Part 5 out of 6
So the stage rolled on into the gate of the Yosemite and Kate remained on
the veranda of the hotel at El Portal, consoling herself, when she had
retrieved Timmy, by looking at the pictures in the _Illustrated London
News_, an old number of a fortnight or three weeks ago. She found it so
interesting and absorbing, one page in particular, that when the next
coach bound for the Sentinel Hotel came along, she forgot to fight for a
place until it was too late to fight. There was not another stage bound
for that destination until to-morrow. And to-morrow Mrs. May and Hilliard
were going on somewhere else. Kate could not remember where.
Seeing her dismay, the manager of the hotel took pity on the pretty Irish
girl. "Never mind," said he. "You can 'phone from here to the Sentinel.
When your lady arrives there this afternoon, she'll find your message and
know what's happened. Then she can 'phone back what she wants you to do."
"But I won't get to her to-night, will I?" wailed Kate.
"No, you won't get to her to-night," he echoed. "But I guess she ain't so
helpless she can't do up her back hair without you, is she?"
"Her blouse buttons up behind," Kate murmured, as one murmurs in a painful
dream. "And, oh, by the powers, if I haven't got her nightgown in this
Naturally the manager was not deeply interested in Mrs. May's nightgown.
As for Mrs. May herself, she was not yet conscious of the loss of it. She
was thinking, at first, about the pictures which she had not seen in the
_Illustrated London News_, and the girl's exclamation: "I hope they won't
be killed!" Then, later, of the valley through whose door she had just
entered with Nick Hilliard, the hidden valley which Indians knew and loved
long before a few cattle-seeking American soldiers ferreted out the
The voice of the Merced drowned the dull voice of the past which had
suddenly called to her. It was a gay laughing voice that sang among the
tumbled rocks sent down to the river for playthings, by her tall brothers
the mountains; and the voices of pines and cedars answered, all singing
the same high song in the same language--the language of Nature. Only,
they sang in different tones and different keys--soprano and contralto,
tenor and bass. The song was so sweet that no one could think of anything
else, unless it might be of love; for the song told of love, because
nature is love.
As the sun rose higher and warmed the air, the valley was like a great box
full of spices, such as the three Wise Men of the East carried for an
offering when they followed their Star; a secret, golden box was the
valley, high-sided, with a lid of turquoise and sapphire, which was the
The deep, still trout-pools of the Merced--bravest and strongest river of
the valley--were coloured like beds of purple pansies; or they were vivid
green, glinting with sparks of gold, like the wings of a Brazilian beetle.
Far down in the clear depths, Angela caught glimpses of darting fish,
swift as silver arrows shot from an unseen bow. And close to the sky, high
on the rocky sides of the Yosemite treasure-chest, were curiously traced
bas-reliefs, which might have been carved by a dead race of giants: heads
of elephants, profiles of Indians and Titanic tortoises, most of them
appropriately and whimsically named by ancient pioneers.
"The Yosemite!" Angela said, over and over to herself. "I'm in the
Once, in the heart of a forest, a deer sprang out on to the road and stood
alert, quivering, as the stage lumbered heavily toward it through
sparkling red dust like powdered rubies. Then, suddenly, when the horses
were almost upon it, the delicate creature bounded away, vanishing among
the shadows which seemed to have given it birth, as a diving fish is
swallowed up by water and lost to sight. This vision lingered in Angela's
memory as one of the loveliest of the day; but the great cataracts did
their startling best, later, to paint out the earlier pictures.
Even the first slender forerunners of the mighty torrents were
unforgettable, and individual. Long, ethereal, floating white feathers
drooped from the heads of tremendous boulders that were gray with the
glossy grayness of old silver. Cascades were everywhere; and the weaving
of many diamond-skeins of water behind a dark foreground of motionless
trees was like the ceaseless play of human thought behind inscrutable
faces whose expression never changed.
Yet these silver tapestries, pearl-embroidered, were but the binding for
the Book of the Valley, the great poem of the waterfalls; and as the stage
brought them near the home of the mighty cataracts, Nick and Angela
noticed that the atmosphere became mysteriously different. The sky rolled
down a blue curtain, to trail on the floor of the valley, like a veil
suspended before an altar-piece. Through this curtain of exquisite
texture--bright as spun glass, transparent as star-sapphires, and faintly
shimmering--their gaze travelled toward soaring peaks and boulders, which
seemed to rise behind the sky instead of against it. Then, suddenly, out
gleamed the dome of the Bridal Veil, bright and high in the heavens as a
comet sweeping a glittering tail earthward.
Later, as the stage wound along the road and brought them under the wall
of the cataract, the rainbow diadem that pinned the topmost folds of the
veil glittered against the noonday sun; and in the lacy woof of moving
water, lovely kaleidoscopic patterns played with constant interchange of
flowery designs. Invisible fingers wove the bridal lace, beading with
diamonds the foliage of its design; or so Angela thought when first she
saw the falls. But presently she made a discovery--one which Nick had made
years ago, and kept the secret that Angela might have the joy of finding
it for herself.
"Why, it isn't a veil, after all!" she exclaimed.
"I know," said Nick. "That effect's only for the first few minutes, like a
stage curtain hiding the real thing."
"And the real thing is only for the elect, like us," said Angela,
conceitedly. "Outsiders can't get behind the curtain. Let me tell you what
"And if we see the same thing?"
"Why, it would be a sign that we'd been--friends in a former incarnation,
wouldn't it?" But this was a question to leave unanswered, and she went on
quickly to describe what she saw behind the "stage curtain" of the Bridal
Veil. "A white witch falling----"
"Yes, from the saddle of a black horse----"
"A winged horse, like those the Valkyries ride. Oh, now the witch has
turned her face to me, as she falls. She's putting me under a spell. I
feel I shall never escape."
"I hope you never will," said Nick. "So we _did_ see the same thing in the
Cascade! I found the falling witch when I was here before; but I came
under the spell with you."
He watched her face fearfully, as he ventured this, never having dared as
much before; and seeing that she turned away, he drew her attention to El
Capitan, grandest of the near mountains. Nick had been reading _The Cid_,
trying to "worry through it in the old Spanish," he explained; and the
idea had come into his head that the mountain might have been named by
some Spaniard for "El Gran Capitan." "You see, it's too big and important
for an everyday Captain. But it's just right for El Gran Capitan: don't
you think so?"
Angela did think so, as he suggested it, though she remembered next to
nothing about _The Cid_. But Nick's knowledge of history, which had
amazed her once, pleased without surprising her now. She began to take his
knowledge of most things for granted. Here in the Yosemite Valley he could
teach and show her much that she might have missed but for him, and his
similes showed habits of thought with which a few weeks ago she would not
have credited the ex-cowboy. He made the mountains take shape for her as
gods and heroes of Indian legends; he told her of the Three Graces, and
the Three Brothers, grim as gray monks, who threw glances over their round
shoulders at the Graces; and there was no drama or tragedy of the valley
that he did not know from its first act to the last.
In the afternoon the stage rushed them past a charming camp in the woods,
to the Sentinel Hotel, at the foot of the Yosemite Falls. Angela was given
a room opening on to a veranda, and waiting for Nick to bring her some
word from Kate, by telephone, she stood looking up at the immeasurable
height of the cataract, which loomed white across a brown sweep of
trout-haunted river. "It's like a perpendicular road of marble going up to
heaven," she thought; and as she gazed, down that precipice of snow came
tumbling a white shape as of a giant bear, striving desperately to save
itself, hanging for an instant on the brink of the vast gulf, then letting
go hopelessly and plunging over.
Angela stepped out on the veranda to talk with Hilliard when he came, and
though shocked to hear that Kate could not arrive that night, was glad to
know her safe. Nick had arranged that Kate should meet her mistress at
Glacier Point next day. "And so," he said, "there's nothing to bother
about, if you can do without her for this one night. I hope you don't
mind much, for I feel it was my fault. I ought to have managed better."
"I don't mind in the least," Angela was beginning to console him, when
suddenly she broke off with an "Oh!" of dismay, clasping her hands
"What's the matter?" Nick questioned anxiously.
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
"But there is something, Mrs. May. You must tell me, and I'll try to make
"What shops are there here?" she asked by way of answer.
"Oh, you can buy photographs and souvenirs, and candy and drugs, I
Angela shook her head. "I don't want to buy them. Do you think--I could
"A nightgown. You see, I've just remembered--the cascades and mountains
made me forget--my dressing-bag was left behind with Kate. I've a frock or
two, and the new khaki things for to-morrow, in my suit-case, but--nothing
else. Brushes and combs and so on, I can get here I'm sure. But--would the
shops--if any--run to nighties?"
"No," said Nick, gloomily. "I'm afraid they wouldn't, anyhow not the sort
that deserves a nice pet name like that. But--_I'll_ get you one."
"You can't," said Angela. "You can't create a 'nighty' or call it from the
"That's what I mean to do: call one from the vasty deep; hook it up like a
She laughed. "What bait will you use?"
"I don't know yet. But I'm going to find out. And you shall have the
'nighty,' as you call it, by the time you want it."
"You'd better not pledge yourself."
"I do. I've failed you often enough since we started! I won't fail this
time, you'll see. The thing you want must exist somewhere within a radius
of ten miles, and I'm going to lasso it."
"But you didn't engage as a lassoer of nighties. You engaged as trail
"If anything is wanted along the trail, why then it's the business of the
trail guide to get it. Don't you worry about your arrangements, Mrs. May."
"I don't. Meanwhile, I may find some kind of a garment lurking on a
forgotten shelf of the candy-drugs-grocery shop."
"If you do, it wouldn't be worthy of you. But you can try," said Nick
dubiously. And after a late luncheon, she did try, in vain. Other
necessaries were forthcoming, but nighties were things that you had to
bring into the Yosemite Valley, it would seem, or do without. Angela said
nothing of her failure. She supposed that Nick would forget her plight if
she made little of it; but she did not know him thoroughly yet. They took
a walk, and the momentous subject was not mentioned: nevertheless, it
pressed upon Nick's thoughts. As he talked, the "nighty" that was not, and
must be, weighed upon his mind as heavily as though it were a coat of mail
instead of the gossamer creation he imagined.
"Now I've got to concentrate and figure out what's trumps," he said to
himself, when Angela had gone to rest before dinner. "I've dealt myself a
mighty queer card, but there's no good bluffing in this game."
The desired garment declared itself even to the untrained masculine
intelligence as a dainty and dreamlike thing, which, to deserve its name
and be worthy of a fastidious wearer, must be delicate as the outer petals
of a white rose.
How then to obtain for this despoiled goddess such a marvel in a remote
village, lost among Yosemite forests? There was the rub; a vaguely groping
"rub" with no Aladdin's lamp to match.
Nick's thoughts ramped in the cage of his mind like a menagerie of hungry
animals awaiting food. Where was that food--in other words, an
inspiration--to be got? Then of a sudden it dropped at his feet.
He had been pacing uneasily up and down his room; but now, with all his
customary decision, he touched the electric bell. A trim chambermaid of
superior and intelligent appearance answered the call.
"Are you a Californian?" was the first question flung at the neat head, in
place of an expected demand for hot water. She had brought the water, and
was equally prepared for a want unforeseen. "Yes, sir," she said. "I'm a
"Hurrah!" said Nick. "Then I know you won't fail me."
She was too well trained a girl to stare. "Are you a Native Son?" she
ventured, seeing that a lead would be useful.
"No; but I ought to have been. My parents were Californian, and my heart
is and always will be. I have to ask help from a Californian now, for the
honour of California."
Usually, when gentlemen clamoured for help from this young person it was
to find a collar stud. But not even the most cherished collar stud could
concern the honour of the State. She waited, looking sympathetic; for
Nick's eyes would have drawn sympathy from a stone, and Jessy Jones had
not even a pebble in her composition.
"As a Californian, I'm showing California to a lady," he explained. "She's
from Europe, and I don't want her to think the old civilization can
produce anything better than ours."
"I should think not!" retorted the Native Daughter. "What is she looking
for that _we_ can't produce, I'd like to know?"
"A nightgown," confessed Nick, boldly. "You see," he hurried on, "she's
lost the bag she had it in."
"Oh, if that's all, I----"
"Have you seen the lady, over in the annex, in number twenty-three?"
"Yes," said Jessy. "One of the girls told me there was a regular beauty
there, English or something, so I made an errand that way. So _she's_ the
lady? Well, that makes it harder! 'Tisn't everything would do for _her_. I
guess she's rather special."
"I guess so, too. That was what worried me. Because it's for the honour of
California that a foreigner should be supplied, even at a moment's notice,
with something as good as she could get at home."
"If not better," Jessy corrected him.
"If not better. Of course, if an American lady lost her baggage she'd make
allowances, being at home. And if she couldn't get what she wanted, she'd
be good-natured and want what she could get. Well, this lady's
good-natured, too; but it's no compliment to the Yosemite for her to
expect little and have what she expects."
"No. We must surprise her."
"Exactly. For the honour of California. Let's mingle our brains," said
"I guess they'll be more useful kept separate, sir; each along its own
"Does yours keep a line of the right thing?"
"It begins to see its way there. We've a lady staying in the hotel, Mrs.
Everett, from San Francisco, who's got what we want. Mrs. Everett's a
Native Daughter, too. Oh, yes, she'll spare one--her prettiest. Don't you
worry, and don't you say a word to your friend. I and Mrs. Everett will do
the rest. When that lady from Europe opens her door to-night she'll see
lying on her bed something that'll keep her from knowing the difference
between the Yosemite Valley and Paris. Trust two Native Daughters."
"I will," said Nick devoutly. And he shook hands with Jessy Jones. He knew
better than to offer money at this stage of the game; for he, too, was a
Californian, and honour was concerned.
That night, her spirit illumined by the unearthly glory of a lunar
rainbow, Angela went to her room with a faint sense of anticlimax, in the
discomfort she expected. Then, making a light, she saw foaming over the
coverlet a froth of lace and film of cambric. Almost it might have been
woven from the moon-rainbow. But pinned on to a sleeve-knot of pale pink
ribbon was a slip of paper; and on the slip of paper were a few words in a
woman's handwriting: "Compliments of California to Mrs. May."
THE BEST THING IN HER LIFE
A faint fragrance of roses haunted the mysterious "nighty," filled the
room, and mingled with Angela's dreams. All night long she walked in a
garden of sleeping flowers, "sweet shut mouths of rosebuds, and closed
white lids of lilies"; and it seemed but a short night, for in her dreams
she had half the garden still to explore--in searching for Nick, it
seemed--when a rap, sharp as the breaking of a tree branch, made her start
up in bed. A dim impression was in her mind that a voice had accompanied
the rap, and had made an unsympathetic announcement which meant the need
to get up. But the only really important thing was to run back into the
garden and find Nick Hilliard, as otherwise she might miss him forever. So
Angela shut her eyes, and hurried down dim labyrinths, where she had been
wandering before, and called to Nick: "I'm here again. Where are you?"
The rosebuds and lilies were still there, fast asleep, yet somehow the
garden was different and not so beautiful. A handsome woman, with black
hair, was gathering the flowers, pretending not to see Angela, and Nick
had gone. A girl's voice somewhere was saying, "Prince di Sereno! What a
It only seemed a minute since the first knock, but now there came
another; and this time the announcement was even more disturbing:
"Breakfast's ready!" Immediately after, as if to show that no arguing
would avail, steps went clanking along the veranda, heavy at first,
fainter with distance, and at last a convulsive banging on the door of
some other unfortunate.
Now Angela wished no longer to return to the garden of sleep. She was glad
to get up, bathe in haste and dress breathlessly, for she had asked to be
called at five in order to breakfast before six. In a strenuous quarter of
an hour she had arrived at the blouse-fastening stage of her toilet; and,
as luck would have it, the blouse concerned was one which did not approve
of hurry, and tolerated no liberties. It was of fine cambric,
hand-embroidered, fastening at the back, where on one side lived a
quantity of tiny pearl buttons, made to mate with an equal number of loops
on the other side, very little loops of linen thread. As works of art
these were admirable, but they liked to be waited upon respectfully by an
experienced lady's maid. Missing such attentions, not one would consent to
yoke itself with its appointed button.
Angela grew warm and flurried. She rang, but no one answered the bell, for
it was not yet six o'clock; and only a few of the hotel servants had come
What should she do? Last night she had looked forward with interest to
dressing this morning, for Nick had got for her a costume suitable for
riding a trail pony, and fortunately she had it in her suit-case. It was
of khaki, with a divided skirt, and a peculiarly fetching jacket. But the
jacket must be worn over a thin blouse; and she could not go out to
breakfast with that blouse unbuttoned from neck to waist. No doubt by
this time Nick was waiting. A large party would start from the hotel to
drive to Mirror Lake, and they two were to be in the crowd--though not of
it--finding their trail ponies later. She might, of course, keep her
"forest creature" waiting indefinitely. He was inured to that treatment
and would not complain; but the others?
"Are you ready, Mrs. May?" Nick's voice inquired apologetically, outside
the door. "I hope you won't mind my bothering you, but I thought perhaps
your call had been forgotten, so----"
"_Can_ you do my blouse for me? Because I can't! And if you can't I shall
cry," moaned Angela in a voice of despair. She dashed the door open, and
stood on the threshold, in the sweet dawn, the river laughing at her
Nick did not laugh.
There was his Angel, in her short khaki skirt, and the thin cambric blouse
that would not button. Her face was flushed, her eyes sparkling with that
dress-rage than which no emotion known to woman is more fiercely
primitive. She was in an early morning "I don't care _what_ happens now!"
mood; but Nick cared.
In the first place, as his eyes took in the situation, he was overwhelmed
with a sense of vast responsibility. If he could not "do" the blouse, Mrs.
May had threatened to cry, and she looked as if she would keep her word.
So "do" the blouse he must, if the sky fell. And if he couldn't, it had
Angela stood with her back to her victim, and the rosy light of sunrise
turned a small visible slip of white skin to pearl. A ring or two of
bright hair, moist from her bath, curled out from the turned-up mass of
gold, and hovered like little glittering bees just over the top buttons of
Mrs. May's collar, which Nick must now attack. What if some of that shiny
hair was twisted around the buttons? Good heavens! On closer inspection it
The man's heart, which was beating fast, seemed suddenly to turn to
water--wild, rushing water, like that of the river below the fall.
"Can you do it?" asked Angela, anxiously.
"I sure will," answered Nick, with a hundred per cent, more confidence
than he felt. A confidence somewhat increased, however, by last evening's
success. "Do I begin at the neck or the waist?" he inquired in his most
matter-of-fact voice, as if he were about to cord a box, or nail up a
crate of oranges.
"At the neck," Angela instructed him.
The stricken young man had a curious sensation, as if his hands were
swelling to an immense size. He seemed to have as much control of his
fingers as though he wore a pair of boxing gloves.
He took hold gingerly of the delicately embroidered collar, a thumb and
finger on either side. "I guess it won't meet," he ventured, tentatively.
"Oh, yes, it will. Just pull it together firmly."
Nick pulled with resolution.
"Ugh! You're choking me!" she gurgled.
All that water which once had been his heart trickled vaguely and icily
through the wrong veins, upsetting his whole system.
"Forgive me this time!" he implored. "It's going to be right, just as soon
as--as--I find the buttonholes."
"There aren't any. They're loops."
"Oh, those tiny little stick-up things, like loosened threads?"
"Yes. You'll see it's _quite_ easy, after the first."
Oh, was it indeed? Nick suppressed a groan, not at his task, but at his
own oxlike awkwardness (so he anathematized it) that made a torture of a
delicious privilege. Evidently it was a much harder thing to lasso one of
these little pearl atrocities with its alleged "loop" than to rope a
vicious steer. And there were those tangling threads of gold. If he should
The ex-cowboy almost prayed, as, with the caution of a man treading upon
knife-blades on the edge of a precipice, he unwound the two little curls
from the top button of the collar. And perhaps his unconscious appeal for
mercy had its effect, for the tendrils yielded graciously to coaxing. He
would have given a year of his life to kiss one of those curls; a
comparatively worthless year it would be, since, in all probability, it
would be empty of Angela May! Yet no--now that he had touched her like
this, now that he had come so near to her, he felt with all his soul that
he could never let her go. He would have to keep her somehow.
"She may think there's a dead line between us," he told himself; "but
before we leave the Yosemite Valley together I'm going to do my best to
cross that line, if I get shot for my cheek. It's better to dare the dash
and die, than not to dare, and lose her."
Never, perhaps, was so desperate a resolve cemented while fastening a
woman's blouse; but there was a hint of triumph in Nick's voice as he
announced, "I've done it!" His signal success in two operations of extreme
difficulty seemed to him like two separate good omens.
Angela lightly thanked her knight for his services and bade him wait on
the veranda while she put on her jacket and hat. A minute later she came
out again, ready for breakfast; and now, having a mind released from
buttons, she saw that Nick was good to look upon in his khaki
"Am I all right?" she inquired modestly.
"Better than all right," he allowed himself to answer.
"I do think this hat of Hawaiian straw is a success. And you--well, I'm
rather proud of my trail guide. Used you to dress like that in your cowboy
Nick laughed. "Great Scot, no! I'd have been in rags in no time. Didn't
you ever see a cowpuncher's 'shaps'?"
"No; I don't even know what they are. Have you kept your cowboy things?"
"Oh, yes. They're knocking around somewhere. I have to put them on once in
"If I accept your invitation to come and see your place, will you 'dress
up' in them?"
"Of course, if it'd please you. But I'd feel a fool rigging myself out
just to show off, like an actor."
"Yet, that's the bribe you'll have to offer if you want me to pay you a
"It's settled then. I hope the moths haven't got my 'shaps' since I had
'em on last."
They both laughed and went to breakfast. What a good world it was! Angela
told Nick the tale of the mysterious apparition of a beauteous "nighty,"
and wondered how she could ever have felt unhappy, or depressingly grown
The others who were going to Mirror Lake were almost ready to start, and
the "buckboard" which was to take Nick and Angela had come to the hotel
door. But these two, at all times small eaters, were exhilarated by the
wine of life, and a little milk and bread sufficed them. They did not keep
the party waiting, and so they were regarded with favour--the handsome
young man and the lovely girl about whose relations to each other people
were quite good-naturedly speculating. Angela saw that she was regarded
with interest, and that eyes turned from her to Nick. But she was "only
Mrs. May, whom nobody knows." After the drive on the buckboard she and
Nick would be separating from the rest. That night, at Glacier Point, she
would find Kate, already arrived from El Portal; and then she would never
see any of these pleasant questioning-eyed young people again. The most
reckless part of the adventure would be over with this day--and she was
rather sorry. After all, she did not much regret the wave of fate which
had swept her and her maid-chaperon temporarily apart. There was a certain
piquancy in travelling alone with this knight-errant.
Mirror Lake--well-named--was asleep still, and dreaming of the mountains
which imprisoned it as dragons used to imprison princesses in glass
retorts. There was the dream, lying deep down and visible under the clear
surface; and when every one else had gone off to the trail ponies, Nick
and Angela stayed to watch the water's waking. It was a darting fish
which, with a splash and a ripple, shattered the picture; but the ripple
died, and the lake slept again, taking up its dream where it had been
broken off, as Angela had tried to do. She had failed, for her picture had
changed for the worse when she found it again; but the second dream of
Mirror Lake was fairer than the first. Into it there stole a joyous
luminance which made saints' haloes for the reflected heads of mountains.
The sun rose, and stepped slowly into the water's dream. It flung the lake
a golden loving cup, thrilling it to the heart with that bright gift.
A little farther on, by the Happy Isles--small, lovely islands of rock in
the river's whirl--Nick and Angela found their trail ponies waiting in
charge of a boy. But Nick knew the trail well, and was to be the sole
guide, as they had always planned. He put Angela up on an intelligent
brown bronco, which had to be ridden Mexican fashion; and they set off
together, the boy looking after them as if he, too, would have liked to
follow the trail.
Far ahead they could see the procession of their lost companions, just
rounding a sharp corner. They were an admirable cavalcade in khaki, the
men wearing sombreros, the girls with brilliant blue or green veils tied
over big hats, and scarlet silk handkerchiefs knotted at their necks. The
gaily coloured figures on horse or mule back fitted the picture as
appropriately as if they had been Indians; and Angela gazed at them with
pleasure; but she felt no wish to join the band.
Nick led; she rode close behind, sometimes mounting, sometimes descending
the narrow trail toward Glacier Point. By and by Hall Dome, one of the
great granite mountains, began to dominate the world; but though the
cascades were in his kingdom they could not be governed by him, because
spirits are not ruled by earthly kings. There was Vernal Fall, gentle in
majesty; and Nevada, a wild and untamed water spirit; and retrospect
glimpses of the Yosemite Falls.
Close to Nevada, they reached a famous viewpoint, and Nick took Angela off
her pony that she might stand near the edge and see the white torrent
plunge over an unthinkable abyss. Always she had hated to look down from
heights, because they made her long to jump and end everything. But to-day
she was in love with life, and the leap of the waters quickened her heart
with a sense of power. On the pony again, as they went up and up, or down
steep rocky ways on the verge of sheer abysses, she had no fear. She
seemed to be learning a lesson of peace, a lesson such as only unspoiled
nature can teach.
[Illustration: "_The world was a sea, billowing with mountains_"]
From the high levels they had reached, they looked down on clouds that
glittered silver-white as snow-capped mountain-heads. Among the rocks,
where the ponies' hoofs picked their way, wild flowers sprang, strange and
lovely blossoms such as Angela had never seen; but Nick knew most of them
by name. Bird notes dropped like honey from fragrant shrubs and trees that
hid the singers. Squirrels with plumed tails, and chipmunks striped white,
gray, and brown, raced across the trail, or peered with the bright beads
they had for eyes from piles of dead wood that lay gray as skeletons among
the living green of the mountain forest. Far below, Silver Apron Fall
splashed into the Emerald Pool and turned its green jewels to diamonds.
The near forests and faraway waters sang in the different voices the same
song other waters and forests had sung yesterday; but this song of the
High Sierra had wilder notes, above and beyond all knowledge of fleeting
episodes such as human lives and civilizations. For the song had not
changed since the world was young. The air was not mere air, but seemingly
a conscious mingling of Divine Ether with the atmosphere. Though they
ascended always, it was as if they rode through the depths of a crystal
sea, unstirred by their presence, a sea as deep and as high as heaven, a
blue that took the solidity of turquoise between tree-trunks and paled to
opaline fire across the canon. Angela knew that never again, after these
spacious days, could she go back to her old self. She felt that she had
mounted one step higher on the stage of development, and gained an ampler
view. It was easier now than it had been to see how Nick Hilliard had
become what he was. Nature, on the grandest scale and with the "grand
manner," she thought, had given him his education; had been for him at
once schoolmistress, guide, and companion. And no college built by man
could give, for money, such knowledge as sky and wide spaces had given
Nick for love.
Early in the afternoon the ponies brought them to the high plateau of
Glacier Point, where, looking down, the world was a sea billowing with
mountains, foaming with cataracts.
Angela was deliciously tired; and the long low hotel, built of logs, with
a huge veranda, seemed to promise the welcome she wanted: a cool, clean
room, a warm bath, and afterward luncheon. Also, she expected to find
Kate. Nick had wired, or telephoned, she was uncertain which; and though
no answer had been received, Kate's silence might no doubt be easily
explained later. Angela felt confident that she would have precisely the
room she pictured; she rather hoped it would be white and green.
The manager met them on the veranda, but it was not the manager Nick had
"My name's Hilliard," Nick began.
"Oh, yes. I 'phoned an answer to you at the Sentinel Hotel this morning.
Something wrong with the wire between us yesterday."
"We must have started before you 'phoned."
"Well, I'm sorry. You wanted two rooms. But the best we can do for you and
Mrs. Hilliard is one."
"Great Scot, you don't know what you're talking about!" gasped Nick. "This
is Mrs. May."
"Beg your pardon, Mr. May. I thought you said your name was Hilliard."
"It is. But hers isn't. We--I--I'm only her guide," stammered Nick, so
deeply embarrassed for Angela's sake that for the moment he lost his
presence of mind. "It's the last straw," he thought. "She'll never forgive
me." And he dared not look to see how she had taken the blow, until she
surprised him by laughing. She was blushing a little, too.
"Do you remember the laundry in New Orleans?" she asked. "I'm afraid it
will have to be the laundry for you again, or else a refrigerator."
Nick was of opinion that the refrigerator would better suit the state of
his complexion, which needed cooling, but his relief at seeing Angela
amused, not offended, was too great for words. He mumbled something vague
about any cupboard or cellar being good enough, and began to recover
himself; but his confusion had been contagious. The hotel manager caught
the disease, and hoped Mrs. Willard would excuse him--no, he meant Mrs.
Day--no, really he began to be afraid that he didn't remember rightly
_what_ he meant! He'd got Mrs. Milliard and Mr. Hay mixed up, and would
they sort themselves, please? Once he had them straightened out in his
mind, he'd try to keep them straight.
"Has my maid come on from El Portal?" Angela thought this a propitious
moment for a question on some other subject.
"Your maid? No, Mrs. Hill, she hasn't."
"And no message? How strange!"
"Nothing that I've heard of. But I'll let you know. If Mr. Mayard--Mr.
Mill, will come with me to the 'phone, when you're in his room--I mean,
when you're in yours--we may get on to El Portal."
Angela was still laughing to herself, when word was brought by a
chambermaid that Kate had telephoned from El Portal. She had hurt her
ankle in getting into the stage (Angela could quite imagine that!), and
had not been able to proceed. It was not, however, a regular sprain. She
was in bandages, but better; and it was now settled that, without fail,
she was to meet Mrs. May at Wawona to-morrow. "And your husband wants to
know," added the chambermaid, "what time you would like to have your
"He is not my husband," said Angela.
The young woman froze.
"We are friends."
The scandalized muscles relaxed. There was a high nobility in friendship.
The chambermaid herself had a friend, who talked a great deal about Plato,
in the cheap edition.
"And will you please say I shall be ready in twenty minutes?"
Standing on the hotel veranda together, after luncheon, "Mrs. Mill and Mr.
Hayward"--he restored to calmness--could look thousands of feet down to
the floor of the valley. Exactly how many thousands of feet there were
Angela refused to be told, for the distance seemed illimitable, and cold
facts might dwarf imagination. They saw the Yosemite Falls, a quivering
white vein on a dark wall a million miles away. Mirror Lake was a splinter
of glass on a pavement of green tiles. Nevada and Vernal Falls were pale
yet bright as streaks of stardrift, in the blue haze of distance.
If it had not been for the episode of Mrs. Hilliard and Mr. May, Nick
might have felt tempted to try his fate, and dare the dash across the
"dead line," that evening of moonlight on the mountain-top. But it might,
he thought, seem like presuming on what had happened; and having come,
more or less safely, round an awkward turning, he was thankful to find
himself on a narrow ledge of security. The moonshine, that turned
mountains to marble and sky to pearl, was cold as it was pure; and in its
bleaching radiance Angela seemed less woman than spirit. He dared not let
that angel know how hot was his heart.
"I'll wait till we're among the Big Trees," he said to himself. "They're
great, as great as the mountains in their way, but they're friendly and
kind, as if they might help. That's where I'll risk it all: in the
Mariposa Forest, the place I like better than any other in the world. So
whatever happens, we shall have seen the best there is together, and all
that will be mine to remember, if I lose everything else."
The next day was a day of forest and flowers.
They were not travelling this time in an ordinary stage, for Nick had
secured a buckboard for themselves alone, with a driver who knew the
country, with its beauties and legends, as well as he knew his big
muscular gray horses.
Those never-ending, cathedral-forests of America's. National Park were
wilder than any that Angela had imagined. She hardly believed that the
great redwoods which she was to see to-morrow could be grander than these
immense fluted columns of cedar and pine. In the arms of the biggest and
most virile trees, many slender sapling shapes, storm-broken, or tired of
facing life alone, lay helplessly. But the driver's heart was proof
against a romantic view of this situation, as sketched by Angela. "It
oughtn't to be allowed," he said, sternly. "Think of the danger in fire.
That's what is called by the foresters, 'extra hazard,' as I guess Mr.
Oh, yes, Nick knew. But, seeing with Angela's eyes, he envied the
lover-trees their peril. He, a lonely tree, had already taken fire, but he
would gladly risk the "extra hazard." What if--and his thoughts ran ahead
to the day in the redwoods, that day set apart by his mind as the _clou_
of the excursion--what if the thing her eyes seemed to say to him should
be true? What if she could love him, and give up her world, that world
which he saw vaguely, as a dazzling vision? What if, to-morrow, she too
should know the thrill of "extra hazard"?
No wonder, then, as he dreamed, that the glacier meadows encircled by
green walls of forest primeval should seem like fairy rings, visible to
mortal eyes only as a special privilege. In the sunlight-gold, the sheets
of azaleas, cyclamen, and violets, were embroidered tapestries of pink and
purple; the bright rivulets of melting snow that bathed the wild flowers'
roots became a network of diamonds.
Here and there, under the huge coniferous trees, lay patches of snow still
unmelted, though the month was June. Indian fire glowed red on the white
expanse, blood on marble, and scarlet snow-plant sent up lurid spouts like
flaming fountains. The tree-shadows were painted pools of lupin, azure
lakes; or they were purple seas of larkspur. Mountain-roses and wild lilac
tangled in a maze of pink and white and gold. Bear-clover crowned the bald
gray heads of rocks, or shone out like star-white strawberry blossoms from
under a thicket of deer-bush. Wild asters burned rosily, like small
Catherine wheels half extinguished. Small, mottled tiger lilies blazed
among the pale young fronds of growing bracken: the air was scented with
wild roses and the spicy fragrance of manzanita trees--the breath of
California. But loveliest and strangest of all things were the gardens
chosen for their own by the mariposa lilies. The trembling winged flowers
hovered airily just above the earth, like a flock of alighting
butterflies; and overhead poised real butterflies, of the self-same
delicate tints hardly strong enough to be named as colours; silvery white,
faint lilac, and a sunrise-hint of rose. Ground butterflies and air
butterflies seemed kin to one another, those rooted to the ground longing
for wings, those to whom earth offered no permanent foothold envying
their half-sister's rest and peace.
Here in the mountains it was spring, though down below in the valleys full
summer had come; and toward evening Angela and Nick descended once again
to the summer world.
The valley of Wawona was laid out on the plan of those fairy rings,
_alias_ glacier meadows, which they had seen in higher places, only this
was a fairy ring on a grander scale. It seemed so hidden by a belt of
mountains that its green lawns, its gardens, its fountains and flowers
might have been originally discovered only by some happy accident. But the
discoverer being of a practical turn of mind, he or his descendants had
built a delightful though unobtrusive hotel on a spot which might still
have been warm from the fairies. On the veranda of the hotel was Kate,
beaming with smiles of welcome as the buckboard coming down from Glacier
Point brought her mistress in sight.
"Oh, it was a lovely place!" said Kate. And sure, how happy she and Timmy
were to be there at last. She had arrived hours ago, and was nicely
rested, yes, thank you, ma'am.
There were saucers of white violets, and vases of iris and Washington
lilies in Mrs. May's bedroom. Here were no embarrassing complications
connected with "Mr." May and "Mrs." Hilliard. All was peace; and as the
dust which had turned Angela's golden hair to silver was being brushed
away by Kate, the tale of the maid's adventures was unfolded. Yet Angela,
smiling gently, as she inhaled the sweetness of violets, hardly listened.
She was glad that Kate was almost well and that Timmy was restored to the
bosom of his family. But it seemed to her that no one except herself had
had any adventures worth the name. No one else could ever have adventures
half as good! Even she--no, not for her could their like come again. She
began to grudge the passing of the hours, wishing that she had the power
to stop all the clocks of the world.
THE BROKEN MELODY
"I want to write things in my diary," said Angela. "Now, lest I forget or
they change colour. I want to write here, so that afterward, when I read
the page I may see the pictures."
They were in the palace of the giant redwoods, she and Nick, and several
robins and chipmunks. They had been there all day, and soon it would be
sunset. Then the moon would come to light them home. They would leave the
palace, and the Best Day would end.
They had lunched and dined with a huge fallen log for a table, and
squirrels for their honoured guests. Now they had come back (carrying out
a plan made in the morning) to sit under the Grizzly Giant, king of the
great Sequoias, and there watch the sun setting. The Giant seemed to know
all they were doing and saying. Not only that, but what they were
thinking, too. He had great deep-set black eyes, which some foolish people
might mistake for knot-holes, and with these he looked down gravely,
perhaps benevolently, on the dark head and the golden one.
That was his human aspect; but he had others, and it was about one of them
that Angela wished to write--just a few words which she might like to read
again some day.
In the gray _suede_ receptacle which had temporarily and publicly
superseded the gold bag, she carried a small book. It was one of three
volumes. Two had been filled since her arrival in America, but this was
just begun. There was not much in it yet. It began with El Portal. Where
would it stop? Already she was wondering. Maybe she would never write any
more after to-day. Or the story might go on for a little, and end when
this trip with her "trail guide" ended. Or it might continue, more
perfunctorily, just long enough to lay the foundation of her new house,
the plans of which were now materializing in an architect's brain. Her
interest in those plans had fallen asleep. Everything outside this vast
cathedral of a thousand fluted red columns seemed far away and unreal. The
heart of the world was throbbing here, like the music of a muffled organ,
with only Nick Hilliard and herself for audience.
"I didn't know you kept a diary," said Nick. "Somehow you don't seem the
sort who would."
"I don't 'keep' one," Angela explained. "When I was a little girl and went
abroad with my mother, I used to write things about the days to please my
father at home. I loved him very much. But--he never saw the book. After
he died I wrote no more, until--I came to California. Now" (she spoke
hastily), "I write about things, not people. I make pictures for myself to
look at afterward; for I can't bear to think that my impressions may grow
dim, even when I'm old."
"I suppose I mustn't ask to see what you write to-day?" Nick ventured. By
and by he meant to ask a thing so much bolder and bigger that he wished
to try his feet on the difficult path.
"I must read it myself before I can judge," Angela smiled, surprised at
the suggestion from one who never put himself forward; who had never
begged for concession or favour since offering himself as "trail guide."
"Now don't speak to me for a while. I want to call the whole day back."
But though his lips were closed his eyes were not; and they seldom
wandered from the bent head--gold against a dark tree-trunk; and the cameo
profile--ivory-white upon a red-brown background.
Angela was sitting under the generous shade of the Grizzly Giant. Nick lay
resting on his elbow, just near enough to touch with his shoulder the
soles of her small, dusty shoes, crossed one over the other.
After all, it was not as easy to write as Angela had expected, with Nick
lying silent, and so close to her that it seemed, if she should listen,
she might hear his thoughts, like the ticking of a watch under a pillow.
She began by noting down commonplace things, as though by way of sorting
out her impressions.
"We left Kate this morning at Wawona. What dear people keep that hotel! In
Europe one never thinks about hotel-keepers. If everything is right, one
simply takes them for granted, as one breathes good air. It's different
here in the West of America. They--these charming, kind people--lent us
their own 'buckboard'--a glorified one; and their two horses, Cash and
Credit, who are famous. Darling animals they are, and understand every
word that's said to them. When they die, generations of California horses
ought to be named Cash and Credit to preserve their memory.
"We started early, just after the morning had been born, so as to miss
nothing. And first of all we had a quick rush through the flowery valley
of Wawona--a kind of prelude to the music of the great redwoods. And I
think it helped me to appreciate and understand them. We saw Stellar Lake,
named by inspiration, for it looks a blue sky half full of stars; and I
had my first sight of a fish hatchery. I'd no notion it could be so
exciting to watch the career of trout from the egg stage up to rainbow
maturity. Never shall I forget grabbing a handful of tiny wriggling fish
out of the trough of water where they lived, and holding them in the
hollow of my palm for an instant! They looked like big silver commas, and
interrogation points, oh, but punctuations of all kinds; and they felt
like iced popcorn. I don't think I shall ever eat trout again. It would be
so treacherous, now that I seem to have known the creatures from the
cradle to the grave.
"But about the Big Trees, which at this present moment are to me the most
important things on earth. I've seen a good deal of the earth, but nothing
so good, nothing so glorious. No wonder Mr. Hilliard says, 'Why need
people build churches in this part of the world, when they have the
redwood cathedral built by God, full of the sound of His organ music?'
"All through the Yosemite there is music. You hear the forest talking, and
think it is the river. You hear the river, and think it is the wind giving
a signal to the trees, that they may begin speaking; for trees and river
and wind have lived so long together--like people married happily since
early youth--that thoughts and words and tones have come to be the same.
But among the redwoods is the noblest music of all, different from that of
any other trees. And only think, yesterday I hardly believed they could be
taller and grander than some of the others I had seen, all those great
conifers that would have been gods in Greece! Even this morning, driving
through forests that line the way to the Sequoias, I still believed
that--poor me! The big sugar-pines and the yellow-pines loomed so huge,
towering above delicate birches and a hundred other lovely creatures,
which they guarded as Eastern men guard the beauties of their harems. But
the moment I saw the two first giants--the 'Sentinels'--stand on the
threshold of their palace, or cathedral, whichever it is (but it's both,
and more) I knew how mistaken I'd been about the others. These are
"We drove on slowly, along a wide aisle paved with gold and sprinkled with
gold-dust. The pillars holding up the sky-roof are fluted deeply and
regularly; and they are rose-red, these tree columns, seeming to glow with
inward fire--the never-dying fire of life which keeps their hearts alive
when common trees perish. Theirs is no ruined cathedral or palace. All is
perfect now, as in its beginning; walls and dome of blue which can never
crumble; and the doors are never shut, though jealousy guarded by the
"In some of the trees are shrines. At first glance they appear to be empty
shrines, but they are not empty, really. What one finds there depends upon
one's self. I wish I could live in this palace for weeks. I should make
"In old houses, whose roofs are supported by great beams of oak, I know
they call the stoutest and most important the 'king beam,' for without him
the roof would fall. Just so, the Grizzly Giant is the king tree of the
Mariposa Forest. There are other trees more beautiful and graceful, yet he
is indisputably, undisputedly king, among lesser royalties and royal
highnesses. All are crowned. These Sequoias aren't clothed with green,
like other trees, but crowned with it, having also, here and there upon
their breasts, green decorations and medals. Their bark folds and drapes
them in mantles of royal purple, and their high crowns mingle gold with
green. The Grizzly Giant's crown is of a strange shape, and very
wonderful. He is alive, and looks at you, but he does not wish you to know
that; so, if you are too curious, he often pretends to be a castle,
ornamented with quantities of fantastic gargoyles. The castle has a
theatre, into which you can see; and it is fitted up with extraordinary
scenery. There is a museum of strange statues, too; headless torsos, and
arms thicker through than a man is long.
"The princes and princesses, who are the Grizzly Giant's family and help
him reign over his subjects, have to go and stand at a good distance, or
they would lose their majesty in comparison with him. When we had left the
horses (near a fascinating log-cabin in the woods), and Mr. Hilliard had
arranged for their comfort, we walked about, picking out the princes and
princesses and knowing quite well from the look of them which was which.
Some of the trees are commandingly masculine; others, though as immense,
"It sounds rather confusing to call the trees sometimes columns of a
cathedral or palace, sometimes royal people; but any one who has come to
visit them even once would understand. If I were to be here longer, I
should see them in a great many other different phases, I'm sure. And I
may perhaps see them again. But nothing will ever be the same. I have had
such thoughts to-day! I wanted to put each idea, small and big, on paper,
to remember; but I find that they won't let themselves be written down.
They are as intangible as the incense in this cathedral, as impossible to
put in black and white as it would be to jot down in notes the music that
pours out from the pipes of the unseen organ, or to paint the light that
streams through the cathedral windows. And what a magical light it is!
There are other trees in this forest, besides the Sequoias; but it is on
the redwoods alone that the light concentrates, just as limelight is
turned upon the leading characters of a stage drama. They burn with their
own ruddy fire, while their neighbour trees (overgrown with golden-green
moss that makes sleeves for outstretched arms, and gold embroidery for
dark drapery) gleam out among the redwoods' flaming pillars like lighted
candelabra. I shall see those lights behind my eyelids to-night, as I saw
the sunset light on Stonehenge; the moon touching the Giralda of Seville;
and my first alpenglow. But what Stonehenge is to England, the Giralda to
Spain, and the Alps to Switzerland, that, I think, is the Mariposa Forest
of giant Sequoias to California.
"If I had been an atheist, I believe I should suddenly have been taught
the lesson of God among the great redwoods. And nobody could be
heavy-hearted here, or frivolous. I feel that the same light which burns
like fire in these trees burns in my veins; a vast wave of life,
vitalizing all creation and making it kin. I am a poor relation of these
wonderful giants. Also I am a cousin of the robins and chipmunks that
shared our picnic luncheon, and the dinner we finished a little while ago.
I am nearer than I was yesterday to all humanity, and to----"
Angela's pencil stopped its weaving back and forth across the small white
pages, pausing as if of its own accord. She looked at the last words she
had written and shut the book. Yes, she was near to all humanity; but
nearer than any to _one_ who was all the world to her. Suddenly she felt,
with poignant intensity, the nearness not only of his body to hers, but
the nearness of their souls. Her spirit and his touched in the silence of
the forest. She did not look at him yet, but she knew that he was looking
at her, and that his heart was in the look, calling to hers. And she could
not shut her ears to the call.
So she sat for a long moment, her eyes clinging for safety to the little
volume in her hands. Her fingers pressed it tightly, almost spasmodically,
and upon them she seemed to feel, even to see, Nick Hilliard's hands,
brown and strong. It was only her fancy; but it was not fancy that they
burned to clasp hers. She felt that longing of his, so vital, so
passionate, creating the picture it desired. Always before, when the
thought had flashed into her mind, "He is beginning to love me," she had
thrust it away, shutting her mind against it. But that was before her
spirit was keyed to the high music of river and forest in the Yosemite
Valley. Since then she had passed from the twilight of little society
shams and convenient, conventional self-deceivings into the glory where
only Truth was visible or audible.
At last she was forced to lift her eyes, compelled by his. She tried to
look past him, straight into the sunset, a furnace that burned up human
misgivings. But her gaze was stopped on the way by Hilliard's.
"May I read what you've written?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, and gave him the book. While he read, she drew in deep
breaths, gathering strength against an emergency, if an emergency were to
come. But she hoped it would not. She wanted, oh, so much! to keep him for
a comrade--for the comrade who had made this day the best day of her life.
She did not want to stop playing, because if it had come to earnest, deep
realities, as she was afraid it must come now, there would be no place for
Nick Hilliard in her future--the future of Paolo di Sereno's disillusioned
wife. "Still, here under these trees, I could tell him everything better
than I could tell it anywhere else, and make him understand, and even
forgive," she thought. "Without fear, I could let him know that I care for
him, and that he has been the only man, except father, who has meant
anything great to the _real_ me. Almost, I wish he would speak--if he
_does_ love me. And _I_ know he does."
But he lay reading the fancies she had written about the forest, and she
could not guess how he was summoning his courage, as a general, surprised,
summons his forces to battle. She did not know how deep was his humility
in thoughts of her, any more than she realized how utterly her first
point of view had changed toward him, the "forest creature," the
"interesting, picturesque figure." So entirely was he a man, and the one
man, that she had forgotten her old impersonal frame of mind.
He came to the last sentence in the book, broken short, where her pencil
had stopped of itself.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm glad you feel those things about the forest.
It's always been like that to me--sacred. If anything great and wonderful
were to happen, I'd rather have it happen here than anywhere else. Would
_Yes, it was coming!_ Suddenly she half wanted it to come--this crisis in
their lives; yet something made her push it away, just for a little while;
not to have the end quite so soon, no matter how beautiful an end.
"Oh, wait!" she exclaimed. "Don't let's talk of ourselves yet--not for a
few minutes. Wait with me, and neither of us will say one word till the
sun has set and the light has changed."
"Till the light has changed," Nick echoed, a shadow falling over his face.
He raised himself higher on his elbow, his shoulder still touching her
foot, and they looked toward the west.
The forest seemed to have been lit up for some great religious festival.
Each towering tree was a Titanic candle, with a flame at the top, against
the far-off sky. The deep-red, fluted trunks gleamed with a pale luminous
rose, and long straight avenues of fire-dust stretched away to the end of
the world. A flood of golden flame poured through the forest, like a tidal
wave out of the sun. Then came an ebb, a pause. The wave receded. A faint
purple haze, like smoke from burning heliotropes, crept along the ground.
The torch of sunset broke into a million stars; blazing golden spiders
swung from glittering webs among the treetops; the melting crowns of the
redwoods dripped rubies. Red meteors fell and burst, and the wild glory
faded suddenly into a subdued, reminiscent glow. It was as if a cupful of
ruddy wine had been drunk at a gulp, leaving but a few drops to stain the
crystal. The rosy radiance ran along the horizon, and all that lived of
the sunset clung to the far edge of the world or caught the gold horns of
the Grizzly Giant's crown, which, like a high mountain summit, could hold
the light of day while night purpled the plain below.
All day a concert of birds had filled the upper chambers of the trees with
silver pipings, but now not a bird voice spoke. There was silence, except
for a faint mysterious stirring, as of dryads beginning to wake and dress
for their night-flitting when a moonbeam should tap on their shut doors.
The lilac haze floated up from the ground, and slowly, very slowly, turned
to silver touched with rose. Like a veil it spread among the trees
tangling among their sharp branches, its lacy mesh tearing, to leave dark
jagged holes. But unseen hands mended the rent and wove the veil into a
curtain that screened the distance and was pinned up with stars.
The whole forest rustled with mystery in the strange pulsing luminance
that was neither sunset nor moonrise, but the memory of one, and a hope of
the other--the kind of light that a blind man might see in dreams.
"Now--Angela," Nick half whispered, in awe at the name on his lips, the
name of a goddess uttered by a mortal. (Extra hazard!--extra hazard!) At
last he laid his hand on hers, warm and close, and her lips opened to
break the spell, when a voice called to Nick in the distance:
"Nick! Nick Hilliard, where are you?"
Angela drew away quickly, the spell broken indeed. He sprang to his feet,
his face, that had been pale, flushing.
"It's Mrs. Gaylor's voice," he said, astonished and incredulous, as if at
the call of a ghost.
AN INVITATION FROM CARMEN
Carmen had been following from San Francisco, a day late, because once, in
losing the trail, she had lost twenty-four hours. To-day she had arrived
at Wawona in the afternoon, and learning that Mr. Nickson Hilliard had
gone to the Mariposa Grove, she asked for a carriage to take her there
"You'll reach the woods just about the time he's coming away," she was
advised. "He ought to be back by ten o'clock at latest, maybe earlier."
But Carmen insisted. She could not wait. Business made it necessary for
her to see Mr. Hilliard as soon as possible, without wasting a moment. She
looked sallow and hollow-eyed; for she had been travelling hard. Long ago
now she had put away her widow's weeds; yet in the warm June sunlight she
had the aspect of a mourner. It was as if she had drunk the blackness of
night, and it ran in her veins. In full sunshine she seemed to bleed
The name of Gaylor was well known in California; and here at Wawona--far
from the Gaylor ranch as it was--those with whom she spoke were aware of
her importance. Carmen had no fear that she would be gossiped about and
misunderstood. She was Mrs. Eldridge Gaylor, the rich widow of old Grizzly
Gaylor. Everyone knew that Nick Hilliard, of Lucky Star Gusher fame, had
been her husband's foreman, and that the land which had made his fortune
had been sold to him by her. No one would doubt her or laugh behind her
back when she stated that the need of a business discussion with Hilliard
was pressing. People would think that perhaps another gusher had started
into being, or that some question of investments must be decided. But even
if her coming "made talk," Carmen was in no mood to care. In her mind a
searchlight shone fiercely upon three figures: her own, Nick Hilliard's,
Angela May's. Others were as shadows. A buckboard and horses, with a good
driver, were found for Mrs. Gaylor after a slight delay. But she had been
wandering on foot among the great redwoods for half an hour when Nick
heard her voice calling his name.
Mrs. May had not been mentioned at the hotel. Carmen had been informed
simply that Mr. Hilliard was showing a friend through the forest, and that
they had gone out in the morning with the intention of staying to see the
sunset. But Carmen had found in the visitor's book the name of "Mrs. May
and maid." She had been certain of finding them there, for she knew only
too well that all three, with a "black cat for luck," had left San
Every day since Theo Dene had told her of Angela May's existence she had
"cut the cards," and had invariably come upon a "fair woman" close to the
King of Hearts. Madame Vestris also had seen the "fair woman" in the
crystal, and had described her. "She is beautiful and young, and stands in
the sunshine," said the seeress, in whose visions Carmen had implicit
faith; "but suddenly she is blotted out of my sight, as if by a dark
cloud that swallows her up."
"Does she come back into the crystal?" Carmen had asked, eagerly.
"No. I can see you now. But she doesn't come back."
"And Nick? Do you find him?"
Madame Vestris knew very well who "Nick" was.
During the last three or four years she had replied to a great many
questions about Nick Hilliard, and her answers had brought her a goodly
number of ten-dollar bills. For crystal-gazing her charge was ten dollars:
with a trance in addition, twenty-five.
"I see a man standing beside you. But he is in deep shadow. I can't make
out who it is."
Carmen revived. "It must be Nick. There's no other man I can think of I
would let come near me."
When she called to Hilliard in the Mariposa Grove, and his answering call
told her where to look, Carmen was even more anxious to see what Mrs. May
was like than to meet Nick himself, though it seemed years since the night
when she bade him good-bye, full of hope, believing he would come back to
The two were standing under the Grizzly Giant when she came up to them,
Nick a few steps in advance, because he had started to meet his old
friend, and a sickly pang shot through Carmen's heart as she saw Angela,
tall and white in the rose-and-silver twilight. She had to admit the
enemy's beauty; and with a sharp stab of pain she remembered Nick's
description of "the angel of his dreams." Yes, this white, slender
creature was like a man's idea of an angel. Here was Nick's ideal made
human. Carmen wished that the Grizzly Giant might fall on the angel and
crush her to death, a lingering death of agony; because nothing less could
satisfy a woman's longing for revenge. Nor was death enough to atone
Carmen would have chosen to see Angela die disfigured, so that Nick should
remember her hideous through the years to come. Desiring this eagerly, and
all other evils, Mrs. Gaylor was, nevertheless, polite and pleasant to
Mrs. May. She came out from the tragic shadow which had enveloped her like
a mourning mantle, and wondered at herself, hearing the sweet tones of her
own voice. She began by explaining to Nick that she had not been well;
that her doctor had recommended her to try a change of air, and that she
had thought of the Yosemite. "I've always wanted to see the valley ever
since you came back and talked so much about it," she went on.
"Then, when I got to Wawona I heard you were there. I was surprised! Do
you realize, you only wrote to me once, and never told me any of your
plans? I should have thought you were in New York to this day if I hadn't
run up to the Falconers' place on the McCloud River not very long ago, and
found out that you'd been in Santa Barbara. I suppose this lady is Mrs.
May, a friend of that fascinating Miss Dene? She, or some of the people up
there, told me that you'd promised to show her round California."
As Carmen waited to be introduced, she glanced sharply from one to the
other, to see if they looked self-conscious, but they wore an air of
innocence that made Carmen long to strike Nick and trample on the woman.
How dared they act as if she had no right to resent their being here
together? Yet she did not want them to know, just now, that she did
Angela was almost as keenly interested in Carmen as Carmen was in her; and
though Mrs. Gaylor was not at her best, she was excited; her eyes shone,
and dusk softened her hard look of fatigue. Angela thought Nick's old
friend one of the handsomest women she had ever seen. Also, she was
jealous, more sharply and consciously jealous than when Theo Dene had
gossiped about Mrs. Gaylor and Nick Hilliard, on the way back from Santa
Barbara Mission. Angela had never before known the sting of jealousy; had
never thought, till that day, that she could feel so mean a passion; yet
now she suffered as Nick once had suffered, and was ashamed to suffer.
A few minutes ago she had been sure that Hilliard loved her, and she had
keyed herself to tell him nobly why he must forget her, why she must
forget him. But, having seen, Carmen, she began to wonder if Nick did
care, and whether after all, he had meant to speak of his love, here in
the forest. Perhaps she had been conceited, and mistaken about his
feelings. Maybe Nick had merely been chivalrous and kind, like all
California men, and wanted nothing of her except friendship. Maybe if he
had meant to tell her anything, it had been about this beautiful Mrs.
Nick introduced them to each other, rather shyly and formally, and they
were both extremely polite, even complimentary. Carmen said that she hoped
Mrs. May wouldn't think it very queer of her, hurrying out to meet Mr.
Hilliard the moment she heard he was near. Of course, she might have
waited for him to come back to Wawona, they said he would be back by ten.
But she was so impulsive! And she had wished to see the redwoods by
sunset and moonrise. She knew Mr. Hilliard wouldn't want to bother about
bringing her here next day, after he had just seen the trees himself, and
for the second time, too. This had been too good a chance to lose. The
trees were wonderful, weren't they? Would Mrs. May and Nick mind stopping
a little longer now that she had come, and letting her see the moon rise?
There was a sort of quiver over the sky as if it would appear soon.
All three sat down, but not in the place where Nick and Angela had sat
together. He could not have endured that. While Carmen talked and the
others answered--when they must--the moon-dawn came; and never would the
Princess di Sereno forget the drift of stars behind the trees, and the
fleecy moon-surf that beat on the high branches. Yet the music of the
forest was silent for her, and the charm was broken.
"What are you going to do to-morrow?" Carmen asked. And Angela answered
before Nick could speak: "Oh, my trip is over. There's nothing more to do
but to go back--by a different way, of course. I have still to see
Inspiration Point, of which I've heard so much. I'm looking forward to
"When you say 'go back,' do you mean San Francisco or the East?" Carmen
tried to make her voice sound indifferent, though polite.
"To San Francisco, for a while. I'm not going East, I hope. I've bought
land near Monterey. I mean to build and make a home for myself in
Carmen's one lingering hope died. She had thought it just possible that
this affair had been a travelling flirtation; that Nick, though
infatuated, would return to his old allegiance when this witch-light, this
will-o'-the-wisp, this love pirate, had gone. But the love pirate intended
to drop anchor in California waters, it seemed! Luckily for Carmen that
the daylight had faded. Changes on a woman's face, if bent a little, could
not be seen in the dusk.
"I wish you'd give me a chance to prove that California women are just as
glad as California men to be nice to strangers," she went on. "Your home
isn't ready yet, so you've nothing to tie you down. Won't you come and see
_my_ home? It's very pretty, if I do say so myself; and it might give you
one or two ideas. Try and help me persuade her, Nick. You see, Mrs. May, I
feel almost as if I knew you. They could talk of nobody else at Rushing
River Camp! And meeting you in this wonderful forest makes me sure we
ought to be friends, as if it was _meant_, you know."
"You're very kind," said Angela, feeling distinctly guilty, because she
did not like Carmen, and admired her only because she could not help it.
"I told you Mrs. Gaylor would want you to come to her house!" exclaimed
Nick, trying to be cordial and forget his bitter disappointment.
He too was feeling guilty. He had been even more sorry than surprised to
see Carmen, and wished her a hundred miles away. Something told him that,
if she had not interrupted him just at the critical moment, when hour and
place and mood had seemed propitious, Angela would have been kind. Such a
moment as Carmen Gaylor had spoiled might never come again. But he felt
that he was cruel and ungrateful to his loyal friend, his benefactress.
It was not her fault, he reminded himself, that she had appeared at the
wrong time. She could not have guessed that he loved Mrs. May. He ought to
be flattered because poor Carmen had started out to meet him in the
forest, instead of waiting at Wawona. The sound of her voice, with its
deep contralto, reminded him how much he owed to Mrs. Gaylor. Her
friendship and generosity had made him rich. If it had not been for her he
would never have owned or been able to sell the Lucky Star gusher. And,
after all, there would be other moments. Because Mrs. Gaylor had
inadvertently robbed him of this chance with Angela, there was no reason
to feel so gloomily sure that he would never have another. He would make
one for himself! And now here was his kind friend, inviting Mrs. May to
visit her, mostly to please him, of course. How like her! If only his
angel would accept, he might be able to "cross the dead line" by and by,
in his own country, and that would be the next best after the Mariposa
Carmen bit her lip. So they had talked her over together, these two, and
Nick had told this woman that she would be invited to visit the Gaylor
ranch! Well, she would let them believe that she was good-naturedly
playing into their hands. She wanted, yet hated, to have them think that.
"Why, of course, Nick knows how delighted I am to get pleasant visitors,"
she forced herself to say. "I haven't many--and I get few other pleasures.
I'm awfully lonesome on my big ranch. Come for as long as you can--but
even a few days will be better than nothing, if you can't spare more. Nick
can show you his gusher--or rather the gusher that was his; and Lucky Star
City, which you'll think queer and interesting, I expect, just as Nick
does--though it seems vulgar and hideous to me. By the way, Nick, there's
a new school-teacher at Lucky Star. Oh, there's _lots_ of news since you
went away! I shall have heaps to tell you. Won't you come and visit me,
and be shown around by Nick, Mrs. May?"
Angela was torn between several emotions, none of which she was able
clearly to define. If she refused, it might seem ungracious, because
already, half in earnest, half in play, she had partly promised Nick to go
some time and have a glimpse of Lucky Star ranch and city. Yet, less than
ever did she wish to be indebted for hospitality to Mrs. Gaylor.
"Could I go for a day?" she inquired.
"You could for two days and a night," said Carmen, "if you couldn't give
us more time. You see, you'd have to travel all night from San Francisco
to Bakersfield, or rather to Kern--which is the same thing. And my place
is a good long drive from there, even in a motor, which I could easily
"You needn't do that. I've bought one," Nick cut in eagerly. "She's in San
Francisco. I was looking forward to showing her to you. But now I can do
better. If Mrs. May consents, I'll ship the auto by train in advance and
send the shuvver--my assistant, I mean--on ahead, so as to look the car
over and see that she's ready to run us all out to your ranch after we
arrive at Bakersfield in the morning. Now, aren't you surprised at my
news, Mrs. Gaylor--that I've got an automobile of my own? Or did they tell
you that, among other things, at River Camp?"
"Yes, they told me," answered Carmen, with the same praiseworthy calmness
which she had been admiring in herself, and wondering at, as if it were a
marvellous performance on the stage by an actress.
"Anyhow, I expect my yellow car will excite more interest at Lucky Star
than a new schoolmistress," said Nick, laughing, almost light-hearted
again. But he did not give more than a thought to the schoolmistress. Of
what possible importance could she be to him?
"Will you run over from Kern to the Gaylor ranch in his yellow car?" asked
Carmen, softly and kindly, seeing that the enemy hesitated.
"Yes--thank you both. I will go," Angela said.
"Then I'm rewarded for my long drive this afternoon." And indeed Carmen
felt rewarded. She thought of the crystal, and how Madame Vestris had seen
the "fair woman" blotted out of the sunshine by a dark cloud. And after
that she had not come into the crystal again. Carmen had been there with a
man standing by her side.
"But what should I have done if the hateful creature had refused to visit
me?" Carmen thought. "Everything depended on that."
Next day they took the long drive together, Mrs. Gaylor, Angela, and Nick,
and Angela's maid--for Carmen had not brought Mariette to the Yosemite.
Mariette was too talkative, and had been sent home from San Francisco.
Carmen did not wish Nick to find out how hurried this journey of hers had
been lest he should suspect that it was made in quest of him! She wanted
him to believe that she had been travelling leisurely for the benefit of
her health, as she had taken pains to explain.
Nothing could spoil the azure mystery of Inspiration Point: nothing could
dim the brightness of the Bridal Veil, seen from a new point of view. So
near that a strong wind might have driven the spray into their faces, they
saw the white folds of the waterfalls, embroidered with rainbows, and the
dark rocks behind its rushing flood, stained deep red, and gold and blue,
as if generations of rainbows had dried there. Nothing could stifle the
thrill of that wild drive, down steep roads that tied themselves
ribbonlike, round the mountain-side, and seemed to flutter, as ribbons
might flutter, over precipices. Yet the magic of four days ago was dead.
Carmen, sitting between Nick and Angela, had killed it. Neither rivers nor
trees sang their old song; and the white witch of the Bridal Veil had
turned her face away.
Nick's detective in San Francisco had no news; at all events no news with
which he could be induced to part. "Wait a few days longer," he said.
"That's the only favour I ask. Maybe by that time we shall both know where
the poison-oak came from, who posted the box, who sent it, and why, and
all the rest there is to know."
"Haven't you any suspicions yet?" Nick asked impatiently.
"I don't go so far as to say that."
"What--that you have, or you haven't?"
"That I haven't."
"You mean you do suspect some one?"
"Well, my mind's beginning to hover."
"Tell me where."
"No. I won't tell you that, Mr. Hilliard."
"Not while I'm hovering. Not till there's something to light on. I may be
doing an innocent person a big injustice."
And Nick could squeeze no more hints from Max Wisler. Herein lay one
secret of the man's success; he had his own methods, and no one could
persuade or bribe him to depart from them. This caused him to be
respected. And Nick had to leave San Francisco with Mrs. Gaylor and
Angela, tingling with unsatisfied curiosity. Mrs. May had forbidden him to
speak to Carmen of the mysterious box, having grown sensitive on the
subject. More than once she had asked herself if it were possible that
some one very, very far away--some one whose photograph was in the
_Illustrated London News_--hated her enough to do her an injury: some one
she had believed to be completely indifferent in these days. The thing
savoured of the Latin mind, she could not help thinking, rather than the
Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps Princess di Sereno was not quite forgotten in Italy,
after all. And Mrs. May could imagine a motive, for in San Francisco she
had been able to find a duplicate of that illustrated paper. There were
three photographs in it: one rather bad one of herself, taken years ago in
Rome; one of Paolo, dressed as an aeronaut; and one of a certain handsome
young woman, very becomingly dressed to accompany the Prince for a flight
in his new aeroplane.
Angela was not happy in this expedition to the Gaylor ranch, though she
reassured herself from time to time, by saying that it was better to
accept than refuse the invitation; and she was to be Mrs. Gaylor's guest
only for a day, part of another, and one night. Still, she was vaguely
troubled. The warm consciousness of being surrounded by kindness which had
made the California sunshine doubly bright, was chilled. This visit would
be like other visits which she had made in the past, before she was "Mrs.
May, whom nobody knows." In Rome, in Paris, in London, Princess di Sereno
had been obliged sometimes to go to houses of women whom she disliked or
distrusted, and to have them in hers. Such obligations had been part of
the inevitable disagreeableness of daily existence for the wife of Paolo
di Sereno; but going to Mrs. Gaylor was the first false note in the music
of this free, new world. Angela consoled herself by thinking of Lucky Star
Ranch. She would like to see Nick Hilliard's home.
* * * * *
"Simeon, she's here," said Carmen, in a low voice, to the old squirrel
They stood together in the grove of bamboos, where they had talked about
Nick, and about "old Grizzly Gaylor," on the May night when Nick was
leaving for New York. Counting by time, that was not long ago. But
Carmen's whole outlook on life was changed. She felt and looked years
"That's all right then, my lady," Simeon Harp answered. "The whole thing's
all right. Don't you worry."
"Oh, I do worry. Every minute I'm in hell," she groaned. "Oh, Simeon, what
will become of me?"
"You'll be happy, and marry the man you love, my lady," the old man
soothed her, the red-rimmed eyes, which had once been handsome, sending
out a faint gleam of the one emotion that still burned in the ashes of his
wrecked soul: devotion to the woman who had saved his life, who had given
him a roof and food, and--above all--drink.
"I can never be happy again, whatever happens," Carmen said, with anguish.
"He loves some one else. He doesn't care for me."
"He'll learn to care. This slip of a thing that's come between you and
'im, my lady, will fly away out of his mind like a bit of thistledown.
When I'm done with her--she's got rid of for good."
"Oh, but the horror of it--the getting rid of her! It don't weaken one
bit, Simeon. I've brought her here for that, _just that_, and it shall be
done. In some moods, for a minute or two, I rejoice in the thought of it.
I want it. I'd even like to be there and see. Madame Vestris says that in
my last incarnation I was a Roman Empress--that I used to go to the
gladiator shows, and turn my thumb down, as a sign that the wounded ones
who failed in the fight were to be killed by their conquerors in the
arena. And that, once when I hated a Christian girl, I went to see her
killed by lions. She--Madame Vestris--watched the whole scene in her
crystal. Very likely it's true, what she says. I believe in her. She's
wonderful. But I'm softer in this incarnation than in the last, I guess.
It frightens me and turns me sick when I think how I shall dream and wake
up nights afterward--even if I'm married to Nick. Oh, it's awful! But it's
the only way. He was meant for me! He's mine. She'll have to go. And I
don't care how much I suffer, if only I have him for my husband in the
"You'll have him," said Simeon Harp. "It's going to be. And there ain't no
need for you to dream bad dreams. _You_ ain't doing the thing. It's me. It
was me thought of it. It's me who'll carry it out."
"Supposing you fail?" she whispered.
"I won't, if you'll do your part. Just the little part, my lady; we can't
get on without your doin'. You send her there, to the right place; that's
all. For the rest you can count on me."
"Oh!" Carmen shuddered, and put her hands before her face. "To think it's
for to-day--_to-day!_ If only the _other thing_ had gone through all
right, and she'd been made so hideous that he couldn't look at her, this
horror might have been saved. I'd have wanted no more. Once he'd seen her
face, that he thinks so angelic, red, and swollen and hardly human, he
could never have felt the same toward her again. And it wouldn't have hurt
her much in the end. But evidently she isn't the kind that's affected by
that stuff. I know there are some who aren't. Those two haven't spoken
about the box to me, Simeon. I was afraid at first Nick might suspect, and
be watching. But that's nonsense, of course. And she wouldn't be here now
if the idea had crossed his mind."
"Nobody'll ever know," said Simeon. "I went such a long way. I changed
trains three times and walked miles in between. Besides, when I posted the
box I was wearin' something different from what I ever wear here. I was
another man to look at."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure you did your part well," Carmen said quickly. "It was
Fate interfered. I felt it would. All the cards near me were black just
then. I don't know what I should do without you, Simeon--good old
watch-dog! You shall be rich the rest of your life if you win me
"I've got all I want," the squirrel poisoner answered. "It's a pleasure to
me to serve you. You don't need to offer no rewards, except to keep me
near you, my lady, and give me my bite and sup. You ought to know that by
this time--_anyhow since a year ago_."
"I know! And you're clever, as well as faithful. I should never have
thought of as good a way as--as this. No one could possibly prove it was
anything but an accident. Did you--see her, Simeon?"
"Yes; I wasn't far off when Nick's big yeller automobile spilt you both
out at the door. To my idea, she ain't nothing to you. I was never one for
"If you could see Nick's eyes when he looks at her! Those are the times
when I feel like the Roman Empress. I was glad he wouldn't stay to lunch.
Though I asked, I don't think I could have stood having him. I'd have done
something desperate, maybe, and spoilt everything. She's lying down now. I
made her promise she would till half an hour before lunch. Nick's coming
for us, with his auto, at five. He wanted it to be earlier, but I told him
she was tired, and it would be too hot for her to walk around Lucky Star
in the glare, where there aren't any trees. It's all got to happen and be
over with before five, Simeon. She'll never see Nick's ranch she talks so
much of." Again Carmen shivered, and her eyes were wide and staring,
curiously glazed. She knew that she was looking almost plain to-day, and
had been actually terrified by her own face in the glass before she came
out to keep the appointment with Simeon Harp. But it did not matter what
she looked like before Simeon. When Nick came and saw her again next time
there would be reason why he would have no eyes for her. And later, when
all this was over, she would come back into her beauty again. She must!
"What time are you having lunch, my lady?" Simeon inquired in a
matter-of-fact tone, his harsh voice sounding just as usual.
"And you'll send her out?"
"At half-past two."
"Right, my lady. That'll bring her to the place I want about three or a
"Yes. You're sure nothing can go wrong?"
"Sure as ever I was about a squirrel."
"Oh!" Carmen shivered, and turning away from him without another word she
went back to the house.
No one had seen them talking together; and even if they had been seen it
would not have mattered. Mrs. Gaylor often chatted with the old squirrel
poisoner, who was known to be devoted to her; a harmless creature who hurt
nobody--except himself and the squirrels.
THE DARK CLOUD IN THE CRYSTAL
When the musical gong sounded for luncheon, and Carmen came down from her
room at one o'clock, she found her guest already in the garden, as lovely
a garden as Angela had seen in her sleep. For a minute Carmen stood on a
step of the brick terrace, looking at the slender figure in white. Angela
did not hear the faint rustling of muslin. Her back was half turned to the
house, and she was watching the aerial architecture of the fountain,
delicate domes and pinnacles built of crystal. Carmen thought reluctantly
that Mrs. May looked very young in her white frock, not more than eighteen
or nineteen. She wondered if the love pirate enjoyed life very much, and
whether she really cared for Nick and wanted to marry him or whether she
was only flirting. Then the profile at which Carmen had been gloomily
gazing turned into a full face. Angela smiled at Mrs. Gaylor. "You must
have hypnotized me," she said. "Suddenly I felt I was being looked at by
some one. Have you been taking a nap, too?"
"No," said her hostess. "I knew I couldn't go to sleep. I'm glad if you
rested. You look very fresh."
Angela could not conscientiously return the compliment. Mrs. Gaylor might
have been travelling for a week instead of one night.
Luncheon was in the pergola, where Carmen and Nick had dined together the
night he went away; the night--as she expressed it to herself of
late--when she had lost him. Angela had never seen a more beautiful place,
and said so, trying to make conversation; for now that Nick was not with
them she felt ill at ease with Mrs. Gaylor. "What a garden!" she
exclaimed. "The other night in the Yosemite I dreamed of just such a
garden--and I think, at the end of the dream there was a woman in
it--rather like you. You must be very happy here."
"Yes, I'm happy enough," said Carmen. "Oh! I mustn't forget to tell
you--Nick came back. Did you hear his automobile?"
"No. I must have been asleep."
"I thought you were. Besides, your room's on the other side of the house."
"It's beautifully quiet and cool. Did Mr. Hilliard come to change the plan
for this afternoon?"
"Yes. He turned round before getting home, because he'd remembered
something he had to do at six, something important, business with the men
who've bought his gusher. They're to look at another one--smaller, but
pretty good--and see if they want to buy it too; a new gusher that's burst
out on the land Nick kept for his own. So he thought perhaps we wouldn't
mind going over to look at the place a good deal earlier, after all, in
spite of the heat. He won't let you be exposed to the sun more than he can
"I don't mind the heat, if you don't," said Angela.
"Oh, as for me, I'm half Spanish, you know. I'm like a salamander. Nick'll
come back between half-past two and three--soon after his lunch. He might
almost as well have stayed with us. But, of course, as he's been away from
home so long, he wants to have a look around and be sure that everything's
all right for a stranger to see. I don't wonder! I told him we'd meet him
at the east gate. It's a short cut, and though it isn't much of a walk for
us, and is in shade over half the way, it cuts off more than two miles of
bad road for him--road that's just being made. I thought you'd rather like
a stroll through the bamboo grove, which everybody admires so much. The
only part of the walk that will be hot is going across a bit of disused
pasture land. But we'll take green-lined parasols. I have a lot of them
about the house, for visitors. We ought to start by two-thirty; and by
three-fifteen, with the motor, we can be coming in sight of the Lucky Star
Gusher, like a huge black geyser. You know Nick's land was once part of
mine, so his place is no distance, really. I hope you don't dislike
"No, indeed. I'm very fond of it. I can easily do ten miles."
"Well, you will have only a short mile to meet Nick and his motor this
afternoon. I dare say I shall pick up a little by half-past two. I thought
maybe lunch would make me feel better, but it doesn't. Just the other way!
I can't eat. I've got one of the horrid headaches that turn me almost into
a lunatic once in a blue moon."
"I'm so sorry," said Angela. "Hadn't you better send Mr. Hilliard word
that we can't come to-day? You know, there's most of to-morrow----"
"Oh, no," Carmen broke in hastily. "I wouldn't disappoint him for
anything in the world. A cup of black coffee will do me good."
But apparently it had no such effect. And at two o'clock Mrs. Gaylor said
that she feared she must not venture out, after all, in the hot sun. If
she tried she might faint, and that would be silly. "I'm so sorry, but
you'll have to go alone," she finished, "and when I've had a little rest,
I'll come after you in a carriage, in time to bring you home. That will
save Nick motoring here and back, and give him a chance to keep his
engagement at six, with those men, and no danger of a breakdown with his
car. He might burst a tire on that stony road, you see, and be delayed.
Those men are important to him."
Angela was genuinely sympathetic, and strove to regret that Mrs. Gaylor
could not be with her. But she could not feel as sorry as she wished to
feel. There was a spice of danger in being alone with Nick, danger that he
might take up the thread dropped in the Mariposa Forest--if, indeed, he
really cared to take it up. That was the question. Perhaps, even if he
loved her, he would not think it best to tell her so under his own roof,
where she would have to run away from him to escape, if she did not choose
to listen. Whether he loved her or not, it must come to the same in the
end. But she could not help longing to know the truth. The one thing she
did already know was that she was deliciously frightened, yet glad that
she was to see Nick's ranch without Mrs. Gaylor.
At half-past two she started out, Carmen giving her explicit directions,
which she could not mistake, because, after passing through the bamboos,
the way was straight as far as that stretch of disused pasture land of
which mention had been made.
"You'll be in shade of the orange-trees till you come to a big gate in a
fence," Carmen explained. "Shut it after you, please, because dogs might
stray into the garden if you left it open. No cattle graze on that part of
the ranch any more. They're going to irrigate there and to plant alfalfa,
the soil's likely to be so good. But I've been weak enough to let gipsies
camp on the place once or twice, and there might be some there now, with
their dogs and horses, for all I know. As you go out of the gate you'll
see a kind of track worn in the grass; and all you've got to do is to
follow it for about three quarters of a mile, till you come to a new road
that's just been finished. When the rest of it's made right, motors won't
have any trouble between Nick's ranch and mine."
Angela said that she understood her instructions perfectly, and took the
green-lined parasol which her hostess had found for her. Its outer
covering was scarlet, and it was rather big and heavy. Angela made up her
mind that she would not use it except for the hottest part of the walk,
going across the disused pasture land.
"You'll really be able to come on about five?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, I shall be a different woman by that time." The contralto voice
dropped oddly and suddenly with these words: an effect of the headache, of
course. And the pallor of the dark face was almost ghastly. Angela thought
that her hostess looked very ill. "You may expect me," Carmen finished.
"I know Mr. Hilliard would be disappointed if you didn't come. Good-bye
till five, then."
Angela turned away; and Mrs. Gaylor, who had brought her guest as far as
the beginning of the bamboo grove; stood watching the white figure flit
farther and farther away, among the intricate green pillars of the temple.
Then, when the elusive form became ghostlike in the distance, Carmen went
back to the house. She walked slowly and with dignified composure while it
was possible that she might be seen by some servant. But once in her room,
with the door locked, she tottered to the bedside and flung herself down
on her knees.
"O God--O God!" she gasped, her face hidden.
Then, lifting her eyes, with a look of horror, she whispered, "No, not
God--_devil_. He's the only one I can ever pray to now."
Her eyes, glazed and staring, saw again the white figure passing from
sunshine into shadow. So it had been in Madame Vestris's crystal. How soon
would the dark cloud blot it out of sight now--and forever?
Angela had some difficulty in opening the gate that led from an orange
plantation into the disused pasture, for the fence was high and strong,
and the gate, apparently, not often used. As for the pasture, it went
billowing away mile after mile, seemingly, though at a distance she could
see a wire fence, a long vanishing line. And beyond that--safety shut away
by the wire, she was glad to think--a large number of cattle grazing. They
were so far off that their forms were all massed together, and they seemed
very quiet. Nevertheless, she was glad that a wire fence separated them
from her, for though she was not a coward and would not have stopped now
if there had been no fence, there was something rather terrifying about a
great drove of cattle in a lonely place.
"They're much too far off to see my red-covered sunshade," she thought.
"But even if they did see it, and didn't like it, they wouldn't jump over
a fence to get at me, I suppose!"
She walked on, along the track worn by the passing of feet, which had
thinned and flattened the grass. She could not see the new road of which
Carmen had spoken, but she must reach it sooner or later, going this way.
For the present, several low hills, like grass-sown waves, billowed
between her and it. But by and by, perhaps, she would hear the "teuf-teuf"
of Nick's motor coming along the new road, to fetch her and Carmen. Would
he be glad or sorry when he found that she was alone? She hoped that he
would be glad, but Mrs. Gaylor was so beautiful that it was hard to be
sure. Suddenly, just as she reached the top of one of the billowing hills
and caught sight of a rough road about half a mile away, she started at a
sharp sound like a shot. It seemed to come from the direction of the
cattle, and she turned to look toward them, vaguely disturbed. As she
looked, her unformed fears turned to keen and definite terror. The shot,
whether or no it had struck one of their number, had, in an instant,
stirred the drove in panic. Their comfortable peace was broken. Horns
tossed, dark forms reared, and hoofs descended on shining backs. A bull
bellowed wildly. Others followed suit. There was a dreadful roaring, and a
rushing of hoofs that sounded in Angela's horrified ears like the
beginning of an earthquake. The whole troop, hundreds of horned heads and
humpy backs, massed and seethed together. It was as if an irresistible
force from behind impelled them all forward in a pack. She stood still and
watched the black wave of cattle, fascinated, appalled, her heart beating
thickly. No, they could not stop now. Nothing could stop them, except some
great obstacle which they could not pass. And, when they came to that
obstacle, many would be killed by others' trampling hoofs. They would fall
and die, and their brothers would beat them down, not knowing, blind and
mad and merciless. It was a stampede. She had read of such things
happening among wild cattle in the West. Poor creatures, poor stupid
brutes, how sorry, how sickeningly sorry she was for them! Who could have
fired the shot, and why? Men on horses were in sight now--two, she
thought--no, three, galloping fast, but far behind the drove. They could
do no good. Only the fence would stop the rush, she told herself, through
the poundings of her heart. Then--then--it was as if a loud voice cried
the question in her ears--_Would the fence stop it?_
If not--"May God help me!" she heard herself saying. For an instant she
stared at the oncoming black wave which swept on, faster and faster toward
her, so incredibly, terribly fast now that in another second she knew they
would break down the line of wire fence. The cattle, those that were not
trampled to death, would soon pour through the gap, would sweep on and on,
overwhelming this hill where she stood.
Strange, some lines of a poem were saying themselves in Angela's head. She
had read them lately, since she came to America, the story of a stampede
and a girl. Laska--yes, that was the name--loved a man, and saved him
from the rush of wild cattle by covering his body with hers, protecting
it with her bleeding flesh from the blows of the iron hoofs.
Nick had given her the book. She had been in a train when she read the
story of Laska. She saw herself sitting safely and cosily in a stateroom,
all panelled satinwood and green velvet. Now----
Blindly she started to run. It was useless, she knew, for the fence was
certain to go, and she could no more outrun that black billow of death
than she could outrace one of Paolo di Sereno's aeroplanes. Yet instinct
made her run toward the far-off road, away from the plunging, bellowing
cattle. She thought of Hilliard, and how he would hate to hear of the
death she had died. He would give his life for hers, as Laska had given
her life for her lover.
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
Just as Nick was finishing a somewhat hurried and sketchy luncheon a
telegram was handed to him. It was from Max Wisler, the San Francisco
detective, and it said laconically, "Don't let A. M. visit C. G."
As Nick read, the blood rushed to his forehead, and he sprang to his feet,
knocking over the chair in which he had been sitting.
Max Wisler had not been told by him that Mrs. May was to visit Mrs.
Gaylor; but that must be what he meant. It had not occurred to Nick that
it could be necessary to mention Angela's brief stay, in telling Wisler
that he himself was "running up to Lucky Star." The detective must have
found out in some ferreting way of his own. And he had telegraphed, "Don't
let A. M. visit C. G." What could be his reason? Then suddenly a dreadful
explanation flashed into Nick's head; flashed there and stayed, as if
printed in letters of blood on his brain.
Wisler had been right after all. He had found out who sent the box of
poison oak. Those hateful questions of his, so much resented, had been
justified. There could be no other explanation. Nothing else could excuse
this warning. It seemed too hideous to be true that Wisler had
telegraphed because there was danger for Angela, and yet----
Nick did not wait to finish out the sentence in his mind. The Japanese
servant, who was cook and valet and chamberman, had brought the telegram
and the last luncheon dish at the same time. Now he was providing Billy
the chauffeur with something to eat. But Nick did not wait or even think
about Billy. The engagement with Mrs. Gaylor and Angela was for five
o'clock, but that made no difference to Nick, with the telegram in his
hand. Knowing what he knew--for he did know now, as if he had seen all
Wisler's proofs--he would not trust Angela alone with Carmen for a single
hour. He was going this instant to snatch her away, with no matter what
excuse. He would think of something to satisfy Angela, for she must not
find out the truth if he could help it--anyhow, not while she was under
Carmen's roof; it would shock and distress her too much. The principal
thing was to get her out of the place quickly and quietly. As for
Carmen--he could not decide yet how he should deal with Carmen. Loyal as
he was by nature, and as he had shown himself to Wisler, modest as to his
own deserts, and slow to fancy himself valued by any woman, he could not
now help seeing, as Wisler had seen the one motive which could have
tempted Carmen Gaylor to send Angela May a box of poison-oak. Many little
things came back, in a flood of disturbing memory; things to which Nick
had attached no importance at the time, or had misunderstood, owing to his
humility, where women were concerned, and his chivalrous, almost
exaggerated respect for his employer's wife and widow--the generous,
disinterested friend that he had thought her. "What a fool--what a
double-dyed fool!" he anathematized himself, as he got the motor ready to
start, while Billy still ate apple-pie and cream on the kitchen veranda.
In spite of Wisler's catechism he had let Angela accept Carmen's
invitation, had even urged her to accept. If anything hideous happened it
would be his fault. But no, surely nothing would happen. It was too bad to
be true. If Carmen had committed the crime of sending the poison-oak, it
must have been in a fit of madness, after hearing things--stupid
things--from Miss Dene. By this time she must have repented. She could not
be a woman and harm a guest--such a guest as Angela May and in her own
And yet it was odd--he had dimly thought it odd, even in his
ignorance--that Carmen should have followed them out to the Big Trees from
Wawona, there to make a "dead set" at Mrs. May. She had said that her
choice of the Yosemite for rest and change of air was a coincidence; that
she had not known he was in the neighbourhood until she heard the news at
Wawona. But suddenly Nick ceased to believe that story. She had gone
because he was there--with Angela May.
As he thought these things he was starting the car, getting into the car,
driving the car away from the house, to the Gaylor ranch. There was no bad
patch of road. That was an invention of Carmen's for the plausibility of
the plan she had sketched out to Angela. The road had been finished months
ago, and Nick flew along it in the Bright Angel at a pace which might have
got him into trouble with the police if there had been any police to spy
upon him. The way ran through disused pasture land which was to be
irrigated, enriched, and grown with alfalfa; and at a turn in the road he
came upon a sight which flashed to his eyes like a spurt of vitriol. He
saw the wild cattle break through the fence--the new "bunch" which Carmen
had just got from Arizona. He saw them struggling, and trampling each
other down, and sweeping through the gap like a wave through a broken
dyke. He saw a figure in white running toward him, and knew it was Angela
May--knew that she must die unless he could be in time to save her.
Nick turned the car, and sent it leaping off the road, to bound over the
rough hummocks, billowing under the heat-baked grass. He looked like a
dead man, with only his eyes and hands--his strong, firm hands--alive. The
motor rocked on the green waves as if in a stormy sea, and groaned like a
wounded bull--one of those who had died there at the broken fence, with
their hearts' blood in their mouths.
It was almost on her now--the wild black wave--with death in its wake and
death in its gift; but he reached her first, and leaning out while the car
swerved--as many a time he had leaned from his galloping bronco in cowboy
days, to pick up a hat or a handkerchief--he caught Angela up beside him.
Then with a twist of the steering-wheel he gave the Bright Angel a
half-turn that sent her flying along in front of the cattle, almost
underneath the tossing horns and plunging hoofs. Thus he shot past the
surging line of them, since he could not turn round sharply to run before
the wave without risk of upsetting. As the automobile dashed past, the
cattle surged on irresistibly; but Nick and Angela in the car were beyond
the reach of hoofs and horns.
Three mounted cowboys saw the race won, and yelled a wild yell of triumph,
but their duty was to the cattle. They went about their business knowing
that the car was safe; and Nick neither saw the men nor consciously heard
Angela was half fainting. Holding her up, he steered as he could, slowing
down now lest the jumping springs of the car should break. He drove away
from, not toward, Mrs. Gaylor's house. He would not take Angela back to
Carmen even for a moment. Yet as she was alone and swooning she could not
go to his house. He caught at the idea of a quick run into Bakersfield in
search of a doctor. But when he saw at last that Angela was slowly coming
to herself, drawing deep, sobbing breaths, her eyelashes trembling on wet
cheeks, he eased the car down on a quiet stretch of road, under the shade
of young walnut-trees and oaks. There he stopped for a while, in the cool