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Everything went on as usual next day until about noon, when I called to Zanita to come and read to me.
“Shall I do, aunty?” cried Rosie, starting up cheerfully.
“No, my dear; I want Zanita to rehearse with me. See if you can find her.”
Cozy set off, but returned in ten minutes, saying she could not find her.
I went on with my work, thinking she would come in presently. At the end of two hours I again inquired,—“Where do you think Zanita can be gone, Cozy?”
“I don’t know, I am sure, aunty. I have searched all her haunts, and she is not with papa, fishing. She may be gone for a ramble,—camping, perhaps,”—said Rosie, laughing, “as she always would do when we were children.”
“She is the strangest girl for doing odd things that ever was,” I exclaimed, going on with my work.
At our dinner hour I sent Rosie to look for Kenmuir. Probably Zanita had gone off on some expedition with him.
No, he had not seen her. “Stay!” he said: “did she wear a white dress?”
“No, a pink one. Perhaps you don’t know the difference,” said Rosie, laughing.
“Perhaps I do, Miss Pert! I thought I saw a piece of the same dress Zanita wore last night up among the ceanothus bushes, like a white fleecy cloud. I like that dress,” said Kenmuir, “it is so much more graceful than these new-fangled fashions. I thought it was Zanita up there, though I did not see her face, and then I saw Egremont climbing up shortly after.”
“Has he returned to dinner?” I asked.
“No,” said Kenmuir. “Now Rosie, to satisfy yourself that I do know red from white, go and see if you can find the dress Zanita wore last night.”
Rosie trotted off and returned laughing. “Her white dress is nowhere to be found, and her pink one lies on the floor just as though she had jumped out of it.”
Kenmuir seized Rosie by the hand and imprinted a kiss upon the golden little curls on her forehead, saying,—“If you dare to question my knowledge of colors again I will cut off one of these.”
“Then she has gone with Egremont,” I resumed. “What on earth could possess her to put on a mull muslin dress to climb rocks and manzanita bushes? She will come home with it in ribbons, as of old.” I spoke angrily, for I could not conceal my vexation that she had already commenced her strategic movement. I exchanged glances with Kenmuir, and we walked apart from Rosie.
“It is as I told you,” he said; “she has made up her mind to have him or she would never discipline herself to sitting upon one rock all day watching him sketch.”
“You are right,” I replied, “and directly the Professor arrives we will leave, though we have to camp out at Mono again, and Mr. Naunton must do the best he can about Rosie and Mr. Egremont, for he is sure to remain behind if I carry Zanita off nolens volens.”
Evening approached, and there was no appearance of the excursionists.
“I should not be a bit surprised,” said Rosie, “if Zanita made Mr. Egremont camp out, just by way of mocking at his discomfort, whilst she will throw herself upon the bushes and sleep as though upon a bed of down.”
“In a white mull muslin dress!” I exclaimed, irritably. “It will not look much like down to-morrow morning.”
Rosie and Mr. Naunton laughed at this imaginative picture of Zanita next morning, but as daylight receded, and the moon rose, I became more nervous.
“I do not think you need be alarmed, aunty,” said Rosie; “Zanita never had an accident, with all her hair-breadth escapes of flood and field, and if anything had happened to Mr. Egremont,” she continued, her color rising at the mention of his name, “she would have been down ere this for help. I think there is no doubt now that she insisted upon camping out just to torment him, aunty, and show how brave she is.”
“It is very wrong of her, and she shall never go out again with Mr. Egremont.”
“It is too bad of her never to think how alarmed you would be, but I am rather glad she is not here to-night for I want to tell you a big secret, aunty,” said Rosie, in a tremulous voice. She threw her arms around my waist, and laid her blushing cheeks upon my shoulder.
“What is it, darling?” I said, caressing her glossy hair.
“I want to tell you what Mr. Egremont said to me, I have been trying all day to do so but could not get courage.”
She told me what I already knew, and then—how strangely events repeat themselves—I asked her the very same question I had put to her sister about the same man,
“Do you love him, Rosie?” and the trembling answer came, “O, so much! aunty. I hope it does not seem ungrateful, but he is more than all the world to me—dearer than existence; and life without him would not be worth anything.”
“And would you like to leave us all and become his wife?”
“Dear aunty! I should grieve to leave you and papa, and Zanita, and Kenmuir, and the Valley, but I would rather die than not be his wife when he wishes me.”
I took the soft velvety cheeks between my hands and kissed them. I then said,—“Has Zanita ever spoken to you in confidence about Mr. Egremont?”
“No, aunty! you know she never gives me her confidence in any-thing. Why?”
“Because, my dear, perhaps she loves him too!”
“Zanita!” cried Rosie, with a start of surprise. “She never cares very much for any one, you know, aunty.”
“No, dear, but she likes admiration, which to her is the same thing, and I think you ought to know that Mr. Egremont admired her once, when first he knew her.”
“I am not surprised at that,” she said; “Zanita is very handsome, and talented, and quite bewitching, when she likes,—but that would not trouble me. She intends marrying a prince,—she said so in her sleep one night,—and when I tease her about it she gets angry.”
“I have reason to believe,” I said, “that he came into the Valley on her account, and I feel, dear, that, for the sake of your happiness, it is somebody’s duty to ascertain how he stands with Zanita. I cannot believe that a man can love two such opposite characters at the same time, and to be alternating from one to the other is simply disgraceful.”
“O, aunty! you cannot surely look in his face and think him guilty of such conduct.”
“My dear, that face is the greatest puzzle I ever met with in my life, and makes me inclined to throw physiognomy to the winds. If he should turn out dishonorable, and a hypocrite, I should never trust another beautiful face as long as I live. What does he mean by going out with Zanita and remaining out the whole day?”
“Aunty,” laughed Rosie, “you seem to forget that Zanita may have insisted upon going with him, just for a freak, as she does everything else, without thinking or caring what the consequences may be.”
“But he could return in proper time. It is incomprehensible, and, like everything else concerning him, bears the imprint of suspicion.”
After a little more chat Rosie retired to her room, and seeing a light in Kenmuir’s cabin, I walked over, for I was too uneasy and filled with vague conjectures, to sleep. The moon shone in mystic splendor, limning out distinctly the grandly fantastic rocks of Hum-moo, oxidizing its gigantic pilaster and minarets, like some wondrous temple erected for the worship of a fabulous humanity,—on the scale of the mastodon, still found in the iron grasp of the granite gorges. The opposite side of the Valley being in shade, was one solid mass of eberus, but from underneath the pines, obelisks sent long straight shadows across the meadows, raying them in alternate bars of light and dark.
As I crossed the Mercede, by the rustic bridge, the high ridges of To-coy-ee and Low-oo-too were clearly defined in the crystal waters,—the cedars on their summits transversed and standing on their topmost branches, pointed with feathery sprays to the lozenge-shaped moon, shining like a great Kohinoor diamond in the reflected cerulean vault. The owl’s plaintive cry was reverberated from two antique cedars at either side of the bridge. They were pleading with each other over some momentous crisis in their lives.
“Doo-doo-doo!” sighed one.
“Doo-doo-doo!” echoed the other.
Birds and beasts, as well as men, have their troublous times, I ween, and their plans “oft gang aglee!” though Kenmuir seems to think it is only man who has got astray out of his orbit, or the ends for which he was created. My own idea, in which I agree with the Professor, for once, is, that nothing is lost or gone astray in the universe of creation,—that men and mountains, all fulfill their tasks as appropriately as mosquitoes and mastodons.
The Professor laughs at the idea of “mistakes,” “blunders,” and “miscalculations,” and vexatious regret at having created this or that, and throwing it away in disgust. Whatever is, was intended to be, is our theory, and we have to make the best of it, unable at the moment to decide whether it will be good or bad in the long run.
I tapped at Kenmuir’s window as I passed. He was sitting writing in company with two tree-frogs, who evidently took an interest in his literary labors. He opened the door for me.
“I half expected you,” he said; “I know you are anxious. Come in and take a seat.”
“No, thank you,” I answered, as I noticed a third guest, in the shape of a pet rattlesnake, curled up in the corner over a watercourse which Kenmuir had encouraged to flow through his abode, in order to refresh some ferns which also had domiciled themselves under his roof,—“no, thank you, I would rather sit outside in the moonlight.”
He pulled his old sheepskin chair to the step. Hung around the cabin were Egremont’s small oil-paintings of the various points of the Valley. Somehow the sight of them brought a dimness to my eyes, the shadow of approaching wretchedness was so heavy upon me.
“I am sorry to see you so overcome,” said Kenmuir, noticing my emotion; “you may need all your courage before long.”
“And shall show more than I evince now!” I said. “What do you think of this state of affairs?”
Kenmuir settled his back against the door-sill, and looking steadily down into my face said,—“I fear they are off!”
“Eloped!” I exclaimed, springing to my feet.
“That’s the proper expression, I suppose. I mean that.”
“But they have no horses; they cannot have walked out of the Valley!”
“Not likely! but she would catch some stray horses, and they would ride bare-backed as far as Galen’s Rancho, and then get saddles and go onto Mariposa, where they could be married.”
“Good Heavens!” I exclaimed, stamping my foot. “How I shall hate him if he has done that! I would rather he had pitched from the top of Tis-sa-ack. What are your grounds for such a supposition?”
“Well,” said Kenmuir, “they are these: if they had camped we should most likely see their fire, and I have been round looking. They are not out at Old Methley’s, for I have been there; and then Zanita is far too good a mountaineer to camp out this weather without plenty of blankets and food. Now Egremont had nothing but his sketch-box when I saw him, and it is not likely he would allow her to carry a burden like an Indian squaw.”
“She took nothing from the store closet,” I put in, “because I had the keys all the morning.”
“No,” continued Kenmuir, “I will venture to say they are not camping out. If it were any one else but Zanita they might have lost their way; but she knows every foot of the ground, and would come back by this moonlight as easy as not. That they would remain out all night is too improbable, and I am quite certain they have not.”
“No,” I said, “that seems conclusive, and besides, Mr. Egremont would never dare appear before me again after such an outrageous proceeding; and I do not believe that Zanita, with all her influence, could make him do it. You do not suppose they have gone to Radd’s,” I suggested.
“No, there is nowhere to sleep there unless they turned Radd and his wife out; and Zanita would never put herself under the fire of Mrs. Radd’s battery for a whole night: I am morally certain of that.”
“Then what do you think ought to be done?”
“Do you want to stop the marriage?” he asked, hesitatingly.
“Why certainly I do; they are acting no better than two lunatics, and would tear each other to pieces before the honeymoon was over. Why, he expressed the utmost contempt and bitterness for her yesterday morning. I believe he must be subject to aberration of mind, and she is acting on some wild fancy; but she is under age, and we can surely prevent this marriage, and I shall have no hesitation in doing so: it is my duty.”
“Well, then,” cried Kenmuir, “I will saddle my Bucephalus, and meet them at Mariposa to-morrow morning, for they cannot have gone farther, and I know Judge Macmach well enough to get him to stay the proceedings.”
“When will you start?” I asked. “It is no good consulting Mr. Naunton; he never has seemed to live clearly in this world since his wife’s death.”
“I am ready this moment, when I have taken the precaution to prevent the frogs continuing my manuscript with their legs dipped in the ink.” He had been careful to tether a horse up, foreseeing that he might need one.
He was off in a few minutes. I listened to the horse’s feet, as they re-sounded in the stillness for miles down the Valley.
When he was gone my heart sank lower and lower. I did not expect he would find them, although I coincided with him in his solution of their disappearance; yet I did not realize it in my heart. I am a woman of strong presentiments. I knew she could not have carried him off against his will, and yet they were gone together,—gone never to return it seemed to me; every hour appeared to make this more certain.
I put my ear to the ground. I could distinctly hear the scraping of the horse’s hoofs over the rocky track round the Po-ho-no Fall. I almost wished I had started with him; it would have been less trying than this nervous waiting, this exhaustive suspense. In action, however terrible, I never feel that sickening dread which so overpowers me in moments of anxious anticipation. There is certainly no wisdom in meeting trouble half-way; but if I am sure that misfortune is approaching, I always feel inclined to rush en avant and contend for every inch of ground. To stand still, or even to fly, is equally impossible for me.
As sleep was quite out of the question, I resolved to make myself some coffee, write a little note to Rosie, telling her where I was gone to, rouse the Indian, Mu-wah, to accompany me, start for the Upper Valley, and put Radd on the search.
But the Indian was nowhere to be found, and I had to go in search of Rosie’s pony and saddle him myself. I debated whether to rouse Mr. Naunton, and ask him to join me; but finally decided not to do so, as he would scarcely take my view of the importance of the case, and would probably retard me. Apathy and a good deal of indifference had grown upon him with years, and the death of his wife, who had seemed to be the better half of his soul; and, moreover, his faith in Zanita as a mountaineer was unbounded. That she could be lost, stolen, or strayed in the mountains, seemed to him an utter impossibility.
“You might search a week in these rocks in vain,” he had said, when I had proposed seeking for her, “and she would walk in at the end of that time as cool as though she had only been out an hour. She is a real mountain child, the true daughter of Ah-wah-nee; she will never be otherwise, and it is useless to fret about her. She will be home probably by moonlight, and if not, by sunrise, and if not, to-morrow or the next day; but she must be let to come her own way.”
I have often thought there was nothing so exhilarating as a ride in the early morning in the mountains alone. The freshness of Nature seems to descend over all, and fold us in her unsullied embrace; the nobility of the whole scene animates us, and dissipates those petty troubles which often pester us and destroy our happiness, as mosquitoes under a net defy the arts of the great god Somnus.
As I entered the sylvan tangle of the forest, the South Fork Cañon was dim in the matin twilight; but soon became roseate with incipient day, and ere I had ascended far up the rocky path which leads to the foot of the falls, bright flashes of slanting light shot through the trees, coruscating in golden beams, and when I emerged from the umbrose avenue of knotted cedars, the sun hung like a ball of resplendent fire between the rival domes of Tis-sa-ack and Tah-mah.
When I had reached the crest of the mountains, whence I could command a view of the two falls, and look down on the Py-wy-ack, whilst remaining on a level with the foot of the Yo-wi-ye, I drew my rein, and, as Kenmuir would say, “Let the grandeur and sublimity of God’s untouched, unsullied creation permeate through every fibre of my existence.” I had need of the sustaining power of the clear surging wind,—of the strength of the majestic cascade that rolls on from all time to eternity,—to crave the placitude of the mute moss that girdled with many rings the pinus ponderoso in sunshine and shower, and snow and heat, and cling to them in silent tenderness.
“Nature is a stern philosophic religionist.
‘Thus it is. Thus it is best,’ is her motto.”
My soul took in this supremely divine message and felt composed.
Farther on a little bird caroling joyously, as though it would burst its little throat in its vigorous evolutions, gave me the idea to rouse the echoes. Possibly Zanita or Egremont might respond.
Upon the second trial I received an answer other than the echo. Alas! it was a male voice, and a baritone, whilst I knew Egremont’s was a tenor, from his having joined with Rosie in duets.
I kept up the communication, in some vague hope that it might bring good news, and in the space of about ten minutes Rollo came bounding up to me; then I knew his master was not far distant, and shortly Radd appeared waving the hat with the torn brim, which, like the tower of Pisa, was always falling but never fell.
He welcomed me with a great display of gladness,—
“‘Hail Aurora, Goddess of the Morn,
Whose rosy fingers ope the gates of day,’
“to thee I pay my devoir.”
“Mr. Radd,” I replied, in plain prose, “I was on my way to see you, but I must rest here. I want you to make me a fire, and warm this coffee, and to have a very serious talk with you.”
Radd looked into my face, read there my anxiety, and was silent. Gathering a few sticks, my coffee was soon warm, and sitting upon a mossy knoll at the foot of a wide-spreading evergreen oak, I made him my confidante as to the loss of Zanita and Egremont.
“We will hope it is not a tragedy, madam,” he said softly,—and his face spoke that deeper sensitive sympathy which made me pity the husband of Nell,—“but unless it turns out as you fear, a wedding, I am almost afraid.”
“O, a wedding,” I interrupted him, “would be the greatest tragedy of all.”
“Greater than death?” he hazarded, looking at me carefully.
I shrank a little from this fearful alternative. “Why,” I asked, “do you put it so?”
“Because, madam, though I would not pain you by a heedless thought, yet you should not lose sight of the fact that the beautiful daughter of Ah-wah-nee has slept upon her mother’s bosom too often, not to know that her mull muslin dress, as you term it, would be frozen about her at this season. Hence she has either got out of the mountains, as you say, for a purpose, or she is,—” and he stopped short and picked at the torn rim of his hat.
My eyes watched it, and thought it would come off; but my heart stood still, and I gasped out, “She is—what?”
“Returned to the bosom of her mater naturoe,” he said solemnly.
My breath came tightly for a moment. “Let us hope not,” at length I said, pushing the horrid phantom from me.
“They have not been up here,” he said,—“at least not through the Upper Valley; but they may have gone by Mono, and every inch of the road shall be searched this day; you shall not he kept in suspense any way. Have you anything about you that belonged to either of them? Rollo will find whatever he has once had a scent of, and if he gets on their trail will not leave it until he has run them down.”
“There is a handkerchief I picked up a little way from Kenmuir’s hut; it is marked ‘Egremont:’” I handed it to him.
He looked at it carefully. “It is very fine,” he remarked. “What is that square hole cut out over his name for? There has been something above: I can see the ink marks on the other side.”
“Very curious,” I said; “but I cannot divine why it was cut out.”
“Well, madam, if you will return into the Valley, lest the family of our mountain sylph become alarmed, I will undertake to search all this portion of the rocks, and either find them or give you a positive assurance that they are not there.”
Thus, without the trial of encountering Mrs. Nell, I wended my solitary way back again, Rosie’s pony nothing loth to make such a short day of it.
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