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The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 18001

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

"I want to write things in my diary," said Angela. "Now, lest I forget or they change colour. I want to write here, so that afterward, when I read the page I may see the pictures."

They were in the palace of the giant redwoods, she and Nick, and several robins and chipmunks. They had been there all day, and soon it would be sunset. Then the moon would come to light them home. They would leave the palace, and the Best Day would end.

They had lunched and dined with a huge fallen log for a table, and squirrels for their honoured guests. Now they had come back (carrying out a plan made in the morning) to sit under the Grizzly Giant, king of the great Sequoias, and there watch the sun setting. The Giant seemed to know all they were doing and saying. Not only that, but what they were thinking, too. He had great deep-set black eyes, which some foolish people might mistake for knot-holes, and with these he looked down gravely, perhaps benevolently, on the dark head and the golden one.

That was his human aspect; but he had others, and it was about one of them that Angela wished to write-just a few words which she might like to read again some day.

In the gray suède receptacle which had temporarily and publicly superseded the gold bag, she carried a small book. It was one of three volumes. Two had been filled since her arrival in America, but this was just begun. There was not much in it yet. It began with El Portal. Where would it stop? Already she was wondering. Maybe she would never write any more after to-day. Or the story might go on for a little, and end when this trip with her "trail guide" ended. Or it might continue, more perfunctorily, just long enough to lay the foundation of her new house, the plans of which were now materializing in an architect's brain. Her interest in those plans had fallen asleep. Everything outside this vast cathedral of a thousand fluted red columns seemed far away and unreal. The heart of the world was throbbing here, like the music of a muffled organ, with only Nick Hilliard and herself for audience.

"I didn't know you kept a diary," said Nick. "Somehow you don't seem the sort who would."

"I don't 'keep' one," Angela explained. "When I was a little girl and went abroad with my mother, I used to write things about the days to please my father at home. I loved him very much. But-he never saw the book. After he died I wrote no more, until-I came to California. Now" (she spoke hastily), "I write about things, not people. I make pictures for myself to look at afterward; for I can't bear to think that my impressions may grow dim, even when I'm old."

"I suppose I mustn't ask to see what you write to-day?" Nick ventured. By and by he meant to ask a thing so much bolder and bigger that he wished to try his feet on the difficult path.

"I must read it myself before I can judge," Angela smiled, surprised at the suggestion from one who never put himself forward; who had never begged for concession or favour since offering himself as "trail guide." "Now don't speak to me for a while. I want to call the whole day back."

But though his lips were closed his eyes were not; and they seldom wandered from the bent head-gold against a dark tree-trunk; and the cameo profile-ivory-white upon a red-brown background.

Angela was sitting under the generous shade of the Grizzly Giant. Nick lay resting on his elbow, just near enough to touch with his shoulder the soles of her small, dusty shoes, crossed one over the other.

After all, it was not as easy to write as Angela had expected, with Nick lying silent, and so close to her that it seemed, if she should listen, she might hear his thoughts, like the ticking of a watch under a pillow.

She began by noting down commonplace things, as though by way of sorting out her impressions.

"We left Kate this morning at Wawona. What dear people keep that hotel! In Europe one never thinks about hotel-keepers. If everything is right, one simply takes them for granted, as one breathes good air. It's different here in the West of America. They-these charming, kind people-lent us their own 'buckboard'-a glorified one; and their two horses, Cash and Credit, who are famous. Darling animals they are, and understand every word that's said to them. When they die, generations of California horses ought to be named Cash and Credit to preserve their memory.

"We started early, just after the morning had been born, so as to miss nothing. And first of all we had a quick rush through the flowery valley of Wawona-a kind of prelude to the music of the great redwoods. And I think it helped me to appreciate and understand them. We saw Stellar Lake, named by inspiration, for it looks a blue sky half full of stars; and I had my first sight of a fish hatchery. I'd no notion it could be so exciting to watch the career of trout from the egg stage up to rainbow maturity. Never shall I forget grabbing a handful of tiny wriggling fish out of the trough of water where they lived, and holding them in the hollow of my palm for an instant! They looked like big silver commas, and interrogation points, oh, but punctuations of all kinds; and they felt like iced popcorn. I don't think I shall ever eat trout again. It would be so treacherous, now that I seem to have known the creatures from the cradle to the grave.

"But about the Big Trees, which at this present moment are to me the most important things on earth. I've seen a good deal of the earth, but nothing so good, nothing so glorious. No wonder Mr. Hilliard says, 'Why need people build churches in this part of the world, when they have the redwood cathedral built by God, full of the sound of His organ music?'

"All through the Yosemite there is music. You hear the forest talking, and think it is the river. You hear the river, and think it is the wind giving a signal to the trees, that they may begin speaking; for trees and river and wind have lived so long together-like people married happily since early youth-that thoughts and words and tones have come to be the same. But among the redwoods is the noblest music of all, different from that of any other trees. And only think, yesterday I hardly believed they could be taller and grander than some of the others I had seen, all those great conifers that would have been gods in Greece! Even this morning, driving through forests that line the way to the Sequoias, I still believed that-poor me! The big sugar-pines and the yellow-pines loomed so huge, towering above delicate birches and a hundred other lovely creatures, which they guarded as Eastern men guard the beauties of their harems. But the moment I saw the two first giants-the 'Sentinels'-stand on the threshold of their palace, or cathedral, whichever it is (but it's both, and more) I knew how mistaken I'd been about the others. These are super-trees.

"We drove on slowly, along a wide aisle paved with gold and sprinkled with gold-dust. The pillars holding up the sky-roof are fluted deeply and regularly; and they are rose-red, these tree columns, seeming to glow with inward fire-the never-dying fire of life which keeps their hearts alive when common trees perish. Theirs is no ruined cathedral or palace. All is perfect now, as in its beginning; walls and dome of blue which can never crumble; and the doors are never shut, though jealousy guarded by the Sentinels.

"In some of the trees are shrines. At first glance they appear to be empty shrines, but they are not empty, really. What one finds there depends upon one's self. I wish I could live in this palace for weeks. I should make wonderful discoveries.

"In old houses, whose roofs are supported by great beams of oak, I know they call the stoutest and most important the 'king beam,' for without him the roof would fall. Just so, the Grizzly Giant is the king tree of the Mariposa Forest. There are other trees more beautiful and graceful, yet he is indisputably, undisputedly king, among lesser royalties and royal highnesses. All are crowned. These Sequoias aren't clothed with green, like other trees, but crowned with it, having also, here and there upon their breasts, green decorations and medals. Their bark folds and drapes them in mantles of royal purple, and their high crowns mingle gold with green. The Grizzly Giant's crown is of a strange shape, and very wonderful. He is alive, and looks at you, but he does not wish you to know that; so, if you are too curious, he often pretends to be a castle, ornamented with quantities of fantastic gargoyles. The castle has a theatre, into which you can see; and it is fitted up with extraordinary scenery. There is a museum of strange statues, too; headless torsos, and arms thicker through than a man is long.

"The princes and princesses, who are the Grizzly Giant's family and help him reign over his subjects, have to go and stand at a good distance, or they would lose their majesty in comparison with him. When we had left the horses (n

ear a fascinating log-cabin in the woods), and Mr. Hilliard had arranged for their comfort, we walked about, picking out the princes and princesses and knowing quite well from the look of them which was which. Some of the trees are commandingly masculine; others, though as immense, graciously feminine.

"It sounds rather confusing to call the trees sometimes columns of a cathedral or palace, sometimes royal people; but any one who has come to visit them even once would understand. If I were to be here longer, I should see them in a great many other different phases, I'm sure. And I may perhaps see them again. But nothing will ever be the same. I have had such thoughts to-day! I wanted to put each idea, small and big, on paper, to remember; but I find that they won't let themselves be written down. They are as intangible as the incense in this cathedral, as impossible to put in black and white as it would be to jot down in notes the music that pours out from the pipes of the unseen organ, or to paint the light that streams through the cathedral windows. And what a magical light it is! There are other trees in this forest, besides the Sequoias; but it is on the redwoods alone that the light concentrates, just as limelight is turned upon the leading characters of a stage drama. They burn with their own ruddy fire, while their neighbour trees (overgrown with golden-green moss that makes sleeves for outstretched arms, and gold embroidery for dark drapery) gleam out among the redwoods' flaming pillars like lighted candelabra. I shall see those lights behind my eyelids to-night, as I saw the sunset light on Stonehenge; the moon touching the Giralda of Seville; and my first alpenglow. But what Stonehenge is to England, the Giralda to Spain, and the Alps to Switzerland, that, I think, is the Mariposa Forest of giant Sequoias to California.

"If I had been an atheist, I believe I should suddenly have been taught the lesson of God among the great redwoods. And nobody could be heavy-hearted here, or frivolous. I feel that the same light which burns like fire in these trees burns in my veins; a vast wave of life, vitalizing all creation and making it kin. I am a poor relation of these wonderful giants. Also I am a cousin of the robins and chipmunks that shared our picnic luncheon, and the dinner we finished a little while ago. I am nearer than I was yesterday to all humanity, and to--"

Angela's pencil stopped its weaving back and forth across the small white pages, pausing as if of its own accord. She looked at the last words she had written and shut the book. Yes, she was near to all humanity; but nearer than any to one who was all the world to her. Suddenly she felt, with poignant intensity, the nearness not only of his body to hers, but the nearness of their souls. Her spirit and his touched in the silence of the forest. She did not look at him yet, but she knew that he was looking at her, and that his heart was in the look, calling to hers. And she could not shut her ears to the call.

So she sat for a long moment, her eyes clinging for safety to the little volume in her hands. Her fingers pressed it tightly, almost spasmodically, and upon them she seemed to feel, even to see, Nick Hilliard's hands, brown and strong. It was only her fancy; but it was not fancy that they burned to clasp hers. She felt that longing of his, so vital, so passionate, creating the picture it desired. Always before, when the thought had flashed into her mind, "He is beginning to love me," she had thrust it away, shutting her mind against it. But that was before her spirit was keyed to the high music of river and forest in the Yosemite Valley. Since then she had passed from the twilight of little society shams and convenient, conventional self-deceivings into the glory where only Truth was visible or audible.

At last she was forced to lift her eyes, compelled by his. She tried to look past him, straight into the sunset, a furnace that burned up human misgivings. But her gaze was stopped on the way by Hilliard's.

"May I read what you've written?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, and gave him the book. While he read, she drew in deep breaths, gathering strength against an emergency, if an emergency were to come. But she hoped it would not. She wanted, oh, so much! to keep him for a comrade-for the comrade who had made this day the best day of her life. She did not want to stop playing, because if it had come to earnest, deep realities, as she was afraid it must come now, there would be no place for Nick Hilliard in her future-the future of Paolo di Sereno's disillusioned wife. "Still, here under these trees, I could tell him everything better than I could tell it anywhere else, and make him understand, and even forgive," she thought. "Without fear, I could let him know that I care for him, and that he has been the only man, except father, who has meant anything great to the real me. Almost, I wish he would speak-if he does love me. And I know he does."

But he lay reading the fancies she had written about the forest, and she could not guess how he was summoning his courage, as a general, surprised, summons his forces to battle. She did not know how deep was his humility in thoughts of her, any more than she realized how utterly her first point of view had changed toward him, the "forest creature," the "interesting, picturesque figure." So entirely was he a man, and the one man, that she had forgotten her old impersonal frame of mind.

He came to the last sentence in the book, broken short, where her pencil had stopped of itself.

"Thank you," he said. "I'm glad you feel those things about the forest. It's always been like that to me-sacred. If anything great and wonderful were to happen, I'd rather have it happen here than anywhere else. Would you?"

Yes, it was coming! Suddenly she half wanted it to come-this crisis in their lives; yet something made her push it away, just for a little while; not to have the end quite so soon, no matter how beautiful an end.

"Oh, wait!" she exclaimed. "Don't let's talk of ourselves yet-not for a few minutes. Wait with me, and neither of us will say one word till the sun has set and the light has changed."

"Till the light has changed," Nick echoed, a shadow falling over his face. He raised himself higher on his elbow, his shoulder still touching her foot, and they looked toward the west.

The forest seemed to have been lit up for some great religious festival. Each towering tree was a Titanic candle, with a flame at the top, against the far-off sky. The deep-red, fluted trunks gleamed with a pale luminous rose, and long straight avenues of fire-dust stretched away to the end of the world. A flood of golden flame poured through the forest, like a tidal wave out of the sun. Then came an ebb, a pause. The wave receded. A faint purple haze, like smoke from burning heliotropes, crept along the ground. The torch of sunset broke into a million stars; blazing golden spiders swung from glittering webs among the treetops; the melting crowns of the redwoods dripped rubies. Red meteors fell and burst, and the wild glory faded suddenly into a subdued, reminiscent glow. It was as if a cupful of ruddy wine had been drunk at a gulp, leaving but a few drops to stain the crystal. The rosy radiance ran along the horizon, and all that lived of the sunset clung to the far edge of the world or caught the gold horns of the Grizzly Giant's crown, which, like a high mountain summit, could hold the light of day while night purpled the plain below.

All day a concert of birds had filled the upper chambers of the trees with silver pipings, but now not a bird voice spoke. There was silence, except for a faint mysterious stirring, as of dryads beginning to wake and dress for their night-flitting when a moonbeam should tap on their shut doors. The lilac haze floated up from the ground, and slowly, very slowly, turned to silver touched with rose. Like a veil it spread among the trees tangling among their sharp branches, its lacy mesh tearing, to leave dark jagged holes. But unseen hands mended the rent and wove the veil into a curtain that screened the distance and was pinned up with stars.

The whole forest rustled with mystery in the strange pulsing luminance that was neither sunset nor moonrise, but the memory of one, and a hope of the other-the kind of light that a blind man might see in dreams.

"Now-Angela," Nick half whispered, in awe at the name on his lips, the name of a goddess uttered by a mortal. (Extra hazard!-extra hazard!) At last he laid his hand on hers, warm and close, and her lips opened to break the spell, when a voice called to Nick in the distance:

"Nick! Nick Hilliard, where are you?"

Angela drew away quickly, the spell broken indeed. He sprang to his feet, his face, that had been pale, flushing.

"It's Mrs. Gaylor's voice," he said, astonished and incredulous, as if at the call of a ghost.

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