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"No, we can't close the house and go motoring for a week, because there
is no one with whom to leave the puppies." "Yes, we rented our house to
Mrs. S - - for less than we expected to get for it, because she is so
fond of cats and promised to take good care of Pom Pom" - which recalls
to my mind a dear little girl who had a white kitten that she was
entrusting to a neighbor. The neighbor, a busy person with eight
children, received the kitten without demonstration of any kind. Little
Lydia looked at her for a few moments and then said, "Mrs. F - - , that
kitten must be loved." That is really the trouble, not only must they be
loved, but they are loved and then the pull on your heart-strings
begins. We have a pair of twin silver-haired Yorkshire terriers, who are
an intimate part of our family circle. I sometimes feel like a friend of
mine in San Francisco, who has a marvellous Chinese cook, and says she
hopes she will die before Li does. I hope "Rags" and "Tags" will live as
long as I do - and yet they are a perfect pest. If they are outdoors they
want to come in, or vice versa. It is practically impossible to sneak
off in the motor without their escort and they bark at my best callers.
Since they made substantial sums of money begging for the Red Cross,
they have added a taste for publicity to their other insistent qualities
and come into the drawing-room, and sit up in front of whoever may be
calling, with a view to sugar and petting. And the worst of it is I
can't maintain discipline at all. Rags has had to be anointed with a
salve compounded of tar and sulphur. It is an indignity and quite
crushes his spirit, so that after it has been put on he wishes to sit
close to me for comfort. The result is that I become like a winter
overcoat just emerging from moth-balls rather than hurt his feelings. Of
course it makes some difference whether the pet that is annoying you
belongs to you or a neighbor. I doubt whether I could have loved Boost,
however, even if I had known him from the shell.

In spite of these various drawbacks we led a most happy life. It was so
easy. The bungalow was so attractively furnished; our own oranges and
limes grew at the door. There was just room for us with nothing to
spare, that had to be kept in order, and our landlady was as different
from the cold-hearted ones we had known as the bankers and real-estate
men. She seemed to be always trying to think of what we might need, and
to provide it. Dear Miss W - - , she will never be a good business woman
from the world's point of view; she is too generous and too unselfish!
We all loved her. Many were the hours I inveigled her into wasting while
we sat on bales of the goats' hay and discussed life and the affairs of
the country - but mostly life with its curious twists and turns - its
generosities and its stinginesses. The boys spent their time in the
goat-pen making friends of the little kids, whose various advents added
so much interest to the spring, and learning much from Miss W - - , whose
attitude towards life was so sane and wholesome for them to know.

"Buckaboo," the only buck on the ranch when we came, was a dashing young
creature, prancing about and kicking up his heels for the pure joy of
living. Joedy informed J - - that he reminded him of him, "only in a
goat way, father" - a tribute to the light-heartedness that California
had already brought to at least one member of the family.

If our Sabine Farm's vocation was goats, its avocation was surely roses.
We were literally smothered in them. A Cecil Brunner with its perfect
little buds, so heavily perfumed, covered one corner of the house. The
Lady Bankshire, with its delicate yellow blossoms, roofed our porch, and
the glorious Gold of Ophir, so thorny and with little fragrance,
concealed our laundry from the road. There was a garden of bush roses of
all kinds to cut for the house, and the crowning glory of all was a
hedge of "Tausend Schön," growing luxuriantly, and a blaze of bloom in
May. After years of illness and worry, it was good to feel life coming
back joyously in a kind of haven - or heaven - of roses.




[Illustration]

THE LAND OF WHYNOT


When Alice stepped through the looking-glass and ran out into that most
alluring garden, she must have felt much as I did long ago when I
stepped off the Santa Fé Limited and found myself in Southern California
for the first time! It isn't just the palm trees and the sunshine,
though they are part of the charm. It isn't even the mocking-birds and
the orange blossoms altogether. It is something you can't really put
your finger on, that lures you from your old habits and associations. At
first you are simply glad that you have left the cold and snow behind
you, and that the earth is so sweet with flowers, and then you begin to
find a new world of possibilities. There are all sorts of little garden
gates with golden keys on glass tables, and you set about growing
shorter or taller, as the case may be, to make yourself a proper height
to reach the key and slip through the door. You don't even need to
hurry, if you are firm about not grasping the hand of any Red Queen that
may come your way, and yet it isn't a land of mañana; it's a land of
"Why Not?" The magic has nothing to do with one's age; I feel it now
even more than I did twenty years ago, and Grandmother felt it at eighty
just as I did at eighteen. Ulysses could have himself lashed to the mast
and snap his fingers at the Sirens, but I know of no protection against
the Southwest except to somehow close the shutters of your imagination.
However, let me not be a Calvinist; because it is enchanting, why should
I fear it?

I shall never forget my first experience of the spell. I was invited by
my Grandmother to go to California for several months. There were four
of us, and we were all tired, for one reason or another; Grandmother
because she was eighty, and it's a strenuous matter to live eighty
years; my Aunt because she had been desperately ill; C. C. because she
had nursed my Aunt back to comparative health, and I because I had been
a débutante that winter, and every one knows that that is the hardest
work of all. We went as far south as the train would take us, and
settled ourselves at Coronado to bask in the sunshine until the
tiredness was gone and we became a band of explorers, with the world
before us! A pair of buggies drawn by nags of unblemished reputation for
sagacity and decorum, driven by C. C. and me, carried us over many a
picturesque and rough road. It invariably took us all day to get
anywhere and back, irrespective of what the distance was supposed to be.
The outfit was so old that I often had to draw up my steed and mend the
harness with a safety-pin. Trailing Ramona was our favorite game.
Fortunately for that part of the country, she and Allessandro managed to
be born, or sleep, or marry, or die in pretty nearly every little
settlement, ranch, or mission in San Diego County, and it's a great boon
to the country. Now, of course, with a motor you can cover the ground in
a day, but then, with a guaranteed horse and a safety-pinned harness,
Ramona was good for weeks.

We usually took a picnic lunch, and it was on one of these trips that I
first saw the Smiling Hill-Top and knew it not for my later love. How
often that happens! Jogging home, with the reins slack on the placid
mare's back, Grandmother liked me to sing "Believe Me If All Those
Endearing Young Charms" and "Araby's Daughter," showing that she was a
good deal under the spell of the palm trees and the sunset, for I have
the voice of a lost kitten. It also shows the perfect self-control of
the horse, for no accidents occurred.

It was a very different Coronado from the present day, with its motors
on earth and water, and in air. I liked ours better and hated to leave
it, but after six weeks of its glory of sunshine I was deputed to go
north to Pasadena to rent a bungalow for two months. It was my first
attempt of the kind, and aided by a cousin into whose care I had been
confided, I succeeded in reducing the rent twenty-five dollars a month
for a pretty cottage smothered in roses and heliotropes and well
supplied with orange and lemon trees. I was rather pleased with myself
as a business woman. Not so Grandmother. She was thoroughly indignant
and announced her firm intention of paying the original rent asked, a
phenomenon that so surprised our landlord, when I told him, that he
insisted on scrubbing the kitchen floor personally, the day of her
arrival. Thus did Raleigh lay down his cloak for the Queen!

Everything was lovely. It only rained once that spring - the morning
after we had gone up Mount Lowe to see the sun rise, to be sure, but it
would be a carping creature who would complain when only one expedition
had been dampened. For twenty years I cherished the illusion that this
was a land of endless sunshine. I don't know where I thought the
moisture came from that produces the almost tropical luxuriance of the
gardens and the groves. I know better now and, strange to say, I have
come to love a rain in its proper time and place, if it isn't too
boisterous. We discovered a veteran of the Civil War turned liveryman,
who for a paltry consideration in cash was ours every afternoon, and
showed us something new each day, from racing horses on the Lucky
Baldwin Ranch to the shadow of a spread eagle on a rock. Grandmother's
favorite excursion was to a picturesque winery set in vineyards and
shaded by eucalyptus trees. She was what I should call a wine-jelly,
plum-pudding prohibitionist, and she included tastes of port and fruit
cordials as part of the sight-seeing to be done. You can be pretty at
eighty, which is consoling to know. Grandmother, with a little curl over
each ear and the pink born of these "tastes" proved it, and she wouldn't
let us tease her about it either. It was an easy life, and so
fascinating that I even said to myself, "Why not learn to play the
guitar?" for nothing seemed impossible. It shows how thoroughly drugged
I was by this time, for my Creator wholly omitted to supply me with a
musical ear. I always had to have my instrument tuned by the young man
next door, but I learned to play "My Old Kentucky Home" so that every
one recognized it. Now, if years had not taught me some fundamental
facts about my limitations, I should probably render twilight hideous
with a ukelele, for a ukelele goes a guitar one better, and Aloha oeè
wailed languorously on that instrument would make even a Quaker relax.

It was in the late spring that the Great Idea came to Aunty and me. I
don't know which of us was really responsible for it, and there was a
time when neither of us would own it. A course in small "Why Nots?" made
it come quite naturally at the last. Why shouldn't we drive into the
Yosemite Valley before we went home? By the end of May it would be at
its loveliest, with the melted snows from the mountains filling its
streams and making a rushing, spraying glory of its falls. It did seem a
pity to be so near one of the loveliest places on earth and to miss
seeing it. Aunty and I discussed the matter dispassionately under a palm
tree in the back yard. We honestly concluded that it wouldn't hurt
Grandmother a bit, that it might even do her good, so we began to put
out a few conversational feelers, and the next thing we knew she was
claiming the idea as her own and inviting us to accompany her! In her
early married life she was once heard to say to Grandfather, "Edwin, I
have made up our minds." So you can see that Aunty and I were as clay in
her hands! Where we made our great mistake was in writing to the rest of
the family about our plans until after we had started. They became quite
abusive in their excitement. Were we crazy? Had we forgotten
Grandmother's age? What was C. C., a trained nurse, about, to let a
little delicate old lady take such a trip? They were much shocked. We
had to admit her age, but Aunty and I weren't so sure about her
delicacy, and anyway her mind was made up, so we burned their telegrams
and packed the bags.

It happened twenty years ago, but I can see her sitting in a
rocking-chair on the piazza of Leidig's Hotel in Raymond, surrounded by
miners, all courteously editing their conversation and chewing tobacco
as placidly as a herd of cows, while Grandmother, the only person whose
feet were not elevated to the railing, rocked gently and smiled. Of
course we planned to make the trip as easy as possible, and had engaged
a spring wagon so that we could take more time than the stage, which
naturally had to live up to a Bret Harte standard. We made an early
start from Raymond after a rather troubled night at Leidig's Hotel. You
hear strange sounds in a mining camp after dark. Every one in town saw
us off, as Grandmother was already popular, and looked on as rather a
sporting character. Al Stevens, who drove us, was a bitter
disappointment to me, not looking in the least romantic or like the hero
of a Western story. I shan't even describe him, except to say that he
smoked most evil-smelling cigars, the bouquet of which blew back into
our faces and spoiled the pure mountain air, but we didn't dare say a
word, for fear that he might lash his horses round some hair-pin curve
and scare us to death, even if we didn't actually go over the edge. I
don't think he would really have rushed to extremes, for he turned out
to be distinctly amiable, and our picnic lunches, eaten near some
mountain spring, were partaken of most sociably and Al Stevens didn't
always smoke. How good everything tasted! I don't believe I have ever
really enjoyed apple pie with a fork as I enjoyed it sitting on a log
with a generous wedge in one hand and a hearty morsel of mouse-trap
cheese in the other.

We spent three days driving into the valley, staying at delightful inns
over night, and stopping when we pleased, to pick flowers, for wonderful
ones grow beside the road; Mariposa tulips with their spotted butterfly
wings, fairy lanterns, all the shades of blue lupin, and on our detour
to see the big trees I found a snow-plant, which looks like a blossom
carved out of watermelon - pink and luscious! It is hard to realize how
big the big trees are! Like St. Peter's, they are so wonderfully
proportioned you can't appreciate their height, but I do know that they
would be just a little more than my tree-climbing sons would care to
tackle. Stevens was a good driver and approved of our appreciation of
"his" scenery, and I think he was proud of Grandmother, who really stood
the trip wonderfully well. At last came the great moment when a bend in
the road would disclose the valley with its silver peaks, its
golden-brown river, and its rainbow-spanned falls. We had never
suspected it, but Stevens was an epicure in beauty. He insisted on our
closing our eyes till we came to just the spot where the view was most
perfect, and then he drew in his horses, gave the word, and we looked on
a valley as lovely as a dream. I am glad that we saw it as we did, after
a long prelude of shaded roads and sentinel trees. Nowadays you rush to
it madly by train and motor. Then it was a dear secret hidden away in
the heart of the forest.

We spent five days at the hotel by the Merced River, feasting on beauty
and mountain trout, and lulled by the murmur of that gentle stream.
Moonlight illumined the whiteness of the Yosemite Falls in full view of
the hotel verandah as it makes the double leap down a dark gorge. We
could see a great deal with very little effort, but after a day or two I
began to look longingly upward toward the mountain trails. At last a
chance came, and "Why Not" led me to embrace it. A wholesale milliner
from Los Angeles invited me to join his party. We had seen him at
various places along our way, so that it was not entirely out of a clear
sky. He was wall-eyed - if that is the opposite of cross-eyed - which gave
him so decidedly rakish a look that it was some time before I could
persuade my conservative relatives that it would be safe for me to
accept the invitation, but as the party numbered ten, mostly female,
they finally gave me their blessing. Being the last comer, and the mules
being all occupied, I had to take a horse, which I was sorry for, as
they aren't supposed to be quite as sure-footed on the trail. The party
all urged me to be cautious, with such emphasis that I began to wonder
if I had been wise to come, when Charley, our guide, told me not to pay
any attention to them, that I had the best mount of the whole train.
Charley, by the way, was all that Al Stevens was not, and added the note
of picturesqueness and romance which my soul had been craving. He was
young, blond, and dressed for the part, and would have entranced a
moving-picture company! The wholesale milliner called me "Miss Black
Eyes," and was so genial in manner that I joined Charley at the end of
the parade and heard stories of his life which may or may not have been
true. Every now and then Jesse James, an especially independent mule,
would pause, and with deliberation and vigor kick at an inaccessible fly
on the hinder parts of his person, while his rider shrieked loudly for
help, and the procession halted till calm was restored. At last we
reached the end of the trail. Somewhere I have a snap-shot of myself
standing on Glacier Point, that rock that juts out over the valley,
clinging to Charley's hand, for I found that standing there with the
snow falling, looking down thousands of feet, made me crave a hand to
keep the snowflakes from drawing me down. The wholesale milliner and the
rest considered me a reckless soul, and many were the falsetto shrieks
they emitted if I went within ten feet of the edge of the precipice.
They did not realize the insurance and assurance of Charley's hand.

Of course I endured the anguish of a first horseback ride for the next
day or two, but it was worth it, and by the time we were ready to start
for home I could sit down quite comfortably. The trip was accomplished
without a jolt or jog sufficient to disarrange Grandmother's curls.
Aunty and I were always so thankful that we defied the family and
let her have her last adventure, for soon afterward her mind began
to grow dim. For myself, I treasure the memory both for her sake,
and because I can't climb trails myself any more, and that is
something I didn't miss. Was it Schopenhauer or George Ade who
said, "What you've had you've got"?

Twenty years later another party of four, consisting of a husband and
two boys, were led by a lady Moses into the promised land, and were met
by an old friend, the Civil War veteran, with a motor instead of his
pair of black horses! He was too old to drive, but he had come to
welcome me back. Billie and Joedy were thrilled. They adored the tales
of his twelve battles and the hole in his knee, even more than their
mother had before them, being younger and boys. It was as lovely a land
as I had remembered it, only, of course, there were changes. The motor
showed that. I should not say that the tempo of life had been quickened
so much as that its radius had been widened, or that the focus was
different; the old spell was the same. To reconcile the past and the
present, I have thought of a beautiful compromise. Why not a motor van?
The family jeered at me when I first suggested that we spend J - - 's
next vacation meandering up the coast in one. Of course, the boys adored
the idea at first, but sober second thoughts for mother made them pause.

Billie: "But, Muvs, you'd hate it, you couldn't have a box spring!"

Joedy: "And you don't like to wash dishes."

Quite true. I had thought of all that myself. I don't like to wash
dishes, but we use far more than we really need to use, and anyway I had
rather decided that I wouldn't wash them. As to the bed-spring, I could
have an air mattress, for while it's a little like sleeping on a captive
balloon, it doesn't irritate your bones like a camp cot.

The family distrust of me, as a vagabond, dates from a camping trip last
August to celebrate Billie's twelfth birthday. It lasted only one night,
so "trip" is a large word to apply to it, but I will say that for one
night it had all the time there could be squeezed into it. We selected a
site on the beach almost within hallooing distance of the Smiling
Hill-Top, borrowed a tent and made camp. I loved the fire and frying the
bacon and the beat of the waves, but I did not like the smell of the
tent. It was stuffy. I had been generously given that shelter for my
own, while the male members of the party slept by a log (not like one,
J - - confessed to me) under a tarpaulin - I mean "tarp" - with stars
above them except when obscured by fog. My cot was short and low and I
am not, so that I spent the night tucking in the blankets. The puppies
enjoyed it all thoroughly. Though they must have been surprised by the
sudden democratic intimacy of the situation, they are opportunists and
curled themselves in, on, and about my softer portions, so that I had to
push them out every time I wanted to turn over, which was frequently. I
urged them to join the rest of the party under the "tarp," but they were
firm, as they weren't minding the hardness of the cot, and they don't
care especially about ventilation. I greeted the dawn with heartfelt
thanksgiving, and yet I'm as keen about my vacation idea as ever. I have
simply learned what to do and what not to do, and it won't matter to me
in the least whether my ways are those of a tenderfoot or not. Why not
be comfortable physically as well as spiritually? Think of the
independence of it! To be able to sit at the feet of any view that you
fancy till you are ready to move on! Doesn't that amount to "free will"?
Yes, I am resolved to try it out and Billie says if I make up my mind to
something I generally get my way (being descended from Grandmother
probably accounts for it), so if you should see a rather fat, lazy green
van with "Why not?" painted over the back door, you may know that two
grown vagabonds, two young vagabonds, and two vagabond pups, are on the
trail following the gypsy patteran.




[Illustration]

WHERE THE TRADE WIND BLOWS


Mr. Jones meets his friend, Mr. Brown:

"Surprised to see that your house is for sale, Brown."

"Oh - er - yes" replies Brown; "that is, I don't know. I keep that sign up
on the lawn." Then with a burst of confidence: "Mrs. Brown meets so many
nice people that way, don't you know!"

So it is that we have a reputation for being willing to sell anything in
California, even our souls. Of course, it isn't at all necessary to have
a sign displaying "For Sale" to have constant inquiries as to the price
of your place. After the days of "The Sabine Farm" were only a lovely
memory, we bought a bungalow in Pasadena, or, rather, we are buying it
on the instalment plan. It is really an adorable little place with a
very flowery garden, surrounded by arbors covered with roses, wistaria,
and jasmine (I think I should say we have been very fortunate in our
dwelling-places since we emigrated), and passers-by usually stop and
comment favorably. Young men bring their girls and show them the sort of
little place they'd like to own, and often they ring the door-bell for
further inquiries. Driven to bay, I have put a price of half a million
on our tiny estate. When I mention this, the investigators usually
retreat hastily, looking anxiously over their shoulders to see if my
keeper is anywhere in sight. As to the real-estate men, they are more in
number than the sands of the sea, and the competition is razor-edged. If
you have the dimmest idea of ever buying a lot or house, or if you are
comfortably without principle, you won't need to keep a motor at all.
The real-estate men will see that you get lots of fresh air, and they
are most obliging about letting you do your marketing on the way home.
We have an especial friend in the business. He never loses hope, or his
temper. It was he that originally found us "The Sabine Farm." He let us
live there in peace till we were rested, for which we are eternally
grateful, and then he began to throw out unsettling remarks. The boys
ought to have a place to call home where they could grow up with
associations. Wasn't it foolish to pay rent when we might be applying
that money toward the purchase of a house? Of course it told on us in
time and we began to look about. "The Sabine Farm" would not do, as it
was too far from J - - 's business, and the lotus-flower existence of our
first two years was ours no longer. Every lot we looked at had
irresistible attractions, and insurmountable objections. At last,


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Online LibraryJulia M. SloaneThe Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches → online text (page 5 of 7)