Julia M. Sloane.

The Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches online

. (page 2 of 7)
Online LibraryJulia M. SloaneThe Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches → online text (page 2 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

serving us with milk ever since, and I'd like to testify that his heart
is in the right place.

Before I leave the subject of wheedling, I might add that if it is a
useful art in summer, in winter it is priceless. After a week of rain,
such as we know how to have in these parts, adobe becomes very slippery.
This hill is steep, and I have spent a week on its top in February,
feeling like the princess in the fairy tale, who lived on a glass hill
ready to marry the first suitor who reached the top; only in my case
there were no suitors at all; even the telegraph boy declined to try
his luck.

Speaking of telegrams, I think that as a source of interest we have been
a boon to this village. One departing friend telegraphed in Latin,
beginning "Salve atque vale." This was a poser. The operator tried to
telephone it, but gave that up. He said, "It's either French or a code."
The following season he referred to it again, remarking, "A telegram
like that just gets my goat."

But to return to the now thoroughly dry Poppy. We determined to sell
her, in spite of the fact that we never are very successful in selling
anything. Things always seem at their bottom price when we have
something to dispose of, while we usually buy when the demand outruns
the supply. Still, I once conducted several quite successful
transactions with an antique dealer in Pennsylvania. I think I was said
to be the only living woman who had ever gotten the best of a bargain
with him, so I was unanimously elected by the family as the one to open
negotiations. A customer actually appeared. We gradually approached a
price by the usual stages, I dwelling on his advantage in having the
calf and trying not to let him see my carking fear that we might be the
unwilling godparents of it if he didn't hurry up and come to terms. At
last the matter was settled. I abandoned my last five-dollar ditch,
thinking that the relief of seeing the last of Poppy would be cheap at
the price. There were four of us, and we would not hesitate to pay two
dollars each for theatre tickets, which would be eight dollars, so
really I was saving money.

A nice little girl with flaxen pigtails brought her father's check. She
and her brother tied Poppy behind their buggy and slowly disappeared
down the hill. There was the flutter of a handkerchief from the other
side of the canyon, and that was all.

In the words of that disturbing telegram:

"Salve atque vale."



"Venite agile, barchetta mia
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!"

accompanied by the enchanting fragrance of burning sage-brush, is wafted
up to my sleeping-porch, and I know that Signor Constantino Garibaldi is
early at work clearing the canyon side so that our Matilija poppies
shall not be crowded out by the wild. It is a pleasant awakening to a
pleasant world as the light morning mist melts away from a bay as
"bright and soft and bloomin' blue" as any Kipling ever saw. It seems
almost too good to be true, that in a perfect Italian setting we should
have stumbled on an Italian gardener, who whistles Verdi as he works.
True, he doesn't know the flowers by name, and in his hands a pair of
clippers are as fatal as the shears in the hands of Atropos, but he is
in the picture. When I see gardeners pruning I realize that that lady of
destiny shows wonderful restraint about our threads of fate - the
temptation to snip seems so irresistible.

Signor Garibaldi is a retired wine merchant driven out-of-doors by
illness, a most courteous and sensitive soul, with a talent for
letter-writing that is alone worth all the plumbago blossoms that he cut
away last year. The following letter was written to J - - while
Garibaldi was in charge of our hill-top, the bareness of which we strove
to cover with wild flowers until we could make just the kind of garden
we wanted:

March 15.


The last time I had the pleasure of see you in your place, Villa
Collina Ridente, you exclaimed with a melancholic voice, "Only
poppies and mignonette came out of the wild flower seeds." "So it
is," said I in the same tune of voice. Time proved we was both
wrong; many other flowers made their retarded appearance, so
deserving the name of wild flower garden....

Your place (pardon _me_ as I am not a violet) could look better,
also could look worse; consequently I consider myself entitled to be
placed between hell and paradise - to have things as one wishes is an
insolvable problem - that era has not come yet.

Many people come over to the Smiling hills, some think it is not
necessary to go any farther to collect flower to make a bouquet.
With forced gentle manner I reproached some of them, ordering to
observe the rule, "vedere e non toccare." It go in force while I am
present, not so in my absence. Those that made proverbs, their names
ought to be immortal. Here for one, "When the cat is gone, the rats
dance." How much true is in the Say. Every visitor like the place
profane or not profane in artistic matter.

A glorious rain came last night to the great content of the farmers
and gardeners - others not so. While I am writing from my
Observatorio I can't see any indication of stopping. I don't think
it will rain as much as when we had the universal deluge, but if the
cause of said deluge was in order to get a better generation, it
may. I don't think the actual generation is better than it was the
anti-deluge, pardon me if you can't digest what I say. I am a
pessimist to the superlative grade, and it is not without reason
that I say so. I had sad experience with the World. Thank God for
having doted me with a generous dose of philosophic! Swimming
against the tide, not me, not such a fool I am!

Here is another pardon that I have to ask and it is to take the
liberty of decorate the Smiling hill with the American flag. La
Bandiera Stellata (note: I am not an American legally, no; to say I
renounce to my country, impossible, but I am an American by heart if
U. Sam can use me. I was not trained to be a soldier, but in matter
of shooting very seldom I fail to get a rabbit when I want it, more
so lately that a box of shells from 60 cents jumped to $1.00). As a
rule the ridents colline are very monotonous, but when I am home,
more so the Sunday, the "Marseillaise" no where is heard more than
here; no animosity against nobody; Cosmopolitan, ardent admirer of
C. Paine! The world is my country; to do good is my religion!

With fervent wishes of not having need of doctors or lawyers; with
best regards to you and family, I am

Yours respectfully,

Unquestionably he has humor. After receiving more or less mixed orders
from me, I have heard him softly singing in the courtyard, "Donna e
mobile." I only regret that as a family we aren't musical enough to
assist with the "Sextette" from "Lucia!"

Ever since we came to California we have been lucky about gardeners. I
don't mean as horticulturists, but from the far more important standard
of picturesqueness. Of course no one could equal Garibaldi with the
romance of a distant relationship to the patriot and the grand manner no
rake or hoe could efface, but Banksleigh had his own interest. He was an
Englishman with pale blue eyes that always seemed to be looking beyond
our horizon into space. There was something rather poetic and ethereal
about him. Perhaps he didn't eat enough, or it may have been the effect
of "New Thought," in one of the fifty-seven varieties of which he was a
firm believer. He told me that his astral colors were red and blue, and
that a phrenologist had told him that a bump on the back of his head
indicated that he ought never to buy mining stock. With the same
instinct that undid Bluebeard's and Lot's wives he had tried it, and
is once more back at his job of gardening with an increased respect
for phrenology.

I have a grudge against phrenologists myself. I had a relative who
went to one when he was a young man, and was told that he had a
wonderful baritone voice that he ought to cultivate. Up to that time
he had only played the flute, but afterwards he sang every evening
through a long life.

It distressed Banksleigh to see me lying about in hammocks on the
verandah. He usually managed to give the vines in my neighborhood extra
attention - like Garibaldi, he was a confirmed pruner. He told me that he
wished I would take up New Thought, and was sure that if I thought
strong I'd be strong. I wonder? One summer, lying in bed in a hospital
where the heat was terrific, I found myself repeating over and over:

"Sabrina fair,
Listen where thou art sitting,
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,"

and finding it far more cooling than iced orange juice. Was not I
proving Banksleigh's contention? I was thinking cool and I was cool. In
his own case New Thought seemed to work. He always looked ready to give
up forever, and yet he never did.

California is full of people with queer quirks and they aren't confined
to gardeners. I haven't had a hair-dresser who wasn't occult or psychic
or something, from the Colonial Dame with premonitions to the last one,
who had both inspirations and vibrations, and my hair keeps right on
coming out.

I don't quite understand why gardeners should be queer. They say that
cooks invariably become affected in time by so much bending over a hot
stove, and that is easy to understand, but bending over nature ought to
have quite the opposite effect, but it doesn't always. The lady gardener
who laid out the garden that finally replaced our wild-flower tangle,
proved that. She had a voice that would be wonderful in a shipyard, a
firmness and determination that would be an asset to Congress and a very
kind heart, also much taste and infinite knowledge of the preferences
and peculiarites of California plants. Her right-hand man, "Will," was
also odd. Unfortunately, his ideas were almost the opposite of hers.
Before they arrived at our gate sounds of altercation were only too
plain. She liked curves in the walks, he preferred corners; she liked
tangles, he liked regular beds. What we liked seemed to be going to cut
very little figure. All that was lacking was our architect friend, who
had made the sketches and offered various suggestions of "amusing"
things we might do. He also is firm, though his manner is mild, so the
situation would have been even more "amusing" for the family on the side
lines, had he been present. Owing to the placing of the house, we are
doomed to have a lopsided garden whatever we do, but we want it to look
wayward rather than eccentric. After a battle fought over nearly every
inch of the ground the lady was victorious, for Will said to me as he
watched her motor disappear: "I might as well do what she says or she'll
make me do it over." In this J - - and I heartily concurred, for the
simplest of arithmetical calculations would show that it would otherwise
prove expensive.

Will had a worker whose unhappy lot it was to dig up stumps, apply the
pick to the adobe parts of the soil, and generally to toil in the sweat
of his brow. As a team they made some progress, and I began to have some
hope of enjoying what I had always been led to believe was the treat
of one's life - making a garden. I felt entirely care-free - the lady
gardener was the boss and there was only room for one - directions
were a drug on the market. This state of affairs was short-lived. Will
failed to appear the third day out, and the lady gardener's pumping
system for her nurseries blew up or leaked or lay down on the job in
some way, so that the worker and I confronted each other, ignorant and
unbossed. I will not dwell on the week that followed. The lady gardener
gave almost vicious orders by telephone and the worker did his best, but
it is not a handy way to direct a garden. When the last rosebush is in,
including some that Will is gloomily certain will never grow, I think I
shall go away for a rest to some place where there is only cactus and
sage and sand.

J - - arrived on the scene in time to save the day, and the garden is
very lovely. Next year it will be worth going a long way to see, for in
this part of the world planting things is like playing with Japanese
water flowers. A wall of gray stucco gently curves along the canyon
side, while a high lattice on the other shows dim outlines of the hills
beyond. In the wall are arches with gates so curved as to leave circular
openings, through which we get glimpses of the sea. It makes me think of
King Arthur's castle at Tintagel. In the lattice there is a wicket gate.
There is something very alluring about a wicket gate - it connotes a
Robin. Unfortunately, my Robin can only appear from Friday to Monday,
but I'm not complaining. Any one is fortunate who can count on romance
two days out of seven. At the far end of the garden is a screen designed
to hide the peculiarites of the garage. The central panel is concrete
with a window with green balusters; below is a wall fountain. The window
suggests a half-hidden señorita. It really conceals a high-school boy
who is driving the motor for me in J - - 's absence, but that is
immaterial. The fountain is set with sapphire-blue tiles and the water
trickles from the mouth of the most amiable lion I ever saw. He was
carved from Boisè stone by one "Luigi" from a sketch by our architect
friend. He has Albrecht Dürer curls - the lion I mean - four on a side
that look like sticks of peppermint candy and we call him "Boysey."

The pool below him is a wonderful place for boat sailing. It fairly
bristles with the masts of schooners and yachts, and the guns of torpedo
destroyers, and while the architect and the grown-ups did not have a
naval base in mind when the sketch was made, I do appreciate the
feelings of my sons.

"There's a fountain in our garden,
With the brightest bluest tiles
And the pleasantest stone lion
Who spits into it and smiles!
It's shaded by papyrus
And reeds and grasses tall,
Just a little land-locked harbor
Beside the garden wall.

"They talked of water-lilies
And lotus pink and white -
We didn't dare to say a word
But we _wished_ with all our might,
For how could we manoeuvre
The submarine we've got,
If they go and clutter up the place
With all that sort of rot.

"But mother said she thought perhaps
We'd wait another year,
'It's such a lovely place to play,
We ought to keep it clear.'
So there's nothing but a goldfish
Who has to be a Hun,
I don't suppose he likes it,
But gee, it's lots of fun!"

Some day we are going to have a sun dial. J - - thought of a wonderful
motto in the best Latin, and now he can't remember it, which is
harrowing, because it would be so stylish to have a perfectly original
one. It was something about not wanting to miss the shady hours for the
sake of having all sunny ones. At any rate, we are resolved not to have
"I count none but sunny hours."

There are all kinds of responsibilities in life, and picking the right
shade of paint for a house you have to live in is a most wearing one.
Painting the trimming of ours in connection with the garden was very
agitating. I had sample bits of board painted and took them about town,
trying them next to houses I liked, and at last decided on a wicked
Spanish green that the storms of winter are expected to mellow. As I saw
it being put on the house I felt panic-stricken. For a nice fresh
vegetable or salad, yes, but for a house - never! And yet it is a great
success! I don't know whether it has "sunk in," as the painter consoled
me by predicting, or whether it is that we are used to it; at any rate,
every one likes it so much that I have cheerfully removed smears of it
from the clothing of all the family, including the puppies' tails.

As to ourselves in the rôle of gardeners - there were not two greener
greenhorns when we first resolved to stay in California; we still are,
though I think I do J - - an injustice in classing him with me. We can
make geraniums grow luxuriantly, but we don't want to. I wish they would
pass a law in Southern California making the growing of red geraniums a
criminal offense. So many people love to combine them with bougainvillia
and other brilliant pink or purple flowers, and the light is hard enough
on eyes without adding that horror. We are resolved to progress from the
geranium age to the hardy perennial class, and are industriously
studying books and magazines with that end in view. The worst of garden
literature is that it is nearly all written for an Eastern climate. Once
I subscribed for a garden magazine, lured by a bargain three months'
offer. Never again! At the end of the time, when no regular subscription
came in from me, letters began to arrive. Finally one saying, "You
probably think this is another letter urging you to subscribe. It is
not; it is only to beg that you will confidentially tell us why you do
not." I told him that all our conditions here are so different from
those in the East. People want Italian and Spanish gardens, and there is
the most marvellous choice of flowers, shrubs, and vines with which to
get them, but we want to be told how, and added to this, it is
heart-breaking to love a fountain nymph in the advertisements and to
find that her travelling expenses would bankrupt you.

One marvellous opportunity we have - the San Diego Exposition, whose
gardens are more lovely than ever, though soldiers and sailors are
feeding the pigeons in the Plaza de Panama instead of tourists. The real
intention of that exposition was to show people in this part of the
world what they could do with the great variety of plants and shrubs
that thrive here.

I used to wonder why so little has been written about gardeners when
there are shelves and shelves of volumes on gardens. There are no famous
gardeners in literature that occur to me at the moment except Tagore's,
and the three terrified ones in _Alice's Adventures in Wonderland_, who
were hurriedly painting the white roses red. I should love to read the
diary of the one who trimmed the borders while Boccaccio's gay company
were occupying that garden; or to hear what the head gardener of the
d'Este's could tell us, but I know now why it is so. With the best of
intentions I haven't been able to avoid the pitfall myself.



There may be a more smiling hill-top than "La Collina Ridente" somewhere
on the Southern California edge of the Pacific Ocean, but deep down in
my heart I don't believe that there is. It is just the right size
hill-top - except when I first began to drive the motor, and then it
seemed a trifle small for turning around. It's just high enough above
the coast highway and the town to give us seclusion, and it's just far
enough from the waves to be peaceful. It used to be called "Suma
Paz" - perfect peace - but we changed the name, that being so unpleasantly
suggestive of angels, and, anyway, there isn't such a thing. If "The
Smiling Hill-Top" were everything it seems on a blue and green day like
to-day, for instance, it would be a menace to my character. I should
never leave, I should exist beautifully, leading the life of a
cauliflower or bit of seaweed floating in one of the pools in the rocks,
or to be even more tropically poetic, a lovely lotus flower! I should
not bother about the children's education or grieve over J - - 's
bachelor state of undarned socks and promiscuous meals, or the various
responsibilities I left behind in town, so it is fortunate that there
are thorns. Every garden, from Eden down, has produced them.

I haven't catalogued mine, I have just put them down "higgledy-piggledy,"
as we used to say when we were children. J - - 's having to work in town,
too far to come home except for an occasional week-end, the neighbors'
dogs, servants, Bermuda grass, tenants, ants, the eccentricities of an
adobe road during the rains, and the lapses of the delivery system of
the village. Of course they are of varying degrees of unpleasantness.
J - - 's absence is horrid but the common lot, so I have accepted it
and am learning "to possess, in loneliness, the joy of all the earth."
Truth compels me to add that it isn't always loneliness, either, as,
for example, one week-end that was much cheered by a visit from our
architect friend, who rode down from Santa Barbara in his motor, and
made himself very popular with every member of the household. He brought
home the laundry, bearded the ice man in his lair, making ice-cream
possible for Sunday dinner, mended the garden lattice, and drew
entrancing pictures of galleons sailing in from fairy shores with
all their canvas spread, for the boys. As we waved our handkerchiefs
to him from the Good-by Gate on Monday, Joedy turned to me:

"I wish he didn't have to go!" A little pause.

"Muvs, if you weren't married to Father, how would you like - " but here
I interrupted by calling his attention to a rabbit in the canyon.

One thing I do not consider a part of the joy of all the earth - the
neighbors' dogs. On the next hill-top is an Airedale with a voice like a
fog-horn. He is an ungainly creature and thoroughly disillusioned,
because his family keep him locked up in a wire-screened tennis-court,
where he barks all day and nearly all night. He can watch the motors on
the coast road from one corner of his cage, and that seems to drive him
almost wild. He ought to realize how much better off he is than the Lady
of Shalott, who only dared to watch the highway to Camelot in a mirror!
Sometimes he has a bad attack of lamentation in the night - he is quite
Jeremiah's peer at that - and then we all call his house on the
telephone. You can see the lights flash on in the various cottages and
hear the tinkle of the bell, as we each in turn voice our indignation.
Once I even saw a white-robed figure in the road across the canyon, and
heard a voice borne on the night wind, "For heaven's sake, shut that dog
up." We all bore it with Christian resignation when his family decided
to take a motor camping trip, Prince to be included in the party. He is
probably even now waking the echoes on Lake Tahoe, or barking himself
hoarse at the Bridal Veil Falls in the Yosemite, but thank goodness we
can't hear him quite as far away as that.

I dare say that he might be a perfectly nice, desirable dog if he had
had any early training. Our own "pufflers," as the boys call "Rags" and
"Tags," their twin silver-haired Yorkshire terriers, could tell him what
a restraining influence the force of early training has on them, even on
moonlight nights.

Prince is the worst affliction we have had, but not the only one. The
people on the mountain-slope above us acquired a yellowish collie-like
dog to scare away coyotes. He ought to have been a success at it, though
I don't know just what it takes to scare a coyote. At any rate, he used
to bark long and grievously about dawn in the road across the canyon.
One morning I was almost frantic with the irregularity of his outbursts.
It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Suddenly a rifle shot
rang out; a spurt of yellow dust, a streak of yellow dog, and silence!
I rushed to J - - 's room, to find him with the weapon, still smoking,
in his hands. I begged him not to start a neighborhood feud, even if
we never slept after dawn. I even wept. He laughed at me. "I didn't
shoot at him," he said. "I shot a foot behind him, and I've given him
a rare fright!" He had, indeed. The terror of the coyotes never came
near us again.

As to servants, the subject is so rich that I can only choose.
Unfortunately, the glory of the view does not make up to them for the
lack of town bustle and nightly "movies," so it isn't always easy to
make comfortable summer arrangements. As you start so you go on, for
changing horses in mid-stream has ever been a parlous business. A
temperamental high-school boy who came to drive the motor and water the
garden, though he appeared barefooted to drive me to town, and took
French leave for a day's fishing, pinning a note to the kitchen door,
saying, "Expect me when you see me and don't wait dinner," afflicted me
one entire summer. I tried to rouse his ambition by pointing out the
capitalists who began by digging ditches - California is full of
them - and assuring him that there were no heights to which he might not
rise by patient application, etc. It was no use. He watered the garden

2 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryJulia M. SloaneThe Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches → online text (page 2 of 7)