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   Chapter 23 THE HAPPY VALLEY

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 26380

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


In thinking of the Yosemite, Angela had, half-unconsciously, pictured herself and Nick Hilliard alone in the valley together, separated from "mere tourists" by a kind of magic wall. But down it tumbled with her first moment at El Portal; and behold, on the other side of the wall were hundreds of eager young men and women who no doubt resented her existence as much as she resented theirs.

The huge veranda of the log-built hotel, on the hill above the railway, swarmed with brides and bridegrooms. It was extremely early in the morning, and everybody was sleepy, even those who had passed their night in the hotel, not in the train; nevertheless, though good-natured, one and all wore an air of square-chinned, indomitable determination which puzzled Angela.

Something was evidently about to happen, something of immense importance, for which each man with all his feminine belongings intended to be ready if possible before any one else. Angela watched the silent preparations with impersonal interest while she waited for Hilliard to come from the office and tell her about the special carriage for which he had telegraphed.

By this time a hasty breakfast had been snatched, and in a crowded dining-room full of laughter and chattering she had resigned herself to the falling of the magic wall. Other people had a right to enjoy the Yosemite and she must not grudge them their place. "I suppose," she said to Kate, who stood beside her on the veranda, "that all these nice girls and men are going off for different excursions. They seem a good deal excited. I wonder why?"

Just then a stage drawn by four splendid horses drove up the veranda steps. Something was shouted. Angela could not catch the announcement, for she had all she could do not to be carried off her feet in the general rush. A dozen of the firm-faced men and resolute girls made a dash for the box seat. With no malice in their eyes, they fought and wrestled with each other; and it was a case of the best man wins. Those worsted in the struggle with the utmost good-nature contented themselves with the next best places; and so on to the back seat, into which the weakest fell, almost before the driver had brought his horses to a full stop. Away tore the stage with its laughing load, and another vehicle whirled up to the hotel steps, to be filled in a breathless instant.

As Angela stood watching, fascinated yet appalled, Nick came out to her, with the air of a general who has lost a battle.

"How glad I am," she whispered, "that we haven't got to fight for our lives like that. I simply couldn't do it."

"Mrs. May, we have got to!" he groaned. "I've failed, after all my boastings of what I could do for you in the Yosemite. A private carriage can't be had, and they've made a rule that no one's allowed to book a seat in advance. When the stage for the Sentinel Hotel comes along, I shall swing you on to the box seat, if I kill ten men."

Angela rebelled. She pitied herself so intensely that she had no compassion left for Nick. "What-dash people away, and push ahead of them? I'd rather-yes, I'd rather turn back to San Francisco."

"I don't see myself letting you turn back," said Nick. And said it so firmly that Angela, never opposed by him before, looked up in surprise. He was not smiling. Evidently he was in earnest, deadly earnest. She knew that what he told her she would have to do, and, oddly enough, she grew quite calm.

"When our stage comes along," he said in a low voice, "I shall get in before any one else, and keep a place for you. Don't hesitate a second, but be ready for a jump. I'll have you up by my side before you know what's happened. Kate must be close behind, and I'll try to swing her up to the next seat."

"Why shouldn't we have the back places, since somebody must?" Angela questioned meekly.

"Because I want you to have the best there is, and I'm going to get it for you, that's the only reason," Nick explained, leaving no room for further argument. "It's the least I owe you, after failing to keep my other promises."

She said no more; and round her the fight for places went on, desperate, yet extraordinarily good-natured. People tried with all their might to grab what they coveted, but if somebody else snatched it from under their noses, why, blame Kismet! The rule of the game was to make no moan.

Always, as a new relay surged forward, Nick by some insidious manoeuvre edged Angela and Kate nearer to the front. At last he got them wedged behind the foremost row of travellers who were waiting to spring upon and overwhelm an approaching stage. Those who had won the way to the front and achieved safety, unless defeated by an unexpected rear attack, wore an appearance of deceitful calm. Two extremely big young men, who had the air of footballers in training, did what they could to form a hollow square round a couple of fragile but determined girls. The party, while in reality bent upon securing the two best seats at any cost to life or limb, pretended to be looking at an illustrated newspaper. This feint was intended to put others off their guard; and the four concealed their emotions by discussing the pictures on the uppermost page.

A name spoken by one of the girls was an electric shock for Angela. In an instant the veranda, the crowd on it, and the stage whose turn would come next, vanished from before her eyes like a dissolving view.

"Prince di Sereno! What a romantic name. And say, isn't he handsome? I wonder if he's as good-looking as that, really?"

"She's handsome, too," the other girl added. "I do hope they won't be killed."

"Come along, kids-look sharp!" said the two young men. And before others who hoped to annex the box seat could breathe after an interlude of footballing, the conquering four secured what they wanted. Those less fortunate were tumbling up as best they could; and Angela had scarcely time to realize that she had not dreamed the incident, when the stageload had bounced away.

She was left dazed, and blushing deeply, so deeply that Nick, quick to notice lights and shadows on her face, wondered what match had lit that rosy fire.

Angela's first thought was that somehow she had been found out. Then she remembered that the girls had seen the name in a newspaper. Also they had been looking at Paolo's picture. And he could be handsome-in a picture. But of whom had they said, "She's handsome, too?" Could it be that her own photograph had been published with Paolo's? If so, who had dared to reproduce it, and why? What if Nick should come across the picture and recognize the face as hers? She did not want him to know that she was the Princess di Sereno until, for her own reasons and in her own time, she should choose to tell him the story of her life. Once she had thought there was no reason why he need ever know; that they would part, and she would remain in his memory as Angela May. Now, however, she began to see that the moment must come when she would not only need, but wish, to tell him all, so that he might know why. But she never quite finished this explanation in her mind. It was too fond of trying to finish itself without waiting to be put into words.

She was a little frightened now, lest by chance there should be a premature revelation, for in the rush to get away the girls dropped the paper they had been reading. It lay on the veranda steps, and though the cover was turned back, and only an advertisement page could be seen, Angela discovered that it was the Illustrated London News.

Perhaps the page which lay face down was the page of the photograph. She half longed, half dreaded that a flutter of wind or a passing foot might turn the paper over. What could the girl have meant by saying, "I hope they won't be killed?"

Could Angela have read Theo Dene's mind the day at Santa Barbara, this picture and paragraph would have been less mysterious to her. "I wonder if Mrs. May knows about the Prince?" Theo had asked herself.

"There's an English paper on the step," said Nick, following the direction of her eyes. "Does it make you homesick? If it does, I'll put in a claim to it. There may be time for you to glance it over before the right stage turns up."

"No, no," said Angela, hastily. "I don't want the paper. And oh, look, it says 'Sentinel' on this stage that's coming."

The next thing she knew, she was swaying between earth and heaven, over heads that surged beneath her. Somehow, Nick had got that place on the box seat, and he was beside her, resolutely helping Kate on to the high step. Suddenly, however, Timmy's covered basket flew open. Kate had been playing with the cat, and had forgotten to fasten Tim in. Resenting the confusion, Timmy made a leap, Kate screamed and jumped down from the stage, carrying not only the cat's basket, but a small dressing-bag of Angela's-all she had brought, except a suit-case containing a dress or two for the journey. Some one else had, of course, scrambled into the coveted seat so miraculously vacated, and the stage, with its full complement of passengers, went swinging down the road, with Kate and Timmy and the dressing-bag left behind.

"Shall we try to stop?" Nick began; but Angela cut him short, her face now as determined as those of the square-chinned girls who had passed triumphantly on their way. "No!" she said. "I can't go through that again! Kate will have to come on later."

"There'll be another 'Sentinel' stage in about an hour, I guess," announced the good-natured driver. "She'll be all right."

"She knows where we're going," said Angela. "She's a quick-witted girl, and I shan't worry. I mean to be happy in spite of everything-and because of everything!"

So the stage rolled on into the gate of the Yosemite and Kate remained on the veranda of the hotel at El Portal, consoling herself, when she had retrieved Timmy, by looking at the pictures in the Illustrated London News, an old number of a fortnight or three weeks ago. She found it so interesting and absorbing, one page in particular, that when the next coach bound for the Sentinel Hotel came along, she forgot to fight for a place until it was too late to fight. There was not another stage bound for that destination until to-morrow. And to-morrow Mrs. May and Hilliard were going on somewhere else. Kate could not remember where.

Seeing her dismay, the manager of the hotel took pity on the pretty Irish girl. "Never mind," said he. "You can 'phone from here to the Sentinel. When your lady arrives there this afternoon, she'll find your message and know what's happened. Then she can 'phone back what she wants you to do."

"But I won't get to her to-night, will I?" wailed Kate.

"No, you won't get to her to-night," he echoed. "But I guess she ain't so helpless she can't do up her back hair without you, is she?"

"Her blouse buttons up behind," Kate murmured, as one murmurs in a painful dream. "And, oh, by the powers, if I haven't got her nightgown in this dressing-bag!"

Naturally the manager was not deeply interested in Mrs. May's nightgown. As for Mrs. May herself, she was not yet conscious of the loss of it. She was thinking, at first, about the pictures which she had not seen in the Illustrated London News, and the girl's exclamation: "I hope they won't be killed!" Then, later, of the valley through whose door she had just entered with Nick Hilliard, the hidden valley which Indians knew and loved long before a few cattle-seeking American soldiers ferreted out the secret.

The voice of the Merced drowned the dull voice of the past which had suddenly called to her. It was a gay laughing voice that sang among the tumbled rocks sent down to the river for playthings, by her tall brothers the mountains; and the voices of pines and cedars answered, all singing the same high song in the same language-the language of Nature. Only, they sang in different tones and different keys-soprano and contralto, tenor and bass. The song was so sweet that no one could think of anything else, unless it might be of love; for the song told of love, because nature is love.

As the sun rose higher and warmed the air, the valley was like a great box full of spices, such as the three Wise Men of the East carried for an offering when they followed their Star; a secret, golden box was the valley, high-sided, with a lid of turquoise and sapphire, which was the sky itself.

The deep, still trout-pools of the Merced-bravest and strongest river of the valley-were coloured like beds of purple pansies; or they were vivid green, glinting with sparks of gold, like the wings of a Brazilian beetle. Far down in the clear depths, Angela caught glimpses of darting fish, swift as silver arrows shot from an unseen bow. And close to the sky, high on the rocky sides of the Yosemite treasure-chest, were curiously traced bas-reliefs, which might have been carved by a dead race of giants: heads of elephants, profiles of Indians and Titanic tortoises, most of them appropriately and whimsically named by ancient pioneers.

"The Yosemite!" Angela said, over and over to herself. "I'm in the Yosemite Valley!"

Once, in the heart of a fore

st, a deer sprang out on to the road and stood alert, quivering, as the stage lumbered heavily toward it through sparkling red dust like powdered rubies. Then, suddenly, when the horses were almost upon it, the delicate creature bounded away, vanishing among the shadows which seemed to have given it birth, as a diving fish is swallowed up by water and lost to sight. This vision lingered in Angela's memory as one of the loveliest of the day; but the great cataracts did their startling best, later, to paint out the earlier pictures.

Even the first slender forerunners of the mighty torrents were unforgettable, and individual. Long, ethereal, floating white feathers drooped from the heads of tremendous boulders that were gray with the glossy grayness of old silver. Cascades were everywhere; and the weaving of many diamond-skeins of water behind a dark foreground of motionless trees was like the ceaseless play of human thought behind inscrutable faces whose expression never changed.

Yet these silver tapestries, pearl-embroidered, were but the binding for the Book of the Valley, the great poem of the waterfalls; and as the stage brought them near the home of the mighty cataracts, Nick and Angela noticed that the atmosphere became mysteriously different. The sky rolled down a blue curtain, to trail on the floor of the valley, like a veil suspended before an altar-piece. Through this curtain of exquisite texture-bright as spun glass, transparent as star-sapphires, and faintly shimmering-their gaze travelled toward soaring peaks and boulders, which seemed to rise behind the sky instead of against it. Then, suddenly, out gleamed the dome of the Bridal Veil, bright and high in the heavens as a comet sweeping a glittering tail earthward.

Later, as the stage wound along the road and brought them under the wall of the cataract, the rainbow diadem that pinned the topmost folds of the veil glittered against the noonday sun; and in the lacy woof of moving water, lovely kaleidoscopic patterns played with constant interchange of flowery designs. Invisible fingers wove the bridal lace, beading with diamonds the foliage of its design; or so Angela thought when first she saw the falls. But presently she made a discovery-one which Nick had made years ago, and kept the secret that Angela might have the joy of finding it for herself.

"Why, it isn't a veil, after all!" she exclaimed.

"I know," said Nick. "That effect's only for the first few minutes, like a stage curtain hiding the real thing."

"And the real thing is only for the elect, like us," said Angela, conceitedly. "Outsiders can't get behind the curtain. Let me tell you what I see."

"And if we see the same thing?"

"Why, it would be a sign that we'd been-friends in a former incarnation, wouldn't it?" But this was a question to leave unanswered, and she went on quickly to describe what she saw behind the "stage curtain" of the Bridal Veil. "A white witch falling--"

"Yes, from the saddle of a black horse--"

"A winged horse, like those the Valkyries ride. Oh, now the witch has turned her face to me, as she falls. She's putting me under a spell. I feel I shall never escape."

"I hope you never will," said Nick. "So we did see the same thing in the Cascade! I found the falling witch when I was here before; but I came under the spell with you."

He watched her face fearfully, as he ventured this, never having dared as much before; and seeing that she turned away, he drew her attention to El Capitan, grandest of the near mountains. Nick had been reading The Cid, trying to "worry through it in the old Spanish," he explained; and the idea had come into his head that the mountain might have been named by some Spaniard for "El Gran Capitan." "You see, it's too big and important for an everyday Captain. But it's just right for El Gran Capitan: don't you think so?"

Angela did think so, as he suggested it, though she remembered next to nothing about The Cid. But Nick's knowledge of history, which had amazed her once, pleased without surprising her now. She began to take his knowledge of most things for granted. Here in the Yosemite Valley he could teach and show her much that she might have missed but for him, and his similes showed habits of thought with which a few weeks ago she would not have credited the ex-cowboy. He made the mountains take shape for her as gods and heroes of Indian legends; he told her of the Three Graces, and the Three Brothers, grim as gray monks, who threw glances over their round shoulders at the Graces; and there was no drama or tragedy of the valley that he did not know from its first act to the last.

In the afternoon the stage rushed them past a charming camp in the woods, to the Sentinel Hotel, at the foot of the Yosemite Falls. Angela was given a room opening on to a veranda, and waiting for Nick to bring her some word from Kate, by telephone, she stood looking up at the immeasurable height of the cataract, which loomed white across a brown sweep of trout-haunted river. "It's like a perpendicular road of marble going up to heaven," she thought; and as she gazed, down that precipice of snow came tumbling a white shape as of a giant bear, striving desperately to save itself, hanging for an instant on the brink of the vast gulf, then letting go hopelessly and plunging over.

Angela stepped out on the veranda to talk with Hilliard when he came, and though shocked to hear that Kate could not arrive that night, was glad to know her safe. Nick had arranged that Kate should meet her mistress at Glacier Point next day. "And so," he said, "there's nothing to bother about, if you can do without her for this one night. I hope you don't mind much, for I feel it was my fault. I ought to have managed better."

"I don't mind in the least," Angela was beginning to console him, when suddenly she broke off with an "Oh!" of dismay, clasping her hands together.

"What's the matter?" Nick questioned anxiously.

"Nothing. Nothing at all."

"But there is something, Mrs. May. You must tell me, and I'll try to make it right."

"What shops are there here?" she asked by way of answer.

"Oh, you can buy photographs and souvenirs, and candy and drugs, I expect."

Angela shook her head. "I don't want to buy them. Do you think-I could find-a-a-nighty?"

"A 'nighty'?"

"A nightgown. You see, I've just remembered-the cascades and mountains made me forget-my dressing-bag was left behind with Kate. I've a frock or two, and the new khaki things for to-morrow, in my suit-case, but-nothing else. Brushes and combs and so on, I can get here I'm sure. But-would the shops-if any-run to nighties?"

"No," said Nick, gloomily. "I'm afraid they wouldn't, anyhow not the sort that deserves a nice pet name like that. But-I'll get you one."

"You can't," said Angela. "You can't create a 'nighty' or call it from the vasty deep."

"That's what I mean to do: call one from the vasty deep; hook it up like a rare fish."

She laughed. "What bait will you use?"

"I don't know yet. But I'm going to find out. And you shall have the 'nighty,' as you call it, by the time you want it."

"You'd better not pledge yourself."

"I do. I've failed you often enough since we started! I won't fail this time, you'll see. The thing you want must exist somewhere within a radius of ten miles, and I'm going to lasso it."

"But you didn't engage as a lassoer of nighties. You engaged as trail guide."

"If anything is wanted along the trail, why then it's the business of the trail guide to get it. Don't you worry about your arrangements, Mrs. May."

"I don't. Meanwhile, I may find some kind of a garment lurking on a forgotten shelf of the candy-drugs-grocery shop."

"If you do, it wouldn't be worthy of you. But you can try," said Nick dubiously. And after a late luncheon, she did try, in vain. Other necessaries were forthcoming, but nighties were things that you had to bring into the Yosemite Valley, it would seem, or do without. Angela said nothing of her failure. She supposed that Nick would forget her plight if she made little of it; but she did not know him thoroughly yet. They took a walk, and the momentous subject was not mentioned: nevertheless, it pressed upon Nick's thoughts. As he talked, the "nighty" that was not, and must be, weighed upon his mind as heavily as though it were a coat of mail instead of the gossamer creation he imagined.

"Now I've got to concentrate and figure out what's trumps," he said to himself, when Angela had gone to rest before dinner. "I've dealt myself a mighty queer card, but there's no good bluffing in this game."

The desired garment declared itself even to the untrained masculine intelligence as a dainty and dreamlike thing, which, to deserve its name and be worthy of a fastidious wearer, must be delicate as the outer petals of a white rose.

How then to obtain for this despoiled goddess such a marvel in a remote village, lost among Yosemite forests? There was the rub; a vaguely groping "rub" with no Aladdin's lamp to match.

Nick's thoughts ramped in the cage of his mind like a menagerie of hungry animals awaiting food. Where was that food-in other words, an inspiration-to be got? Then of a sudden it dropped at his feet.

He had been pacing uneasily up and down his room; but now, with all his customary decision, he touched the electric bell. A trim chambermaid of superior and intelligent appearance answered the call.

"Are you a Californian?" was the first question flung at the neat head, in place of an expected demand for hot water. She had brought the water, and was equally prepared for a want unforeseen. "Yes, sir," she said. "I'm a Native Daughter."

"Hurrah!" said Nick. "Then I know you won't fail me."

She was too well trained a girl to stare. "Are you a Native Son?" she ventured, seeing that a lead would be useful.

"No; but I ought to have been. My parents were Californian, and my heart is and always will be. I have to ask help from a Californian now, for the honour of California."

Usually, when gentlemen clamoured for help from this young person it was to find a collar stud. But not even the most cherished collar stud could concern the honour of the State. She waited, looking sympathetic; for Nick's eyes would have drawn sympathy from a stone, and Jessy Jones had not even a pebble in her composition.

"As a Californian, I'm showing California to a lady," he explained. "She's from Europe, and I don't want her to think the old civilization can produce anything better than ours."

"I should think not!" retorted the Native Daughter. "What is she looking for that we can't produce, I'd like to know?"

"A nightgown," confessed Nick, boldly. "You see," he hurried on, "she's lost the bag she had it in."

"Oh, if that's all, I--"

"Have you seen the lady, over in the annex, in number twenty-three?"

"Yes," said Jessy. "One of the girls told me there was a regular beauty there, English or something, so I made an errand that way. So she's the lady? Well, that makes it harder! 'Tisn't everything would do for her. I guess she's rather special."

"I guess so, too. That was what worried me. Because it's for the honour of California that a foreigner should be supplied, even at a moment's notice, with something as good as she could get at home."

"If not better," Jessy corrected him.

"If not better. Of course, if an American lady lost her baggage she'd make allowances, being at home. And if she couldn't get what she wanted, she'd be good-natured and want what she could get. Well, this lady's good-natured, too; but it's no compliment to the Yosemite for her to expect little and have what she expects."

"No. We must surprise her."

"Exactly. For the honour of California. Let's mingle our brains," said Nick.

"I guess they'll be more useful kept separate, sir; each along its own line."

"Does yours keep a line of the right thing?"

"It begins to see its way there. We've a lady staying in the hotel, Mrs. Everett, from San Francisco, who's got what we want. Mrs. Everett's a Native Daughter, too. Oh, yes, she'll spare one-her prettiest. Don't you worry, and don't you say a word to your friend. I and Mrs. Everett will do the rest. When that lady from Europe opens her door to-night she'll see lying on her bed something that'll keep her from knowing the difference between the Yosemite Valley and Paris. Trust two Native Daughters."

"I will," said Nick devoutly. And he shook hands with Jessy Jones. He knew better than to offer money at this stage of the game; for he, too, was a Californian, and honour was concerned.

That night, her spirit illumined by the unearthly glory of a lunar rainbow, Angela went to her room with a faint sense of anticlimax, in the discomfort she expected. Then, making a light, she saw foaming over the coverlet a froth of lace and film of cambric. Almost it might have been woven from the moon-rainbow. But pinned on to a sleeve-knot of pale pink ribbon was a slip of paper; and on the slip of paper were a few words in a woman's handwriting: "Compliments of California to Mrs. May."

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