With Possum on the seat beside her, Saxon drove into the town of Roseburg. She drove at a walk. At the back of the wagon were tied two heavy young work-horses. Behind, half a dozen more marched free, and the rear was brought up by Billy, astride a ninth horse. All these he shipped from Roseburg to the West Oakland stables.
It was in the Umpqua Valley that they heard the parable of the white sparrow. The farmer who told it was elderly and flourishing. His farm was a model of orderliness and system. Afterwards, Billy heard neighbors estimate his wealth at a quarter of a million.
“You’ve heard the story of the farmer and the white sparrow’” he asked Billy, at dinner.
“Never heard of a white sparrow even,” Billy answered.
“I must say they’re pretty rare,” the farmer owned. “But here’s the story: Once there was a farmer who wasn’t making much of a success. Things just didn’t seem to go right, till at last, one day, he heard about the wonderful white sparrow. It seems that the white sparrow comes out only just at daybreak with the first light of dawn, and that it brings all kinds of good luck to the farmer that is fortunate enough to catch it. Next morning our farmer was up at daybreak, and before, looking for it. And, do you know, he sought for it continually, for months and months, and never caught even a glimpse of it.” Their host shook his head. “No; he never found it, but he found so many things about the farm needing attention, and which he attended to before breakfast, that before he knew it the farm was prospering, and it wasn’t long before the mortgage was paid off and he was starting a bank account.”
That afternoon, as they drove along, Billy was plunged in a deep reverie.
“Oh, I got the point all right,” he said finally. “An’ yet I ain’t satisfied. Of course, they wasn’t a white sparrow, but by getting up early an’ attendin’ to things he’d been slack about before—oh, I got it all right. An’ yet, Saxon, if that’s what a farmer’s life means, I don’t want to find no moon valley. Life ain’t hard work. Daylight to dark, hard at it—might just as well be in the city. What’s the difference? Al’ the time you’ve got to yourself is for sleepin’, an’ when you’re sleepin’ you’re not enjoyin’ yourself. An’ what’s it matter where you sleep, you’re deado. Might as well be dead an’ done with it as work your head off that way. I’d sooner stick to the road, an’ shoot a deer an’ catch a trout once in a while, an’ lie on my back in the shade, an’ laugh with you an’ have fun with you, an’... an’ go swimmin’. An’ I ‘m a willin’ worker, too. But they’s all the difference in the world between a decent amount of work an’ workin’ your head off.”
Saxon was in full accord. She looked back on her years of toil and contrasted them with the joyous life she had lived on the road.
“We don’t want to be rich,” she said. “Let them hunt their white sparrows in the Sacramento islands and the irrigation valleys. When we get up early in the valley of the moon, it will be to hear the birds sing and sing with them. And if we work hard at times, it will be only so that we’ll have more time to play. And when you go swimming I ‘m going with you. And we’ll play so hard that we’ll be glad to work for relaxation.”
“I ‘m gettin’ plumb dried out,” Billy announced, mopping the sweat from his sunburned forehead. “What d’ye say we head for the coast?”
West they turned, dropping down wild mountain gorges from the height of land of the interior valleys. So fearful was the road, that, on one stretch of seven miles, they passed ten broken-down automobiles. Billy would not force the mares and promptly camped beside a brawling stream from which he whipped two trout at a time. Here, Saxon caught her first big trout. She had been accustomed to landing them up to nine and ten inches, and the screech of the reel when the big one was hooked caused her to cry out in startled surprise. Billy came up the riffle to her and gave counsel. Several minutes later, cheeks flushed and eyes dancing with excitement, Saxon dragged the big fellow carefully from the water’s edge into the dry sand. Here it threw the hook out and flopped tremendously until she fell upon it and captured it in her hands.
“Sixteen inches,” Billy said, as she held it up proudly for inspection. “—Hey!—what are you goin’ to do?”
“Wash off the sand, of course,” was her answer.
“Better put it in the basket,” he advised, then closed his mouth and grimly watched.
She stooped by the side of the stream and dipped in the splendid fish. It flopped, there was a convulsive movement on her part, and it was gone.
“Oh!” Saxon cried in chagrin.
“Them that finds should hold,” quoth Billy.
“I don’t care,” she replied. “It was a bigger one than you ever caught anyway.”
“Oh, I ‘m not denyin’ you’re a peach at fishin’,” he drawled. “You caught me, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know about that,” she retorted. “Maybe it was like the man who was arrested for catching trout out of season. His defense was self defense.”
Billy pondered, but did not see.
“The trout attacked him,” she explained.
Billy grinned. Fifteen minutes later he said:
“You sure handed me a hot one.”
The sky was overcast, and, as they drove along the bank of the Coquille River, the fog suddenly enveloped them.
“Whoof!” Billy exhaled joyfully. “Ain’t it great! I can feel myself moppin’ it up like a dry sponge. I never appreciated fog before.”
Saxon held out her arms to receive it, making motions as if she were bathing in the gray mist.
“I never thought I’d grow tired of the sun,” she said; “but we’ve had more than our share the last few weeks.”
“Ever since we hit the Sacramento Valley,” Billy affirmed. “Too much sun ain’t good. I’ve worked that out. Sunshine is like liquor. Did you ever notice how good you felt when the sun come out after a week of cloudy weather. Well, that sunshine was just like a jolt of whiskey. Had the same effect. Made you feel good all over. Now, when you’re swimmin’, an’ come out an’ lay in the sun, how good you feel. That’s because you’re lappin’ up a sun-cocktail. But suppose you lay there in the sand a couple of hours. You don’t feel so good. You’re so slow-movin’ it takes you a long time to dress. You go home draggin’ your legs an’ feelin’ rotten, with all the life sapped outa you. What’s that? It’s the katzenjammer. You’ve been soused to the ears in sunshine, like so much whiskey, an’ now you’re payin’ for it. That’s straight. That’s why fog in the climate is best.”
“Then we’ve been drunk for months,” Saxon said. “And now we’re going to sober up.”
“You bet. Why, Saxon, I can do two days’ work in one in this climate.—Look at the mares. Blame me if they ain’t perkin’ up already.”
Vainly Saxon’s eye roved the pine forest in search of her beloved redwoods. They would find them down in California, they were told in the town of Bandon.
“Then we’re too far north,” said Saxon. “We must go south to find our valley of the moon.”
And south they went, along roads that steadily grew worse, through the dairy country of Langlois and through thick pine forests to Port Orford, where Saxon picked jeweled agates on the beach while Billy caught enormous rockcod. No railroads had yet penetrated this wild region, and the way south grew wilder and wilder. At Gold Beach they encountered their old friend, the Rogue River, which they ferried across where it entered the Pacific. Still wilder became the country, still more terrible the road, still farther apart the isolated farms and clearings.
And here were neither Asiatics nor Europeans. The scant population consisted of the original settlers and their descendants. More than one old man or woman Saxon talked with, who could remember the trip across the Plains with the plodding oxen. West they had fared until the Pacific itself had stopped them, and here they had made their clearings, built their rude houses, and settled. In them Farthest West had been reached. Old customs had changed little. There were no railways. No automobile as yet had ventured their perilous roads. Eastward, between them and the populous interior valleys, lay the wilderness of the Coast Range—a game paradise, Billy heard; though he declared that the very road he traveled was game paradise enough for him. Had he not halted the horses, turned the reins over to Saxon, and shot an eight-pronged buck from the wagon-seat?
South of Gold Beach, climbing a narrow road through the virgin forest, they heard from far above the jingle of bells. A hundred yards farther on Billy found a place wide enough to turn out. Here he waited, while the merry bells, descending the mountain, rapidly came near. They heard the grind of brakes, the soft thud of horses’ hoofs, once a sharp cry of the driver, and once a woman’s laughter.
“Some driver, some driver,” Billy muttered. “I take my hat off to ‘m whoever he is, hittin’ a pace like that on a road like this.—Listen to that! He’s got powerful brakes.—Zocie! That WAS a chuck-hole! Some springs, Saxon, some springs!”
Where the road zigzagged above, they glimpsed through the trees four sorrel horses trotting swiftly, and the flying wheels of a small, tan-painted trap.
At the bend of the road the leaders appeared again, swinging wide on the curve, the wheelers flashed into view, and the light two-seated rig; then the whole affair straightened out and thundered down upon them across a narrow plank-bridge. In the front seat were a man and woman; in the rear seat a Japanese was squeezed in among suit cases, rods, guns, saddles, and a typewriter case, while above him and all about him, fastened most intricately, sprouted a prodigious crop of deer- and elk-horns.
“It’s Mr. and Mrs. Hastings,” Saxon cried.
“Whoa!” Hastings yelled, putting on the brake and gathering his horses in to a stop alongside. Greetings flew back and forth, in which the Japanese, whom they had last seen on the Roamer at Rio Vista, gave and received his share.
“Different from the Sacramento islands, eh?” Hastings said to Saxon. “Nothing but old American stock in these mountains. And they haven’t changed any. As John Fox, Jr., said, they’re our contemporary ancestors. Our old folks were just like them.”
Mr. and Mrs. Hastings, between them, told of their long drive. They were out two months then, and intended to continue north through Oregon and Washington to the Canadian boundary.
“Then we’ll ship our horses and come home by train,” concluded Hastings.
“But the way you drive you oughta be a whole lot further along than this,” Billy criticized.
“But we keep stopping off everywhere,” Mrs. Hastings explained.
“We went in to the Hoopa Reservation,” said Mr. Elastings, “and canoed down the Trinity and Klamath Rivers to the ocean. And just now we’ve come out from two weeks in the real wilds of Curry County.”
“You must go in,” Hastings advised. “You’ll get to Mountain Ranch to-night. And you can turn in from there. No roads, though. You’ll have to pack your horses. But it’s full of game. I shot five mountain lions and two bear, to say nothing of deer. And there are small herds of elk, too.—No; I didn’t shoot any. They’re protected. These horns I got from the old hunters. I’ll tell you all about it.”
And while the men talked, Saxon and Mrs. Hastings were not idle.
“Found your valley of the moon yet?” the writer’s wife asked, as they were saying good-by.
Saxon shook her head.
“You will find it if you go far enough; and be sure you go as far as Sonoma Valley and our ranch. Then, if you haven’t found it yet, we’ll see what we can do.”
Three weeks later, with a bigger record of mountain lions and bear than Hastings’ to his credit, Billy emerged from Curry County and drove across the line into California. At once Saxon found herself among the redwoods. But they were redwoods unbelievable. Billy stopped the wagon, got out, and paced around one.
“Forty-five feet,” he announced. “That’s fifteen in diameter. And they’re all like it only bigger. No; there’s a runt. It’s only about nine feet through. An’ they’re hundreds of feet tall.”
“When I die, Billy, you must bury me in a redwood grove,” Saxon adjured.
“I ain’t goin’ to let you die before I do,” he assured her. “An’ then we’ll leave it in our wills for us both to be buried that way.”
South they held along the coast, hunting, fishing, swimming, and horse-buying. Billy shipped his purchases on the coasting steamers. Through Del Norte and Humboldt counties they went, and through Mendocino into Sonoma—counties larger than Eastern states—threading the giant woods, whipping innumerable trout-streams, and crossing countless rich valleys. Ever Saxon sought the valley of the moon. Sometimes, when all seemed fair, the lack was a railroad, sometimes madrono and manzanita trees, and, usually, there was too much fog.
“We do want a sun-cocktail once in a while,” she told Billy.
“Yep,” was his answer. “Too much fog might make us soggy. What we’re after is betwixt an’ between, an’ we’ll have to get back from the coast a ways to find it.”
This was in the fall of the year, and they turned their backs on the Pacific at old Fort Ross and entered the Russian River Valley, far below Ukiah, by way of Cazadero and Guerneville. At Santa Rosa Billy was delayed with the shipping of several horses, so that it was not until afternoon that he drove south and east for Sonoma Valley.
“I guess we’ll no more than make Sonoma Valley when it’ll be time to camp,” he said, measuring the sun with his eye. “This is called Bennett Valley. You cross a divide from it and come out at Glen Ellen. Now this is a mighty pretty valley, if anybody should ask you. An’ that’s some nifty mountain over there.”
“The mountain is all right,” Saxon adjudged. “But all the rest of the hills are too bare. And I don’t see any big trees. It takes rich soil to make big trees.”
“Oh, I ain’t sayin’ it’s the valley of the moon by a long ways. All the same, Saxon, that’s some mountain. Look at the timber on it. I bet they’s deer there.”
“I wonder where we’ll spend this winter,” Saxon remarked.
“D’ye know, I’ve just been thinkin’ the same thing. Let’s winter at Carmel. Mark Hall’s back, an’ so is Jim Hazard. What d’ye say?”
“Only you won’t be the odd-job man this time.”
“Nope. We can make trips in good weather horse-buyin’,” Billy confirmed, his face beaming with self-satisfaction. “An’ if that walkin’ poet of the Marble House is around, I’ll sure get the gloves on with ‘m just in memory of the time he walked me off my legs—”
“Oh! Oh!” Saxon cried. “Look, Billy! Look!”
Around a bend in the road came a man in a sulky, driving a heavy stallion. The animal was a bright chestnut-sorrel, with cream-colored mane and tail. The tail almost swept the ground, while the mane was so thick that it crested out of the neck and flowed down, long and wavy. He scented the mares and stopped short, head flung up and armfuls of creamy mane tossing in the breeze. He bent his head until flaring nostrils brushed impatient knees, and between the fine-pointed ears could be seen a mighty and incredible curve of neck. Again he tossed his head, fretting against the bit as the driver turned widely aside for safety in passing. They could see the blue glaze like a sheen on the surface of the horse’s bright, wild eyes, and Billy closed a wary thumb on his reins and himself turned widely. He held up his hand in signal, and the driver of the stallion stopped when well past, and over his shoulder talked draught-horses with Billy.
Among other things, Billy learned that the stallion’s name was Barbarossa, that the driver was the owner, and that Santa Rosa was his headquarters.
“There are two ways to Sonoma Valley from here,” the man directed. “When you come to the crossroads the turn to the left will take you to Glen Ellen by Bennett Peak—that’s it there.”
Rising from rolling stubble fields, Bennett Peak towered hot in the sun, a row of bastion hills leaning against its base. But hills and mountains on that side showed bare and heated, though beautiful with the sunburnt tawniness of California.
“The turn to the right will take you to Glen Ellen, too, only it’s longer and steeper grades. But your mares don’t look as though it’d bother them.”
“Which is the prettiest way?” Saxon asked.
“Oh, the right hand road, by all means,” said the man. “That’s Sonoma Mountain there, and the road skirts it pretty well up, and goes through Cooper’s Grove.”
Billy did not start immediately after they had said good-by, and he and Saxon, heads over shoulders, watched the roused Barbarossa plunging mutinously on toward Santa Rosa.
“Gee!” Billy said. “I’d like to be up here next spring.”
At the crossroads Billy hesitated and looked at Saxon.
“What if it is longer?” she said. “Look how beautiful it is—all covered with green woods; and I just know those are redwoods in the canyons. You never can tell. The valley of the moon might be right up there somewhere. And it would never do to miss it just in order to save half an hour.”
They took the turn to the right and began crossing a series of steep foothills. As they approached the mountain there were signs of a greater abundance of water. They drove beside a running stream, and, though the vineyards on the hills were summer-dry, the farmhouses in the hollows and on the levels were grouped about with splendid trees.
“Maybe it sounds funny,” Saxon observed; “but I ‘m beginning to love that mountain already. It almost seems as if I d seen it before, somehow, it’s so all-around satisfying—oh!”
Crossing a bridge and rounding a sharp turn, they were suddenly enveloped in a mysterious coolness and gloom. All about them arose stately trunks of redwood. The forest floor was a rosy carpet of autumn fronds. Occasional shafts of sunlight, penetrating the deep shade, warmed the somberness of the grove. Alluring paths led off among the trees and into cozy nooks made by circles of red columns growing around the dust of vanished ancestors—witnessing the titantic dimensions of those ancestors by the girth of the circles in which they stood.
Out of the grove they pulled to the steep divide, which was no more than a buttress of Sonoma Mountain. The way led on through rolling uplands and across small dips and canyons, all well wooded and a-drip with water. In places the road was muddy from wayside springs.
“The mountain’s a sponge,” said Billy. “Here it is, the tail-end of dry summer, an’ the ground’s just leakin’ everywhere.”
“I know I’ve never been here before,” Saxon communed aloud. “But it’s all so familiar! So I must have dreamed it. And there’s madronos!—a whole grove! And manzanita! Why, I feel just as if I was coming home... Oh, Billy, if it should turn out to be our valley.”
“Plastered against the side of a mountain?” he queried, with a skeptical laugh.
“No; I don’t mean that. I mean on the way to our valley. Because the way—all ways—to our valley must be beautiful. And this; I’ve seen it all before, dreamed it.”
“It’s great,” he said sympathetically. “I wouldn’t trade a square mile of this kind of country for the whole Sacramento Valley, with the river islands thrown in and Middle River for good measure. If they ain’t deer up there, I miss my guess. An’ where they’s springs they’s streams, an’ streams means trout.”
They passed a large and comfortable farmhouse, surrounded by wandering barns and cow-sheds, went on under forest arches, and emerged beside a field with which Saxon was instantly enchanted. It flowed in a gentle concave from the road up the mountain, its farther boundary an unbroken line of timber. The field glowed like rough gold in the approaching sunset, and near the middle of it stood a solitary great redwood, with blasted top suggesting a nesting eyrie for eagles. The timber beyond clothed the mountain in solid green to what they took to be the top. But, as they drove on, Saxon, looking back upon what she called her field, saw the real summit of Sonoma towering beyond, the mountain behind her field a mere spur upon the side of the larger mass.
Ahead and toward the right, across sheer ridges of the mountains, separated by deep green canyons and broadening lower down into rolling orchards and vineyards, they caught their first sight of Sonoma Valley and the wild mountains that rimmed its eastern side. To the left they gazed across a golden land of small hills and valleys. Beyond, to the north, they glimpsed another portion of the valley, and, still beyond, the opposing wall of the valley—a range of mountains, the highest of which reared its red and battered ancient crater against a rosy and mellowing sky. From north to southeast, the mountain rim curved in the brightness of the sun, while Saxon and Billy were already in the shadow of evening. He looked at Saxon, noted the ravished ecstasy of her face, and stopped the horses. All the eastern sky was blushing to rose, which descended upon the mountains, touching them with wine and ruby. Sonoma Valley began to fill with a purple flood, laying the mountain bases, rising, inundating, drowning them in its purple. Saxon pointed in silence, indicating that the purple flood was the sunset shadow of Sonoma Mountain. Billy nodded, then chirruped to the mares, and the descent began through a warm and colorful twilight.
On the elevated sections of the road they felt the cool, delicious breeze from the Pacific forty miles away; while from each little dip and hollow came warm breaths of autumn earth, spicy with sunburnt grass and fallen leaves and passing flowers.
They came to the rim of a deep canyon that seemed to penetrate to the heart of Sonoma Mountain. Again, with no word spoken, merely from watching Saxon, Billy stopped the wagon. The canyon was wildly beautiful. Tall redwoods lined its entire length. On its farther rim stood three rugged knolls covered with dense woods of spruce and oak. From between the knolls, a feeder to the main canyon and likewise fringed with redwoods, emerged a smaller canyon. Billy pointed to a stubble field that lay at the feet of the knolls.
“It’s in fields like that I’ve seen my mares a-pasturing,” he said.
They dropped down into the canyon, the road following a stream that sang under maples and alders. The sunset fires, refracted from the cloud-driftage of the autumn sky, bathed the canyon with crimson, in which ruddy-limbed madronos and wine-wooded manzanitas burned and smoldered. The air was aromatic with laurel. Wild grape vines bridged the stream from tree to tree. Oaks of many sorts were veiled in lacy Spanish moss. Ferns and brakes grew lush beside the stream. From somewhere came the plaint of a mourning dove. Fifty feet above the ground, almost over their heads, a Douglas squirrel crossed the road—a flash of gray between two trees; and they marked the continuance of its aerial passage by the bending of the boughs.
“I’ve got a hunch,” said Billy.
“Let me say it first,” Saxon begged.
He waited, his eyes on her face as she gazed about her in rapture.
“We’ve found our valley,” she whispered. “Was that it?”
He nodded, but checked speech at sight of a small boy driving a cow up the road, a preposterously big shotgun in one hand, in the other as preposterously big a jackrabbit. “How far to Glen Ellen?” Billy asked.
“Mile an’ a half,” was the answer.
“What creek is this?” inquired Saxon.
“Wild Water. It empties into Sonoma Creek half a mile down.”
“Trout?"—this from Billy.
“If you know how to catch ‘em,” grinned the boy.
“Deer up the mountain?”
“It ain’t open season,” the boy evaded.
“I guess you never shot a deer,” Billy slyly baited, and was rewarded with:
“I got the horns to show.”
“Deer shed their horns,” Billy teased on. “Anybody can find ‘em.”
“I got the meat on mine. It ain’t dry yet—”
The boy broke off, gazing with shocked eyes into the pit Billy had dug for him.
“It’s all right, sonny,” Billy laughed, as he drove on. “I ain’t the game warden. I ‘m buyin’ horses.”
More leaping tree squirrels, more ruddy madronos and majestic oaks, more fairy circles of redwoods, and, still beside the singing stream, they passed a gate by the roadside. Before it stood a rural mail box, on which was lettered “Edmund Hale.” Standing under the rustic arch, leaning upon the gate, a man and woman composed a pieture so arresting and beautiful that Saxon caught her breath. They were side by side, the delicate hand of the woman curled in the hand of the man, which looked as if made to confer benedictions. His face bore out this impression—a beautiful-browed countenance, with large, benevolent gray eyes under a wealth of white hair that shone like spun glass. He was fair and large; the little woman beside him was daintily wrought. She was saffron-brown, as a woman of the white race can well be, with smiling eyes of bluest blue. In quaint sage-green draperies, she seemed a flower, with her small vivid face irresistibly reminding Saxon of a springtime wake-robin.
Perhaps the picture made by Saxon and Billy was equally arresting and beautiful, as they drove down through the golden end of day. The two couples had eyes only for each other. The little woman beamed joyously. The man’s face glowed into the benediction that had trembled there. To Saxon, like the field up the mountain, like the mountain itself, it seemed that she had always known this adorable pair. She knew that she loved them.
“How d’ye do,” said Billy.
“You blessed children,” said the man. “I wonder if you know how dear you look sitting there.”
That was all. The wagon had passed by, rustling down the road, which was carpeted with fallen leaves of maple, oak, and alder. Then they came to the meeting of the two creeks.
“Oh, what a place for a home,” Saxon cried, pointing across Wild Water. “See, Billy, on that bench there above the meadow.”
“It’s a rich bottom, Saxon; and so is the bench rich. Look at the big trees on it. An’ they’s sure to be springs.”
“Drive over,” she said.
Forsaking the main road, they crossed Wild Water on a narrow bridge and continued along an ancient, rutted road that ran beside an equally ancient worm-fence of split redwood rails. They came to a gate, open and off its hinges, through which the road led out on the bench.
“This is it—I know it,” Saxon said with conviction. “Drive in, Billy.”
A small, whitewashed farmhouse with broken windows showed through the trees.
“Talk about your madronos—”
Billy pointed to the father of all madronos, six feet in diameter at its base, sturdy and sound, which stood before the house.
They spoke in low tones as they passed around the house under great oak trees and came to a stop before a small barn. They did not wait to unharness. Tying the horses, they started to explore. The pitch from the bench to the meadow was steep yet thickly wooded with oaks and manzanita. As they crashed through the underbrush they startled a score of quail into flight.
“How about game?” Saxon queried.
Billy grinned, and fell to examining a spring which bubbled a clear stream into the meadow. Here the ground was sunbaked and wide open in a multitude of cracks.
Disappointment leaped into Saxon’s face, but Billy, crumbling a clod between his fingers, had not made up his mind.
“It’s rich,” he pronounced; “—the cream of the soil that’s been washin’ down from the hills for ten thousan’ years. But—”
He broke off, stared all about, studying the configuration of the meadow, crossed it to the redwood trees beyond, then came back.
“It’s no good as it is,” he said. “But it’s the best ever if it’s handled right. All it needs is a little common sense an’ a lot of drainage. This meadow’s a natural basin not yet filled level. They’s a sharp slope through the redwoods to the creek. Come on, I’ll show you.”
They went through the redwoods and came out on Sonoma Creek. At this spot was no singing. The stream poured into a quiet pool. The willows on their side brushed the water. The opposite side was a steep bank. Billy measured the height of the bank with his eye, the depth of the water with a driftwood pole.
“Fifteen feet,” he announced. “That allows all kinds of high-divin’ from the bank. An’ it’s a hundred yards of a swim up an’ down.”
They followed down the pool. It emptied in a riffle, across exposed bedrock, into another pool. As they looked, a trout flashed into the air and back, leaving a widening ripple on the quiet surface.
“I guess we won’t winter in Carmel,” Billy said. “This place was specially manufactured for us. In the morning I’ll find out who owns it.”
Half an hour later, feeding the horses, he called Saxon’s attention to a locomotive whistle.
“You’ve got your railroad,” he said. “That’s a train pulling into Glen Ellen, an’ it’s only a mile from here.”
Saxon was dozing off to sleep under the blankets when Billy aroused her.
“Suppose the guy that owns it won’t sell?”
“There isn’t the slightest doubt,” Saxon answered with unruffled certainty. “This is our place. I know it.”
They were awakened by Possum, who was indignantly reproaching a tree squirrel for not coming down to be killed. The squirrel chattered garrulous remarks that drove Possum into a mad attempt to climb the tree. Billy and Saxon giggled and hugged each other at the terrier’s frenzy.
“If this is goin’ to be our place, they’ll be no shootin’ of tree squirrels,” Billy said.
Saxon pressed his hand and sat up. From beneath the bench came the cry of a meadow lark.
“There isn’t anything left to be desired,” she sighed happily.
“Except the deed,” Billy corrected.
After a hasty breakfast, they started to explore, running the irregular boundaries of the place and repeatedly crossing it from rail fence to creek and back again. Seven springs they found along the foot of the bench on the edge of the meadow.
“There’s your water supply,” Billy said. “Drain the meadow, work the soil up, and with fertilizer and all that water you can grow crops the year round. There must be five acres of it, an’ I wouldn’t trade it for Mrs. Mortimer’s.”
They were standing in the old orchard, on the bench where they had counted twenty-seven trees, neglected but of generous girth.
“And on top the bench, back of the house, we can grow berries.” Saxon paused, considering a new thought “If only Mrs. Mortimer would come up and advise us!—Do you think she would, Billy?”
“Sure she would. It ain’t more ‘n four hours’ run from San Jose. But first we’ll get our hooks into the place. Then you can write to her.”
Sonoma Creek gave the long boundary to the little farm, two sides were worm fenced, and the fourth side was Wild Water.
“Why, we’ll have that beautiful man and woman for neighbors,” Saxon recollected. “Wild Water will be the dividing line between their place and ours.”
“It ain’t ours yet,” Billy commented. “Let’s go and call on ‘em. They’ll be able to tell us all about it.”
“It’s just as good as,” she replied. “The big thing has been the finding. And whoever owns it doesn’t care much for it. It hasn’t been lived in for a long time. And—Oh, Billy—are you satisfied!”
“With every bit of it,” he answered frankly, “as far as it goes. But the trouble is, it don’t go far enough.”
The disappointment in her face spurred him to renunciation of his particular dream.
“We’ll buy it—that’s settled,” he said. “But outside the meadow, they’s so much woods that they’s little pasture—not more ‘n enough for a couple of horses an’ a cow. But I don’t care. We can’t have everything, an’ what they is is almighty good.”
“Let us call it a starter,” she consoled. “Later on we can add to it—maybe the land alongside that runs up the Wild Water to the three knolls we saw yesterday.”
“Where I seen my horses pasturin’,” he remembered, with a flash of eye. “Why not? So much has come true since we hit the road, maybe that’ll come true, too.
“We’ll work for it, Billy.”
“We’ll work like hell for it,” he said grimly.
They passed through the rustic gate and along a path that wound through wild woods. There was no sign of the house until they came abruptly upon it, bowered among the trees. It was eight-sided, and so justly proportioned that its two stories made no show of height. The house belonged there. It might have sprung from the soil just as the trees had. There were no formal grounds. The wild grew to the doors. The low porch of the main entrance was raised only a step from the ground. “Trillium Covert,” they read, in quaint carved letters under the eave of the porch.
“Come right upstairs, you dears,” a voice called from above, in response to Saxon’s knock.
Stepping back and looking up, she beheld the little lady smiling down from a sleeping-porch. Clad in a rosy-tissued and flowing house gown, she again reminded Saxon of a flower.
“Just push the front door open and find your way,” was the direction.
Saxon led, with Billy at her heels. They came into a room bright with windows, where a big log smoldered in a rough-stone fireplace. On the stone slab above stood a huge Mexican jar, filled with autumn branches and trailing fluffy smoke-vine. The walls were finished in warm natural woods, stained but without polish. The air was aromatic with clean wood odors. A walnut organ loomed in a shallow corner of the room. All corners were shallow in this octagonal dwelling. In another corner were many rows of books. Through the windows, across a low couch indubitably made for use, could be seen a restful picture of autumn trees and yellow grasses, threaded by wellworn paths that ran here and there over the tiny estate. A delightful little stairway wound past more windows to the upper story. Here the little lady greeted them and led them into what Saxon knew at once was her room. The two octagonal sides of the house which showed in this wide room were given wholly to windows. Under the long sill, to the floor, were shelves of books. Books lay here and there, in the disorder of use, on work table, couch and desk. On a sill by an open window, a jar of autumn leaves breathed the charm of the sweet brown wife, who seated herself in a tiny rattan chair, enameled a cheery red, such as children delight to rock in.
“A queer house,” Mrs. Hale laughed girlishly and contentedly. “But we love it. Edmund made it with his own hands even to the plumbing, though he did have a terrible time with that before he succeeded.”
“How about that hardwood floor downstairs?—an’ the fireplace?” Billy inquired.
“All, all,” she replied proudly. “And half the furniture. That cedar desk there, the table—with his own hands.”
“They are such gentle hands,” Saxon was moved to say.
Mrs. Hale looked at her quickly, her vivid face alive with a grateful light.
“They are gentle, the gentlest hands I have ever known,” she said softly. “And you are a dear to have noticed it, for you only saw them yesterday in passing.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Saxon said simply.
Her gaze slipped past Mrs. Hale, attracted by the wall beyond, which was done in a bewitching honeycomb pattern dotted with golden bees. The walls were hung with a few, a very few, framed pictures.
“They are all of people,” Saxon said, remembering the beautiful paintings in Mark Hall’s bungalow.
“My windows frame my landscape paintings,” Mrs. Hale answered, pointing out of doors. “Inside I want only the faces of my dear ones whom I cannot have with me always. Some of them are dreadful rovers.”
“Oh!” Saxon was on her feet and looking at a photograph. “You know Clara Hastings!”
“I ought to. I did everything but nurse her at my breast. She came to me when she was a little baby. Her mother was my sister. Do you know how greatly you resemble her? I remarked it to Edmund yesterday. He had already seen it. It wasn’t a bit strange that his heart leaped out to you two as you came drilling down behind those beautiful horses.”
So Mrs. Hale was Clara’s aunt—old stock that had crossed the Plains. Saxon knew now why she had reminded her so strongly of her own mother.
The talk whipped quite away from Billy, who could only admire the detailed work of the cedar desk while he listened. Saxon told of meeting Clara and Jack Hastings on their yacht and on their driving trip in Oregon. They were off again, Mrs. Hale said, having shipped their horses home from Vancouver and taken the Canadian Pacific on their way to England. Mrs. Hale knew Saxon’s mother or, rather, her poems; and produced, not only “The Story of the Files,” but a ponderous scrapbook which contained many of her mother’s poems which Saxon had never seen. A sweet singer, Mrs. Hale said; but so many had sung in the days of gold and been forgotten. There had been no army of magazines then, and the poems had perished in local newspapers.
Jack Hastings had fallen in love with Clara, the talk ran on; then, visiting at Trillium Covert, he had fallen in love with Sonoma Valley and bought a magnificent home ranch, though little enough he saw of it, being away over the world so much of the time. Mrs. Hale talked of her own Journey across the Plains, a little girl, in the late Fifties, and, like Mrs. Mortimer, knew all about the fight at Little Meadow, and the tale of the massacre of the emigrant train of which Billy’s father had been the sole survivor.
“And so,” Saxon concluded, an hour later, “we’ve been three years searching for our valley of the moon, and now we’ve found it.”
“Valley of the Moon?” Mrs. Hale queried. “Then you knew about it all the time. What kept you so long?”
“No; we didn’t know. We just started on a blind search for it. Mark Hall called it a pilgrimage, and was always teasing us to carry long staffs. He said when we found the spot we’d know, because then the staffs would burst into blossom. He laughed at all the good things we wanted in our valley, and one night he took me out and showed me the moon through a telescope. He said that was the only place we could find such a wonderful valley. He meant it was moonshine, but we adopted the name and went on looking for it.”
“What a coincidence!” Mrs. Hale exclaimed. “For this is the Valley of the Moon.”
“I know it,” Saxon said with quiet confidence. “It has everything we wanted.”
“But you don’t understand, my dear. This is the Valley of the Moon. This is Sonoma Valley. Sonoma is an Indian word, and means the Valley of the Moon. That was what the Indians called it for untold ages before the first white men came. We, who love it, still so call it.”
And then Saxon recalled the mysterious references Jack Hastings and his wife had made to it, and the talk tripped along until Billy grew restless. He cleared his throat significantly and interrupted.
“We want to find out about that ranch acrost the creek—who owns it, if they’ll sell, where we’ll find ‘em, an’ such things.”
Mrs. Hale stood up.
“We’ll go and see Edmund,” she said, catching Saxon by the hand and leading the way.
“My!” Billy ejaculated, towering above her. “I used to think Saxon was small. But she’d make two of you.”
“And you’re pretty big,” the little woman smiled; “but Edmund is taller than you, and broader-shouldered.”
They crossed a bright hall, and found the big beautiful husband lying back reading in a huge Mission rocker. Beside it was another tiny child’s chair of red-enameled rattan. Along the length of his thigh, the head on his knee and directed toward a smoldering log in a fireplace, clung an incredibly large striped cat. Like its master, it turned its head to greet the newcomers. Again Saxon felt the loving benediction that abided in his face, his eyes, his hands—toward which she involuntarily dropped her eyes. Again she was impressed by the gentleness of them. They were hands of love. They were the hands of a type of man she had never dreamed existed. No one in that merry crowd of Carmel had prefigured him. They were artists. This was the scholar, the philosopher. In place of the passion of youth and all youth’s mad revolt, was the benignance of wisdom. Those gentle hands had passed all the bitter by and plucked only the sweet of life. Dearly as she loved them, she shuddered to think what some of those Carmelites would be like when they were as old as he—especially the dramatic critic and the Iron Man.
“Here are the dear children, Edmund,” Mrs. Hale said. “What do you think! They want to buy the Madrono Ranch. They’ve been three years searching for it—I forgot to tell them we had searched ten years for Trillium Covert. Tell them all about it. Surely Mr. Naismith is still of a mind to sell!”
They seated themselves in simple massive chairs, and Mrs. Hale took the tiny rattan beside the big Mission rocker, her slender hand curled like a tendril in Edmund’s. And while Saxon listened to the talk, her eyes took in the grave rooms lined with books. She began to realize how a mere structure of wood and stone may express the spirit of him who conceives and makes it. Those gentle hands had made all this—the very furniture, she guessed as her eyes roved from desk to chair, from work table to reading stand beside the bed in the other room, where stood a green-shaded lamp and orderly piles of magazines and books.
As for the matter of Madrono Ranch, it was easy enough he was saying. Naismith would sell. Had desired to sell for the past five years, ever since he had engaged in the enterprise of bottling mineral water at the springs lower down the valley. It was fortunate that he was the owner, for about all the rest of the surrounding land was owned by a Frenchman—an early settler. He would not part with a foot of it. He was a peasant, with all the peasant’s love of the soil, which, in him, had become an obsession, a disease. He was a land-miser. With no business capacity, old and opinionated, he was land poor, and it was an open question which would arrive first, his death or bankruptcy.
As for Madrono Ranch, Naismith owned it and had set the price at fifty dollars an acre. That would be one thousand dollars, for there were twenty acres. As a farming investment, using old-fashioned methods, it was not worth it. As a business investment, yes; for the virtues of the valley were on the eve of being discovered by the outside world, and no better location for a summer home could be found. As a happiness investment in joy of beauty and climate, it was worth a thousand times the price asked. And he knew Naismith would allow time on most of the amount. Edmund’s suggestion was that they take a two years’ lease, with option to buy, the rent to apply to the purchase if they took it up. Naismith had done that once with a Swiss, who had paid a monthly rental of ten dollars. But the man’s wife had died, and he had gone away.
Edmund soon divined Billy’s renunciation, though not the nature of it; and several questions brought it forth—the old pioneer dream of land spaciousness; of cattle on a hundred hills; one hundred and sixty acres of land the smallest thinkable division.
“But you don’t need all that land, dear lad,” Edmund said softly. “I see you understand intensive farming. Have you thought about intensive horse-raising?”
Billy’s jaw dropped at the smashing newness of the idea. He considered it, but could see no similarity in the two processes. Unbelief leaped into his eyes.
“You gotta show me!” he cried.
The elder man smiled gently.
“Let us see. In the first place, you don’t need those twenty acres except for beauty. There are five acres in the meadow. You don’t need more than two of them to make your living at selling vegetables. In fact, you and your wife, working from daylight to dark, cannot properly farm those two acres. Remains three acres. You have plenty of water for it from the springs. Don’t be satisfied with one crop a year, like the rest of the old-fashioned farmers in this valley. Farm it like your vegetable plot, intensively, all the year, in crops that make horse-feed, irrigating, fertilizing, rotating your crops. Those three acres will feed as many horses as heaven knows how huge an area of unseeded, uncared for, wasted pasture would feed. Think it over. I’ll lend you books on the subject. I don’t know how large your crops will be, nor do I know how much a horse eats; that’s your business. But I am certain, with a hired man to take your place helping your wife on her two acres of vegetables, that by the time you own the horses your three acres will feed, you will have all you can attend to. Then it will be time to get more land, for more horses, for more riches, if that way happiness lie.”
Billy understood. In his enthusiasm he dashed out:
“You’re some farmer.”
Edmund smiled and glanced toward his wife.
“Give him your opinion of that, Annette.”
Her blue eyes twinkled as she complied.
“Why, the dear, he never farms. He has never farmed. But he knows.” She waved her hand about the booklined walls. “He is a student of good. He studies all good things done by good men under the sun. His pleasure is in books and wood-working.”
“Don’t forget Dulcie,” Edmund gently protested.
“Yes, and Dulcie.” Annette laughed. “Dulcie is our cow. It is a great question with Jack Hastings whether Edmund dotes more on Dulcie, or Dulcie dotes more on Edmund. When he goes to San Francisco Dulcie is miserable. So is Edmund, until he hastens back. Oh, Dulcie has given me no few jealous pangs. But I have to confess he understands her as no one else does.”
“That is the one practical subject I know by experience,” Edmund confirmed. “I am an authority on Jersey cows. Call upon me any time for counsel.”
He stood up and went toward his book-shelves; and they saw how magnificently large a man he was. He paused a book in his hand, to answer a question from Saxon. No; there were no mosquitoes, although, one summer when the south wind blew for ten days—an unprecedented thing—a few mosquitoes had been carried up from San Pablo Bay. As for fog, it was the making of the valley. And where they were situated, sheltered behind Sonoma Mountain, the fogs were almost invariably high fogs. Sweeping in from the ocean forty miles away, they were deflected by Sonoma Mountain and shunted high into the air. Another thing, Trillium Covert and Madrono Ranch were happily situated in a narrow thermal belt, so that in the frosty mornings of winter the temperature was always several degrees higher than in the rest of the valley. In fact, frost was very rare in the thermal belt, as was proved by the successful cultivation of certain orange and lemon trees.
Edmund continued reading titles and selecting books until he had drawn out quite a number. He opened the top one, Bolton Hall’s “Three Acres and Liberty,” and read to them of a man who walked six hundred and fifty miles a year in cultivating, by old-fashioned methods, twenty acres, from which he harvested three thousand bushels of poor potatoes; and of another man, a “new” farmer, who cultivated only five acres, walked two hundred miles, and produced three thousand bushels of potatoes, early and choice, which he sold at many times the price received by the first man.
Saxon receded the books from Edmund, and, as she heaped them in Billy’s arms, read the titles. They were: Wickson’s “California Fruits,” Wickson’s “California Vegetables,” Brooks’ “Fertilizers,” Watson’s “Farm Poultry,” King’s “Irrigation and Drainage,” Kropotkin’s “Fields, Factories and Workshops,” and Farmer’s Bulletin No. 22 on “The Feeding of Farm Animals.”
“Come for more any time you want them,” Edmund invited. “I have hundreds of volumes on farming, and all the Agricultural Bulletins... . And you must come and get acquainted with Dulcie your first spare time,” he called after them out the door.
Mrs. Mortimer arrived with seed catalogs and farm books, to find Saxon immersed in the farm books borrowed from Edmund. Saxon showed her around, and she was delighted with everything, including the terms of the lease and its option to buy.
“And now,” she said. “What is to be done? Sit down, both of you. This is a council of war, and I am the one person in the world to tell you what to do. I ought to be. Anybody who has reorganized and recatalogued a great city library should be able to start you young people on in short order. Now, where shall we begin?”
She paused for breath of consideration.
“First, Madrono Ranch is a bargain. I know soil, I know beauty, I know climate. Madrono Ranch is a gold mine. There is a fortune in that meadow. Tilth—I’ll tell you about that later. First, here’s the land. Second, what are you going to do with it? Make a living? Yes. Vegetables? Of course. What are you going to do with them after you have grown them? Sell. Where?—Now listen. You must do as I did. Cut out the middle man. Sell directly to the consumer. Drum up your own market. Do you know what I saw from the car windows coming up the valley, only several miles from here? Hotels, springs, summer resorts, winter resorts—population, mouths, market. How is that market supplied? I looked in vain for truck gardens.—Billy, harness up your horses and be ready directly after dinner to take Saxon and me driving. Never mind everything else. Let things stand. What’s the use of starting for a place of which you haven’t the address. We’ll look for the address this afternoon. Then we’ll know where we are—at."—The last syllable a smiling concession to Billy.
But Saxon did not accompany them. There was too much to be done in cleaning the long-abandoned house and in preparing an arrangement for Mrs. Mortimer to sleep. And it was long after supper time when Mrs. Mortimer and Billy returned.
“You lucky, lucky children,” she began immediately. “This valley is just waking up. Here’s your market. There isn’t a competitor in the valley. I thought those resorts looked new—Caliente, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, and all along the line. Then there are three little hotels in Glen Ellen, right next door. Oh, I’ve talked with all the owners and managers.”
“She’s a wooz,” Billy admired. “She’d brace up to God on a business proposition. You oughta seen her.”
Mrs. Mortimer acknowledged the compliment and dashed on.
“And where do all the vegetables come from? Wagons drive down twelve to fifteen miles from Santa Rosa, and up from Sonoma. Those are the nearest truck farms, and when they fail, as they often do, I am told, to supply the increasing needs, the managers have to express vegetables all the way from San Francisco. I’ve introduced Billy. They’ve agreed to patronize home industry. Besides, it is better for them. You’ll deliver just as good vegetables just as cheap; you will make it a point to deliver better, fresher vegetables; and don’t forget that delivery for you will be cheaper by virtue of the shorter haul.
“No day-old egg stunt here. No jams nor jellies. But you’ve got lots of space up on the bench here on which you can’t grow vegetables. To-morrow morning I’ll help you lay out the chicken runs and houses. Besides, there is the matter of capons for the San Francisco market. You’ll start small. It will be a side line at first. I’ll tell you all about that, too, and send you the literature. You must use your head. Let others do the work. You must understand that thoroughly. The wages of superintendence are always larger than the wages of the laborers. You must keep books. You must know where you stand. You must know what pays and what doesn’t and what pays best. Your books will tell that. I’ll show you all in good time.”
“An’ think of it—all that on two acres!” Billy murmured.
Mrs. Mortimer looked at him sharply.
“Two acres your granny,” she said with asperity. “Five acres. And then you won’t be able to supply your market. And you, my boy, as soon as the first rains come will have your hands full and your horses weary draining that meadow. We’ll work those plans out to-morrow Also, there is the matter of berries on the bench here—and trellised table grapes, the choicest. They bring the fancy prices. There will be blackberries—Burbank’s, he lives at Santa Rosa—Loganberries, Mammoth berries. But don’t fool with strawberries. That’s a whole occupation in itself. They’re not vines, you know. I’ve examined the orchard. It’s a good foundation. We’ll settle the pruning and grafts later.”
“But Billy wanted three acres of the meadow,” Saxon explained at the first chance.
“To grow hay and other kinds of food for the horses he’s going to raise.”
“Buy it out of a portion of the profits from those three acres,” Mrs. Mortimer decided on the instant.
Billy swallowed, and again achieved renunciation.
“All right,” he said, with a brave show of cheerfulness. “Let her go. Us for the greens.”
During the several days of Mrs. Mortimer’s visit, Billy let the two women settle things for themselves. Oakland had entered upon a boom, and from the West Oakland stables had come an urgent letter for more horses. So Billy was out, early and late, scouring the surrounding country for young work animals. In this way, at the start, he learned his valley thoroughly. There was also a clearing out at the West Oakland stables of mares whose feet had been knocked out on the hard city pave meets, and he was offered first choice at bargain prices. They were good animals. He knew what they were because he knew them of old time. The soft earth of the country, with a preliminary rest in pasture with their shoes pulled off, would put them in shape. They would never do again on hard-paved streets, but there were years of farm work in them. And then there was the breeding. But he could not undertake to buy them. He fought out the battle in secret and said nothing to Saxon.
At night, he would sit in the kitchen and smoke, listening to all that the two women had done and planned in the day. The right kind of horses was hard to buy, and, as he put it, it was like pulling a tooth to get a farmer to part with one, despite the fact that he had been authorized to increase the buying sum by as much as fifty dollars. Despite the coming of the automobile, the price of heavy draught animals continued to rise. From as early as Billy could remember, the price of the big work horses had increased steadily. After the great earthquake, the price had jumped; yet it had never gone back.
“Billy, you make more money as a horse-buyer than a common laborer, don’t you?” Mrs. Mortimer asked. “Very well, then. You won’t have to drain the meadow, or plow it, or anything. You keep right on buying horses. Work with your head. But out of what you make you will please pay the wages of one laborer for Saxon’s vegetables. It will be a good investment, with quick returns.”
“Sure,” he agreed. “That’s all anybody hires any body for—to make money outa ‘m. But how Saxon an’ one man are goin’ to work them five acres, when Mr. Hale says two of us couldn’t do what’s needed on two acres, is beyond me.”
“Saxon isn’t going to work,” Mrs. Mortimer retorted.
“Did you see me working at San Jose? Saxon is going to use her head. It’s about time you woke up to that. A dollar and a half a day is what is earned by persons who don’t use their heads. And she isn’t going to be satisfied with a dollar and a half a day. Now listen. I had a long talk with Mr. Hale this afternoon. He says there are practically no efficient laborers to be hired in the valley.”
“I know that,” Billy interjected. “All the good men go to the cities. It’s only the leavin’s that’s left. The good ones that stay behind ain’t workin’ for wages.”
“Which is perfectly true, every word. Now listen, children. I knew about it, and I spoke to Mr. Hale. He is prepared to make the arrangements for you. He knows all about it himself, and is in touch with the Warden. In short, you will parole two good-conduct prisoners from San Quentin; and they will be gardeners. There are plenty of Chinese and Italians there, and they are the best truck-farmers. You kill two birds with one stone. You serve the poor convicts, and you serve yourselves.”
Saxon hesitated, shocked; while Billy gravely considered the question.
“You know John,” Mrs. Mortimer went on, “Mr. Hale’s man about the place? How do you like him?”
“Oh, I was wishing only to-day that we could find somebody like him,” Saxon said eagerly. “He’s such a dear, faithful soul. Mrs. Hale told me a lot of fine things about him.”
“There’s one thing she didn’t tell you,” smiled Mrs. Mortimer. “John is a paroled convict. Twenty-eight years ago, in hot blood, he killed a man in a quarrel over sixty-five cents. He’s been out of prison with the Hales three years now. You remember Louis, the old Frenchman, on my place? He’s another. So that’s settled. When your two come—of course you will pay them fair wages—and we’ll make sure they’re the same nationality, either Chinese or Italians—well, when they come, John, with their help, and under Mr. Hale’s guidance, will knock together a small cabin for them to live in. We’ll select the spot. Even so, when your farm is in full swing you’ll have to have more outside help. So keep your eyes open, Billy, while you’re gallivanting over the valley.”
The next night Billy failed to return, and at nine o’clock a Glen Ellen boy on horseback delivered a telegram. Billy had sent it from Lake County. He was after horses for Oakland.
Not until the third night did he arrive home, tired to exhaustion, but with an ill concealed air of pride.
“Now what have you been doing these three days?” Mrs. Mortimer demanded.
“Usin’ my head,” he boasted quietly. “Killin’ two birds with one stone; an’, take it from me, I killed a whole flock. Huh! I got word of it at Lawndale, an’ I wanta tell you Hazel an’ Hattie was some tired when I stabled ‘m at Calistoga an’ pulled out on the stage over St. Helena. I was Johnny-on-the-spot, an’ I nailed ‘m—eight whoppers—the whole outfit of a mountain teamster. Young animals, sound as a-dollar, and the lightest of ‘em over fifteen hundred. I shipped ‘m last night from Calistoga. An’, well, that ain’t all.
“Before that, first day, at Lawndale, I seen the fellow with the teamin’ contract for the pavin’-stone quarry. Sell horses! He wanted to buy ‘em. He wanted to buy ‘em bad. He’d even rent ‘em, he said.”
“And you sent him the eight you bought!” Saxon broke in.
“Guess again. I bought them eight with Oakland money, an’ they was shipped to Oakland. But I got the Lawndale contractor on long distance, and he agreed to pay me half a dollar a day rent for every work horse up to half a dozen. Then I telegraphed the Boss, tellin’ him to ship me six sore-footed mares, Bud Strothers to make the choice, an’ to charge to my commission. Bud knows what I ‘m after. Soon as they come, off go their shoes. Two weeks in pasture, an’ then they go to Lawndale. They can do the work. It’s a down-hill haul to the railroad on a dirt road. Half a dollar rent each—that’s three dollars a day they’ll bring me six days a week. I don’t feed ‘em, shoe ‘m, or nothin’, an’ I keep an eye on ‘m to see they’re treated right. Three bucks a day, eh! Well, I guess that’ll keep a couple of dollar-an ‘-a-half men goin’ for Saxon, unless she works ‘em Sundays. Huh! The Valley of the Moon! Why, we’ll be wearin’ diamonds before long. Gosh! A fellow could live in the city a thousan’ years an’ not get such chances. It beats China lottery.”
He stood up.
“I ‘m goin’ out to water Hazel an’ Hattie, feed ‘m, an’ bed ‘m down. I’ll eat soon as I come back.”
The two women were regarding each other with shining eyes, each on the verge of speech when Billy returned to the door and stuck his head in.
“They’s one thing maybe you ain’t got,” he said. “I pull down them three dollars every day; but the six mares is mine, too. I own ‘m. They’re mine. Are you on?”
“I’m not done with you children,” had been Mrs. Mortimer’s parting words; and several times that winter she ran up to advise, and to teach Saxon how to calculate her crops for the small immediate market, for the increasing spring market, and for the height of summer, at which time she would be able to sell all she could possibly grow and then not supply the demand. In the meantime, Hazel and Hattie were used every odd moment in hauling manure from Glen Ellen, whose barnyards had never known such a thorough cleaning. Also there were loads of commercial fertilizer from the railroad station, bought under Mrs. Mortimer’s instructions.
The convicts paroled were Chinese. Both had served long in prison, and were old men; but the day’s work they were habitually capable of won Mrs. Mortimer’s approval. Gow Yum, twenty years before, had had charge of the vegetable garden of one of the great Menlo Park estates. His disaster had come in the form of a fight over a game of fan tan in the Chinese quarter at Redwood City. His companion, Chan Chi, had been a hatchet-man of note, in the old fighting days of the San Francisco tongs. But a quarter of century of discipline in the prison vegetable gardens had cooled his blood and turned his hand from hatchet to hoe. These two assistants had arrived in Glen Ellen like precious goods in bond and been receipted for by the local deputy sheriff, who, in addition, reported on them to the prison authorities each month. Saxon, too, made out a monthly report and sent it in.
As for the danger of their cutting her throat, she quickly got over the idea of it. The mailed hand of the State hovered over them. The taking of a single drink of liquor would provoke that hand to close down and jerk them back to prison-cells. Nor had they freedom of movement. When old Gow Yum needed to go to San Francisco to sign certain papers before the Chinese Consul, permission had first to be obtained from San Quentin. Then, too, neither man was nasty tempered. Saxon had been apprehensive of the task of bossing two desperate convicts; but when they came she found it a pleasure to work with them. She could tell them what to do, but it was they who knew how do. Prom them she learned all the ten thousand tricks and quirks of artful gardening, and she was not long in realizing how helpless she would have been had she depended on local labor.
Still further, she had no fear, because she was not alone. She had been using her head. It was quickly apparent to her that she could not adequately oversee the outside work and at the same time do the house work. She wrote to Ukiah to the energetic widow who had lived in the adjoining house and taken in washing. She had promptly closed with Saxon’s offer. Mrs. Paul was forty, short in stature, and weighed two hundred pounds, but never wearied on her feet. Also she was devoid of fear, and, according to Billy, could settle the hash of both Chinese with one of her mighty arms. Mrs. Paul arrived with her son, a country lad of sixteen who knew horses and could milk Hilda, the pretty Jersey which had successfully passed Edmund’s expert eye. Though Mrs. Paul ably handled the house, there was one thing Saxon insisted on doing—namely, washing her own pretty flimsies.
“When I ‘m no longer able to do that,” she told Billy, “you can take a spade to that clump of redwoods beside Wild Water and dig a hole. It will be time to bury me.”
It was early in the days of Madrono Ranch, at the time of Mrs. Mortimer’s second visit, that Billy drove in with a load of pipe; and house, chicken yards, and barn were piped from the second-hand tank he installed below the house-spring.
“Huh! I guess I can use my head,” he said. “I watched a woman over on the other side of the valley, packin’ water two hundred feet from the spring to the house; an’ I did some figurin’. I put it at three trips a day and on wash days a whole lot more; an’ you can’t guess what I made out she traveled a year packin’ water. One hundred an’ twenty-two miles. D’ye get that? One hundred and twenty-two miles! I asked her how long she’d been there. Thirty-one years. Multiply it for yourself. Three thousan’, seven hundred an’ eighty-two miles—all for the sake of two hundred feet of pipe. Wouldn’t that jar you?”
“Oh, I ain’t done yet. They’s a bath-tub an’ stationary tubs a-comin’ soon as I can see my way. An’, say, Saxon, you know that little clear flat just where Wild Water runs into Sonoma. They’s all of an acre of it. An’ it’s mine! Got that? An’ no walkin’ on the grass for you. It’ll be my grass. I ‘m goin’ up stream a ways an’ put in a ram. I got a big second-hand one staked out that I can get for ten dollars, an’ it’ll pump more water’n I need. An’ you’ll see alfalfa growin’ that’ll make your mouth water. I gotta have another horse to travel around on. You’re usin’ Hazel an’ Hattie too much to give me a chance; an’ I’ll never see ’m as soon as you start deliverin’ vegetables. I guess that alfalfa’ll help some to keep another horse goin’.”
But Billy was destined for a time to forget his alfalfa in the excitement of bigger ventures. First, came trouble. The several hundred dollars he had arrived with in Sonoma Valley, and all his own commissions since earned, had gone into improvements and living. The eighteen dollars a week rental for his six horses at Lawndale went to pay wages. And he was unable to buy the needed saddle-horse for his horse-buying expeditions. This, however, he had got around by again using his head and killing two birds with one stone. He began breaking colts to drive, and in the driving drove them wherever he sought horses.
So far all was well. But a new administration in San Francisco, pledged to economy, had stopped all street work. This meant the shutting down of the Lawndale quarry, which was one of the sources of supply for paving blocks. The six horses would not only be back on his hands, but he would have to feed them. How Mrs. Paul, Gow Yum, and Chan Chi were to be paid was beyond him.
“I guess we’ve bit off more’n we could chew,” he admitted to Saxon.
That night he was late in coming home, but brought with him a radiant face. Saxon was no less radiant.
“It’s all right,” she greeted him, coming out to the barn where he was unhitching a tired but fractious colt. “I’ve talked with all three. They see the situation, and are perfectly willing to let their wages stand a while. By another week I start Hazel and Hattie delivering vegetables. Then the money will pour in from the hotels and my books won’t look so lopsided. And—oh, Billy—you’d never guess. Old Gow Yum has a bank account. He came to me afterward—I guess he was thinking it over—and offered to lend me four hundred dollars. What do you think of that?”
“That I ain’t goin’ to be too proud to borrow it off ‘m, if he IS a Chink. He’s a white one, an’ maybe I’ll need it. Because, you see—well, you can’t guess what I’ve been up to since I seen you this mornin’. I’ve been so busy I ain’t had a bite to eat.”
“Using your head?” She laughed.
“You can call it that,” he joined in her laughter. “I’ve been spendin’ money like water.”
“But you haven’t got any to spend,” she objected.
“I’ve got credit in this valley, I’ll let you know,” he replied. “An’ I sure strained it some this afternoon. Now guess.”
He roared with laughter, startling the colt, which tried to bolt and lifted him half off the ground by his grip on its frightened nose and neck.
“Oh, I mean real guessin’,” he urged, when the animal had dropped back to earth and stood regarding him with trembling suspicion.
“Aw, you ain’t got imagination. I’ll tell you. You know Thiercroft. I bought his big wagon from ‘m for sixty dollars. I bought a wagon from the Kenwood blacksmith—so-so, but it’ll do—for forty-five dollars. An’ I bought Ping’s wagon—a peach—for sixty-five dollars. I could a-got it for fifty if he hadn’t seen I wanted it bad.”
“But the money?” Saxon questioned faintly. “You hadn’t a hundred dollars left.”
“Didn’t I tell you I had credit? Well, I have. I stood ‘m off for them wagons. I ain’t spent a cent of cash money to-day except for a couple of long-distance switches. Then I bought three sets of work-harness—they’re chain harness an’ second-hand—for twenty dollars a set. I bought ‘m from the fellow that’s doin’ the haulin’ for the quarry. He don’t need ‘m any more. An’ I rented four wagons from ‘m, an’ four span of horses, too, at half a dollar a day for each horse, an’ half a dollar a day for each wagon—that’s six dollars a day rent I gotta pay ‘m. The three sets of spare harness is for my six horses. Then... lemme see... yep, I rented two barns in Glen Ellen, an’ I ordered fifty tons of hay an’ a carload of bran an’ barley from the store in Glenwood—you see, I gotta feed all them fourteen horses, an’ shoe ‘m, an’ everything.
“Oh, sure Pete, I’ve went some. I hired seven men to go drivin’ for me at two dollars a day, an’—ouch! Jehosaphat! What you doin’!”
“No,” Saxon said gravely, having pinched him, “you’re not dreaming.” She felt his pulse and forehead. “Not a sign of fever.” She sniffed his breath. “And you’ve not been drinking. Go on, tell me the rest of this... whatever it is.”
“Ain’t you satisfied?”
“No. I want more. I want all.”
“All right. But I just want you to know, first, that the boss I used to work for in Oakland ain’t got nothin’ on me. I ‘m some man of affairs, if anybody should ride up on a vegetable wagon an’ ask you. Now, I ‘m goin’ to tell you, though I can’t see why the Glen Ellen folks didn’t beat me to it. I guess they was asleep. Nobody’d a-overlooked a thing like it in the city. You see, it was like this: you know that fancy brickyard they’re gettin’ ready to start for makin’ extra special fire brick for inside walls? Well, here was I worryin’ about the six horses comin’ back on my hands, earnin’ me nothin’ an’ eatin’ me into the poorhouse. I had to get ‘m work somehow, an’ I remembered the brickyard. I drove the colt down an’ talked with that Jap chemist who’s been doin’ the experimentin’. Gee! They was foremen lookin’ over the ground an’ everything gettin’ ready to hum. I looked over the lay an’ studied it. Then I drove up to where they’re openin’ the clay pit—you know, that fine, white chalky stuff we saw ‘em borin’ out just outside the hundred an’ forty acres with the three knolls. It’s a down-hill haul, a mile, an’ two horses can do it easy. In fact, their hardest job’ll be haulin’ the empty wagons up to the pit. Then I tied the colt an’ went to figurin’.
“The Jap professor’d told me the manager an’ the other big guns of the company was comin’ up on the mornin’ train. I wasn’t shoutin’ things out to anybody, but I just made myself into a committee of welcome; an’, when the train pulled in, there I was, extendin’ the glad hand of the burg—likewise the glad hand of a guy you used to know in Oakland once, a third-rate dub prizefighter by the name of—lemme see—yep, I got it right—Big Bill Roberts was the name he used to sport, but now he’s known as William Roberts, E. S. Q.
“Well, as I was sayin’, I gave ‘m the glad hand, an’ trailed along with ’em to the brickyard, an’ from the talk I could see things was doin’. Then I watched my chance an’ sprung my proposition. I was scared stiff all the time for maybe the teamin’ was already arranged. But I knew it wasn’t when they asked for my figures. I had ‘m by heart, an’ I rattled ’m off, and the top-guy took ‘m down in his note-book.
“’We’re goin’ into this big, an’ at once,’ he says, lookin’ at me sharp. ’What kind of an outfit you got, Mr. Roberts?’”
“Me!—with only Hazel an’ Hattie, an’ them too small for heavy teamin’.
“’I can slap fourteen horses an’ seven wagons onto the job at the jump,’ says I. ‘An’ if you want more, I’ll get ‘m, that’s all.’
“’Give us fifteen minutes to consider, Mr. Roberts,’ he says.
“’Sure,’ says I, important as all hell—ahem—me!—’but a couple of other things first. I want a two year contract, an’ them figures all depends on one thing. Otherwise they don’t go.’
“’What’s that,’ he says.
“’The dump,’ says I. ‘Here we are on the ground, an’ I might as well show you.’
“An’ I did. I showed ‘m where I’d lose out if they stuck to their plan, on account of the dip down an’ pull up to the dump. ‘All you gotta do,’ I says, ‘is to build the bunkers fifty feet over, throw the road around the rim of the hill, an’ make about seventy or eighty feet of elevated bridge.’
“Say, Saxon, that kind of talk got ‘em. It was straight. Only they’d been thinkin’ about bricks, while I was only thinkin’ of teamin’.
“I guess they was all of half an hour considerin’, an’ I was almost as miserable waitin’ as when I waited for you to say yes after I asked you. I went over the figures, calculatin’ what I could throw off if I had to. You see, I’d given it to ‘em stiff—regular city prices; an’ I was prepared to trim down. Then they come back.
“’Prices oughta be lower in the country,’ says the top-guy.
“’Nope,’ I says. ‘This is a wine-grape valley. It don’t raise enough hay an’ feed for its own animals. It has to be shipped in from the San Joaquin Valley. Why, I can buy hay an’ feed cheaper in San Francisco, laid down, than I can here an’ haul it myself.’
“An’ that struck ‘m hard. It was true, an’ they knew it. But—say! If they’d asked about wages for drivers, an’ about horse-shoein’ prices, I’d a-had to come down; because, you see, they ain’t no teamsters’ union in the country, an’ no horseshoers’ union, an’ rent is low, an’ them two items come a whole lot cheaper. Huh! This afternoon I got a word bargain with the blacksmith across from the post office; an’ he takes my whole bunch an’ throws off twenty-five cents on each shoein’, though it’s on the Q. T. But they didn’t think to ask, bein’ too full of bricks.”
Billy felt in his breast pocket, drew out a legal-looking document, and handed it to Saxon.
“There it is,” he said, “the contract, full of all the agreements, prices, an’ penalties. I saw Mr. Hale down town an’ showed it to ‘m. He says it’s O.K. An’ say, then I lit out. All over town, Kenwood, Lawndale, everywhere, everybody, everything. The quarry teamin’ finishes Friday of this week. An’ I take the whole outfit an’ start Wednesday of next week haulin’ lumber for the buildin’s, an’ bricks for the kilns, an’ all the rest. An’ when they’re ready for the clay I ‘m the boy that’ll give it to them.
“But I ain’t told you the best yet. I couldn’t get the switch right away from Kenwood to Lawndale, and while I waited I went over my figures again. You couldn’t guess it in a million years. I’d made a mistake in addition somewhere, an’ soaked ‘m ten per cent. more’n I’d expected. Talk about findin’ money! Any time you want them couple of extra men to help out with the vegetables, say the word. Though we’re goin’ to have to pinch the next couple of months. An’ go ahead an’ borrow that four hundred from Gow Yum. An’ tell him you’ll pay eight per cent. interest, an’ that we won’t want it more ‘n three or four months.”
When Billy got away from Saxon’s arms, he started leading the colt up and down to cool it off. He stopped so abruptly that his back collided with the colt’s nose, and there was a lively minute of rearing and plunging. Saxon waited, for she knew a fresh idea had struck Billy.
“Say,” he said, “do you know anything about bank accounts and drawin’ checks?”
It was on a bright June morning that Billy told Saxon to put on her riding clothes to try out a saddle-horse.
“Not until after ten o’clock,” she said “By that time I’ll have the wagon off on a second trip.”
Despite the extent of the business she had developed, her executive ability and system gave her much spare time. She could call on the Hales, which was ever a delight, especially now that the Hastings were back and that Clara was often at her aunt’s. In this congenial atmosphere Saxon Burgeoned. She had begun to read—to read with understanding; and she had time for her books, for work on her pretties, and for Billy, whom she accompanied on many expeditions.
Billy was even busier than she, his work being more scattered and diverse. And, as well, he kept his eye on the home barn and horses which Saxon used. In truth he had become a man of affairs, though Mrs. Mortimer had gone over his accounts, with an eagle eye on the expense column, discovering several minor leaks, and finally, aided by Saxon, bullied him into keeping books. Each night, after supper, he and Saxon posted their books. Afterward, in the big morris chair he had insisted on buying early in the days of his brickyard contract, Saxon would creep into his arms and strum on the ukelele; or they would talk long about what they were doing and planning to do. Now it would be:
“I’m mixin’ up in politics, Saxon. It pays. You bet it pays. If by next spring I ain’t got a half a dozen teams workin’ on the roads an’ pullin’ down the county money, it’s me back to Oakland an’ askin’ the Boss for a job.”
Or, Saxon: “They’re really starting that new hotel between Caliente and Eldridge. And there’s some talk of a big sanitarium back in the hills.”
Or, it would be: “Billy, now that you’ve piped that acre, you’ve just got to let me have it for my vegetables. I’ll rent it from you. I’ll take your own estimate for all the alfalfa you can raise on it, and pay you full market price less the cost of growing it.”
“It’s all right, take it.” Billy suppressed a sigh. “Besides, I ‘m too busy to fool with it now.”
Which prevarication was bare-faced, by virtue of his having just installed the ram and piped the land.
“It will be the wisest, Billy,” she soothed, for she knew his dream of land-spaciousness was stronger than ever. “You don’t want to fool with an acre. There’s that hundred and forty. We’ll buy it yet if old Chavon ever dies. Besides, it really belongs to Madrono Ranch. The two together were the original quarter section.”
“I don’t wish no man’s death,” Billy grumbled. “But he ain’t gettin’ no good out of it, over-pasturin’ it with a lot of scrub animals. I’ve sized it up every inch of it. They’s at least forty acres in the three cleared fields, with water in the hills behind to beat the band. The horse feed I could raise on it’d take your breath away. Then they’s at least fifty acres I could run my brood mares on, pasture mixed up with trees and steep places and such. The other fifty’s just thick woods, an’ pretty places, an’ wild game. An’ that old adobe barn’s all right. With a new roof it’d shelter any amount of animals in bad weather. Cook at me now, rentin’ that measly pasture back of Ping’s just to run my restin’ animals. They could run in the hundred an’ forty if I only had it. I wonder if Chavon would lease it.”
Or, less ambitious, Billy would say: “I gotta skin over to Petaluma to-morrow, Saxon. They’s an auction on the Atkinson Ranch an’ maybe I can pick up some bargains.”
“Ain’t I got two teams haulin’ lumber for the new winery? An’ Barney’s got a bad shoulder-sprain. He’ll have to lay off a long time if he’s to get it in shape. An’ Bridget ain’t ever goin’ to do a tap of work again. I can see that stickin’ out. I’ve doctored her an’ doctored her. She’s fooled the vet, too. An’ some of the other horses has gotta take a rest. That span of grays is showin’ the hard work. An’ the big roan’s goin’ loco. Everybody thought it was his teeth, but it ain’t. It’s straight loco. It’s money in pocket to take care of your animals, an’ horses is the delicatest things on four legs. Some time, if I can ever see my way to it, I ‘m goin’ to ship a carload of mules from Colusa County—big, heavy ones, you know. They’d sell like hot cakes in the valley here—them I didn’t want for myself.”
Or, in lighter vein, Billy: “By the way, Saxon, talkin’ of accounts, what d’you think Hazel an’ Hattie is worth?—fair market price?”
“I ‘m askin’ you.”
“Well, say, what you paid for them—three hundred dollars.”
“Hum.” Billy considered deeply. “They’re worth a whole lot more, but let it go at that. An’ now, gettin’ back to accounts, suppose you write me a check for three hundred dollars.”
“You can’t show me. Why, Saxon, when I let you have grain an’ hay from my carloads, don’t you give me a check for it? An’ you know how you’re stuck on keepin’ your accounts down to the penny,” he teased. “If you’re any kind of a business woman you just gotta charge your business with them two horses. I ain’t had the use of ‘em since I don’t know when.”
“But the colts will be yours,” she argued. “Besides, I can’t afford brood mares in my business. In almost no time, now, Hazel and Hattie will have to be taken off from the wagon—they’re too good for it anyway. And you keep your eyes open for a pair to take their place. I’ll give you a check for THAT pair, but no commission.”
“All right,” Billy conceded. “Hazel an’ Hattie come back to me; but you can pay me rent for the time you did use ‘em.”
“If you make me, I’ll charge you board,” she threatened.
“An’ if you charge me board, I’ll charge you interest for the money I’ve stuck into this shebang.”
“You can’t,” Saxon laughed. “It’s community property.”
He grunted spasmodically, as if the breath had been knocked out of him.
“Straight on the solar plexus,” he said, “an’ me down for the count. But say, them’s sweet words, ain’t they—community property.” He rolled them over and off his tongue with keen relish. “An’ when we got married the top of our ambition was a steady job an’ some rags an’ sticks of furniture all paid up an’ half-worn out. We wouldn’t have had any community property only for you.”
“What nonsense! What could I have done by myself? You know very well that you earned all the money that started us here. You paid the wages of Gow Yum and Chan Chi, and old Hughie, and Mrs. Paul, and—why, you’ve done it all.”
She drew her two hands caressingly across his shoulders and down along his great biceps muscles.
“That’s what did it, Billy.”
“Aw hell! It’s your head that done it. What was my muscles good for with no head to run ‘em,—sluggin’ scabs, beatin’ up lodgers, an’ crookin’ the elbow over a bar. The only sensible thing my head ever done was when it run me into you. Honest to God, Saxon, you’ve been the makin’ of me.”
“Aw hell, Billy,” she mimicked in the way that delighted him, “where would I have been if you hadn’t taken me out of the laundry? I couldn’t take myself out. I was just a helpless girl. I’d have been there yet if it hadn’t been for you. Mrs. Mortimer had five thousand dollars; but I had you.”
“A woman ain’t got the chance to help herself that a man has,” he generalized. “I’ll tell you what: It took the two of us. It’s been team-work. We’ve run in span. If we’d a-run single, you might still be in the laundry; an’, if I was lucky, I’d be still drivin’ team by the day an’ sportin’ around to cheap dances.”
Saxon stood under the father of all madronos, watching Hazel and Hattie go out the gate, the full vegetable wagon behind them, when she saw Billy ride in, leading a sorrel mare from whose silken coat the sun flashed golden lights.
“Four-year-old, high-life, a handful, but no vicious tricks,” Billy chanted, as he stopped beside Saxon. “Skin like tissue paper, mouth like silk, but kill the toughest broncho ever foaled—look at them lungs an’ nostrils. They call her Ramona—some Spanish name: sired by Morellita outa genuine Morgan stock.”
“And they will sell her?” Saxon gasped, standing with hands clasped in inarticulate delight.
“That’s what I brought her to show you for.”
“But how much must they want for her?” was Saxon’s next question, so impossible did it seem that such an amazement of horse-flesh could ever be hers.
“That ain’t your business,” Billy answered brusquely. “The brickyard’s payin’ for her, not the vegetable ranch. She’s yourn at the word. What d’ye say?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute.”
Saxon was trying to mount, but the animal danced nervously away.
“Hold on till I tie,” Billy said. “She ain’t skirt-broke, that’s the trouble.”
Saxon tightly gripped reins and mane, stepped with spurred foot on Billy’s hand, and was lifted lightly into the saddle.
“She’s used to spurs,” Billy called after. “Spanish broke, so don’t check her quick. Come in gentle. An’ talk to her. She’s high-life, you know.”
Saxon nodded, dashed out the gate and down the road, waved a hand to Clara Hastings as she passed the gate of Trillium Covert, and continued up Wild Water canyon.
When she came back, Ramona in a pleasant lather, Saxon rode to the rear of the house, past the chicken houses and the flourishing berry-rows, to join Billy on the rim of the bench, where he sat on his horse in the shade, smoking a cigarette. Together they looked down through an opening among the trees to the meadow which was a meadow no longer. With mathematical accuracy it was divided into squares, oblongs, and narrow strips, which displayed sharply the thousand hues of green of a truck garden. Gow Yum and Chan Chi, under enormous Chinese grass hats, were planting green onions. Old Hughie, hoe in hand, plodded along the main artery of running water, opening certain laterals, closing others. From the work-shed beyond the barn the strokes of a hammer told Saxon that Carlsen was wire-binding vegetable boxes. Mrs. Paul’s cheery soprano, lifted in a hymn, doated through the trees, accompanied by the whirr of an egg-beater. A sharp barking told where Possum still waged hysterical and baffled war on the Douglass squirrels. Billy took a long draw from his cigarette, exhaled the smoke, and continued to look down at the meadow. Saxon divined trouble in his manner. His rein-hand was on the pommel, and her free hand went out and softly rested on his. Billy turned his slow gaze upon her mare’s lather, seeming not to note it, and continued on to Saxon’s face.
“Huh!” he equivocated, as if waking up. “Them San Leandro Porchugeeze ain’t got nothin’ on us when it comes to intensive farmin’. Look at that water runnin’. You know, it seems so good to me that sometimes I just wanta get down on hands an’ knees an’ lap it all up myself.”
“Oh, to have all the water you want in a climate like this!” Saxon exclaimed.
“An’ don’t be scared of it ever goin’ back on you. If the rains fooled you, there’s Sonoma Creek alongside. All we gotta do is install a gasolene pump.”
“But we’ll never have to, Billy. I was talking with ‘Redwood’ Thompson. He’s lived in the valley since Fifty-three, and he says there’s never been a failure of crops on account of drought. We always get our rain.”
“Come on, let’s go for a ride,” he said abruptly. “You’ve got the time.”
“All right, if you’ll tell me what’s bothering you.”
He looked at her quickly.
“Nothin’,” he grunted. “Yes, there is, too. What’s the difference? You’d know it sooner or later. You ought to see old Chavon. His face is that long he can’t walk without bumpin’ his knee on his chin. His gold-mine’s peterin’ out.”
“His clay pit. It’s the same thing. He’s gettin’ twenty cents a yard for it from the brickyard.”
“And that means the end of your teaming contract.” Saxon saw the disaster in all its hugeness. “What about the brickyard people?”
“Worried to death, though they’ve kept secret about it. They’ve had men out punchin’ holes all over the hills for a week, an’ that Jap chemist settin’ up nights analyzin’ the rubbish they’ve brought in. It’s peculiar stuff, that clay, for what they want it for, an’ you don’t find it everywhere. Them experts that reported on Chavon’s pit made one hell of a mistake. Maybe they was lazy with their borin’s. Anyway, they slipped up on the amount of clay they was in it. Now don’t get to botherin’. It’d come out somehow. You can’t do nothin’.”
“But I can,” Saxon insisted. “We won’t buy Ramona.”
“You ain’t got a thing to do with that,” he answered. “I ‘m buyin’ her, an’ her price don’t cut any figure alongside the big game I ‘m playin’. Of course, I can always sell my horses. But that puts a stop to their makin’ money, an’ that brickyard contract was fat.”
“But if you get some of them in on the road work for the county?” she suggested.
“Oh, I got that in mind. An’ I ‘m keepin’ my eyes open. They’s a chance the quarry will start again, an’ the fellow that did that teamin’ has gone to Puget Sound. An’ what if I have to sell out most of the horses? Here’s you and the vegetable business. That’s solid. We just don’t go ahead so fast for a time, that’s all. I ain’t scared of the country any more. I sized things up as we went along. They ain’t a jerk burg we hit all the time on the road that I couldn’t jump into an’ make a go. An’ now where d’you want to ride?”
They cantered out the gate, thundered across the bridge, and passed Trillium Covert before they pulled in on the grade of Wild Water Canyon. Saxon had chosen her field on the big spur of Sonoma Mountains as the objective of their ride.
“Say, I bumped into something big this mornin’ when I was goin’ to fetch Ramona,” Billy said, the clay pit trouble banished for the time. “You know the hundred an’ forty. I passed young Chavon along the road, an’—I don’t know why—just for ducks, I guess—I up an’ asked ‘m if he thought the old man would lease the hundred an’ forty to me. An’ what d ‘you think! He said the old man didn’t own it. Was just leasin’ it himself. That’s how we was always seein’ his cattle on it. It’s a gouge into his land, for he owns everything on three sides of it.
“Next I met Ping. He said Hilyard owned it an’ was willin’ to sell, only Chavon didn’t have the price. Then, comin’ back, I looked in on Payne. He’s quit blacksmithin’—his back’s hurtin’ ‘m from a kick—an’ just startin’ in for real estate. Sure, he said, Hilyard would sell, an’ had already listed the land with ‘m. Chavon’s over-pastured it, an’ Hilyard won’t give ‘m another lease.”
When they had climbed out of Wild Water Canyon they turned their horses about and halted on the rim where they could look across at the three densely wooded knolls in the midst of the desired hundred and forty.
“We’ll get it yet,” Saxon said.
“Sure we will,” Billy agreed with careless certitude. “I’ve ben lookin’ over the big adobe barn again. Just the thing for a raft of horses, an’ a new roof’ll be cheaper ‘n I thought. Though neither Chavon or me’ll be in the market to buy it right away, with the clay pinchin’ out.”
When they reached Saxon’s field, which they had learned was the property of Redwood Thompson, they tied the horses and entered it on foot. The hay, just cut, was being raked by Thompson, who hallo’d a greeting to them. It was a cloudless, windless day, and they sought refuge from the sun in the woods beyond. They encountered a dim trail.
“It’s a cow trail,” Billy declared. “I bet they’s a teeny pasture tucked away somewhere in them trees. Let’s follow it.”
A quarter of an hour later, several hundred feet up the side of the spur, they emerged on an open, grassy space of bare hillside. Most of the hundred and forty, two miles away, lay beneath them, while they were level with the tops of the three knolls. Billy paused to gaze upon the much-desired land, and Saxon joined him.
“What is that?” she asked, pointing toward the knolls. “Up the little canyon, to the left of it, there on the farthest knoll, right under that spruce that’s leaning over.”
What Billy saw was a white scar on the canyon wall.
“It’s one on me,” he said, studying the scar. “I thought I knew every inch of that land, but I never seen that before. Why, I was right in there at the head of the canyon the first part of the winter. It’s awful wild. Walls of the canyon like the sides of a steeple an’ covered with thick woods.”
“What is it?” she asked. “A slide?”
“Must be—brought down by the heavy rains. If I don’t miss my guess—” Billy broke off, forgetting in the intensity with which he continued to look.
“Hilyard’ll sell for thirty an acre,” he began again, disconnectedly. “Good land, bad land, an’ all, just as it runs, thirty an acre. That’s forty-two hundred. Payne’s new at real estate, an’ I’ll make ‘m split his commission an’ get the easiest terms ever. We can re-borrow that four hundred from Gow Yum, an’ I can borrow money on my horses an’ wagons—”
“Are you going to buy it to-day?” Saxon teased.
She scarcely touched the edge of his thought. He looked at her, as if he had heard, then forgot her the next moment.
“Head work,” he mumbled. “Head work. If I don’t put over a hot one—”
He started back down the cow trail, recollected Saxon, and called over his shoulder:
“Come on. Let’s hustle. I wanta ride over an’ look at that.”
So rapidly did he go down the trail and across the field, that Saxon had no time for questions. She was almost breathless from her effort to keep up with him.
“What is it?” she begged, as he lifted her to the saddle.
“Maybe it’s all a joke—I’ll tell you about it afterward,” he put her off.
They galloped on the levels, trotted down the gentler slopes of road, and not until on the steep descent of Wild Water canyon did they rein to a walk. Billy’s preoccupation was gone, and Saxon took advantage to broach a subject which had been on her mind for some time.
“Clara Hastings told me the other day that they’re going to have a house party. The Hazards are to be there, and the Halls, and Roy Blanchard....”
She looked at Billy anxiously. At the mention of Blanchard his head had tossed up as to a bugle call. Slowly a whimsical twinkle began to glint up through the cloudy blue of his eyes.
“It’s a long time since you told any man he was standing on his foot,” she ventured slyly.
Billy began to grin sheepishly.
“Aw, that’s all right,” he said in mock-lordly fashion. “Roy Blanchard can come. I’ll let ‘m. All that was a long time ago. Besides, I ‘m too busy to fool with such things.”
He urged his horse on at a faster walk, and as soon as the slope lessened broke into a trot. At Trillium Covert they were galloping.
“You’ll have to stop for dinner first,” Saxon said, as they neared the gate of Madrono Ranch.
“You stop,” he answered. “I don’t want no dinner.”
“But I want to go with you,” she pleaded. “What is it?”
“I don’t dast tell you. You go on in an’ get your dinner.”
“Not after that,” she said. “Nothing can keep me from coming along now.”
Half a mile farther on, they left the highway, passed through a patent gate which Billy had installed, and crossed the fields on a road which was coated thick with chalky dust. This was the road that led to Chavon’s clay pit. The hundred and forty lay to the west. Two wagons, in a cloud of dust, came into sight.
“Your teams, Billy,” cried Saxon. “Think of it! Just by the use of the head, earning your money while you’re riding around with me.”
“Makes me ashamed to think how much cash money each one of them teams is bringin’ me in every day,” he acknowledged.
They were turning off from the road toward the bars which gave entrance to the one hundred and forty, when the driver of the foremost wagon hallo’d and waved his hand. They drew in their horses and waited.
“The big roan’s broke loose,” the dryer said, as he stopped beside them. “Clean crazy loco—bitin’, squealin’, strikin’, kickin’. Kicked clean out of the harness like it was paper. Bit a chunk out of Baldy the size of a saucer, an’ wound up by breakin’ his own hind leg. Liveliest fifteen minutes I ever seen.”
“Sure it’s broke?” Billy demanded sharply.
“Well, after you unload, drive around by the other barn and get Ben. He’s in the corral. Tell Matthews to be easy with ‘m. An’ get a gun. Sammy’s got one. You’ll have to see to the big roan. I ain’t got time now.—Why couldn’t Matthews a-come along with you for Ben? You’d save time.”
“Oh, he’s just stickin’ around waitin’,” the driver answered. “He reckoned I could get Ben.”
“An’ lose time, eh? Well, get a move on.”
“That’s the way of it,” Billy growled to Saxon as they rode on. “No savve. No head. One man settin’ down an’ holdin his hands while another team drives outa its way doin what he oughta done. That’s the trouble with two-dollar-a-day men.”
“With two-dollar-a-day heads,” Saxon said quickly. “What kind of heads do you expect for two dollars?”
“That’s right, too,” Billy acknowledged the hit. “If they had better heads they’d be in the cities like all the rest of the better men. An’ the better men are a lot of dummies, too. They don’t know the big chances in the country, or you couldn’t hold ‘m from it.”
Billy dismounted, took the three bars down, led his horse through, then put up the bars.
“When I get this place, there’ll be a gate here,” he announced. “Pay for itself in no time. It’s the thousan’ an’ one little things like this that count up big when you put ‘m together.” He sighed contentedly. “I never used to think about such things, but when we shook Oakland I began to wise up. It was them San Leandro Porchugeeze that gave me my first eye-opener. I’d been asleep, before that.”
They skirted the lower of the three fields where the ripe hay stood uncut. Billy pointed with eloquent disgust to a break in the fence, slovenly repaired, and on to the standing grain much-trampled by cattle.
“Them’s the things,” he criticized. “Old style. An’ look how thin that crop is, an’ the shallow plowin’. Scrub cattle, scrub seed, scrub farmin’. Chavon’s worked it for eight years now, an’ never rested it once, never put anything in for what he took out, except the cattle into the stubble the minute the hay was on.”
In a pasture glade, farther on, they came upon a bunch of cattle.
“Look at that bull, Saxon. Scrub’s no name for it. They oughta be a state law against lettin’ such animals exist. No wonder Chavon’s that land poor he’s had to sink all his clay-pit earnin’s into taxes an’ interest. He can’t make his land pay. Take this hundred an forty. Anybody with the savve can just rake silver dollars offen it. I’ll show ’m.”
They passed the big adobe barn in the distance.
“A few dollars at the right time would a-saved hundreds on that roof,” Billy commented. “Well, anyway, I won’t be payin’ for any improvements when I buy. An I’ll tell you another thing. This ranch is full of water, and if Glen Ellen ever grows they’ll have to come to see me for their water supply.”
Billy knew the ranch thoroughly, and took short-cuts through the woods by way of cattle paths. Once, he reined in abruptly, and both stopped. Confronting them, a dozen paces away, was a half-grown red fox. For half a minute, with beady eyes, the wild thing studied them, with twitching sensitive nose reading the messages of the air. Then, velvet-footed, it leapt aside and was gone among the trees.
“The son-of-a-gun!” Billy ejaculated.
As they approached Wild Water; they rode out into a long narrow meadow. In the middle was a pond.
“Natural reservoir, when Glen Ellen begins to buy water,” Billy said. “See, down at the lower end there?—wouldn’t cost anything hardly to throw a dam across. An’ I can pipe in all kinds of hill-drip. An’ water’s goin’ to be money in this valley not a thousan’ years from now.—An’ all the ginks, an’ boobs, an’ dubs, an’ gazabos poundin’ their ear deado an’ not seein’ it comin.—An’ surveyors workin’ up the valley for an electric road from Sausalito with a branch up Napa Valley.”
They came to the rim of Wild Water canyon. Leaning far back in their saddles, they slid the horses down a steep declivity, through big spruce woods, to an ancient and all but obliterated trail.
“They cut this trail ‘way back in the Fifties,” Billy explained. “I only found it by accident. Then I asked Poppe yesterday. He was born in the valley. He said it was a fake minin’ rush across from Petaluma. The gamblers got it up, an’ they must a-drawn a thousan’ suckers. You see that flat there, an’ the old stumps. That’s where the camp was. They set the tables up under the trees. The flat used to be bigger, but the creek’s eaten into it. Poppe said they was a couple of killin’s an’ one lynchin’.”
Lying low against their horses’ necks, they scrambled up a steep cattle trail out of the canyon, and began to work across rough country toward the knolls.
“Say, Saxon, you’re always lookin’ for something pretty. I’ll show you what’ll make your hair stand up... soon as we get through this manzanita.”
Never, in all their travels, had Saxon seen so lovely a vista as the one that greeted them when they emerged. The dim trail lay like a rambling red shadow cast on the soft forest floor by the great redwoods and over-arching oaks. It seemed as if all local varieties of trees and vines had conspired to weave the leafy roof—maples, big madronos and laurels, and lofty tan-bark oaks, scaled and wrapped and interwound with wild grape and flaming poison oak. Saxon drew Billy’s eyes to a mossy bank of five-finger ferns. All slopes seemed to meet to form this basin and colossal forest bower. Underfoot the floor was spongy with water. An invisible streamlet whispered under broad-fronded brakes. On every hand opened tiny vistas of enchantment, where young redwoods grouped still and stately about fallen giants, shoulder-high to the horses, moss-covered and dissolving into mold.
At last, after another quarter of an hour, they tied their horses on the rim of the narrow canyon that penetrated the wilderness of the knolls. Through a rift in the trees Billy pointed to the top of the leaning spruce.
“It’s right under that,” he said. “We’ll have to follow up the bed of the creek. They ain’t no trail, though you’ll see plenty of deer paths crossin’ the creek. You’ll get your feet wet.”
Saxon laughed her joy and held on close to his heels, splashing through pools, crawling hand and foot up the slippery faces of water-worn rocks, and worming under trunks of old fallen trees.
“They ain’t no real bed-rock in the whole mountain,” Billy elucidated, “so the stream cuts deeper’n deeper, an’ that keeps the sides cavin’ in. They’re as steep as they can be without fallin’ down. A little farther up, the canyon ain’t much more’n a crack in the ground—but a mighty deep one if anybody should ask you. You can spit across it an’ break your neck in it.”
The climbing grew more difficult, and they were finally halted, in a narrow cleft, by a drift-jam.
“You wait here,” Billy directed, and, lying flat, squirmed on through crashing brush.
Saxon waited till all sound had died away. She waited ten minutes longer, then followed by the way Billy had broken. Where the bed of the canyon became impossible, she came upon what she was sure was a deer path that skirted the steep side and was a tunnel through the close greenery. She caught a glimpse of the overhanging spruce, almost above her head on the opposite side, and emerged on a pool of clear water in a clay-like basin. This basin was of recent origin, having been formed by a slide of earth and trees. Across the pool arose an almost sheer wall of white. She recognized it for what it was, and looked about for Billy. She heard him whistle, and looked up. Two hundred feet above, at the perilous top of the white wall, he was holding on to a tree trunk. The overhanging spruce was nearby.
“I can see the little pasture back of your field,” he called down. “No wonder nobody ever piped this off. The only place they could see it from is that speck of pasture. An’ you saw it first. Wait till I come down and tell you all about it. I didn’t dast before.”
It required no shrewdness to guess the truth. Saxon knew this was the precious clay required by the brickyard. Billy circled wide of the slide and came down the canyon-wall, from tree to tree, as descending a ladder.
“Ain’t it a peach?” he exulted, as he dropped beside her. “Just look at it—hidden away under four feet of soil where nobody could see it, an’ just waitin’ for us to hit the Valley of the Moon. Then it up an’ slides a piece of the skin off so as we can see it.”
“Is it the real clay?” Saxon asked anxiously.
“You bet your sweet life. I’ve handled too much of it not to know it in the dark. Just rub a piece between your fingers.—Like that. Why, I could tell by the taste of it. I’ve eaten enough of the dust of the teams. Here’s where our fun begins. Why, you know we’ve been workin’ our heads off since we hit this valley. Now we’re on Easy street.”
“But you don’t own it,” Saxon objected.
“Well, you won’t be a hundred years old before I do. Straight from here I hike to Payne an’ bind the bargain—an option, you know, while title’s searchin’ an’ I ‘m raisin’ money. We’ll borrow that four hundred back again from Gow Yum, an’ I’ll borrow all I can get on my horses an’ wagons, an’ Hazel and Hattie, an’ everything that’s worth a cent. An’ then I get the deed with a mortgage on it to Hilyard for the balance. An’ then—it’s takin’ candy from a baby—I’ll contract with the brickyard for twenty cents a yard—maybe more. They’ll be crazy with joy when they see it. Don’t need any borin’s. They’s nearly two hundred feet of it exposed up an’ down. The whole knoll’s clay, with a skin of soil over it.”
“But you’ll spoil all the beautiful canyon hauling out the clay,” Saxon cried with alarm.
“Nope; only the knoll. The road’ll come in from the other side. It’ll be only half a mile to Chavon’s pit. I’ll build the road an’ charge steeper teamin’, or the brickyard can build it an’ I’ll team for the same rate as before. An’ twenty cents a yard pourin’ in, all profit, from the jump. I’ll sure have to buy more horses to do the work.”
They sat hand in hand beside the pool and talked over the details.
“Say, Saxon,” Billy said, after a pause had fallen, “sing ‘Harvest Days,’ won’t you?”
And, when she had complied: “The first time you sung that song for me was comin’ home from the picnic on the train—”
“The very first day we met each other,” she broke in. “What did you think about me that day?”
“Why, what I’ve thought ever since—that you was made for me.—I thought that right at the jump, in the first waltz. An’ what’d you think of me?
“Oh, I wondered, and before the first waltz, too, when we were introduced and shook hands—I wondered if you were the man. Those were the very words that flashed into my mind.—IS HE THE MAN?”
“An’ I kinda looked a little some good to you?” he queried. “I thought so, and my eyesight has always been good.”
“Say!” Billy went off at a tangent. “By next winter, with everything hummin’ an’ shipshape, what’s the matter with us makin’ a visit to Carmel? It’ll be slack time for you with the vegetables, an’ I’ll be able to afford a foreman.”
Saxon’s lack of enthusiasm surprised him.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded quickly.
With downcast demurest eyes and hesitating speech, Saxon said:
“I did something yesterday without asking your advice, Billy.”
“I wrote to Tom,” she added, with an air of timid confession.
Still he waited—for he knew not what.
“I asked him to ship up the old chest of drawers—my mother’s, you remember—that we stored with him.”
“Huh! I don’t see anything outa the way about that,” Billy said with relief. “We need the chest, don’t we? An’ we can afford to pay the freight on it, can’t we?”
“You are a dear stupid man, that’s what you are. Don’t you know what is in the chest?”
He shook his head, and what she added was so soft that it was almost a whisper:
“The baby clothes.”
“No!” he exclaimed.
She nodded her head, her cheeks flooding with quick color.
“It’s what I wanted, Saxon, more’n anything else in the world. I’ve been thinkin’ a whole lot about it lately, ever since we hit the valley,” he went on, brokenly, and for the first time she saw tears unmistakable in his eyes. “But after all I’d done, an’ the hell I’d raised, an’ everything, I... I never urged you, or said a word about it. But I wanted it... oh, I wanted it like ... like I want you now.”
His open arms received her, and the pool in the heart of the canyon knew a tender silence.
Saxon felt Billy’s finger laid warningly on her lips. Guided by his hand, she turned her head back, and together they gazed far up the side of the knoll where a doe and a spotted fawn looked down upon them from a tiny open space between the trees.