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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter2)

2006-08-22 19:41

  Chapter II

  Thus did John Cardigan dream, and as he dreamed he worked. The city of Sequoia was born with the Argonaut's six-room mansion of rough redwood boards and a dozen three-room cabins with lean-to kitchens; and the tradespeople came when John Cardigan, with something of the largeness of his own redwood trees, gave them ground and lumber in order to encourage the building of their enterprises. Also the dream of the schoolhouse and the church came true, as did the steam tugboat and the schooner with three masts. The mill was enlarged until it could cut forty thousand feet on a twelve-hour shift, and a planer and machines for making rustic siding and tongued-and-grooved flooring and ceiling were installed. More ox-teams appeared upon the skid-road, which was longer now; the cry of “Timber-r-r!” and the thunderous roar of a falling redwood grew fainter and fainter as the forest receded from the bay shore, and at last the whine of the saws silenced these sounds forever in Sequoia.

  At forty John Cardigan was younger than most men at thirty, albeit he worked fourteen hours a day, slept eight, and consumed the remaining two at his meals. But through all those fruitful years of toil he had still found time to dream, and the spell of the redwoods had lost none of its potency. He was still checker-boarding the forested townships with his adverse holdings——the key-positions to the timber in back of beyond which some day should come to his hand. Also he had competition now: other sawmills dotted the bay shore; other three- masted schooners carried Humboldt redwood to the world beyond the bar, over which they were escorted by other and more powerful steam- tugs. This competition John Cardigan welcomed and enjoyed, however, for he had been first in Humboldt, and the townsite and a mile of tidelands fronting on deep water were his; hence each incoming adventurer merely helped his dream of a city to come true.

  At forty-two Cardigan was the first mayor of Sequoia. At forty-four he was standing on his dock one day, watching his tug kick into her berth the first square-rigged ship that had ever come to Humboldt Bay to load a cargo of clear redwood for foreign delivery. She was a big Bath-built clipper, and her master a lusty down-Easter, a widower with one daughter who had come with him around the Horn. John Cardigan saw this girl come up on the quarter-deck and stand by with a heaving-line in her hand; calmly she fixed her glance upon him, and as the ship was shunted in closer to the dock, she made the cast to Cardigan. He caught the light heaving-line, hauled in the heavy Manila stern-line to which it was attached, and slipped the loop of the mooring-cable over the dolphin at the end of the dock.

  “Some men wanted aft here to take up the slack of the stern-line on the windlass, sir,” he shouted to the skipper, who was walking around on top of the house. “That girl can't haul her in alone.”

  “Can't. I'm short-handed,” the skipper replied. “Jump aboard and help her.”

  Cardigan made a long leap from the dock to the ship's rail, balanced there lightly a moment, and sprang to the deck. He passed the bight of the stern-line in a triple loop around the drum of the windlass, and without awaiting his instructions, the girl grasped the slack of the line and prepared to walk away with it as the rope paid in on the windlass. Cardigan inserted a belaying-pin in the windlass, paused and looked at the girl. “Raise a chantey,” he suggested. Instantly she lifted a sweet contralto in that rollicking old ballad of the sea——“Blow the Men Down.”

  For tinkers and tailors and lawyers and all,Way! Aye! Blow the men down!

  They ship for real sailors aboard the Black Ball,Give me some time to blow the men down.

  Round the windlass Cardigan walked, steadily and easily, and the girl's eyes widened in wonder as he did the work of three powerful men. When the ship had been warped in and the slack of the line made fast on the bitts, she said:

  “Please run for'd and help my father with the bow-lines. You're worth three foremast hands. Indeed, I didn't expect to see a sailor on this dock.”

  “I had to come around the Horn to get here, Miss,” he explained, “and when a man hasn't money to pay for his passage, he needs must work it.”

  “I'm the second mate,” she explained. “We had a succession of gales from the Falklands to the Evangelistas, and there the mate got her in irons and she took three big ones over the taffrail and cost us eight men. Working short-handed, we couldn't get any canvas on her to speak of——long voyage, you know, and the rest of the crew got scurvy.”

  “You're a brave girl,” he told her.

  “And you're a first-class A. B.,” she replied. “If you're looking for a berth, my father will be glad to ship you.”

  “Sorry, but I can't go,” he called as he turned toward the companion ladder. “I'm Cardigan, and I own this sawmill and must stay here and look after it.”

  There was a light, exultant feeling in his middle-aged heart as he scampered along the deck. The girl had wonderful dark auburn hair and brown eyes, with a milk-white skin that sun and wind had sought in vain to blemish. And for all her girlhood she was a woman——bred from a race (his own people) to whom danger and despair merely furnished a tonic for their courage. What a mate for a man! And she had looked at him pridefully.

  They were married before the ship was loaded, and on a knoll of the logged-over lands back of the town and commanding a view of the bay, with the dark-forested hills in back and the little second-growth redwoods flourishing in the front yard, he built her the finest home in Sequoia. He had reserved this building-site in a vague hope that some day he might utilize it for this very purpose, and here he spent with her three wonderfully happy years. Here his son Bryce was born, and here, two days later, the new-made mother made the supreme sacrifice of maternity.

  For half a day following the destruction of his Eden John Cardigan sat dumbly beside his wife, his great, hard hand caressing the auburn head whose every thought for three years had been his happiness and comfort. Then the doctor came to him and mentioned the matter of funeral arrangements.

  Cardigan looked up at him blankly. “Funeral arrangements?” he murmured. “Funeral arrangements?” He passed his gnarled hand over his leonine head. “Ah, yes, I suppose so. I shall attend to it.”

  He rose and left the house, walking with bowed head out of Sequoia, up the abandoned and decaying skid-road through the second-growth redwoods to the dark green blur that marked the old timber. It was May, and Nature was renewing herself, for spring comes late in Humboldt County. From an alder thicket a pompous cock grouse boomed intermittently; the valley quail, in pairs, were busy about their household affairs; from a clump of manzanita a buck watched John Cardigan curiously. On past the landing where the big bull donkey- engine stood (for with the march of progress, the logging donkey- engine had replaced the ox-teams, while the logs were hauled out of the woods to the landing by means of a mile-long steel cable, and there loaded on the flat-cars of a logging railroad to be hauled to the mill and dumped in the log-boom) he went, up the skid-road recently swamped from the landing to the down timber where the crosscut men and barkpeelers were at work, on into the green timber where the woods-boss and his men were chopping.

  “Come with me, McTavish,” he said to his woods-boss. They passed through a narrow gap between two low hills and emerged in a long narrow valley where the redwood grew thickly and where the smallest tree was not less than fifteen feet in diameter and two hundred and fifty feet tall. McTavish followed at the master's heels as they penetrated this grove, making their way with difficulty through the underbrush until they came at length to a little amphitheatre, a clearing perhaps a hundred feet in diameter, oval-shaped and surrounded by a wall of redwoods of such dimensions that even McTavish, who was no stranger to these natural marvels, was struck with wonder. The ground in this little amphitheatre was covered to a depth of a foot with brown, withered little redwood twigs to which the dead leaves still clung, while up through this aromatic covering delicate maidenhair ferns and oxalis had thrust themselves. Between the huge brown boles of the redwoods woodwardia grew riotously, while through the great branches of these sentinels of the ages the sunlight filtered. Against the prevailing twilight of the surrounding forest it descended like a halo, and where it struck the ground John Cardigan paused.

  “McTavish,” he said, “she died this morning.”

  “I'm sore distressed for you, sir,” the woods-boss answered. “We'd a whisper in the camp yesterday that the lass was like to be in a bad way.”

  Cardigan scuffed with his foot a clear space in the brown litter. “Take two men from the section-gang, McTavish,” he ordered, “and have them dig her grave here; then swamp a trail through the underbrush and out to the donkey-landing, so we can carry her in. The funeral will be private.”

  McTavish nodded. “Any further orders, sir?”

  “Yes. When you come to that little gap in the hills, cease your logging and bear off yonder.” He waved his hand. “I'm not going to cut the timber in this valley. You see, McTavish, what it is. The trees here——ah, man, I haven't the heart to destroy God's most wonderful handiwork. Besides, she loved this spot, McTavish, and she called the valley her Valley of the Giants. I——I gave it to her for a wedding present because she had a bit of a dream that some day the town I started would grow up to yonder gap, and when that time came and we could afford it, 'twas in her mind to give her Valley of the Giants to Sequoia for a city park, all hidden away here and unsuspected.

  “She loved it, McTavish. It pleased her to come here with me; she'd make up a lunch of her own cooking and I would catch trout in the stream by the dogwoods yonder and fry the fish for her. Sometimes I'd barbecue a venison steak and——well, 'twas our playhouse, McTavish, and I who am no longer young——I who never played until I met her——I—— I'm a bit foolish, I fear, but I found rest and comfort here, McTavish, even before I met her, and I'm thinking I'll have to come here often for the same. She——she was a very superior woman, McTavish——very superior. Ah, man, the soul of her! I cannot bear that her body should rest in Sequoia cemetery, along with the rag tag and bobtail o' the town. She was like this sunbeam, McTavish. She——she——”

  “Aye,” murmured McTavish huskily. “I ken. Ye wouldna gie her a common or a public spot in which to wait for ye. An' ye'll be shuttin' down the mill an' loggin'-camps an' layin' off the hands in her honour for a bit?”

  “Until after the funeral, McTavish. And tell your men they'll be paid for the lost time. That will be all, lad.”

  When McTavish was gone, John Cardigan sat down on a small sugar-pine windfall, his head held slightly to one side while he listened to that which in the redwoods is not sound but rather the absence of it. And as he listened, he absorbed a subtle comfort from those huge brown trees, so emblematic of immortality; in the thought he grew closer to his Maker, and presently found that peace which he sought. Love such as theirs could never die…… The tears came at last.

  At sundown he walked home bearing an armful of rhododendrons and dogwood blossoms, which he arranged in the room where she lay. Then he sought the nurse who had attended her.

  “I'd like to hold my son,” he said gently. “May I?”

  She brought him the baby and placed it in his great arms that trembled so; he sat down and gazed long and earnestly at this flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. “You'll have her hair and skin and eyes,” he murmured. “My son, my son, I shall love you so, for now I must love for two. Sorrow I shall keep from you, please God, and happiness and worldly comfort shall I leave you when I go to her.” He nuzzled his grizzled cheek against the baby's face. “Just you and my trees,” he whispered, “just you and my trees to help me hang on to a plucky finish.”

  For love and paternity had come to him late in life, and so had his first great sorrow; wherefore, since he was not accustomed to these heritages of all flesh, he would have to adjust himself to the change. But his son and his trees——ah, yes, they would help. And he would gather more redwoods now!

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