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We had descended the steepest portion of the mountain, and had reached one of the level benches on which are situated those marvelous and fantastic grottoes that must be seen to be realized.
The entrance is draped with the royal plumes of the fernus gigantia; the walls elaborately tapestried with bright green mould moss, the product of damp and wet. The ceiling is decorated with lichens that droop in architectural wonders. The floor gleams in crystals and glittering spars, like a pavement tessellated in gems.
We had just emerged from examining one of these homes of the Naiads, when Mr. Naunton threw up his arms in surprise and amusement, and exclaimed,—
“Well, well! if there is not Zanita coming to camp out with us. I low in the name of wonder has she got Billy up that tortuous track?”
I looked, and there was the sprite riding a calf, tricked out as a pack-mule, with a milk-pail on one side and her father’s hunting-bag on the other. She was quieting and driving him by dint of kicks with her little feet, and thumps with a broken broom administered at the four points of the compass upon the wayward calf; and was actually at the moment piloting him under an immense boulder which overhung the trail, leaving scarce two feet of path above a fearful precipice, at the bottom of which the Mercede roared in one of its deliriums of fury.
“Good heavens!” I screamed, “she will be killed.”
“No,” resumed her father composedly; “a child that can guide a calf up such a trail as this will never meet her death among the mountains.” “Where are you going, Zanita?” he called out.
“Coming to camp out with the lady. O, don’t go back yet. I have brought you bacon and potatoes,” and she produced from the milk-pail a very dirty ham-bone, rescued from the dogs, no doubt, and a living root of potatoes, with soil and fruit clinging to it fresh pulled from the earth.
She was greatly disappointed to have her calf turned hack again, though Billy seemed to relish the descent mightily, switched his tail, and trotted on briskly.
As we traversed the park-like meadows, studded with massive oaks, and Mr. Naunton was expatiating upon their girth and height as compared with trees in other portions of the Continent,—these present averaging ten feet in diameter,—a sudden light broke over his face (brighter, I thought, than the circumference of a tree could animate), and following the direction of his eyes, I perceived the gliding figure which had power to call it forth.
“My Placida,” said Mr. Naunton, in the most mellifluous tone of his voice, indicating his wife to me; “she has walked out to meet us.”
When we approached, Mrs. Naunton murmured something about having come to look for Zanita. But her husband sprang from his horse and kissed her; and the sweet upturned face told me precisely, and without any circumlocution, what she had come for. She had come for that kiss; walked three miles to have it thus much sooner.
She must have longed for it and wanted it, from the pink glow of happiness which radiated her whole countenance. If ever I should be tempted to envy a woman anything, it would be such a meeting as this. If ever I coveted anything, it would be such a destiny as this. They had only been separated twelve hours, and yet the time had been all too long; and that she had hastened to shorten it was an evidence of that perfect union of soul which makes corporal absence so unendurable; that wonderful unity of two in one called wedlock.
I thought that here was fully realized the beautiful German appellation of “mine man,” that seems to complete the full measure of everything,—not merely the endowing with worldly goods and body-worship, which the marriage ceremony enjoins, but “mine man” comprehends all his soul, his manhood; his whole being is included in this possessive case.
How few marriages ever bring about this real possession. Of husbands more or less exacting, more or less indifferent, selfish, unfaithful, there is always an abundant harvest; but of “mine man’s” how few! And as Mr. Naunton placed his wife upon his vacated saddle, and walked beside her, Zanita scrimmaging around in abortive efforts to make the calf keep on the path, I fell into a reverie on connubial bliss in general, and that kiss I had just seen exchanged in particular,—upon all it meant and contained for her, or any one whose soul is in a condition to accept and realize so much felicity cemented with an-other soul twin-born. Under such auspices I am of opinion with Kenmuir, that we can realize upon earth something of the delights of heaven, which preachers so kindly inform us is so far away as to be nearly out of our reach.
I look upon kissing as rather a psychological demonstration than a physical performance; for creatures without souls do not kiss, and the lower grades of humanity, said to possess soul in a minor degree, but rarely, and it is a mere rubbing of noses together like horses. Kissing is the specialty of the human race, and has been held as sacred from time immemorial. The blackest crime on record was rendered more heinous by the treachery being ushered in with a kiss, and the tenderest devotion and most sublime self-sacrifice is tendered with a kiss. It is one of the grand dividing lines between the animal and man; and the higher a man’s nature becomes, the more spiritualized and refined, the more perfect is the beatitude of the divine essence of his kiss. Then, if in “the land for which we wait” we are to enjoy what we like best, surely it would be more delightful to perpetually kiss than continually sing; and as to playing harps, though melodious and graceful, a serious drawback is in blistered or hardened fingers. The kiss between friends is pleasant; the kiss between sisters and brothers is sweet; the kiss of a mother and child is a delicious rapture; but the kiss between wedded lovers is bliss unspeakable,—“Heaven on earth,” as Kenmuir would call it; the spiritual commingling of kindred souls and of all the divinity within us; the welling up of pure ecstasy, from the eternal living fount of love, that God, the beneficent Creator, has blessed us with. No wonder, then, that the faces of Oswald and Placida beamed with such infinite radiance and light of joy. It is a talisman that beautifies all it reaches. A woman may not have a symmetrical line in her face, yet will she blossom to the beauty of an angel when touched by the magic of a kiss. How often it is asked, What can that man see in the woman to love—no one else sees anything? True, no one else; he alone sees it all, for he produces it, and the glory of that reflection more than compensates him for the symmetry of a Venus. Phidias was wretched because he had created all that was lovely except the divinity of love. That comes alone from the Omnipotent.
In a few days my husband made his appearance, and there was great joking about the important discoveries and contributions I had made to the science of geology. My husband said he had no doubt that I should he made a fellow of no end of societies, and have to tack the whole alphabet to my name.
I retorted that I could well afford him any witticism, for all is well that ends well. But I adroitly set Kenmuir off upon a geological discussion about glaciers and moraines, etc., etc.; for I knew they would disagree upon every point, and thus I turned the flank of the Professor’s attack upon me.
After his arrival excursions became quite the order of the day. Climbing days, walking days, riding days, and boating, occupied our heads and our feet. We visited all the points of interest,—in fact all was interesting for twenty miles around,—gaining health and strength and happiness to the full, and we laid in a bountiful stock of all for the winter.
Thus in content and gladness our Valley-life sped on from days to weeks. When first I saw the Yo-semite temple, summer seemed to be brimful of all the beauty and joy that any summer land could accomplish. Young birds were tasting life in every grove. The great ocean of insect existence flowed on with amazing life and motion; multitudes of flowers had ripened and planted their seeds; and each day developed a new glory. Brighter glowed the meadows with starry composite. The deep places of unmingled green became yet more unfathomable; groves of purple grasses, tall as bamboos, waved in thickets of mint and golden-rod; and every plant of Californian summer waxed to corresponding greatness.
I was charmed and almost bewitched by such a luxe de beauté, and my whole soul flowed out blending with the grandeur, like clouds among the tallest mountain pines. When my enthusiasm had reached its highest point, fanned to red heat by Kenmuir, and Mr. and Mrs. Naunton, for they were all Valley worshippers, the Professor proposed a visit to the alkaline plains of Mono as a counter irritant,—“for my dear,” he said, “you are just at that period of insanity when people form new religions. You might call yours Sylvia-Brownism, or ‘Landscape Religion.’ You can make yourself high-priestess. You would start with more capital than Mohammed, for you have three followers, whilst he had only two, his wife and his cook. Yet he converted a third of the intelligent world.”
“For that impetuous speech,” I said, “you shall go alone to Mono. I came to worship in these high places, and my devotions are not half complete.”
“Why not finish them some four thousand feet higher? Mount Dana, for instance, whose brown top is up in heaven always. You can build your altar there; and if you want fire for sacrifice, some of the extinct volcanoes might be induced to explode and lend you their assistance. You could get up a tidy little miracle, if you thought well of putting that in the programme.”
“You have not the ghost of a chance of my accompanying you now,” I exclaimed.
“I knew I never had from the beginning, or I should not have so recklessly hazarded the chance. But I know who will go,” he said, looking toward Kenmuir.
The latter nodded assent.
“Yes,” I rejoined, “and you will dispute over every stone you come to: how it came there! what it was doing there! its component parts, and if it would not have been better had it not cone there! I think, as there are a million tons of stones, you will get on remarkably well together.” For, although the best of friends, they were the bitterest opponents that ever came together. But after a lapse of ten days’ wanderings they returned, their entente cordiale being in no way destroyed, and shortly after we quitted the happy Valley.
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