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


CHAPTER XXI. PEERING OVER THE EDGE.

Here, then, was a direct breach of his promise to me,—to allow affairs to remain in statu quo, until he heard from me. Yet he had acted with the same deliberate disregard of his word as in Oakland toward Zanita, and was urging Rosie to an immediate union, reckless of the effect upon her sister. To carry out the impulse of the moment seemed the sole aim and power of his character; there was no consistency in the basis. If he were sincere in the expression of his feelings when conversing with me, he showed himself the very opposite in his professions when he met with another.

I felt rather puzzled to guess the reason of their riding out together, for they had never done so before, Zanita having invariably been his riding companion,—Cozy going with him on the sketching expeditions, copying the same view, and, with his help, making almost as good a picture, for she had painted ever since she could hold a brush, and possessed admirable talent, inherited from her mother.

Nervous and excited with this momentous day, I betook myself to my good friend Kenmuir, at the saw-mill. “When your saw has cut through that log I want to have a chat with you,” I said, and presently we were seated on the little platform, with the great amphitheatre of rocks around us in deep shade of cobalt blue. The nearer pine-trees were reflected with intense clearness of vivid green against the distant domes and pinnacles of the Valley. The air was fresh, though laden with odorous compound of bay and mint. There was always a solemn, sad sighing of the wind surging through the pines in this portion of the Valley, arising from the great current brought down through the trough of the Yo-semite Fall. To-day it seemed melancholy and almost wailing. “It sounds to me,” I said, “like the wailing of Indian spirits over some funereal pyre.”

“O, pshaw!” cried Kenmuir, “it is glorious! I love it! It fills me with rapture! It is the most perfect minor harmony that human ear ever heard! I fear you are not well if you feel so melancholy.”

“I am mentally sick, that I admit, and so nervous I feel every moment as though some great calamity was about to befall us; as though the Sentinel might tumble over and crush us all.”

“Let me see! Two thousand feet high, and calculating impetus of débris, would just reach us,” laughed Kenmuir.

“Or a sudden waterspout,” I continued, “burst over Yo-semite, as it did last year, when the water rose four feet in twenty minutes, and drown us!”

“Yes, but it did not drown us, for all that, last year, and might not this; and you would so enjoy it, for it was the most glorious thing I have ever witnessed. We heard a tremendous crash or explosion, as though a whole park of artillery had been fired, and the echo took it up, and repeated it from Tu-tock-a-nu-lah to Tis-sa-ack, for at least twenty seconds, and running out we saw the water leaping from rock to rock in a furious torrent, carrying down great pines (a hundred feet long) and boulders in its course, that were hurled over the top of the lower fall with such violence that they struck the giant trees growing at the foot and shivered them as if by a thunderbolt. The roar and booming was the grandest you ever heard, and the water rose in yon pool four feet in less than twenty minutes; but it did not destroy us, and your fears are quite imaginary. God has all these things in his fingers, and can take care of everything He has made.”

I recapitulated to him the events of the day. He looked grave—a rare thing for him,—and seemed to come down to humanity with consider-able pain.

“Man,” he said, “is the only mistake, it seems to me, in the works of the Creator, and there does appear to be something radically wrong about him. It is strange to me if Zanita does not feel jealous and play them some trick. My poor Rosie! Rosie!” he said; “we shall have to be vigilant to shield her from any harm!”

“So she loves him,” he said, with a sigh, after a long pause.

I could not help quickly regarding his face; there was a gentle regret upon it, as though some half-hope had faded out.

“At the risk of seeming inhospitable,” he said, “the sooner you take Zanita out of the Valley the better. Perhaps Egremont will remain as long as the snow will permit him, or he may go out with you,—any way would answer,—but something must he done at once, or Zanita will torment them as sure as death. Their sketching excursions have not escaped her supervision, I know; she has often overhung a cliff where nothing but a squirrel would venture, to look at them under their umbrella; but, as you are aware, Egremont is not the man to take any freedom with a delicately refined girl like Rosie; he appreciates her too highly, and, I venture to say, her sister never saw a look or a movement to feed her jealousy; but she has watched them.”

“How singular,” I said, “for her to be jealous of a man she has refused and will not accept,—for I presume he was still following her when he came down here,—and if she had encouraged him, would never have thought of Rosie.”

“It is not strange to me,” he said. “Zanita never could love,—or even keep up the pretense of it, for long together; but she is gratified by attention, and strives to enthrall every one in her train. She chooses to rule and command. Don’t you remember how proud and delighted she was, when a little girl, to lead that party of ‘prospecting miners’ up the Indian Cañon to Eagle’s Point, and how angry she was with the one who stayed back to carry Cozy, and how she nearly killed him by rolling a piece of rock down upon him? I guess she feels much the same now, and, I rather think,” he continued, “she has some high-fashioned notions about our friend being a great man in his own country, in which case she would make him marry her. She asked me the other day which was the greatest—an actress or a princess. I told her that, generally, the princesses were regarded as the highest, but that some actresses had been greater than any princess.

“‘How long would it take me to become such a one?’

“‘Eight or ten years.’

“‘O, bother!’ she cried, and left me. I don’t know what reason she has for not believing him to be an artist.”

“He is very fond of it and very skillful, though it is strange that he did not mention his profession at first; but everything about him is strange, and everything about her goes by the rules of contrary,” I said.

“The more reason,” he answered, “that we should keep asunder these two remarkable freaks of human nature. Now you never see that amongst plants or trees; they grow in harmony together, and love each other’s fellowship, and generally, if transplanted to a strange neighborhood, suffer long and bitterly, even if they do not pine and die. Moss is a most affectionate thing; it likes to cling and spread itself over the loved object. The giant, Sequoia, grow in family groups and frequent twins. Do you think if you cut one of those twins down the other would not pine and grieve? I know it would. But, here in human nature, two slim, beautiful young saplings, like Zanita and Egremont, fight and wrangle, and mar each other’s symmetrical proportions, regardless of their mutual weal or woe. I can’t understand it,” said Kenmuir, “there’s something radically wrong about human nature. I wish they were both safely out of this Valley.”

“You are alarmed lest the Valley should be in any way injured by their contention,” I observed, laughing.

“I should be sorry for them to injury the reputation of the Valley,—the noblest of the Lord’s handiwork. For instance, I would not like any one to be killed here on these splendid rocks. I would not like them to spatter the blood, and dirt, and brains over this sublime coloring.”

“O, do cease!” I exclaimed. “You have turned me so sick! How could you suggest such a horrid picture? My heart is quivering within me!”

“I am very sorry,” he cried. “It was a mere fancy that rose before me as though I saw it. Pray forgive me! I ought to have remembered how nervous you are to-day.”

“O, it’s nothing!” I said, “mere weakness,—but I seemed to see the picture vividly, too.”

“Let us talk of something more genial,—Rosie, for instance. Do you not think that her pictures are going to turn out real gems?”

“I do, indeed! I am going to take some of them to San Francisco, submit them to an artist, and dispose of them. It would be curious if the two sisters should distinguish themselves,—one as an artist, and the other as an actress.”

At supper that evening Mr. Egremont did not join us, in fact he never did unless specially invited, for although Mr. Naunton in his hospitable way had asked him to make the cottage his home and the hut his lodging, he never paid a visit longer than a call unless so requested.

“Did you not ask Mr. Egremont to come to supper, Rosie?” I said, addressing her.

She blushed a sweet pink and answered, “I did not think of it, but I expected he would come.”

After supper Zanita sat in the corner of the divan with her feet curled under her reading a book, the slight, habitual frown was rather more marked than usual, and the lips were tightly compressed. It seemed pitiful that a face so young and so beautiful should not enjoy more of the sweet joyousness of youth; yet hers was a temperament constituted for suffering,—a disposition that was always chafed and restless; her face in repose had ever a troublous expression, and all the enjoyment she knew was comprised in feverish excitement and in the accomplishment of some fierce design she had conceived, usually bringing upon herself the antagonism of all around her. She naturally made enemies instead of friends, and her own heart was inimical to her surroundings, whether of man or beast. Poor, burning, sapless heart, the milk of human kindness had never flowed through it to soften its feverish intensity; it had never known the delights of affection or the rapturous emotions of love, the tenderness of pity or the warmth of sympathy. Ambition, strife, and dominion had possessed it from its very cradle.

Zanita’s pets had been her victims or slaves; her playmates, her tools or servants; her relatives, the resources on whom she drew for her necessities, and when they ceased to fulfill that useful position they were as nothing to her.

As these thoughts forced themselves upon me, my heart yearned with compassion for the poor child, for it was not her fault, but her misfortune, that nature had dealt so hardly by her.

She was feeling more bitter and harassed to-night than usual; she was aggravated by the loss of Egremont’s attentions, even in the small matter of taking a ride with Rosie; for the rides were part of her dominion, and although she had perversely chosen to make them distasteful to him, she hated to have her rights abrogated,—she wished to command him with the power to pain unquestioned. She was now in the throes of some new expedient to recapture his allegiance; and so self-reliant and confident in her own power was she, and so unskilled in the boundless tenacity of a real passion, that she had no other thought than of reconquering the truant, rejected lover, and of bringing him again to her feet.

It flashed across me also that memorable night, as I studied her strange face, which had been a new volume for seven years to me, that for one reason or other she would now marry him; perhaps he had dazzled her imagination with some ambitious picture of the future such as he had drawn for Rosie, adapting the coloring to suit the taste of his auditor, yet this hypothesis in no way sustained his indifference to the refusal of his offer and his present desertion.

Yet if she had resolved to marry him, as my convictions seemed to foreshadow, then would really come the tug of war. Would she control Egremont by her strong magnetic power, or would he, strengthened by a pure and holy love, adhere manfully and faithfully to the Rose-bud?

If he acted thus honorably, I thought I could respect him once more; but if, on the contrary, he should waver and yield to the fascination of Zanita and break our little angel’s heart, I felt that I should lose all hope of the pair and renounce any further interest in the future Mrs. Egremont. But my present wish and hope was that he would take himself out of the “Life Drama;” altogether withdraw his thread from the woof of these two lives, and leave us to weave it out at our leisure for the greater good: “Mais l’homme propose, et Dieu dispose.” All works together for a good end, our minister used to say when he found that any ends he had proposed for Zanita were utterly futile.

Rosie brought out her guitar, and throwing the blue ribbon over her graceful little shoulders, sang in her rich mellifluous soprano voice, “Ah scordali di me;” so clear and round was every note, so sweet and thrilling, that no doubt it would penetrate in delicious cadences to the little hut bathed in moonlight, where her lover watched and sighed for her; doubtless she thought so too, for a tender pathos was breathed in the refrain of “scordali di me,” which came fresh from the young heart owl-brimming with its first love.

Once she stepped quietly to the open door and peeped out wistfully. O, that yearning look for the beloved form for which we hunger! How many starve to death when the last look has been taken! Poor little Cozy, she looked into the moonlight in vain.

“Are you reading a tragedy, Zanita,” asked her father, “that you look so stern?”

“‘Parisina,’ father; but Cozy’s banjo is spoiling the effect.”

Zanita was no musician, and cared nothing for music.

“Cozy is more given to romance than tragedy,” mused the father.

Kenmuir stepped in with the good news that he had seen an Indian who had met the Professor on his way into the Valley, and he might be expected in a day or two. Kenmuir made Rosie sing more love-songs, and at last the evening broke up, all feeling happy; the former whispered to me as he bade me good-night, “‘All’s well that ends well,’ you see.”


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