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when I watched him; otherwise not. I came to the final conclusion that
he was in love. Love is responsible for so much.

Another summer I decided to try darkies and carefully selected two of
contrasting shades of brown. The cook was a slim little quadroon, with
flashing white teeth and hair arranged in curious small doughnuts all
over her head. She was a grass widow with quite an assortment of
children, though she looked little more than a child herself. "Grandma"
was taking care of them while the worthless husband was supposed to be
running an elevator in New Orleans. Essie had quite lost interest in
him, I gathered, for I brought her letters and candy from another swain,
who used such thin paper that I couldn't avoid seeing the salutation,
"Oh, you chicken!"

Mandy was quite different. She was a rich seal brown, large and
determined, and had left a husband on his honor, in town. We had hardly
washed off the dust of our long motor-ride before trouble began. A
telegram for Mandy conveyed the disquieting news that George had been
arrested on a charge of assault at the request of "grandma." It appeared
that after seeing wifey off for the seashore he felt the joy of bachelor
freedom so strongly that he dropped in to see Essie's mother, who gave
him a glass of sub rosa port, which so warmed his heart that he tried to
embrace her. Grandma was only thirty-four and would have been pretty
except for gaps in the front ranks of her teeth. She had spirit as well
as spirits, and had him clapped into jail. Telegrams came in - do you say
droves, covies, or flocks? Night letters especially, and long-distance
telephone calls - all collect. The neighbors, the Masons, the lawyer, and
various relatives all went into minute detail. Grandma, being the
injured party, prudently confined herself to the mail. As we have only
one servant's room and that directly under my sleeping-porch, it made it
very pleasant! The choicest telegram J - - took down late one night. It
was from one of Mandy's neighbors, and ended with the illuminating
statement: "George never had a gun or a knife on him; he was soused at
the time!" Mandy emerged from bed, clad in a red kimono and a pink
boudoir cap, to receive this comforting message. She wept; Essie, who
had followed in order to miss nothing, scowled, while J - - and I wound
our bath-robes tightly about us and gritted our teeth, in an effort to
preserve a proper solemnity. Of course we had to let her go back to the
trial, which she did with the dignity of one engaged in affairs of
state. She and the judge had a kind of mother's meeting about George,
and decided that a touch of the law might be just the steadying
influence he needed.

The sentence was for three months, which suited me exactly, as I
calculated that his release and our return to town would happily
synchronize. Mandy really stood the gaff pretty well and returned to her
job, and an armed neutrality ensued, varied by mild outbreaks. Essie was
afraid of Mandy. She said that she would never stay in the house with
her alone; Mandy wouldn't stay in the house alone after dark, so it
became rather complicated. We apparently had to take them or else find
them weeping on the hillside, when we came back from a picnic. In
justice to the darky heart I must say that when Billie was taken very
ill they buried the hatchet for the time, and helped us all to pull
him through.

The summer was almost over when I began to suffer from a strange
hallucination. I kept seeing a colored gentleman slipping around corners
when I approached. As Mandy was usually near said corner, I certainly
thought of George, but calmed myself with the reflection that he was
safe in jail. Not so. George had experienced a change of heart and had
behaved in so exemplary a manner that his sentence had been shortened
two weeks, and what more natural than that he should join his wife? It
wasn't that I was afraid of George; I was afraid for George. I did not
want him to meet Essie, for if Grandma's smile had cost him so dearly, I
hated to think of the effect of Essie's black eyes and unbroken set of
white teeth. I needn't have worried, for George was apparently "sick of
lies and women," and never let go his hold on the apron-string to which
he was in duty bound.

This summer I am unusually fortunate, owing to a moment of clear vision
that I had forty-eight hours before leaving town. I had a Christian
Science cook, a real artist if given unlimited materials, and she didn't
mind loneliness, as she said that God is everywhere; to which I heartily
agreed. I know that He is on this hill-top. So far so good, but her idea
of obeying Mr. Hoover's precepts was not to mention that any staple was
out until the last moment. At about six o'clock she usually came
pussy-footing to my door in the tennis shoes she always wore, to tell me
that there wasn't a potato in the house, or any butter. Not so bad in
Pasadena, with a man to send to the store, but very trying on a smiling
hill-top, one mile from town, with me the only thing dimly suggestive of
a chauffeur on the place. At 3 A.M. I resolved to bounce her, heavenly
disposition and all. I did, and engaged a cateress for what I should
call a comfortable salary, rather than wages. She can get up a very
appetizing meal from sawdust and candle-ends, when necessary, and that
is certainly what is needed nowadays. Also, she has launched a wonderful
counter-offensive against the ants. There was a time when we ate our
meals surrounded by a magic circle like Brunhilde, but ours was not of
flames, but of ant powder. Not that they mind it much. I'm told that
they rather dislike camphor, but do you know the present price of that
old friend?

There are singularly few pests or blights in the garden itself. Bermuda
or devil grass is one of our Western specialties, though it may have
invaded the East, too, since we left. It is an unusually husky plant,
rooting itself afresh at every joint with new vigor, and quite choking
out the aristocratic blue grass with which we started our lawn. At first
you don't notice it as it sneaks along the ground, some time above and
some time below, as it feels disposed, and then suddenly you see it's
cobwebby outlines as plainly as the concealed animals in a newspaper
puzzle. If you begin to pull it out you can't stop. It reminds me of the
German system of espionage, and that adds zest to my weeding. The other
day I laboriously uprooted an intricate network of tentacles, all
leading to one big root, which I am sure must have been Wilhelmstrasse
itself. Being able to do so little to help win the war, this is a
valuable imaginative outlet to me!

Everything about the place, as well as the lawn, seems to get out of
order when we have tenants. No one likes tenants any more than we like
"Central." There is a prejudice against them. They do the things they
ought not to do and leave undone the things they ought to do, and there
is no health in them. I have more often been one than had one, and I
hate to think of the language that was probably used about us, though we
meant well.

I am not going to tell all I know about tenants after all. I have
changed my mind. I am also going to draw a veil over the adobe road
during the rains, because we really do like to rent the place to help
pay for the children's and the motor's shoes, and it wouldn't be
good business.

The village delivery system enrages and entertains me by turns. I was
frankly told by the leading grocery store that they did not expect to
deliver to people who had their own motors, and when I occasionally
insist on a few necessities being sent up to my house, they arrive
after dark conveyed by an ancient horse, as the grocery manager is
conservative. A horse doesn't get a puncture or break a vital part often
(if he does, you bury him and get another) and it is about a toss-up
between hay and gasoline.

Every now and then I am marooned on my hill, if the motor is "hors de
combat," and then I get my neighbour to let me join her in her morning
marketing trip, sometimes with disastrous results. One day the boys and
I sat down to dinner with fine sea-air appetites, to be confronted by a
small, crushed-looking fish. I sent out to ask the cook for more. She
said there was no more, and as no miracle was wrought in our behalf, we
filled up the void with mashed potatoes as best we could. Just as the
plates were being removed the telephone rang, and my neighbor's agitated
voice asked if I had her cat's dinner! Light flooded in on my
understanding. We had just eaten her cat's dinner. She went on to say
that the fish-man had picked out a little barracuda (our household fish
in California) from his scraps and made her a present of it. I faintly
asked if she thought it was a very old one, visions of ptomaine
poisoning rising vividly. Oh, no, she said, "it wasn't old at all, he
had merely stepped on it." My own perfectly good dinner was at her
house. I told her to take off a portion for her cat, and I would send
the boys for the rest. I heaved a sigh of relief - a fresh young fish,
even if crushed, would not have fatal results.

I will pass rapidly on to my last thorn, which isn't on the list because
I'm not quite sure that it is one. It is a small, second-hand, rather
vicious little motor, which I have learned to drive as a war measure.
After the first time I ever tried to turn it around, and it flew at our
lovely rose-garlanded lattice fence at one hundred miles an hour, I
christened it "the little fury." I missed the fence by revolving the
steering wheel as though I were playing roulette. I almost went round
twice, but J - - rescued me by kicking my foot off the throttle. Since
then I have sufficiently mastered it to drive to town for the laundry
and the newspaper. I am like a child learning to walk by having an
orange rolled in front of it. I must know how far the Allies have driven
the Germans, so I set my teeth and start for town in the "little fury."
Every one told me that I'd have to break something before I really got
the upper hand. I have. I bravely drove out to a Japanese truck garden
for vegetables and came to grief. One of the boys tersely expressed it
in his diary, "Muvs ran into a Japanese barn and rooked the bumper!" Now
that that is over, I begin to feel a certain sense of independence that
is not unpleasant. It is some time since I have stalled the engine or
tried to climb a hill with the emergency brake set. The boys and the
"pufflers" are game and keep me company; we live or die together.

After all, the loveliest rose in my garden, the Sunburst, lifts its
fragrant flower of creamy orange on a stalk bristling with
wicked-looking mahogany spikes. If I'm very careful about cutting it, I
don't prick my fingers and the thorns really add to the effect.




[Illustration]

THE GYPSY TRAIL


A friend of mine once wrote an article on motoring in Southern
California for one of the smart Eastern magazines. In it she said that
often a motor would be followed by a trailer loaded with a camp outfit.
What was her surprise and amusement to read her own article later,
dressed for company, so to speak. "A trailer goes ahead with the
servants and outfit, so that when the motoring party arrives on the
scene all is in readiness for their comfort." Great care must be taken
that the sensibilities of the elect should not be offended by the horrid
thought that ladies and gentlemen actually do make their own camp at
times! So the trailer has to go ahead, and that is just where the lure
and magic of Southern California slips through the fingers.

Most of us have a few drops, at least, of gypsy blood in us, and in
this land of sunshine and the open road we all become vagabonds as far
as our conventional upbringing will let us. When you know that it won't
rain from May to October, and the country is full of the most lovely
and picturesque spots, how can you help at least picnicking whenever
you can?

Trains are becoming as obsolete in our family as the horse. We wish to
take a trip: out purrs the motor; in goes the family lunch-box, a
thermos bottle, and a motor-case of indispensables, and we are off. No
fuss about missing the train, no baggage, no tickets, no cinders - just
the open road.

I had heard that every one deteriorated in Southern California, and
after the first year I began earnestly searching my soul for signs of
slackening. Perhaps my soul is naturally easy-going, for somehow I can't
feel that the things we let slip matter so greatly.

This much I will admit. There is no deadlier drug habit than fresh air!
The first summer on our Smiling Hill-Top kind ladies used to ask me to
tea-parties and card-parties, but I could never come indoors long enough
to be anything but a trial to my partners at bridge, so now I don't even
make believe I'm a polite member of society. Of course, there are people
who carry it further than I do, and can't be quite happy except in their
bathing-suits. I'm not as bad as that. I can still enjoy the sea breezes
and the colors and the sound of the waves with my clothes on. I don't
even wear my bathing-suit to market, which is one of the customs of the
place. It is a picturesque little village; half the houses are mere
shacks, a kind of compromise between dwelling and bath-houses, everyone
being much too thrifty to pay money to the Casino when they can drip
freely on their own sitting-room floor, without the least damage to the
furnishings. Life for many consists largely of a prolonged bath and bask
on the beach, with dinner at a cafeteria and a cold bite for supper at
home or on the rocks. It is surely an easy life and yet a great deal of
earnest effort and strenuous thinking goes on, too, women's clubs, even
an "open forum," and there are many delightful people who live there all
the year for the sake of the perfect climate. Also, there are a few
charming houses perched on the cliffs, most suggestive of Sorrento and
Amalfi. An incident J - - is fond of telling gives the combined
interests of the place. He was on his way to the post-office when he met
two women in very scanty jersey bathing-suits with legs bare, wearing,
to be sure, law-fulfilling mackintoshes, but which, being unbuttoned,
flapped so in the breeze that they were only a technical covering. The
ladies were in earnest conversation as he passed. J - - heard one say,
"I grant all you say about the charm of his style, but I consider his
writing very superficial!"

It is a wonderful life for small boys. My sons are the loveliest shades
of brown with cheeks of red, and in faded khaki and bare legs are as
good an example of protective coloring on the hillside as any zebra in a
jungle. Quite naturally they view September and the long stockings of
the city with dislike.

There is a place on the beach by the coast road between Pasadena and San
Diego where we always have lunch on our journeys to and from town. Just
after you leave the picturesque ruins of the Capistrano Mission in its
sheltered valley, you come out suddenly on the ocean, and the road runs
by the sand for miles. With a salt breeze blowing in your face you can't
resist the lunch box long. With a stuffed egg in one hand and a sandwich
in the other, Joedy, aged eight, observed on our last trip south, "This
is the bright side of living." I agree with him.

One late afternoon a friend of ours was driving alone and offered a lift
to two young men who were swinging along on foot. "Your price?" they
asked. "A smile and a song," was the reply. So in they got, and those
last fifty miles were gay. That is the sort of thing which fits so
perfectly into the atmosphere of this land. Perhaps it is the orange
blossoms, perhaps it is that we have extra-sized moons, perhaps it is
the old Spanish charm still lingering. All I know is that it is a land
of glamour and romance. J - - said he was going to import a pair of
nightingales. I said that if he did he'd have a lot to answer for.

Places are as different as people. The East, and by that I mean the
country east of the Alleghanies and not Iowa and Kansas, which are
sometimes so described out here, has reached years of discretion and is
set in its way. California has temperament, and it is still very young
and enthusiastic and is having a lot of fun "growing up." I love the
stone walls, huckleberry pies, and johnny cakes of Rhode Island, and I
love the associations of my childhood and my family tree, but there is
something in the air of this part of the world that enchants me. It is a
certain "Why not?" that leads me into all sorts of delightful
experiences. Conventionality does not hold us as tightly as it does in
the East, and a certain tempting feeling of unlimited possibilities in
life makes waking up in the morning a small adventure in itself. It
isn't necessary to point out the dangers of an unlimited "Why not?"
cult - they are too obvious. "Why not?" is a question that one's
imagination asks, and imagination is one of the best spurs to action. I
will give an example of what I mean: When war was declared J - -
suggested putting contribution boxes with red crosses on the collars
of "Rags" and "Tags," the boys' twin Yorkshire terriers, and coaxing
them to sit up on the back of the motor. I never had begged on a
street corner, but I thought at once, "Why not?" The result was much
money for the Red Cross, an increased knowledge of human nature for me,
as well as some delightful new friends. I should never have had the
courage to try it in New York - let us say; I should have been afraid
I'd be arrested.

At first to an Easterner the summer landscape seems dry and dusty, but
after living here one grows to love the peculiar soft tones of tan and
bisque, with bright shades of ice plant for color, and by the sea the
wonderful blues and greens of the water. No one can do justice to the
glory of that. Sky-blue, sea-blue, the shimmer of peacocks' tails and
the calm of that blue Italian painters use for the robes of their
madonnas, ever blend and ever change. Trees there are few, the graceful
silhouette of a eucalyptus against a golden sky, occasional clumps of
live oaks, and on the coast road to San Diego the Torry pines, relics of
a bygone age, growing but one other place in the world, and more
picturesque than any tree I ever saw. One swaying over a canyon is the
photographer's joy. It has been posing for hundreds of years and will
still for centuries more, I have no doubt.

Were I trying to write a sort of sugar-coated guide-book, I could make
the reader's mouth water, just as the menu of a Parisian restaurant
does. The canyons through which we have wandered, the hills we have
circled, Grossmont - that island in the air - Point Loma, the southern tip
of the United States, now, alas, closed on account of the war (Fort
Rosecrans is near its point), and further north the mountains and orange
groves - snow-capped Sierras looming above orchards of blooming
peach-trees!

Even the names add to the fascination, the Cuyamaca Mountains meaning
the hills of the brave one; Sierra Madre, the mother mountains; even Tia
Juana is euphonious, if you don't stop to translate it into the plebeian
"Aunt Jane," and no names could be as lovely as the places themselves.
So much beauty rather goes to one's head. For years in the East we had
lived in rented houses, ugly rented houses, always near the station, so
that J - - could catch the 7.59 or the 8.17, on foot. To find ourselves
on a smiling hill-top - our own hill-top, with "magic casements opening on
the foam" - seemed like a dream. After three years it still seems too
good to be true.

They say that if you spend a year in Southern California you will never
be able to leave it. I don't know. We haven't tried. The only possible
reason for going back would be that you aren't in the stirring heart of
things here as you are in New York, and the _Times_ is five days old
when you get it. Your friends - they all come to you if you just wait
a little. What amazes them always is to find that Southern California
has the most perfect summer climate in the world, if you keep near the
sea. No rain - many are the umbrellas I have gently extracted from the
reluctant hands of doubting visitors; no heat such as we know it in the
East. We have an out-of-door dining-room, and it is only two or three
times in summer that it is warm enough to have our meals there. In the
cities or the "back country" it is different. I have felt heat in
Pasadena that made me feel in the same class with Shadrach, Meshach
and Abednego, but never by the sea.

One result of all this fresh air is that we won't even go indoors to be
amused. Hence the outdoor theatre. Why go to a play when it's so lovely
outside? But to go to a play out-of-doors in an enchanting Greek theatre
with a real moon rising above it - that's another matter. I shall never
forget "Midsummer Night's Dream" as given by the Theosophical Society at
Point Loma. Strolling through the grounds with the mauve and amber domes
of their temples dimly lighted I found myself murmuring: "In Xanadu did
Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree." In a canyon by the sea we
found a theatre. The setting was perfect and the performance was worthy
of it. Never have I seen that play so beautifully given, so artistically
set and delightfully acted, though the parts were taken by students
in the Theosophical School. After the last adorable little fairy had
toddled off - I hope to bed - we heard a youth behind us observe, "These
nuts sure can give a play." We echoed his sentiments.

I should make one exception to my statement that people won't go indoors
to be amused. They go to the "movies" - I think they would risk their
lives to see a new film almost as recklessly as the actors who make
them. The most interesting part of the moving-picture business is
out-of-doors, however. You are walking down the street and notice an
excitement ahead. Douglas Fairbanks is doing a little tightrope walking
on the telegraph wires. A little farther on a large crowd indicates
further thrills. Presently there is a splash and Charley Chaplin has
disappeared into a fountain with two policemen in pursuit. Once while we
were motoring we came to a disused railway spur, and were surprised to
find a large and fussy engine getting up steam while a crowd blocked
the road for some distance. A lady in pink satin was chained to the
rails - placed there by the villain, who was smoking cigarettes in the
offing, waiting for his next cue. The lady in pink satin had made a
little dugout for herself under the track, and as the locomotive
thundered up she was to slip underneath - a job that the mines of
Golconda would not have tempted me to try. Moving-picture actors have a
very high order of courage. We could not stay for the denouement, as we
had a nervous old lady with us, who firmly declined to witness any such
hair-raising spectacle. I looked in the paper next morning for railway
accidents to pink ladies, but could find nothing, so she probably pulled
it off successfully.

Every year new theatres are built. We have seen Ruth St. Denis at the
Organ Pavilion of the San Diego Exposition, and Julius Cæsar with an
all-star cast in the hills back of Hollywood, where the space was
unlimited, and Cæsar's triumph included elephants and other beasts,
loaned by the "movies," and Brutus' camp spread over the hillside as
it might actually have done long ago. There is a place in the back
country near Escondido, where at the time of the harvest moon an
Indian play with music is given every year. At Easter thousands
of people go up Mount Rubidoux, near Riverside, for the sunrise
service. Some celebrated singer usually takes part and it is very
lovely - quite unlike anything else.

So we have come to belong to what the French would call the school
of "pleine air." I once knew an adorable little boy who expressed
it better than I can:

"Sun callin' me, sky callin' me,
Comin' sun - comin' sky."




[Illustration]

AN ADVENTURE IN SOLITUDE


My windows were all wide open one lovely April day, the loveliest time
of all the year in Southern California, filling the house with the
sweetness of wistaria and orange blossoms, but also, truth compels me to
add, with so many noises of such excruciating kinds that I followed
Ulysses' well-known plan and then tried to find quiet for my siesta in
the back spare-room. The worst of this house is that it really has no
back - it has various fronts, like the war. The spinster next door but
one has a parrot - a cynical, tired parrot, but still fond of the sound
of his own voice. The lady across the street is raising Pekinese


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Online LibraryJulia M. SloaneThe Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches → online text (page 3 of 7)