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


CHAPTER II. A STRANGE GUIDE.

“Now,” said Kenmuir, “lest you should think I have brought you to this wilderness to make you be food for ghouls and water kelpies, I will point out the spot where you are to spend the night, and as many more as you wish.”

I looked round in dismay. “We seem a million miles from anywhere.”

“Upwards, yes.” he replied,—“but look down, and you will see a yellow spot, surrounded by what appears a few willow sticks, but which are in reality tall pines, with the river winding round like a golden cord,—that is the homestead. We will go down by the trail, which is almost level.”

By which I found he meant a pathway, next thing to stairs, down which my horse clambered very adroitly.

And thus through forests of gigantic pines, which Kenmuir would climb like a cat to reach some particular cone, and point out its wonderful structure; through groves of azalias, making the air heavy with odorous sweetness, where Kenmuir would disappear altogether, returning with some precious specimen, all which he carried to me like a faithful dog, going twice the actual distance in his erratic gyrations. Then we came across a patch of great tiger-lilies which we were both anxious to cull; and at last we entered on a green sward smooth as any lawn, set round (as in a garden) by Mariposa lilies, so called from their resemblance to a butterfly.

The piece of level ground was in front of a massive rock resembling an old country house, with gables and quaint chimneys overgrown with honeysuckle, which completed the delusion. Kenmuir threw up his arms in ecstasy, and declared it was a fac-simile of his father’s manse in the braw old country of Perthshire.

“Then you are a Scotchman?” I exclaimed.

“Yes; did you not know that by my name?”

“Names,” I said, “are not so indicative in this country as in yours. There you may almost tell if a man comes of a good stock, by his name. Whereas, here the greatest aristocrat might rejoice in the name of Squaddles with impunity. The old country is more fastidious about euphonious sounds, and I think they are right; for I cannot help attaching a peculiar quality to peculiar sounds.”

“What would you judge your host of this way to be,—his name is Oswald Naunton?”

“That is a name which requires a great deal of consideration. It is original. I never heard it before, and I am sure he will not be a common-place man. Then there is poetic rhythm, which would suggest some-thing harmonious and symmetrical in the character. Both smartness and pride combined; a man from whom you might safely ask a favor, but from whom you could extort nothing.”

“Ha! ha!” laughed Kenmuir, “you’re a fine guesser.”

“I am not guessing in the least. You give me a real name and I will give you the rhythmical interpretation.”

“Then you don’t believe a rose would smell as sweet if it were called a tulip?”

“I will not discuss botany with you; but I say the rose by another name would not have played the same role in the world, would not have had the same poetical entourage. Lovers would not have offered it to their belles as emblems of their passion had it been called catnip!”

The twilight now had deepened to moonlight. For although we could not see any moon, she had risen, and was taking a ramble behind the cliffs. Yet her light swam over the whole scenery in magic waves, transforming it to the most unearthly vision of weird enchantment. Every notch and projection caught the soft loving light which fell in perfect streams over the mighty Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah, which seemed to have pierced the pale clear blue of the heavens and let out floods of its glistening moonlight.

“Do you not perceive the balmy odors of the pines? They also mark the height and distance of these stupendous adamantine bulwarks. What are the towers of Notre Dame, which they so singularly resemble, compared to these cathedral spires rising in proud majesty three thousand feet with the flying buttresses and ancient caryatides supporting the projecting arches!”

“Yes,” I put in. “I believe I see a procession of monks ascending to the great entrance of the church.”

“Those are pine-trees two hundred feet high, growing up the ravine. Look at the rich carving and fretwork on the walls, and the tall minarets dazzling in the moon’s rays.”

“And I hear the muezzin calling to prayer.”

“That is an owl,” answered Kenmuir; “and he says, ‘Do! do! oh, do do !’ Do what, I wonder?”

“Go on,” I suggested, “for we have stopped here a full quarter of an hour, and our host will have retired for the night.”

“We will wake him up,” said Kenmuir, “but he will not be asleep such a night as this, he has too much soul.”

“Still we had better move on,” I said, recollecting what my former guide had turned back to say in a stage whisper,—“Don’t let him stop, or he’ll talk till judgement day; and don’t let him stoop to pick up any new specimen, or you’ll never be through with him for a month.”

So we moved on softly, listening to the crackle of the pine straw which covered the earth through the park-like forest.

Kenmuir had got one more temptation—the moonflower.

“Did you ever see them open to the moon? They gradually untwist the outer leaves, then suddenly burst right open like a flash of light. I have watched them many an hour; they belong to the family oenothera.”

“Stay! I’ll hold your horse,” he said, as I made a quiet attempt to keep jogging on.

“Now, my dear sir,” I exclaimed, “How long do you think it will take the flower to open? or do you think you can inspire it with the amiable idea to do so within sixty seconds, because longer than that I cannot wait, and I’m all on the qui vine to see if my nomenclatology, that is what I call my new science, for it has a right to an ’ology, is correct as regards Mr. Naunton.”

The flower did not open, and we sped on again, our shadows clearly defined on the grassy meadows which were studded with flowers, whose broad discs were like stars of the first magnitude.

“Do you see that light? That proves they are not gone to bed, and your fears may rest.”

Through the trees a bright light was glimmering; not unwelcome it appeared, for beside the excitement which so much novelty and magnificence are sure to arouse in certain temperaments, the bodily fatigue of so many hours of up-hill and down-hill climbing on horseback, made the prospect of rest very thoroughly congenial.

What romantic temperament has not fed the soul with the marvelous and supernatural on such a night as this; when arriving either late at night or by moonlight in some unknown part of the country, he has pictured himself benighted and lost in the forest or the fog; the night owl, or the will-o’-the-wisp, has been his only guide, and when a light as at length startled his aching sight, has imagined it the gleam of the lantern of some midnight assassins burying their dead; or fancied it proceeding from some monastery, where silence was the discipline, and where the brown cowled monk, who attended upon us dumbly, pointed to the pallet in a bare cell as the resting-place for the night.

Who has not frightened himself with a vague superstition, like children with a made-up bogie, the more to enjoy the pleasures of security.

But this evening there was no need to conjure up any phantom of the brain; no occasion to counterfeit any romance; the reality was too importunately present.

Here was I, a lone woman having transgressed her husband’s directions to await him in a civilized place, alone in the wildest part of the wild world, with a stranger—the like of whom I had never met in all my travels—wandering on an untrodden path to a habitation of which I knew next to nothing. It was certainly as extraordinary and romantic a situation as any lover of fiction could have framed. But my ruminations were cut short by our actual arrival, and a wild hallo from Kenmuir to arouse the inmates.


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