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Ah, that blessed, blessed day! I had gone to the White Sulphur Springs, in Napa County, to get relief from the effects of the California poison-oak. Gay deceiver! With its tender green and pink leaves, it looks as innocent and smiling as sin when it woos youth and ignorance. Like sin, it is found everywhere in that beautiful land. Many antidotes are used, but the only sure way of dealing with it is to keep away from it. Again, there is an analogy: it is easier to keep out of sin than to get out when caught. These soft, pure white sulphur waters work miracles of healing, and attract all sorts of people. The weary and broken down man of business comes here to sleep, and eat, and rest; the woman of fashion, to dress and flirt; the loudly-dressed and heavily-bejeweled gambler, to ply his trade; happy bridal couples, to have the world to themselves; successful and unsuccessful politicians, to plan future triumphs or brood over defeats; pale and trembling invalids, to seek healing or a brief respite from the grave; families escaping from the wind and fog of the bay, to spend a few weeks where they can find sunshine and quiet - it is a little world in itself. The spot is every way beautiful, but its chief charm is its isolation. Though within a few hours' ride of San Francisco, and only two miles from a railroad-station, you feel as if you were in the very heart of nature - and so you are. Winding along the banks of a sparkling stream, the mountains - great masses of leafy green - rise abruptly on either hand; the road bends this way and that until a sudden turn brings you to a little valley hemmed in all around by the giant hills. A bold, rocky projection just above the main hotel gives a touch of ruggedness and grandeur to the scene. How delicious the feeling of rest that comes over you at once! - the world shut out, the hills around, and the sky above.
It was in 1863, when the civil war was at its white heat. Circumstances had given me undesired notoriety in that connection. I had been thrust into the very vortex of its passion, and my name made the rallying-cry of opposing elements in California. The guns of Manassas, Cedar Mountain, and the Chickahominy, were echoed in the foothills of the Sierras, and in the peaceful valleys of the far-away Pacific Coast. The good sense of a practical, people prevented any flagrant outbreak on a large scale, but here and there a too ardent Southerner said or did something that gave him a few weeks' or months' duress at Fort Alcatraz, and the honors of a bloodless martyrdom. I was then living at North Beach, in full sight of that fortress. It was kindly suggested by several of my brother editors that it would be a good place for me. When, as my eye swept over the bay in the early morning, the first sight that met my gaze was its rocky ramparts and bristling guns, the poet's line would come to mind: "'T is distance lends enchantment to the view." I was just as close as I wanted to be. "I have good quarters for you," said the brave and courteous Captain McDougall, who was in command at the fort; "and knowing your penchant, I will let you have the freedom of a sunny corner of the island for fishing in good weather." The true soldier is sometimes a true gentleman.
The name and image of another Federal officer rise before me as I write. It is that of the heroic soldier, General Wright, who went down with the "Brother Jonathan," on the Oregon coast, in 1865. He was in command of the Department of the Pacific during this stormy period of which I am speaking. I had never seen him, and I had no special desire to make his acquaintance. Somehow Fort Alcatraz had become associated with his name for reasons already intimated. But, though unsought by me, an interview did take place.
"It has come at last!" was my exclamation as I read the note left by an orderly in uniform notifying me that I was expected to report at the quarters of the commanding-general the next day at ten o'clock. Conscious of my innocence of treason or any other crime against the Government or society, my pugnacity was roused by this summons. Before the hour set for my appearance at the military headquarters, I was ready for martyrdom or any thing else except Alcatraz. I didn't like that. The island was too small, and too foggy and windy, for my taste. I thought it best to obey the order I had received, and so, punctually at the hour, I repaired to the headquarters on Washington Street, and ascending the steps with a firm tread and defiant feeling, I entered the room. General Mason, provost-marshal, a scholar and polished gentleman, politely offered me a seat.
"No; I prefer to stand," I said stiffly.
"The General will see you in a few minutes," said he, resuming his work, while I stood nursing my indignation and sense of wrong.
In a little while General Wright entered - a tall and striking figure, silver-haired, blue-eyed, ruddy faced, with a mixture of the dash of thesoldier and the benignity of a bishop.
Declining also his cordial invitation to be seated, I stood and looked at him, still nursing defiance, and getting ready to wear a martyr's crown. The General spoke:
"Did you know, sir, that I am perhaps the most attentive reader of your paper to be found in California?"
"No; I was not aware that I had the honor of numbering the commanding-general of this department among my readers." (This was spoken with severe dignity.)
"A lot of hotheads have for sometime been urging me to have you arrested on the ground that you are editing and publishing a disloyal newspaper. Not wishing to do any injustice to a fellowman, I have taken means every week to obtain a copy of your paper, the Pacific Methodist; and allow me to say, sir, that no paper has ever come into my family which is such a favorite with all of us."
I bowed, feeling that the spirit of martyrdom was cooling within me. The General continued:
"I have sent for you, sir, that I might say to you, Go on in your present prudent and manly course, and while I command this department you are as safe as I am."
There I stood, a whipped man, my pugnacity all gone, and the martyr's crown away out of my reach. I walked softly downstairs, after bidding the General an adieu in a manner in marked contrast to that in which I had greeted him at the beginning of the interview. Now that it is all over, and the ocean winds have wailed their dirges for him so many long years, I would pay a humble tribute to the memory of as brave and knightly a man as ever wore epaulettes or fought under the stars and stripes. He was of the type of Sidney Johnston, who fell at Shiloh, and of McPherson, who fell at Kennesaw - all Californians; all Americans, true soldiers, who had a sword for the foe in fair fight in the open field, and a shield for woman, and for the noncombatant, the aged, the defenseless. They fought on different sides to settle forever a quarrel that was bequeathed to their generation, but their fame is the common inheritance of the American people. The reader is beginning to think I am digressing, but he will better understand what is to come after getting this glimpse of those stormy days in the sixties.
The guests at the Springs were about equally divided in their sectional sympathies. The gentlemen were inclined to avoid all exciting discussions, but the ladies kept up a fire of small arms. When the mails came in, and the latest news was read, comments were made with flashing eyes and flushed cheeks.
The Sabbath morning dawned without a cloud. I awoke with the earliest song of the birds, and was out before the first rays of the sun had touched the mountaintops. The coolness was delicious, and the air was filled with the sweet odors of aromatic shrubs and flowers, with a hint of the pine-forests and balsam-thickets from the higher altitudes. Taking a breakfast solus, pocket-bible in hand I bent my steps up the gorge, often crossing the brook that wound its way among the thickets or sung its song at the foot of the great overhanging cliffs. A shining trout would now and then flash like a silver bar for a moment above the shaded pools. With light step a doe descending the mountain came upon me, and, gazing at me a moment or two with its soft eyes, tripped away. In a narrow pass where the stream rippled over the pebbles between two great walls of rock, a spotted snake crossed my path, hurrying its movement in fright. Fear not, humble ophidian. The war declared between thee and me in the fifteenth verse of the third chapter of Genesis is suspended for this one day. Let no creature die today but by the act of God. Here is the lake. How beautiful! how still! A landslide had dammed the stream where it flowed between steep, lofty banks, backing the waters over a little valley three or four acres in extent, shut in on all sides by the wooded hills, the highest of which rose from its northern margin. Here is my sanctuary, pulpit, choir, and altar. A gigantic pine had fallen into the lake, and its larger branches served to keep the trunk above the water as it lay parallel with the shore. Seated on its trunk, and shaded by some friendly willows that stretch their graceful branches above, the hours pass in a sort of subdued ecstasy of enjoyment. It is peace, the peace of God. No echo of the world's discords reaches me. The only sound I hear is the cooing of a turtledove away off in a distant gorge of the mountain. It floats down to me on the Sabbath air with a pathos as if it voiced the pity of Heaven for the sorrows of a world of sin, and pain, and death. The shadows of the pines are reflected in the pellucid depths, and ever and anon the faintest hint of a breeze sighs among their branches overhead. The lake lies without a ripple below, except when from time to time a gleaming trout throws himself out of the water, and, falling with a splash, disturbs the glassy surface, the concentric circles showing where he went down. Sport on, ye shiny denizens of the deep; no angler shall cast his deceitful hook into your quiet haunts this day. Through the foliage of the overhanging boughs the blue sky is spread, a thin, fleecy cloud at times floating slowly along like a watching angel, and casting a momentary shadow upon the watery mirror below. That sky, so deep and so solemn, woos me - lifts my thought till it touches the Eternal. What mysteries of being lie beyond that sapphire sea? What wonders shall burst upon the vision when this mortal shall put on immortality? I open the Book and read. Isaiah's burning song makes new music to my soul attuned. David's harp sounds a sweeter note. The words of Jesus stir to diviner depths. And when I read in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation the Apocalyptic promise of the new heavens and the new earth, and of the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, a new glory seems to rest upon sky, mountain forest, and lake, and my soul is flooded with a mighty joy. I am swimming in the Infinite Ocean. Not beyond that vast blue canopy is heaven; it is within my own ravished heart! Thus the hours pass, but I keep no note of their flight, and the evening shadows are on the water before I come back to myself and the world. O hallowed day! O hallowed spot! foretaste and prophecy to the weary and burden-bowed soul of the new heavens and the new earth where its blessed ideal shall be a more blessed reality!
It is nearly dark when I get back to the hotel. Supper is over, but I am not hungry - I have feasted on the bread of angels.
"Did you know there was quite a quarrel about you this morning?" asks one of the guests.
The words jar. In answer to my look of inquiry, he proceeds:
"There was a dispute about your holding a religious service at the picnic grounds. They made it a political matter - one party threatened to leave if you did preach, the other threatened to leave if you did not preach. There was quite an excitement about it until it was found that you were gone, and then everybody quieted down."
There is a silence. I break it by telling them how I spent the day, and then they are very quiet.
The next Sabbath every soul at the place united in a request for a religious service, the list headed by a high-spirited and brilliant Pennsylvania lady who had led the opposing forces the previous Sunday.