Isabella is in Namaqua.* There is a dance this evening. But first, all of the guests and household members are fascinated by Isabella’s riding partner Jim.
The landlady confesses that Jim’s name is invoked when children are being naughty, by telling them that “he would get them, for he came down from the mountains every week, and took back a child with him to eat!” Yet all assembled seem shocked by how well behaved he is. Plus, he’s something like a celebrity in these parts and Isabella says she “gained a reflected importance. “All the men in the settlement assembled in the front room, hoping he would go and smoke there, and when he remained in the kitchen they came round the window and into the doorway to look at him.”
Everyone clears out for the dance and Jim and Isabella had the kitchen to themselves until midnight. “It was a most respectable dance, a fortnightly gathering got up by the neighboring settlers, most of them young married people, and there was no drinking at all.” Isabella passes the time by writing this letter while Jim recited poems. They get to talking, too.
“… for the last time, I urged upon him the necessary of a reformation in his life, beginning with giving up whisky, going so far as to tell him that I despised a man of his intellect for being a slave to such a vice. ‘TOO LATE! Too late!,’ he always answered, ‘for such a change.’ As I looked at him, I felt a pity such as I never before felt for a human being.”
* There are only a few entries left. We should close out the Rockies by the end of the week. Prepare yourself.
Isabella is about to take on the longest ride of her return trip. It will be 30 miles, which they will do at a walking pace because her horse is laden with luggage.
“I did not wish to realize that it was my last ride, and my last association with any of the men of the mountains whom I had learned to trust, and in some respects to admire. No more hunters’ tales told while the pine knots crack and blaze; no more thrilling narratives of adventures with Indians and bears; and never again shall I hear that strange talk of Nature and her doings which is the speech of those who live with her and her alone.”
When they emerged onto the Plains, the wind and cold became intolerable and the dismalness of the land began to overcome her. She turned to look at the mountains, “I never saw the mountain range look so beautiful — uplifted in every shade of transparent blue, till the sublimity of Long’s Peak, and the lofty crest of Storm Peak, bore only unsullied snow against the sky. *…100 miles away, Pikes Peak rose a lump of blue, and over all, through that glorious afternoon, a veil of blue spiritualized without dimming the outlines of that most glorious range, making it look like the dreamed-of mountains of ‘the land which is very far off,’ till at sunset it took out sharp in glories of violet and opal, and the whole horizon up to a great height was suffused with the deep rose and pure orange of the afterglow."
* This will be a long sentence. Take a deep breath before reading.
Isabella is on her way to Denver with Jim. They have stopped for the night.
Initially, Isabella was to have slept at a woman’s house and mentioned that said woman “never stops talking.” Miller, a young man whose “attractive” house was not ready for ladies the last time she came through, now has a place where Isabella can stay. “His house is a model. He cleans everything as soon as it is used, so nothing is ever dirty, and his stove and cooking gear in their bright parts look like polished silver. It was amusing to heat the two men talk like two women about various ways of making bread and biscuits, one even writing out a recipe for the other.”*
The men treated her well and even went so far as to heat a stone for her feet and warm a blanket for her to sleep in, which is good because it is 11 below zero.
“The stars were intensely bright, and a well-defined auroral arch, throwing off fantastic coruscations,** lighted the whole northern sky…This was my last evening in what may be called a mountainous region.”
Sounds delightful, frankly, if chilly.
* I suddenly want biscuits.
** “a sudden gleam or flash of light”
Isabella is still alive. The timeline gets a little muddy here — which it can do when you almost freeze to death — but I think she’s actually recounting her ride to Longmount and then her last return to Estes before she then leaves for good. Maybe.*
Anyway, when we left, she was nearly frozen. But she soon saw the “scattered houses and blessed lights of Longmount…When I reached the hotel I was so benumbed that I could not get off, and the worthy host lifted me off and carried me in.
“Not expecting any travelers, they had no fire except in the bar-room, so they took me to the stove in their own room, gave me a hot drink and plenty of blankets and in half and hour I was all right and ready for a ferocious meal.”
It turns our that Evans was also there, which she’d discover the next day. All of the money issues were now ok. They intended to set back off early the next morning but discovered it was 17 below zero. Events (but not very interesting ones) intervene. She winds up waiting a bit, adding extra clothes, and riding back to the Hughes’ house.
* Sometimes, she gets a little hard to follow, is what I’m saying. She got better about timelines in later books.