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


CHAPTER XXIII. OVER THE BRINK.

As I reached the cottage I heard Mr. Naunton’s voice, exclaiming, “Where in the mischief are all the folks gone? Surely the fairies have been amongst us and spirited them away! There is Mu-wah off now, and Mrs. Brown, and Kenmuir, and only Cozy and myself left.”

“Here I am!” I cried, riding up.

“Well, well,” exclaimed Mr. Naunton, “wonders will never cease! So you have been for a matinal ride. Bravo!”

“Zanita returned?” I asked.

“Not yet. I am expecting her every moment.”

“But where do you imagine she is?” I exclaimed, half provoked at his indifference.

“Well,” he said, “it would take a great deal of imagination to say the identical spot where she may be, but if Mr. Egremont were not with her I should not take the trouble to think about it; but I do not exactly like her being away with him so long. I hope they have not found their way to any of the ranchos or settlements—it will cause such a talk. But I should think Mr. Egremont had more sense than that.”

Here Rosie flew out and gave me a warm, rosy kiss. “I declare, aunty, I had become desperately alarmed about every one disappearing in such a mysterious way. I began to think there was some awful catastrophe about to peril the Valley, and that the Indians’ evil spirit had come to assert his reign. But where is Kenmuir? I cannot find him anywhere.”

“He has gone on the Mariposa trail, fearing they may have met with some accident,” I answered, evasively,—for I could not wound Rosie by the dread suspicion.

“I don’t see how they could manage an accident on that road, and without horses too,” said Mr. Naunton, “unless they chose to jump over. There is no place where they could fall down that I know of.”

“Do, aunty, come and take some breakfast, for you look as though you had not slept all night. Indeed, I do begin to feel very uneasy,” she said, nestling close to me. “As papa says, if Zanita were alone I should not fear, for she knows exactly how to take care of herself; but Mr. Egremont would never remain out all night, I am sure, and must be withheld from returning by some unforeseen accident or misfortune.”

Here old Methuselah came in to inquire if the young lady had returned.

“No,” said Mr. Naunton, putting the best face upon the matter, “but we are expecting her in hourly.”

“Because,” continued the old man, “I think I can do a step or so of a score miles in the service of our Queen of the Valley, for never was a more daring, fearless mountaineer than that child, whose foster-mother was the great Yo-semite. Well,” he said, diving inconsequently into his memory,—“there’s the Duchess of Argyle,—called the ‘Beautiful Duchess,’—who carried all the elections with her prowess, who won the wager with the Prince Regent, to raise a regiment in a shorter time than his Royal Highness, and won it, too, by giving every volunteer a kiss; then there is Mademoiselle Théroigne, who headed the populace of Paris, and rode on the cannon to Versailles. And to go back out of our own day: there was Joan of Arc; then, in semi-fact and fiction, there is the ‘Daughter of the Regiment,’ and ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter.’ But I’ll back our ‘Daughter of Ah-wah-nee, or the Great Yo-semite,’ against them all. She can ride a wild horse, or shoot a grizzly, snare a skunk, catch a coyote, with any man in the Valley.”

“Grizzly!” exclaimed Rosie, turning pale. “Ah, I never thought of that! Supposing grizzly has killed them! They had no arms.”

“A grizzly!” echoed Mr. Naunton, contemptuously. “Why Zanty would be half-way up a tree before a grizzly could say Jack Robinson.”

We all laughed; but mine was a mere catenation. I was thinking all the time of what other means could be devised to expedite the discovery for weal or woe. A silent inquisition of memory was rapidly going on through every circumstance and event, since the fatal meeting of these two exceptional persons in my husband’s study; seeking vainly to detect a clew to the fearful climax which seemed impending, or to find some evidence which, followed, might lead up to the explanation of the mystery. More definitely asserting itself was an eager peering of the spirit into each ravine, and rocky defile or tangled glade. The impatient, palpitating soul could ill wait the tardy movements of the body, but was away over the distant mountains, scouring the Valley and austere heights, penetrating each umbrageous nook and dell, skimming down the rippling streams, where the cool waters might have tempted the fugitives to linger, glancing into every granite cave and under the tufts of plume-like ferns and drooping lichens.

It has always been to me a subject of speculation whether in this mysterious pilgrimage of the spirit out of the body it actually discerns tangible objects as revealed to the physical; whether in this intense mental search for Zanita it would recognize her presence, should she be on the spot it visited. We say, quite commonly, “O, I had lost an article, and could not find it for several days. I had an idea it was so and so, and sure enough! found it where I thought.” Is it not possible the spirit messenger had searched it out?

Had Zanita been left behind, her prescient intuition would have discovered Egremont, and the latter appeared to have some kind of prevision by which he could sift out her hidden whereabouts. But my spirit wandered in vain, and saw them not. A dark cloud had fallen between our worlds and parted us forever.

It must not be supposed that I trusted to this speculation alone. It was far too chimerical for the present absolute emergency.

So I quickly drew Methuselah on one side and expressed to him my fears that the young people had met with some serious accident; that they might be so injured as to be unable to move; and that I considered it necessary every exertion should be made to rescue them upon this supposition, for the thought of their lying wounded, without succor, was too horrible to dwell upon.

The old giant perfectly agreed with me, and arming himself with a stout hook and coil of rope, set out upon an exploration.

I began to calculate with Rosie what was the earliest time at which Kenmuir could return.

“If he went as far as Mariposa,” she said, “besides scouring the country round, it would be a good hundred miles, there and back, to say nothing of the gyrations round to the different settlements, another thirty or forty. I fear we cannot look for him back to-night.”

We went into Zanita’s room to try to discern any indications of her having contemplated a longer absence, but all was as usual there. Her pink dress hurriedly thrown off, her book half open,—pencil and paper lying in it where she was making notes,—the last word half completed. That word was “Treachery!” The table stood underneath the window, and from it was visible Kenmuir’s hut and the path leading to the great dome. She had doubtless seen the figure of Egremont depart, and had, in her impulsive way, resolved to go with him, and hastily changed her dress to the one she knew he admired, snatched her garden hat from the peg, where part of the lining still hung, and raced after him.

The appearance of her room was conclusive to my mind that there had been no premeditation. What she had succeeded in accomplishing afterward still remained wrapped in shadow. The marriage theory began to fade away, and my hopes from Kenmuir’s journey to ebb low. The minutes passed like hours, and it seemed a whole week since I had given up expecting them the night before, and next to impossible that Kenmuir had been gone only twelve hours.

Weary and feverish I lay down and tried to sleep, but it was useless. My messenger was still out with the search-warrant,—now escalading cliffs impossible for humanity to have trodden, now sweeping under the falls where it would have been submerged and carried over the cataracts.

“Rosie!” I called,—unable to bear the supposition alone,—“do you think it possible they could have ventured too near to the fall?”

“I do not think it probable. I hope not!” said Rosie. “Mr. Egremont is never fool-hardy, and always tries to prevent Zanita from perpetrating these reckless exploits. No,” continued poor Rosie, whose joyous face began to assume a pitiful look of a baby about to cry,—“I am afraid if they are injured it must be from the falling of a rock, either from under or upon them. I could not bear to entertain the thought at first, but it is gradually taking fast hold upon me.” And she raised her violet eyes to the adamantine fortress in front of her with a sad, appealing look.

I had just closed my eyes again when she exclaimed,—

“Why here is Rollo coming up the path at full speed with something in his mouth. O, aunty dear, look! What is it?”

I sprang to my feet. Up came Rollo with the most bustling importance, wagging his tail, shaking his head, and wriggling his body as though he were conscious of being the most welcome guest and of rendering the greatest service. “If ever a dog rightly earned his dinner, that dog is myself,” he appeared to say, as he delivered up to us the object he carried.

It was a piece of canvas, and although torn and scratched was evidently an oil-painting.

“It is Mr. Egremont’s last sketch!” cried Rosie, turning white, “and O! is that blood upon it?” And ere I could catch her she had swooned away. I called loudly for help. Chang-Wo, the cook, appeared, fortunately carrying a pitcher of water. I took it from him and sprinkling it upon Rosie sent him for some brandy.

Rollo stooped over her and licked her face, much bewildered at the result of his achievement. She was soon conscious again, and the big tears rolling down her face.

“Courage, my darling! you must nerve yourself now, for there is much to be done. Thank God, we have a clew at last!”

“Where is Mr. Naunton, Chang-wo?”

“Him away, gone!” quoth Chang, in his monosyllabic style.

“Where?”

“Away! takee him long stick, takee him long rope, away!” and he pointed to the mountains.

“Poor papa!” cried Rosie, “he has really become alarmed; there must, then, be actual danger.”

We examined the sketch together. It represented the half dome of Tis-sa-ack, and the point of the Clouds’ Rest.

“Do you know it, Rosie?” I asked.

“O yes,” she replied, “I was with him when he began it! I have the fellow copy on my easel.”

“I am surprised he did not ask you to go with him to finish it. O, how I wish that your father or the Professor were here, for something must be done at once. Rosie, have you the courage to go with me?”

“Yes, aunty! I know the exact spot.”

In another minute we had saddled the horses and were off at a brisk canter, Indian file, Rollo ahead, followed by Rosie and myself.

About three miles up the Valley Rollo diverged and made as for his own home.

“Rollo! Rollo! that is not the way,” cried Rosie.

The dog hesitated, wagged his tail, and resumed his way.

“He wants us to go home with him. Never mind! push on, Rosie, for you know the spot.”

Rollo stopped, looked wistfully after us, came slowly back a piece, stopped again, then took his own way, full gallop.

We were soon on the site whence the sketch had been taken. Rosie sprang from the pony.

“Here it is!” she said. “I remember it so well!”

“And there are evident marks of his having been here.”

“I think these are our tracks,” said Rosie, examining. “O yes!” she cried, and burst into an agonized sob.

I looked, and there in the disintegrated, fine granite was written the word “Cozy.”

Poor child! I took her in my arms and kissed her softly.

“Do not grieve for this sign of his love. They have not been here or it would have been effaced. So let us go. I wish we had kept Rollo, for he would have guided us to where he found the sketch.”

We mounted our horses and rode slowly home, silent and dispirited. A sudden flicker of soul’s light had blazed up for a moment, and left us enveloped in deeper gloom.

“Ah!” exclaimed Rosie, suddenly jerking round in her saddle. “Here is old Mophead!” The name I had christened him years ago was familiarly used by the children; and moving at right angles toward our path, I saw something like a great bunch of tow.

“He has surely found something, or he would not have given up the search so soon.”

He saw us and approached. His face had a grand old consequential expression, from which I rather argued favorably. He looked as though he would say, “I am the important personage in these matters; place yourself in my hands and you will not have long to wait for the solution of your difficulties.” He flung his moppy head back in a stately way as he spoke,—

“I think, madam, that I have discovered a very important fact in this case. Do you not think this has something to do with the mystery?” And he produced from his bosom an ornament that glittered, and shot out rays of light back to the afternoon sun.

Rosie looked and turned away; she saw no connection between it and her beloved. But I took the bauble in my hand. It was a sort of star or cross, brilliantly set with diamonds in blue and white enamel, with a small piece of ribbon attached to fasten it to the garment.

“I have seen such ornaments in Europe,” I said. “Where in the world did you find it?”

“No doubt, madam,” he replied. “It is a foreign decoration. I re-member quite well to have seen it pinned on the breast of high officers on board the Bellerophon, when the great Napoleon was laid low. It be-longs somehow to courts and camps. Do you not think it formed a portion of the apparel of your distinguished guest? I found it tied round the neck of a Pinte Indian who was going up to the ‘deer feast,’ and I succeeded in getting it from him in exchange for a half-dollar. He told me he had just found it among the rocks, and I made him go back to show me exactly the spot. I searched all about the vicinity, but could discover nothing more; but I had the Indian tied hand and limb in my castle in case he may have been murdered by the party.”

“This,” he whispered, approaching his great head which was nearly on a level with mine, though I was mounted on horseback,—“I brought this down to allay your uneasiness. Now I am about to start for the Upper Valley to get Randolph’s dog. If you have anything which belonged to either of them I will carry it, to put the dog on the scent. He’ll hunt out their traces if they are in the rock.”

We told him how he had found the painting immediately after our vain search.

With great strides he was soon out of sight again.

I regarded the gemmed ornament attentively, and suddenly there flashed across me Mr. Egremont’s movement when putting his hand into his breast and saying, “I can prove to you in two minutes.” That it belonged to him there was not the shadow of a doubt in my mind.

We rode slowly home, thinking to be there when Mr. Naunton re-turned. He had not yet arrived, and again we were plunged into the horrors of suspense.

Rosie, after hearing my conviction that the gem was Mr. Egremont’s, lay motionless with her face buried in the divan cushions.

“Do not despair, dear child! all is not lost yet. I feel as though they must find him very soon now. They must have had a fall, it would seem, from his things being so scattered about, but perhaps he is only disabled; and after an hour’s rest, if your father is not returned, I will again start out for the Upper Valley with a few restoratives, and a good strong blanket to make a stretcher in case of need, for I feel, dear, that we must prepare for something of that nature. You must provide for our coming home. Have Mary keep the hot water ready. “There is nothing like being prepared for the worst now.”

I set forth again for the third time that day over the same path under the same feelings, only more intensified. They had risen slowly and gradually to the culminating fear that some more alarming, perhaps fatal catastrophe, had befallen the missing ones.

The little incidents above narrated had tended to dispel the lingering hope we all had cherished, that some unwonted freak of Zanita’s might eventually unravel the mystery. We had dwelt upon the espieglerie of the china closet; and Mr. Naunton laid great stress upon the fact of her having once built herself into the potato-hole, where she made a fire, in performance of an Indian curative custom of the sweat-house. On that occasion fortunately Chang had gone to the hole for a supply of potatoes, and found her almost suffocated.

“Zanita is fertile in invention, and has struck a new lead of mischief we none of us can guess at.”

But speculations of this nature were over. The picture had been torn from its case, and there were marks of blood upon it, and the ornament had been worn under the vest, if anywhere. I thought I would ride round by old Mophead’s castle, in case he might have returned. I found only the Indian, bound hand and foot, who bellowed loudly when he saw me, “Wah-hi! wah-hi! go him away, go him away!”—meaning that I should unloose him and let him go.

He was an old man I had occasionally seen roaming about, whose soft handsome features we had often remarked. The very last time, I remembered Zanita had been with me, and had spoken a few words of Indian to him. I felt sure this man was no murderer, but possibly might know something concerning the missing ones.

I dismounted, gave him a drink of water, and asked him,—

“See young squaw?—talk Indian?”

He understood immediately, and answered, “Ugh! ugh! Mono,” nodding with his head toward that direction. “Gone fetch him!” and he appealed to be immediately released.

This I dared not do, but it sent a thrill of pleasure through my heart I had not experienced for twenty-four hours.

“I go fetch big knife and cut your rope,” I replied, smiling on him as I mounted my pony. He chuckled a response, and I rode off toward the foot of the mountain. I raised our mountain whoop several times, in order that the party might hear me and guide me to them. Soon I got a response from Radd,—for I knew his voice,—at the foot of the “Glacier Point.” One side of this point, which projects into the Valley, is an almost vertical smooth surface for three thousand feet, which gives it the name of glacier. On the other side it presents a jagged, broken front formed of stern, bold rocks, clefts, and ravines,—a mass of broken stones, as though they had been prepared for building purposes. A few stunted shrubs of manzanita grow among them without an apparent soil for sustenance.

As I rode into this embattlement Radd approached me carrying in his hands some broken pieces of wood which I instantly recognized as the sketch-box.

“He has found these,” said he, pointing to Rollo, “but there is more to come.”

I left my horse and we mounted the débris. Rollo sprang from rock to rock with a plaintive yell that chilled my very soul.

I have heard the sharp excited cry of the fox-hounds on full scent in the English hunting field, and the still more bitter yelp of the blood-hounds chasing fugitive slaves in America, but the short gasping howl that burst from Rollo from time to time was the most distressful sound I have ever heard a dog utter.

Old Methley was eagerly following and urging him on with encouraging words. At last he bounded toward his master and delivered to him what turned out to be a bunch of paint brushes. Shortly afterward Mrs. Radd appeared on the shelving rock holding up a hat in her hand, which I immediately recognized. We climbed toward her. She said, as we all stood appalled at this evidence,—

“I know’d it was all up then—when I seen her ghost go a-gliding by last night.”

“Woman, hold your peace!” cried Radd, with more severity than I supposed he was capable of assuming.

“Wall, it don’t amount to much neither ways, if I says it or other folks says it; it’s all up with them, and that’s what’s the matter; but I’ll take my bible oath that I seen her ghost a-gliding through the moonlight in the Upper Valley last night.”

“Is it not possible,” I said, catching at this idea and comparing it with the Indian’s assertion, —“that the form might have been Zanita’s? She wore a white dress.”

“And she all smashed up in the rocks,” quoth Mrs. Radd, contemptuously. “Wall, them townsfolk have no manner of idee. Rollo never takes on like that but when he scents blood”—

“Peace! woman,” vociferated Radd again.

Rollo was howling piteously over a deep cleft in the rock, and Methley’s gaunt figure stood over him beckoning us like the genius of evil. We scrambled up the rugged steep at our utmost speed. The sun cast his last lurid beams over the peaks and jutting points, and tinged them with a deep blood-red, penetrating every niche and crevice.

We stood on the brink of the cliff looking into a fissure which was as if the rock had been split asunder. A slender streak of red, like blood, crept slowly down and down until it was lost in the abyss, and as we were kneeling breathless over it there was revealed to us a pallid face, still and mute, turned upward to the sky.

A great cry burst from every lip.

It was Egremont lying placid in the arms of death.

A heavy stillness came over me as I assisted to lower the ropes and hooks in order to grapple for him. Rollo paced about swaying his head, ever uttering his moans.

With much difficulty we raised the body from the depth of some twenty or thirty feet. Alas! we might as well have left it in its granite sepulchre. It was torn and mangled, and shattered almost piecemeal. His clothes were saturated with gore, to which fragments of granite had adhered. The skull was crushed, and only the beautiful face was left unexcoriated. The expression was calm and noble, and the beautiful arched lips and chin looked like chiseled alabaster. It was too sad for words and too solemn for grief.

We carefully laid him in the blanket and each holding a corner bore him down. Then Radd and Methley, cutting down two young saplings, bound the blanket firmly to them and lifted the sorrowful burden as the Chinese carry their loads.

“Do you not think we should continue the search?” I said, tremblingly, dreading to finish the terrible sentence.

“Rollo seems to have given it up,” said Radd, “and I think he would not do that if there were any other scent to follow.”

Radd, however, made the essay by once more ascending the rock, but Rollo looked after him wistfully, with an expression that said, “It is of no use.” So we set out with our terrible burden.

Nell remained behind, saying she would take another look around, and I rode on in advance to prepare them at the cottage for the shocking catastrophe.


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