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The Smiling Hill-Top
and Other California Sketches



Illustrated by



Copyright, 1919, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

_Published October, 1919_




Introduction 1
The Smiling Hill-Top 5
A California Poppy 19
Gardeners 35
Thorns 55
The Gypsy Trail 77
An Adventure in Solitude 94
A Sabine Farm 116
The Land of "Whynot" 132
Where the Trade Wind Blows 155
Sunkist 176



The following sketches are entirely informal. They do not cover the
subject of Southern California in any way. In fact, they contain no
information whatever, either about the missions or history - a little,
perhaps, about the climate and the fruits and flowers of the earth, but
that has crept in more or less unavoidably. They are the record of what
happened to happen to a fairly light-hearted family who left New England
in search of rest and health. There are six of us, two grown-ups, two
boys, and two dogs. We came for a year and, like many another family,
have taken root for all our days - or so it seems now.

The reactions of more or less temperamental people, suddenly
transplanted from a rigorous climate to sunshine and the beauty and
abundance of life in Southern California, perhaps give a too highly
colored picture, so please make allowance for the bounce of the ball. I
mean to be quite fair. It doesn't rain from May to October, but when it
does, it can rain in a way to make Noah feel entirely at home.
Unfortunately, that is when so many of our visitors come - in February!
They catch bad colds, the roses aren't in bloom, and altogether they
feel that they have been basely deceived.

We rarely have thunder-storms, or at least anything you could dignify by
that name, but we do have horrid little shaky earthquakes. We don't have
mosquitoes in hordes, such as the Jersey coast provides, but we do
sometimes come home and hear what sounds like a cosy tea-kettle in the
courtyard, whereupon the defender of the family reaches for his gun and
there is one rattlesnake less to dread.

On our hill-top there are quantities of wild creatures - quail, rabbits,
doves, and ground squirrels and, unfortunately, a number of social
outcasts. Never shall I forget an epic incident in our history - the head
of the family in pajamas at dawn, in mortal combat with a small
black-and-white creature, chasing it through the cloisters with the
garden hose. Oh, yes, there is plenty of adventure still left, even
though we don't have to cross the prairies in a wagon.

People who know California and love it, I hope may enjoy comparing notes
with me. People who have never been here and who vaguely think of it as
a happy hunting-ground for lame ducks and black sheep, I should like to
tempt across the Rockies that they might see how much more it is than
that. It may be a lotus land to some, to many it truly seems the
promised land.

"Shall we be stepping westward?"



No one should attempt to live on top of an adobe hill one mile from a
small town which has been brought up on the Declaration of Independence,
without previously taking a course in plain and fancy wheedling. This is
the mature judgment of a lady who has tried it. Not even in California!

When we first took possession of our hill-top early one June, nothing
was farther from my thoughts. "Suma Paz," "Perfect Peace," as the place
was called, came to me from a beloved aunt who had truly found it that.
With it came a cow, a misunderstood motor, and a wardrobe trunk. A
Finnish lady came with the cow, and my brother-in-law's chauffeur
graciously consented to come with the motor. The trunk was empty. It was
all so complete that the backbone of the family, suddenly summoned on
business, departed for the East, feeling that he had left us comfortably
established for the month of his absence. The motor purred along the
nine miles to the railroad station without the least indication of the
various kinds of internal complications about to develop, and he boarded
the train, beautifully composed in mind, while we returned to our

It is a most enchanting spot. A red-tiled bungalow is built about a
courtyard with cloisters and a fountain, while vines and flowers fill
the air with the most delicious perfume of heliotrope, mignonette, and
jasmine. Beyond the big living-room extends a terrace with boxes of deep
and pale pink geraniums against a blue sea, that might be the Bay of
Naples, except that Vesuvius is lacking. It is so lovely that after
three years it still seems like a dream. We are only one short look from
the Pacific Ocean, that ocean into whose mists the sun sets in flaming
purple and gold, or the more soft tones of shimmering gray and
shell-pink. We sit on our terrace feeling as if we were in a proscenium
box on the edge of the world, and watch the ever-varying splendor. At
night there is the same sense of infinity, with the unclouded stars
above, and only the twinkling lights of motors threading their way down
the zigzag of the coast road as it descends the cliffs to the plain
below us. These lights make up in part for the fewness of the harbor
lights in the bay. The Pacific is a lonely ocean. There are so few
harbors along the coast where small boats can find shelter that yachts
and pleasure craft hardly exist. Occasionally we see the smoke of a
steamer on its way to or from ports of Lower California, as far south as
the point where the curtain drops on poor distracted Mexico, for there
trade ceases and anarchy begins. There is a strip of land, not belonging
to the United States, called Lower California, controlled by a handsome
soldierly creature, Governor Cantu, whose personal qualities and motives
seem nicely adapted to holding that much, at least, of Mexico in
equilibrium. Only last summer he was the guest of our small but
progressive village at a kind of love feast, where we cemented our
friendship with whale steaks and ginger ale dispensed on the beach, to
the accompaniment of martial music, while flags of both countries shared
the breeze. Though much that is picturesque, especially in the way of
food - enciladas, tamales and the like - strays across the border, bandits
do not, and we enjoy a sense of security that encourages basking in the
sun. Just one huge sheet of water, broken by islands, lies between us
and the cherry blossoms of Japan! There is a thrill about its very
emptiness, and yet since I have seen the Golden Gate I know that that
thrill is nothing to the sensation of seeing a sailing ship with her
canvas spread, bound for the far East. From the West to the East the
spell draws. First from the East to the West; from the cold and storms
of New England to our land of sun it beckons, and then unless we hold
tight, the lure of the South Seas and the glamour of the Far East calls
us. I know just how it would be. Perhaps my spirit craves adventuring
the more for the years my body has had to spend in a chaise longue or
hammock, fighting my way out of a shadow. Anyway, I have heard the call,
but I have put cotton in my ears and am content that life allows me
three months out of the twelve of magic and my hill-top.

There is a town, of course - there has to be, else where would we post
our letters. It's as busy as a beehive with its clubs and model
playgrounds, its New Thought and its "Journal," but I don't have to be
of it. There are only so many hours in the day. I go around "in circles"
all winter; in summer I wish to invite my soul, and there isn't time for
both. I think I am regarded by the people in the village as a mixture of
recluse and curmudgeon, but who cares if they can live on a hill?

One flaw there was in the picture, and that is where the first
experiment in wheedling came in. A large telegraph pole on our property
line bisected the horizon like one of the parallels on a map. It seemed
to us at times to assume the proportions of the Washington Monument. I
firmly made up my mind to have it down if I did nothing else that
summer, and I succeeded, though I began in July and it was not till
October that it finally fell crushing into the sage brush, and for the
first time we saw the uninterrupted curve of beach melting into the pale
greenish cliffs beyond.

The property on which the pole stood belonged to a real-estate man. He
was pleasant and full of rosy dreams of a suburban villa resort, the gem
of the Pacific Coast. That part was easy. He and I together visited the
offices of the corporations owning the wires on that pole. As they had
no legal right of way they had to promise to remove it and many others,
to the tune of several hundred dollars. Nothing was left them but the
game of delay. They told me their men were busy, that all the copper
wire was held up by a landslide in the Panama Canal, that the
superintendent was on a vacation, etc. However, the latter gentleman had
to come back some time, and when he did I plaintively told him my
troubles. I said I had had a very hard and disappointing summer, and
that it would soothe me enormously to have one look at that view as the
Lord intended it to be, before I had to go away for the winter, that it
was in his power to give me that pleasure, etc.

Perhaps it was an unusual method, but it worked so well that I have
often employed it since. I may say incidentally that it is of no use
with the ice man. Perhaps dealing with merchandise below zero keeps his
resistance unusually good. I have never been able to extract a pound of
ice from him, even for illness, except on his regular day and in my
proper turn. I think I should also except the fish man, who always
promises to call Fridays and never does; much valuable time have I lost
in searching the highways and byways for his old horse and white wagon.

Next to the execution of the telegraph pole I felt a little grass lawn
to be of the utmost importance. Nothing could better show how short a
time I had been in California than not to realize that even if you can
afford to dine on caviar, paté de fois gras, and fresh mushrooms, grass
may be beyond your means. I bravely had the ground prepared and sown.
First, the boys' governess watered it so hard that it removed all the
seed, so we tried again. Then the water was shut off while pipes were
being laid on the highway below, and only at dawn and after dark could
we get a drop. I did the watering in my night-gown, and was soon
rewarded by a little green fuzz. Then all the small rabbits for miles
around gathered there for breakfast. They were so tame you could hardly
drive them away, so I invited the brothers who kept the hardware store
in the village to come up and shoot them. They came gladly and brought
their friends, but were so very anxious to help that I thought they were
going to shoot the children too, and had politely to withdraw my
invitation. The gardener and I then made a luscious compound of bacon
grease and rough-on-rats, which we served on lettuce leaves and left
about the edges of the grass plot. Did you ever hear a rabbit scream?
They do. I felt like Lucretia Borgia, and decided that if they wanted
the lawn they could have it. Oddly enough, a lot of grass came up in
quite another part of the garden. I suppose it was the first planting
that Fräulein had blown away with the hose! We often have surprises like
that in gardening. We once planted window-boxes of mignonette and they
came up petunias - volunteer petunias at that. Of course, it all adds to
the interest and adventure of life.

After the water-pipes were laid the gas deserted us, and we had a few
meals cooked on all the little alcohol lamps we could muster. Then the
motor fell desperately ill, and from then on was usually to be found
strewed over the floor of the garage. Jerome K. Jerome says about
bicycles, that if you have one you must decide whether you will ride it
or overhaul it. This applies as well to motors. We decided to overhaul
ours with a few brief excursions, just long enough to give an
opportunity for having it towed home. One late afternoon we were
hurrying across the mesa to supper, when our magneto flew off into the
ditch, scattering screws in all directions. Fortunately, a kind of
Knight Errant to our family appeared just in the nick of time to take us
home and send help to the wreck. I once kept a garage in San Diego open
half an hour after closing time by a Caruso sob in my voice over the
telephone, while my brother-in-law's miserable chauffeur hurried over
for an indispensable part.

Poppy, the cow, contributed her bit - it wasn't milk, either - to this
complicated month, but deserves a chapter all to herself.

The backbone of the family found my letters "so entertaining" at first,
but gradually a note of uneasiness crept into his replies after I had
told him that Joedy had fallen out of the machine and had just escaped
our rear wheels, and that the previous night we had had three
earthquakes. I had never felt an earthquake before, and it will be some
time before I develop the nonchalance of a seasoned Californian, whose
way of referring to one is like saying, "Oh, yes, we did have a few
drops of rain last night." One more little tremble and I should have
gathered the family for a night in the garden.

After an incendiary had set fire to several houses in town, and Fräulein
had had a peculiar seizure that turned her a delicate sea-green, while
she murmured, "I am going to die," I sat down and took counsel with
myself. What next? I bought a rattlesnake antidote outfit - that, at
least, I could anticipate, and then I went out with the axe and hacked
out the words "Suma Paz" from the pergola. We are now "The Smiling
Hill-Top," for though peace does not abide with us, we keep right on



It would doubtless be the proper thing for me to begin by quoting

"The friendly cow, all red and white,
I love with all my heart," etc.

but I'd rather not. In the first place she wasn't, and in the second
place I didn't. The only thing about it that fits is the color scheme;
Poppy was a red-and-white cow, but I'd rather not. In the first place
she wasn't, and in the second place I didn't. The only thing about it
that fits is the color scheme; Poppy was a red-and-white cow, or rather
a kind of strawberry roan. Perhaps she didn't like being inherited (she
came to us with "The Smiling Hill-Top"), or maybe she was lonely on the
hillside and felt that it was too far from town. Almost all the natives
of the village feel that way; or perhaps she took one of those aversions
to me that aren't founded on anything in particular. At any rate, I
never saw any expression but resentment in her eye, so that no warm
friendship ever grew up between us.

The only other cow we ever boarded - I use the word advisedly - did not
feel any more drawn to me than Poppy. Evidently I am not the type that
cows entwine their affections about. She was Pennsylvania Dutch and
shared Poppy's sturdy appetite, though it all went to figure. Two quaint
maiden ladies next door took care of her and handed the milk over our
fence, while it was still foaming in the pail. Miss Tabitha and Miss
Letitia - how patient they were with me in my abysmal ignorance of the
really vital things of life, such as milking, preserving, and pickling!
They undertook it all for me, but in the end I had a small laugh at
their expense. I gave them my grandmother's recipes for brandied peaches
and pickled peaches, and though rigidly temperance, they consented to do
a dozen jars of each. Alas! they mingled the two - now as I write it down
I wonder if perhaps they did it on purpose, on the principle that drug
stores now put a dash of carbolic in our 95 per cent alcohol. In which
case, of course, the joke is on me.

To return to Poppy. At first I was delighted with the thought of
unlimited milk, bought a churn and generally prepared to enjoy being a
dairymaid. I soon found out my mistake. Poppy was "drying up" just as
the vegetation was. The Finn woman who milked her morning and night, and
who seemed to be in much closer sympathy with her than I ever hoped to
be, said that what she must have was green food. Having no lawn, for
reasons previously stated, that was a poser. My brother-in-law's
chauffeur, who was lent to me for a month, unbent sufficiently to go to
town and press a bill into the hand of the head gardener of "The Place"
of the village, so that we might have the grass mowed from that lawn.
Alas for frail human nature! It seems that he disappeared from view
about once in so often, and that his feet at that moment were trembling
on the brink. So he slid over the edge, and the next man in charge had
other friends with other cows. I tried the vegetable man next. He was a
pleasant Greek, and promised me all his beet-tops and wilted lettuce.
That was good as far as it went, but Poppy would go through a crate of
lettuce as I would a bunch of grapes, and I couldn't see that we got any
more milk. The Finn woman said that the flies annoyed her and that no
cow would give as much milk if she were constantly kicking and stamping
to get them off. She advised me to get some burlap for her. That seemed
simple, but it wasn't. Nothing was simple connected with that cow. I
found I could only get stiff burlap, such as you put on walls, in art
green, and I couldn't picture Poppy in a kimono of that as being
anything but wretched. Finally, in a hardware store, the proprietor took
an interest in my sad tale, and said he'd had some large shipments come
in lately wrapped in burlap, and that I could have a piece. He
personally went to the cellar for it and gave it to me as a present.

Much cheered, I hurried home and we put Poppy into her brown jacket,
securing it neatly with strings. By morning, I regret to say, she had
kicked it to shreds. Also the Finn woman decided that she needed higher
pay and more milk as her perquisite. Since we were obviously "city
folks" she thought she might as well hold us up, and she felt sure that
I couldn't get any one in her place. I surprised her by calmly replying
that she could go when her week was up, and I would get some one else.
It was a touch of rhetoric on my part, for I didn't suppose that I could
any more than she did, though I was resolved to make a gallant fight,
even if I had to enlist the services of the dry cleaner, who was the
only person who voluntarily called almost daily to see if we had any
work to be done.

The joke of it was that I had no trouble at all. A youth of sixteen, who
viewed me in the light of "opportunity knocking at the door," gladly
accepted my terms. He was the son of the foreman at a dairy in the
neighborhood, and rode over night and morning on a staid old mare loaned
him by the dairyman.

Donald was bright and willing, and eventually was able to get near
enough to Poppy to milk her, though she never liked him. The Finn woman
was the only person with whom she was in sympathy. I think they were
both Socialists. Donald said we must do something about the flies. I
told him about my attempts to dress her in burlap, and we concluded that
a spray was the thing. Donald brought a nice antiseptic smelling
mixture, and we put it on her with the rose sprayer. Probably we were
too impulsive; anyway, the milk was very queer. Did you ever eat saffron
cake in Cornwall? It tasted like that. The children declined it firmly,
and I sympathized with them. After practice we managed to spray her in a
more limited way.

By this time we were having sherbet instead of ice-cream for Sunday
dinner, and my ideas of a private cow had greatly altered.

I have a black list that has been growing through life; things I wish
never to have again: tapioca pudding, fresh eggs if I have to hear the
hen brag about it at 5 A.M., tripe, and home-grown milk, and to this
list I have lately added cheese. Every one is familiar with the maxim
that rest is a change of occupation. J - - , being tired of Latin verbs,
Greek roots, and dull scholars generally, took up some interesting
laboratory work after we emigrated to California. Growing Bulgarian
bacilli to make fermented milk that would keep us all perennially
amiable while we grew to be octogenarians, was one thing, but when the
company, lured by the oratory of a cheese expert, were beguiled into
making cream cheese - just the sort of cheese that Lucullus and Ponce de
Leon both wanted but did not find - our troubles began. The company is
composed of one minister with such an angelic expression that no one can
refuse to sign anything if he holds out a pen; one aviator with youth,
exuberant spirits, and a New England setness of purpose; one
schoolmaster - strong on facing facts and callous to camouflage, and one
temperamental cheese man. (It turned out afterward, however, that the
janitor could make the best cheese of them all.) Developing a cheese
business is a good deal like conducting a love affair - it blows hot and
cold in a nerve-racking way. It is "the Public." You never can tell
about the Public! Sometimes it wants small packages for a small sum, or
large packages for more, but mostly, what it frankly wants is a large
package for a small sum! Some dealers didn't like the trade-mark. It was
changed. It then turned out that the first trade-mark was really what
was wanted. Then the cheese man fell desperately ill, which was a
calamity, as neither the Book of Common Prayer, an aeroplane, nor a
Latin Grammar is what you need in such a crisis.

J - - waded dejectedly about in whey until a new cheese man took the
helm. He also fell ill. I always supposed that making cheese was a kind
of healthful, bucolic occupation, but I was wrong. Apparently every one
that tries it steers straight for a nervous break-down. I have gotten to
a point myself where, if any one quotes "Miss Muffet" to me, I emit a
low, threatening growl.

However, I'm digressing, for our life was not complicated by cheese or
Bulgarian bacilli till much later (and when you think of what the Bulgos
have done to the Balkans we can't really complain).

That first summer Poppy seemed care enough. A neighbor across the
canyon, who had known her in her girlhood, took too vital an interest
in her daily life. It was maddening to be called on the telephone at
all hours and told that Poppy had had no fresh drinking water since such
and such an hour, or to have Donald waylaid and admonished to give
her plenty to eat. That she had, as my bills at the feed and fuel store
can prove.

At this juncture the backbone of the family fell desperately ill, and I
flew to the hospital where he was, leaving Poppy to kick and stamp and
lose tethering pins and dry up at her own sweet will. After the danger
and strain were over, I found myself also tucked into a hospital bed,
while a trained nurse watched over the children and Poppy. One morning a
frantic letter arrived. Poppy _had_ dried up! According to what lights
we had to guide us, it was far too soon, but reasoning did not alter the
fact. There was no milk for the boys, and the dairyman had always
declined to deliver milk on our hill, it was outside his route! Two
helpless persons flat on their backs in a hospital are at a disadvantage
in a crisis like that. However, one must always find a way. I think I
have expressed myself elsewhere as to the value of wheedling. It seemed
our only hope. I wrote a letter to the owner of that dairy, in which I
frankly recognized the fact that our hill was steep and the road bad,
that it was out of his way and probably he had no milk to spare, anyway,
but that Billie and Joe had to have milk, and that their parents were
both down and out, and that it was his golden opportunity to do, not a
stroke of business, but an act of kindness! It worked. He has been

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