Part 3 out of 12
business," Bob expostulated.
"You've been around here for a year," said Welton, "and things are
running all right. I want somebody to see that things move along, and
you're the one. Are you going to refuse?"
"No; I suppose I can't refuse," said Bob miserably, and fell silent.
To Bob's father Welton expressed himself in somewhat different terms.
The two men met at the Auditorium Annex, where they promptly adjourned
to the Palm Room and a little table.
"Now, Jack," the lumberman replied to his friend's expostulation, "I
know just as well as you do that the kid isn't capable yet of handling a
proposition on his own hook. It's just for that reason that I put him in
"And Welton isn't an Irish name, either," murmured Jack Orde.
"What? Oh, I see. No; and that isn't an Irish bull, either. I put him in
charge so he'd have to learn something. He's a good kid, and he'll take
himself dead serious. He'll be deciding everything that comes up all for
himself, and he'll lie awake nights doing it. And all the time things
will be going on almost like he wasn't there!"
Welton paused to chuckle in his hearty manner.
"You see, I've brought that crew up in the business. Mason is as good a
mill man as they make; and Tally's all right in the woods and on the
river; and I reckon it would be difficult to take a nick out of Collins
in office work."
"In other words, Bob is to hold the ends of the reins while these other
men drive," said his father, vastly amused. "That's more like it. I'd
hate to bury a green man under too much responsibility."
"No," denied Welton, "it isn't that exactly. Somebody's got to boss the
rest of 'em. And Bob certainly is a wonder at getting the men to like
him and to work for him. That's his strong point. He gets on with them,
and he isn't afraid to tell 'em when he thinks they're 'sojering' on
him. That makes me think: I wonder what kind of ornaments these waiters
are supposed to be." He rapped sharply on the little table with his
"It's up to him," he went on, after the waiter had departed. "If he's
too touchy to acknowledge his ignorance on different points that come
up, and if he's too proud to ask questions when he's stumped, why, he's
going to get in a lot of trouble. If he's willing to rely on his men for
knowledge, and will just see that everybody keeps busy and sees that
they bunch their hits, why, he'll get on well enough."
"It takes a pretty wise head to make them bunch their hits," Orde
pointed out, "and a heap of figuring."
"It'll keep him mighty busy, even at best," acknowledged Welton, "and
he's going to make some bad breaks. I know that."
"Bad breaks cost money," Orde reminded him.
"So does any education. Even at its worst this can't cost much money. He
can't wreck things--the organization is too good--he'll just make 'em
wobble a little. And this is a mighty small and incidental proposition,
while this California lay-out is a big project. No, by my figuring Bob
won't actually do much, but he'll lie awake nights to do a hell of a lot
of deciding, and----."
"Oh, I know," broke in Orde with a laugh; "you haven't changed an inch
in twenty years--and 'it's not doing but deciding that makes a man,'" he
"Well, isn't it?" demanded Welton insistently.
"Of course," agreed Orde with another laugh. "I was just tickled to see
you hadn't changed a hair. Now if you'd only moralize on square pegs in
round holes, I'd hear again the birds singing in the elms by the dear
Welton grinned, a trifle shamefacedly. Nevertheless he went on with the
development of his philosophy.
"Well," he asserted stoutly, "that's just what Bob was when I got there.
He can't handle figures any better than I can, and Collins had been
putting him through a course of sprouts." He paused and sipped at his
glass. "Of course, if I wasn't absolutely certain of the men under him,
it would be a fool proposition. Bob isn't the kind to get onto treachery
or double-dealing very quick. He likes people too well. But as it is,
he'll get a lot of training cheap."
Orde ruminated over this for some time, sipping slowly between puffs at
"Why wouldn't it be better to take him out to California now?" he asked
at length. "You'll be building your roads and flumes and railroad,
getting your mill up, buying your machinery and all the rest of it. That
ought to be good experience for him--to see the thing right from the
"Bob is going to be a lumberman, and that isn't lumbering; it's
construction. Once it's up, it will never have to be done again. The
California timber will last out Bob's lifetime, and you know it. He'd
better learn lumbering, which he'll do for the next fifty years, than to
build a mill, which he'll never have to do again--unless it burns up,"
he added as a half-humorous afterthought.
"Correct," Orde agreed promptly to this. "You're a wonder. When I found
a university with my ill-gotten gains, I'll give you a job as professor
of--well, of Common Sense, by jiminy!"
Bob managed to lose some money in his two years of apprenticeship. That
is to say, the net income from the small operations under his charge was
somewhat less than it would have been under Welton's supervision. Even
at that, the balance sheet showed a profit. This was probably due more
to the perfection of the organization than to any great ability on Bob's
part. Nevertheless, he exercised a real control over the firm's
destinies, and in one or two instances of sudden crisis threw its
energies definitely into channels of his own choosing. Especially was
this true in dealing with the riverman's arch-enemy, the mossback.
The mossback follows the axe. When the timber is cut, naturally the land
remains. Either the company must pay taxes on it, sell it, or allow it
to revert to the state. It may be very good land, but it is encumbered
with old slashing, probably much of it needs drainage, a stubborn
second-growth of scrub oak or red willows has already usurped the soil,
and above all it is isolated. Far from the cities, far from the
railroad, far even from the crossroad's general store, it is further cut
off by the necessity of traversing atrocious and--in the wet
season--bottomless roads to even the nearest neighbour. Naturally, then,
in seeking purchasers for this cut-over land, the Company must address
itself to a certain limited class. For, if a man has money, he will buy
him a cleared farm in a settled country. The mossback pays in pennies
and gives a mortgage. Then he addresses himself to clearing the land. It
follows that he is poverty-stricken, lives frugally and is very
tenacious of what property rights he may be able to coax or wring from
a hard wilderness. He dwells in a shack, works in a swamp, and sees no
farther than the rail fence he has split out to surround his farm.
Thus, while he possesses many of the sturdy pioneer virtues, he becomes
by necessity the direct antithesis to the riverman. The purchase of a
bit of harness, a vehicle, a necessary tool or implement is a matter of
close economy, long figuring, and much work. Interest on the mortgage
must be paid. And what can a backwoods farm produce worth money? And
where can it find a market? Very little; and very far. A man must "play
close to his chest" in order to accomplish that plain, primary, simple
duty of making both ends meet. The extreme of this virtue means a
defect, of course; it means narrowness of vision, conservatism that
comes close to suspicion, illiberality. When these qualities meet the
sometimes foolishly generous and lavish ideas of men trained in the
reckless life of the river, almost inevitably are aroused suspicion on
one side, contempt on the other and antagonism on both.
This is true even in casual and chance intercourse. But when, as often
happens, the mossback's farm extends to the very river bank itself; when
the legal rights of property clash with the vaguer but no less certain
rights of custom, then there is room for endless bickering. When the
river boss steps between his men and the backwoods farmer, he must, on
the merits of the case and with due regard to the sort of man he has to
deal with, decide at once whether he will persuade, argue, coerce, or
fight. It may come to be a definite choice between present delay or a
This kind of decision Bob was most frequently called upon to make. He
knew little about law, but he had a very good feeling for the human
side. Whatever mistakes he made, the series of squabbles nourished his
sense of loyalty to the company. His woods training was gradually
bringing him to the lumberman's point of view; and the lumberman's point
of view means, primarily, timber and loyalty.
"By Jove, what a fine bunch of timber!" was his first thought on
entering a particularly imposing grove.
Where another man would catch merely a general effect, his more
practised eye would estimate heights, diameters, the growth of the
limbs, the probable straightness of the grain. His eye almost
unconsciously sought the possibilities of location--whether a road could
be brought in easily, whether the grades could run right. A fine tree
gave him the complicated pleasure that comes to any expert on analytical
contemplation of any object. It meant timber, good or bad, as well as
Just so opposition meant antagonism. Bob was naturally of a partisan
temperament. He played the game fairly, but he played it hard. Games
imply rules, and any infraction of the rules is unfair and to be
punished. Bob could not be expected to reflect that while rules are
generally imposed by a third party on both contestants alike, in this
game the rules with which he was acquainted had been made by his side;
that perhaps the other fellow might have another set of rules. All he
saw was that the antagonists were perpetrating a series of contemptible,
petty, mean tricks or a succession of dastardly outrages. His loyalty
and anger were both thoroughly aroused, and he plunged into his little
fights with entire whole-heartedness. As his side of the question meant
getting out the logs, the combination went far toward efficiency. When
the drive was down in the spring, Bob looked back on his mossback
campaign with a little grieved surprise that men could think it worth
their self-respect to try to take such contemptible advantage of
quibbles for the purpose of defeating what was certainly customary and
fair, even if it might not be technically legal. What the mossbacks
thought about it we can safely leave to the crossroad stores.
In other respects Bob had the good sense to depend absolutely on his
"How long do you think it ought to take to cut the rest of Eight?" he
would ask Tally.
"About two weeks."
Bob said nothing more, but next day he ruminated long in the snow-still
forest at Eight, trying to apportion in his own mind the twelve days'
work. If it did not go at a two weeks' gait, he speedily wanted to know
When the sleighs failed to return up the ice road with expected
regularity, Bob tramped down to the "banks" to see what the trouble was.
When he returned, he remarked casually to Jim Tally:
"I fired Powell off the job as foreman, and put in Downy."
"Why?" asked Tally. "I put Powell in there because I thought he was an
almighty good worker."
"He is," said Bob; "too good. I found them a little short-handed down
there, and getting discouraged. The sleighs were coming in on them
faster than they could unload. The men couldn't see how they were going
to catch up, so they'd slacked down a little, which made it worse.
Powell had his jacket off and was working like the devil with a
canthook. He does about the quickest and hardest yank with a canthook I
ever saw," mused Bob.
"Well?" demanded Tally.
"Oh," said Bob, "I told him if that was the kind of a job he wanted, he
could have it. And I told Downy to take charge. I don't pay a foreman's
wages for canthook work; I hire him to keep the men busy, and he sure
can't do it if he occupies his time and attention rolling logs."
"He was doing his best to straighten things out," said Tally.
"Well, I'm now paying him for his best," replied Bob, philosophically.
But if it had been a question of how most quickly to skid the logs
brought in by the sleighs, Bob would never have dreamed of questioning
Powell's opinion, although he might later have demanded expert
corroboration from Tally.
The outdoor life, too, interested him and kept him in training, both
physically and spiritually. He realized his mistakes, but they were now
mistakes of judgment rather than of mechanical accuracy, and he did not
worry over them once they were behind him.
When Welton returned from California toward the close of the season, he
found the young man buoyant and happy, deeply absorbed, well liked, and
in a fair way to learn something about the business.
Almost immediately after his return, the mill was closed down. The
remaining lumber in the yards was shipped out as rapidly as possible. By
the end of September the work was over.
Bob perforce accepted a vacation of some months while affairs were in
preparation for the westward exodus.
Then he answered a summons to meet Mr. Welton at the Chicago offices.
He entered the little outer office he had left so down-heartedly three
years before. Harvey and his two assistants sat on the high stools in
front of the shelf-like desk. The same pictures of record loads, large
trees, mill crews and logging camps hung on the walls. The same
atmosphere of peace and immemorial quiet brooded over the place. Through
the half-open door Bob could see Mr. Fox, his leg swung over the arm of
his revolving chair, chatting in a leisurely fashion with some visitor.
No one had heard him enter. He stood for a moment staring at the three
bent backs before him. He remembered the infinite details of the work he
had left, the purchasings of innumerable little things, the regulation
of outlays, the balancings of expenditures, the constantly shifting
property values, the cost of tools, food, implements, wages, machinery,
transportation, operation. And in addition he brought to mind the minute
and vexatious mortgage and sale and rental business having to do with
the old cut-over lands; the legal complications; the questions of
arbitration and privilege. And beyond that his mind glimpsed dimly the
extent of other interests, concerning which he knew little--investment
interests, and silent interests in various manufacturing enterprises
where the Company had occasionally invested a surplus by way of a flyer.
In this quiet place all these things were correlated, compared,
docketed, and filed away. In the brains of the four men before him all
these infinite details were laid out in order. He knew that Harvey could
answer specific questions as to any feature of any one of these
activities. All the turmoil, the rush and roar of the river, the mills,
the open lakes, the great wildernesses passed through this silent, dusty
room. The problems that kept a dozen men busy in the solving came here
also, together with a hundred others. Bob recalled his sight of the
hurried, wholesale shipping clerk he had admired when, discouraged and
discredited, he had left the office three years before. He had thought
that individual busy, and had contrasted his activity with the
somnolence of this office. Busy! Why, he, Bob, had over and over again
been ten times as busy. At the thought he chuckled aloud. Harvey and his
assistants turned to the sound.
"Hullo, Harvey; hullo Archie!" cried the young man. "I'm certainly glad
to see you. You're the only men I ever saw who could be really bang-up
rushed and never show it."
On a wintry and blustering evening in the latter part of February, 1902,
Welton and Bob boarded the Union Pacific train en route for California.
They distributed their hand baggage, then promptly took their way
forward to the buffet car, where they disposed themselves in the
leather-and-wicker armchairs for a smoke. At this time of year the
travel had fallen off somewhat in volume. The westward tourist rush had
slackened, and the train was occupied only by those who had definite
business in the Land of Promise, and by that class of wise ones who
realize that an Eastern March and April are more to be avoided than the
regulation winter months. The smoking car contained then but a
Welton and Bob took their places and lit their cigars. The train swayed
gently along, its rattle muffled by the storm. Polished black squares
represented the windows across which drifted hazy lights and ghostlike
suggestions of snowflakes. Bob watched this ebony nothingness in great
idleness of spirit. Presently one of the half-dozen men arose from his
place, walked the length of the car, and dropped into the next chair.
"You're Bob Orde, aren't you?" he remarked without preliminary.
Bob looked up. He saw before him a very heavy-set young man, of medium
height, possessed of a full moon of a face, and alert brown eyes.
"I thought so," went on this young man in answer to Bob's assent. "I'm
Baker of '93. You wouldn't know me; I was before your time. But I know
you. Seen you play. Headed for the Sunshine and Flowers?"
"Yes," said Bob.
"Ever been there before?"
"Great country! If you listen to all the come-on stuff you may be
"How's that?" asked Bob, highly amused. "Isn't the place what it's
cracked up to be?"
"It's more," asserted Baker, "but not the same stuff. The climate's
bully--best little old climate they've made, up to date--but it's got to
rain once in a while; and the wind's got to blow; and all that. If you
believe the Weather in the Old Home column, you'll be sore. In two years
you'll be sore, anyway, whenever it does anything but stand 55 at night,
72 at noon and shine like the spotlight on the illustrated songster. If
a Californian sees a little white cloud about as big as a toy balloon
down in the southeast corner he gets morose as a badger. If it starts to
drizzle what you'd call a light fog he holes up. When it rains he
hibernates like a bear, and the streets look like one of these populous
and thriving Aztec metropoli you see down Sonora way. I guess every man
is privileged to get just about so sore on the weather wherever he
is--and does so."
"You been out there long?" asked Bob.
"Ever since I graduated," returned Baker promptly, "and I wouldn't live
anywhere else. They're doing real things. Don't you run away with any
notions of _dolce far nientes_ or tropical languor. This California gang
is strictly on the job. The bunch seated under the spreading banana tree
aren't waiting for the ripe fruit to drop in their mouths. That's in the
First Reader and maybe somewhere down among the Black and Tans--"
"Black and Tans?" interrupted Bob with a note of query.
"Yep. Oilers--greasers--Mexicans--hidalgos of all kinds from here to the
equator," explained Baker. "No, sir, that gang under the banana tree are
either waiting there to sandbag the next tourist and sell him some real
estate before he comes to, or else they're figuring on uprooting said
piffling shrub and putting up an office building. Which part of the
country are you going to?"
"Near White Oaks," said Bob.
"No abalone shells for yours, eh?" remarked Baker cryptically. He
glanced at Welton. "Where's your timber located?" he asked.
"Near Granite," replied Bob;--"why, how the devil did you know we were
out for timber?"
"'How did the Master Mind solve that problem?'" asked Baker. "Ah, that's
"No, that doesn't go," said Bob. "I insist on knowing; and what was that
abalone shell remark?"
"Abalone shells--tourists," capitulated Baker; "also Mexican drawn work,
bead belts, burned leather, fake turquoise and ostrich eggs. Sabe?"
"Sure. But why not a tourist?"
"Tourist--in White Oaks!" cried Baker. "Son, White Oaks raises raisins
and peaches and apricots and figs and such things in quantities to
stagger you. It is a nice, well-built city, and well conducted, and full
of real estate boards and chambers of commerce. But it is not framed up
for tourists, and it knows it. Not at 100 degrees Fahrenheit 'most all
summer, and a chill and solemn land fog 'most all winter."
"Well, why timber?" demanded Bob.
"My dear Watson," said Baker, indicating Mr. Welton, who grinned. "Does
your side partner resemble a raisin raiser? Has he the ear marks of a
gentle agriculturist? Would you describe him as a typical sheepman, or
as a daring and resolute bee-keeper?"
Bob shook his head, still unconvinced.
"Well, if you will uncover my dark methods," sighed Baker. He leaned
over and deftly abstracted from the breast pocket of Bob's coat a long,
narrow document. "You see the top of this stuck out in plain sight. To
the intelligent eye instructed beyond the second grade of our excellent
school system the inscription cannot be mistaken." He held it around for
Bob to see. In plain typing the document was endorsed as follows:
"Granite County Timber Lands."
"My methods are very subtle," said Baker, laughing. "I find it difficult
to explain them. Come around sometime and I'll pick it out for you on
"Where are you going?" asked Bob in his turn.
"Los Angeles, on business."
"On business?--or just buying abalone shells?"
"It takes a millionaire or an Iowa farmer to be a tourist," replied
"What are you doing?"
"Supporting an extravagant wife, I tell Mrs. Baker. You want to get down
that way. The town's a marvel. It's grown from thirty thousand to two
hundred thousand in twenty years; it has enough real estate subdivisions
to accommodate eight million; it has invented the come-on house built by
the real estate agents to show how building is looking up at
Lonesomehurst; it has two thousand kinds of architecture--all different;
it has more good stuff and more fake stuff than any place on earth--it's
a wonder. Come on down and I'll show you the high buildings."
He chatted for a few moments, then rose abruptly and disappeared down
the aisle toward the sleeping cars without the formality of a farewell.
Welton had been listening amusedly, and puffing away at his cigar in
"Well," said he when Baker had gone. "How do you like your friend?"
"He's certainly amusing," laughed Bob, "and mighty good company. That
sort of a fellow is lots of fun. I've seen them many times coming back
at initiation or Commencement. They are great heroes to the kids."
"But not to any one else?" inquired Welton.
"Well--that's about it," Bob hesitated. "They're awfully good fellows,
and see the joke, and jolly things up; but they somehow don't amount to
"Wouldn't think much of the scheme of trying Baker as woods foreman up
in our timber, then?" suggested Welton.
"Him? Lord, no!" said Bob, surprised.
Welton threw back his head and laughed heartily, in great salvos.
"Ho! ho! ho!" he shouted. "Oh, Bobby, I wish any old Native Son could be
here to enjoy this joke with me. Ho! ho! ho! ho!"
The coloured porter stuck his head in to see what this tremendous
rolling noise might be, grinned sympathetically, and withdrew.
"What's the matter with you!" cried Bob, exasperated. "Shut up, and be
Welton wiped his eyes.
"That, son, is Carleton P. Baker. Just say Carleton P. Baker to a
"Well, I can't, for four days, anyway. Who is he?"
"Didn't find out from him, for all his talk, did you?" said Welton
shrewdly. "Well, Baker, as he told you, graduated from college in '93.
He came to California with about two thousand dollars of capital and no
experience. He had the sense to go in for water rights, and here he is!"
"Marvellous!" cried Bob sarcastically. "But what is he now that he is
"Head of three of the biggest power projects in California," said Welton
impressively, "and controller of more potential water power than any
other man or corporation in the state."
Welton enjoyed his joke hugely. After Bob had turned in, the big man
parted the curtains to his berth.
"Oh, Bob," he called guardedly.
"What!" grunted the young man, half-asleep.
"Who do you think we'd better get for woods foreman just _in case_
Baker shouldn't take the job?"
All next day the train puffed over the snow-blown plains. There was
little in the prospect, save an inspiration to thankfulness that the
cars were warm and comfortable. Bob and Welton spent the morning going
over their plans for the new country. After lunch, which in the manner
of trans-continental travellers they stretched over as long a period as
possible, they again repaired to the smoking car. Baker hailed them
jovially, waving a stubby forefinger at vacant seats.
"Say, do Populists grow whiskers, or do whiskers make Populists?" he
"Give it up," replied Welton promptly. "Why?"
"Because if whiskers make Populists, I don't blame this state for going
Pop. A fellow'd have to grow some kind of natural chest protector in
self-defence. Look at that snow! And thirty dollars will take you out
where there's none of it, and the soil's better, and you can see
something around you besides fresh air. Why, any one of these poor
pinhead farmers could come out our way, get twenty acres of irrigated
land, and in five years--"
"Hold on!" cried Bob, "you haven't by any chance some of that real
estate for sale--or a sandbag?"
"Everybody gets that way," said he. "I'll bet the first five men you
meet will fill you up on statistics."
He knew the country well, and pointed out in turn the first low rises of
the prairie swell, and the distant Rockies like a faint blue and white
cloud close down along the horizon. Bob had never seen any real
mountains before, and so was much interested. The train laboured up the
grades, steep to the engine, but insignificant to the eye; it passed
through the canons to the broad central plateau. The country was broken
and strange, with its wide, free sweeps, its sage brush, its stunted
trees, but it was not mountainous as Bob had conceived mountains. Baker
grinned at him.
"Snowclad peaks not up to specifications?" he inquired. "Chromos much
better? Mountain grandeur somewhat on the blink? Where'd you expect them
to put a railroad--out where the scenery is? Never mind. Wait till you
slide off 'Cape Horn' into California."
The cold weather followed them to the top of the Sierras. Snow, dull
clouds, mists and cold enveloped the train. Miles of snowsheds
necessitated keeping the artificial light burning even at midday. Winter
held them in its grip.
Then one morning they rounded the bold corner of a high mountain. Far
below them dropped away the lesser peaks, down a breathless descent. And
from beneath, so distant as to draw over themselves a tender veil of
pearl gray, flowed out foothills and green plains. The engine coughed,
shut off the roar of her exhaust. The train glided silently forward.
"Now come to the rear platform," Baker advised.
They sat in the open air while the train rushed downward. From the great
drifts they ran to the soft, melting snow, then to the mud and freshness
of early spring. Small boys crowded early wild-flowers on them whenever
they stopped at the small towns built on the red clay. The air became
indescribably soft and balmy, full of a gentle caress. At the next
station the children brought oranges. A little farther the foothill
ranches began to show the brightness of flowers. The most dilapidated
hovel was glorified by splendid sprays of red roses big as cabbages.
Dooryards of the tiniest shacks blazed with red and yellow. Trees and
plants new to Bob's experience and strangely and delightfully exotic in
suggestion began to usurp the landscape. To the far Northerner, brought
up in only a common-school knowledge of olive trees, palms, eucalyptus,
oranges, banana trees, pomegranates and the ordinary semi-tropical
fruits, there is something delightful and wonderful in the first sight
of them living and flourishing in the open. When closer investigation
reveals a whole series of which he probably does not remember ever to
have heard, he feels indeed an explorer in a new and wonderful land.
After a few months these things become old stories. They take their
places in his cosmos as accustomed things. He is then at some pains to
understand his visitor's extravagant interest and delight over loquats,
chiramoyas, alligator pears, tamarinds, guavas, the blooming of century
plants, the fruits of chollas and the like. Baker pointed out some of
these things to Bob.
"Winter to summer in two jumps and a hop," said he. "The come-on stuff
rings the bell in this respect, anyway. Smell the air: it's real air.
'Listen to the mocking bird.'"
"Seriously or figuratively?" asked Bob. "I mean, is that a real mocking
"Surest thing you know," replied Baker as the train moved on, leaving
the songster to his ecstasies. "They sing all night out here. Sounds
fine when you haven't a grouch. Then you want to collect a brick and
drive the darn fowl off the reservation."
"I never saw one before outside a cage," said Bob.
"There's lots of things you haven't seen that you're going to see, now
you've got out to the Real Thing," said Baker. "Why, right in your own
line: you don't know what big pine is. Wait till you see the woods out
here. We've got the biggest trees, and the biggest mountains, and the
biggest crops and the biggest--."
"Liars," broke in Bob, laughing. "Don't forget them."
"Yes, the biggest liars, too," agreed Baker. "A man's got to lie big out
here to keep in practice so he can tell the plain truth without
Before they changed cars to the Valley line, Baker had a suggestion to
"Look here," said he, "why _don't_ you come and look at the tall
buildings? You can't do anything in the mountains yet, and when you get
going you'll be too busy to see California. Come, make a pasear. Glad to
show you the sights. Get reckless. Take a chance. Peruse carefully your
copy of Rules for Rubes and try it on."
"Go ahead," said Welton, unexpectedly.
Bob went on to Los Angeles with the sprightly Baker. At first glance the
city seemed to him like any other. Then, as he wandered its streets, the
marvel and vigour and humour of the place seized on him.
"Don't you suppose I see the joke?" complained Baker at the end of one
of their long trolley rides. "Just get onto that house; it looks like a
mission-style switch engine. And the one next to it, built to shed snow.
Funny! sure it's funny. But you ain't talking to me! It's alive! Those
fellows wanted something different from anybody else--so does everybody.
After they'd used up the regular styles, they had to make 'em up out of
the fresh air. But anyway, they weren't satisfied just to copy Si
Golosh's idea of a Noah's Ark chicken coop."
They stopped opposite very elaborate and impressive iron gates opening
across a graded street. These gates were supported by a pair of stone
towers crowned with tiles. A smaller pair of towers and gates guarded
the concrete sidewalk. As a matter of fact, all these barriers enclosed
nothing, for even in the remote possibility that the inquiring visitor
should find them shut, an insignificant detour would circumvent their
"Maudsley Court," Bob read sculptured on one of the towers.
"That makes this particular subdivision mighty exclusive," grinned
Baker. "Now if you were a homeseeker wouldn't you love to bring your
dinner pail back to the cawstle every night?"
Bob peered down the single street. It was graded, guttered and
sidewalked. A small sentry box labelled "office," and inscribed with
glowing eulogiums, occupied a strategic position near the gates. From
this house Bob immediately became aware of close scrutiny by a man half
concealed by the indoor dimness.
"The spider," said Baker. "He's onto us big as a house. He can spot a
yap at four hundred yards' range, and you bet they don't get much nearer
than that alone."
A huge sign shrieked of Maudsley Court. "Get a grin!" was its first
"They all try for a catchword--every one of 'em," explained Baker.
"You'll see all kinds in the ads; some pretty good, most of 'em rotten."
"They seem to have made a start, anyway," observed Bob, indicating a new
cottage half way down the street. It was a super-artistic structure,
exhibiting the ends of huge brown beams at all points. Baker laughed.
"That's what it's intended to seem," said he. "That's the come-on house.
It's built by the spider. It's stick-um for the flies. 'This is going to
be a high-brow proposition,' says the intending purchaser; 'look at the
beautiful house already up. I must join this young and thriving colony.'
Hence this settled look."
He waved his hand abroad. Dotted over the low, rounded hills of the
charming landscapes were new and modern bungalows. They were spaced
widely, and each was flanked by an advertising board and guarded by a
pair of gates shutting their private thoroughfares from the country
highways. Between them showed green the new crops.
"Nine out of ten come-on houses," said Baker, "and all exclusive. If you
can't afford iron gates, you can at least put up a pair of shingled
pillars. It's the game."
"Will these lots ever be sold?" asked Bob.
"Out here, yes," replied Baker. "That's part of the joke. The methods
are on the blink, but the goods insist on delivering themselves. Most of
these fellows are just bunks or optimists. All hands are surprised when
things turn out right. But if _all_ the lots are ever sold, Los Angeles
will have a population of five million."
They boarded an inward-bound trolley. Bob read the devices as they
flashed past. "Hill-top Acres," he read near a street plastered against
an apparently perpendicular hill. "Buy before the rise!" advised this
man's rival at its foot. The true suburbs strung by in a panorama of
strange little houses--imitation Swiss chalets jostling bastard Moorish,
cobblestones elbowing plaster--a bewildering succession of forced
effects. Baker caught Bob's expression.
"These are workingmen's and small clerks' houses," he said quietly.
"Pretty bad, eh? But they're trying. Remember what they lived in back
Bob recalled the square, painted, ugly, featureless boxes built all
after the same pattern of dreariness. He looked on this gay bewilderment
of bad taste with more interest.
"At least they're taking notice," said Baker, lighting his pipe. "And
every fellow raises _some_ kind of posies."
A few moments later they plunged into the vortex of the city and the
smiling country, the far plains toward the sea, and the circle of the
mountains were lost. Only remained overhead the blue of the California
Baker led the way toward a blaring basement restaurant.
"I'm beginning to feel that I'll have to find some monkey-food
somewhere, or cash in," said he.
They found a table and sat down.
"This is the place to see all the sights," proffered Baker, his broad
face radiating satisfaction. "When they strike it rich on the desert,
they hike right in here. That fat lady thug yonder is worth between
three and four millions. Eight months ago she did washing at two bits a
shirt while her husband drove a one-man prospect shaft. The other day
she blew into the big jewelry store and wanted a thirty-thousand-dollar
diamond necklace. The boss rolled over twice and wagged his tail. 'Yes,
madam,' said he; 'what kind?' 'I dunno; just a thirty-thousand-dollar
one.' That's all he could get out of her. 'But tell me how you want 'em
set,' he begged. She looked bewildered. _'Oh, set 'em so they'll
jingle,'_ says she."
After the meal they walked down the principal streets, watching the
crowd. It was a large crowd, as though at busy midday, and variously
apparelled, from fur coat to straw hat. Each extreme of costume seemed
justified, either by the balmy summer-night effect of the California
open air, or by the hint of chill that crept from the distant mountains.
Either aspect could be welcomed or ignored by a very slight effort of
the will. Electric signs blazed everywhere. Bob was struck by the
numbers of clairvoyants, palm readers, Hindu frauds, crazy cults, fake
healers, Chinese doctors, and the like thus lavishly advertised. The
class that elsewhere is pressed by necessity to the inexpensive
dinginess of back streets, here blossomed forth in truly tropical
luxuriance. Street vendors with all sorts of things, from mechanical
toys to spot eradicators, spread their portable lay-outs at every
corner. Vacant lots were crowded with spielers of all sorts--religious
or political fanatics, vendors of cure-alls, of universal tools, of
marvelous axle grease, of anything and everything to catch the idle
dollar. Brilliantly lighted shops called the passer-by to contemplate
the latest wavemotor, flying machine, door check, or what-not. Stock in
these enterprises was for sale--and was being sold! Other sidewalk
booths, like those ordinarily used as dispensaries of hot doughnuts and
coffee, offered wild-cat mining shares, oil stock and real estate in
some highly speculative suburb. Great stores of curios lay open to the
tourist trade. Here one could buy sheepskin Indian moccasins made in
Massachusetts, or abalone shells, or burnt-leather pillows, or a whole
collection of photographic views so minute that they could all be packed
in a single walnut shell. Next door were shops of Japanese and Chinese
goods presided over by suave, sleepy-eyed Orientals, in wonderful
brocade, wearing the close cap with the red coral button atop. Shooting
galleries spit spitefully. Gasolene torches flared.
Baker strolled along, his hands in his pockets, his hat on the back of
his head. From time to time he cast an amused glance at his companion.
"Come in here," he said abruptly.
Bob found himself comfortably seated in a commodious open-air theatre,
watching an excellent vaudeville performance. He enjoyed it thoroughly,
for it was above the average. In fifteen minutes, however, the last
soubrette disappeared in the wings to the accompaniment of a swirl of
music. Her place was taken by a tall, facetious-looking, bald
individual, clad in a loose frock coat. He held up his hand for silence.
"Ladies 'n' gentlemen," he drawled, "we hope you have enjoyed
yourselves. If you find a better show than this in any theatre in town,
barring the Orpheum, come and tell us about it and we will see what we
can do to brace ours up. I don't believe you can. This show will be
repeated every afternoon and evening, with complete change of programme
twice a week. Go away and tell your friends about the great free show
down on Spring Street. Just tell them about it."
Bob glanced startled at his companion. Baker was grinning.
"This show has cost us up to date," went on the leisurely drawl, "just
twenty-eight hundred dollars. Go and tell your friends that. _But_"--he
suddenly straightened his figure and his voice became more
incisive--"that is not enough. We have decided to give you something
_real_ to talk about. We have decided to give every man, woman and child
in this vast audience a first-night present of Two Silver Dollars!"
Bob could feel an electric thrill run through the crowd, and every one
sat up a little straighter in his chair.
"Let me see," the orator went on, running his eye over the audience. He
had resumed his quieter manner. "There are perhaps seven hundred people
present. That would make fourteen hundred dollars. By the way, John,"
he addressed some one briskly. "Close the gates and lock them. We don't
want anybody in on this who didn't have interest enough in our show to
come in the first place." He winked humorously at the crowd, and several
"Pretty rotten, eh?" whispered Baker admiringly. "Fixed 'em so they
won't bolt when the show's over and before he works off his dope."
"These Two Silver Dollars, which I want you all to get, are in these
hampers. Six little boys will distribute them. Come up, boys, and get
each a hatful of dollars." The six solemnly marched up on the stage and
busied themselves with the hampers. "While we are waiting," went on the
orator, "I will seize the opportunity to present to you the world-famed
discoverer of that wonderful anaesthetic, Oxodyne, Painless Porter."
At the words a dapper little man in immaculately correct evening dress,
and carrying a crush hat under his arm, stepped briskly from the wings.
He was greeted by wild but presumably manufactured applause. He bowed
rigidly from the hips, and at once began to speak in a high and nasal
but extremely penetrating voice.
"As far as advertising is concerned," he began without preamble, "it is
entirely unnecessary that I give this show. There is no man, woman or
child in this marvellous commonwealth of ours who is not familiar with
the name of Painless Porter, whether from the daily papers, the
advertising boards, the street cars, or the elegant red brougham in
which I traverse your streets. My work for you is my best advertisement.
It is unnecessary from that point of view that I spend this money for
this show, or that this extra money should be distributed among you by
my colleague, Wizard Walker, the Medical Marvel of Modern Times."
The tall man paused from his business with the hampers and the six boys
to bow in acknowledgment.
"No, ladies 'n' gentlemen, my purpose is higher. In the breast of each
human being is implanted an instinctive fear of Pain. It sits on us like
a nightmare, from the time we first come to consciousness of our
surroundings. It is a curse of humanity, like drink, and he who can
lighten that curse is as much of a philanthropist as George W. Childs or
Andrew Carnegie. I want you to go away and talk about me. It don't
matter what you say, just so you say something. You can call me quack,
you may call me fakir, you may call me charlatan--but be sure to call me
SOMETHING! Then slowly the news will spread abroad that Pain is
banished, and I can smile in peace, knowing that my vast expenditures of
time and money have not been in vain, and that I have been a benefit to
humanity. Wizard Walker, the Medical Marvel of Modern Times, will now
attend to the distribution, after which I will pull a few teeth gratis
in order to demonstrate to you the wonderful merits of Oxodyne."
"A dentist!" gasped Bob.
"Yup," said Baker. "Not much gasoline-torch-on-the-back-lot in his, is
Bob was hardly surprised, after much preamble and heightening of
suspense, to find that the Two Silver Dollars turned out finally to be a
pink ticket and a blue ticket, "good respectively at the luxurious
offices for one dollar's worth of dental and medical attention FREE."
Nor was he more than slightly astounded when the back drop rose to show
the stage set glitteringly with nickel-mounted dentist chairs and their
appurtenances, with shining glass, white linen, and with a chorus of
fascinating damsels dressed as trained nurses and standing rigidly at
attention. Then entered Painless himself, in snowy shirt-sleeves and
serious professional preoccupation. Volunteers came up two by two.
Painless explained obscurely the scientific principles on which the
marvelous Oxodyne worked--by severing temporarily but entirely all
communication between the nerves and the brain. Then much business with
a very glittering syringe.
"My lord," chuckled Baker, "if he fills that thing up, it'll drown
In an impressive silence Painless flourished the forceps, planted
himself square in front of his patient, heaved a moment, and
triumphantly held up in full view an undoubted tooth. The trained nurses
offered rinses. After a moment the patient, a roughly dressed country
woman, arose to her feet. She was smiling broadly, and said something,
which the audience could not hear. Painless smiled indulgently.
"Speak up so they can all hear you," he encouraged her.
"Never hurt a bit," the woman stammered.
Three more operations were conducted as expeditiously and as
successfully. The audience was evidently impressed.
"How does he do it?" whispered Bob.
"Cappers," explained Baker briefly. "He only fakes pulling a tooth.
Watch him next time and you'll see that he doesn't actually pull an
"Suppose a real toothache comes up?"
"I think that is one now. Watch him."
A young ranchman was making his way up the steps that led to the stage.
His skin was tanned by long exposure to the California sun, and his
cheek rounded into an unmistakable swelling.
"No fake about him," commented Baker.
He seated himself in the chair. Painless examined his jaw carefully. He
started back, both hands spread in expostulation.
"My _dear_ friend!" he cried, "you can save that tooth! It would be a
crime to pull that tooth! Come to my office at ten to-morrow morning and
I will see what can be done." He turned to the audience and for ten
minutes expounded the doctrine of modern dentistry as it stands for
saving a tooth whenever possible. Incidentally he had much to say as to
his skill in filling and bridge work and the marvellous painlessness
thereof. The meeting broke up finally to the inspiring strains of a
really good band. Bob and his friend, standing near the door, watched
the audience file out. Some threw away their pink and blue tickets, but
most stowed them carefully away.
"And every one that goes to the 'luxurious offices' for the free
dollar's worth will leave ten round iron ones," said Baker.
After a moment the Painless One and the Wizard marched smartly out,
serenely oblivious of the crowd. They stepped into a resplendent red
brougham and were whisked rapidly away.
"It pays to advertise," quoted Baker philosophically.
They moved on up the street.
"There's the inventor of the Unlimited Life," said Baker suddenly,
indicating a slender figure approaching. "I haven't seen him in three
years--not since he got into this graft, anyway."
"Unlimited Life," echoed Bob, "what's that? A medicine?"
"No. A cult. Hullo, Sunny!"
The approaching figure swerved and stopped. Bob saw a very slender
figure clad in a close-fitting, gray frock suit. To his surprise, from
beneath the wide, black felt hat there peered at him the keenly nervous
face of the more intelligent mulatto. The man's eyes were very bright
and shrewd. His hair surrounded his face as an aureole of darkness, and
swept low to his coat collar.
"Mr. Baker," he said, simply, his eyes inscrutable.
"Well, Sunny, this is my old friend Bob Orde. Bob, this is the
world-famous Sunny Larue, apostle of the Unlimited Life of whom you've
heard so much." He winked at Bob. "How's the Colony flourishing, Sunny?"
"More and more our people are growing to see the light," said the
mulatto in low, musical tones. "The mighty but simple principles of
Azamud are coming into their own. The poor and lowly, the humble and
oppressed are learning that in me is their salvation--." He went on in
his beautiful voice explaining the Colony of the Unlimited Life,
addressing always Bob directly and paying little attention to Baker, who
stood aside, his hands in his pockets, a smile on his fat, good-natured
face. It seemed that the Colony lived in tents in a canon of the
foothills. It paid Larue fifty dollars a head, and in return was
supported for six months and instructed in the mysteries of the cult. It
had its regimen. "At three we arise and break our fast, quite simply,
with three or four dry prunes," breathed Larue, "and then, going forth
to the high places for one hour, we hold steadfast the thought of Love."
"Say, Sunny," broke in Baker, "how many you got rounded up now?"
"There are at present twenty-one earnest proselytes."
"At fifty a head--and you've got to feed and keep 'em somehow--even
three dried prunes cost you something in the long run"--ruminated Baker.
He turned briskly to the mulatto: "Sunny, on the dead, where does the
graft come in?"
The mulatto drew himself up in swift offence, scrutinized Bob closely
for a moment, met Baker's grin. Abruptly his impressive manner dropped
from him. He leaned toward them with a captivating flash of white teeth.
"_You just leave that to me_," he murmured, and glided away into the
Baker laughed and drew Bob's arm within his own.
"Out of twenty of the faithful there's sure to be one or two with life
savings stowed away in a sock, and Sunny's the boy to make them produce
"What's his cult, anyway?" asked Bob. "I mean, what do they pretend to
believe? I couldn't make out."
"A nigger's idea of Buddhism," replied Baker briefly. "But you can get
any brand of psychic damfoolishness you think you need in your business.
They do it all, here, from going barefoot, eating nuts, swilling olive
oil, rolling down hill, adoring the Limitless Whichness, and all the
works. It is now," he concluded, looking at his watch, "about ten
o'clock. We will finish the evening by dropping in on the Fuzzies."
Together they boarded a street car, which shortly deposited them at an
uptown corner. Large houses and spacious grounds indicated a district of
some wealth. To one of these houses, brilliantly lighted, Baker directed
"But I don't know these people, and I'm not properly dressed," objected
"They know me. And as for dress, if you'd arrange to wear a chaste
feather duster only, you'd make a hit."
A roomful of people were buzzing like a hive. Most were in conventional
evening dress. Here and there, however, Bob caught hints of masculine
long hair, of feminine psyche knots, bandeaux and other extremely
artistic but unusual departures. One man with his dinner jacket wore a
soft linen shirt perforated by a Mexican drawn-work pattern beneath
which glowed a bright red silk undergarment. Women's gowns on the
flowing and Grecian order were not uncommon. These were usually coupled
with the incongruity of parted hair brought low and madonna-wise over
the ears. As the two entered, a very powerful blond man was just
finishing the declamation of a French poem. He was addressing it
directly at two women seated on a sofa.
"_Un r-r-reve d'amour!_"
He concluded with much passion and clasped hands.
In the rustle ensuing after this effort, Baker led his friend down the
room to a very fat woman upholstered in pink satin, to whom he
introduced Bob. Mrs. Annis, for such proved to be her name, welcomed him
"I've heard so much about you!" she cried vivaciously, to Bob's vast
astonishment. She tapped him on the arm with her fan. "I'm going to make
a confession to you; I know it may be foolish, but I do like music so
much better than I do pictures."
Bob, his brain whirling, muttered something.
"But I'm going to confess to you again, I like artists so much better
than I do musicians."
A light dawned on Bob. "But I'm not an artist nor a musician," he
The pink-upholstered lady, starting back with an agility remarkable in
one of her size, clasped her hands.
"Don't _tell_ me you write!" she cried dramatically.
"All right, I won't," protested poor Bob, "for I don't."
A slow expression of bewilderment overspread Mrs. Annis's face, and she
glanced toward Baker with an arched brow of interrogation.
"I merely wanted Mr. Orde to meet you, Mrs. Annis," he said
impressively, "and to feel that another time, when he is less exhausted
by the strain of a long day, he may have the privilege of explaining to
you the details of the great Psychic Movement he is inaugurating."
Mrs. Annis smiled on him graciously. "I am home every Sunday to my
_intimes_," she murmured. "I should be so pleased."
Bob bowed mechanically.
"You infernal idiot!" he ground out savagely to Baker, as they moved
away. "What do you mean? I'll punch your fool head when I get you out of
But the plump young man merely smiled.
Halfway down the room a group of attractive-looking young men hailed
"Join in, Baker," said they. "Bring your friend along. We're just going
to raid the commissary."
But Baker shook his head.
"I'm showing him life," he replied. "None but Fuzzies in his to-night!"
He grasped Bob firmly by the arm and led him away.
"That," he said, indicating a very pale young man, surrounded by women,
"is Pickering, the celebrated submarine painter."
"The what?" demanded Bob.
"Submarine painter. He paints fish and green water and lobsters, and the
bottom of the sea generally. He paints them on the skins of kind-faced
"What does he do that for?"
"He says it's the only surface that will express what he wants to. He
has also invented a waterproof paint that he can use under water. He has
a coral throne down on the bottom which he sits in, and paints as long
as he can hold his breath."
"Oh, he does!" said Bob.
"Yes," said Baker.
"But a man can't see three feet in front of his face under water!" cried
"Pickering says he can. He paints submarinescapes, and knows all the
fishes. He says fishes have individual expressions. He claims he can
tell by a fish's expression whether he is polygamous or monogamous."
"Do you mean to tell me anybody swallows that rot!" demanded Bob
"The women do--and a lot more I can't remember. The market for
calf-skins with green swirls on them is booming. Also the women clubbed
together and gave him money enough to build a house."
Bob surveyed the little white-faced man with a strong expression of
"The natural man never sits in chairs," the artist was expounding. "When
humanity shall have come into its own we shall assume the graceful and
hygienic postures of the oriental peoples. In society one must, to a
certain extent, follow convention, but in my own house, the House
Beautiful of my dreams, are no chairs. And even now a small group of the
freer spirits are following my example. In time----"
"If you don't take me away, I'll run in circles!" whispered Bob fiercely
to his friend.
They escaped into the open air.
"Phew!" said Bob, straightening his long form. "Is that what you call
the good society here?"
"Good society is there," amended Baker. "That's the joke. There are lots
of nice people in this little old town, people who lisp our language
fluently. They are all mixed in with the Fuzzies."
They decided to walk home. Bob marvelled at the impressive and
substantial buildings, at the atrocious streets. He spoke of the
beautiful method of illuminating one of the thoroughfares--by globes of
light gracefully supported in clusters on branched arms either side the
"They were originally bronze--and they went and painted them a mail-box
green," commented Baker drily.
At the hotel the night clerk, a young man, quietly dressed and with an
engaging air, greeted them with just the right amount of cordiality as
he handed them their keys. Bob paused to look about him.
"This is a good hotel," he remarked.
"It's one of the best-managed, the best-conducted, and the
best-appointed hotels in the United States," said Baker with conviction.
The next morning Bob bought all the papers and glanced through them with
considerable wonder and amusement. They were decidedly metropolitan in
size, and carried a tremendous amount of advertising. Early in his
perusal he caught the personal bias of the news. Without distortion to
the point of literal inaccuracy, nevertheless by skilful use of
headlines and by manipulation of the point of view, all items were made
to subserve a purpose. In local affairs the most vulgar nicknaming, the
most savage irony, vituperation, scorn and contempt were poured out full
measure on certain individuals unpopular with the papers. Such epithets
as "lickspittle," "toad," "carcass blown with the putrefying gas of its
own importance," were read in the body of narration.
"These are the best-edited, most influential and powerful journals in
the West," commented Baker. "They possess an influence inconceivable to
The advertising columns were filled to bursting with advertisements of
patent medicines, sex remedies, quack doctors, miraculous healers,
clairvoyants, palm readers, "philanthropists" with something "free" to
bestow, cleverly worded offers of abortion; with full-page prospectuses
of mines; of mushroom industrial concerns having to do with wave motors,
water motors, solar motors, patent couplers, improved telephones and the
like, all of whose stock now stood at $1.10, but which on April 10th, at
8.02 P.M., would go up to $1.15; with blaring, shrieking offers of real
estate in this, that or the other addition, consisting, as Bob knew from
yesterday, of farm acreage at front-foot figures. The proportion of this
fake advertising was astounding. One in particular seemed incredible--a
full page of the exponent of some Oriental method of healing and
"Of course, a full-page costs money," replied Baker. "But this is the
place to get it." He pushed back his chair. "Well, what do you think of
our fair young city?" he grinned.
"It's got me going," admitted Bob.
"Took me some time to find out where to get off at," said Baker. "When I
found it out, I didn't dare tell anybody. They mob you here and string
you up by your pigtail, if you try to hint that this isn't the one best
bet on terrestrial habitations. They like their little place, and they
believe in it a whole lot, and they're dead right about it! They'd stand
right up on their hind legs and paw the atmosphere if anybody were to
tell them what they really are, but it's a fact. Same joyous slambang,
same line of sharps hanging on the outskirts, same row, racket, and joy
in life, same struggle; yes, and by golly! the same big hopes and big
enterprises and big optimism and big energies! Wouldn't you like to be
helping them do it?"
"What's the answer?" asked Bob, amused.
"Well, for all its big buildings and its electric lights, and trolleys,
and police and size, it's nothing more nor less than a frontier town."
"A frontier town!" echoed Bob.
"You think it over," said Baker.
But if Bob imagined for one moment that he had acquired even a notion of
California in his experiences and observations down the San Joaquin and
in Los Angeles, the next few stages of his Sentimental Journey very soon
undeceived him. Baker's business interests soon took him away. Bob,
armed with letters of introduction from his friend, visited in turn such
places as Santa Barbara, Riverside, San Diego, Redlands and Pasadena. He
could not but be struck by the absolute differences that existed, not
only in the physical aspects but in the spirit and aims of the peoples.
If these communities had been separated by thousands of miles of
distance they could not have been more unlike.
At one place he found the semi-tropical luxuriance of flowers and trees
and fruits, the soft, warm sunshine, the tepid, langourous, musical
nights, the mellow haze of romance over mountain and velvet hill and
soft sea, the low-shaded cottages, the leisurely attractive people one
associates with the story-book conception of California. The place was
charming in its surroundings and in its graces of life, but it was a
cheerful, happy, out-at-the-heels, raggedy little town, whose bright
gardens adorned its abyssmal streets, whose beautiful mountains
palliated the naivete of its natural and atrocious roads. Bob mingled
with its people with the pardonable amusement of a man fresh from the
doing of big things. There seemed to be such long, grave and futile
discussions over the undertaking of that which a more energetic
community would do as a matter of course in the day's work. The
liveryman from whom Bob hired his saddle horse proved to be a person of
a leisurely and sardonic humour.
"Their chief asset here is tourists," said he. "That's the leading
industry. They can't see it, and they don't want to. They have just one
road through the county. It's a bum one. You'd think it was a dozen, to
hear them talk about the immense undertaking of making it halfway
decent. Any other place would do these things they've been talking about
for ten years just on the side, as part of the get-ready. Lucky they
didn't have to do anything in the way of getting those mountains set
proper, or there'd be a hole there yet."
"Why don't you go East?" asked Bob.
"I did once. Didn't like it."
"What's the matter?"
"Well, I'll tell you. Back East when you don't do nothing, you feel kind
of guilty. Out here when you don't do nothing, _you don't give a damn!_"
Nevertheless, Bob was very sorry when he had to leave this quiet and
beautiful little town, with its happy, careless, charming people.
Thence he went directly to a town built in a half-circle of the
mountains. The sunshine here was warm and grateful, but when its rays
were withdrawn a stinging chill crept down from the snow. No sitting out
on the verandah after dinner, but often a most grateful fire in the
Club's fireplace. The mornings were crisp and enlivening. And again by
the middle of the day the soft California warmth laid the land under its
This was a place of orange-growers, young fellows from the East. Its
University Club was large and prosperous. Its streets were wide. Flowers
lined the curbs. There were few fences. The houses were in good taste.
Even the telephone poles were painted green so as to be unobtrusive. Bob
thought it one of the most attractive places he had ever seen, as indeed
it should be, for it was built practically to order by people of
Thence he drove through miles and miles of orange groves, so large that
the numerous workmen go about their work on bicycles. Even here in the
country, the roadsides were planted with palms and other ornamental
trees, and gay with flowers. Abruptly he came upon a squalid village of
the old regime, with ugly frame houses, littered streets, sagging
sidewalks foul with puddles, old tin cans, rubbish; populous with
children and women in back-yard dressing sacks--a distressing reminder
of the worst from the older-established countries. And again, at the end
of the week, he most unexpectedly found himself seated on a country-club
verandah, having a very good time, indeed, with some charming specimens
of the idle rich. He talked polo, golf, tennis and horses; he dined at
several most elaborate "cottages"; he rode forth on glossy, bang-tailed
horses, perfectly appointed; he drove in marvellously conceived traps in
company with most engaging damsels. When, finally, he reached Los
Angeles again he carried with him, as standing for California, not even
the heterogeneous but fairly coherent idea one usually gains of a single
commonwealth, but an impression of many climes and many peoples.
"Yes," said Baker, "and if you'd gone North to where I live, you'd have
struck a different layout entirely."
There remained in Bob's initial Southern California experience one more
episode that brought him an acquaintance, apparently casual, but which
later was to influence him.
Of an afternoon he walked up Main Street idly and alone. The exhibit of
a real estate office attracted him. Over the door, in place of a sign,
hung a huge stretched canvas depicting not too rudely a wide
country-side dotted with model farms of astounding prosperity. The
window was filled with pumpkins, apples, oranges, sheaves of wheat,
bottles full of soft fruits preserved in alcohol, and the like. As
background was an oil painting in which the Lucky Lands occupied a
spacious pervading foreground, while in clever perspectives the Coast
Range, the foothills, and the other cities of the San Fernando Valley
supplied a modest setting. This was usual enough.
At the door stood a very alert man with glasses. He scrutinized closely
every passerby. Occasionally he hailed one or the other, conversed
earnestly a brief instant, and passed them inside. Gradually it dawned
on Bob that this man was acting in the capacity of "barker"--that with
quite admirable perspicacity and accuracy, he was engaged in selecting
from the countless throngs the few possible purchasers for Lucky Lands.
Curious to see what attraction was offered to induce this unanimity of
acquiescence to the barker's invitation, the young man approached.
"What's going on?" he asked.
The barker appraised him with one sweeping glance.
"Stereopticon lecture inside," he snapped, and turned his back.
Bob made his way into a dimly lighted hall. At one end was a slightly
elevated platform above which the white screen was suspended. More
agricultural products supplied the decorations. The body of the hall was
filled with folding chairs, about half of which were occupied. Perhaps a
dozen attendants tiptoed here and there. A successful attempt was
everywhere made to endow with high importance all the proceedings and
appurtenances of the Lucky Land Co.
Bob slipped into a chair. Immediately a small pasteboard ticket and a
fountain pen were thrust into his hand.
"Sign your name and address on this," the man whispered.
Bob held it up, the better to see what it was.
"All these tickets are placed in a hat," explained the man, "and one is
drawn. The lucky ticket gets a free ride to Lucky on one of our weekly
homeseekers' excursions. Others pay one fare for round trip."
"I see," said Bob, signing, "and in return you get the names and
addresses of every one here."
He glanced up at his interlocutor with a quizzical expression that
changed at once to one of puzzlement. Where had he seen the man before?
He was, perhaps, fifty-five years old, tall and slender, slightly
stooped, slightly awry. His lean gray face was deeply lined, his
close-clipped moustache and hair were gray, and his eyes twinkled behind
his glasses with a cold gray light. Something about these glasses struck
faintly a chord of memory in Bob's experience, but he could not catch
its modulations. The man, on his side, stared at Bob a trifle
uncertainly. Then he held the card up to the dim light.
"You are interested in Lucky Lands--Mr. John Smith, of Reno?" he asked,
stooping low to be heard.
"Sure!" grinned Bob.
The man said nothing more, but glided away, and in a moment the flare of
light on the screen announced that the lecture was to begin.
The lecturer, was a glib, self-possessed youth, filled to the brim with
statistics, with which he literally overwhelmed his auditors. His
remarks were accompanied by a rapid-fire snapping of fingers to the time
of which the operator changed his slides. A bewildering succession of
coloured views flashed on the screen. They showed Lucky in all its
glories--the blacksmith shop, the main street, the new hotel, the
grocery, Brown's walnut ranch, the ditch, the Southern Pacific Depot,
the Methodist Church and a hundred others. So quickly did they succeed
each other that no one had time to reduce to the terms of experience the
scenes depicted on these slides--for with the glamour of exaggerated
colour, of unaccustomed presentation, and of skillful posing the most
commonplace village street seems wonderful and attractive for the
moment. The lecturer concluded by an alarming statement as to the
rapidity with which this desirable ranching property was being snapped
up. He urged early decisions as the only safe course; and, as usual with
all real estate men, called attention to the contrast between the
Riverside of twenty years ago and the Riverside of to-day.
The daylight was then admitted.
"Now, gentlemen," concluded the lecturer, still in his brisk,
time-saving style, "the weekly excursion to Lucky will take place
to-morrow. One fare both ways to homeseekers. Free carriages to the
Lands. Grand free open-air lunch under the spreading sycamores and by
the babbling brook. Train leaves at seven-thirty."
In full sight of all he threw the packet of tickets into a hat and drew
"Mr. John Smith, of Reno," he read. "Who is Mr. Smith?"
"Here," said Bob.
"Would you like to go to Lucky to-morrow?"
"Sure," said Bob.
One of the attendants immediately handed Bob a railroad ticket. The
lecturer had already disappeared.
To his surprise Bob found the street door locked.
"This way," urged one of the salesmen. "You go out this way."
He and the rest of the audience were passed out another door in the
rear, where they were forced to go through the main offices of the
Company. Here were stationed the gray man and all his younger
assistants. Bob paused by the door. He could not but admire the acumen
of the barker in selecting his men. The audience was made up of just the
type of those who come to California with agricultural desires and a few
hundred dollars--slow plodders from Eastern farms, Italians with savings
and ambitions, half invalids--all the element that crowds the tourist
sleepers day in and day out, the people who are filling the odd corners
of the greater valleys. As these debouched into the glare of the outer
offices, they hesitated, making up their slow minds which way to turn.
In that instant or so the gray man, like a captain, assigned his
salesmen. The latter were of all sorts--fat and joking, thin and very
serious-minded, intense, enthusiastic, cold and haughty. The gray man
sized up his prospective customers and to each assigned a salesman to
suit. Bob had no means of guessing how accurate these estimates might
be, but they were evidently made intelligently, with some system
compounded of theory or experience. After a moment Bob became conscious
that he himself was being sharply scrutinized by the gray man, and in
return watched covertly. He saw the gray man shake his head slightly.
Bob passed out the door unaccosted by any of the salesmen.
At half-past seven the following morning he boarded the local train. In
one car he found a score of "prospects" already seated, accompanied by
half their number of the young men of the real estate office. The utmost
jocularity and humour prevailed, except in one corner where a very
earnest young man drove home the points of his argument with an
impressive forefinger. Bob dropped unobtrusively into a seat, and
prepared to enjoy his never-failing interest in the California landscape
with its changing wonderful mountains; its alternations of sage brush
and wide cultivation; its vineyards as far as the eye could distinguish
the vines; its grainfields seeming to fill the whole cup of the valleys;
its orchards wide as forests; and its desert stretches, bigger than them
all, awaiting but the vivifying touch of water to burst into
productiveness. He heard one of the salesmen expressing this.
"'Water is King,'" he was saying, quoting thus the catchword of this
particular concern. He was talking in a half-joking way, asking one or
the other how many inches of rainfall could be expected per annum back
where they came from.
"Don't know, do you?" he answered himself. "Nobody pays any great and
particular amount of attention to that--you get water enough, except in
exceptional years. Out here it's different. Every one knows to the
hundredth of an inch just how much rain has fallen, and how much ought
to have fallen. It's vital. Water is King."
He gathered close the attention of his auditors.
"We have the water in California," he went on; "but it isn't always in
the right place nor does it come at the right time. You can't grow crops
in the high mountains where most of the precipitation occurs. But you
can bring that water down to the plains. That's your answer:
He looked from one to the other. Several nodded.
"But a man can't irrigate by himself. He can't build reservoirs, ditches
all alone. That's where a concern like the Lucky Company makes good.
We've brought the water to where you can use it. Under the influence of
cultivation that apparently worthless land can produce--" he went on at
great length detailing statistics of production. Even to Bob, who had no
vital nor practical interest, it was all most novel and convincing.
So absorbed did he become that he was somewhat startled when a man sat
down beside him. He looked, up to meet the steel gray eyes and
glittering glasses of the chief. Again there swept over him a sense of
familiarity, the feeling that somewhere, at some time, he had met this
man before. It passed almost as quickly as it came, but left him
"Of course your name is not Smith, nor do you come from Reno," said the
man in gray abruptly. "I've seen you somewhere before, but I can't place
you. Are you a newspaperman?"
"I've been thinking the same of you," returned Bob. "No, I'm just plain
"I don't imagine you're particularly interested in Lucky," said the gray
man. "Why did you come?"
"Just idleness and curiosity," replied Bob frankly.
"Of course we try to get the most value in return for our expenditures
on these excursions by taking men who are at least interested in the
country," suggested the gray man.
"By Jove, I never thought of that!" cried Bob. "Of course, I'd no
business to take that free ticket. I'll pay you my fare."
The gray man had been scrutinizing him intensely and keenly. At Bob's
comically contrite expression, his own face cleared.
"No, you misunderstand me," he replied in his crisp fashion. "We give
these excursions as an advertisement of what we have. The more people to
know about Lucky, the better our chances. We made an offer of which you
have taken advantage. You're perfectly welcome, and I hope you'll enjoy
yourself. Here, Selwyn," he called to one of the salesman, "this is
Mr.--what did you say your name is?"
"Orde," replied Bob.
The gray man seemed for an almost imperceptible instant to stiffen in
his seat. The gray eyes glazed over; the gray lined face froze.
"Orde," he repeated harshly; "where from?"
"Michigan," Bob replied.
The gray man rose stiffly. "Well, Selwyn," said he, "this is Mr.
Orde--of Michigan--and I want you to show him around."
He moved down the aisle to take a seat, distant, but facing the two
young men. Bob felt himself the object of a furtive but minute scrutiny
which lasted until the train slowed down at the outskirts of Lucky.
Selwyn proved to be an agreeable young man, keen-faced, clean-cut, full
of energy and enthusiasm. He soon discovered that Bob did not
contemplate going into ranching, and at once admitted that young man to
"You just nail a seat in that surrey over there, while I chase out my
two 'prospects.' We sell on commission and I've got to rustle."
They drove out of the sleepy little village on which had been grafted
showy samples of the Company's progress. The day was beautiful with
sunshine, with the mellow calls of meadow larks, with warmth and sweet
odours. As the surrey took its zigzag way through the brush, as the
quail paced away to right and left, as the delicate aroma of the sage
rose to his nostrils, Bob began to be very glad he had come. Here and
there the brush had been cleared, small shacks built, fences of wire
strung, and the land ploughed over. At such places the surrey paused
while Selwyn held forth to his two stolid "prospects" on how long these
newcomers had been there and how well they were getting on. The country
rose in a gradual slope to the slate-blue mountains. Ditches ran here
and there. Everywhere were small square stakes painted white, indicating
the boundaries of tracts yet unsold.
They visited the reservoir, which looked to Bob uncommonly like a muddy
duck pond, but whose value Selwyn soon made very clear. They wandered
through the Chiquito ranch, whence came the exhibition fruit and other
products, and which formed the basis of most Lucky arguments. The owner
had taken many medals for his fruit, and had spent twenty-five years in
making the Chiquito a model.
"Any man can do likewise in this land of promise," said Selwyn.
They ended finally in a beautiful little canon among the foothills. It
was grown thick with twisted, mottled sycamores just budding into leaf,
with vines and greenery of the luxurious California varieties. Birds
sang everywhere and a brook babbled and bubbled down a stony bed.
Under the largest of the sycamores a tent had been pitched and a table
spread. Affairs seemed to be in charge of a very competent countrywoman
whose fuzzy horse and ramshackle buggy stood securely tethered below.
The surries drove up and deposited their burdens. Bob took his place at
table to be served with an abundant, hot and well-cooked meal.
The ice had been broken. Everybody laughed and joked. Some of the men
removed their coats in order to be more comfortable. The young salesmen
had laboured successfully to bring these strangers to a feeling of
partnership in at least the aims of the Company, of partisanship against
the claims of other less-favoured valleys than Lucky. During a pause in
the fun, one of the "prospects," an elderly, white-whiskered farmer of
the more prosperous type, nodded toward the brook.
"That sounds good," said he.
"It's the supply for the Lucky Lands," replied Selwyn. "It ought to
"There's mighty few flowing creeks in California this far out from the
mountains," interposed another salesman. "You know out here, except in
the rainy season, the rivers all flow bottom-up."
They all guffawed at this ancient and mild joke. The old farmer wagged
"Water is King," said he solemnly, as though voicing an original and
A look of satisfaction overspread the countenance of the particular
salesman who had the old farmer in charge. When you can get your
"prospect" to adopt your catchword and enunciate it with conviction, he
After the meal Bob, unnoticed, wandered off up the canon. He had
ascertained that the excursionists would not leave the spot for two
hours yet, and he welcomed the chance for exercise. Accordingly he set
himself to follow the creek, the one stream of pure and limpid water
that did not flow bottom-up. At first this was easy enough, but after a
while the canon narrowed, and Bob found himself compelled to clamber
over rocks and boulders, to push his way through thickets of brush and
clinging vines, finally even to scale a precipitous and tangled side
hill over which the stream fell in a series of waterfalls. Once past
this obstruction, however, the country widened again. Bob stood in the
bed of a broad, flat wash flanked by low hills. Before him, and still
some miles distant, rose the mountains in which the stream found its
Bob stood still for a moment, his hat in his hand, enjoying the tepid
odours, the warm sun and the calls of innumerable birds. Then he became
aware of a faint and intermittent throb--_put-put_ (pause) _put_
"Gasoline engine," said he to himself.
He tramped a few hundred yards up the dry wash, rounded a bend, and came
to a small wooden shack from which emanated the sound of the gas
explosions. A steady stream of water gushed from a pump operated by the
gasoline engine. Above, the stream bed was dry. Here was the origin of
the "beautiful mountain stream."
Chair-tilted in front of the shack sat a man smoking a pipe. He looked
up as Bob approached.
"Hullo," said he; "show over?"
He disappeared inside and shut off the gasoline engine. Immediately the
flow ceased; the stream dried up as though scorched. Presently the man
emerged, thrusting his hands into the armholes of an old coat. Shrugging
the garment into place, he snapped shut the padlock on the door.
"Come on," said he. "My rig's over behind that grease-wood. You're a
new one, ain't ye?"
"That horse is branded pretty thick," he said by way of diversion.
The man chuckled.
"Have to turn his skin other side out to get another one on," he agreed.
They drove down an old dim road that avoided the difficulties of the
canon. At camp they found the surries just loading up. Bob took his
place. Before the rigs started back, the gray man, catching sight of the
pump man, drew him aside and said several things very vigorously. The
pump man answered with some indignation, pointing finally to Bob.
Instantly the gray man whirled to inspect the young fellow. Then he shot
a last remark, turned and climbed grumpily into his vehicle.
At the station Bob tried to draw Selwyn aside for a conversation.
"I'll be with you when the train starts, old man," replied Selwyn, "but
I've got to stick close to these prospects. There's a gang of knockers
hanging around here always, just waiting for a chance to lip in."
When the train started, however, Selwyn came back to drop into Bob's
seat with a wearied sigh.
"Gosh! I get sick of handing out dope to these yaps," said he. "I was
afraid for a while it was going to blow. Looked like it."
"What of it?" asked Bob.
"When it blows up here, it'd lift the feathers off a chicken and the
chicken off the earth," explained Selwyn. "I've seen more than one good
prospect ruined by a bad day."
"How'd you come out?" inquired Bob.
"Got one. He handed over his first payment on the spot. Funny how these
yahoos almost always bring their cash right with 'em. Other's no good. I
get so I can spot that kind the first three words. They're always too
blame enthusiastic about the country and the Company. Seems like they
try to pay for their entertainment by jollying us along. Don't fool me
any. When a man begins to object to things, you know he's thinking of
Bob listened to this wisdom with some amusement. "How'd you explain when
the stream stopped?" he asked.
"Why," said Selwyn, looking straight ahead, "didn't you hear Mr. Oldham?
They turned the water into the Upper Ditch to irrigate the Foothill
Bob laughed. "You're not much of a liar, Selwyn," he said pleasantly.
"Failure of gasoline would hit it nearer."
"Oh, that's where you went," said Selwyn. "I ought to have kept my eye
on you closer."
He fell silent, and Bob eyed him speculatively. He liked the young
fellow's clear, frank cast of countenance.
"Look here, Selwyn," he broke out, "do you like this bunco game?"
"I don't like the methods," replied Selwyn promptly; "but you are
mistaken when you think it's a bunco game. The land is good; there's
plenty of artesian water to be had; and we don't sell at a fancy price.
We've located over eight hundred families up there at Lucky Lands, and
three out of four are making good. The fourth simply hadn't the capital
to hold out until returns came in. It's as good a small-ranch
proposition as they could find. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be in
it for a minute."
"How about that stream?"
"Nobody said the stream was a natural one. And the water exists, no
matter where it comes from. You can't impress an Eastern farmer with a
pump proposition: that's a matter of education. They come to see its
value after they've tried it."
"I told you I didn't like the methods. I won't have anything to do with
the dirty work, and Oldham knows it."
"Why all the bluff, then?" asked Bob.
"There are thousands of real estate firms in Los Angeles trying to sell
millions of acres," said Selwyn, "and this is about the only concern
that succeeds in colonizing on a large scale. Oldham developed this
system, and it seems to work."
"The law'll get him some day."
"I think not," replied Selwyn. "You may find him close to the edge of
the law, but he never steps over. He's a mighty bright business man, and
he's made a heap of money."
When nearing the Arcade depot, Oldham himself stepped forward.
"Stopping in California long?" he asked, with some approach to
"Permanently, I think," replied Bob.
"You are going to manufacture your timber?"
Bob looked up astonished.
"You're the Orde interested in Granite County timber, aren't you?"
"I'm employed by Welton, that's all," said Bob. "He owns the timber. But
how did you know I am with Welton?" he asked.
"With Welton!" echoed Oldham. "Oh, yes--well, I heard from Michigan
business acquaintances you were with him. Welton's lands are in Granite
"Yes," said Bob.
"Well," said Oldham vaguely, "I hope you have enjoyed your little
outing." He turned away.
"Now, how the deuce should anybody know about me, or that I am with
Welton, or take the trouble to write about it?"
He mulled over this for some time. For lack of a better reason, he
ascribed to his former football prominence the fact that Oldham's
Michigan correspondent had thought him worth mention. Yet that seemed
Two weeks later a light buckboard bearing Welton and Bob dashed in the
early morning across the plains, wormed its way ingeniously through gaps
in the foothills, and slowed to a walk as it felt the grades of the
first long low slopes. The air was warm with the sun imprisoned in the
pockets of the hills. High chaparral, scrub oaks, and scattered, unkempt
digger pines threw their thicket up to the very right of way. It was in
general dense, almost impenetrable, yet it had a way of breaking
unexpectedly into spacious parks, into broad natural pastures, into
bold, rocky points prophetic of the mountains yet to come. Every once in
a while the road drew one side to pause at a cabin nestling among fruit
trees, bowered beneath vines, bright with the most vivid of the commoner
flowers. They were crazily picturesque with their rough stone chimneys,
their roofs of shakes, their broad low verandahs, and their split-picket
fences. On these verandahs sat patriarchal-looking men with sweeping
white beards, who smoked pipes and gazed across with dim eyes toward the
distant blue mountains. When Welton, casually and by the way, mentioned
topographical names, Bob realized to what placid and contented
retirement these men had turned, and who they were. Nugget Creek, Flour
Gold, Bear Gulch--these spoke of the strong, red-shirted Argonauts of
the El Dorado. Among these scarred but peaceful foothills had been
played and applauded the great, wonderful, sordid, inspired drama of the
early days, the traces of which had almost vanished from the land.
Occasionally also the buckboard paused for water at a more pretentious
place set in a natural opening. There a low, rambling, white ranch-house
beneath trees was segregated by a picket fence enclosing blossoms like a
basket. At a greater or lesser distance were corrals of all sizes
arranged in a complicated pattern. They resembled a huge puzzle. The
barns were large; a forge stood under an open shed indescribably
littered with scrap iron and fragments of all sorts; saddles hung
suspended by the horn or one stirrup; bright milk pails sunned bottom-up
on fence posts; a dozen horses cropped in a small enclosed pasture or
dozed beneath one or another of the magnificent and spreading live-oak
trees. Children of all sizes and states of repair clambered to the fence
tops or gazed solemnly between the rails. Sometimes women stood in the
doorways to nod cheerfully at the travellers. They seemed to Bob a
comely, healthy-looking lot, competent and good-natured. Beyond an
occasional small field and an invariable kitchen garden there appeared
to be no evidences of cultivation. Around the edges of the natural
opening stretched immediately the open jungle of the chaparral or the
park-like forests of oaks.
"These are the typical mountain people of California," said Welton.
"It's only taken us a few hours to come up this far, but we've struck
among a different breed of cats. They're born, live and die in the
hills, and they might as well be a thousand miles away as forty or
fifty. As soon as the snow is out, they hike for the big mountains."
"What do they do?" inquired Bob.
"Cattle," replied Welton. "Nothing else."
"I haven't seen any men."
"No, and you won't, except the old ones. They've taken their cattle back
to the summer ranges in the high mountains. By and by the women and kids
will go into the summer camps with the horses."
On a steep and narrow grade they encountered a girl of twenty riding a
spirited pinto. She bestrode a cowboy's stock saddle on which was coiled
the usual rope, wore a broad felt hat, and smiled at the two men quite
frankly in spite of the fact that she wore no habit and had been
compelled to arrange her light calico skirts as best she could. The
pinto threw his head and snorted, dancing sideways at sight of the
buckboard. So occupied was he with the strange vehicle that he paid
scant attention to the edge of the road. Bob saw that the passage along
the narrow outside strip was going to be precarious. He prepared to
descend, but at that moment the girl faced her pony squarely at the edge
of the road, dug her little heels into his flanks, and flicked him
sharply with the _morale_ or elongated lash of the reins. Without
hesitation the pony stepped off the grade, bunched his hoofs and slid
down the precipitous slope. So steep was the hill that a man would have
had to climb it on all fours.
Bob gasped and rose to his feet. The pony, leaving a long furrow in the
side of the mountain, caught himself on the narrow ledge of a cattle
trail, turned to the left, and disappeared at a little fox trot.
Bob looked at this companion. Welton laughed.
"There's hardly a woman in the country that doesn't help round up stock.
How'd you like to chase a cow full speed over this country, hey?"
As they progressed, mounting slowly, but steadily, the character of the
country changed. The canons through which flowed the streams became
deeper and more precipitous; the divides between them higher. At one
point where the road emerged on a bold, clear point, Bob looked back to
the shimmering plain, and was astonished to see how high they had
climbed. To the eastward and only a few miles distant rose the dark mass
of a pine-covered ridge, austere and solemn, the first rampart of the
Sierras. Welton pointed to it with his whip.
"There's our timber," said he simply.
A little farther along the buckboard drew rein at the top of a long
declivity that led down to a broad wooded valley. Among the trees Bob
caught a glimpse of the roofs of scattered houses, and the gleam of a
river. From the opposite edge of the valley rose the mountain-ridge,
sheer and noble. The light of afternoon tinted it with lilac and purple.
"That's the celebrated town of Sycamore Flats," said Welton. "Just at
present we're the most important citizens. This fellow here's the first
yellow pine on the road."
Bob looked upon what he then considered a rather large tree. Later he
changed his mind. The buckboard rattled down the grade, swung over a
bridge, and so into the little town. Welton drew up at a low, broad
structure set back from the street among some trees.
"We'll tackle the mountain to-morrow," said he.
Bob descended with a distinct feeling of pleasure at being able to use
his legs again. He and Welton and the baggage and everything about the
buckboard were powdered thick with the fine, white California dust. At
every movement he shook loose a choking cloud. Welton's face was a dull
gray, ludicrously streaked, and he suspected himself of being in the
same predicament. A boy took the horses, and the travellers entered the
picketed enclosure. Welton lifted up his great rumbling voice.
"O Auntie Belle!" he roared.
Within the dark depths of the house life stirred. In a moment a capable
and motherly woman had taken them in charge. Amid a rapid-fire of
greetings, solicitudes, jokes, questions, commands and admonitions Bob
was dusted vigorously and led to ice-cold water and clean towels. Ten
minutes later, much refreshed, he stood on the low verandah looking out
with pleasure on the little there was to see. Eight dogs squatted
themselves in front of him, ears slightly uplifted, in expectancy of
something Bob could not guess. Probably the dogs could not guess either.
Within the house two or three young girls were moving about, singing and
clattering dishes in a delightfully promising manner. Down the winding
hill, for Sycamore Flats proved after all to be built irregularly on a
slope, he could make out several other scattered houses, each with its
dooryard, and the larger structures of several stores. Over all loomed
the dark mountain. The sun had just dropped below the ridge down which
the road had led them, but still shone clear and golden as an overlay of
colour laid against the sombre pines on the higher slopes.
After an excellent chicken supper, Bob lit his pipe and wandered down
the street. The larger structures, three in number, now turned out to be
a store and two saloons. A dozen saddle horses dozed patiently. On the
platform outside the store a dozen Indian women dressed in bright calico
huddled beneath their shawls. After squatting thus in brute immobility
for a half-hour, one of them would purchase a few pounds of flour or a
half-pound of tea. Then she would take her place again with the others.
At the end of another half-hour another, moved by some sudden and
mysterious impulse, would in turn make her purchases. The interior of
the store proved to be no different from the general country store
anywhere. The proprietor was very busy and occupied and important and
interested in selling a two-dollar bill of goods to a chance prospector,
which was well, for this was the storekeeper's whole life, and he had in
defence of his soul to make his occupations filling. Bob bought a cigar
and went out.
Next he looked in at one of the saloons. It was an ill-smelling, cheap
box, whose sole ornaments were advertising lithographs. Four men played
cards. They hardly glanced at the newcomer. Bob deciphered Forest
Reserve badges on three of them.
As he emerged from this joint, his eyes a trifle dazzled by the light,
he made out drawn up next the elevated platform a buckboard containing a
single man. As his pupils contracted he distinguished such details as a
wiry, smart little team, a man so fat as almost to fill the seat, a
moon-like, good-natured face, a vest open to disclose a vast white
shirt, "Hullo!" the stranger rumbled in a great voice. "Any of my boys
"Don't believe I know your boys," replied Bob pleasantly.
The fat man heaved his bulk forward to peer at Bob.
"Consarn your hide!" he roared with the utmost good humour; "stand out
of the light so I can see your fool face. You lie like a hound!
Everybody knows my boys!"
There was no offence in the words.
Bob laughed and obligingly stepped one side the lighted doorway.