He wrung his hands in desperation and suddenly slid to his knees before her; with hypocritical endearments he strove to take her hand, but she drew away from him. “Don’t touch me,” she cried sharply and with a breaking note in her voice. “You planned to kill Bryce Cardigan! And for that—and that alone—I shall never forgive you.”
She fled from the office, leaving him cringing and grovelling on the floor. “There will be no directors’ meeting, Mr. Sexton,” she informed the manager as she passed through the general office. “It is postponed.”
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.