Read The Golden Peaks Online

Authors: Eleanor Farnes

The Golden Peaks

THE GOLDEN PEAKES

Eleanor Farnes

 

Celia took her small niece to Switzerland for a long period of treatment, and fell under the spell of the majestic snow peaks and green fertile valleys. She took on work at a mountain hotel, to eke out her currency, and fell under another spell, that of the owner of the hotel—Kurt, a stern, adventurous fellow and a mountaineer, whose mind was always on his business or the mountains.

There, too, she met again the well-to-do and handsome Englishman, Geoffrey Crindle, whom she had not seen since her schooldays,
and very soon there were emotional problems facing Celia as well as the problem of maintaining Dorothy.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Celia Dorrelson
stood where the train had left her, swaying with weariness, her arm consolingly round Dorothy’s shoulders, and watched the porter pile the luggage into the car. The last porter, she thought thankfully, piling it into the last car, for its journey up the mountainside; the
l
ast train left at the last station. For this had been a nightmare journey, worse than she had anticipated, because Dorothy had been very ill on the boat, and had continual to be train-sick right across France. Poor little Dorothy, thought Celia, looking down at her; almost at the point of collapse, poor
c
hild.

She looked across the wide road at the lights of the town, and the black shapes of the mountains behind them, and breathed the cool, fresh, sweet air. This must surely do Dorothy good.

The porter had finished with the luggage. Celia tipped him, wondering how many times she had tipped people since leaving the London station, and helped Dorothy into the car, following her in, and putting an arm about her for support. The car set off, very soon beginning to climb.

"Why does it sway about so much?” asked Dorothy, feeling that she would soon be ill again.

“It has to zig-zag up the mountain, darling. But it isn’t for long this time. If you can hang on for just a few minutes, we shall be there, and you can tumble straight into bed.”


Oh, dear,” said Dorothy, feeling so ill that even a few minutes stretched into eternity.

The road climbed steeply. It ran past a cosily lit hotel —“the one,” Celia supposed, “where my room is booked” —and soon left the sloping meadows behind, to push its way through a pine wood. Here, the road was very narrow and steep, and Celia prayed that the car could cope with such a dangerous road. Apparently, it could. The driver was used to this terrain, and knew how many inches he had on each side of the car, before he would touch the long, straight trunks of the pines. Still turning and twisting, the road led at last out on to a plateau, and there, brilliantly lit, stood the building they had come so far to reach. The driver drew up before the wide entrance, and Celia stumbled out on to the drive, turning to help Dorothy.

A young man appeared at her side.

“The driver will wait for you,” he said in very good English, “to take you to your hotel. If you would please tell him which luggage to leave here
...

Celia indicated which was Dorothy’s luggage, and then followed the young man into the building. He led them into a very bright,
cl
ean, attractive office, with vases of flowers lending gentleness, and presented them to a smiling secretary.

“Miss Dorrelson?” asked the secretary, holding out her hand. “We expected you some hours since.”

“Yes. Actually, we had to wait in Berne, because Dorothy was so ill, and I hadn’t the heart to put her straight into yet another train. This is Dorothy, my niece and your patient. Do you think that she might go straight to bed?”

The secretary looked at Dorothy and immediately made up her mind.

“Certainly,” she said, and pressed a bell.

Travelling does not suit her, I see. But you will feel wonderful when you have had a good sleep,” she added to Dorothy.

A nurse appeared, young, smiling, good-looking.

“Here is Irmgard,” said the secretary, “who is going to look after you, Dorothy. If you go with her, you will soon be in your bed.”

Panic flashed into Dorothy’s eyes.

“Oh, Celia,” she said.

Celia smiled at her.

“I’m coming to say goodnight to you presently,” she said. “There are questions to answer first, and things to arrange.”

“You won’t go without saying goodnight to me?”

“No. I promise."

Some time later, Celia was taken to see Dorothy. She was ensconced in a
s
mall
room, lightly and attractively furnished, and was already in her bed, washed and refreshed.

“Well, darling, you look very comfortable; and now you must sleep well, and you will be better in the morning.”

“You won’t go away, will you, Celia?”

“Only to the hotel. I'm nearly as tired as you are. But I’ll be back in the morning to see how you are.”

“Promise.”

“I promise. Now goodnight, darling.”

Celia went away, to find the driver of the car still waiting for her. Once again, they traversed the plateau, the long, dark pine wood, and came out to the sloping meadows. This time, the car stopped at the hotel Celia had already noticed, and her luggage was dumped into the entrance hall. She was now so tired that she longed only to go to bed. Her bags were taken upstairs as she registered. No, she said, she did not want dinner. If she could have coffee and sandwiches in her room, she would go straight to bed.

She was taken upstairs to a pleasant room. The shutters were closed, but the windows open. Celia glanced about her and was too tired to take any interest in her surroundings. She felt the bed and it promised heavenly comfort
.
She began to unpack only what she would need for the night.

She ate her sandwiches, drank her coffee, prepared for bed, and gratefully, with infinite relief, sank into bed and pulled the mountainous, feather-filled cover over her.

Oh, bliss, oh, bliss, she thought, able at last to give in to her weariness, hoping that Dorothy was as comfortable as she herself. Poor, dear Dorothy! Almost as soon as the boat had started; Dorothy was sick, and had continued to be for the whole crossing, so that Celia had to cope with all the luggage, a sick child, taxis, porters, customs, meals. The long night journey across France had taxed the child so far that Celia had decided to wait in Berne and give her a chance to recover. Yes, it had been a wearisome journey, but, thank goodness, it was over now.

She woke to find that the sun was sloping into her room through the bars of the shutters. She was wonderfully refreshed, and she stretched herself in animal delight before she got out of bed, flung open the shutters, and stood still in enchanted surprise at the view before her.

The hotel was built on the side of the mountain, looking out over the valley to the majestic mountain range on the other side. Celia’s room, with its wooden balcony, looked out, too, to the grandeur of a panorama of forest and rock, rising to glittering, snow-clad peaks, soaring into the sky. The whole morning was charged with light and color; the intense blue of the sky, the brightness of the snow-peaks, with the-shadows appearing purple and pink; the dark green of the pine forests, the lighter green of the meadows, all built up a picture of exciting loveliness. The air, too, as she stool and took deep breaths of it, was like wine, charged with energy, challenging, stimulating. Celia’s weariness of the preceding night might never have been. She
felt
alive and alert, ready to face anything, able to manage.

Indeed, she thought, as she washed and dressed, she had some problems to face and manage. She must find some way of being able to stay in Switzerland, for Dorothy’s
health
.
Breakfast first, Dorothy next, and then some concentrated planning—that must be the program. She went downstairs to find the dining room.

A smiling waitress directed her, and showed her to a
s
mall
table in a
corner
. The Continental breakfast of hot rolls, butter, marmalade and coffee, was d
el
i
ci
ous. She was enjoying herself, eating and watching the few other guests, when she was approached by a very beautiful, tall and slender young woman.

“Good morning. May I sit down?”

“Yes, do,” said Celia, smiling.

"You are Miss Dorrelson? I am so sorry I was not here to greet you last evening. I am Mr. St. Pierre’s secretary. I waited some time for you—we expected you earlier.” Celia explained that her small niece had been very ill on the journey and she had delayed their arrival to give her a rest in Berne.

“She is now at the rest centre? That is good. It is quite a wonderful place, and everybody there is so kind.”

“I am going to see her as soon as my breakfast is finished.”

“I hope you will find her better. Your room is quite comfortable?”

“Oh, wonderful. That heavenly view.”

“Yes. It is beautiful. And so wonderful a morning, too.”

“You speak excellent English,” said Celia, “but you are not English, are you?”

The girl laughed.

“Indeed, no. I am Swiss. My English is not so good as that. My name is Anneliese Sommer—and if there is anything you need, or would like to know, I shall be glad to help you.”

“Thank you,” said Celia.

Anneliese Sommer told her the meal times, and that at any time meals could be packed to take out, for expeditions; and that, if climbing were her forte, there was a very good and experienced guide who worked for the hotel.

“That sounds wonderful,” said Celia, “but I’m not really here on holiday.”

“All the same,” said Anneliese, “perhaps you will have a little time to enjoy yourself.”

They talked a little longer, and then Anneliese excused herself and went away, and Celia finished her breakfast and prepared for her walk up the mountainside to what was so tactf
u
lly and diplomatically called the rest centre.

“What a beautiful girl,” she thought, as, setting out from the hotel, she caught sight of Anneliese again and was given a flashing smile and a wave of the hand. Her pale gold hair, not lifeless like so much blonde hair, but
shining,
was twisted into an elegant loop at the back of her neck. Her features were beautifully regular, and only a faint suggestion of coldness in the blue eyes marred their attraction. She was tall and slender and her body was as beautiful as her face. “Mr. St Pierre,” thought Celia, “has a very good taste in secretaries.”

From the hotel, the first part of the way wound up by long zig-zags, through pastures and meadows. She could see now how rough was the road they had travelled last night. The whole of the way, she could, by turning her head, see the same wonderful panorama that had confronted her in the early morning. She climbed steadily, puffing a good deal, up and up and up; passing at first, many beautiful chalets, with their deeply overhanging roofs weighed down by small boulders, their roofed-in balconies marvellously carved and bright with flowers. Each person she saw gave her the same greeting, the “Gruss Gott” of the country people—God greet you. It lifted her spirit, gave her a warming happiness.

Dorothy was already feeling better. She could greet Celia with a smile. Her nurse, Irmgard, was a dear. The doctor had already been to see her. She had eaten some breakfast, and she was to drink one and a half pints of
milk
every day. She was to stay in bed for a whole week—wasn’t it ridiculous? And was Celia’s hotel nice, and would she promise not to go away without letting Dorothy know?

“I should say you
are
feeling better,” said Celia, “when you can be such a chatterbox. What do you
think
of this, outside your window?”


What, the view? Isn’t it wonderful? I feel as if I’m living on top of the world. What are you going to do, Celia?”

“I’m going to see if I can manage to stay here. I have to think out ways and means. I’ll let you know whatever I plan to do.”

“You won’t go away, will you, and not tell me?”

“Dorothy, you know I won’t. You must stop worrying. I have already promised you. Can’t you trust me?”

“Yes, of course I can,” said Dorothy. “I just like you to tell me so.”

Poor child, thought Celia; she hasn’t had much reason to trust anybody. I shall have to stay and be near her; perhaps I can get myself a job here. Perhaps that nice Anneliese Sommer would have some ideas about it—at least, I could ask her.

Celia stayed for an hour with Dorothy, bringing her her books and papers and crayons; promising to buy her some wool and needles so that she could knit; talking and laughing with her. Then, thoughtfully, she left the beautiful building that was the rest centre, made her way across the plateau and towards the darkness of the pine wood. But the beauty of the morning broke into her absorption with Dorothy, and suddenly, before reaching the pines, she stood still and looked about her. No, she would not go back to the hotel yet. This was her first morning here, and its brilliance, the brightness of the blue and gree
n
and white spread all round her, tempted her to explore a little. A small footpath lay enticingly to one side of the rough road, a path that wound round and up the mountainside, becoming rapidly rougher and steeper. It promised wonderful views from higher up, and Celia hesitated only for a moment. She
succumbed to the temptation it offered her, and began to follow it, a little chagrined at the number of times she must pause for breath, as it became steeper and steeper.

The higher she went, the more wonderful were the views spread round her. The very air seemed charged with vitality. Distances were
clear
cut, and sounds travelled very far, rising from the valley. She stood tranquilly gazing for a long time, the need for thinking h
el
d at bay, while the beauty and peace of this world soaked into her.

At last, she realized that she must hurry if she meant to be back for luncheon. She retraced her steps, finding it a much quicker business to get down the mountain, though one fraught with its own small dangers. Stones and small boulders were apt to roll away under one’s foot, so that a certain amount of care must be taken. Spring rain, or the melting of the snows, had left a slipperiness in their wake in places not reached by the sun. Yet these things were not enough to quell the sudden lightness of her spirit. The grey and cold of the London winter had been superseded by the light and sun of the mountains; the journey, complicated to arrange and difficult in operation, had been saf
el
y achieved, and Dorothy was not only comfortably installed, but already, after one night, looked and sounded better.
Relieved of some of her anxiety, elated by the brilliance of the morning, Celia began to skip and hop down the dangerous path, feeling a sudden confidence in herself, m her ability to choose the right boulders;, feeling a joy
in
her
own lightness.

She
came
to a steeper slope, and she found that she could not stop herself. She had no time to choose her footholds, and saw no way of putting a brake on her helter-skelter descent of the mountain. A loose stone gave way under her foot, and she could not completely regain her balance. Just as she strove not
to give way to a wave of panic that threatened to engulf her, she came up against an obstacle so suddenly that it took the breath from her body, and brought her to a halt.

In the few seconds that it took her to rega
in
her breath, she realized that the obstacle was a man’s arm, and as she drew herself away from what had seemed to her like a bar of iron, a voice said dryly above her head:


This is certainly the quickest way to get down a mountain—to fall down it.”

Celia smiled shakily, as she took a step away and looked
up at the man.

“I don’t want to do that,” she said.

There was no answering smile on the rugged brown face that looked down at her, nor in the dark-brown eyes.

“It is what you will do,” he said, "unless you learn to treat the mountains with more respect
.

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