The Valley of the Giants by Peter B. Kyne
That trying interview with her uncle had wrenched Shirley's soul to a degree that left her faint and weak. She at once set out on a long drive, in the hope that before she turned homeward again she might regain something of her customary composure.
Presently the asphaltum-paved street gave way to a dirt road and terminated abruptly at the boundaries of a field that sloped gently upward--a field studded with huge black redwood stumps showing dismally through coronets of young redwoods that grew riotously around the base of the departed parent trees. From the fringe of the thicket thus formed, the terminus of an old skid-road showed and a signboard, freshly painted, pointed the way to the Valley of the Giants.
Shirley had not intended to come here, but now that she had arrived, it occurred to her that it was here she wanted to come. Parking her car by the side of the road, she alighted and proceeded up the old skid, now newly planked and with the encroaching forestration cut away so that the daylight might enter from above. On over the gentle divide she went and down toward the amphitheatre where the primeval giants grew. And as she approached it, the sound that is silence in the redwoods--the thunderous diapason of the centuries--wove its spell upon her; quickly, imperceptibly there faded from her mind the memory of that grovelling Thing she had left behind in the mill- office, and in its place there came a subtle peace, a feeling of awe, of wonder--such a feeling, indeed, as must come to one in the realization that man is distant but God is near.
A cluster of wild orchids pendent from the great fungus-covered roots of a giant challenged her attention. She gathered them. Farther on, in a spot where a shaft of sunlight fell, she plucked an armful of golden California poppies and flaming rhododendron, and with her delicate burden she came at length to the giant-guarded clearing where the halo of sunlight fell upon the grave of Bryce Cardigan's mother. There were red roses on it--a couple of dozen, at least, and these she rearranged in order to make room for her own offering.
"Poor dear!" she murmured audibly. "God didn't spare you for much happiness, did He?"
A voice, deep, resonant, kindly, spoke a few feet away. "Who is it?"
Shirley, startled, turned swiftly. Seated across the little amphitheatre in a lumberjack's easy-chair fashioned from an old barrel, John Cardigan sat, his sightless gaze bent upon her. "Who is it?" he repeated.
"Shirley Sumner," she answered. "You do not know me, Mr. Cardigan."
"No," replied he, "I do not. That is a name I have heard, however. You are Seth Pennington's niece. Is someone with you?"
"I am quite alone, Mr. Cardigan."
"And why did you come here alone?" he queried.
"I--I wanted to think."
"You mean you wanted to think clearly, my dear. Ah, yes, this is the place for thoughts." He was silent a moment. Then: "You were thinking aloud, Miss Shirley Sumner. I heard you. You said: 'Poor dear, God didn't spare you for much happiness, did He?" And I think you rearranged my roses. Didn't I have them on her grave?"
"Yes, Mr. Cardigan. I was merely making room for some wild flowers I had gathered."
"Indeed. Then you knew--about her being here."
"Yes, sir. Some ten years ago, when I was a very little girl, I met your son Bryce. He gave me a ride on his Indian pony, and we came here. So I remember."
"Well, I declare! Ten years ago, eh? You've met, eh? You've met Bryce since his return to Sequoia, I believe. He's quite a fellow now."
"He is indeed."
John Cardigan nodded sagely. "So that's why you thought aloud," he remarked impersonally. "Bryce told you about her. You are right, Miss Shirley Sumner. God didn't give her much time for happiness--just three years; but oh, such wonderful years! Such wonderful years!
"It was mighty fine of you to bring flowers," he announced presently. "I appreciate that. I wish I could see you. You must be a dear, nice, thoughtful girl. Won't you sit down and talk to me?"
"I should be glad to," she answered, and seated herself on the brown carpet of redwood twigs close to his chair.
"So you came up here to do a little clear thinking," he continued in his deliberate, amiable tones. "Do you come here often?"
"This is the third time in ten years," she answered. "I feel that I have no business to intrude here. This is your shrine, and strangers should not profane it."
"I think I should have resented the presence of any other person, Miss Sumner. I resented you--until you spoke."
"I'm glad you said that, Mr. Cardigan. It sets me at ease."
"I hadn't been up here for nearly two years until recently. You see I--I don't own the Valley of the Giants any more."
"Indeed. To whom have you sold it?"
"I do not know, Miss Sumner. I had to sell; there was no other way out of the jam Bryce and I were in; so I sacrificed my sentiment for my boy. However, the new owner has been wonderfully kind and thoughtful. She reorganized that old skid-road so even an old blind duffer like me can find his way in and out without getting lost--and she had this easy-chair made for me. I have told Judge Moore, who represents the unknown owner, to extend my thanks to his client. But words are so empty, Shirley Sumner. If that new owner could only understand how truly grateful I am--how profoundly her courtesy touches me--"
"Her courtesy?" Shirley echoed. "Did a woman buy the Giants?"
He smiled down at her. "Why, certainly. Who but a woman--and a dear, kind, thoughtful woman--would have thought to have this chair made and brought up here for me?"
Fell a long silence between them; then John Cardigan's trembling hand went groping out toward the girl's. "Why, how stupid of me not to have guessed it immediately!" he said. "You are the new owner. My dear child, if the silent prayers of a very unhappy old man will bring God's blessing on you--there, there, girl! I didn't intend to make you weep. What a tender heart it is, to be sure!"
She took his great toil-worn hand, and her hot tears fell on it, for his gentleness, his benignancy, had touched her deeply. "Oh, you must not tell anybody! You mustn't," she cried.
He put his hand on her shoulder as she knelt before him. "Good land of love, girl, what made you do it? Why should a girl like you give a hundred thousand dollars for my Valley of the Giants? Were you"-- hesitatingly--"your uncle's agent?"
"No, I bought it myself--with my own money. My uncle doesn't know I am the new owner. You see, he wanted it--for nothing."
"Ah, yes. I suspected as much a long time ago. Your uncle is the modern type of business man. Not very much of an idealist, I'm afraid. But tell me why you decided to thwart the plans of your relative."
"I knew it hurt you terribly to sell your Giants; they were dear to you for sentimental reasons. I understood, also, why you were forced to sell; so I--well, I decided the Giants would be safer in my possession than in my uncle's. In all probability he would have logged this valley for the sake of the clear seventy-two-inch boards he could get from these trees."
"That does not explain satisfactorily, to me, why you took sides with a stranger against your own kin," John Cardigan persisted. "There must be a deeper and more potent reason, Miss Shirley Sumner."
"Well," Shirley made answer, glad that he could not see the flush of confusion and embarrassment that crimsoned her cheek, "when I came to Sequoia last May, your son and I met, quite accidentally. The stage to Sequoia had already gone, and he was gracious enough to invite me to make the journey in his car. Then we recalled having met as children, and presently I gathered from his conversation that he and his John-partner, as he called you, were very dear to each other. I was witness to your meeting that night--I saw him take you in his big arms and hold you tight because you'd--gone blind while he was away having a good time. And you hadn't told him! I thought that was brave of you; and later, when Bryce and Moira McTavish told me about you-- how kind you were, how you felt your responsibility toward your employees and the community--well, I just couldn't help a leaning toward John-partner and John-partner's boy, because the boy was so fine and true to his father's ideals."
"Ah, he's a man. He is indeed," old John Cardigan murmured proudly. "I dare say you'll never get to know him intimately, but if you should--"
"I know him intimately," she corrected him. "He saved my life the day the log-train ran away. And that was another reason. I owed him a debt, and so did my uncle; but Uncle wouldn't pay his share, and I had to pay for him."
"Wonderful," murmured John Cardigan, "wonderful! But still you haven't told me why you paid a hundred thousand dollars for the Giants when you could have bought them for fifty thousand. You had a woman's reason, I dare say, and women always reason from the heart, never the head. However, if you do not care to tell me, I shall not insist. Perhaps I have appeared, unduly inquisitive."
"I would rather not tell you," she answered.
A gentle, prescient smile fringed his old mouth; he wagged his leonine head as if to say: "Why should I ask, when I know?" Fell again a restful silence. Then:
"Am I allowed one guess, Miss Shirley Sumner?"
"Yes, but you would never guess the reason."
"I am a very wise old man. When one sits in the dark, one sees much that was hidden from him in the full glare of the light. My son is proud, manly, independent, and the soul of honour. He needed a hundred thousand dollars; you knew it. Probably your uncle informed you. You wanted to loan him some money, but--you couldn't. You feared to offend him by proffering it; had you proffered it, he would have declined it. So you bought my Valley of the Giants at a preposterous price and kept your action a secret." And he patted her hand gently, as if to silence any denial, while far down the skid-road a voice--a half-trained baritone--floated faintly to them through the forest. Somebody was singing--or rather chanting--a singularly tuneless refrain, wild and barbaric.
"What is that?" Shirley cried.
"That is my son, coming to fetch his old daddy home," replied John Cardigan. "That thing he's howling is an Indian war-song or paean of triumph--something his nurse taught him when he wore pinafores. If you'll excuse me, Miss Shirley Sumner, I'll leave you now. I generally contrive to meet him on the trail."
He bade her good-bye and started down the trail, his stick tapping against the old logging-cable stretched from tree to tree beside the trail and marking it.
Shirley was tremendously relieved. She did not wish to meet Bryce Cardigan to-day, and she was distinctly grateful to John Cardigan for his nice consideration in sparing her an interview. She seated herself in the lumberjack's easy-chair so lately vacated, and chin in hand gave herself up to meditation on this extraordinary old man and his extraordinary son.
A couple of hundred yards down the trail Bryce met his father. "Hello, John Cardigan!" he called. "What do you mean by skallyhooting through these woods without a pilot? Eh? Explain your reckless conduct."
"You great overgrown duffer," his father retorted affectionately, "I thought you'd never come." He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, but failed to find it and searched through another pocket and still another. "By gravy, son," he remarked presently, "I do believe I left my silk handkerchief--the one Moira gave me for my last birthday--up yonder. I wouldn't lose that handkerchief for a farm. Skip along and find it for me, son. I'll wait for you here. Don't hurry."
"I'll be back in a pig's whisper," his son replied, and started briskly up the trail, while his father leaned against a madrone tree and smiled his prescient little smile.
Bryce's brisk step on the thick carpet of withered brown twigs aroused Shirley from her reverie. When she looked up, he was standing in the centre of the little amphitheatre gazing at her.
"You--you!" she stammered, and rose as if to flee from him.
"The governor sent me back to look for his handkerchief, Shirley," he explained. "He didn't tell me you were here. Guess he didn't hear you." He advanced smilingly toward her. "I'm tremendously glad to see you to-day, Shirley," he said, and paused beside her. "Fate has been singularly kind to me. Indeed, I've been pondering all day as to just how I was to arrange a private and confidential little chat with you, without calling upon you at your uncle's house."
"I don't feel like chatting to-day," she answered a little drearily-- and then he noted her wet lashes. Instantly he was on one knee beside her; with the amazing confidence that had always distinguished him in her eyes, his big left arm went around her, and when her hands went to her face, he drew them gently away.
"I've waited too long, sweetheart," he murmured. "Thank God, I can tell you at last all the things that have been accumulating in my heart. I love you, Shirley. I've loved you from that first day we met at the station, and all these months of strife and repression have merely served to make me love you the more. Perhaps you have been all the dearer to me because you seemed so hopelessly unattainable."
He drew her head down on his breast; his great hand patted her hot cheek; his honest brown eyes gazed earnestly, wistfully into hers. "I love you," he whispered. "All that I have--all that I am--all that I hope to be--I offer to you, Shirley Sumner; and in the shrine of my heart I shall hold you sacred while life shall last. You are not indifferent to me, dear. I know you're not; but tell me--answer me--"
Her violet eyes were uplifted to his, and in them he read the answer to his cry. "Ah, may I?" he murmured, and kissed her.
"Oh, my dear, impulsive, gentle big sweetheart," she whispered--and then her arms went around his neck, and the fullness of her happiness found vent in tears he did not seek to have her repress. In the safe haven of his arms she rested; and there, quite without effort or distress, she managed to convey to him something more than an inkling of the thoughts that were wont to come to her whenever they met.
"Oh, my love!" he cried happily, "I hadn't dared dream of such happiness until to-day. You were so unattainable--the obstacles between us were so many and so great--"
"Why to-day, Bryce?" she interrupted him.
He took her adorable little nose in his great thumb and forefinger and tweaked it gently. "The light began to dawn yesterday, my dear little enemy, following an interesting half-hour which I put in with His Honour the Mayor. Acting upon suspicion only, I told Poundstone I was prepared to send him to the rock-pile if he didn't behave himself in the matter of my permanent franchise for the N.C.O.--and the oily old invertebrate wept and promised me anything if I wouldn't disgrace him. So I promised I wouldn't do anything until the franchise matter should be definitely settled--after which I returned to my office, to find awaiting me there no less a person than the right-of-way man for the Northwestern Pacific. He was a perfectly delightful young fellow, and he had a proposition to unfold. It seems the Northwestern Pacific has decided to build up from Willits, and all that powwow and publicity of Buck Ogilvy's about the N.C.O. was in all probability the very thing that spurred them to action. They figured the C.M. & St.P. was back of the N.C.O.--that it was to be the first link of a chain of coast roads to be connected ultimately with the terminus of the C.M. & St.P. on Gray's Harbour, Washington, and if the N.C.O. should be built, it meant that a rival road would get the edge on them in the matter of every stick of Humboldt and Del Norte redwood-- and they'd be left holding the sack." "Why did they think that, dear?"
"That amazing rascal Buck Ogilvy used to be a C. M. me that the money had been deposited in escrow there awaiting formal deed. That money puts the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company in the clear--no receivership for us now, my dear one. And I'm going right ahead with the building of the N.C.O.--while our holdings down on the San Hedrin double in value, for the reason that within three years they will be accessible and can be logged over the rails of the Northwestern Pacific!"
"Bryce," Shirley declared, "haven't I always told you I'd never permit you to build the N.C.O.?"
"Of course," he replied, "but surely you're going to withdraw your objections now."
"I am not. You must choose between the N.C.O. and me." And she met his surprised gaze unflinchingly.
"Shirley! You don't mean it?"
"I do mean it. I have always meant it. I love you, dear, but for all that, you must not build that road."
He stood up and towered above her sternly. "I must build it, Shirley. I've contracted to do it, and I must keep faith with Gregory of the Trinidad Timber Company. He's putting up the money, and I'm to do the work and operate the line. I can't go back on him now."
"Not for my sake?" she pleaded. He shook his head. "I must go on," he reiterated.
"Do you realize what that resolution means to us?" The girl's tones were grave, her glance graver.
"I realize what it means to me!"
She came closer to him. Suddenly the blaze in her violet eyes gave way to one of mirth. "Oh, you dear big booby!" she cried. "I was just testing you." And she clung to him, laughing. "You always beat me down--you always win. Bryce, dear, I'm the Laguna Grande Lumber Company--at least, I will be to-morrow, and I repeat for the last time that you shall not build the N.C.O.--because I'm going to--oh, dear, I shall die laughing at you--because I'm going to merge with the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company, and then my railroad shall be your railroad, and we'll extend it and haul Gregory's logs to tidewater for him also. And--silly, didn't I tell you you'd never build the N.C.O.?"
"God bless my mildewed soul!" he murmured, and drew her to him.
In the gathering dusk they walked down the trail. Beside the madrone tree John Cardigan waited patiently.
"Well," he queried when they joined him, "did you find my handkerchief for me, son?"
"I didn't find your handkerchief, John Cardigan," Bryce answered, "but I did find what I suspect you sent me back for--and that is a perfectly wonderful daughter-in-law for you."
John Cardigan smiled and held out his arms for her. "This," he said, "is the happiest day that I have known since my boy was born."