxing you. I never thought you could believe me, and when I found that you did, it was irresistible to go on."

"I can't make out at all about Americans," said Imogen, plaintively, as after an effusive farewell from Mrs. Page and a languid bow from Madame de Conflans they were at last suffered to escape into the street. "There seem to be so many different kinds. Mrs. Page and her daughter are not a bit like each other, and Miss Opdyke is quite different from either of them, and none of the three resembles Mrs. Geoffrey Templestowe in the least."

"And neither does Buffalo Bill and your phrenological lecturer. Courage, Moggy. I told you America was a sizable place. You'll begin to take in and understand the meaning of the variety show after you once get over there."

"It was queer, but do you know I couldn't help rather liking that girl;" confessed Imogen later to Isabel Templestowe. "She was odd, of course, and not a bit English, but you couldn't say she was bad form, and she was so remarkably quick and bright. It seemed as if she had seen all sorts of things and tried her hand on almost everything, and wasn't a bit afraid to say what she thought, or to praise and find fault. I told you what she said about English bread, and she was just as rude about our vegetables; she said they were only flavored with hot water. What do you suppose she meant?"

"I believe they cook them quite differently in America. Geoff likes their way, and found a great deal of fault when he was at home with the cauliflower and the Brussels sprouts. He declared that they had no taste, and that mint in green-peas killed the flavor. Clover was too polite to say anything, but I could see that she thought the same. Mamma was quite put about with Geoff's new notions."

"I must say that it seems rather impertinent and forth-putting for a new nation like that to be setting up opinions of its own, and finding fault with the good old English customs," said Imogen, petulantly.

"Well, I don't know," replied Isabel; "we have made some changes ourselves. John of Gaunt or Harry Hotspur might find fault with us for the same reason, giving up the 'good old customs' of rushes on the floor, for instance, and flagons of ale for breakfast. There were the stocks and the pillory too, and hanging for theft, and the torture of prisoners. Those were all in use more or less when the Pilgrims went to America, and I'm sure we're all glad that they were given up. The world must move, and I suppose it's but natural that the new nations should give it its impulse."

"England is good enough for me," replied the practical Imogen. "I don't want to be instructed by new countries. It's like a child in a pinafore trying to teach its grandmother how to do things. Now, dear Isabel, let me hear about your mother's parcels."

Mrs. Templestowe had wisely put her gifts into small compass. There were two dainty little frocks for her grandson, and a jacket of her own knitting, two pairs of knickerbocker stockings for Geoff, and for Clover a bit of old silver which had belonged to a Templestowe in the time of the Tudors,-a double-handled porringer with a coat of arms engraved on its somewhat dented sides. Clover, like most Americans, had a passion for the antique; so this present was sure to please.

"And you are really off to-morrow," said Isabel at the gate. "How I wish I were going too."

"And how I wish I were not going at all, but staying on with you," responded Imogen. "Mother says if Lionel isn't married by the end of three years she'll send Beatrice out to take my place. She'll be turned twenty then, and would like to come. Isabel, you'll be married before I get back, I know you will."

"It's most improbable. Girls don't marry in England half so easily as in America. It will be you who will marry, and settle over there permanently."

"Never!" cried Imogen.

Then the two friends exchanged a last kiss and parted.

"My love to Clover," Isabel called back.

"Always Clover," thought Imogen; but she smiled, and answered, "Yes."

* * *

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