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Zanita: A Tale of the Yo-semite (1872) by Thérèse Yelverton


CHAPTER III. THE DAUGHTERS OF AH-WAH-NEE.

A more charming adobe never gladdened the eyes of the weary traveller, than that which rose before me as I saw it in the moonlight.

An Italian cottage, with wide and tasteful veranda, over which grape-vine and wisteria were contending for each morsel of trellis-work. It was constructed of the rich yellow cedar, each knot and contortion of grain showing out like lumps of burnished gold; the pointed gabled roof was shaded by an enormous oak, with trunk some twelve feet in diameter, whose broad leaves lay on the yellow shingles, like sea-weed on a sandy beach.

In a semi-circle grew tall pines, the Douglas fir, and cedars, the lower spaces filled in with maples, and occasionally a quercus virens.

A small plot of garden, with choice flowers clustered around the veranda; and beyond, the river wound in serpentine curves green and clear, silvered here and there by the moonlight, and reflecting the summits of the great mountains. Such a fairy-like site I had never even read of in my youthful story-hooks.

“And how did it get here?” I exclaimed, “that beautiful bijou cottage amid these fierce and ragged rocks? Was it borne through the air from Italy or Switzerland, on the wings of seraphs, like the Casa Santa de Loretto.

“You’ve got to see my saw-mill, and then you will know how it all came about.”

“For goodness sake,” quoth I, “don’t destroy my poetic hallucination by suggestions of a saw-mill!”

Kenmuir laughed one of his joyous, ringing laughs, and mine host appeared at the door. Little introduction seemed necessary; he had me off my horse in the twinkling of an eye, seated in one of the easiest chairs I know of,—and I am a connoisseur in those articles,—with a pinkish-colored California wine sparkling in an antique glass before me. And here I was in two minutes as cosy and comfortable as though I had called a queen my cousin.

Mr. Naunton was a tall, spare man of fifty, but looking ten years older, from his long snowy beard and the few white locks which still adorned his fine phrenologically developed head; his brilliant dark eyes shone with charity and humor. There was a benignant sweetness about his whole demeanor that made you feel at once that he would become the best friend you ever had, and I longed to import to Mr. Kenmuir the correctness of my divination.

He wore no coat or vest; and his trousers, which were very loose, had the same tendency as Mr. Kenmuir’s, requiring to be hitched up, which I subsequently found was an epidemic in the Valley among the nether garments.

Upon his shoulder he carried, as a part and parcel of his natural appendage, a lovely child about two or three years old, who poised herself on her elevated station with one little dimpled hand on the top of the bald head. She was a fair, blue-eyed, flaxen-haired little creature, the living picture of one of Raphael’s angels; cheeks like two luscious ripe peaches, and rounded limbs dimpled all over.

Before my eyes could satiate themselves with this lovely vision, I was interrupted by a sharp little nip on my arm, and turning, beheld the most midnight prototype of face I have ever seen in a human being, much less a child of six years.

It had all the character of the portraits of Mrs. Siddons taken as Lady Macbeth, where she is washing out the “damned spot.” Her face was thin but oval, the eyes piercing black, with delicately penciled lines, squaring a Grecian brow, broad and low, with that fixed limning which gives a stare or habitual frown to the face. Her complexion was the richest brunette hue with a pure vermilion tinge on the cheeks, which had little of the roundness of childhood; her mouth was small, with thin, compressed lips, but her chin was of extraordinary depth and power. The hair was dark, fine, and silky.

A more startling little vision, as she emerged from the shadow into the blaze of the great fire, never roused into activity a weary traveller whose sensational emotions were nearly all exhausted.

The little hand with which she had pinched me to call my attention, was long and slender, the fingers so tapered that it looked like the hand of some little hobgoblin.

“Say!” she ejaculated, with another pinch.—“listen! Where do you come from, where are you going, what made you come; do you want to camp out? I’ll go with you. We had better start before the moon goes down; have you plenty of blankets? It’s only twenty miles to the top of Tis-sa-ak. I’ll show you the trail. I’ve just come down to-day; me and my sister have been camping up there some time; we killed twenty bears. You are not afraid of rattlesnakes, I suppose; there is one just below here that has bitten me three times, but I always cut the piece out with my jack-knife, and it did me no harm.”

“What is your name?” I asked, by way of mingling in the talk.

“My name is Zanita, because I was born amongst these rocks, which are all covered with Manzanita. It bears a pretty white blossom; and mamma, who is crazy for flowers, called me Zanita after them. Do you like it?”

“Very much,” I said; “both the name and the idea are beautiful.”

“Say!” she went on, “do you like me?”

“I shall tell you to-morrow; if you are good I shall like you.”

“I’m not good,” she answered, rapidly. “Do you want a polecat skin? I’ll just go out and catch and skin one alive, and bring it to you.”

“No, no, thank you, certainly not!” I replied, in some horror, lest the offer might be put into execution by this wonderful little Flyaway.

A mischievous elfish light gleamed in her black eyes for a second; it was not a laugh, and could hardly be called a smile, for the mouth did not move, yet it was the nearest approach to either that I ever saw pass over that handsome little face.

“Suppose I shoot it, and keep it off, far, far away, so that you can’t smell it.”

“That will be much better,” I replied.

All this she snapped out in a short, rapid way, with the utmost nonchalance, as if it were the common matter-of-fact proceeding of every-day. Her voice was wiry, and sounded more like that of an old woman’s than a child.

All my phrenological faculties were brought to instant play, and I was so preoccupied in my new human specimen that I did not at first notice the entrance of another personage, who seemed to glide rather than walk, and about whose every look and motion there was such a calmness and repose, that she might have represented the Goddess of Placitude.

She was introduced to me as Mrs. Naunton, and she uttered a few gentle words of welcome in a tone which sounded like the vibration of an Aeolian lyre, so soft and musical was her voice.

She was a young woman, looking little over twenty, a slight, semi-girlish semi-matronly figure, with a Madonna cast of countenance, deep, pensive hazel eyes, a blush-rose complexion, and brown hair.

She moved dreamily, as if under a spell; and as she stood speaking to me, plucked meditatively the remains of a flower which she seemed to be studying botanically. She conducted me to a quaint bedroom that I found would take me all night to investigate, the scrutiny of which, therefore, I postponed until the next day.

After I had taken off my things, and refreshed myself with a wash, I returned to the sitting-room, still accompanied by the small sprite, who kept up a continual rattle of propositions, all of the most fabulous nature, for scaling rocks and fording rivers, as though we had been born elves instead of flesh and blood creatures.

A Chinaman was laying the table for supper, with the gliding aid of the Madonna. While she was thus engaged, I had time to examine the room, which was a singular admixture of rustic simplicity and modern refinement. It was a large chamber opening on the veranda, and its walls running up to the full height of the house without the intervention of any ceiling; the massive rafters illumined by the flickering flame, displayed some curiosities of natural history,—such as hornets’ nests, which, after remaining tenantless for several years, had again be-come inhabited by sundry enterprising yellow-jackets; a few lichens had vigorously contrived to struggle through some crevice, and garland the antique roof; and part of the vine which wreathed the porch had found some tiny nook or crevice through which to twine its delicate tendrils. The walls were of the same rich yellow cedar as the outside, and were paneled with the deep claret-colored Manzanita wood, and decorated with pictures, some fine engraving of the best masters, or an oil painting of a striking scene in the Valley. On one side was a book-case stocked with choice volumes of standard works, literary, scientific, ideal, and artistic; at the opposite side was an enormous chimney-place formed of four slabs of granite; the hearthstone, a great slab of the same stone extended some five feet into the room. Great logs, five or six feet long, raised on antique irons, blazed and crackled, and sent forked flames high up the capacious chimney.

It was a treat to see that fire burn; it seemed so thoroughly in earnest to enjoy and lavish itself in such a luxurious splendor; it roared, and sparkled, and leaped for gladness; the light white ash fell so soft and tenderly around, like some cozy old grandmother hemming in her unruly, frolicsome children. The furniture was principally rustic: a broad divan covered with handsome skins; the easy-chair before mentioned, made of the gnarled branches of Manzanita, and lined with white woolly skins; an étagère filled with wonderful fossils and crystals, specimens of gold and silver quartz, feldspar, and stalactites. A magnificent eagle, the defunct veteran of Eagle Point, spread his giant wings in one corner of the room, and a comical old cinnamon bear, with very red glass eyes, sat upon his haunches in another; his paws and snout served for a coat and hat-rack.

In a deep frame, covered with glass, was a dried bouquet of the wild flowers of the Valley. It was easy to see the feminine hand which had been here. There were rustic tables, and an escritoire decorated with pine cones, acorns, and hickory nuts, and yellow pine bark, resembling the most elaborate oak carving. There were delicate baskets, suspended from the roof, of gray and yellow fungi, and containing great flourishing bunches of the wood warelias, forming a living Prince of Wales’s feather.

Each window was a separate conservatory, where grew the singular blood-plant, so called from its stem, leaves, and flowers being all of a flesh and blood color. A bobolink and grossbeak rivaled each other in an opposition duet. A guitar, and a few scraps of manuscript, might have told more for the talent than the tidiness of the author. Such was the general coup d’ oeil which riveted my attention.

With the gliding aid of the Madonna an excellent supper of cold venison pie, smoking hot new potatoes, and green peas, was soon on the table. To which, after the entrance of Kenmuir and Oswald Naunton, with the Rosebud perched aloft on his shoulder, I addressed myself in real earnest, believing meanwhile that I had actually penetrated into fairy land, or, more vulgarly speaking, “fallen into clover.” Kenmuir and the Madonna entered into a most intricate botanical discussion. The former all vigor, and arguing in little puffs and dashes, while the latter glided out her sentences like soft falling snow.

I explained to my host the reason of my sudden advent, and the joke I had played upon the Professor; which he applauded, and praised my courage in pioneering my own way. He expatiated, with great fluency and perfect knowledge of his subject, on the marvels, geological, botanical, and natural, of the Valley.

“You need not tell me of the flowers, if these two have bloomed here,” I said, indicating the Rosebud and Sprite.

“Yes,” he said, “these are the daughters of Ah-wah-nee. They were born in the Valley, and have never been outside its granite fastnesses.”

“I thought,” I remarked, “that my guide had called the Valley Yosemite.”

“Yes,” replied my host, “that is the name which custom has now sanctioned. It means ‘great grizzly bear,’ and the name arose from a celebrated Indian chief having killed one with a club, a wonderful feat in this valley. [Editor’s note: For the correct origin of the words Yosemite and Ahwahnee see “Origin of the Word Yosemite.”—DEA.] But the original Indian name previous to that was Ah-wah-nee. We have called the children after the most profuse flowers here—the manzanita and rose—Zanita, and Rosalind. But Rosalind is such a contented happy little creature that Cozy seems the most appropriate appellation.”

As I looked upon this artistic group, lit up by the varying flame of the pitch-pine fire, I could not help believing that this family, shut in from the outer world, yet with all the refinement of civilization, was surely one of the natural wonders of the Valley.

In spite of the adventures of the day, we still sat up round the fire until late in the night. The conversation was sparkling, and certainly original; and it was difficult to believe that I was a stranger amongst them, and had not been with them all my life. The little chubby rose-bud lay asleep in her mother’s lap; and the elf, with unwinking eyes, kept her post at my side, every now and then, sotto voce, hazarding a plan for a new expedition.

Kenmuir’s laugh rang clear up to the rafters as he promised to induct me into the mysteries of the saw-mill on the morrow.

But once under the snowy sheets, I slept the sleep of the just, dreamless, and without waking, until the sun shone bright through my vine-latticed window next morning.


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