A Phyllis of the Sierras and A Drift from Redwood Camp

A Phyllis of the Sierras

Part I

Chapter II

Bret Harte

THE MEDICATION of the woods was not overestimated by Bradley. There was surely some occult healing property in that vast reservoir of balmy and resinous odors over which The Lookout beetled and clung, and from which at times the pure exhalations of the terraced valley seemed to rise. Under its remedial influence and a conscientious adherence to the rules of absolute rest and repose laid down for him, Mainwaring had no return of the hemorrhage. The nearest professional medical authority, hastily summoned, saw no reason for changing or for supplementing Bradley’s intelligent and simple treatment, although astounded that the patient had been under no more radical or systematic cure than travel and exercise. The women especially were amazed that Mainwaring had taken “nothing for it,” in their habitual experience of an unfettered pill-and-elixir-consuming democracy. In their knowledge of the thousand “panaceas” that filled the shelves of the general store, this singular abstention of their guest seemed to indicate a national peculiarity.

His bed was moved beside the low window, from which he could not only view the veranda but converse at times with its occupants, and even listen to the book which Miss Macy, seated without, read aloud to him. In the evening Bradley would linger by his couch until late, beguiling the tedium of his convalescence with characteristic stories and information which he thought might please the invalid. For Mainwaring, who had been early struck with Bradley’s ready and cultivated intelligence, ended by shyly avoiding the discussion of more serious topics, partly because Bradley impressed him with a suspicion of his own inferiority, and partly because Mainwaring questioned the taste of Bradley’s apparent exhibition of his manifest superiority. He learned accidentally that this mill-owner and backwoodsman was a college-bred man; but the practical application of that education to the ordinary affairs of life was new to the young Englishman’s traditions, and grated a little harshly on his feelings. He would have been quite content if Bradley had, like himself and fellows he knew, undervalued his training, and kept his gifts conservatively impractical. The knowledge also that his host’s education naturally came from some provincial institution unlike Oxford and Cambridge may have unconsciously affected his general estimate. I say unconsciously, for his strict conscientiousness would have rejected any such formal proposition.

Another trifle annoyed him. He could not help noticing also that although Bradley’s manner and sympathy were confidential and almost brotherly, he never made any allusion to Mainwaring’s own family or connections, and, in fact, gave no indication of what he believed was the national curiosity in regard to strangers. Somewhat embarrassed by this indifference, Mainwaring made the occasion of writing some letters home an opportunity for laughingly alluding to the fact that he had made his mother and his sisters fully aware of the great debt they owed the household of The Lookout.

“They’ll probably all send you a round robin of thanks, except, perhaps, my next brother, Bob.”

Bradley contented himself with a gesture of general deprecation, and did not ask why Mainwaring’s young brother should contemplate his death with satisfaction. Nevertheless, some time afterwards Miss Macy remarked that it seemed hard that the happiness of one member of a family should depend upon a calamity to another. “As for instance?” asked Mainwaring, who had already forgotten the circumstance. “Why, if you had died and your younger brother succeeded to the baronetcy, and become Sir Robert Mainwaring,” responded Miss Macy, with precision. This was the first and only allusion to his family and prospective rank. On the other hand, he had—through naive and boyish inquiries, which seemed to amuse his entertainers—acquired, as he believed, a full knowledge of the history and antecedents of the Bradley household. He knew how Bradley had brought his young wife and her cousin to California and abandoned a lucrative law practice in San Francisco to take possession of this mountain mill and woodland, which he had acquired through some professional service.

“Then you are a barrister really?” said Mainwaring, gravely.

Bradley laughed. “I’m afraid I’ve had more practice—though not as lucrative a one—as surgeon or doctor.”

“But you’re regularly on the rolls, you know; you’re entered as Counsel, and all that sort of thing?” continued Mainwaring, with great seriousness.

“Well, yes,” replied Bradley, much amused. “I’m afraid I must plead guilty to that.”

“It’s not a bad sort of thing,” said Mainwaring, naively, ignoring Bradley’s amusement. “I’ve got a cousin who’s gone in for the law. Got out of the army to do it—too. He’s a sharp fellow.”

“Then you do allow a man to try many trades—over there,” said Miss Macy, demurely.

“Yes, sometimes,” said Mainwaring, graciously, but by no means certain that the case was at all analogous.

Nevertheless, as if relieved of certain doubts of the conventional quality of his host’s attainments, he now gave himself up to a very hearty and honest admiration of Bradley. “You know it’s awfully kind of him to talk to a fellow like me who just pulled through, and never got any prizes at Oxford, and don’t understand the half of these things,” he remarked confidentially to Mrs. Bradley. “He knows more about the things we used to go in for at Oxford than lots of our men, and he’s never been there. He’s uncommonly clever.”

“Jim was always very brilliant,” returned Mrs. Bradley, indifferently, and with more than even conventionally polite wifely deprecation; “I wish he were more practical.”

“Practical! Oh, I say, Mrs. Bradley! Why, a fellow that can go in among a lot of workmen and tell them just what to do—an all-round chap that can be independent of his valet, his doctor, and his—banker! By Jove—that’s practical!”

“I mean,” said Mrs. Bradley, coldly, “that there are some things that a gentleman ought not to be practical about nor independent of. Mr. Bradley would have done better to have used his talents in some more legitimate and established way.”

Mainwaring looked at her in genuine surprise. To his inexperienced observation Bradley’s intelligent energy and, above all, his originality, ought to have been priceless in the eyes of his wife—the American female of his species. He felt that slight shock which most loyal or logical men feel when first brought face to face with the easy disloyalty and incomprehensible logic of the feminine affections. Here was a fellow, by Jove, that any woman ought to be proud of, and—and—he stopped blankly. He wondered if Miss Macy sympathized with her cousin.

Howbeit, this did not affect the charm of their idyllic life at The Lookout. The precipice over which they hung was as charming as ever in its poetic illusions of space and depth and color; the isolation of their comfortable existence in the tasteful yet audacious habitation, the pleasant routine of daily tasks and amusements, all tended to make the enforced quiet and inaction of his convalescence a lazy recreation. He was really improving; more than that, he was conscious of a certain satisfaction in this passive observation of novelty that was healthier and perhaps truer than his previous passion for adventure and that febrile desire for change and excitement which he now felt was a part of his disease. Nor were incident and variety entirely absent from this tranquil experience. He was one day astonished at being presented by Bradley with copies of the latest English newspapers, procured from Sacramento, and he equally astonished his host, after profusely thanking him, by only listlessly glancing at their columns. He estopped a proposed visit from one of his influential countrymen; in the absence of his fair entertainers at their domestic duties, he extracted infinite satisfaction from Foo-Yup, the Chinese servant, who was particularly detached for his service. From his invalid coign of vantage at the window he was observant of all that passed upon the veranda, that al-fresco audience-room of The Lookout, and he was good-humoredly conscious that a great many eccentric and peculiar visitors were invariably dragged thither by Miss Macy, and goaded into characteristic exhibition within sight and hearing of her guest, with a too evident view, under the ostentatious excuse of extending his knowledge of national character or mischievously shocking him.

“When you are strong enough to stand Captain Gashweiler’s opinions of the Established Church and Chinamen,” said Miss Macy, after one of these revelations, “I’ll get Jim to bring him here, for really he swears so outrageously that even in the broadest interests of international understanding and good-will neither Mrs. Bradley nor myself could be present.”

On another occasion she provokingly lingered before his window for a moment with a rifle slung jauntily over her shoulder. “If you hear a shot or two don’t excite yourself, and believe we’re having a lynching case in the woods. It will be only me. There’s some creature—confess, you expected me to say ‘critter’—hanging round the barn. It may be a bear. Good-by.” She missed the creature,—which happened to be really a bear,—much to Mainwaring’s illogical satisfaction. “I wonder why,” he reflected, with vague uneasiness, “she doesn’t leave all that sort of thing to girls like that tow-headed girl at the blacksmith’s.”

It chanced, however, that this blacksmith’s tow-headed daughter, who, it may be incidentally remarked, had the additional eccentricities of large black eyes and large white teeth, came to the fore in quite another fashion. Shortly after this, Mainwaring being able to leave his room and join the family board, Mrs. Bradley found it necessary to enlarge her domestic service, and arranged with her nearest neighbor, the blacksmith, to allow his daughter to come to The Lookout for a few days to “do the chores” and assist in the housekeeping, as she had on previous occasions. The day of her advent Bradley entered Mainwaring’s room, and, closing the door mysteriously, fixed his blue eyes, kindling with mischief, on the young Englishman.

“You are aware, my dear boy,” he began with affected gravity, “that you are now living in a land of liberty, where mere artificial distinctions are not known, and where Freedom from her mountain heights generally levels all social positions. I think you have graciously admitted that fact.”

“I know I’ve been taking a tremendous lot of freedom with you and yours, old man, and it’s a deuced shame,” interrupted Mainwaring, with a faint smile.

“And that nowhere,” continued Bradley, with immovable features, “does equality exist as perfectly as above yonder unfathomable abyss, where you have also, doubtless, observed the American eagle proudly soars and screams defiance.”

“Then that was the fellow that kept me awake this morning, and made me wonder if I was strong enough to hold a gun again.”

“That wouldn’t have settled the matter,” continued Bradley, imperturbably. “The case is simply this: Miss Minty Sharpe, that blacksmith’s daughter, has once or twice consented, for a slight emolument, to assist in our domestic service for a day or two, and she comes back again to-day. Now, under the aegis of that noble bird whom your national instincts tempt you to destroy, she has on all previous occasions taken her meals with us, at the same table, on terms of perfect equality. She will naturally expect to do the same now. Mrs. Bradley thought it proper, therefore, to warn you, that, in case your health was not quite equal to this democratic simplicity, you could still dine in your room.”

“It would be great fun—if Miss Sharpe won’t object to my presence.”

“But it must not be ‘great fun,’” returned Bradley, more seriously; “for Miss Minty’s perception of humor is probably as keen as yours, and she would be quick to notice it. And, so far from having any objection to you, I am inclined to think that we owe her consent to come to her desire of making your acquaintance.”

“She will find my conduct most exemplary,” said Mainwaring, earnestly.

“Let us hope so,” concluded Bradley, with unabated gravity. “And, now that you have consented, let me add from my own experience that Miss Minty’s lemon-pies alone are worthy of any concession.”

The dinner-hour came. Mainwaring, a little pale and interesting, leaning on the arm of Bradley, crossed the hall, and for the first time entered the dining-room of the house where he had lodged for three weeks. It was a bright, cheerful apartment, giving upon the laurels of the rocky hillside, and permeated, like the rest of the house, with the wholesome spice of the valley—an odor that, in its pure desiccating property, seemed to obliterate all flavor of alien human habitation, and even to dominate and etherealize the appetizing smell of the viands before them. The bare, shining, planed, boarded walls appeared to resent any decoration that might have savored of dust, decay, or moisture. The four large windows and long, open door, set in scanty strips of the plainest spotless muslin, framed in themselves pictures of woods and rock and sky of limitless depth, color, and distance, that made all other adornment impertinent. Nature, invading the room at every opening, had banished Art from those neutral walls.

“It’s like a picnic, with comfort,” said Mainwaring, glancing round him with boyish appreciation. Miss Minty was not yet there; the Chinaman was alone in attendance. Mainwaring could not help whispering, half mischievously, to Louise, “You draw the line at Chinamen, I suppose?”

We don’t, but he does,” answered the young girl. “He considers us his social inferiors. But—hush!”

Minty Sharpe had just entered the room, and was advancing with smiling confidence towards the table. Mainwaring was a little startled; he had seen Minty in a holland sun-bonnet and turned up skirt crossing the veranda, only a moment before; in the brief instant between the dishing-up of dinner and its actual announcement she had managed to change her dress, put on a clean collar, cuffs, and a large jet brooch, and apply some odorous unguent to her rebellious hair. Her face, guiltless of powder or cold cream, was still shining with the healthy perspiration of her last labors as she promptly took the vacant chair beside Mainwaring.

“Don’t mind me, folks,” she said cheerfully, resting her plump elbow on the table, and addressing the company generally, but gazing with frank curiosity into the face of the young man at her side. “It was a keen jump, I tell yer, to get out of my old duds inter these, and look decent inside o’ five minutes. But I reckon I ain’t kept yer waitin’ long—least of all this yer sick stranger. But you’re looking pearter than you did. You’re wonderin’ like ez not where I ever saw ye before?” she continued, laughing. “Well, I’ll tell you. Last week! I’d kem over yer on a chance of seein’ Jenny Bradley, and while I was meanderin’ down the veranda I saw you lyin’ back in your chair by the window drowned in sleep, like a baby. Lordy! I mout hev won a pair o’ gloves, but I reckoned you were Loo’s game, and not mine.”

The slightly constrained laugh which went round the table after Miss Minty’s speech was due quite as much to the faint flush that had accented Mainwaring’s own smile as to the embarrassing remark itself. Mrs. Bradley and Miss Macy exchanged rapid glances. Bradley, who alone retained his composure, with a slight flicker of amusement in the corner of his eye and nostril, said quickly: “You see, Mainwaring, how nature stands ready to help your convalescence at every turn. If Miss Minty had only followed up her healing opportunity, your cure would have been complete.”

“Ye mout hev left some o’ that pretty talk for him to say,” said Minty, taking up her knife and fork with a slight shrug, “and you needn’t call me Miss Minty either, jest because there’s kempeny present.”

“I hope you won’t look upon me as company, Minty, or I shall be obliged to call you ‘Miss’ too,” said Mainwaring, unexpectedly regaining his usual frankness.

Bradley’s face brightened; Miss Minty raised her black eyes from her plate with still broader appreciation.

“There’s nothin’ mean about that,” she said, showing her white teeth. “Well, what’s your first name?”

“Not as pretty as yours, I’m afraid. It’s Frank.”

“No it ain’t, it’s Francis! You reckon to be Sir Francis some day,” she said gravely. “You can’t play any Frank off on me. You wouldn’t do it on her,” she added, indicating Louise with her elbow.

A momentous silence followed. The particular form that Minty’s vulgarity had taken had not been anticipated by the two other women. They had, not unreasonably, expected some original audacity or gaucherie from the blacksmith’s daughter, which might astonish yet amuse their guest, and condone for the situation forced upon them. But they were not prepared for a playfulness that involved themselves in a ridiculous indiscretion. Mrs. Bradley’s eyes sought her husband’s meaningly; Louise’s pretty mouth hardened. Luckily the cheerful cause of it suddenly jumped up from the table, and saying that the stranger was starving, insisted upon bringing a dish from the other side and helping him herself plentifully. Mainwaring rose gallantly to take the dish from her hand, a slight scuffle ensued which ended in the young man being forced down in his chair by the pressure of Minty’s strong plump hand on his shoulder. “There,” she said, “ye kin mind your dinner now, and I reckon we’ll give the others a chance to chip into the conversation,” and at once applied herself to the plate before her.

The conversation presently became general, with the exception that Minty, more or less engrossed by professional anxiety in the quality of the dinner and occasional hurried visits to the kitchen, briefly answered the few polite remarks which Mainwaring felt called upon to address to her. Nevertheless, he was conscious, malgré her rallying allusions to Miss Macy, that he felt none of the vague yet half pleasant anxiety with which Louise was beginning to inspire him. He felt at ease in Minty’s presence, and believed, rightly or wrongly, that she understood him as well as he understood her. And there were certainly points in common between his two hostesses and their humbler though proud dependent. The social evolution of Mrs. Bradley and Louise Macy from some previous Minty was neither remote nor complete; the self-sufficient independence, ease, and quiet self-assertion were alike in each. The superior position was still too recent and accidental for either to resent or criticise qualities that were common to both. At least, this was what he thought when not abandoning himself to the gratification of a convalescent appetite; to the presence of two pretty women, the sympathy of a genial friend, the healthy intoxication of the white sunlight that glanced upon the pine walls, the views that mirrored themselves in the open windows, and the pure atmosphere in which The Lookout seemed to swim. Wandering breezes of balm and spice lightly stirred the flowers on the table, and seemed to fan his hair and forehead with softly healing breath. Looking up in an interval of silence, he caught Bradley’s gray eyes fixed upon him with a subdued light of amusement and affection, as of an elder brother regarding a schoolboy’s boisterous appetite at some feast. Mainwaring laid down his knife and fork with a laughing color, touched equally by Bradley’s fraternal kindliness and the consciousness of his gastronomical powers.

“Hang it, Bradley; look here! I know my appetite’s disgraceful, but what can a fellow do? In such air, with such viands and such company! It’s like the bees getting drunk on Hybla and Hymettus, you know. I’m not responsible!”

“It’s the first square meal I believe you’ve really eaten in six months,” said Bradley, gravely. “I can’t understand why your doctor allowed you to run down so dreadfully.”

“I reckon you ain’t as keerful of yourself, you Britishers, ez us,” said Minty. “Lordy! Why there’s Pop invests in more patent medicines in one day than you have in two weeks, and he’d make two of you. Mebbe your folks don’t look after you enough.”

“I’m a splendid advertisement of what your care and your medicines have done,” said Mainwaring, gratefully, to Mrs. Bradley; “and if you ever want to set up a ‘Cure’ here, I’m ready with a ten-page testimonial.”

“Have a care, Mainwaring,” said Bradley, laughing, “that the ladies don’t take you at your word. Louise and Jenny have been doing their best for the last year to get me to accept a flattering offer from a Sacramento firm to put up a hotel for tourists on the site of The Lookout. Why, I believe that they have already secretly in their hearts concocted a flaming prospectus of ‘Unrivalled Scenery’ and ‘Health-giving Air,’ and are looking forward to Saturday night hops on the piazza.”

“Have you really, though?” said Mainwaring, gazing from the one to the other.

“We should certainly see more company than we do now, and feel a little less out of the world,” said Louise, candidly. “There are no neighbors here—I mean the people at the Summit are not,” she added, with a slight glance towards Minty.

“And Mr. Bradley would find it more profitable—not to say more suitable to a man of his position—than this wretched saw-mill and timber business,” said Mrs. Bradley, decidedly.

Mainwaring was astounded; was it possible they considered it more dignified for a lawyer to keep a hotel than a saw-mill? Bradley, as if answering what was passing in his mind, said mischievously, “I’m not sure, exactly, what my position is, my dear, and I’m afraid I’ve declined the hotel on business principles. But, by the way, Mainwaring, I found a letter at the mill this morning from Mr. Richardson. He is about to pay us the distinguished honor of visiting The Lookout, solely on your account, my dear fellow.”

“But I wrote him that I was much better, and it wasn’t necessary for him to come,” said Mainwaring.

“He makes an excuse of some law business with me. I suppose he considers the mere fact of his taking the trouble to come here, all the way from San Francisco, a sufficient honor to justify any absence of formal invitation,” said Bradley, smiling.

“But he’s only—I mean he’s my father’s banker,” said Mainwaring, correcting himself, “and—you don’t keep a hotel.”

“Not yet,” returned Bradley, with a mischievous glance at the two women, “but The Lookout is elastic, and I dare say we can manage to put him up.”

A silence ensued. It seemed as if some shadow, or momentary darkening of the brilliant atmosphere; some film across the mirror-like expanse of the open windows, or misty dimming of their wholesome light, had arisen to their elevation. Mainwaring felt that he was looking forward with unreasoning indignation and uneasiness to this impending interruption of their idyllic life; Mrs. Bradley and Louise, who had become a little more constrained and formal under Minty’s freedom, were less sympathetic; even the irrepressible Minty appeared absorbed in the responsibilities of the dinner.

Bradley alone preserved his usual patient good-humor. “We’ll take our coffee on the veranda, and the ladies will join us by and by, Mainwaring; besides, I don’t know that I can allow you, as an invalid, to go entirely through Minty’s bountiful menu at present. You shall have the sweets another time.”

When they were alone on the veranda, he said, between the puffs of his black brier-wood pipe,—a pet aversion of Mrs. Bradley,— “I wonder how Richardson will accept Minty!”

“If I can, I think he must,” returned Mainwaring, dryly. “By Jove, it will be great fun to see him; but”—he stopped and hesitated— “I don’t know about the ladies. I don’t think, you know, that they’ll stand Minty again before another stranger.”

Bradley glanced quickly at the young man; their eyes met, and they both joined in a superior and, I fear, disloyal smile. After a pause Bradley, as if in a spirit of further confidence, took his pipe from his mouth and pointed to the blue abyss before them.

“Look at that profundity, Mainwaring, and think of it ever being bullied and overawed by a long veranda-load of gaping, patronizing tourists, and the idiotic flirting females of their species. Think of a lot of over-dressed creatures flouting those severe outlines and deep-toned distances with frippery and garishness. You know how you have been lulled to sleep by that delicious, indefinite, far-off murmur of the canyon at night—think of it being broken by a crazy waltz or a monotonous german—by the clatter of waiters and the pop of champagne corks. And yet, by thunder, those women are capable of liking both and finding no discord in them!”

“Dancing ain’t half bad, you know,” said Mainwaring, conscientiously, “if a chap’s got the wind to do it; and all Americans, especially the women, dance better than we do. But I say, Bradley, to hear you talk, a fellow wouldn’t suspect you were as big a Vandal as anybody, with a beastly, howling saw-mill in the heart of the primeval forest. By Jove, you quite bowled me over that first day we met, when you popped your head out of that delirium tremens shaking mill, like the very genius of destructive improvement.”

“But that was fighting Nature, not patronizing her; and it’s a business that pays. That reminds me that I must go back to it,” said Bradley, rising and knocking the ashes from his pipe.

“Not after dinner, surely!” said Mainwaring, in surprise. “Come now, that’s too much like the bolting Yankee of the travellers’ books.”

“There’s a heavy run to get through tonight. We’re working against time,” returned Bradley. Even while speaking he had vanished within the house, returned quickly—having replaced his dark suit by jean trousers tucked in heavy boots, and a red flannel shirt over his starched white one—and, nodding gayly to Mainwaring, stepped from the lower end of the veranda. “The beggar actually looks pleased to go,” said Mainwaring to himself in wonderment.

“Oh! Jim,” said Mrs. Bradley, appearing at the door.

“Yes,” said Bradley, faintly, from the bushes.

“Minty’s ready. You might take her home.”

“All right. I’ll wait.”

“I hope I haven’t frightened Miss Sharpe away,” said Mainwaring. “She isn’t going, surely?”

“Only to get some better clothes, on account of company. I’m afraid you are giving her a good deal of trouble, Mr. Mainwaring,” said Mrs. Bradley, laughing.

“She wished me to say good-by to you for her, as she couldn’t come on the veranda in her old shawl and sun-bonnet,” added Louise, who had joined them. “What do you really think of her, Mr. Mainwaring? I call her quite pretty, at times. Don’t you?”

Mainwaring knew not what to say. He could not understand why they could have any special interest in the girl, or care to know what he, a perfect stranger, thought of her. He avoided a direct reply, however, by playfully wondering how Mrs. Bradley could subject her husband to Miss Minty’s undivided fascinations.

“Oh, Jim always takes her home—if it’s in the evening. He gets along with these people better than we do,” returned Mrs. Bradley, dryly. “But,” she added, with a return of her piquant Quaker-like coquettishness, “Jim says we are to devote ourselves to you to-night—in retaliation, I suppose. We are to amuse you, and not let you get excited; and you are to be sent to bed early.”

It is to be feared that these latter wise precautions—invaluable for all defenceless and enfeebled humanity—were not carried out: and it was late when Mainwaring eventually retired, with brightened eyes and a somewhat accelerated pulse. For the ladies, who had quite regained that kindly equanimity which Minty had rudely interrupted, had also added a delicate and confidential sympathy in their relations with Mainwaring,—as of people who had suffered in common,—and he experienced these tender attentions at their hands which any two women are emboldened by each other’s saving presence to show any single member of our sex. Indeed, he hardly knew if his satisfaction was the more complete when Mrs. Bradley, withdrawing for a few moments, left him alone on the veranda with Louise and the vast, omnipotent night.

For a while they sat silent, in the midst of the profound and measureless calm. Looking down upon the dim moonlit abyss at their feet, they themselves seemed a part of this night that arched above it; the half-risen moon appeared to linger long enough at their side to enwrap and suffuse them with its glory; a few bright stars quietly ringed themselves around them, and looked wonderingly into the level of their own shining eyes. For some vague yearning to humanity seemed to draw this dark and passionless void towards them. The vast protecting maternity of Nature leant hushed and breathless over the solitude. Warm currents of air rose occasionally from the valley, which one might have believed were sighs from its full and overflowing breast, or a grateful coolness swept their cheeks and hair when the tranquil heights around them were moved to slowly respond. Odors from invisible bay and laurel sometimes filled the air; the incense of some rare and remoter cultivated meadow beyond their ken, or the strong germinating breath of leagues of wild oats, that had yellowed the upland by day. In the silence and shadow, their voices took upon themselves, almost without their volition, a far-off confidential murmur, with intervals of meaning silence—rather as if their thoughts had spoken for themselves, and they had stopped wonderingly to listen. They talked at first vaguely to this discreet audience of space and darkness, and then, growing bolder, spoke to each other and of themselves. Invested by the infinite gravity of nature, they had no fear of human ridicule to restrain their youthful conceit or the extravagance of their unimportant confessions. They talked of their tastes, of their habits, of their friends and acquaintances. They settled some points of doctrine, duty, and etiquette, with the sweet seriousness of youth and its all-powerful convictions. The listening vines would have recognized no flirtation or love-making in their animated but important confidences; yet when Mrs. Bradley reappeared to warn the invalid that it was time to seek his couch, they both coughed slightly in the nervous consciousness of some unaccustomed quality in their voices, and a sense of interruption far beyond their own or the innocent intruder’s ken.

“Well?” said Mrs. Bradley, in the sitting-room as Mainwaring’s steps retreated down the passage to his room.

“Well,” said Louise with a slight yawn, leaning her pretty shoulders languidly against the door-post, as she shaded her moonlight-accustomed eyes from the vulgar brilliancy of Mrs. Bradley’s bedroom candle. “Well—oh, he talked a great deal about ‘his people’ as he called them, and I talked about us. He’s very nice. You know in some things he’s really like a boy.”

“He looks much better.”

“Yes; but he is far from strong yet.”

Meantime, Mainwaring had no other confidant of his impressions than his own thoughts. Mingled with his exaltation, which was the more seductive that it had no well-defined foundation for existing, and implied no future responsibility, was a recurrence of his uneasiness at the impending visit of Richardson the next day. Strangely enough, it had increased under the stimulus of the evening. Just as he was really getting on with the family, he felt sure that this visitor would import some foreign element into their familiarity, as Minty had done. It was possible they would not like him: now he remembered there was really something ostentatiously British and insular about this Richardson—something they would likely resent. Why couldn’t this fellow have come later—or even before? Before what? But here he fell asleep, and almost instantly slipped from this veranda in the Sierras, six thousand miles away, to an ancient terrace, overgrown with moss and tradition, that overlooked the sedate glory of an English park. Here he found himself, restricted painfully by his inconsistent night-clothes, endeavoring to impress his mother and sisters with the singular virtues and excellences of his American host and hostesses—virtues and excellences that he himself was beginning to feel conscious had become more or less apocryphal in that atmosphere. He heard his mother’s voice saying severely, “When you learn, Francis, to respect the opinions and prejudices of your family enough to prevent your appearing before them in this uncivilized aboriginal costume, we will listen to what you have to say of the friends whose habits you seem to have adopted;” and he was frantically indignant that his efforts to convince them that his negligence was a personal oversight, and not a Californian custom, were utterly futile. But even then this vision was brushed away by the bewildering sweep of Louise’s pretty skirt across the dreamy picture, and her delicate features and softly-fringed eyes remained the last to slip from his fading consciousness.

The moon rose higher and higher above the sleeping house and softly breathing canyon. There was nothing to mar the idyllic repose of the landscape; only the growing light of the last two hours had brought out in the far eastern horizon a dim white peak, that gleamed faintly among the stars, like a bridal couch spread between the hills fringed with fading nuptial torches. No one would have believed that behind that impenetrable shadow to the west, in the heart of the forest, the throbbing saw-mill of James Bradley was even at that moment eating its destructive way through the conserved growth of Nature and centuries, and that the refined proprietor of house and greenwood, with the glow of his furnace fires on his red shirt, and his alert, intelligent eyes, was the genie of that devastation, and the toiling leader of the shadowy, toiling figures around him.

A Phyllis of the Sierras and A Drift from Redwood Camp - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter III

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