Read Crow Mountain Online

Authors: Lucy Inglis

Crow Mountain

A MESSAGE FROM CHICKEN HOUSE

T
his is a beautiful and thrilling love story. One that stretches across time to link two couples who have to survive the wilderness to find their true selves, and the secrets that they share. It made me angry on their behalf, fiercely hopeful for their survival and awed by Lucy Inglis's ability to create two such powerful worlds of love in such a singularly beautiful setting. Maybe hope can lead to happiness after all.

BARRY CUNNINGHAM

Publisher
Chicken House

For Charlie, Ruth and Jack Tweddle.
With love
.

Also by Lucy Inglis
City of Halves

You already possess everything necessary to become great
.

APSÁALOOKE PROVERB

‘Hope! The taxi's here!' Meredith shouted.

Hope rammed the last of her stuff into her black nylon holdall. ‘Coming!'

She clumped down the stairs lugging her heavy bags, as her mother stood in the hall, looking at the clock.

‘He's cutting it fine.'

‘We've got hours, Mum.'
And hours of hanging around in airports for the next day
.

‘Do you have everything you need? Where we're going is very remote.'

‘Where we go is always very remote. And yes, I have everything. I think.'

The black-cab driver beeped his horn. Meredith threw open the door, letting in London's pale spring sunshine. ‘Then let's go.'

The driver rolled his window down. ‘Taxi for West?'

‘That's us.'

When they were loaded into the cab, he checked their destination. ‘Heathrow, Terminal Five, ladies?'

‘Yes, please,' Meredith said curtly, clearly annoyed with his familiar tone.

As they left the end of their road, he began to make conversation. ‘Going on holiday?'

‘No, work.'

‘What's your work then?' he asked, with the typical bluntness of a London cabbie.

‘I'm an environmental and forest ecosystem scientist specializing in sub-alpine microclimates.'

Hope squashed a sigh. Meredith was more than usually on edge when they had to make a flight.

‘A sub . . . righto.' The driver continued undeterred. ‘Where are you working then?'

‘Montana. On the edge of the Glacier National Park. For a month.'

He whistled, pulling into the traffic heading for the North Circular. ‘Had a man from Montana in my cab once. Know what they say about it?'

‘No,' Meredith said.

‘They call it The Last Best Place.'

‘Because of its remarkable ecology?'

‘No. Because of how it's one of the least populated places in America. You can lose yourself in the wilderness there and never be found. The Unabomber, outlaws, people like that. Go off grid in Montana and you're never seen again.' He glanced at Hope in the rear-view mirror. ‘The real Wild West.'

M
ontana, 1867. The camp was a jumble, full of rough men and women, animals, dirt and noise. I stood aside, out of the thoroughfare, waiting for the others. The street, the only main street in Helena, was full of clapboard frontages with painted signs. At the edges, plots were still pegged out with string and stakes. Between the buildings, undergarments hung on washing lines in alleyways. Not far away, in a side street, someone had made a pigpen and the stench was in the air. Helena, it seemed, was to be like every other camp we had visited on our long and arduous journey. My heart sank.

Miss Adams stood with me as Mr Goldsmith climbed down, stiff-limbed, from the roof of the coach and began to fetch our overnight boxes. Mr Goldsmith had told me interesting stories about the history of America as we crossed the
varied landscapes of the Great Plains. Or at least he had until Miss Adams made him sit outside on the roof with the teamsters who were escorting us, deeming his many nuggets of information unnecessary for my ears.

‘Come, you cannot stand out here,' Miss Adams said, pushing through the doors of the hotel.

Like all those on the trail, it was busy and accommodated a bar. I had never been exposed to working, drinking men in England, and found their bold stares and filth terrifying.

‘Don't look, Miss Forsythe. It only encourages them.'

The hotel owner appeared: he wore, like so many American men, an unattractive droopy moustache, greasy from lip-licking. There was a pair of spectacles with green lenses resting on the top of his balding head.

‘Good afternoon, ladies,' he said cheerfully. ‘Spencer party?'

We were travelling under the name of Spencer for more than one reason. The first was that Papa thought it prudent I, whilst travelling with so small a party, remain anonymous. The second was that with the displacement from the Sioux Wars, and so many people coming to the Montana gold fields, even the meanest places were full. Making multiple reservations in more than one name was somewhat dishonest, to my way of thinking, but had, on two occasions so far, secured us rooms when otherwise we would have been sleeping in the nearest pigpen. Still, we had perhaps only another three weeks of this before arriving at our destination, Portland.

There, I would meet the man I was engaged to marry – Anthony Howard Stanton from the family of the biggest railway constructors in America. Presently they were engaged in building a west-coast infrastructure, hence our rendezvous in Portland, where he was working on the branch line. We were to live in San Francisco, on Larkin Street, opposite Yerba Buena Park. The house was newly finished and already had a full staff, waiting for our arrival.

Miss Adams allowed the hotel keeper's wife to show us to our accommodation as I trailed behind them, lost in thought.

Married life. I was not quite sixteen. Very young for marriage; I knew it. It wasn't that I didn't know how to run a household, for I did, but the idea of being a wife kept me awake in the small hours. What if he could not love
me
, or found me lacking in some way? But Mama and Papa were convinced it was the best match I could make. Two of the finest families in the two greatest countries in the world, united.

When the photographs of Anthony Howard Stanton had arrived, Mama and Papa had expressed their approval whilst showing them to me: ‘Darling, we think he looks most handsome and civilized.'

I had taken them, barely able to keep my hands from shaking. Quickly I had placed them on my sewing table, so that the tremor might not be detected. Aged twenty-two, Mr Stanton was a good height, slim and, yes, he was handsome, remarkably so.

The rooms were small, but they looked clean. I waited by
the door until Miss Adams confirmed her satisfaction and dismissed the proprietress. Miss Adams, I knew, was being paid handsomely to accompany me. A serious woman in her late twenties, she seemed to take no pleasure in anything. Her dress was plain to the point of severity and her hair so tight as to be unflattering. She also had a long nose, which, coupled with her all-seeing eyes, made her seem like a malevolent field mouse. I hoped I should be allowed to let her go once the wedding was over.

As our boxes were delivered, Miss Adams busied herself with unpacking the things we might need for the night. I washed my hands and face, drying off on the hard towel on the washstand, catching my pale reflection in the spotted glass hanging above it.

What had Mr Stanton thought of my portraits? I had loathed sitting for the photographer, my head in a carefully concealed brace to keep it still, but Mama and Papa seemed very pleased with the result. He had captured my pale skin and large eyes so well, everyone said.

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